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China to invest $60bn in Africa

Xi Jinping pledges $60bn in financial aid to African countries and pledges to write off debt for poorer nations.

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BEIJING, China: China’s President Xi Jinping has offered $60bn in financial support to African countries and written off debt for poorer African nations.

Speaking at the opening of a major summit with African leaders in Beijing on Monday, Xi said the figure included $15bn in grants, interest-free loans and concessional loans, a credit line of $20bn, $10bn for “development financing” and $5bn to buy imports from Africa.

Government debt from China’s interest-free loans due by the end of 2018 will be written off for indebted poor African countries, as well as for developing nations in the continent’s interior and small island nations, Xi said.

“China-Africa cooperation must give Chinese and African people tangible benefits and successes that can be seen, that can be felt,” he said.

China will carry out 50 projects on green development and environmental protection in Africa, focusing on fighting climate change, desertification and wildlife protection, the Chinese leader said.

He pledged, without giving details, that China would set up a peace and security fund and a related forum, while continuing to provide free military assistance to the African Union.

Chinese companies will be encouraged to invest no less than $10bn in the continent in the next three years, he added.

The offer of more funds comes after a pledge of a similar amount at the previous Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in South Africa three years ago.

Chinese officials say this year’s summit will strengthen Africa’s role in Xi’s “Belt and Road” initiative, which has already seen billions of dollars loaned to countries in Asia and Africa for roads, railways, ports and other major infrastructure projects.

Debt-trap diplomacy?

Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Beijing, said economists and some international financial institutions worry that Chinese loans are burying some countries under massive debt.

“It’s hard to think of any country in Africa that has not been touched by China,” he said, adding that China rejects the claim of “debt-trap diplomacy”.

Beijing loaned around $125bn to the continent from 2000 to 2016, data from the China-Africa Research Initiative at Washington’s Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies shows.

Every African country is represented at the business forum apart from eSwatini, self-ruled Taiwan’s last African ally that has so far rejected China’s overtures to ditch Taipei and recognise Beijing.

African leaders in attendance include South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Zambia’s Edgar Lungu and Gabon’s Ali Bongo.

South Africa’s Ramaphosa defended China’s involvement on the continent, saying FOCAC “refutes the view that a new colonialism is taking hold in Africa as our detractors would have us believe”.

Before FOCAC, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, currently the chair of the African Union, also dismissed the concerns, telling the official Xinhua news agency talk of “debt traps” were attempts to discourage African-Chinese interactions.

However, Aly-Khan Satchu, an economic analyst based in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, told Al Jazeera there were “real worries about “debt-trap diplomacy” on the African continent.

“There are worries that this infrastructure has been inflated in price, and that it is highly unlikely to make a return on investments that is necessary for these countries to get in order to pay back the debt,” he said.

“The future of China-Africa relations is going to depend entirely on how China manages this debt situation, which is now spiralling out of control,” he added.

‘No vanity projects’

Speaking earlier in the day, Xi said China’s investments on the continent have “no political strings attached”. Chinese funds are not for “vanity projects” in Africa but are to build infrastructure that can remove development bottlenecks, he said.

“China does not interfere in Africa’s internal affairs and does not impose its own will on Africa,” Xi told his African counterparts and business leaders at a forum before the FOCAC.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari will oversee the signing of a telecommunication infrastructure deal backed by a $328million loan facility from China’s Exim bank during his visit, according to his office.

China has provided aid to Africa since the Cold War period, but Beijing’s presence in the region has grown exponentially with its emergence as a global trading power.

Chinese state-owned companies have aggressively pursued large investments across the African continent, whose vast resources have helped fuel China’s transformation into an economic powerhouse.

While relations between China and African nations are broadly positive, concerns have intensified about the impact of some of Beijing’s deals in the region.

Djibouti has become heavily dependent on Chinese financing after China opened its first overseas military base in the Horn of Africa country last year, a powerful signal of the continent’s strategic importance to Beijing.

