Friday, April 01, 2016

From Ian:

Khaled Abu Toameh: Palestinians: Presidents for Life, No Elections
Senior figures who have dared to challenge Abbas's autocratic rule have already found themselves targeted by the president and his men. Ask former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who had his organization's bank accounts seized by Abbas, or Mohamed Dahlan, the former Fatah commander and minister who was forced to flee the Palestinian territories after falling out with Abbas and his sons. Perhaps deposed PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo, who overnight was stripped of his powers and thrown to the dogs for speaking out against the president, would have a word to say. In Ramallah, they call them the "Abbas victims."
We would need a crystal ball to know what will happen the day after Abbas disappears from the scene. Perhaps, say some, we shall witness a scene reminiscent of the old days of the Soviet Union "Politburo," with the next president chosen by a group of Fatah and PLO leaders who will meet in Ramallah. This seems the most likely scenario, in the absence of any chance of free and democratic elections, and in light of the continued split between the two Palestinian entities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
We do not need a crystal ball, however, to know that Abbas will leave a legacy of chaos. His adamant refusal to name a deputy or even discuss the issue of succession in public has already created tensions among the top brass of the PLO and Fatah. The Palestinian public, for its part, has precious little confidence in its leaders.
The behind-the-scenes power struggle that has been quietly raging in Ramallah for the past few months is likely to lead to a state of paralysis in the Palestinian arena and leave the Palestinians without an acceptable leader. Or, as senior Fatah official Tawfik Tirawi put it, Abbas will be the last president for the Palestinians.
Palestinians are plagued with leaders who desire one thing: personal power. The Palestinians are marching away from achieving a state, partly because they seem incapable of the fundamental political principle of free and democratic elections. The day after does not look promising.
Eleanor Roosevelt on the "Nakba"
We have history.
They have narrative.
Eleanor Roosevelt was more than the wife of Franklin- she was one of the most articulate champions for human rights of her generation.
Her archives are digitized and are available online
In her March 23, 1956 column "My Day", read what she has to say about the Arab refugees who fled Israel (In 1956, they were not yet called "Palestinians")
NEW YORK—I have an anonymous letter which asks me what is being done by the United Nations about the plight of the nearly one million Arab refugees of Israel aggression.
Isn't it astonishing how many mistakes can creep into one sentence.
There are 800,000 refugees who are being cared for by the U.N. and have been cared for since, during the war, their own Moslem mufti in Jerusalem called upon the Arabs in Israel to leave.
Israel was not the aggressor in this war. The Arabs were the aggressors. The partition of Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel was the result of U.N. action.
The Arabs did not accept the new state. So Israel fought and gained more land, holding it by defeating her Arab attackers.
The Arabs who did not heed the call of the Mufti and leave Israel during the war are still living there. As a minority, they have certain grievances. But, by and large, with eight representatives in the Knesset (the parliament), they have a voice, as citizens of Israel, to demand redress for their wrongs. (h/t Bob Knot)
Cash for terror: how PA duped British backers
This is an extended version of an article that first appeared in the 'Mail on Sunday'.
A new report by Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli NGO, suggests Western donors have been duped. It details a series of documents and official statements exposing how the PA continues to fund salaries of convicted terrorists.
Evidence includes the Ministry of Finance saying last year in an official statement that it transfers almost half its budget to Gaza, adding that this included "the salaries of prisoners, the released and the families of the Martyrs and wounded".
The report also reveals the PA transferred an extra 444m shekels (£81m) to the PLO in 2015 - significantly, only marginally more than the 442m shekel budget given to its own Ministry of Prisoners' Affairs the previous year before it transferred responsibility.
Itamar Marcus, the report's author, argues the move was a facade to appease donors.
"There is willful blindness by the UK and EU, who were happy not to even carry out the simplest investigation," he said.
"This money sends a message to people that it is heroic to kill Israelis. And it gives these people a social status, so they can buy nice cars and kids aspire to be like them."
