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Taliban leader urges US not to give up on peace deal

KABUL: Mawlawi Hibatullah, the Afghan Taliban’s supreme commander, said on Wednesday that the group was fully abiding by the conditions of the peace deal signed with the US in February this year and called on Washington not to allow anyone to derail the “extraordinary accomplishment.”  “The Islamic Emirate [Taliban] is committed to the agreement signed with…

KABUL: Mawlawi Hibatullah, the Afghan Taliban’s supreme commander, said on Wednesday that the group was fully abiding by the conditions of the peace deal signed with the US in February this year and called on Washington not to allow anyone to derail the “extraordinary accomplishment.” 

“The Islamic Emirate [Taliban] is committed to the agreement signed with America and urges the other side to honor its commitments and not allow this critical opportunity to go to waste,” Hibatullah said in a statement posted on the Taliban’s website ahead of Eid Al-Fitr, which is expected to be celebrated in Afghanistan in three days.

He added that implementing the accord could prove to be a “powerful instrument” for bringing an end to the war between America and Afghanistan.

“I urge American officials to not afford anyone the opportunity to obstruct, delay and ultimately derail this internationally recognized bilateral agreement,” the 59-year-old leader said.

A religious scholar, like many Taliban leaders, Hibatullah took over the top mantle after his predecessor was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan in 2016, crushing all hopes for the start of peace talks with the group.

His comments follow a warning by Taliban field commanders and spokesmen, who issued several statements about the infringement of the deal since April this year, insisting that Washington was not abiding by it and was attacking civilian targets.

According to Afghan lawmakers and media reports, more than 70 civilians have been killed in airstrikes since the deal was inked in February.

Two other critical aspects of the agreement — a prisoner exchange program between the Taliban and Afghan government and the start of an intra-Afghan dialogue, the timetable for which was set in March — have not been implemented either.

“Detainees are languishing in harsh and difficult conditions in the prisons of the Kabul administration. Humanitarian organizations and various charitable groups and individuals should feel a sense of responsibility in this regard and must take all necessary steps for the safe and quick release of prisoners,” Hibatullah said, pointing at the lack of progress in the exchange program.

As of May, the Taliban had freed more than 300 government inmates while Kabul has released more than 600, contrary to the agreement to free 5,000 Taliban inmates by March.

The government said that it had halted the process after a rise in Taliban attacks, with the deadliest one on a maternity hospital in the Nangarhar province last week. The attack killed 24 people, some of them newborn babies.

Kabul says the Taliban conducted the strike, but the US and Taliban say it was the work of Daesh.

Based on the accord, which came after several months of secret talks between the US and the Taliban and excluded President Ashraf Ghani’s government, the Taliban had halted attacks against US-led troops.

However, they have stepped up assaults against Afghan forces, leading to an uptick in violence.

According to foreign and local media reports, more than 500 troops have died since February.

While Kabul has not released official data on the number of casualties, the government says the Taliban have conducted more than 3,000 strikes.

Abdul Satar Saadat, a politician who served as Ghani’s advisor, said Hibatullah’s comments were part of the “general thinking among the Taliban leadership now that the deal may fall apart.”

“The Taliban leadership is concerned by the possible collapse of the accord and worried that the opportunity created by the agreement could be disrupted,” Saadat told Arab News.

“The process of the prisoners’ exchange has not taken place fully, and there is no sign of any movement on the intra-Afghan talks. If these talks fail, we will see a further intensification of violence, and the Taliban may announce their annual spring offensive. So far, because of the deal, the Taliban have refrained from doing so,” he said, before warning of “more bloodshed and war if the accord collapses.”

To assuage concerns that the Taliban were looking to regain power and re-establish the entirely male-dominated regime that ruled Afghanistan for five years until it was ousted in the US-led invasion in 2001, Hibatullah said this was not the plan. He instead urged the Taliban to “avoid treating Afghans with bigotry, prejudice, and discord and refrain from acts that can harm national unity and sovereignty.”

“The Islamic Emirate does not have a monopolist policy; every male and female member of society shall be given their due rights… for the welfare and development of society,” he said.

Amid claims by the Taliban that hundreds of Afghan forces had, in recent months, surrendered to the insurgent group, Hibatullah reiterated the announcement of an amnesty for government forces.

The amnesty allows soldiers to resume life as ordinary citizens, immune from any revenge attacks by the Taliban.

