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American Resistance To Empire

The “Truth” Is That “Western Media” Is An Instrument of Mass Deception

‘Western media’ and mass deception

What does the coverage of the atrocities committed by Israel in Gaza tell us about the truth of ‘Western media’?

by
Palestinians evacuate the body of Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja, 31, who was shot and killed by an Israeli sharpshooter in the Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018 [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]
Palestinians evacuate the body of Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja, 31, who was shot and killed by an Israeli sharpshooter in the Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018 [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

“Gaza-Israel border: Clashes ‘leave 16 Palestinians dead and hundreds injured’.” That is a typical BBC headline when Israeli soldiers start killing, with coldblooded precision, defenseless Palestinians. “Palestinian officials say,” they would then add, “at least 16 people have been killed by Israeli forces and hundreds more wounded during protests at the Gaza-Israeli border … The Israeli military said soldiers had opened fire after rioting.”

Where did this particular noncommittal news prose come from, this language of equivocation, this pathological penchant for the passive voice, systemically compromising truth as you report it – what does diction of inbred prevarication mean, what would people around the globe reading these lines think had transpired on the “Gaza-Israel border” as BBC puts it?

It scarcely matters what did actually happen on that “border”. What matters is what and how BBC, or any other self-designated honorary club member of “Western Media” says happened. But what about the truth? What did actually happen? Who had lethal firepower at hand, who had bare bones and flesh exposed? One of the few Palestinian journalists who could tell the world the truth of what happened, Yaser Murtaja, was targeted by an Israeli sharpshooter and deliberately murdered. So, the world is at the mercy of BBC or the New York Times, etc, to say what actually happened.

What is the distance, the difference, between what actually happened as Palestinians experienced it, walking like innocent gazelles in front of a gang of vicious human hunters, and what the BBC, or CNN, or New York Times, etc, say what happened?

The case of mass deception

In their groundbreaking book, Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), the founding figures of Critical theory Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer devote a by now legendary chapter to what they called “Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.”

Israeli forces kill Palestinian journalist covering Gaza rally

In this chapter, they investigate how advanced capitalist societies manufacture the social subjects as consumers of mass culture – as they are consumers of Starbucks coffee or MacDonald’s hamburgers – which is to say their subjectivities are the creations of a culture industry, receptacles of a massive body of disinformation that do not just entertain and preoccupy them but, in fact, engineer them as passive receptacles of an ideological domination beyond their recognition or critique. They give them a sense of false autonomy of choice.

What today we call “Western Media” is the paramount example of Adorno and Horkheimer’s insight, the production of “news” as perfect examples of commodity fetishism. Such news outlets as BBC, CNN, New York Times are brands under which this commodity that calls itself “Western Media” manufactures both a truth to be reckoned with and in effect the normative consciousness of the person who consumes that news and thinks herself informed. They may think themselves objective news outlets that occasionally feature or air a commercial for an airline or a washing detergent. But they are themselves a brand just like the other brands they advertise.

This “Western Media” has historically posited itself initially as the opposite of the news as used to be broadcast in the Soviet Bloc, or China, or “Third World” in general, which was branded as “state-controlled,” “propaganda,” and therefore false, and thereby posited itself as “independent”, “objective”, “fair” and “truthful.”

That political branding has now reached the point of normative self-designation of truth. It was, perhaps paradoxically – perhaps not, a rank charlatan like Donald Trump, now the president of the United States, who first put this “Western Media” on the defensive by out-branding them with his own “alternative facts”. His lies and charlatanism are one brand of news as opposed to “Western Media.”

This very “Western Media” is now in a state of self-defensive shock. It thinks itself under the threat of manipulative disinformation, as best evidenced in the Cambridge Analytica scandal where we learned private companies “mine data” from social media in order to manipulate critical masses of voters in national elections. In Cambridge Analytica, this “Western Media” has found a match for itself, a brand new competitor. Cambridge Analytica is a big shining mirror in front of “Western Media” outperforming them in their old-fashioned practices and branding.

Allow me to explain.

Colonialism then and now

Let us take the example of BBC and see how it has branded itself as the measure of fact and truth – while systemically engaging in what Adorno and Horkheimer called “mass deception”.

Let us begin by asking ourselves a simple question: Have the British learned their lessons from their long and vicious history of colonialism during which they ravaged the earth and its inhabitants and its natural resources alike? Do they regret that history – do they look at people from Asia, Africa, or Latin America with a sense of guilt, remorse, or apology? Shashi Tharoor, the distinguished Indian MP, for example, has argued persuasively that the British owe India reparation for the looting of their prized possessions. In any just world, that reparation would be paid both as a factual confirmation of what the British did to India and partial penance for their criminal atrocities.

But you might say let bygone be bygone. What is done is done. Let’s move forward. Fair enough. But has the “British” in the “British Broadcasting Corporation” (BBC) learned its lessons and regrets its atrocities or does it continue to flaunt the selfsame racist colonial attitudes, practices, and discourse of the British colonial conquest of India everywhere else. Just look at the manner BBC covers the Israeli conquest of Palestine and compare it with the colonial diction of their own conquest of India.

Two historic documents are today at the disposal of the world at large to see how the British attitude towards colonialism has remained constant and consistent: one is the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the other the manner – in both prose and the optics – in which the BBC today covers the Israeli colonial occupation of Palestine. They are identical in their treachery.

Compromising the truth

Today, the BBC is integral to the propaganda machinery of Israel – and the evidence for this is out there for the whole world to see anytime Israelis go on a rampage slaughtering Palestinians as they have been doing since March 30, when people of Gaza began commemorating their Land Day. The Israeli army began targeting and deliberately murdering Palestinians, as BBC and other specimen of the brand “Western Media” consistently softened the blow of this vicious massacre of defenseless people. The BBC made that crime against humanity – for which all the top politicians of the settler colony must be arrested and tried in a court of law – palatable, explainable, even justified.

The visual and verbal strategies of BBC for compromising the truth of what the Israelis have historically done and continue to do today are quite simple if not altogether crude and banal. They need to send their staff to get more advanced degrees in Newspeak. Their Newspeak is sophomoric and cliche.

Take a look at any of their coverage: First, show a close up of Palestinians’ raised fists and open mouths and angry faces and raised flags – they are threatening, aren’t they?: violent, dangerous, and menacing. Make sure the frame of your camera is quite tight. Don’t ever open the frame to show Israeli sharpshooters nearby firing live ammunition at thousands of defenseless and unarmed civilians protesting the systemic theft of their homeland facilitated by British colonialism. That will defeat the purpose, expose the lie, and ruin the brand.

Then comes the most pernicious wordings – beginning with “clashes”. What “clashes?” Clashes between what two items? “To clash” is to confront with demonstrably equal force – two swords clash, two punches clash, two armies clash – a live bullet does not “clash” with a defenseless body. A bullet pierces through and wounds and kills (does not “clash” with) a body. By opting for “clashes”, the BBC lies: It pretends there are two more or less identical elements, two armies, two opposing forces. There are no such things. On one side, there is a merciless army, armed to teeth by Barack Obama and all his predecessors and successors, on the other defenseless people. BBC conceals that fact with the word “clashes”- and in plural no less.

Then comes the real gimmick: Use scare quotes: Put “leave 16 Palestinians dead and hundreds injured” in quotation marks to compromise its truth. Your own reporters on the scene are deaf, dumb, and blind – they don’t see Palestinians are being killed and wounded by those Israeli sharpshooters – so attribute the “report” – not the truth – of their slaughter to Palestinian sources – that’ll compromise the veritable power of the report. “They” say so many are killed or wounded – the BBC does not acknowledge the truth of these dispensable Palestinians being maimed and murdered.

Doubly, cast doubt on the truth – “Palestinian officials say” so many are wounded and killed – not BBC – for BBC keeps its official reporting of facts only if Israelis are killed or wounded.

When it comes to the paralysing accusation of anti-Semitism against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, BBC is front and centre, bold and brave, but when it comes to the slaughter of defenseless Palestinians, the BBC’s cameras and words stand right behind the Israeli soldiers, speaking and showing things from their point of view.

The simple truth

BBC is not the only item in this brand of “Western Media.” The New York Times is worse, the CNN worse than both of them together, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

“Western Media” is a brand, a gimmick, a commodity fetishism at the service of systemic mass deception in “the West” itself and around the globe – and BBC is a paramount example of it.

This brand of “Western Media” has historically posited itself against state-controlled media across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which is indeed the stage for the systematic lies at the service of the ruling states. But that media is so blatantly vulgar in its falsehood that there is a healthy dose of public distrust of it. Most people do not believe what the official media says in Iran, Egypt, or Turkey. They read or watch those news sources with a robust dose of suspicion and distrust. The “Western Media” has falsely branded itself against that fact and created a fiction for its falsehood as truth. Dismantling that falsehood and exposing its pernicious lies, or what Adorno and Horkheimer rightly called “mass deception,” is very easy.

The best and most formidable force against mass deception of the brand “Western Media” is simple truth-telling. Contrary to the liberal Zionist deceptive prose, the Palestinian predicament is not complicated at all. It is in fact very simple and it has a very simple solution. It is not the story of two peoples with two narratives. It is the story of one people with truth (Palestinians – Jews, Christians, or Muslims) and another European settler colony (Zionists – liberal or hardcore) with wanton cruelty and violence.

Israel is the last powerful remnant of European colonialism. With astonishing charlatanism it banks on an entire history of Jewish dispossession and Jewish suffering in order to dispossess and cause suffering on Palestinians, steal their land, build a garrison state and put it at the disposal of the continued colonial and imperial interest of Euro-American imperialism.

That is the simple fact, the simple truth, read it once a day and you are immune to all the mass deception of “Western Media”.

The Zionists do whatever they damn please to Palestinians – stealing their land, bulldozing their homes, uprooting their olive trees, coldbloodedly murdering them – and if anyone dares to utter a word against their war crimes and crimes against humanity they and their Zionist fifth columns in the US and Europe start screaming “anti-Semitism” at them – and because anti-Semitism is a European disease deeply rooted in Europe’s history, Europeans shut up when they are called anti-Semites.

But the world at large could not care less about this false accusation. We will fight anti-Semitism, we will fight Islamophobia, and we will fight racism, and above all we will fight colonialism and its last bastion Zionism. We will not be silent. We will bear witness to the historic justice of the Palestinian cause. Zionists are murderous thieves. They are stealing Palestine in the bright daylight and they are murdering Palestinians right in front of the world’s incredulous eyes.

BBC and its ilk can do all their juvenile gimmickry to compromise the truth. But the world is watching. The world is vigilant. Palestinian national liberation as best and most beautifully demonstrated in the global BDS movement and now in the Great March of Return will move on and will triumph over the racist and corrupt Zionist ideology – and BBC will be a bystander in that beautiful feast of truth.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

Israel-Palestine: The conflict and the coverage


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Is Russia’s Brokering of Israel’s Golan Land-Grab Enough To Sour US Plans To Engineer the Same Steal?

[SEE: Russian M.O.D. Thanks Zionist Air Force For Allegedly “Striking Islamic State” Missile Launcher Inside Syria ]

Russia Has Become an Unusual Broker in Golan Heights 2.0

The long-disputed territory between Syria and Israel found its way onto the dais in Helsinki. Here’s why.


Israel’s Merkava Tank in the Golan Heights. By ChameleonsEye /Shutterstock

A Syrian fighter jet was shot down Tuesday afternoon by the Israeli Air Force, which claimed the plane had penetrated Israel’s airspace near the Golan Heights. Syrian officials say the jet crashed in southwestern Syria, and was hit while engaged in raids in their airspace over an area known for ISIS activity.

Tensions are clearly running high and the incident offers the most recent evidence that a new post-civil war phase of the Syrian conflict is well underway, with its center the disputed Golan Heights territory between the two countries.

This is the second time in a week that the Golan has pushed its way into the international news cycle. During the now-infamous joint press conference in Helsinki, Russian President Vladimir Putin made the case for a restoration of peaceful Israeli-Syrian relations on the Golan plateau. “The south of Syria should be brought [into] full compliance with the treaty of 1974 about the separation of forces [between] Israel and Syria,” he said, adding, “this will bring peace to [the] Golan Heights and bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel,” while also ensuring the “security of the state of Israel.”

Amid the predictable hubbub over Russian spies, electoral meddling, and NATO, this seemed to come out of nowhere. So much so that the mainstream press, obsessed as they were with the more buzz-worthy details of the summit, dropped it immediately from their round-the-clock coverage.

But why this renewed interest in Golan Heights, and why did Putin and Trump feel compelled to add it to their most pressing items on the Helsinki to-do list?

The reason is that, in Syria, Humpty Dumpty is indeed coming back together again. Every day brings more evidence that the Assad regime is restoring an uneasy national authority over the width and breadth of the country, large segments of which have been outside state control since 2011. Last week, the Deraa and Quenetra regions—Syria’s southern frontier with Israel—became the latest of the territorial prizes won back by the regime with critical support from Russia. That’s your first clue.

As the defeat of Assad’s opponents progresses, the issue of this borderland between Israel and Syria must be sorted out, not because of the need to resume trade—which never existed—or to return refugees—none of whom were ever welcome in Israel—but, as Putin explained, to rehabilitate the uneasy peace that has kept Syria’s border mostly quiet for almost half a century. (Not surprisingly those aren’t the only motivations at play here. More on that in a bit.)

That is why the Helsinki resurrection of the UN-mandated status quo ante, with important support from Moscow and Washington and including de facto restrictions on the deployment of the “resistance axis” forces—Iran and Hezbollah opposite Israel—is so noteworthy.

Notwithstanding the fact that Israel and Syria are bitter enemies, Netanyahu and Assad agree that as they plan for the future, they should look back to the 1974 Disengagement Agreement as the new old foundation for Syria’s postwar relations with Israel.

These understandings formalized the ceasefire that ended the October 1973 War and left Israel in control of a sliver of Syrian territory initially occupied during the June 1967 war. The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), numbering close to 1,000, was created “to maintain the cease-fire and to see that it is scrupulously observed.”

For most of its 44-year history UNDOF has performed this task without incident. Whatever else they did, both Syria and Israel were at pains to honor the limitations along the frontier. Every six months, most recently in June, the UNSC has reauthorized its mission.

