Tuesday, September 22, 2015

From Ian:

Heatwave, bikes and Jerusalem tensions: Israel prepares for Yom Kippur
Israelis preparing to begin the 25-hour Yom Kippur fast were greeted Tuesday by a heatwave, with meteorologists warning that temperatures would rise further on Wednesday. Meanwhile, recent tensions in Jerusalem have resulted in a bolstered police presence in the capital and a complete closure in the Palestinian territories.
The highest temperatures are expected in Eilat and Beersheba, reaching 38 degrees Celsius. In Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, temperatures are expected to reach 34 degrees at their peak, and climb to 35 in Tiberias.
On Thursday, temperatures will drop slightly and humidity rise again, but it will continue to be hotter than the seasonal average.
Magen David Adom and other emergency health services are on alert for the holiday, during which some Israelis in risk groups, like pregnant women and elderly people, often suffer health issues related to the stringent fast, in which neither food nor liquids are allowed. Those at risk were advised to seek medical advice before fasting.
Rescue personnel were also anticipating the usual spate of grazes, bumps and bruises stemming from the unofficial Yom Kippur tradition of riding bikes through Israel’s deserted streets. An informal ban on driving is customarily observed across the country for the duration of the holiday.
Yemen Strikes, Israel, and Double Standards in the Middle East
The Saudis confront in Yemen the same challenge Israel has faced in Gaza: how to deal with combatants who fire from urban areas using civilians for cover. But Riyadh seems to have less regard for civilian casualties and hasn’t been held accountable the way Israel is for such injuries and death, whether the issue is errant airstrikes, incompetence, or willful targeting of homes, markets, hospitals, and refugee camps. Last week, UNICEF reported that a coalition airstrike had targeted a warehouse used for water distribution, jeopardizing 11,000 Yemenis.
All of this puts the Obama administration in an untenable position. Yes, Washington is Israel’s key supporter and has defended Israel at the United Nations over Gaza. But when it comes to Yemen, the U.S. is supporting the Saudi coalition airstrikes with targeting information, logistics, and other intelligence. Washington has advised the Saudis to set limits on their targets, and U.S. officials expressed concerns as early as April about the campaign’s open-ended nature. Still, the Obama administration has avoided public criticism.
The issue is less defending Israel than recognizing this double standard in the Middle East.
The Saudis escape consequences for their actions in Yemen in part because the Arab coalition is nine countries deep and rich too. The Arab League–of which Yemen is a member–supports the coalition campaign. And a majority of U.N. members appear to be happy to ignore distant, poor Yemen while they support the Palestinian cause and fault Israeli human rights abuses. And unlike the Israelis, the Saudi military doesn’t investigate the accusations against it.
The next time Israel–or the U.S., for that matter–is accused of killing civilians while operating in urban areas against legitimate military targets, it would be nice if critics, the Saudis in particular, held their fire. But I’m not holding my breath.
Naked clown activists issue apology to Palestinians after protesting at wall separating Israel with West Bank
Some Facebook users commented “shame on them” while others asked if the nudity was necessary and said they should consider that the Muslim community in Palestinian territories may have “different principles”.
The group justified their actions, saying “when you stand before this shameful wall, all humanity is naked".
However, the group later issued an apology on Facebook to “any Palestinians who may feel offended by our action against the wall of shame that pierces the West Bank and every human heart".
“This is not an attack on Islam, it is our way of protesting [against] the existence of the wall,” Iván Prado, spokesman for the group added.



Israel Needs New Friends
Nor can Israel dismiss its relations with Europe. Many European powers are highly critical of certain Israeli policies — especially toward the Palestinians. But Europe is nearby and an important commercial partner. Israel should creatively develop possible alliances with like-minded European countries, especially in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean region. And it should strive to independently improve its relations with Western European states, rather then relying on Washing-ton to counterbalance their biases whenever there is trouble.