Locals in other countries have complained about the practice of using Chinese labour for building projects and what are perceived to be sweetheart deals for Chinese companies.

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After Tehran talks, Syria and Russia forces step up Idlib attacks

Syrian government forces backed by their Russian allies have stepped up their bombardment of rebel-held territories in northwest Syria, killing at least six civilians, according to local activists.

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ANTAKYA, Turkey: Syrian government forces backed by their Russian allies have stepped up their bombardment of rebel-held territories in northwest Syria, killing at least six civilians, according to local activists.

The air raids and shelling on Saturday came a day after Russia rejected a Turkish call for a ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province, where a major government assault aimed at recapturing the last rebel stronghold in the country is seemingly imminent.

Also read: Iran ‘to boost missile capacity, buy modern warplanes’

The attacks targeted areas in southern Idlib province and in the north of neighbouring Hama province, in what is seen as the biggest escalation over the past week.

One hospital in the village of Hass in southern Idlib was destroyed by a barrel bomb dropped from a helicopter.

Local activists told Al Jazeera that six civilians died in the bombardment, including one child.

According to Abd al-Kareem al-Rahmoun, a representative of the White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group operating in rebel-held parts of Syria, the town of Qalaat al-Madiq in northern Hama province was targeted with more than 150 shells.

The shelling killed two men and wounded five others, including two children.

At least 26 people in rebel-held areas have been killed since the beginning of the month, the White Helmets said.

Rebel factions in northern Hama province responded to Saturday’s attacks with rocket fire and shelling of areas under government control, including the city of Salhab further west. According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), there were no reported casualties.

On Friday, rebel shelling killed 10 people, including five children in the Christian-majority town of Maharda in western Hama province, SOHR reported.

Mohamad Haj Ali, commander of the First Coastal Division, which is part of the moderate opposition formation al-Jabha al-Wataniya lil-Tahrir (NLF), told Al Jazeera that despite the escalation, the battle for Idlib has not started yet.

“[The offensive was delayed] because of Turkish pressure on the Russians. We still hope for a diplomatic solution,” he said, adding, however, that he expects the offensive to be launched in the coming weeks.

If this happens, its first stage will target northern Latakia province and the area around the town of Jisr al-Shaghour in southern Idlib, he said.

In a separate development, clashes erupted between Syrian troops and Kurdish security forces known as Asayesh in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli in northern Hasakah province.

Also read: Israel says it launched 200 strikes in Syria since 2017

At least 13 members of the government forces were killed and seven Asayesh fighters, according to SOHR.

Although Qamishli is fully controlled by Kurdish forces, Damascus has retained control of a military base in its outskirts.

The story was first published on Al Jazeera.

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Kashmir: Nine-year-old ‘gang-raped, eyes gouged out’

At least five people arrested, including the stepmother, for brutal gang rape and murder of nine-year-old child.

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BARAMULLAH, Indian-occupied Kashmir: A nine-year-old child has been gang-raped and murdered in Indian-occupied Kashmir’s (IOK) Baramullah district, bringing back memories of the brutal gang rape of an eight-year-old in the Indian-occupied Jammu region of the state.

According to police reports, the child was reported missing on September 23 and was murdered on the same day.

Also read: US threatens India with sanctions if it buys Russia’s S-400 missiles

Five people have been arrested in connection with the case, including the stepmother and the stepbrother.

The girl was lured to a secluded spot in a forest by her stepmother and was raped in turn by her 14-year-old stepbrother, his friends and accomplices, the police said.

Later, the stepmother strangled her and the stepbrother swung an axe at her head. One of the men gouged out her eyes and burned parts of her body with acid to destroy evidence, the police added.

“There is conclusive evidence for murder, there is destruction of evidence in regards to rape. But we have got vital clues to prove the rape charges in the court,” Mir Imtiyaz Hussain, police chief in Baramullah district who is supervising the investigation, told Qatar media outlet Al Jazeera.