Since August 2014, however, the peacekeeping mission, and more broadly the set of understandings that underpin the system, has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. When the regime lost control of the border region to a motley assortment of opposition and jihadi factions, the UN monitoring system—from patrols to observation posts along the frontier—broke down almost completely. The inability of UNDOF to perform its mission reflected the anarchy that had engulfed all of Syria. Along the frontier it was every man for himself. Both Israel and Syria, not to mention an array of non-state actors battling the regime, regularly violated the terms of the 1974 agreement by moving prohibited forces and arms into the area of separation and the areas of limitation along the frontier. UNDOF, chased from its observation posts and consumed with its own protection from opposition forces, became a metaphor for the breakdown throughout the country and the dangerous vacuum created by the implosion of an agreement designed to prevent a general war between Israel and Syria.

The regime’s crushing of the opposition along the frontier these last weeks has forced the question of how to address postwar deployments, and more broadly of an Israel-Syria ceasefire regime, onto the international agenda. In consultations with Moscow, the Netanyahu government has declared its interest in reaffirming the 1974 agreement. For the first time in years Israeli statements declare that “[Israel] will continue to implement the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement that includes maintaining the buffer zone.”

In Moscow, Netanyahu noted that Israel had had no problem “with the Assad regime for 40 years,” and noted that “not one bullet was fired on the Golan Heights” in that time.

The resuscitation of the 1974 agreement is one facet of Israel’s postwar agenda. The other is a diplomatic offensive to obtain Washington’s recognition of its sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights. In contrast to the era that ended with the war’s outbreak in 2011, the Netanyahu government sees no need to engage diplomatically with Damascus on the question of Israel’s withdrawal from the contested area, where more than 25,000 Israeli settlers (and an equal number of Syrians) live. At the very least, the Israeli effort to win a unilateral declaration of support from the Trump administration serves to preempt other efforts to establish a diplomatic agenda not of Israel’s making.

Assad, who has defied those who questioned the regime’s ability to defeat its enemies on the battlefield, supports the 1974 agreement as a pillar of the restoration of Syrian sovereign control over its borders. The force limitations in the agreement also have the indirect benefit of constraining efforts by Hezbollah or Iran to deploy in force opposite Israel.

Moscow has emerged as a critical player in waging war on the regime’s behalf and mediating and guaranteeing the emerging postwar system along the frontier. The ongoing Russian air campaign remains critical to Assad’s success and to the associated decision to keep Hezbollah and Iranian forces far away from the battle. Russian-sponsored “reconciliations” are a key factor in arranging the surrender of opposition forces. Putin has performed a key intermediary role in winning Israeli and Syrian support to reconstitute the peacekeeping system—including UNDOF and arms limitations restrictions in well-defined disengagement zones.

The new Russian role is not only diplomatic but operational. For the first time Russian “police” forces will deploy onto the Golan to guarantee the new system.

According to the Russian-sponsored agreement, the Syrian army’s Brigades 90 and 61 as well as the Russian police will deploy in the ceasefire line and the demilitarized area of separation zone—under Syrian civil authority according to the 1974 agreement.

The 1974 Agreement, however, made no mention of Russian (Soviet) forces on the Golan. Indeed, Washington and Jerusalem during the Cold War would have vehemently opposed such a suggestion. Today, however, is a new day. Washington has been all but sidelined in both the diplomatic and operational efforts to end the war and reconstitute the peace.

Geoffrey Aronson is chairman and co-founder of The Mortons Group and a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute.     

Russian M.O.D. Thanks Zionist Air Force For Allegedly “Striking Islamic State” Missile Launcher Inside Syria

Russian Defense Ministry: Israel, as a result of a blow to Syria, destroyed IG militants

[source: RUSSIAN LINK]

According to the department, the terrorists tried to provoke an attack by Israeli troops on the positions of the Syrian government army

© AP Photo / Ariel Schalit

MOSCOW, July 26. / TASS /. The Israeli strike on the territory of Syria on July 25 destroyed militants and missile installations of the Islamic State (IG, banned in Russia). This was reported to journalists in the Ministry of Defense of Russia on Thursday.

According to the department, around 21:30 Moscow time, militants IG rocketed Israeli territory from the area of ​​settlements Nafa and Shajar (province of El Quneitra)–[OR, Hafa and al-Shajara–TASS, Eng.].

According to the ministry, in this way the terrorists tried to provoke the Israeli forces’ blow on the positions of the Syrian government army.

The department added that the IDF had promptly destroyed the militants and their missile installations by “an exact response attack from aviation and artillery.”

The command of a group of Russian troops in Syria expressed gratitude to the Israeli military for preventing a major provocation of terrorists and the destruction of militants, the Ministry of Defense stressed.

Earlier, the press service of the Israeli army reported that on Wednesday the military of the Jewish state destroyed in Syria a launcher that fired two rockets in the direction of Israel. The newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth wrote that the launcher belonged to the IG.

Why Are Top Democrats So Anxious To Start War With Russia?

President Trump’s refusal to condemn Russia for allegations of meddling in the 2016 US election while accepting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial has triggered many on the left along with never-Trump conservatives in a blind rage.

After declaring Trump “treasonous” and calling for a coup, many on the left are now calling Russia’s alleged hacking an act of war, with some suggesting it was a modern Pearl Harbor. Aside from the 2,403 Americans who died in Pearl Harbor that just had their deaths casually compared to an alleged cybercrime, sure.

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/war%20it%20is_1.jpg?itok=7NbtYJSK

Former Homeland Security & Counterterrorism Adviser to President Bush and CBS News Senior National Security Analyst Frances Townsend is one of those people – tweeting on Tuesday night: “Putin’s Attack on the U.S. Is Our Pearl Harbor. It was an Act of War and we should recognize it as such.

Frances Townsend

@FranTownsend

Putin’s Attack on the U.S. Is Our Pearl Harbor. It was an Act of War and we should recognize it as such. https://politi.co/2L1gYOS via @politico

Politico drew the same copmparison with their article: “Putin’s attack on the US is new Pearl Harbor,” while trotting out the “Act of War” language as well.

Members of the House and Senate have been briefed, but remain deadlocked in partisan bickering. Some in the House have spent more time investigating the investigators than they have in trying to hold Russia accountable. Trump’s suggestion to accept Russian investigators into this process adds a new layer to the sideshow. When right of the boom feels like left of the boom, it’s easy to miss the fact that what the Kremlin did—is doing—was, and is, an act of war. –Politico

 

Rep. Steve Cohen, (D-TN) – the guy who wanted to give disgraced FBI agent Peter Strzok the Purple Heart – told The Hill‘s Buck Sexton and Krystal Ball that Russian interference was clearly an act of war, and that the U.S. should have hit back with attacks on Russian targets.

It was a foreign interference with our basic Democratic values. The underpinnings of Democratic society is elections, and free elections, and they invaded our country. A cyber attack that made Russian society valueless. They could have gone into Russian banks, Russian government. Our cyber abilities are such that we could have attacked them with a cyber attack that would have crippled Russia. –The Hill

 

Israeli/Zionist Forces Save Syrian “White Helmets”/Terrorist Assets From Certain Annihilation

[SEE: Canada, US & Britain to Rescue Terrorist “White Helmets” At Golan –7/21/18]

Syria conflict: Israel evacuates White Helmets

Members of the White Helmets in Aleppo, June 2014Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Members of the White Helmets operating in Aleppo in northern Syria 

Israel says it has carried out an evacuation of members of Syria’s White Helmets civil defence group from a war zone in south-western Syria.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said they had acted on a request from the US and European nations.

Some 800 people were evacuated to Jordan via the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights overnight, Israeli media say.

The White Helmets describe themselves as a volunteer workforce that acts to save people in Syria’s war zones.

Although they operate only in rebel-held areas, they say they are non-partisan.

Supporters of President Bashar al-Assad, and his ally Russia, say the White Helmets support the rebels and also have links to jihadist groups.

The evacuated White Helmets had been working in an area controlled by the Syrian opposition in the south-west of the country and had been trapped by a government offensive.

The IDF said they had “completed a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organisation and their families”, saying there was an “immediate threat to their lives”.

They said the civilians were transferred “through Israel” and “subsequently to a neighbouring country”.

Although Israel is not directly involved in the Syria conflict, the two countries have been in a state of war for decades.

Despite the intervention, the IDF said that “Israel continues to maintain a non-intervention policy regarding the Syrian conflict”.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon later confirmed the evacuees were White Helmet members and their families, though neither he nor the IDF named the country receiving the civilians.

However, Jordan’s government confirmed it had “authorised the United Nations to organise the passage of 800 Syrian citizens through Jordan to be resettled in Western countries”.

It said that “Britain, Germany and Canada made a legally binding undertaking to resettle them within a specified period of time due to ‘a risk to their lives'”.

The White Helmet members and their families will be held in a “restricted area” of Jordan.

Who are the White Helmets?

  • Began in early 2013 as a volunteer workforce
  • Known officially as Syria Civil Defence
  • About 200 killed out of more than 3,000 volunteer members
  • Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
  • Act to save people in war zones and carry out repair works on buildings
  • Say they are neutral and have no political affiliation but have been accused of links to jihadist groups by the Syrian government and its Russian allies

The Syrian government began a major offensive in June to retake rebel-held areas in the Deraa and Quneitra areas.

Under a number of agreements, rebel forces have been transferred to rebel-held areas in the north of the country, with the Syrian military then moving in to take control.

The latest deal, agreed on Thursday, saw fighters and civilians evacuated from Quneitra province, which borders the Golan Heights.

Map
Image caption The situation in southern Syria ahead of the latest evacuation agreement on Thursday

Syrian “Four Town” Deconfliction Agreement Passes First Implementation Test

[SEE: The Pentagon, The Saudis, Qatar, Kidnappings and Bustards…All To Enable Open Sponsorship of Al-Nusrah Front]

 

Syria conflict: ‘Deal reached’ for four besieged towns

“Residents of Foah and Kefraya, two government-held towns in the north-west, would be bussed out.
In return, people in two rebel-held towns near Damascus, Madaya and Zabadani, will be given safe passage.”

Syria: Buses arrive to evacuate two rebel-besieged Shia towns

Some 6,000 residents from predominantly Shia towns of Foua and Kefraya will be evacuated to government-controlled areas.

The opposition has consistently maintained that such evacuation deals amount to forced demographic change [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP]
The opposition has consistently maintained that such evacuation deals amount to forced demographic change [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP]

Dozens of buses on Wednesday entered two government loyalist towns under siege from rebels in the northwest province of Idlib, as part of a deal to evacuate residents to government-controlled areas, according to state news agency, SANA.

Some 6,000 people will leave, emptying out the mostly Shia towns of al-Foua and Kefraya, a commander in the regional alliance that backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the Reuters news agency.

“What are we going to do with our land and property? Oh, my hometown,” a 42-year-old who wished to remain anonymous told AFP news agency.

“I pray this will go well.”

Rebels from Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham – a group formerly linked to al-Qaeda – and Iran-backed forces agreed to the deal to evacuate people in return for the release of more than 1,500 civilians and rebels in state prisons, sources said on Tuesday.

A deal for the evacuation of residents from the two Shia towns was first reached in April 2017 but had only partially materialised with only a group of people evacuated to government-held areas.

Politics of evacuation

The April evacuation was halted after a blast killed 150 people, including 72 children.

Iran, which backs Assad against the mainly Sunni rebels and has expanded its military role in Syria, has long taken an interest in the fate of the Shia in the two towns.

In the past two years, thousands of people, mostly from rebel-held areas, have been forced to move to territories controlled by the rebels as part of evacuation deals.

The opposition has consistently maintained that such evacuation deals amount to forced demographic change and deliberate displacement of Sunni populations away from the country’s urban centres.

They accuse Tehran of attempting to change the demographics in areas close to Damascus with the goal of partitioning the country.

Another opposition source said the resumption of talks was aimed at deterring a potential military campaign by pro-government forces on the two towns.

Idlib is part of a de-escalation deal – signed by Iran, Russia and Turkey – that calls for the cessations of hostilities between rebel groups and government forces.

The agreement, which initially included Eastern Ghouta in the northern Damascus countryside and Deraa province in the south, has already been broken with government forces, backed by Russian air support, in control of much of the territory.

Sunni Terrorist Outfits In Syria/Iraq Cannabilize Themselves…Everybody Else Benefits

[Who Is Assassinating Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s Leaders?–November 2017]

Islamic State targets rival jihadists and Islamists in northern Syria

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State continues to operate throughout Syria, including in the northwestern province of Idlib. The group has claimed a series of plots targeting its jihadist and Islamist rivals in recent weeks. The attacks are centered in Idlib province, including its capital city, but have spilled over into the countryside and neighboring provinces as well.

The Islamic State’s propagandists have named the operations after Abu al-Baraa al-Saheli. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) executed al-Saheli after detaining and accusing him of orchestrating a coordinated assassination campaign against HTS and other actors.

HTS is the largest jihadist group in Idlib, which was seized in 2015. The ideologues hope to transform Idlib province into an emirate ruled under sharia. But HTS and its closest allies have suffered a string of setbacks and are relying on Turkey to save their proto-state from a possible invasion by the Assad regime, Russia and Iran. In addition, HTS has been fighting against its own longtime allies, including ideologically similar groups that are also opposed to the Assad government and the Islamic State.

The Islamic State’s clandestine apparatus has further complicated life for HTS and others.

On July 12, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s media team produced three images from an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Idlib city. The target was Sheikh Anas Ayrout, a longtime opposition figure and senior sharia official who has been part of the nascent governance efforts in northwestern Syria. A photo from the IED bombing can be seen below.

Initial reports indicate that Ayrout was injured, but survived the attack. Still, it is telling that the Islamic State could target such a high-profile individual. It does not appear that Ayrout was accidentally struck. Instead, Baghdadi’s men identified Ayrout’s car, tracked it and placed an IED along its route. A targeted attack of this kind requires a sophisticated network of cells deep inside the heart of HTS’s primary redoubt.

On July 13, the Islamic State released three more photos documenting the assassination of Abu Ahmed al-Sansawi in al-Dana, Idlib. According to reports on social media, al-Sansawi was a leader in the Sultan Murad Division, a rebel group that took part in Turkey’s operation in Afrin. Once again, the killing appears to have been a targeted assassination — not a haphazard drive-by shooting. One of the pictures released by the Islamic State can be seen below.