It’s no coincidence that Israel was more entrepreneurial in its foreign relations when its ties with America were weaker. It bought arms from Czechoslovakia, when Washington wouldn’t sell Israel weapons, and it conspired with France, leaving America in the dark before the 1956 war. It was close to Iran and to Turkey, independently of Washington; it collaborated with South Africa on matters the United States did not want to discuss; and it even went to Oslo to negotiate with the Palestinians without approval from the White House.
For the foreseeable future, the United States will likely remain Israel’s main ally. But it must not be Israel’s only ally.
It can no longer be the “no-plan-B” type of ally or a “no daylight” ally. The Obama administration now believes that the United States has certain critical interests, and Mr. Netanyahu’s government believes that Israel has certain critical interests — and they are not the same. As a result, the policies of the two countries are no longer compatible on several key issues. For Israel, finding a way to supplement its ties with Washington is therefore not a luxury; it’s an urgent necessity.
15 Governors: We Will Keep Our Sanctions On Iran
A number of states that have existing sanctions against Iran have signaled their intent to fight federal attempts to lift them, Bloomberg Politics reported Friday.
Thirty states and the District of Columbia restrict investments by pensions and public entities in companies doing business in the country, according to the group United Against Nuclear Iran. Fifteen Republican U.S. governors, including four presidential candidates, last week sent a letter to Obama saying they would fight to keep their constraints if the administration lifts its nuclear-related sanctions. …
The governors, including presidential aspirants Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, John Kasich of Ohio and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, point to a provision in the deal that says the federal government will “actively encourage” state and local officials to “take into account” U.S. policy lifting some sanctions.
“We intend to ensure that the various state-level sanctions that are now in effect remain in effect,” the governors said in their Sept. 8 letter.

The other governors that signed the letter represent Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah.
Expected September 28 NY Meeting Between P5+1 Foreign Ministers And Iran Could Signify Reopening Of Nuclear Negotiations To Address Khamenei's September 3 Threat That If Sanctions Are Not Lifted, But Merely Suspended, There Will Be No Agreement
Recent reports indicate that the foreign ministers of the P5+1 are set to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in New York on September 28, 2015, on the margins of the UN General Assembly, to "examine the recent developments of the JCPOA."
On September 20, 2015, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, at a joint press conference in Berlin with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, that he would meet Zarif in New York to discuss "Iran and other matters."
Additionally, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the head of Iran's Center for Strategic Research, said on September 19, 2015 that "the nuclear negotiations are not over yet."
As will be recalled, Khamenei said, in a September 3, 2015 speech to the Assembly of Experts, that he did not accept the terms of the agreement and demanded that the sanctions be immediately lifted rather than merely suspended; otherwise, he said, there would either be no agreement, or Iran too would merely suspend its execution of its obligations under the JCPOA. He said: "We negotiated [with the Americans] in order to have the sanctions lifted, and the sanctions will be lifted. Now, if we are supposed to uphold this framework... this completely contradicts the reason for Iran's participation in the talks to begin with. Otherwise, what was the point of our participation in the talks? We would have continued to do what we were doing [prior to the talks]... The fact that we sat down and held talks and made concessions on certain issues was mainly in order to have the sanctions lifted. If the sanctions are not going to be lifted, there will be no agreement... [Our] officials [i.e. Rohani's government and his Ministry of Foreign Affairs] should make this clear...
Iran: UN nuclear watchdog did not oversee Parchin sampling
A senior Iranian nuclear official pushed back against the head of the UN’s atomic watchdog Monday, saying statements made about IAEA safeguards of inspections at the Parchin military site were false.
Reza Najafi, Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said sampling done at the Parchin site, which the West suspects housed illicit nuclear tests, was done without any international oversight, in contrast to what he said was a Reuters report on a statement made by IAEA head Yukiya Amano.
“We have not allowed any IAEA inspector into Parchin site to take samples or supervise our sampling; we have taken the samples by ourselves,” Najafi told the semi-official Fars News Agency.