“We urge everyone to take full advantage of this amnesty by ending their opposition and not becoming an impediment for the establishment of an Islamic government, which is the aspiration of millions,” he said.

Reacting to Hibatullah’s statement, Sediq Seddiqi, Ghani’s chief spokesman, said in a tweet on Wednesday: “This message has no meaning unless [the Taliban] agree to reconcile with people.”

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Bethlehem Nativity Church reopens after coronavirus closure

SYDNEY: A Kuwaiti livestock ship was being held off Australia’s west coast after six crew members tested positive for COVID-19, authorities said on Tuesday, heightening concerns over how arrivals by sea are handled.The Al Kuwait left the Middle East on May 7 and docked near the city of Perth on May 22 after telling the…

SYDNEY: A Kuwaiti livestock ship was being held off Australia’s west coast after six crew members tested positive for COVID-19, authorities said on Tuesday, heightening concerns over how arrivals by sea are handled.The Al Kuwait left the Middle East on May 7 and docked near the city of Perth on May 22 after telling the Australian immigration and agriculture authorities that some crew members had raised temperatures, Western Australia state premier Mark McGowan said.Six crew later tested positive for the new coronavirus and were taken to hotels on land for quarantine while the state police commissioner asked the Australian Border Force and Department of Agriculture why the ship was allowed to dock.“Clearly this is not good,” McGowan told reporters in a televised news conference.“We want to get to a resolution as soon as possible so that the ship is in a position to leave the port.”Border Force and the Department of Agriculture were not immediately available for comment.The Al Kuwait’s last stop before Australia was Hamad Port in Qatar, according to maritime records posted online.The ship expects to pick up a cargo of thousands of sheep, and transport them to the Middle East.Managing boat arrivals became a sore point for Australia after a cruise ship unloaded hundreds of passengers infected with COVID-19 in Sydney in March. Nearly a quarter of Australia’s 102 COVID-19 deaths have been linked to the Ruby Princess, and the ship became the country’s biggest single source of infection.Al Kuwait’s owner, the Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading Co, directed Reuters to Australian Livestock Exporters’​ Council CEO Mark Harvey Sutton who declined to comment on the communications between government agencies and the ship.“All the protocols and processes have been followed,” Sutton said by telephone.He added that the exporter, Rural Export & Trading (WA), had planned to carry 56,000 sheep to the Middle East. The sheep were being kept held in a feedlot. Sutton said he did not know what would happen if the ship’s departure was delayed until after May 31, when a moratorium on live exports to the Middle East begin.

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Are you going my way?

The desire to fly and get away from Covid-19 is so overwhelming even crying babies are like a Bach symphony. I am so jonesing to take a flight. Like it has become such an obsession I am dreaming about it. There I am wafting through the night sky, down below a township, its thick cluster…

The desire to fly and get away from Covid-19 is so overwhelming even crying babies are like a Bach symphony.

I am so jonesing to take a flight. Like it has become such an obsession I am dreaming about it. There I am wafting through the night sky, down below a township, its thick cluster of lights like a bright octopus, its illuminated tentacles stretching into the distance as if seeking purchase in the dark. In the well-lit cabin, having pushed other passengers, shoved their hand baggage around, stubbed toes, barked shins and genially wounded others are now leaning back in the seat, the 2.5 inch recline the epitome of luxury, aaah, this is good. Enjoying the safety demo and the talk and actually reading the safety card in the pocket at the back of the seat in front of me and being nice to fellow passengers and even being forgiving about their toilet etiquette (or the lack of it) and just finding the temporary break from the surly bonds of earth so exhilarating.And it is surly these days on the ground though not half as surly as my history professor, now that was truly surly, like he had a perpetual flow of lemon juice in his mouth, it was almost rancid. But I digress. That is the problem with digression, it often becomes more interesting than the main story which is unfair to the reader who started to read you because you were talking about aircraft and flying, not history teachers, surly or otherwise. You want to rabbit on about history teachers then write another piece.And then there is dinner and all those cellophane wrappings that cover various coloured goos that comprise an airline meal and now you have to wrestle with them and you wonder if Clark Kent is needed and then the guy in the window seat wants to ‘go’ and you engage in the herculean task of holding your tray aloft while he squeegees past and naturally stomps your ankle because you cannot go from window seat to aisle without doing that.This desire to fly and get away from Covid-19 is so overwhelming even crying babies are like a Bach symphony.The captain then tells you that there on the left of the plane we are passing over Portofino and if you look closely you might see Angelina Jolie without Brad Pitt walking on the boardwalk and naturally you are sitting on the right side and you see nothing but the dark of the night.Even that is okay if I can just get on a flight.