Two other images released yesterday show an improvised device explosion underneath a vehicle driven by “apostates” in the town of Sarmada.

Other images and statements produced between July 10 and July 13 include: pictures of a gunman attempting to assassinate two individuals riding on a motorcycle, three photos of another IED attack on rival insurgents, and a grisly photo of two men who were decapitated in Maarrat al-Nu’man. The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency has also published a string of reports claiming that various HTS officials and members have been hunted in recent days.

Some of the images are recorded with cameras positioned close to the action, demonstrating that the self-declared caliphate’s men are operating well behind enemy lines.

HTS has attempted to combat this intrusion on its turf with a security campaign, detaining alleged Islamic State cells and sweeping various areas for IEDs. Like other jihadists opposed to Baghdadi’s caliphate project, HTS refers to the Islamic State’s men as “Kharijites,” a reference to an early Islamic sect that is most often identified with extremism.

Several photos from the HTS security campaign can be seen at the bottom of this article.

While the Islamic State campaign inside Idlib seems to be focused and intense, it is not new. Baghdadi’s representatives have repeatedly targeted HTS, as well as others in northern Syria. And HTS has failed to root out its rivals’ presence despite persistent efforts.

Since mid-2017, HTS has issued multiple reports claiming that various Islamic State cells had been detected and detained. Yet, more than one year later, Baghdadi’s cells continue to pose a problem.

In June 2017, Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al-Muhaysini survived an assassination attempt after attending Friday prayers at a mosque in Idlib. It wasn’t clear at the time which party was responsible, but some online jihadis claimed an Islamic State member was the culprit. Others within HTS have also opposed Muhaysini, a US-designated terrorist with links to al Qaeda. The Saudi cleric subsequently renounced his position in HTS.

In April, the Islamic State’s Damascus “province” released an 18-minute production titled, “So Will They Not Repent to Allah.” The entire video was an attempt to undermine the ideological legitimacy of HTS and al Qaeda.

In addition to the attacks in Idlib, the so-called caliphate has also fought HTS in Hama, the Yarmouk refugee camp outside of Damascus and elsewhere. Thus far, there is no sign that the Sunni jihadists are reconciling to fight their common enemies.

HTS’s photos from its security campaign targeting “Kharijites” (Islamic State cells) in Idlib province:

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

Trump Considers Allowing Putin To Grill Former US Amb. McFaul Over Russian Election Tampering

Trump may turn over former US ambassador to Putin

President Trump is considering turning over former US ambassador Michael McFaul to Moscow for questioning.

Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about McFaul and other Americans during their Helsinki summit and is mulling the decision with his national security team, according to the White House.

“There was some conversation about it, but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.

“And the president will work with his team, and we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.”

Putin mentioned Americans he’d like to question during a joint press conference with Putin after their private meeting.

“We would expect that the Americans would reciprocate,” Putin said when asked about the 12 Russian officials who were indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

” …and that they would question officials, including the officers of law enforcement and intelligence service of the United States, whom we believe are — who have something to do with illegal actions on the territory of Russia, and we have to — to request the presence of our law enforcement.”

McFaul responded to the Russian allegations by asking the White House to deny the “ridiculous” request.

“I hope the White House corrects the record and denounces in categorical terms this ridiculous request from Putin,” McFaul tweeted.

“Not doing so creates moral equivalency between a legitimacy US indictment of Russian intelligence officers and a crazy, completely fabricated story invented by Putin.”

MGM Resorts/Mandalay Bay Sue Victims and Victims’ Relatives In Legal Dodge of Responsibility For Massacre Security Fiasco

Social media uproar follows lawsuit against victims with #BoycottMGM

MGM Resorts International’s public image took a bruising on social media Tuesday after the company filed a federal lawsuit against more than 1,000 Las Vegas mass shooting victims in an effort to avoid liability.

The company is not seeking money from the victims but is asking that a federal judge decide whether a 2002 anti-terrorism act absolves it of liability for injuries or deaths that occurred during the Oct. 1 shooting.

MGM is being sued by thousands of people who claim that the resort operator was negligent for not preventing the Oct. 1 massacre, in which gunman Stephen Paddock killed 58 people at the Route 91 Harvest festival. The company owns the festival grounds, which are across from Mandalay Bay.

The company was “dealt a bad hand” in having to file a lawsuit that could expedite the case, said Eric Rose, a partner at California-based crisis management firm Englander Knabe and Allen. However, MGM should have explained its actions before the media picked up on the lawsuit, he said.

“They couldn’t explain the lawsuit in a sound bite, and therefore they are suffering the consequences with bad headlines. It makes it look like they are going after the victims. It is going to hurt their brand.”

Rose told the Review-Journal he expects MGM to see an immediate loss in bookings and canceled stays in the short term.

An MGM spokesman declined to comment Tuesday, but in a Twitter post Tuesday evening the company said, “We have filed what is known as an action for declaratory relief. All we are doing, in effect, is asking for a change in venue from state to federal court. We are not asking for money or attorney’s fees. We only want to resolve these cases quickly, fairly and efficiently.”

Using the hashtag #BoycottMGM, some people took to social media Tuesday to blast the company and call on guests to avoid its properties.

“MGM Grand please remove me from your players list. I won’t be playing at any MGM casino going forward. Your lawsuit against victims of a mass shooting is disgusting!!” said Twitter user Bernadette Conwayon.

Others came to MGM’s defense, highlighting that some were misinterpreting the lawsuit.

Ronn Torossian, the CEO of 5WPR in New York, said the backlash will be short-lived.

“If we represented MGM, we’d advise them not to comment regarding headlines which read ‘MGM sues victims.’ These are legal nuances,” Torossian said.

MGM was trending on Twitter early in the day but slowed down throughout the day. Google Trends, which tracks what people are searching, showed a similar spike and slow decline.

The backlash on social media had no impact Tuesday on MGM shares, which rose 13 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $31.25, near a one-month high.

The company filed the lawsuits Friday in Nevada and California. MGM says the 2002 law limits liability when a company or group uses services certified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and mass attacks occur. The company says it is not liable because its security vendor for the concert, Contemporary Services Corp., was federally certified at the time of the shooting.

MGM claims that the victims, through actual and threatened lawsuits, have implicated the security company’s services because they involve concert security, including training, emergency response and evacuation.

“If defendants were injured by Paddock’s assault, as they allege, they were inevitably injured both because Paddock fired from his window and because they remained in the line of fire at the concert. Such claims inevitably implicate security at the concert — and may result in loss to CSC,” according to the MGM lawsuits.

Contact Todd Prince at 702-383-0386 or tprince@reviewjournal.com. Follow @toddprincetv on Twitter.

‘Remember Obama’s Attempted Intervention In Israeli Elections?’

‘Remember Obama intervened in Israeli elections?’

 

 

Fox News defends Trump, calls Left claims of Russian US election intervention hypocritical; Obama intervened in elections against Netanyahu.

Mordechai SonesFox News defends President Donald Trump who is facing a frontal attack for not confronting Vladimir Putin on Russian intervention in the US elections when the two met on Monday in Helsinki.

Fox Senior Anchor Sean Hannity argued interference in foreign election campaigns is a very common practice and that “everyone does it”. Moreover, he said Hillary Clinton was also assisted by foreign elements to collect “dirt” on Trump and get the FBI to open an investigation against him before the 2016 election.

The same case against Trump – including rumors about Trump’s embarrassing photographs taken in Moscow – contained “Russian propaganda,” Hannity said.

Hannity reminded viewers that President Barack Obama did not hesitate to intervene in the Israeli election campaign against Binyamin Netanyahu. This is despite the fact that Israel is “America’s number one ally in the Middle East.”

In the United States a special investigation has been going on for a year-and-a-half to determine whether there was a conspiracy between Trump and Putin in which Putin intervened to help Trump win.

John McLaughlin, an American who served as Netanyahu’s pollster in the 2015 elections, said after Obama’s election to the US media that Obama had intervened in the Israeli election campaign, accusing him of uniting the Arab parties and contributing to the V15 that worked to replace the government.

Trump/Putin Summit Pits Peace-Seeking Americans Against Democrat War-Mongers and FBI DEEP STATE

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putinsource

Trump sides with Russia against FBI at Helsinki summit

US President Donald Trump has defended Russia over claims of interference in the 2016 presidential election.

After face-to-face talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr Trump contradicted US intelligence agencies and said there had been no reason for Russia to meddle in the vote.

Mr Putin reiterated that Russia had never interfered in US affairs.

The two men held nearly two hours of closed-door talks in the Finnish capital Helsinki on Monday.

At a news conference after the summit, President Trump was asked if he believed his own intelligence agencies or the Russian president when it came to the allegations of meddling in the elections.

“President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be,” he replied.

US intelligence agencies concluded in 2016 that Russia was behind an effort to tip the scale of the US election against Hillary Clinton, with a state-authorised campaign of cyber attacks and fake news stories planted on social media.

What has US reaction been?

In a strongly-worded statement, US House Speaker Paul Ryan said Mr Trump “must appreciate that Russia is not our ally”.

“There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals,” he said, adding that there was “no question” Moscow had interfered in the 2016 election.

Senior Republican Senator John McCain said it was a “disgraceful performance” by a US president.

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant,” Mr McCain said in a statement.

Another senior Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, tweeted that it was a “missed opportunity… to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling”.

In a series of tweets, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Mr Trump’s actions had “strengthened our adversaries while weakening our defences and those of our allies”.

The US Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, also issued a statement saying that the intelligence community had been clear about Russia’s “ongoing, pervasive attempts” to undermine US democracy.

Mr Trump responded by tweeting that he had “great confidence in my intelligence people”, adding: “I also recognise that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along.”

Vice-President Mike Pence, in a speech at the US Department of Commerce, defended the summit and praised President Trump.

Some US politicians had called for the summit to be cancelled after 12 Russian military intelligence agents were indicted last week, accused of hacking the presidential campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Speaking on Monday, President Putin offered to allow US investigators to visit Russia to question the officers.

He made it clear that, in return, Russia would want similar access to people in the US it suspects of criminal activity.

Trump targets opponents back home

Analysis by Jonathan Marcus, BBC diplomatic correspondent

Before their encounter started, Mr Putin was already winning on points, by the mere fact that President Trump was meeting him in the first place.

But while Mr Putin came over as the seasoned professional, eager to present his country as an equivalent to the US in terms of being a nuclear superpower; an energy provider; and a key actor in the Middle East, Mr Trump seemed more intent on castigating his opponents back home.

A lot of the questions focused on Russia’s intrusion into the US election campaign (the considered position of the key US intelligence agencies) and specifically the indictment by the Mueller probe of 12 Russian intelligence agents.

Mr Trump would have none of it. He visibly seemed happier with Mr Putin’s assurances than he did with the evidence of his own intelligence agencies. And he even welcomed Mr Putin’s suggestion that Russia could join the investigation and interview the alleged perpetrators itself! Washington’s Nato allies and many seasoned observers on Capitol Hill must have been watching in horror.

Mr Putin described the Helsinki meeting as “candid and useful” while Mr Trump said there had been “deeply productive dialogue”.

Mr Trump said US-Russia relations had “never been worse” than before they met, but that had now changed.

Relations between Russia and the West were severely strained by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, which President Putin acknowledged in the news conference.

“President Trump’s position on Crimea is well known. He talks about the illegality of the Crimean reintegration to Russia. We have another point of view… that a referendum was held in accordance with international law. For us, it’s a closed question,” he said.

Both leaders also said they would work together to help resolve the Syrian crisis. The US and Russia back opposing sides in the eight-year-old civil war.

On a lighter note, Mr Trump congratulated President Putin on the successful staging of the World Cup football tournament in Russia and Mr Putin responded by giving the US leader a tournament football.

The US will co-host the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico.

The Pentagon, The Saudis, Qatar, Kidnappings and Bustards…All To Enable Open Sponsorship of Al-Nusrah Front

[Al-Nusra, formerly Al-Qaeda In Iraq, becomes Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, so that the Pentagon can openly claim them as “moderates.” ]

A new terrorist group is popping up in Syria and capitalizing on ISIS’ defeat

‘Billion dollar ransom’: Did Qatar pay record sum

A Qatari flag flying over a Qatari fort 2016Image copyright Getty Images

On the morning of 16 December 2015 Qatar’s ruling family got bad news: 28 members of a royal hunting party had been kidnapped in Iraq.

A list of the hostages was given to Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, who was about to become Qatar’s foreign minister. He realised that it included two of his own relatives.

“Jassim is my cousin and Khaled is my aunt’s husband,” he texted Qatar’s ambassador to Iraq, Zayed al-Khayareen. “May God protect you: once you receive any news, update me immediately.”

The two men would spend the next 16 months consumed by the hostage crisis.

In one version of events, they would pay more than a billion dollars to free the men. The money would go to groups and individuals labelled “terrorists” by the US: Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq, which killed American troops with roadside bombs; General Qasem Soleimani, leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force and personally subject to US and EU sanctions; and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, once known as al-Nusra Front, when it was an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

16 December 2015: text messages between the minister and ambassador

In another version of events – Qatar’s own – no money was paid to “terrorists”, only to the Iraqi state.

In this version, the money still sits in the Central Bank of Iraq’s vault in Baghdad, though all the hostages are home. The tortuous story of the negotiations emerges, line by line, in texts and voicemails sent between the foreign minister and the ambassador.

These were obtained by a government hostile to Qatar and passed to the BBC.

 

So, did Qatar pay the biggest ransom in history?

Sheikh Mohammed is a former economist and a distant relative of the emir. He was not well known before he was promoted to foreign minister at the relatively young age of 35.

Mohammed bin Abdulrahman in Brussels June 2018Image copyright EPA
Image caption Relatives of Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman were among those kidnapped 

At the time of the kidnapping, the ambassador Zayed al-Khayareen was in his 50s, and was said to have held the rank of colonel in Qatari intelligence. He was Qatar’s first envoy to Iraq in 27 years, but this was not an important post.

The crisis was his chance to improve his position.

The hostages had gone to Iraq to hunt with falcons. They were warned – implored – not to go. But falconry is the sport of kings in the Gulf and there were flocks of the falcons’ prey, the Houbara bustard, in the empty expanse of southern Iraq.