Head of Iranian News Agency Accuses IAEA Chief of Helping to Kill Nuclear Scientists
A director of Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency has accused International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano of leaking information that led to the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists, Fars reported today. Seyed Yasser Jebrayeeli, the deputy managing director of the agency, made the charge in a letter and book that he sent to Amano.
In his letter to the IAEA director-general, Jebrayeeli challenged Amano’s remarks, and asked him to have an in-depth look at the book, ‘Fire at Knowledge’, that has been recently published by FNA to realize how the IAEA’s lax control and lack of proper handling and classifying the member-states’ vital data and information provided Iran’s enemy states with access to the names and personal information of the Iranian nuclear scientists and led to their assassination.
“Although we were stunned to hear Your Excellency demand corroborative evidence to prove the IAEA’s role in the assassination of Iranian scientists, I, hereby, send you a copy of the book, ‘Fire at Knowledge’, which has been recently published by Fars News Agency, and I hope Your Excellency find some time to read it thoroughly and contemplate over its theme and the writer’s objective – i.e. why and how the Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated – in a bid to find out the role of your agency, the IAEA, in these terror attacks,” the letter said.
Can Obama Ignore Abbas’s Anti-Jewish Slurs?
Rather than defending their holy sites what Abbas and the Palestinian mobs he is inciting want is to deny access to the Temple Mount to Jews. Moreover, this is part and parcel of their campaign to not merely re-divide the city but to return to the pre-1967 situation where Jews were banned from entering the Old City. While Abbas knows that Israel will never permit this to happen, the point of this campaign is to allow him to compete with the Islamists of Hamas for the affections of Palestinians who continue to view hostility to Jews and Israel as the only measure of political legitimacy. The more he talks about peace, the less popular he becomes and the more of a threat Hamas is to the maintenance of Fatah’s corrupt kleptocracy in the West Bank, notwithstanding his constant insincere threats about resigning. He is, after all, currently serving the 10th year of the four-year term as president of the PA to which he was elected. If fueling Palestinian anti-Semitism serves the cause of the corrupt Fatah kleptocracy, that is what he will do.
The most useful thing Obama could do now to further the cause of peace would be to send Abbas a stern warning that any further provocations will result in the end of U.S. aid to the bankrupt PA. He might also seek to reduce the amount of “daylight” between himself and Netanyahu, since the belief that Obama will eventually betray Israel to the Palestinians at the UN is also bolstering Abbas’s faith that he can get away with this sort of behavior. But instead, we hear nothing but silence about his vile language from Washington. Until that changes, it is foolish as well as counter-productive for the U.S. to talk about pressuring Israel to make more concessions for the sake of a peace the Palestinians don’t want.
UN tosses sins into river in first-ever Tashlich ceremony
New York’s East River was a little more polluted than usual Monday night, after United Nations envoys and other dignitaries dumped a year’s worth of trespasses and regrets out of their pockets and into Turtle Bay.
Among dignitaries taking part in the Jewish sin-cleansing rite of Tashlich were UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and envoys to the world body from the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, Ukraine, Brazil and elsewhere, including Israel.
The service, dating back to medieval Germany, is traditionally held next to a flowing body of water on or shortly after the Jewish Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, and involves the symbolic casting off of sins, which usually take the form of bread, to be gobbled up by fish and other fauna.
This was the first time the UN held a Tashlich ceremony, giving the world body its first clean slate after decades of inaction in the face of wars, famines and human rights violations.
Tashlich Cermemony at the UN


Abbas’ ‘UN Bomb” Might Be Proclamation of Independence of New Arab Country
The most likely “bomb” that Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmud Abbas said he will drop at the end of his speech in the United Nations later this month is a declaration that the PA is an independent country.
Speculation that his bomb will be the announcement of the extinction of the Palestinian Authority or the end of the Oslo Accords does not stand to reason. He has resigned or threatened to resign several times, so officially doing so from the podium of the United Nations would not even qualify as a stink bomb.