“We have identified the culprits. Our job will be complete when the culprits are convicted in a court of law,” he added.

Police say they found the decomposed body in a forest near her home in Uri on September 2, almost 10 days after she went missing.

‘Watertight case’

The father of the child had two wives and the first wife harboured acrimonious feelings towards the second wife and her daughter which spurred her to murder the child, police said.

The police said they are building a “watertight case” so the perpetrators are punished this time.

The case is the second such incident in the restive Kashmir region after the brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua earlier this year, which caused widespread revulsion across India.

The girl in Kathua was held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January.

Violence against women in the South Asian country is widespread and has deep roots.

In recent years, the country has witnessed renewed public outrage over the number of violent sexual assaults against women, especially children.

Crimes against minors

In July this year, doctors confirmed sexual abuse at a girls’ shelter in the state of Bihar, with children reporting being beaten, drugged, raped and scalded with hot water.

A child is sexually abused every 15 minutes in India, according to NGO Child Rights.

Crimes against minors have risen more than 500 percent over the past decade, the right group said, after analysing government data.

In 2016, police in India received 38,947 reports of rape compared with almost 35,000 in 2015, according to data collected by the National Crime Records Bureau.

India has enacted strident anti-rape laws in response to nationwide outrage in the wake of a series of child rape cases.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act has now been amended to introduce the death penalty for the rape of children below age 12.

But campaigners say laws, on their own, do not act as a deterrent.

Also read: Pakistan tells US it won’t bow down for Washington’s interests

“The brutal assault on this child tells us the law is not working. When you have death penalty for rape, they don’t just rape, but they murder and they destroy evidence like they tried with this girl by using acid,” Enakshi Ganguly, founder and adviser at HAQ Centre for Child Rights in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera.

“This case should be a lesson to the government. They rushed to bring the death penalty but the number of rapes have not gone down. What we are dealing with is what is happening behind closed doors, inside families. Our studies show in more than 70 percent of child abuse cases, the rapists are known to the family,” she added.

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Israel says it launched 200 strikes in Syria since 2017

Military sources say the attacks are mostly aimed at preventing Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria.

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JERUSALEM, Palestine: Israel has launched more than 200 air attacks against Iranian targets in Syria over the past year and a half, a senior Israel official revealed.

The officer in the Israeli army said on Tuesday the air raids included the dropping of about 800 bombs and missiles on mostly arms shipments as well as military bases and infrastructure.

Also read: UAE used Israeli spyware ‘to target Qatari emir, Saudi prince’

Later on Tuesday, Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz confirmed the report, calling Iran’s military presence in Syria a “red line”.

“Only just now it was published – in the name of military sources, so I can quote it too – that in the last two years Israel has taken military action more than 200 times within Syria itself,” Katz said.

“Understanding the significance of this matter in terms of preserving the red line, preventing things that Iran has done, is doing and trying to do against Israel from Syria.”

In August 2017, the outgoing chief of Israel’s air force told Haaretz newspaper that his corps had carried out “nearly 100 strikes” in Syria.

That left another 100 in the time since, according to the official Israeli accounts issued on Tuesday – roughly two attacks per week.

Israel, which monitors neighbouring Syria intensively, has long alleged that Iran came to assist the Damascus government, in part, to set up a permanent garrison there, effectively forming an extended anti-Israel front with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran, Israel’s arch foe, has been a core supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the seven-year-old war, sending military advisers as well as material and regional Shia armed groups that it backs.

Israel’s strikes on Syria have been largely ignored by Russia, Syria’s big power backer.

Also read: Argentina refuses to play Israel friendly

On Monday, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman signalled that the country could also attack suspected Iranian military targets in Iraq, where Reuters has reported the deployment of ballistic missiles by Tehran.

Briefing reporters on Tuesday, a senior Israeli military officer who requested anonymity said that Israel believed Iran was using Iraqi territory as a conduit for missile transfers to Syria.

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