The group also discloses two cases of individuals claiming to have carried out attacks for cash. In one Khalad Rajoub, a father-of-seven arrested for attempted murder two years ago, told police he had big debts and planned to die during an attack.

Threat of US action at UN Security Council impacting Israel defense aid talks
Politics, not line items, may be complicating negotiations over an historic US defense package to Israel, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Quiet talks have been under way for months over a new, decade-long aid deal, set to replace an expiring Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) worth $3 billion a year in security assistance to the Jewish state.
But according to a senior Israeli official, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may let the negotiations continue without conclusion so long as there remains a possibility the Obama administration will support a UN Security Council resolution codifying parameters for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu, the official explained, fears the White House may be seeking to quickly wrap up and sell the MOU as a public display of the president's commitment to Israel's security– in order to free him to pursue action at the UN.
Israel has not received assurances from the White House that Obama opposes such a resolution– a decision that is the president's alone, the official noted.
Are Terrorists Really Victims?
The only way to construe the deaths of terrorists as a result of defensive fire from their intended victims as a crime is to accept the myth that the murderers are somehow the real victims of the story, and that their victims can be construed as the aggressors by the mere act of their choosing to live as Jews in the Jewish state.
Israel needs no assistance from the U.S. when it comes to ensuring that its armed forces maintain the high standards by which they have always been governed. But it is a sad commentary on the way increasingly large numbers of Democrats have become part of a chorus calling for aid cutoffs to Israel or to falsely label self-defense as aggression. That is the same mistake that Leahy’s Vermont colleague Bernie Sanders made during the course of a Middle East policy speech that he choose not to deliver at last week’s AIPAC conference. For Sanders, Israel’s counter-terrorism actions during the 2014 Gaza War were disproportionate, a gross distortion of the truth that, like Leahy’s charges, is more a product of Palestinian propaganda than reality.
While Leahy received a stern and entirely appropriate response from Prime Minister Netanyahu, it is the remaining pro-Israel elements of the Democrats that he really needs to hear from. Leahy’s provocation, like Sanders speech, demonstrates the willingness on the part of American left-wingers to believe lies about Israel. That terrorists are not victims, and those who fight them aren’t the terrorists, shouldn’t need to be pointed out to a U.S. Senator. But in the Democratic Party of 2016 such sentiments are, unfortunately, not as rare as they should be.
Court rules conditional release of IDF soldier in Hebron shooting case
A military court ruled on Friday to release on condition of an IDF soldier who shot a subdued Palestinian terrorist in Hebron last week.
The military court at the Defense Ministry's Kirya compound in Tel Aviv issued the ruling after rejecting the prosecution's appeal filed early Friday morning, requesting that the soldier remain in military police custody for an additional seven days.
During a remand hearing on Thursday, IDF Lt.-Col. Judge Ronen Shor ordered the suspect soldier be confined to base under remand for an additional seven days. The ruling was frozen until the prosecution filed their appeal on Friday.
Chief IDF Prosecutor Col. Sharon Zigigi make an unusual personal appearance to argue the appeal on Friday before Military Appeals Court Deputy President Brig. Gen. Doron Filis.
Zigigi's personal appearance was a striking show of the importance the prosecution places on the case.
It is almost unheard of for the chief prosecutor to personally appear as generally their role is to make decisions behind-the-scenes.
Abbas: We are searching schools, in one 70 children had knives
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday he was working to stop Palestinian knife attacks and other street violence against Israel and had offered to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to rekindle peace efforts.
The remarks appeared to be an effort by the Western-backed Abbas to turn the tables on Israel, which has cast him as responsible for the diplomatic deadlock and the surge of bloodshed.
Speaking to Channel 2 TV, Abbas gave rare details on his domestic security drives, a touchy matter as many Palestinians deem such moves collaboration with their enemy.
"Our security forces go into the schools to search pupils' bags and see if they have knives. You don't know this," he said.