As for the Oslo Accords, officially breaking them also would not mean anything. The Agreement exists only as an historical record of one the modern history’s most ignorant, ill–conceived and poisonous ideas, a document that hypnotized the world to grant arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat the Nobel Peace Prize.
Israel Shield wrote here yesterday that Abbas’ “bomb” will be“to say he accepts Israel as the Jewish State and proclaim he is willing to negotiate a full and extensive deal based on the 1967 borders.”
I don’t know if the writer was being funny or serious, but in either case, “Mr. Shield,” Abbas never would make such an announcement unless he wanted one of his brethren to shoot his brains out.
NGO Monitor: Prof. Gerald Steinberg, speaking at the IDC Anti-Terrorism Conference, Sept. 9, 2015


JCPA: The Muslim Schism over Jerusalem
Amid the systematic destruction of mosques and holy places in the Arab world, it is precisely Israel’s responsibility for security at the mosque compound on the Temple Mount that protects the mosques there from a similar fate.
The Sunni controversy between the Salafis – from whom Al-Qaeda emerged – and the Muslim Brotherhood is about what constitutes the center of Islam. Whereas the Salafis view the Arabian sites of Hijaz and Mecca as the center of the faith, the Muslim Brotherhood locates it at the ancient Cairo Al-Azhar University.
Because Cairo has no special religious holiness, the Brotherhood regards Jerusalem as their religious center. From the Salafis’ standpoint, the Muslim Brotherhood’s enhancement of the special status of Jerusalem poses a danger to the status of Mecca. Jerusalem was at the bottom of agenda for the Prophet and his successors, and Mecca was at the top.
The Palestinian Authority is the weakest force in the Al-Aqsa plaza. In visiting the site recently, the PA minister of religious affairs was almost lynched.
Report: Israel tells Jordan that it's breaching Temple Mount status quo
Following Jordanian King Abdullah II's criticism of Israel over recent violence on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, Israel reportedly responded to the monarchy and indicated that Jordan itself was allowing the status quo at the site to be broken.
According to a Channel 2 report on Monday, Israel communicated to Jordan that it should not be shirking its own responsibility at the Temple Mount and that it was in fact the Jordanian Waqf that has allowed the rioters who were armed with stones to sleep in al-Aksa Mosque.
Abdullah on Sunday indicated to a visiting delegation of Arab MKs from the Joint List that he was following events on the Temple Mount closely and it would be an important subject in meetings with world leaders at the UN next week.
Abbas warns of ‘intifada risk’ over Temple Mount
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned Tuesday of the “risk of an intifada” if clashes over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount continue, after a meeting with French leader Francois Hollande in Paris.
“What is happening is very dangerous,” Abbas said, calling on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “stop” the chaos at the flashpoint holy site, deemed holy by both Jews and Muslims and home to the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Abbas warned against “an intifada (uprising) which we don’t want.”
Tensions are high after days of clashes between Palestinians and Israel Police at the Al-Aqsa mosque during the Jewish New Year last week.
Ban to Abbas: Fiery remarks on Temple Mount exacerbate tensions
The Israeli delegation to the UN had complained to Ban over his failure to speedily condemn comments Abbas made last week on Palestinian television, in which he said Jews were sullying the Temple Mount, the location of the al-Aqsa Mosque, “with their filthy feet.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the recent surge in Palestinian violence in Jerusalem was “of course joined by the choir, by the Palestinian Authority, with incitement and even anti-Semitic expressions regarding the prohibition for Jews with their ‘filthy feet’ to visit the Temple Mount and other over-the-top expressions.”
On Thursday last week, Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold also slammed Abbas’s comments.
“Today the world is divided between those trying to undermine religious coexistence and those trying to protect it,” Gold said in a statement. “By saying that the ‘filthy feet’ of Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount desecrate it, Mahmoud Abbas has now clarified on which side he stands.”