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Arsenal’s 1989 title win at Anfield: Football’s most dramatic finale

DUBAI: It’s up for grabs now. If you recognize these words, then you probably know one of the most dramatic moments in football history. On May 26, 1989, Arsenal went to Anfield needing to beat reigning champions Liverpool by two goals to win their first league title in 18 years. Everyone thought it was an…

DUBAI: It’s up for grabs now.

If you recognize these words, then you probably know one of the most dramatic moments in football history.

On May 26, 1989, Arsenal went to Anfield needing to beat reigning champions Liverpool by two goals to win their first league title in 18 years. Everyone thought it was an impossible mission.

Arsenal, having led the 1988-89 First Division league table comfortably at the turn of the year, had slipped, allowing Liverpool to overtake them by three points by the time the match had been rescheduled for the delayed final day of a turbulent season. This was a Liverpool team, and a city, recovering from the Hillsborough tragedy which would eventually claim the lives of 96 of their fans.

Liverpool had pulled off one miracle after another to get themselves into that position at the same time Arsenal seemingly decided to shoot themselves in the foot. 

Only days before the showdown, Liverpool, then on the same number of points as Arsenal and with an exact goal difference, faced West Ham at Anfield in another match rearranged in the wake of the tragedy.

A storming 5-1 win gave Liverpool a three point lead and superior goal difference of four over Arsenal. The title was all but theirs.

But it was a deceptive, if still hugely significant, lead for Liverpool. Arsenal needed to win by two goals, not four, to swing the situation around.  

The match is now football folklore. Alan Smith scored a 52-minute header to ramp up the nerves at Anfield, but against a visibly tiring home team, Arsenal still needed a winner.

It came, astonishingly, in the 92nd minute.

“It’s up for grabs now,” commentator Brian Moore famously said as Michael Thomas broke away from the Liverpool defence to tap the ball past Bruce Grobbelaar. 

 

 

It was Arsenal, not Liverpool, that had pulled off the biggest and final miracle of the season.

League titles rarely deliver such stunning finales. And the nature of this particular match meant it had a winner-takes-all cup final feel that the guardians of today’s Premier League can only dream of. It was in effect a second-leg of a cup tie and Thomas’s winner ensured that the two clubs finished on the same number of points and with identical goal differences of +37. Arsenal were crowned champions on account of having scored more goals. That goal was, in effect, an away goal that settled a whole season.  

Have football fans enjoyed greater, better matches? Sure. 

But greater moments?

Not even the greatest cup finals of all time can claim bigger stakes being won and lost in such fashion.

The world’s oldest competition, the FA Cup, has seen some memorable stories since its first edition in 1871-72, and Arsenal themselves delivered the greatest end to a final ever. 

In 1979, the Gunners led Manchester United 2-0 as a seemingly average final entered its dying moments. But two goals by Gordon McQueen and Sammy McIlroy in the dying embers of the match stunned Wembley and set up a scarcely believable extra time. Except that from the kick-off Arsenal immediately went up the other end and scored through Alan Sunderland to win what would become known as the “Five-minute Cup Final”.

But just ask any Arsenal fan which moment remains the most dramatic in the club’s history.

Manchester United’s 1999 Champions League triumph makes a strong claim for the most dramatic conclusion to a match ever. But, while the two-goal injury time turnaround was close to miraculous, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s winning goal lacks Thomas’s defeat-to-victory aspect.

At the risk of sounding like a killjoy, Alex Ferguson’s men had already saved themselves with Teddy Sheringham’s equaliser and would have had a chance to claim victory in extra-time, a luxury Arsenal did not have in that 92nd minute at Anfield.

And then there is the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul. Liverpool’s still incomprehensible triumph over a vastly superior AC Milan team ticks off all the boxes for drama. it boasted some of the best players on the planet at the top of their game. In Hernan Crespo’s third goal for Milan, one of the competition’s finest ever goals. There was a seemingly unassailable 3-0 half-time lead for the favourites. But then a comeback for the ages as a Steven Gerrard-inspired Liverpool equalized the match within 15 minutes of the restart. This was followed by an unbearably tense extra time, and finally a penalty shootout which saw Jerzy Dudek, seemingly in his last moments as Liverpool goalkeeper, redeemed himself to win the cup for the Reds.