"In one school, we found 70 boys and girls who were carrying knives. We took the knives and spoke to them and said: 'This is a mistake. We do not want you to kill and be killed. We want you to live, and for the other side to live as well.'"
Sheikh Raed Salah: This Land Will Vomit Israeli Occupation Like the Sea Vomits Its Filth

Two Israelis wounded in Brussels attack flown to Israel
Two Israelis who were wounded in the terror attacks in Brussels last week were flown to Israel Thursday night and hospitalized at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood.
The two, identified by Israeli ultra-Orthodox media as Chaim Winternitz and Mendy Farkash, members of the Belz Hasidic sect in their 20s, were injured in Brussels’ airport, where they were waiting to board a flight to Israel.
Israeli media reported Thursday that the two were in moderate, stable condition, and were suffering from injuries to their limbs. They are reportedly undergoing treatment in the intensive-care and orthopedic units, and are likely to be released in the coming days.
The two, brothers-in-law from Jerusalem, were in Brussels for the funeral of a relative, ultra-Orthodox media reported. They were flown back to Israel by their insurance company, Ynet reported.
At Algemeiner Gala, Copenhagen Terror Survivor Mette Bentow Recalls Harrowing Night When Lives of Family Changed Forever (VIDEO)
Mette Bentow, survivor of the February 2015 terror attack on a Copenhagen synagogue, says she has been “extremely blessed” and given a second lease on life.
While addressing the third annual Algemeiner “Jewish 100 Gala” in New York Monday evening, Bentow recalled the night she and her family narrowly escaped death, saying it was the second time that a member of her family had been saved by “courage and kindness from someone.”
The first time was in October 1943, when a non-Jewish stranger and his 16-year-old son took my grandparents in a rowing boat in the middle of the night to safety to Sweden. The second time it was no random stranger who saved my family.
Then, on February 14 last year, during the bat mitzva celebration of Bentow’s daughter, Hannah, security guard Dan Uzan, a “kind, generous and treasured member of our community,” gave up his life to save those inside the synagogue.
The UN Is an Enemy in Sheep’s Clothing
Last Friday, the UN Commission on the Status of Women voted on a resolution blaming “Israeli occupation” for the lack of advancement of Palestinian women in their own society. Stunningly, Israel was the only country singled out for any criticism by the UN Commission on Women, after two full weeks of meetings. Yes, you read correctly — the only country out of the 193 recognized countries in the world. The resolution passed by 27 to 2, with 13 abstentions. No mention was made throughout the proceedings of the dozens of countries where the concept of advancement for women is simply non-existent, countries in which women are consistently mistreated and abused — such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, to name just a few.
You may have already read about this story, but I’m pretty certain that you did not read through the more than 8,500 words of the resolution itself. It is truly a remarkable document. Remarkable, that is, in its twistedness and absurdity. Take this gem, for example: “Gender-based violence continues to be a key protection concern for women in the State of Palestine, and the situation is particularly acute in the Gaza Strip. A 2011 survey showed that 51 per cent of women in Gaza had been victims of gender-based violence.” Or this one: “Case studies indicate that economic hardship, following the 2014 conflict in Gaza, has driven families to marry off their daughters early in order to improve the economic situation of the family.” In other words, the UN is blaming Israel for Palestinians who viciously beat up their wives and who marry off their daughters to improve their finances. The resolution also meanders off in directions that have nothing to do with Palestinian women’s issues. For example, it mentions the stalled negotiations for a two-state solution, and the poor state of healthcare provided by the Palestinian Authority, all of which is Israel’s fault, obviously.
Iran paraphrases UN's Ban in justifying Palestinian terror
The Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister also accused Israel of expanding its presence in Judea and Samaria, and said Iran would "proudly support the axis of (anti-Israel) resistance and the oppressed Palestinian people."
"The third intifada is a natural response by true owners of the Palestinian lands to continued aggressive policies of the Zionist regime," he added, justifying the current wave of terror that since last September has claimed the lives of 34 victims.