Erdogan: Israel Defending Temple Mount 'A Red Line'
Israel defending Judaism's holiest site is a "red line," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated to a delegation of visiting Arab MKs on Monday.
"I am very disturbed by the situation and will act in the international arena as much as I can to stop the dangerous events in the Islamic holy places," Erdogan stated, referring to the Temple Mount. The Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the location of the First and Second Temple, has also been alleged by Islamists to be "the third holiest site in Islam."
Erdogan added that the Mount is "a red line, and the continued provocation of Israel could deteriorate the situation."
"I am following the situation with great concern and will continue to follow the situation in the future," he concluded.
On Sunday, a Joint List delegation left Israel for Jordan and Turkey to discuss Israel's "provocations" in enforcing the law against rock-throwers and Muslim rioters.
Protestant Minister Says Fellow Christian Leaders’ Call for Jordanian Control of All Holy Sites in Israel Prompted by Threats
A prominent Protestant minister in Jerusalem accused the Palestinian Authority of coercing the Christian leadership in the Holy Land into turning against Israel.
Wishing to remain anonymous, this senior figure told The Algemeiner that the release of a “Statement from the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem” – signed by 13 church leaders – is a direct result of this kind of “unholy” relationship between Arab-Muslims and the Christians who live in fear of their wrath.
The statement in question, released Monday and posted on the website of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, is a response to the escalating violence on the Temple Mount, the control over which was given to the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf (a Muslim trust) by Israel following its victory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Arabs Kill Jews, US Condemns ‘All Sides’
During the past few days, Arabs in Jerusalem stoned a Jew to death in the Armon HaNatziv (East Talpiot) neighborhood, wounded three Israeli policemen in the Jabel Mukaber neighborhood and hurled rocks and firebombs at policemen on the Temple Mount.
How did the Obama administration respond? By condemning “all sides.”
“All sides.” The Obama White House is incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong, between victim and aggressor. Everyone is equally to blame.
“Escalating tensions.” No hint as to who might be responsible for those tensions. They simply “escalate,” coming out of nowhere, not caused by anyone in particular.
“All acts of violence.” No mention of Alexander Levlovitz, the Israeli stoned to death while driving home from Rosh Hashanah dinner with friends and family. Citing his name would put a human face on those vague “acts of violence.” It might remind the public that Jewish victims of Arab terrorism are real people.
If there’s one thing the White House does not want to do, it’s to draw attention to Jewish victims of Palestinian terrorism. Obama administration policymakers want the public to quickly turn the page, to get on to other issues, not stop and think about someone like Levlovitz. Mentioning his name might encourage people to pause and consider the implications of what happened to him.
And the implications are serious.
Tight security and high tensions in Jerusalem ahead of Yom Kippur
Israeli Jews prepared Tuesday for the Jewish High Holy Day of Yom Kippur amid increased tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem, following days of Palestinian rioting centered on the Temple Mount and the al-Aqsa Mosque located within.
Police and the military were on high alert ahead of the 25-hour fast, during which most of the country will shut down and roads will empty.
Thousands of policemen will be spread throughout Jerusalem during the holiday to keep the peace.
The Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, another possible flashpoint, will start on Wednesday evening, just as the Jewish fast ends.
Suspected Pre-Yom Kippur Arson Evacuates IDF Post
A fire broke out on Tuesday afternoon just hours before the start of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) within the boundaries of Beit Haggai, a town located just south of Hevron in Judea.
The flames spread out rapidly in the direction of the town's "youth village," where classes and activities for youth are held.
Threatened by the blaze, the IDF post in the town was evacuated so as to avoid the fire. Full control was achieved over the flame by firefighters within an hour of so after it broke out.
There are heavy suspicions that the fire was a case of Arab arson, and not simply an innocent brush fire.
Strengthening those suspicions are two cases of arson fires that were set just adjacent to the town last month.