The hunters’ camp was overrun by pick-up trucks mounted with heavy machine guns in the early hours of the morning.

A former hostage told the New York Times they thought it was “Isis”, the Sunni jihadist group Islamic State. But then one of the kidnappers used a Shia insult to Sunnis.

An Asian Houbara bustard flies during a falconry competition in Hameem, west of Abu Dhabi, UAE 9 December 2014Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Asian Houbara bustard, found in Iraq, is highly prized in the Arab Gulf states 

For many agonising weeks, the Qatari government heard nothing. But in March 2016, things started to move. Officials learned that the kidnappers were from Kataib Hezbollah (the Party of God Brigades), an Iraqi Shia militia supported by Iran.

The group wanted money. Ambassador Khayareen texted Sheikh Mohammed: “I told them, ‘Give us back 14 of our people… and we will give you half of the amount.'” The “amount” is not clear in the phone records at this stage.

18 March 2016: text messages between the foreign minister and ambassador

Five days later, the group offered to release three hostages. “They want a gesture of goodwill from us as well,” the ambassador wrote. “This is a good sign… that they are in a hurry and want to end everything soon.”

Two days later the ambassador was in the Green Zone in Baghdad, a walled off and heavily guarded part of the city where the Iraqi government and foreign embassies are located.

Iraq in March is already hot. The atmosphere in the Green Zone would have seemed especially stifling: supporters of the Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr were at the gates, protesting about corruption. The staff of some embassies had fled, the ambassador reported. This provided a tense backdrop to the negotiations.

20 March 2016: text message from the ambassador to the foreign minister

Mr Khayareen waited. But there was no sign of the promised release. He wrote: “This is the third time that I come to Baghdad for the hostages’ case and I have never felt frustrated like this time. I’ve never felt this stressed. I don’t want to leave without the hostages. :( :(”

The kidnappers turned up, not with hostages but with a USB memory stick containing a video of a solitary captive.

“What guarantee do we have that the rest are with them?” Sheikh Mohammed asked the ambassador. “Delete the video from your phone… Make sure it doesn’t leak, to anyone.”

Mr Khayareen agreed, saying: “We don’t want their families to watch the video and get emotionally affected.”

The hostages had been split up – the royals were put in a windowless basement; their friends, the other non-royals, and the non-Qataris in the party, were taken elsewhere and given better treatment and food.

22 March 2016: text messages between the foreign minister and ambassador

A Qatari official told me that the royals were moved around, sometimes every two to three days, but always kept somewhere underground. They had only a single Koran to read between them.

For almost the entire 16 months they spent in captivity, they had no idea what was happening in the outside world.

If money was the answer to this problem, at least the Qataris had it. But the texts and voicemails show that the kidnappers added to their demands, changing them, going backwards and forwards: Qatar should leave the Saudi-led coalition battling Shia rebels in Yemen. Qatar should secure the release of Iranian soldiers held prisoner by rebels in Syria.

4 April 2017: text message from the ambassador to the foreign minister

Then it was money again. And as well as the main ransom, the militia commanders wanted side payments for themselves.

As one session of talks ended, a Kataib Hezbollah negotiator, Abu Mohammed, apparently took the ambassador aside and asked for $10m (£7.6m) for himself.

“Abu Mohammed asked, ‘What’s in it for me? Frankly I want 10’,” the ambassador said in a voicemail.

“I told him, ‘Ten? I am not giving you 10. Only if you get my guys done 100%…’

“To motivate him, I also told him that I am willing to buy him an apartment in Lebanon.”

The ambassador used two Iraqi mediators, both Sunnis. They visited the Qatari foreign minister, asking in advance for “gifts”: $150,000 in cash and five Rolex watches, “two of the most expensive kind, three of regular quality”. It’s not clear if these gifts were for the mediators themselves or were to grease the kidnappers’ palms as the talks continued.

In April 2016, the phone records were peppered with a new name: Qasem Soleimani, Kataib Hezbollah’s Iranian patron.

General Qasem Soleimani, centre, in Tehran 2016Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, centre, heads the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force 

By now, the ransom demand appears to have reached the astonishing sum of $1bn. Even so, the kidnappers held out for more. The ambassador texted the foreign minister: “Soleimani met with the kidnappers yesterday and pressured them to take the $1b. They didn’t respond because of their financial condition… Soleimani will go back.”

The ambassador texted again that the Iranian general was “very upset” with the kidnappers. “They want to exhaust us and force us to accept their demands immediately. We need to stay calm and not to rush.” But, he told Sheikh Mohammed, “You need to be ready with $$$$.” The minister replied: “God helps!”

Months passed. Then in November 2016, a new element entered the negotiations. Gen Soleimani wanted Qatar to help implement the so-called “four towns agreement” in Syria.

Syria conflict: ‘Deal reached’ for four besieged towns

At the time, two Sunni towns held by the rebels were surrounded by the Syrian government, which is supported by Iran. Meanwhile, two Shia towns loyal to the government were also under siege by Salafist rebels, who were apparently supported by Qatar. (The rebels were said to include members of the former al-Nusra Front.) Under the agreement, the sieges of the four towns would be lifted and their populations evacuated.

According to the ambassador, Gen Soleimani told Kataib Hezbollah that if Shia were saved because of the four towns agreement, it would be “shameful” to demand personal bribes.

“Hezbollah Lebanon, and Kataib Hezbollah Iraq, all want money and this is their chance,” the ambassador texted the foreign minister. “They are using this situation to benefit… especially that they know that it’s nearly the end… All of them are thieves.”

The last mention in the exchanges of a $1bn ransom is in January 2017, along with another figure – $150m.

The government that gave us this material – which is hostile to Qatar – believes the discussions between Sheikh Mohammed and Mr Khayareen were about $1bn in ransom plus $150m in side payments, or “kickbacks”. But the texts are ambiguous. It could be that the four towns deal was what was required to free the hostages, plus $150m in personal payments to the kidnappers.

Qatari officials accept that the texts and voicemails are genuine, though they believe they have been edited “very selectively” to give a misleading impression.

The transcripts were leaked, to the Washington Post, in April 2018. Our sources waited until officials in Doha issued denials. Then they sought to embarrass Qatar by releasing the original audio recordings.

Qatar is under economic blockade by some of its neighbours – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. This regional dispute has produced an intensive, and expensive, campaign of hacking, leaking and briefings in Washington and London.

The hostage crisis was brought to an end in April 2017. A Qatar Airways plane flew to Baghdad to deliver money and bring the hostages back. This was confirmed by Qatari officials, though Qatar Airways itself declined to comment.

A Qatar Airways plane in flightImage copyright EPA

Image caption Qatar Airways has declined to comment

 

Qatar is in a legal dispute with its neighbours about overflight rights. The question of whether the emirate’s national carrier was used to make payments to “terrorists” will have a bearing on the case – one reason, presumably, why we were leaked this material.

Who would get the cash flown into Baghdad – and how much was there? Our original source – the government opposed to Qatar – maintains that it was more than $1bn, plus $150m in kickbacks, much of it destined for Kataib Hezbollah.

Qatari officials confirm that a large sum in cash was sent – but they say it was for the Iraqi government, not terrorists. The payments were for “economic development” and “security co-operation”. “We wanted to make the Iraqi government fully responsible for the hostages’ safety,” the officials say.

The Qataris thought they had made a deal with the Iraqi interior minister. He was waiting at the airport when the plane landed with its cargo of cash in black duffel bags. Then armed men swept in, wearing military uniforms without insignia.

“We still don’t know who they were,” a Qatari official told me. “The interior minister was pushed out.” This could only be a move by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, they reasoned. The Qatari prime minister frantically called Mr Abadi. He did not pick up.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi June 2018Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi

Mr Abadi later held a news conference, saying that he had taken control of the cash.

Although the money had been seized, the hostage release went ahead anyway, tied to implementation of the “four towns agreement”.

In the texts, a Qatari intelligence officer, Jassim Bin Fahad Al Thani – presumably a member of the royal family – was present on the ground.

First, “46 buses” took people from the two Sunni towns in Syria. “We took out 5,000 people over two days,” Jassim Bin Fahad texted. “Now we are taking 3,000… We don’t want any bombings.”

A few days later, the Shia towns were evacuated. Sheikh Mohammed sent a text that “3,000 [Shia] are being held in exchange location… when we have seen our people, I will let the buses move.”

The ambassador replied that the other side was worried. “They are panicking. They said that if the sun rises [without the Shia leaving] they will take our people back.”

On 21 April 2017, the Qatari hostages were released. All were “fine”, the ambassador reported, but “they lost almost half of their weight”. The ambassador arranged for the plane taking them home to have “biryani and kabsa, white rice and sauté… Not for me. The guys are missing this food.”

Sixteen months after they were taken, television pictures showed the hostages, gaunt but smiling, on the tarmac at Doha airport.

The sources for the texts and voicemails – officials from a government hostile to Qatar – say the material shows that “Qatar sent money to terrorists”.

Shortly after the money was flown to Baghdad, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt began their economic blockade of Qatar. They still accuse Qatar of having a “long history” of financing “terrorism”.

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at a summit in Riyadh on 11 November 2015Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The US has urged Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to act against terrorism 

The anti-Qatar sources point to one voicemail from Ambassador Khayareen. In it, he describes telling a Kataib Hezbollah leader: “You should trust Qatar, you know what Qatar did, what His Highness the Emir’s father did… He did many things, this and that, and paid 50 million, and provided infrastructure for the south, and he was the first one who visited.”

Our sources maintain that this shows an historic payment, under the old emir, of $50m to Kataib Hezbollah.

Qatari officials say it shows support for Shia in general.

Whether the blockade of Qatar continues will depend on who wins the argument over “terrorist financing”.

Partly, this is a fight over whom to believe about how a kidnapping in the Iraqi desert was ended. Qatari officials say the money they flew to Baghdad remains in a vault in the Iraqi central bank “on deposit”.

Their opponents say that the Iraqi government inserted itself into the hostage deal and distributed the money.

For the time being, the mystery over whether Qatar did make the biggest ransom payment in history remains unsolved.

West Scrambling to Find Options to Pull White Helmets Out of Syria

The Big Players Cannot Move On the Syrian Chessboard Without Their Highly-Trained Militant Assets

Second group of Failaq al-Rahman rebels leave Syria’s Ghouta

 

Replying to and

A glimpse at how Western-funded White Helmets were emedded with Faylaq al-Rahman terrorists in Saqba, Ghouta. With links to Vanessa Beeley’s extensive research into the WH, as well as Ben

Middle East

The NGO, which claims to be acting as a volunteer rescue group, has been repeatedly accused of working with jihadists, such as al-Nusra Front* and staging fake videos that they later use to accuse Damascus of being responsible for attacks against civilians.

Several NATO countries have discussed the possibility of evacuating the White Helmets from Syria, specifically from Daraa province, with US President Donald Trump, CBS News reported, citing an anonymous US official. According to the media outlet, western countries are afraid that Damascus could “assassinate” the NGO’s members as it advances through Daraa province.

“They are promising no retribution on anyone in the southwest but nobody trusts or believes that,” the source told CBS.

The US official noted that the plan to pull the White Helmets out of Syria is a part of a general US withdrawal plan, earlier announced by Trump, who wants to reduce the country’s presence in the Syrian Arab Republic and let other countries deal with the problem. The source also added that Washington has practically admitted that Damascus will eventually regain control over the whole of Syria by evacuating its forces and NGO members.

READ MORE: Syria’s Idlib Residents Warn of Potential Provocation by White Helmets

The media source points out that most of the talks on the topic took place on the sidelines of NATO summit on July 11-12 in Brussels, but the issue might also be raised by Trump during his negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16.

The anonymous western diplomat explained to CBS that western allies are studying how the White Helmets could possibly be extracted hastily and that their options are limited in this regard. Thus, in the event they fail to find a solution in time, they might be forced to try and ask Putin for help, although they have little hope of that, since Moscow cooperates with Damascus.

“We are not there yet at all in terms of firming up the necessity to have a discussion with Putin […] If we run out of options, and the only option left is the Russians, then it is worth pursuing,” he said.

Another problem for western countries is where to move all those White Helmets and their families. According to the media source, Trump refused to harbor the members of the notorious NGO in the US and allies are being forced to study other options.

The White Helmets have on numerous occasions been spotted working with al-Nusra Front* and other militant groups in Syria. The group, founded in Turkey by former MI5 officer James Le Mesurier and funded by several western countries, claims that it is saving the lives of ordinary citizens and reports chemical attacks allegedly conducted by Damascus. However, the Russian Defense Ministry has uncovered evidence and found witnesses suggesting that one of their latest reports of an alleged chemical attack in Douma was fake.

READ MORE: Syria Accuses US, UK, France of Backing Terror Through Support for White Helmets

Washington temporarily halted State Department funding for the White Helmets in May 2018, but later in June announced that it would resume payments.

The US has been conducting airstrikes in Syria and supporting certain militant groups, which it calls “moderate opposition,” since 2014, claiming to be fighting against Daesh* and other terrorist groups.

READ MORE: Syrian Rights Group Reveals Why US Resuming Funding for Notorious White Helmets

Washington and the coalition of western countries led by it are operating on Syrian soil without authorization by the country’s government or the UN Security Council and according to the coalition’s own data the US air raids have already led to the deaths of 939 civilians, although independent NGOs have calculated a far higher death rate — at least 9,600 people.

*Daesh (also known as ISIS/ISIL/IS) and Jabhat al-Nusra (also known as Tahrir al-Sham) are terrorist organizations banned in Russia

We Taught the Russians “Hybrid Warfare”, Now That They Are Better At It Than Us, We Are PISSED!