Ironically Amir-Abdollahian's quote about terror being a "natural response" echoes UN Director-General Ban Ki-Moon, who in January sympathized with Palestinian terror and said, "it is human nature to react to occupation."
Palestinian officials lost no time in citing the quote to praise the murder of female Border Police officer Hadar Cohen in early February.
US Law Should Now Prohibit Funding to UN Climate Change Convention
On Dec. 18, 2015, the Palestinian Authority deposited its instrument of accession to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In accordance with Article 23(2) of the treaty, the Palestinians officially became the 197th party to the UNFCCC on March 17, 2016—ninety days after depositing their instrument of accession.
As was the case when the Palestinians joined the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2011, this event should trigger provisions in U.S. law that will prohibit any future U.S. funding to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The Obama administration requested $13 million for the UNFCCC in the 2017 fiscal year. It is unclear if the prohibition would also include much larger U.S. contributions to the Green Climate Fund, which is a mechanism under the UNFCC framework to assist developing countries in adapting to and mitigating the predicted consequences of climate change.
The UNFCCC is an international treaty negotiated in 1992 designed to facilitate efforts to arrest increases in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions believed to contribute to global warming. It was the basis for the Kyoto Protocol and subsequent efforts such as the recently adopted Paris Agreement so that UNFCCC members will reduce their GHG emissions.
Israeli and Egyptian ministers meet for first time in years
National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz met in Washington on Thursday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry for the first meeting between ministers of the two countries in a number of years.
The meeting took place on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit being held in the White House.
According to Steinitz's office, the discussion focused on various regional issues, the possibility of Israel supplying Egypt with natural gas, and international cooperation in preventing nuclear terrorism.
Israel's delegation to the summit also included the head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, Zeev Snir; the deputy head of the National Security Council, Yaakov Nagel; and representatives from the Foreign Ministry.
Indonesia rebuffs Netanyahu call for normalized ties
Indonesia rebuffed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for the establishment of official diplomatic relations and vowed to uphold its support for the creation of a Palestinian state, the local media said Thursday, quoting a Foreign Ministry official.
“We want to assert that Indonesia’s support and efforts to push for the independence of Palestine will not change,” the Jakarta Times quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir as saying.
Nasir also expressed disappointment at the decision by a delegation of Indonesian journalists to accept an invitation to visit Israel. Netanyahu made the call for normalized ties during a meeting with the delegation in Jerusalem on Monday.
“We regret that such activities are politicized by Israel,” Nasir reportedly said.
With Israel increasingly looking to the East for security and trade cooperation, Netanyahu said Monday that “it’s time for there to be official relations between Indonesia and Israel. We have many opportunities for bilateral cooperation, especially in the fields of water technology and high-tech.”
Israel halves its electricity supply to Jericho over debt
The Israel Electric Corporation on Thursday cut electricity supply to the Palestinian city of Jericho in half, after the Palestinian Authority and the Jerusalem District Electric Company’s debt swelled to over NIS 1.7 billion ($451 million).
The PA has confirmed the existence of the debt and said that negotiations are being held in order to rectify the situation, according to Haaretz.
Several attempts have been made by the IEC to negotiate a debt settlement with the PA and the Jerusalem District Electric Company, but when they proved unsuccessful, the power was finally cut.
The decision to cut half of Israel’s supply to Jericho, which is located in the Jordan Valley, takes into account the fact that the city receives half of its electrical supply from Jordan, which means the power can be made up from other sources without blacking out customers.
Israel extends fishing rights for Gazan fishermen
Israel is to extend the distance off the Gaza Strip coast that some of the Palestinian territory’s fishermen are allowed to operate from Sunday, their trade union said Friday.
Fishing boats working out of ports in the southern part of the Strip will be allowed up to nine nautical miles off the coast, the chairman of the Gaza fishermen’s union, Nizar Ayyash, said.
He said that the previous six-mile limit would be retained in waters off the north of Gaza which neighbor those of Israel.
