Eastern Ghouta: Syrian government forces clash with rebels.

Hours into second attempt at implementing Russian truce, government shelling intensifies in towns near front lines.

Syrian government forces have clashed with rebels on the outskirts of Eastern Ghouta, despite a Russian-sponsored truce that is now in its second day, a war monitor reported.

Since Wednesday morning, during a second attempt at implementing a ceasefire in the besieged enclave, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s forces have been locked in “fierce” fighting with rebels who have been in control of the area since 2013, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

The confrontation is part of a ground offensive launched by the government on Sunday. It has been fighting on multiple fronts in an attempt to penetrate the enclave.

The daily, five-hour “humanitarian pause” is meant to evacuate the injured out of the Damascus suburb and allow humanitarian convoys to deliver food and medicine to some 400,000 people trapped inside.

The first attempt to implement the truce on Tuesday was unsuccessful, as aerial bombardment and artillery fire killed at least four people and injured dozens more.

Saudi crown prince to visit UK on March 7.

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman will visit the United Kingdom (UK) on an official visit from March 7, the Downing Street has announced.

“The visit will also provide an opportunity to enhance our co-operation in tackling international challenges such as terrorismextremism, the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen and other regional issues such as Iraq and Syria,” Al Jazeera quoted a spokesperson for the UK‘s prime minister Theresa May as saying.

“The visit will also provide an opportunity to enhance our co-operation in tackling international challenges such as terrorismextremism, the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen and other regional issues such as Iraq and Syria,” the statement added.

According to the reports, in a separate statement issued after the meeting with her cabinet, May said the crown prince’s visit would allow Britain to talk “frankly and constructively” about areas of concern like Yemen and security in the Middle East.

Meanwhile Reprieve, a UK-based rights group, has objected to the crown prince’s visit, saying that, “The close relationship Theresa May trumpets has led to British police officers training Saudi agents in the kind of cyber-monitoring techniques which have been used to justify death sentences.”

Indonesia: Christian couple caned for gambling.

Authorities caned a Christian married couple on Tuesday after they were arrested for gambling at an entertainment centre in Banda Acehin Indonesia.

The Aceh Sharia Court sentenced the couple, identified as Dahlan Sili Tongga, 61, and Tjia Nyuk Hwa, 45, to eight and seven lashes respectively for violating provincial laws. The caning took place outside the Babussalam Mosque in Lampaseh Aceh in the city, The Straits Times reported.

The couple was found guilty of violating a jinayat (Islamic bylaw) on gambling.

According to the sharia law, each lash is equivalent to a one-month imprisonment. Hence, it is believed that the couple preferred to receive corporal punishment.

The court also sentenced a 67-year-old man named Ridwan to 22 lashes for allowing gambling to take place on the premises. The authorities confiscated coins, vouchers and cash from him as well.

“This punishment shows our commitment (to implementing sharia). We want to create a deterrent so that other people do not violate sharia,” Banda Aceh Mayor Aminullah Usman said, adding that the caning was deliberately carried out in an open space so that the public could see it.

Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that implements the sharia, although non-Muslims, who are found guilty of committing crimes are regulated under the province’s criminal code such as gambling.

India to double state purchases of oilseeds, pulses.

In a bid to give a boost to farmers, the Union Cabinet has doubled state purchases of oilseeds and pulses from them.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved the regularisation and extension of Government Guarantee provided to lender bank for providing credit limit to National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) Rs 19,000 crore from earlier Rs 9,500 crore for undertaking procurement operation of pulses and oilseeds under Price Support Scheme (PSS) and to Small Farmers Agri-Business Consortium (SFAC) for Rs 45 crore for meeting their existing liability and settlement of extant claims.

These Government Guarantees are valid for a period of five years, till 2021-22.

As the market price of most pulses and oilseeds is below the Government of India prescribed-Minimum Support Price (MSP) these provisions will help farmers in selling their produce at the MSP, and will also help prevent a situation where they are forced to make flash sales of their crops, because of the supply-demand gap, during peak arrival periods.

It will also encourage higher investment in the agro-sector and consequently yield higher production and safeguard the interest of the consumers by making supplies available at a reasonable price.