“With its “al-Qaeda” project, the CIA has perfected its mastery of a process for creating pseudo-terrorists and weaving terrorist legends around them.  Since the official start of the terror war, we have demonstrated our mastery of this black art to the world.  Even though our leaders and the national media like to claim that we are locked in a deadly terrorist war with this Islamist organization, secret services in the know understand that “al-Qaeda” is merely a phantom outfit, existing only on paper, to be called forth whenever US inroads are needed anywhere in the world…Every functioning spy agency knows by now that a few terrorist legends have been blended together to create the impression of a widespread terrorist internationale, to serve America’s secret plans. The only real connection between “al-CIA-da”-linked terrorist groups anywhere is the common denominator of the CIA hand, or the CIA-created al Qaeda brand-name.  The CIA has turned mass-murder into an art form, creating a prototype of roving gangs of militants, mercenaries, or hired criminal thugs, who provide cover stories for any missions to terrorize the local populations or to attack designated targets.  Anyone who has been paying attention would have learned of our skills and adapted them towards their own ends by now, simply by plugging into the lively “al-Qaeda” mythology for themselves

World War III has been reduced to a media war, with the East/West coalitions striving in the shadows to influence popular perceptions and thereby alter reality.”Smashing Greater Central Asia—Part III, —Dec 12, 2011

[SEE: Has Kremlin Made Preparations for “Hybrid Warfare” Throughout the West?Apr 12, 2016 ]

US official: Russia using social media to divide Americans

GEOFF MULVIHILL

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The U.S. homeland security secretary said on Saturday there are no signs that Russia is targeting this year’s midterm elections with the same “scale or scope” it targeted the 2016 presidential election.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spoke at a convention of state secretaries of state, an event that’s usually a low-key affair highlighting voter registration, balloting devices and election security issues that don’t get much public attention. But coming amid fresh allegations into Russia’s attempts to sway the 2016 election, the sessions on election security have a higher level of urgency and interest.

Nielsen said her agency will help state and local election officials prepare their systems for cyberattacks from Russia or elsewhere. She said U.S. intelligence officials are seeing “persistent Russian efforts using social media, sympathetic spokespeople and other fronts to sow discord and divisiveness amongst the American people, though not necessarily focused on specific politicians or political campaigns.”

The conference of top state election officials she addressed was sandwiched between Friday’s indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officers alleged to have hacked into Democratic party and campaign accounts and Monday’s long-awaited meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump has never condemned Russia over meddling in the 2016 election despite the findings of all top U.S. intelligence agencies, and the Kremlin has insisted it didn’t meddle in the U.S. election. In the past, Trump has reiterated Putin’s denials, but this week he said he would bring up the issue when they meet on Monday in Finland.

“All I can do is say, ‘Did you?'” Trump said days ago at a news conference in Brussels. “And, ‘Don’t do it again.’ But he may deny it.”

Some of the state officials who run elections say it’s important for Trump, a Republican, to take a tougher stance to avoid having the public’s confidence in fair elections undermined.

“I believe as commander in chief he has an obligation to address it and, frankly, put Putin and any other foreign nation that seeks to undermine our democracy on notice that the actions will not be tolerated,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, said in an interview this week.

Some of his peers declined to go that far.

“I don’t go around telling the president what to do,” said Jay Ashcroft, the Republican secretary of state in Missouri.

Trump portrays the investigation as a partisan attack, but not all Republicans see it that way. This month, the Republicans and Democrats on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee backed the findings of an assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 election and acted in favor of Trump and against his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

As part of that effort, Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states ahead of the election and are believed to have breached the voter registration system in at least one, Illinois, investigators say. Without naming the state, Friday’s indictment said the Russian intelligence officers stole information on about 500,000 voters from the website of one board of elections, a breach undetected for three weeks.

There’s no evidence results were altered, but the attempts prompted the federal government and states to re-examine election systems and tighten their cybersecurity.

Federal officials also say it’s possible that malware might have been planted that could tamper with voting or paralyze computer systems in future elections.

The election officials talked about technical details of blocking an incursion.

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, told her peers how her state is using its National Guard to help test and shore up cybersecurity for elections. She said it’s important to make it clear to voters that the military is not running elections and does not have access to election data.

“The whole idea of this is to instill confidence in voters and the public that the system is secure,” Wyman said in an interview.

Some state officials also said Homeland Security is becoming more helpful in sharing information.

On Friday, a federal grand jury indicted the 12 Russian intelligence officers on charges they hacked into Democratic campaign networks in 2016 and then stole and released tens of thousands of documents. The indictment says one of the intrusions came that summer, on a vendor whose software is used to verify voter registration information. The indictment references a spoof email it says the Russian agents sent to more than 100 election-managing customers of the vendor to try to get more information.

“The indictments tell us that … no longer can we deny in any shape or form that Russians were involved,” said cybersecurity expert Sam Woolley, of the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California.

___

Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

UK police claim to find small bottle of Novichok nerve agent in victim’s house

 

LONDON (Reuters) – British counter-terrorism police said on Friday they believed they had found the source of the Novichok nerve agent that killed a woman in southwest England and left her partner critically ill in hospital.

Dawn Sturgess, 44, died this month, just over a week after she was exposed to Novichok near the city of Salisbury where Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were struck down with the same poison in March.

Sturgess’ partner, 45-year-old Charlie Rowley from Amesbury, a town a few miles from Salisbury, is now recovering in hospital.

“On Wednesday … a small bottle was recovered during searches of Charlie Rowley’s house in Amesbury,” police said in a statement. “Scientists have now confirmed to us that the substance contained within the bottle is Novichok.”

More tests were being carried out to try and establish whether it is from the same batch that contaminated the Skripals and inquiries were under way to establish where the bottle came from, the statement added.

“This is clearly a significant and positive development. However, we cannot guarantee that there isn’t any more of the substance left,” said Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, Head of UK Counter Terrorism Policing.

He declined to give further details on the bottle, but police said inquiries were ongoing to Further tests are also being carried out to see if the Novichok came from the same batch that was applied to the front door of Skripal’s house in Salisbury.

Britain and its allies blamed Russia for the attack in March on the Skripals, prompting the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the Cold War. Moscow has rejected the accusations and has hit back by expelling Western diplomats.

Britain has invited independent technical experts from the international chemical weapons watchdog to travel to the UK early next week to independently confirm the identity of the nerve agent, the British Foreign Office said on Friday.

An inquest into Sturgess’ death is set to open and adjourn in Salisbury on next Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Police forensic tents can be seen to the rear of John Baker House, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Reporting by Stephen Addison; editing by Michael Holden
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Congress Actively Attempts To Block Monday’s Trump/Putin Meeting In Helsinki

Indictments of Russian officers heighten pressure on Trump ahead of Putin meeting

[SEE: The Globalist Elite Fears Peace, Wants War]

Congress to Trump: Cancel Putin summit after new Mueller indictment

Trump_Putin
Some in Congress are calling on President Donald Trump to cancel his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin following a Friday indictment resulting from the Russia investigation.
Carlos Barria/Reuters

 

  • Several members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are calling on President Donald Trump to consider canceling his summit in Finland with Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled for next week.
  • The calls came after a new indictment in the Russia investigation was announced on Friday.
  • “If President Trump is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the summit in Helsinki should not move forward,” Sen. John McCain said.
  • The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said on Friday that the summit was still moving forward and there were no plans to cancel it.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on Friday called on President Donald Trump to consider canceling his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin set for next week in Finland following a new indictment in the Russia investigation.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Friday announced charges against 12 Russian intelligence officers in connection with the hacking of Democratic Party institutions and Hillary Clinton’s campaign before the 2016 presidential election.

In the wake of the indictment, Republican Sen. John McCain said in a statement that Trump “must be willing to confront Putin from a position of strength and demonstrate that there will be a serious price to pay for his ongoing aggression towards the United States and democracies around the world.”

“If President Trump is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the summit in Helsinki should not move forward,” he added.

Similarly, Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Trump should cancel the one-on-one meeting.

“If the President won’t make Russia’s attack on our election the #1 issue at the summit, then it should be canceled,” Warner tweeted.

CNN Politics

@CNNPolitics

“There should be no one-on-one meeting between this President and Mr. Putin,” Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee Mark Warner says following the latest Mueller indictments. “There needs to be other Americans in the room”

 

Other Democratic members of Congress, including Rep. Adam Schiff and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, issued similar statements.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said on Friday that the summit was still moving forward and there were no plans to cancel it. The White House didn’t respond to a request for further comment on whether Trump would address the indictment when he meets with Putin.

Earlier Friday, Trump said he would question Putin about Russia’s election meddling when the two meet in Helsinki.

But he later referred to the Russia investigation as “rigged” and a “witch hunt,” despite Rosenstein saying he briefed the president on the developments earlier in the week.

 

SEE ALSO:Trump was briefed about Mueller’s indictments earlier this week — then on Friday, he called the investigation ‘rigged’

The Globalist Elite Fears Peace, Wants War

The Globalist Elite Fears Peace, Wants War

Written by Federico Pieraccini; Originally appeared on strategic-culture.org

The announced meeting between Trump and Putin has already produced a good result by revealing the hypocrisy of the media and politicians. The meeting has been branded as the greatest danger to humanity, according to the Western globalist elite, because of the danger that “peace could break out between Russia and the United States”.

The Globalist Elite Fears Peace, Wants War

Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. The following so stretches credulity that sources will have to be cited and an exact quotations given to be believed.

A case in point is the following title“Fears growing over the prospect of Trump ‘peace deal’ with Putin”. The Times does not here fear a military escalation in Ukraine, an armed clash in Syria, a false-flag poisoning in England, or a new Cold War. The Times does not fear a nuclear apocalypse, the end of humanity, the suffering of hundreds of millions of people. No, one of the most authoritative and respected broadsheets in the world is fearful of the prospect of peace! The Times is afraid that the heads of two nuclear-armed superpowers are able to talk to each other. The Times fears that Putin and Trump will be able to come to some kind of agreement that can help avert the danger of a global catastrophe. These are the times in which we live. And this is the type of media we deal with. The problem with The Times is that it forms public opinion in the worst possible way, confusing, deceiving, and disorienting its readers. It is not by accident the world in which we live is increasingly divorced from logic and rationality.

Even if the outcome of this meeting does not see any substantial progress, the most important thing to be achieved will be the dialogue between the two leaders and the opening of negotiation channels for both sides.

In The Times article, it is assumed that Trump and Putin want to reach an agreement regarding Europe. The insinuation is that Putin is manipulating Trump in order to destabilize Europe. For years now we have been inundated with such fabrications by the media on behalf of their editors and shareholders, all part of the deep state conglomerate. Facts have in fact proven that Putin has always desired a strong and united Europe, looking to integrate Europe into the Eurasian dream. Putin and Xi Jinping would like to see a European Union more resistant to American pressure and able to gain greater independence. The combination of mass migration and sanctions against Russia and Iran, which end up hurting Europeans, opens the way for alternative parties that are not necessarily willing to Washington’s marching orders.

Trump’s focus for the meeting will be to convince Putin to put even more pressure on Europe and Iran, perhaps in exchange for the recognition of Crimea and the ending of sanctions. For Putin and for Russia it is a strategic issue. While sanctions are bad, the top priority for Moscow remains the alliance with Iran, the need to further strengthen relations with European countries, and to defeat terrorism in Syria. Perhaps only a revision of the ABM treaty and the withdrawal of these weapons from Europe would be an interesting offer for Putin. However, reality shows us that the ABM treaty is a pillar of Washington’s military-industrial complex, and that it is also Eastern European countries that want such offensive and defensive systems in their own countries, seeing them as a deterrents against Russia. Are they victims of their own propaganda, or are billions of dollars pouring into their pockets? Either way, it does not really matter. The most important point for Moscow will be the withdrawal of the Aegis Ashore ABM systems as well as military ships with the same Aegis system. But this is not something that Trump will be able to negotiate with his military leaders. For the military-industrial complex, the ABM system, thanks to maintenance, innovation and direct or indirect commissions, is a gravy train that too many interests intend to keep riding.

From the Kremlin’s point of view, the removal of sanctions remains necessary for the restoration of normal relations with the West. But this would be difficult to achieve, given that Moscow would have little to offer Washington in exchange. The strategists at the Pentagon demand a withdrawal from Syria, an end to support for Donbass, and a cessation of relations with Iran. There is simply too much divergence to reach a common position. Moreover, Europe’s sanctions against Russia benefit Washington, as they hurt the Europeans and thereby undermine what is a major trading competitor to the US. The US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) can be looked at in the same light, blocking US allies from doing business with Iran.

Putin will keep faith with his commitments to Syria and with his allies, unwilling to betray his word even for the recognition of Crimea. On the other hand, as already mentioned, the priority remains the removal of the ABM; and while Crimea is already under the control of the Russian Federation, Syria remains an unstable territory that risks propelling Islamist terrorism to Russia’s soft underbelly in the Caucasus. For Moscow, involvement in Syria has always been a matter of national security, and this certainly remains the same now, even with Donald Trump’s unrealistic offers.

It should be kept in mind that Putin is aiming for a medium- to long-term strategy in the Middle East, where Iran, Syria and the entire Shiite arc serves to counter Saudi and Israeli aggression and hegemony. This strange alliance has emerged as the only way to deter war and dial down the heat in the region, because the crazy actions from Netanyahu or Mohammad bin Salman are deterred by a strong Iranian military. Preventing a confrontation between Iran and Saudis/Israelis also means not making Tehran appear weak or isolated. Such considerations seem beyond the strategists in Washington, let alone in Tel Aviv or Riyadh.

While it is difficult to achieve a positive outcome from the meeting between Trump and Putin, it is important that there is a meeting in the first place, contrary to what The Times thinks. The media and the conglomerate of power that revolves around the US deep state fear diplomacy in particular. The same narrative that was proclaimed weeks before and after the meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un is being repeated with regard to Trump’s meeting with Putin.

Washington bases its power on force, both economic and military. But this power also rests on the posture assumed and image projected. The United States and its deep state considers negotiating with opponents to be wrong and counterproductive. They consider dialogue to be synonymous with weakness, and any concession is interpreted as surrender. This is the result of 70 years of American exceptionalism and 30 years of Unipolarity, has allowed the US the ability to decide unilaterally the fate of others.

Today, in a multipolar world, the dynamics are different and therefore more complex. You cannot always employ a zero-sum mentality, as The Times does. The rest of the world recognizes that a dialogue between Putin and Trump is something positive, but we must not forget that, as in Korea, if diplomacy does not bring significant progress, then the hawks surrounding Trump will again be in the ascendant. The tasks for Rouhani, Putin and Kim Jong-un are complex and quite different from each other, but they share in common the belief that dialogue is the only way to avoid a catastrophic war. But apparently, peace is not the best possible result for everyone.