COGAT, the Defense Ministry body responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories, said on its Facebook page that ahead of the fishing season, the navy “decided to expand fishing south of Wadi Gaza from six to nine miles.”
Gaza child labor doubled over last 5 years
Child labor has risen sharply in Gaza, where youngsters toiling in garages and on construction sites have become breadwinners for families feeling the brunt of the Palestinian enclave's 43 percent unemployment rate.
In the past five years, the number of working children between the ages of 10 and 17 has doubled to 9,700 in the territory, according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics.
The bureau said 2,900 of those children are below the legal employment age of 15.
Economists in the narrow coastal strip, home to 1.9 million Palestinians, estimate the real number of underage workers could be twice as high.
Hamas blasts Twitter’s shutdown of its accounts
Hamas lashed out at Twitter on Friday, after the social media giant allegedly closed a number of its accounts.
The party’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, said its English and Arabic-language accounts had been closed for the third time in two weeks.
The Brigades accused Twitter of showing a “clear bias to the Israeli occupation where it should [adopt a] neutral position toward both sides.”
It said that Israeli officials were allowed to encourage “racism, extremism and terrorism” on the site, and called on the company to reopen the accounts.
One of the closed accounts had more than 140,000 followers, it said in a statement.
Jordanian Basketball Tournament Urges Boycott of Israeli Athletes
A basketball tournament held on Thursday in Jordan sought to encourage participants to boycott Israeli athletes, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“We organize a basketball competition in commemoration of Land Day, to explain to Jordanian sportsmen the importance of supporting the boycott and refusing to participate in sports competitions that promote peace and normalization of relations with Israel,” the Jordanian arm of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement wrote in a Facebook post.
The basketball tournament, called “The Land Cup,” took place at the Applied Science Private University in Amman to mark Palestinian Land Day, an anti-Israel day initiative held annually on March 30 to commemorate six Israeli-Arab rioters who were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces in 1976.
Egyptair hijacker boasted of killing Israelis — ex-wife
The man who hijacked an Egyptair flight on Tuesday and forced it to land in Cyprus was an abusive drug addict who boasted of killing three Israeli soldiers for a Palestinian terror group, his ex-wife said in an interview published Thursday.
Seif Eldin Mustafa, 59, seized a domestic EgyptAir flight with a fake bomb belt and forced it to land in Cyprus Tuesday, where he made a series of bizarre demands, including asking to meet his Cypriot ex-wife and releasing Egyptians prisoners.
He later surrendered and was taken into custody after releasing all passengers and crew unharmed following a strange hours-long standoff.
While many watching the hijacking unfold across the world saw his actions in a romantic light, ex-wife Marina Paraschou painted Mustafa as an uncaring killer, in an interview Thursday with the Cypriot news site Phileleftheros.
Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV shuts Lebanon offices, citing security fears
The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel has shut down its offices in Lebanon, it said Friday, in a new sign of tensions between the kingdom and the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group.
The Beirut offices of Al Arabiya and its sister channel Al Hadath, which offers extensive coverage of political news, have been closed and they no longer have any correspondents in Lebanon, a spokesman told AFP.
In a statement, the Dubai-based channel said it has “restructured” its operations in Lebanon “due to the difficult circumstances and challenges on ground, and out of Al Arabiya’s concern for the safety of its own employees and those employed by its providers.”
It said it would nonetheless “continue to closely cover Lebanese affairs.”
The channel said it would help employees affected by the decision to find jobs elsewhere with Al Arabiya or its providers.
Analysis: Behind Nasrallah's recent threats to Israel
As is clear from an array of contexts, Hezbollah is engaged in both a battle for survival in the regional campaign and in power struggles on its home territory. Nasrallah’s threats to Israel are designed to remind the organization’s supporters and critics that the bedrock of its existence is the principle of resistance, i.e., the struggle against Israel. Flaunting the organization’s military capabilities reminds constituents of Hezbollah’s success against Israel during the Second Lebanon War, when it succeeded in disrupting daily life in northern Israel with ongoing rocket fire for more than a month.
