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Saudi Clerics Call for Jihad Against Iran and Russia in Syria
by Reuters and VICE News

Dozens of conservative Saudi Arabian clerics have called for Arab and Muslim countries to "give all moral, material, political and military" support to what they term a jihad, or holy war, against Syria's government and its Iranian and Russian backers.

Although the clerics who signed the online statement are not affiliated with the government, their strong sectarian and anti-Christian language reflects a growing anger among many Saudis over Russian and Iranian involvement in Syria's civil war.

Russia last week started air strikes against Syrian opposition targets. The Kremlin, a staunch supporter of the ruling Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, says it wants to weaken the militant group known as the Islamic State. Saudi Arabia, along with Turkey and other Gulf states, has supported rebels trying to unseat the Assad regime and has denounced the Russian attacks. The clerics' statement portrayed the Russian bombardments as part of an Orthodox Christian crusade.

"The holy warriors of Syria are defending the whole Islamic nation. Trust them and support them ... because if they are defeated, God forbid, it will be the turn of one Sunni country after another," the statement said.

The bloodshed in Syria, part of a wider struggle for regional supremacy between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran, has aggravated sectarian anger across the Middle East and drawn religiously motivated foreign fighters to both sides.

But the Saudi leadership is also worried about the rise of jihadist groups, such as Islamic State, that are among the opposition. Riyadh's state-affiliated clergy has already termed the war a jihad for Syrians. But the Saudi religious leaders also have denounced the Islamic State and al Qaeda and said that Saudi citizens must not go abroad to fight or give the rebels money except through government channels.

Iran's Supreme Leader Bans Further Negotiations with United States
by Reuters and VICE News

Just months after the historic nuclear deal reached between Iran and the United States, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced a ban on any further negotiations between the two countries.

Khamenei's ruling conflicts with that of the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, who last month expressed openness to discussions with the US on the war in Syria.

The ruler made the announcement Wednesday in a meeting with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy, according to his website. He warned those gathered that "The enemies are trying to change [our] officials' calculations and influence the thoughts of people, particularly youths, and everyone should be vigilant and conscious [to prevent this]."

Khamenei said that during the nuclear negotiations, US representatives had tried to use the talks to initiate "infiltration" in Iran, and though Iranian negotiators were aware of what their American counterparts were up to, the US "finally got the chance in some instances."

"Negotiation with America is banned because such negotiation will not only have no advantage [for Iran], but will also entail numerous disadvantages," he said, according to the website.

Related: Iranian Ground Troops Are Joining Russians in Syrian Offensive: Reports

Khamenei had supported the country's negotiations with the US over its nuclear activities, in which the US agreed to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran curtailing its nuclear productivity and allowing inspectors onto nuclear sites.

"Negotiations with the United States open gates to their economic, cultural, political and security influence. Even during the nuclear negotiations they tried to harm our national interests.," Khamenei said.

The timing of Khamenei's announcement is significant, as Reuters reports that Iranian troops have been dispatched to help Russian forces in Syria, a longtime ally of Iran. The alliance is purportedly to rout out the Islamic State in Syria, though Russia has also been striking other rebel groups, including those backed by the US.

Rouhani said last month that Iran was willing to discuss military strategies with the US to oppose the Islamic State in Syria, but said it would not debate Assad's future until peace was achieved.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Refugee Load on Lebanon Getting Unbearable – Finance Ministry

Lebanon Ministry of Finance Director General Alain Bifani said that the number of migrants arriving in Lebanon is becoming unbearable for the country and Beirut is hoping for global support in coping with the refugee influx.

LIMA (Sputnik), Liudmila Chernova – The number of migrants arriving in Lebanon is becoming unbearable for the country and Beirut is hoping for global support in coping with the refugee influx, Lebanon Ministry of Finance Director General Alain Bifani told Sputnik.

"Lebanon has never closed its border. It’s a humanitarian issue… But at the same time it not the question of will, it is the question of capacity. We are really reaching the maximum that could be required from any country in the world," Bifani said on Thursday on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in Lima, Peru.

According to Bifani, there are currently no restrictions imposed in Lebanon on the number of migrants permitted in the country.

"But at the same time the world has to acknowledge that the load on Lebanon is becoming unbearable," Bifani said.

Bifani explained that Lebanon is accepting the number of refugees equalling to almost half of its population, stressing that the country is doing it not only for itself, but for the rest of the world.

"We are calling it a global public good… This global public good should be a global responsibility. The whole world should feel they have something to do with them," he told Sputnik, adding that enough money and resources should be provided to Lebanon for it "to be able to cope with this enormous weight which is a public asset that is given to the world."

Bifani also warned that if Lebanon does not get enough support, the world might see more and more people moving into other countries.

"This is something that people would have to keep in mind. We are doing it, and as long as we are doing it, the refugees will not go somewhere else. But if we collapse, if we are not able to take this amount of people any more, those people are going to try to find another way and to find other countries to take them. And I am not sure that there is a will in the world to take so many people," Bifani told Sputnik.

Lebanon is one of the many countries that have been struggling with an inflow of refugees coming from Syria and other conflict-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa.

"Either we are going to get enough support to be able to continue until there is a solution to the crisis in Syria, and then we will see what happens to the issue of the displaced. Or we are going to see more and more people spreading wherever in the world, and that will be the responsibility of the countries that have not mobilized their resources accordingly," Bifani warned.

An enormous influx of migrants has been registered in Europe over the past few months. According to the most recent estimates from the EU border agency Frontex, some 630,000 migrants have arrived in the bloc since the beginning of 2015.

Bifani said that during the three days of the IMF and World Bank meetings they are going to have talks on the issue of refugees.

"We are hoping that the initiative of the [World] bank will be developed into tangible instruments. And we will also have an opportunity to discuss with the IMF at the highest level," he said.

Earlier on Thursday, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim told reporters that the group is looking into new ways to boost its assistance to the countries accepting refugees from Syria.

The Syrian civil war caused the highest refugee population in the world, with over 4 million asylum seekers having fled Syria to neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt, according to UN data.
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