So-Called “Free Syrian Army” Hands-Off Weapons and Territory To ISIS In Hayt, Daraa

Footage of fighters inside Hayt town in western after capturing it from rebels yesterday–

Nidalgazaui on Twitter: “Footage of #ISIS fighters inside Hayt town

ISIS Expands In Western Daraa Following Agreement With Free Syrian Army

 

ISIS Expands In Western Daraa Following Agreement With Free Syrian Army

Fighter of the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army in western Daraa

On July 11, the ISIS-affiliated Khalid ibn al-Walid Army entered the villages of Hayt and Khirbat Y’ala in the western Daraa countryside after an agreement with the local Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups, according to the Syrian pro-opposition outlet Enab Baladi.

The FSA accepted the agreement following a large attack of the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army on its positions in Hayt and Khirbat Y’ala. Under the agreement, FSA fighters handed over their weapons to the ISIS-affiliated group and withdrew to the nearby village of Zayzun.

A day earlier the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) carried out a series of airstrikes on several positions of the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army around Hayt. The pro-government blog al-Masdar News said that the airstrikes were aimed at supporting the FSA in order to prevent the terrorist group from expanding in the western Daraa countryside.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), 16 FSA fighters and 12 fighters of the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army were killed during the clashes around Hayt.

Local observers fear that the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army may force the FSA to accept similar agreements in other areas in the governorates of Daraa and al-Quneitra. Such a strategy may allow the terrorist group to expand rapidly and to threaten southern Syria.

Malaysia To Withdraw Troops Stationed In Saudi Arabia, Who Were NEVER Part of Grand Coalition

[SEE: Role of Saudi-led ‘military alliance’ put to question as some members reject participation–Malaysia denies taking part ]

Malaysia to withdraw troops stationed in Saudi Arabia

 

 

Malaysia’s Defence Minister Mohammed Sabu says new government’s decision reflects country’s neutrality in the region.

Malaysia to withdraw troops stationed in Saudi Arabia
Timing of troops’ return to be determined following talks with foreign ministry, Sabu said [File: Yong Teck Lim/The Associated Press]

Malaysia’s defence minister has said that his country’s new government will withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia.

In a statement made to local media, Mohammed Sabu said on Wednesday that maintaining a military presence in the kingdom risked dragging Malaysia into a regional conflict.

Sabu noted Malaysian troops were not partaking in operations under way in Yemen, referring to a Saudi-led intervention in the neighbouring country.

“Malaysia has always maintained its neutrality. It has never pursued an aggressive foreign policy,” Sabu told the government-owned Malaysian National News Agency.

The decision was made last week, Sabu said, adding that talks with the foreign ministry to determine the timing of the troops’ return would soon begin.

Saudi Arabia, together with several other Arab nations, launched a military campaign in 2015 in support of Yemen’s internationally recognised government, aiming to roll back advances made by Houthi rebels after they overran much of the country in 2014.

Most countries have since withdrawn their forces from the US-backed coalition, with only Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates conducting attacks in Yemen.

Earlier this week, the United Nations said the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for more than half of child deaths and injuries in war-torn Yemen last year.

It is unclear how many Malaysian troops are currently stationed in Saudi Arabia. In 2015, former Prime Minister Najib Razak sent troops to the Gulf country to facilitate the evacuation of Malaysian nationals in Yemen.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

Israeli Aerospace Buys Seat On Musk’s SpaceX Rocket To Win Musk-Sponsored Moon Prize

“A team of Israeli scientists are now the frontrunners in a race to win $20 million…

First Israeli Spacecraft to Head to Moon on Back of Elon Musk’s SpaceX Rocket

The spaceship will be the first privately funded unmanned spacecraft on the Moon and the smallest one ever. It is expected to land in February 2019

Spaceship imaging
Spaceship imagingSpaceIL 

The first Israeli spacecraft planned to land on the Moon will be launched in December, the SpaceIL initiative behind the craft announced on Tuesday. The plan is for the spacecraft to land on the Moon on February 13, 2019, after a two-month trip.

The SpaceIL organization is participating in the Google Lunar XC Prize competition to land the first privately funded unmanned spacecraft on the Moon. Even though the competition officially ended with no winner at the end of March this year, after a number of extensions to the deadline for the $30 million in cash prizes, the competition still continues without the cash.

But SpaceIL continued to develop its spaceship, which it began to build in 2013 in cooperation with Israel Aeronautics Industries. The spacecraft will be launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on a Falcon 9 rocket built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company. The spacecraft will separate from its two-stage launch rocket at a height of 60,000 kilometers above the earth, where it will enter an elliptical orbit around the earth, which will expand slowly until the craft is captured by lunar gravity.

Space IL’s video on the planned trip to the Moon

Ido Anteby, the CEO of the nonprofit SpaceIL, says this will be the smallest spacecraft ever to land on the Moon. It is about two meters in diameter and a meter and a half high. It will weigh 585 kilograms at launch, but will land with a weight of only 180 kilos after burning off most of its fuel.

SpaceIL is hoping to make Israel the fourth country in the world – after the United States, Russia and China, to land a spacecraft on the Moon. Beyond the technological and public relations achievement, the initiative is meant to arouse interest in space and science among Israelis, and especially the younger generation, and encourage them to study the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professions.

The SpaceIL nonprofit was founded in 2010 by three young engineers – Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub – to participate in the competition sponsored by Google, which originally included a $20 million prize for the first group of contestants to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon. SpaceIL grew over the years and has 50 staffers. Most of its employees are engineers, while a further 10 are involved in education.

The SpaceIL spacecraft has a scientific mission too: To decipher the magnetic mysteries of moon rocks. The research, conducted in cooperation with scientists form the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, will use a magnetometer on the spacecraft to attempt to understand how the rocks on the moon received their magnetism.

One of the goals of the project is to create an “Apollo Effect” in Israel, referring to the enthusiasm that began in the United States, and around the world, that encouraged scientific research after the first Apollo Moon landing in 1969, said billionaire businessman Morris Kahn, who provided the major part of the funding for SpaceIL, at Tuesday morning’s press conference.

SpaceIL has spent some 320 million shekels ($88.5 million) on the project, of which about 100 million shekels came from Kahn and most of the rest from private donors.

When Google kicked off the competition in 2010, one of the conditions was that the spacecraft lift off by 2014. But Google realized the deadlines it had set were overly ambitious, the launch date was repeatedly deferred. The final deadline was the end of March 2018.

Participants must be non-government entities (such as privately owned companies) that build and launch the craft into space, successfully land it on the moon, move it 500 meters along the lunar surface and get it to broadcast a video to Earth. Israel is contending against four other groups, from the U.S., Japan, India and an international group involving Brazil, Croatia, the U.S., India, Malaysia, the U.K. and Australia.

Among SpaceIL’s donors, aside from Kahn, are an Adelson family foundation, businessman Sami Sagol, the Israel Space Agency (which is part of the Ministry of Science) and the Weizmann Institute.

Although a privately-initiated nonprofit, SpaceIL could be seen as a national endeavor. It has 50 employees – as well as 200 volunteers talking about the project in schools throughout Israel.

800,000 Young Saudi Men Flee Bin Sultan’s Economic Disaster

800,000 expats have left Saudi Arabia, creating a hiring crisis: ‘Employers say young Saudi men and women are lazy and are not interested in working’

Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, center, at a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris.
Reuters/POOL New

 

  • The Saudisation policy of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has coincided with an “expat exodus” and a drop in foreign investment.
  • Saudi businesses are complaining that locals don’t want to do “low-status” jobs that many expats worked — creating a real problem for the economy.
  • In November, a paper by the Institute of International Finance projected capital outflows in 2017 at $101 billion, 15% of gross domestic product.
  • A recent rebound in oil prices has temporarily rescued the ailing Saudi economy, but it will not be a long-term solution.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have portrayed himself as a moderniser rolling back the country’s stultifying social restrictions — but he is struggling to turn the country’s financial fortunes around, with the economy suffering a crisis of confidence.

Hit hard by the oil-price collapse, the kingdom is now experiencing a plunge in foreign investment and high levels of capital outflow as its de facto leader, MBS as he is commonly known, attempts to consolidate power and steer a new economic course.

The uncertainty caused by his ambitious, some would say unrealistic, plans to modernise the economy has been further stoked by Saudi Arabia’s apparent struggle to fill private sector jobs vacated by a growing exodus of expats. As of April, more than 800,000 had left the country since late 2016, alarming domestic companies concerned that the foreigners cannot be easily replaced.

Their departure is part of MBS’s attempt to wean the country off its dependence on oil through economic diversification, a significant element of which involves trying to persuade Saudis in undemanding state sector jobs — which make up two-thirds of domestic employment — and those out of work to take up the new vacancies. The authorities want to generate 450,000 openings for Saudis in the private sector by 2020.

MBS has sought to expedite the exodus of foreign workers, who constitute about a third of the population, by stepping up the process of so-called Saudisation — essentially the creation of a more productive local workforce. He is hiking up levies on companies employing non-Saudis, requiring foreigners to pay fees for dependents, and restricting the sectors in which they can work, with employment in many areas of the retail and service industries now strictly confined to Saudis. The measures are said to be driving the expat exodus, evident in the marked downturn in the rental real estate market and empty shopping malls.

While among high-earning Western professionals Saudi Arabia has long been viewed as a hardship posting compensated by their tax-free status, the majority of foreigners in the country are from the Middle East and Asia, many employed in low-paid jobs in the sectors now earmarked for Saudis.

But Saudi business owners are having difficulty getting locals, accustomed to undemanding work in the state sector and generous unemployment benefits, to work for them. Reports suggest many Saudis are put off by what they regard as poorly paid, low-status jobs. The recruitment problems have seemingly sparked so much concern that they have been played out on the pages of the Saudi Gazette, the government’s mouthpiece, which normally features anodyne stories about life in the kingdom.

In February, the publication reported that a number of heads of chambers of commerce and industry had called on the government to exempt the private sector from “100%” — or full — Saudisation, especially posts that are hard to fill, such as in construction, amid concerns that many businesses may close down. In May, an item revealed that over a three-month period over 5,000 fines were issued to businesses flouting Saudisation rules in sectors ranging from telecoms to hotels to car rental.

Many companies are reported to be circumventing the policy’s local employee quota requirement by hiring Saudis and paying them small salaries for what are in effect bogus jobs — a process termed “fake Saudisation” — prompting some to call for the nationalisation of the jobs market to be reconsidered. In December, columnist Mohammad Bassnawi provided an intriguing insight into private sector concerns over the policy and its possible consequences.

“Employers say young Saudi men and women are lazy and are not interested in working and accuse Saudi youth of preferring to stay at home rather than to take a low-paying job that does not befit the social status of a Saudi job seeker,” Bassnawi said, adding that fake Saudisation “could create a generation of young men and women who are not interested in finding a job and who prefer to get paid for doing nothing.”

Nonetheless, the authorities seem unlikely to row back on Saudisation. MBS hopes to generate some $17.33 billion through the new expat taxes by 2020 in order to help address the budget deficit — projected to be $52 billion in 2018 — and finance new economic projects. Yet critics question whether the projected tax haul will compensate for the loss of consumer spending resulting from foreigners’ departure, as even those who remain are likely to send their relatives home because of the fees on dependents.

“Taxation of expatriates, before Saudi Arabia turns into a productive economy that depends on industry, is like putting the cart before the horse,” Tariq A. Al Maeena, a Jeddah-based commentator, said in Gulf News in October. Karen E. Young of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, writing in the institute’s blog in February, said it will take a decade or more to create a working class of Saudis willing to do service sector, retail, and construction jobs.

In the meantime, MBS’s hopes of raising capital elsewhere, and making public expenditure savings, are dimming. His ill-judged roundup of princes and businessmen late last year in an anti-corruption drive, which seemed more like a shakedown, generated a fraction of the $100 billion target, in the process shaking investor confidence. And a plan to slash public subsidies has had to be curbed in the face of public grumblings.

And though a much-publicised tour of Western capitals earlier this year enabled MBS to burnish his self-image as a social and economic reformer to largely uncritical audiences, it’s unclear whether the round of diplomacy has salved the concerns of the Saudi business community and Western investors. Foreign direct investment slumped from $7.5 billion in 2016 to $1.4 billion last year, a fourteen-year low, UN figures show. Moreover, in November, a paper by the Institute of International Finance projected capital outflows in 2017 at $101 billion, 15% of GDP. The IIF said capital flight from Saudi Arabia has contributed to the sizeable decline in official reserves. There are strong anecdotal indications that a proportion of these outflows represent concerned businessmen shifting as much of their liquid assets abroad.

Fortunately for MBS, a rebound in the price of oil has provided some financial respite. Foreign reserves, which have in part been used to finance the budget deficit, experienced a month-on-month rise of just over $13 billion, to nearly $499 billion, in April, still way down from their peak four years ago, when they stood at $737 billion.

While he may have more funds at his disposal, MBS can’t continue indefinitely to draw them down, nor rely on bond issues, to plug budgetary shortfalls. Yet he might have no choice. With Saudi business and foreign investor confidence in the economy at such a low ebb, and Saudisation under strain, it will be a while before private sector wealth-generation will be able to help him balance the books.

Ambrose Carey is a director at Alaco, a London-based business-intelligence consultancy.

Trump’s Trade War Threatens the US Economy

A trade war threatens the U.S. economy

Taxpayers and businesses alike celebrated in President Trump’s first year when he reformed regulations and signed a major tax cut — all designed to spur a new era of prosperity and growth for the U.S. economy.

That was then. The president’s more recent trade decisions could reverse that tremendous progress, adding hundreds of billions of dollars in potential costs for American businesses — costs that could ultimately be borne by consumers.

America’s energy, manufacturing and transportation industries are prime examples of the collateral damage threatened by Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. These materials are critical to every aspect of our operations: building equipment and infrastructure to produce, refine and transport natural gas and oil; manufacturing parts and machines that produce everything from household plastics and automotive parts to waxes and chemicals that touch the daily lives of every household and business; and filling the freight rail cars that serve as a nationwide steel delivery network.

In many cases, the specialty steel and aluminum components our industries need are simply not produced in the United States.

Our industries generate growth and savings that directly benefit U.S. households and small businesses. Fortified by free trade and fueled by the American energy revolution, these sectors support millions of jobs in the U.S. and across an array of industries.

Tariffs put those benefits at risk.