Nasrallah has good reason to mention this, since that war was not only the most recent significant success of the Arab world against Israel on the battlefield (at least so it was perceived at the time), but also the last time that the Arab consensus favored Hezbollah and the organization enjoyed overall support from the Sunni countries – an achievement that appears unimaginable in the current situation. As the tenth anniversary of that war approaches, it appears that Hezbollah is trying to remind itself and other actors in the Middle East of this fact, thereby restoring to Hezbollah some of the legitimacy it gained in 2006. In addition, although Nasrallah emphasized in his latest speech that he does not foresee a conflict with Israel in the near future, it is entirely possible that he senses that Israel is bound to initiate a conflict with Hezbollah. He is trying to erect a solid wall of deterrence in order to convince Israel not to attack.
Thus when Israel tries to understand Nasrallah’s remarks, it is important to consider the overall context in which his statements were made. It therefore follows that his speeches constitute not only a warning to Israel about the damage it can expect in the next war, but also, and chiefly, the absence of any desire for escalation, and a wish to postpone the next conflict through deterrence against Israel.
Kuwait to deport 60 Lebanese for alleged Hezbollah links
Kuwait is to deport 60 Lebanese for alleged links to Hezbollah in the latest Gulf Arab move against the Shiite militant group, a newspaper reported on Monday.
Those to be deported all had permanent residency, which has been revoked, the Al-Qabas daily said.
Those classified as “dangerous cases” were given just two days to leave the country, it added.
It is the second wave of deportations from Kuwait reported since Gulf Arab states blacklisted Hezbollah as a “terrorist” group earlier this month.
Last week, Al-Qabas reported that 11 Lebanese and three Iraqis had been deported for alleged links to the group.
MEMRI: Russian State-Owned Media Outlet Reveals Which Russian Military Hardware Will Remain In Syria After Withdrawal
On March 20, 2016, the Russian state-owned media outlet Sputnik published an article entitled "Not Coming Home: What Russian Hardware Stays in Syria After Pullout and Why." The article lists the military hardware slated to remain in the Hmeymim Air Base in Syria, after the withdrawal started on March 15, 2016. In a MEMRI report published on March 15, additional hardware is mentioned. On March 14, the day of the announcement of the Russian withdrawal, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed that Russia's naval base at Tartus and its strategic Hmeymim airbase will continue to operate as before. On March 17, while honoring Russian officers who participated in the Syrian campaign, Putin said that Russia can build up its military campaign in Syria in a "few hours.".
Reporter Fact Checks State Department’s Position on Assad
AP reporter Matt Lee corrected State Department spokesman John Kirby Wednesday on the Obama administration’s position toward Bashar Al-Assad ruling Syria.
“Assad has lost legitimacy to govern in Syria. Nothing’s changed about our policy, I’m sorry, our view of that,” Kirby said. “We also have said and continue to maintain that he can’t be a part, in our view, cannot be a part of the future of Syria. Syria needs to move to a government away from him in one that is responsive to the Syrian people.
“But ultimately, how they get to that process is for the Syrian people to decide. Nothing has changed about our policy or our view on Bashar al-Assad. I would also point back as far as two years ago, Secretary Kerry was saying how and when his departure is managed, we didn’t then and don’t now take a firm position on, in terms of whether he transitions away on week one, month one or whatever. But we have to get to a government away from Assad and one that’s responsive to the Syrian people.”
Lee remembered what was said by President Obama and administration officials as early as 2012 and stepped in to correct Kirby.

Russia denies it agreed to dethrone Assad
Russia on Thursday denied reports earlier in the day, according to which it had reached an agreement with the US to dethrone Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad who it currently is propping up.