Few can argue the Miracle of Istanbul is not a superior match to the 1989 showdown in almost every aspect. But although penalty shootouts are naturally won or lost with the last kick of the game, they inherently lack the element of utter surprise that Thomas’s goal provided. 

The closest comparison to Thomas’s historic moment is without doubt Sergio Aguero’s title-winning goal for Manchester City against QPR in the dying seconds of the 2011-12 Premier League campaign. Like Manchester United’s Champions League win in 1999, the two injury-time goals rightfully lend the comeback legendary status. And, like Thomas’s win, it had the winner takes all away-goal factor; there was no safety net of extra-time here for City.

But despite the moment’s extraordinary drama, it still marginally loses out to the events at Anfield. For a start, it was not a face-off between the top two teams. Roberto Mancini’s team were also firm favourites to win against a team fighting for relegation. The match was at the Etihad Stadium in front of City’s own fans and the decisive goals finally arrived against an exhausted 10-man QPR. This is a match City were expected to walk and blowing it would have been the real miracle.

The 1994-95 Premier League season also provided one of the more recent dramatic finishes; it even had a last minute goal, and at Anfield as well. But the fact that it came against eventual champions Blackburn, who could afford to lose 2-1 to Liverpool while challengers Manchester United wasted one chance after another at West Ham to only draw, means it cannot quite be compared to Arsenal’s heroics at Anfield.

In Spain, Atletico Madrid went to the Nou Camp on the final day of the 2013-14 La Liga season needing a draw against the Barcelona of Leo Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi to claim a shock title win, but when Alexis Sanchez gave the home team the lead, it looked like Atletico’s dream was over. But a 49th minute equaliser from Diego Godin gave them a priceless point that would see them crowned champions.

A head-to-head final day clash between the two top teams had been won by the underdog, just like in 1989. But this was an underdog needing only a draw, and there were no comparable last-minute heroics or drama.

Perhaps closest was the conclusion of Portugal’s 2012-13 Primeira Liga race. On May 11, 2013, Benfica travelled to the Estádio do Dragão to play fierce rivals Porto, with a two-point lead over their opponents. As the match entered its final seconds locked at 1-1, Porto broke away to score an astonishing winner and break their opponents’ hearts. All over the pitch, there were tears of joy and despair as Porto leapfrogged their opponents in the standings at the death. It was one of the most dramatic matches the Portuguese top division has ever witnessed.

However, this was only a de-facto finale; watching those dramatic scenes now, it is often forgotten that there was, in fact, one round of matches left. Both teams would win their last games, with that late winner proving ultimately decisive, though not quite with the finality of Thomas’s strike.

But what about matches of sheer importance? Surely many World Cup moments are bigger and more dramatic than a First Division title win. But which?

The 1970 World Cup semi-final between West Germany and Italy is often dubbed the “Game of the Century”, and for good reason. In an unforgettable back and forth battle with many incredible moments, Italy would prevail 4-3 after extra time. But the fabled match does not have a last-minute goal, and ultimately the winners went on to lose the final.

In that final they played a Brazil team considered the greatest football team of all time. Pele, Jairzinho, Tostao, Rivellino and Carlos Alberto put on a masterclass that day, eventually destroying their exhausted opponents 4-1. For many, it remains the greatest football match ever played.

But it was, especially in those final minutes, literally a walk in the park for Brazil.

The 1982 World Cup saw two truly stunning matches within days of each. Italy got revenge for 1970 with Paolo Rossi’s hat-trick in a 3-2 second-round group win over Brazil; and then West Germany’s semi-final penalty shootout win over France after a controversial 3-3 draw.

Both were matches of extraordinary tension and quality; but without a magic moment to rival Thomas’s silver bullet.

In his era-defining book “Fever Pitch,” Arsenal fan and author Nick Hornby tried and, and his own words, failed, to describe the drama of that finale at Anfield. No metaphor or event, footballing or otherwise, could quite convey its sheer joy and improbability.

“Childbirth must be extraordinarily moving, but it doesn’t have that crucial surprise element.” he said, adding: “What else is there that can possibly provide the suddenness?”

And the answer is nothing. 

Sorry, Sergio. Sorry, Manchester City. But football’s most dramatic moment is not up for grabs.

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