The examples are endless, but here are just a few:

Since 2010, more than $194 billion of new chemical industry investment has been announced. Steel tariffs threaten around half of that — jeopardizing construction on job-creating projects because companies cannot procure the products they need in sufficient time. Steel tariffs also hurt America’s railroads, with 140,000 miles that make up a steel network across the nation.

Pre-tariffs, the private sector was poised to invest $1.34 trillion in energy infrastructure to keep pace with surging production — supporting more than 1 million jobs each year on average through 2035. Tariffs could stifle hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of projects — including new pipeline infrastructure needed to get oil and natural gas from the prolific Permian Basin to markets. The steel tariffs alone could increase the cost of a 280-mile pipeline by as much as $76 million.

Then there are the retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports that China and other countries could impose.

Crude oil, liquid propane, and other non-finished products that are the feedstock of petrochemicals and that fuel locomotives are also impacted by the tariffs. Railroads, which move these goods alongside trucks, would feel the pain, too.

China is threatening to retaliate against U.S.-made chemical exports valued at $5.4 billion. China’s tariffs will hit the U.S. chemical industry not once, but twice by closing China’s market both to chemical exports and exports of finished products using chemicals in their production, including agricultural goods and automobiles. The tariffs on downstream products could lead to less demand for those products and therefore less demand for U.S.-made chemicals.

Against the backdrop of the escalating tariff fallout, stalled efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement point toward even more trouble ahead.

Free trade between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico under NAFTA helps support over 10 million jobs here at home, and the agreement is at the center of a vital supply chain. Our three industries provide just a snapshot of the complex whole, but it’s an instructive snapshot to understand the stakes.

The rail industry supports 1.5 million jobs, one-third of which depend directly on international trade. Bolstered by NAFTA, international trade accounted for $26.4 billion of freight train revenue and 511 million tons of rail traffic in 2014. North America’s energy markets are integrated and interdependent — trading crude oil, natural gas, and refined products between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Manufacturing components may cross the border as many as seven or eight times, often via railroads, before a final product is complete. Without agreements like NAFTA, tariffs would be levied multiple times, with the vastly more expensive materials potentially leading to higher price tags for consumers.

While we respect the administration’s vision for U.S. energy and manufacturing dominance, we also know when U.S. trade policy is bad for business and a threat to our economic security.

That’s why our organizations — the American Petroleum Institute, the Association of American Railroads, and the American Chemistry Council — joined a range of industries to support legislation introduced by Sen. Corker to re-examine tariffs. By requiring the president to sit down with fellow elected leaders and consider a full range of trade solutions, the bill is intended to infuse more dialogue into the president’s decision-making and ensure the best possible outcome is achieved.

Right now, the White House has a critical opportunity to avoid years of damaging impacts to American businesses and consumers by undoing these serious tariff missteps. It’s already clear that this well-intentioned policy will actually make the United States less competitive, undermine this administration’s vision of energy dominance and the manufacturing renaissance, and almost certainly destroy many more jobs than it protects.

By acting quickly and decisively, the Trump administration can stop a harmful policy before the full impact hits. The economic consequences are as damaging as they are foreseeable. Now is the time to change course.

Mr. Gerard is president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. Mr. Dooley is president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council. Mr. Hamberger is president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads.

Saudi Conference Declares All Armed Groups “Terrorists”, Taliban Rejects “Anti-Islamic US process”

[Saudi, OIC declare all armed groups terrorists, asks Taliban to recognize Afghan govt]

Taliban brands upcoming religious scholar conference as ‘an absolute anti-Islamic US process’

The Taliban railed against an upcoming conference of religious scholars that will be held in Saudi Arabia later this week as “illegitimate” and urged Islamic clerics to boycott the meeting.

The International Conference of Muslim Scholars on Peace and Stability in the Republic of Afghanistan will be held in the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina on July 10-11. The conference is hosted by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and follows a similar event held in Indonesia on May 11 that declared the use of suicide bombers to be un-Islamic.

In a statement released on July 7 on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official website, the group described the meeting as a US-orchestrated effort to delegitimize the Taliban’s insurgency. The Taliban also described the Afghan government as the “stooge Kabul Administration” that is doing the bidding of the US.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers this process under the title of conferences of the Islamic Scholars as an absolute anti-Islamic US process whereas its idea, logistical support and implementation is directly led by the US itself,” the statement said, using the Taliban’s official name of its erstwhile government. “The US wants through these conferences to find justification for their military occupation, legitimize their stooge Kabul Administration and thus weaken the Jihadic resistance of Afghan Muslim nation being put up against them.”

The Taliban then urged all religious scholars “to reject these conferences which are a scheme of the invaders,” and argued that even if they disagreed with what is said at the meetings, their presence would be used to legitimize the outcome.

“We wish to convey to those scholars who might argue that they are participating in such gatherings to speak the truth and defend the cause of Mujahideen, that even if you will speak the truth in such conferences, the final declaration, propaganda and media are in the hands of the invaders,” the statement continued. “They can distort your assertions and utilize it for their own interests.”

The Taliban appears to have anticipated the OIC’s intent with the Afghanistan conference. The Daily Times obtained a copy of the invitation letter that was sent by the conference organizer. The letter referred to Taliban as one of several terrorist group that has “erroneous interpretations of Islamic views.”

“From this platform, we call on all armed groups to shun terrorism, recognise the Afghan government, sit at the negotiation table and participate in political process,” the letter stated, according to The Daily Times.

Like the conference held in Indonesia in May (which the Taliban also denounced as a propaganda stunt aimed at delegitimizing its jihad), the OIC conference is highly unlikely to move the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

The Taliban has maintained for well over a decade that the Afghan government is illegitimate and it would not negotiate nor would it share power with the government. Instead, the Taliban has insisted that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is the true representative of the Afghan people and that it would only talk to the US – which it says is the real power broker – but only after the US begins withdraw of all of its troops.

US, NATO, and Afghan officials have been optimistic about the prospect for negotiations with the Taliban after a three-day ceasefire during the end of Eid last month. But the Taliban refused to extend the ceasefire or even recognize that it was initiated by the Afghan government, and instead resumed its attacks on Afghan forces. US and Afghan officials have said they are in secret talks with some Taliban leaders, but the Taliban categorically rejected these claims in very public statements that were released in English on Voice of Jihad.

US officials have been deceived by the prospects of negotiations in the recent past. The Taliban deftly used these officials’ desire for peace to extract concessions, such as the opening of a political office in Qatar and secured the release of five dangerous commanders linked to al Qaeda from Guantanamo Bay. The Taliban refused to enter in direct negotiations with the Afghan government and the US when it was arguably at its nadir militarily, during and after the Obama administration’s surge that drove the Taliban from some key areas in southern, eastern, and northern Afghanistan. Today, the Taliban is stronger than it has been since the US deposed the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks on the US. The Taliban contests and controls more territory today than at any point since the US invasion.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.

All 13 rescued from flooded Thai cave: navy SEAL unit

All 13 rescued from flooded Thai cave: navy SEAL unit

CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) – All 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped for more than two weeks deep inside a flood Thai cave have been rescued, a Thai navy SEAL unit said on Tuesday, a successful end to a perilous mission that has gripped the world.

“The 12 Wild Boars and coach have emerged from the cave and they are safe,” the Thai navy SEAL unit said on its official Facebook page.

Syrian Air Force Intercepts Israeli Missile Attack On Homs, Hitting One Jet

Army air defense intercepts Israeli missiles on T-4 airport, downs many of them

Homs, SANA- The army air defense on Sunday evening confronted an Israeli aggression on T-4 Airport in Homs countryside.

A military source told SANA that the army air defense downed a number of missiles which targetedT-4 airport and hit one of the attacking warplanes, forcing the others to leave the airspace.

The Israeli aggression came in coincidence with the successive defeats of terrorists in Daraa where the Syrian Arab Army is carrying out a wide-scaled military operation against terrorist groups from about 15 days.

The army has been able to liberate scores of villages and towns and it has forced the armed groups in other areas to surrender and hand over their weapons and ammunition.

R. Jazaeri/Ghossoun

Tenth Boy Brought-Out of Thai Cave Complex, Remaining 3 Follow Close Behind

Thai cave rescue: 2 more boys carried out of cave — live updates

Thai Cave Rescue, Pt. 2…Four More Brought Out…Weather Sucks

[SEE: Thai Cave Rescue Underway… 4 Boys Brought To Safety So Far…Monsoon Rains Have Begun ]

Cave rescue: ‘Four more boys rescued’ by divers

There were cheers and applause as the first boys’ rescue was confirmed

Cave divers in northern Thailand have rescued four more boys from a vast flooded cave system on the second day of a complex operation.

The Thai Navy Seals leading the rescue operation have confirmed that eight boys in total have been extracted.

Four boys and their football coach remain inside the caves.

The group was trapped in the cave on 23 June after heavy rains caused flooding, and found alive last week by divers.

Four boys were brought out safely on Sunday, but the mission was paused overnight for air tanks to be replaced.

Before the confirmation that four more boys had been rescued on Monday, air ambulances were seen departing from the cave system and ambulances arriving at the hospital in the nearby town of Chiang Rai.

Rescuers decided to go ahead with the operation to free the group because of fears that waters would rise again.

The rescue is complicated by sections in the cave involving diving – sometimes in a very confined space – and climbing.

Rescue mission chief Narongsak Osottanakorn said it had resumed at 11:00 local time (04:00 GMT) and would conclude at 21:00.

“More personnel” were being used than on Sunday, he added.

Image copyright AFP/ROYAL THAI NAVY
Image caption The group of boys and their coach were found after nine days

The names of the rescued boys have not been released out of respect for the families whose sons were still inside, and they have not been reunited with their own families, the mission chief said.

He said physical contact with loved ones would be avoided until a risk of infection had passed, though contact through glass or at a distance might be allowed.

Mr Narongsak allayed concerns that recent heavy rain might have raised water levels, saying conditions were “as good as yesterday”.

Media captionThe mood is tense as people wait for any further news of the high-risk operation

Rescuers took advantage of a break in the rain on Sunday to launch the mission earlier than some expected.

The first stage of the mission ran “smoothly” and the rescued boys were in “good health”, according to the Thai authorities.

Is this the end for the neoliberal world order?

AP

In this Aug. 5, 2010, file photo, a container is loaded onto a cargo ship at the Tianjin port in China.

Whatever his grievous shortcomings, President Trump has succeeded in one thing: smashing the once imposing edifice of neoliberalism. His presidency rejects the neoliberal globalist perspective on trade, immigration and foreign relations, including a penchant for military intervention, that has dominated both parties’ political establishments for well over two decades.

Some of Trump’s actions, notably the proposed tariffs, may be crude and even wrong-headed but other moves, notably focus on China’s buying of American technology assets, expose the fundamental weakness of the neoliberal trade regime. Trump’s policy agenda would never have risen if neoliberalism was able to improve the lives of the vast majority of citizens rather than promote stagnation and downward mobility for a large portion of the population.

The geography of neoliberalism

Neoliberal policies have worked well for those in the upper economic, academic, bureaucratic classes and the cosmopolitan places where they predominate. But what works for Manhattan or Palo Alto, as well as Goldman Sachs or Apple, does not help so much residents of declining industrial cities, small towns and villages which suffered millions of lost jobs due to China or NAFTA.

Trump’s support in these locations reflects a broader global phenomenon. Like the Midwestern and southern towns recently denounced by Hillary Clinton as looking “backward,” neoliberal policies have been rejected by similar geographies in the United Kingdom, as seen in the Brexit vote, and powered nationalist parties in such varied places as Germany, Russia, Slovakia, Hungary, Sweden, Poland and the Netherlands. Most recently Italians, including in the impoverished south, voted largely for anti-immigrant, nationalist and populist parties.

Neoliberal embrace of draconian climate change policies represent one irritant. These tend to hurt natural resource and industrial pursuits that power many smaller city economies. Establishmentarian intellectuals tend to have little regard for the prospects of such places and those who remain in them. Neoliberalism is also associated with uncontrolled mass immigration, which threatens both more conservative cultural norms and the economic prospects of those outside what urbanist Saskia Sassen calls the urban “glamour zone.”

The rise of illiberal neoliberalism?

To save themselves, neoliberals increasingly embrace ever more illiberal ideas. China’s progressively authoritarian dictatorship has completely undermined the neoliberal assumption that economic growth would eventually promote the rule of law and democracy. Now China’s approach elicits hosannas from new wave authoritarians, such as Jerry Brown, who see China, easily the world’s greatest greenhouse gas emitter, as a role model for its ability to impose harsh regulatory policies.

Progressive theorist like Harvard’s Yascha Mounk identify Donald Trump, and his European admirers, as latent fascists. But in Trump’s sometimes brutish authoritarian posturing and constitutional ignorance has been broadly stymied by judicial, social and political forces, some even within his own party. In contrast, few progressives, in or out of government, seemed all that concerned when Barack Obama, who knew the Constitution, resorted to rule by his pen and phone. Generally, progressive pundits also support the European Union’s bureaucratic rule, which lords over the continent with very little input from the grassroots.

The neoliberal commitment to ideological free trade, however ignored by other countries, is also weakening, in part due to the success of Trump. President Obama’s trade friendly policies have been rejected by much of his own party, not only by socialist Bernie Sanders but also in 2016 by his own former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. The fact that Conor Lamb, the impressive Democrat elected earlier this month in a pro-Trump Pennsylvania district, embraced the president’s tariffs suggest that, in much of the country, free trade, one key pillar of neoliberalism, is no longer saleable.

What the future holds

Despite initial economic success, President Trump is unlikely to succeed, as much a reflection of his unappealing personality and ideological incoherence than policy failures. Over time, opposing forces like the media, much of Wall Street, the tech oligarchy and academia will likely turn back right-wing nationalism. But neoliberalism as we have known it seems largely finished.

So what will replace neoliberalism? Most likely the next iteration will be an increasingly autocratic one, reflecting the increasingly concentrated nature of the world economy, and facilitated by the growing control over information by a handful of tech oligarchs. For many, China may prove not just an alluring market, but a role model for a capitalism that, notes analyst Sami Karam, is ever more dominated by rent-seeking and “cronyism.”

Immigration may turn out to be an even greater challenge for the old neoliberal coalition. To combat what they see as nativism, including any unfashionable attachment to western civilization, the progressives who run Facebook and Google have allied with the politically correct left’s thought police. Kumbaya values will be packaged in schools, the media, the arts and fashion, shaping the views of the next generation while the last America-centric generations die off.