Report: Premature detonation of grenade kills Palestinian in attempted attack on Israeli soldiers
A Palestinian man was killed on Monday night when a grenade intended to be used to harm Israeli soldiers near the West Bank city of Hebron apparently detonated prematurely while still in his hands.
The IDF discovered the body after receiving a report saying a road block made up of rocks was set up near Hursa, southwest of Hebron. Soldiers from an IDF unit sent to the area heard a blast, and in searches found the body of the Palestinian man.
"An initial check of the incident found that the Palestinian was killed by a grenade that he tried to hurl at a military vehicle," the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said
A Palestinian hospital official said the 23-year-old man was showered in shrapnel and also shot in the head, though the military said it had not shot him.
The Islamic Jihad militant group named him as Diyaa Abdul Halim Talahmeh, claimed him as one of its members and said he had been shot dead by the soldiers.
Palestinian woman shot trying to stab IDF soldier dies
An 18-year-old Palestinian woman who was shot while attempting to stab an Israeli soldier in the West Bank Tuesday morning died of her wounds.
The woman was shot in the leg by an Israeli soldier at a military checkpoint in the city of Hebron and received treatment at the scene. She succumbed to her injuries hours later at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital.
The attack was the second attack on Israeli troops in the hours before Jews mark Yom Kippur, the 25-hour fast that is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
A video purporting to be from the scene shows a black-clad woman lying on the ground after being shot, with an Israeli warning others to avoid approaching her for fear she could have an explosive in a bag.
Arab MKs Warn Giving East Jerusalem Streets Hebrew Names Is ‘Pyromanic’ Decision
Arab Knesset members are outraged by the decision of the Jerusalem City Council which on Sunday night approved giving Hebrew names to streets in eastern Jerusalem, Walla reported.
The new names are, in the Silwan neighborhood: Shir La’Ma’a lot, Arugat Ha’Bossem, Malki Tzedek, and Pardes Rimonim; near Shechem Gate: Amir Drori; in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood: Na’hlat Shimon, and Nah’lat Yitzhak; in the Abu Tor neighborhood: Har Ha’Mishkha, and Me’arat Ha’Nevi’im; and in the Ras Al Amud neighborhood: Kidmat Zion.
Many of the names are Biblical; Amir Drori was an IDF general who at one point was on a fast track for chief of staff, then became the founder and the first director general of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Some of the names have a messianic connotation which was probably not missed by the Arab MKs (Har Ha’Mishkha is the Mount of Anointment, Me’arat Ha’Nevi’im is Cave of the Prophets, and Kidmat Zion means East to Zion.
MK Ahmad Tibi said that the new street names are part of the “ongoing attempts to Judaize Al-Quds and falsify history.” Referring to the recent riots in the capital, Tibi added: “Someone decided to add more fuel to the fire of tension in Jerusalem, this decision was pyromanic.”
Egypt ‘demolished thousands of homes’ for Gaza buffer zone
The Egyptian military’s campaign against Islamic insurgents in northern Sinai is harming thousands of civilians and risks turning more people against the government, Human Rights Watch said in a report Tuesday.
The government has evicted 3,200 families over the past two years, and razed hundreds of acres of farmland and thousands of homes in its bid to destroy illegal smuggling tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip with Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula, the rights group said.
“Destroying homes, neighborhoods and livelihoods is a textbook example of how to lose a counterinsurgency campaign,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the organization’s director in the Middle East and North Africa.
“The Egyptian authorities provided residents with little or no warning of the evictions, no temporary housing, mostly inadequate compensation for their destroyed homes — none at all for their farmland,” the organization said in a statement.
Ya’alon: Israel retains its freedom to act in Syria
Israel has no intention of giving up its freedom to operate in Syria, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon insisted Tuesday morning, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had reached an understanding to avoid any military entanglements between their respective troops as Israel acts to thwart attacks on its territory from the war-torn country.