The report by the UK-based Arabic-language Al-Hayat cited a UN Security Council diplomat who leaked the basic outline of the agreement, indicating that Russia had agreed to have Assad step down from power and be exiled to another country. Reportedly US Secretary of State John Kerry had told several Arab countries about the deal.
But in a press conference later on Thursday, Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov rejected the report.
"Al-Hayat published information which does not correspond to reality," Peskov said, as quoted by the Iranian state-run PressTV.
"Russia is advantageously different from other nations because it does not discuss the issue of the self-determination of third countries either through diplomatic or other channels," he added.
Assad Demands UN Help to Rebuild Palmyra, Condemns West for Supporting ‘Terrorists’
Syrian President Bashar Assad has accused Western powers of supporting “terrorism” by supporting his adversaries in the Syrian civil war and announced that Russia, China, and Iran will be calling the shots during Syrian reconstruction, but he also expects the United Nations to restore the ancient city of Palmyra, recently recaptured from the Islamic State.
CNN portrays Assad as “defiant” and filled with belligerent “fighting words” for his international foes, in a new interview with Russia’s state-run Sputnik news agency.
Assad specifically accused Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France, and the United Kingdom of having “directly supported” terrorism by backing his enemies, all of whom are “terrorists” in regime rhetoric.
The dictator declared that reconstruction for Syria will “rely on the three main states that have supported Syria during this crisis – that’s Russia, China and Iran.”
US 'appalled' by Syrian regime's breach of truce
The United States said Thursday it was "appalled" by Syrian government air strikes Thursday that killed more than 30 people - including children - in a key rebel bastion east of the capital of Damascus.
The raids took place in Deir Al-Assafir, a town in the opposition stronghold of Eastern Ghouta, one of the areas in Syria where a fragile ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia has been in place since February 27.
"The United States is appalled by aerial strikes March 31, reportedly by the Assad regime, on a school and hospital in the Damascus suburb of Deir Al Asafir," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
"We condemn in the strongest terms any such attacks directed at civilians," he added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, has reported that 33 people died in the attacks, including 12 children, updating its earlier toll of at least 23 fatalities.
CIA fighting the Pentagon in Syria
The fractured situation in Syria is looking even more bleak as forces allied with different parts of the US defense establishment are fighting against each other.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is supported by the Pentagon, has been clashing with the CIA-backed Arab Fursan al-Haq militia near Aleppo.
"Any faction that attacks us, regardless from where it gets its support, we will fight it," said one of Fursan al-Haq's leaders.
SDF and Fursan al-Haq are only two of the dozens of groups that are fighting against dictator Bashar al-Assad and ISIS, yet cannot come to power-sharing arrangements among themselves.
The US and other Western countries see Assad and ISIS as the primary threats in Syria and have been arming rebel groups with little inter-departmental coordination over the groups' other aims.
Obama’s Nuclear Delusions
Irving Kristol famously wrote that neo-conservatism was an ideology for those who once considered themselves members of the idealistic left, but who have been “mugged by reality.” Barack Obama entered the Oval Office as one of Kristol’s wide-eyed idealists. He, too, has been assaulted by learned experience. Apparently, however, Obama is declining to press charges.
Ahead of his final summit on nuclear security and nonproliferation as president, Barack Obama penned a lengthy defense of his administration’s approach to the issue for the Washington Post. In that effort, Obama chose to declare his continued fealty to the naïve ideal of “a world without nuclear weapons.”
Of course, the objective of putting the atomic genie back in its bottle is no more attainable than is the idea the world could uninvent penicillin. As well as being sheer fancy, both outcomes would be undesirable.
Obama entered office a firm believer in the “nuclear zero” movement. “If we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then in some way we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable,” Obama professed in April of 2009. That is a bizarre way to characterize a half-century of effective deterrence, but such are the tenets of the faith. To strengthen a binding non-proliferation regime, the president insisted that the nation’s responsible nuclear powers must be uncompromising. “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something,” he asserted. If only Obama circa 2009 could see what he has become in 2016.