Ya’alon told Israel Radio that the Jewish state is determined not to let Russian weapons end up in the hands of Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based Islamist ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“We have something to say on this matter. We have no intention of giving up our freedom to act and defend our clear red lines – not allowing the transfer of advanced weapon systems to Hezbollah, [and] certainly not chemical weapons,” he said, pointing out that Moscow has a military attaché as well as an ambassador in Israel.
Ya’alon also described a reality in which the Middle East “changes every day, and one of the main changes is happening in Syria.”
Report: Hezbollah to cease offensive action in Syria
While Syria, Russia and Iran solidify their military relationships, embattled President Bashar Assad may be about to lose another key ally in his fight against rebel groups including the Islamic State, according to Lebanese reports on Monday.
Hezbollah has been actively involved in Syria's civil war with troops on the ground fighting for the Assad regime, but the organization has informed the Syrian government that it will no longer take part in offensive military action, according to diplomatic sources who spoke to the Daily Star. According to the report, Hezbollah is now expected to participate only in defensive actions after a battle currently being fought for the city of Al-Zabadani, some 45 kilometers from Damascus, is completed.
Even with the direct support of Iran and Russia, losing Hezbollah's offensive capabilities would be a serious blow to the Assad regime, which has suffered a string of losses for the past several months as government forces have found themselves on the back foot against the Islamic State and other rebels.
WaPo Editorial Board: Obama's 'Abject Failure' In Syria Has Become A Slow-Motion Train Wreck
The Washington Post editorial board crushed the Obama administration for its poor handling of the crisis in Syria over the last several years in a recent op-ed.
That failure was summed up in a single devastating paragraph.
“A $500 million program launched last year to train moderate Syrian rebel forces, officials conceded, had been an abject failure. But, the White House contended, the president was not at fault because he had never believed in the strategy, anyway,” the op-ed noted.
The military recently admitted that countless millions of dollars poured into the program have only produced 4-5 American-trained fighters in the battlefield, despite the initial goal of training 5,400 fighters in the first year. White House press secretary Josh Earnest quickly noted that the president had always been somewhat skeptical of the plan.
Rouhani: Iran Will Support Assad As Long As There Are Terrorists In Syria
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani insisted in an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday that Iran would continue to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as long as ISIS and other terrorist groups still operate in Syria.
Look, in a county where a large segment of the country has been occupied by terrorists, and there is bloodshed inside the country, millions of people have been displaced, how is it possible that we fight the terrorists of this country without supporting and helping the government of that country? How can we fight the terrorists without the government staying? Of course, after we have fought terrorism and a secure environment is created, then it is time to talk about the constitution, or the future regime to talk and discuss opposition groups and supporters sit at the table, but during a situation of bloodshed and during an occupation of the country, what options exist?
Rouhani’s comments show his that backing Assad is a priority, one that Rouhani has been committed to since he became president two years ago. At that time, Rouhani pledged to “stand by [Syria] in facing all challenges.” He later ascribed opposition to the Assad regime, which repeatedly used chemical weapons on civilians, as a Western conspiracy, saying that “the West has a decision for the entire region and doesn’t like our region in its present shape and this is the reason that the British and the French are returning to the region after years… A study of the [present] conditions in Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Syria shows that the West has made a chain of them and seeks to strengthen Israel and weaken the resistance front.” The “resistance front” refers to Iran and its proxies, such as the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas, which are seeking to destroy Israel.
Russia sending thousands of troops, dozens of jets to Syria
Russia has deployed 28 combat planes in Syria, US officials said Monday, and a source in Moscow said 2,000 Russian military personnel would be sent to an airbase near the main port city of Latakia, as fears grow over Moscow’s increasing military presence in the war-torn nation.
Washington in recent weeks has expressed growing concern over Russia’s moves to support Syrian President Bashar Assad and warned that militarily backing his regime risks further hampering efforts at bringing peace.
Experts said the buildup is likely a prelude to military action.