Obama’s Not-so-Mixed Message to Iran
On Wednesday, along with key European allies, the United States sent a letter to United Nations officials protesting Iran’s recent illegal ballistic missile tests, in which it made clear its desire to wipe Israel off the map. The letter was part of an effort to set up a Security Council session in which the West would seek “appropriate responses” to the tests of missiles that are “inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons” that were in “defiance” of the world body’s resolutions.
On its face, that sounds encouraging. Having invested so much of his diplomatic and political capital on a nuclear deal with Iran, President Obama can’t be perceived as indifferent to the Islamist regime’s flaunting its contempt for the notion that it is rejoining the international community. But despite the tough-sounding language in the letter, we already know the effort at the UN is a farce. With Russia already signaling that it will veto any attempt to punish the Iranians for their missile tests, any UN action on the issue is impossible, and Obama knows it.
However, the administration had a different response to Iran’s provocations the same day. Speaking to the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Washington, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew had no comfort for those hoping for a robust American riposte to Iran’s threats and violations. Far from speaking of increasing the wrist-slap sanctions that the U.S. imposed on those Iranians involved in procuring materials for the missiles earlier this year, Lew poured cold water on the whole idea of using economic restrictions to influence Tehran. Lew’s message was that Washington needed to signal to Iran that it was prepared to ease sanctions, not increase them.
Joint US, EU Letter to UN Falls Short of Calling Iranian Missile Launches Violations
A joint letter sent by the United States and European Union to United Nations officials this week criticizes recent Iranian ballistic missile launches but omits language describing the launches as a “violation” of the UN Security Council resolution that codified the nuclear deal with Iran, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
The outlet’s UN correspondent wrote that the letter describes Iran’s missile tests as “inconsistent with” and “in defiance” of UNSC resolution 2231, but pointedly does not label them violations. However, last December, when asked by Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) if Iranian missile launches after implementation of the nuclear deal would constitute a violation, Ambassador Stephen Mull, lead coordinator for Iran nuclear implementation, replied that “it would violate that part of the U.N. Security Council resolution.”
Sanctions Expert: US Concessions to Iran “Above and Beyond” Nuke Deal Requirements
The Obama administration’s apparent intent to allow Iran access to the United States banking system goes “above and beyond” what is required by last year’s nuclear deal, a top Iran sanctions expert has said.
Mark Dubowitz, executive director of Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), described a reported US Treasury Department plan to allow the use of American dollars to facilitate global business transactions with Iran as “a bait and switch which ignores a long-standing administration commitment not to greenlight Iran’s access to the greenback.”
“This is above and beyond what is required by the nuclear deal,” Dubowitz added.
According to the Associated Press, “Several restrictions would apply, but such a license would reverse a ban that has been in place for several years and one the administration had vowed to maintain while defending last year’s nuclear deal to skeptical U.S. lawmakers and the public.”
Ben Rhodes Tries to Explain Why Iran’s Ballistic Missiles, Terrorism Not Covered by JCPOA

PreOccupiedTerritory: Special Forces Raid In Syria Fails To Locate Lost American Credibility (satire)
A covert military operation involving Green Berets and Navy SEALS deep inside Islamic State-controlled territory to retrieve American credibility that had been lost there more than a year ago has failed, military sources said today.
Late last week a team of commandos parachuted into the de facto capital of the Islamic State to locate and obtain the credibility, which intelligence reports indicated was being concealed in an underground bunker in the center of the city. However, the lightly armed soldiers were unable to penetrate the facility without provoking a major firefight, for which they were not prepared, and were forced to abort the mission without firing a shot.
A US military official with knowledge of the operation, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that American credibility had been lost in the air over Syria more than a year and a half ago, following an abortive attempt to repaint red lines the Obama administration had established, and that the Assad regime had continually violated, regarding the use of chemical and biological weapons against the Syrian opposition. Fearing that the credibility would be completely eroded if any more time elapsed, Pentagon officials ordered the special forces to attempt to seize it.

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