“There are 28 fighter and bomber aircraft” at an airfield in the western Syrian province of Latakia, one of the officials told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
UN Watch: Again: Saudi Arabia Elected Chair of UN Human Rights Council Panel
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power and EU foreign minister Federica Mogherini should condemn and work to reverse the appointment of Saudi Arabia as head of a key UN Human Rights Council panel that selects top officials who shape international human rights standards and report on violations worldwide, said UN Watch, a non-governmental watchdog organization based in Geneva.
“It is scandalous that the UN chose a country that has beheaded more people this year than ISIS to be head of a key human rights panel,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer. “Petro-dollars and politics have trumped human rights.”
“Saudi Arabia has arguably the worst record in the world when it comes to religious freedom and women’s rights, and continues to imprison the innocent blogger Raif Badawi,” Neuer added.
“This UN appointment is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief, and underscores the credibility deficit of a human rights council that already counts Russia, Cuba, China, Qatar and Venezuela among its elected members.”
UN Watch: Saudi chair of UNHRC panel vetted experts on women’s rights, arbitrary detention, independence of judges
UN Watch is outraged that the UN Human Rights Council chose Saudi Arabia, despite its abysmal record, to play a key role in picking the world body’s global human rights monitors on violence against women, arbitrary detention and the independence of judges.
Ambassador Faisal bin Hassan Trad of Saudi Arabia, as Chairperson of the UN Human Rights Council’s consultative group of five diplomats (one from each UN regional group), was responsible for interviewing and short-listing candidates for the following positions:
– UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women
– Member of UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
– UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges
– UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy
– Member of UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances
– UN Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights
– Member of Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
– Member of Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
Douglas Murray: Saudi Arabia: World's Human Rights Sewer
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was just 17 when he was arrested by the Saudi authorities in 2012, during a crackdown on anti-government protests in the Shia province of Qatif. He was accused of participating in banned protests and firearms offenses -- despite a complete lack of evidence on the latter charge. Denied access to lawyers, al-Nimr is alleged by human rights groups to have been tortured and then forced into signing a confession while in custody. Campaigners say that it seems he has been targeted by authorities because of his family association with Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the 53-year-old critic of the Saudi regime who is his uncle. The Sheikh has also been convicted and sentenced to death. After the confession and "trial," his nephew was convicted at Saudi's Specialized Criminal Court and sentenced to death. The trial itself failed to meet any international standards. Al-Nimr appealed against his sentence, but this week that appeal was dismissed. It now seems likely that he and his uncle will now be executed. Because charges include crimes involving the Saudi King and the state itself, it seems likely that the method of death will be crucifixion.
If this were in any way to cause a flicker of concern among other participants in the UNHRC farce going on Geneva, they have at least some consolation. For in Saudi Arabia crucifixion is not what it used to be. Indeed, in Saudi Arabia crucifixion begins with the beheading of the victim and only then the mounting of the beheaded body onto a crucifix, to make it available for public viewing. This is a punishment which it would appear is not only Sharia-compliant but also -- we must assume -- Geneva-compliant.
Of course, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr counts as having been a juvenile at the time of his arrest, so not only are the Saudi authorities preparing to crucify someone -- in 2015 -- whom they tortured into making a confession - they are preparing to crucify someone who was a minor at the time of arrest. Perhaps the authorities at the UNHRC in Geneva do indeed blush when they appoint Saudi officials to head their human rights panels. But it does not seem to affect their behaviour. Just as Saudi authorities think it is "international attention" rather than flogging people to death or crucifying them after beheading that is the problem, so the UNHRC in Geneva seems to think it is public awareness of their grotesque appointments rather than the appointments themselves that are the problem.
The international attention paid to the case of Raif Badawi has not yet seen him released, but it seems to have delayed the next rounds of lashes. Which suggests the Saudi authorities have the capacity to feel some shame. This should in turn be a cause for some hope among everyone who cares about human rights. It should also provide a reminder to everyone to increase global attention on the case of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr and the many others like him who suffer under a government and judicial system that should utterly shame the world outside Geneva, even if it cannot shame the UN.


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