Ultimately the successor to neoliberalism will not be the resurgent nationalism of Steve Bannon’s fantasies but an autocratic one manufactured in Beijing, Manhattan, Silicon Valley and the academy. Largely unappreciated today, we someday may look back at the waning neoliberal era with some nostalgia, lamenting the failure of a noble idea that failed.

Joel Kotkin is the R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism (www.opportunityurbanism.org).

Why so many migrants?…WAR

Immigrant mother separated from boy : 'I dream of my son' (copy) (copy)

Melvin, foreground, and Iris, both from Honduras, listen as they hear other immigrants tell of their separation from their children at the border during a news conference at the Annunciation House, Monday, June 25, 2018, in El Paso, Texas. 32 parents waiting to be reconciled with their children have been released by Border Patrol the the Annunciation House.

The Public Pulse: Why so many migrants?

Every day we hear and read about migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers. Missing, however, is an understanding of why this is occurring.

Why are there so many Sudanese in Omaha? War. Why so many Iraqis in Lincoln? War. Vietnamese in California? War.

As has been widely reported, the vast majority of people surging to our southern border are Hondurans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans. All of these countries were, in the recent past, right-wing dictatorships backed by the United States.

These repressive dictatorships and their legacies have resulted in unbearable conditions for millions of their people. It is U.S. foreign and economic policies that are to blame for the mass migrations. This is a form of “blowback.” The MS-13 gang is a perfect example: born in the U.S.-backed Salvadoran civil war; formed in Los Angeles; metastasized after deportation back to the authoritarian, neo-liberal U.S. “ally.”

The aforementioned Iraqi and Vietnamese migrants are also here because of U.S.-backed wars. Likewise, the millions of Syrian migrants in Europe, Jordan, etc., are a direct result of the disastrous U.S.-instigated Iraq War.

Surely all sides in the immigration debate can agree — it is key to improve conditions in the migrating countries so people don’t leave in the first place.

Stuart Williams, Omaha, Nebraska

Thai Cave Rescue Underway… 4 Boys Brought To Safety So Far…Monsoon Rains Have Begun

Thailand cave rescue: 4 boys successfully rescued from cave — live updates

At least four of the 12 boys trapped in a cave in northern Thailand for nearly two weeks have been successfully rescued, the Thai navy SEALs said Sunday. Rescue officials told Reuters that the rescued boys were being treated and transported to a local hospital.

The boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach became stranded when they went exploring in the cave after a practice game. Monsoon flooding cut off their escape and prevented rescuers from finding them for almost 10 days.

Narongsak Osottanakorn, who is in charge of the rescue mission, said Saturday conditions were currently “perfect,” BBC News reports.

“Now and in the next three or four days, the conditions are perfect [for evacuation] in terms of the water, the weather and the boys’ health,” said Narongsak, governor of the Chiang Rai province, where the caves are.

  • Trump says U.S. “working very closely” with Thai government on rescue

    In his first tweet of the day, President Trump says the U.S. is working with Thai officials in the rescue operation:

    4 boys successfully rescued, officials say

    Four of the 12 boys are now out of the cave complex, rescue officials told reporters during a briefing Sunday. The Thai navy SEALs say two were transported by ambulance from the cave, one of whom was airlifted in a helicopter.

    The SEALs say five of the 18 rescue divers were Thai, with American, Australian and Japanese divers assisting in the effort.

  • At least 2 boys reportedly emerge safely from cave

    Multiple reports citing local officials say at least two of the trapped boys have emerged safely from the cave, arriving much sooner than expected. Reuters reports a local rescue official said the boys are being examined.

    “Two kids are out. They are currently at the field hospital near the cave,” Tossathep Boonthong, chief of Chiang Rai’s health department, told Reuters.

    The AP reports two ambulances were seen Sunday evening leaving the cave and drove to a nearby helipad where a helicopter was seen taking off. Officials had said earlier that helicopters were on standby to take anyone rescued from the cave to a hospital.

  • Thai government releases details on rescue effort

    The Thai government has released a graphic with details of the rescue effort, BBC News’ Nick Beake reports. The graphic says that two divers are assigned to each boy and are being guided by rope.

  • Thai navy SEALs vow to bring boys back safely in Facebook post

    The Thai navy SEALs, who have been spearheading the rescue effort, have posted a photo on their Facebook page with a vow to bring the trapped team home from a flooded cave.

    The unit says in a message: “We, the Thai team and the international team, will bring the Wild Boars home.” That’s the name of the young boys’ team.

  • Water level in cave has been brought down to level where boys can walk for some of journey

    Authorities felt they had a “small window of time to act” to rescue the boys and their coach, CBS News’ Ben Tracy reports from Chiang Rai.

    Two divers will be assigned to each child to help them navigate the dangerous, narrow passageways. CBS News has also learned that water level inside the cave has been brought down to a level where the boys can walk for much for the journey rather than swim. That will make the operation less risky.

    Heavy rain is in the forecast and oxygen levels in the cave have been dropping to dangerous levels.

  • “A really, really tricky dive”: A look at some of the rescue’s challenges

    The rescue operation to save 12 boys and their coach from a cave will be “really, really tricky,” said Sink or Swim Scbua instructor Brent Clevenger in an interview with CBSN on Saturday. Clevenger said the biggest concerns look like the tight passageways, strong currents and low visiblity.

    It’s estimated that it will take the divers several hours to reach the boys, and then several hours to return. Each rescue is estimated to take about 11 hours, officials said.

    As Clevenger noted to CBSN, a diver will need to change tanks, making it a “really, really tricky dive for an experienced diver on his own.”

    Clevenger also said another concern will be the oxygen levels. If carbon dioxide builds up and oxygen runs low, it could potentially cause panic, unconsciousness and even death. On Thursday, a former Thai Navy SEAL who was part of the rescue mission died from lack of oxygen, authorities.

    Of course, the boys are only now learning to dive, and Clevenger said he normally teaches boys to dive in shallow water, so they can stand up if they panic. In this case, the boys will be going through passageways where they can’t stand up. And even if the boys are with experienced divers, the narrow passageways will make it hard for the experienced divers to check on any boy who might be panicking.

    “I think the best rescue option is to teach them to dive, try to get multiple divers watching one boy at a time and just do the best with it,” Clevenger said. “I would say there’s not a good option, there’s just a bset option that we have, but like I said, there’s no good option at this point.”

  • Rescue mission could take days

    The rescue operation began at 10 a.m. local time, and it will take at least 11 hours for the first person to be rescued, Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osottanakorn said. The rescue mission could take several days.

    Both the trapped group and their families had been informed of the plan, BBC News reports.

    The boys will be medically evaluated when they are out of the cave. There are 13 ambulances and helicopaters ready to transport the boys to local hospitals if necessary. The nearest hospital is 15 minutes away by helicopter, BBC News reports.

    Narongsak said the boys are ready and willing to be brought out. “Their hearts are strong and determined,” he said.

  • “Today is D-Day,” Thai governor says

    A Thai governor says the operation to bring out the boys and their soccer coach from deep inside a cave where they have been trapped for two weeks has begun. The acting Chiang Rai governor has told reporters “today is D-Day” with 13 foreigner and five Thai divers taking part in the rescue.

    He says the divers went in at 10 a.m. and the boys will gradually come out accompanied by two divers each. He says the earliest they will come out is 9 p.m. Sunday (10 a.m. ET). The only way to bring them out is by navigating dark and tight passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents, as well as oxygen-depleted air.

    Experienced cave rescue experts consider an underwater escape a last resort, especially with people untrained in diving, as the boys are. The path out is considered especially complicated because of twists and turns in narrow flooded passages.

    But the governor supervising the mission said earlier that mild weather and falling water levels over the last few days had created optimal conditions for an underwater evacuation that won’t last if it rains again.

  • Dozens of divers arrive at cave

    Dozens of divers arrived at the Tham Luang cave on Sunday morning and officials set up more tarpaulin sheets blocking off the divers’ operating area.

  • Officials ask media to clear out

    Thai authorities asked media to clear out of the area around the entrance of the cave. “Everyone who is not involved with the operations has to get out of the area immediately,” police announced via loudspeaker, AFP reports.

    “From the situation assessment, we need to use the area to help victims,” police said.

Jihadi Innovators Launch Wave After Wave of Drone Swarms Against Russia’s Hmeymim Airbase In Syria

https://youtu.be/IwwsVri1FWw

Breaking: Russia’s Hmeymim Airbase comes under heavy attack again

Jihadists in Idlib pulverized in retaliation to Hmeimim drone attack

Video of one of the downed UAVs:

More Details About June 30 Drone Attack On Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base In Syria

 

On June 30, Russian forces intercepted and downed a group of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over Khmeimim Air Base in Syria. The UAVs had been launched by militants.

According to a report by the Russian state-run news agency Sputnik citing a source in the Syrian Army, over 5 UAVs were downed. The UAVs “most likely on a reconnaissance mission”, Sputnik’s source said.

“The drones were invisible to conventional radars, because they were made of wood, plastic and modern innovative materials. Despite the deliberate use of these innovation technologies, the UAVS were detected by the Russian military,” the source added noting that “on closer examination it became clear that the UAVs’ parts were made in Western countries.”

The UAVs were reportedly tracked by the Russian-made photodetectors. According to the source, two UAVs were doowned by members of the Syrian National Defense Forces “with the help of Kalashnikov assault rifles.”

Previously, the Russian airbase in Syria was attacked by militants’ UAVs in April and January. These attacks were also repelled.

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South Syrian Rebels Agree Surrender Deal, Assad Forces Reacquire Jordan (Nasib) Border Crossing

 

AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) – South Syrian rebels agreed to give up arms in a Russian-brokered ceasefire deal on Friday, rebel sources said, surrendering Deraa province to the government in another major victory for President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies.

Vehicles are seen near Nasib border crossing between Jordan and Syria, Marafaq, Jordan, July 6, 2018, in this still image obtained from a video. REUTERS via Reuters TV

The Syrian government recovered the Nassib border crossing with Jordan, held by rebels for three years, state media reported, after an assault in insurgent territory along the frontier backed by Russian air strikes.

A state television correspondent said the rebels had agreed to hand over heavy and medium weapons in all the towns and cities included in the surrender deal.

Rebel sources said Russia would guarantee the safe return of civilians who fled the government offensive in the biggest exodus of the war, with 320,000 people uprooted.

Seven years into the war which has killed hundreds of thousands of people, Assad now commands most of Syria with his allies’ help, though most of the north and a chunk of the east remains out of his hands. The presence of Turkish and U.S. forces in those areas will complicate further gains.

As Assad seeks victory, there seems little hope of a negotiated peace, with six million Syrians abroad as refugees and 6.5 million more internally displaced.

Russia has been at the forefront of the Deraa campaign, both bombing and negotiating with rebels who were told at the start of the offensive to expect no help from the United States.

Assad’s next target in the southwest appears to be rebel-held areas of Quneitra province at the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, where fighting between insurgents and the government escalated on Friday.

Israel said it had targeted a Syrian army post that shelled a frontier “buffer zone” in the Golan area.

Government advances in Deraa since mid June had brought large parts of the province back under state control.

Taking back the Nassib crossing paves the way for Assad to reopen a trade artery vital to his hopes of reviving the Syrian economy and starting to rebuild government-held areas.

Russian guarantees will also be extended to rebel fighters who wish to “settle their status” with the government – a process by which former insurgents accept to live under state rule again, the rebel sources said.

Rebels who did not wish to come back under Assad’s rule would leave for the insurgent stronghold in northwest Syria, they said.

It echoes the terms of previous opposition surrenders, but according to rebel sources, they also secured a concession that some government forces would withdraw from the area.

Russian military police would deploy instead with local forces overseen by Russia also deployed, they said.

The deal is to be rolled out across rebel-held areas of Deraa in phases, but there is no timeline as yet, said Abu Shaima, spokesman for an operations room for rebels under the Free Syrian Army banner.

The initial phases will cover the area along the border with Jordan, rather than the parts of northwestern Deraa around the city of Nawa, he said.

BORDER CROSSING

He said Syrian and Russian jets had pummeled towns across the southwest and villages near the border crossing.

Most of the hospitals had shut down amid the destruction in insurgent territory, which now barely had access to water or electricity, he said.

Several witnesses along the Jordan border fence with Syria said they people saw a convoy of over a hundred armored vehicles and tanks with Russian and Syrian state flags, along with hundreds of troops near Nassib.

Assad’s Iran-backed allies are also fighting in the campaign, defying Israeli demands they keep out of the border area. Hezbollah is helping lead the offensive but keeping a low profile, pro-Damascus sources told Reuters.

Both Israel and Jordan, which beefed up their borders, said they would not let refugees in but distributed aid inside Syria.

The U.N. refugee agency has urged Jordan to open its borders to the fleeing Syrians. The Norwegian Refugee Council has called this the largest displacement of Syria’s seven-year war.

Britain’s Deradicalization Programs Are Failing

Russian/Syrian Air Forces Batter Syrian Rebels Into Returning to Russia Talks

Battered Syria rebels return to Russia talks

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Smoke rises above rebel-held areas of the city of Saida, some 10km east of Daraa, during reported airstrikes by Syrian regime forces
AFP/Daraa

Rebels in Syria’s battered south were yesterday returning to talks with government ally Russia after the most intensive bombing campaign yet in the regime’s two-week offensive.
Moscow has been brokering talks for the negotiated surrender of beleaguered rebels in southern Syria, a highly strategic zone bordering both Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan.
More than 30 towns have already agreed to fall back to regime control, and negotiations this week focused on remaining rebel territory in Daraa’s western countryside and the southern half of the provincial capital.
But those talks fell apart on Wednesday because of Russia’s tough demands, rebels said, ushering in a ferocious blitz of air strikes, barrel bombs, and missiles.
An AFP correspondent on the edge of the rebel-held south of the city of Daraa, the divided provincial capital, said the bombing was the heaviest since the launch of the Russian-backed offensive on June 19.
Twenty-four hours into the onslaught, rebels announced they were willing to return to negotiations.
“The talks will resume,” Hussein Abazeed, spokesman for joint rebel command in the south, told AFP.
He had earlier accused Russia of pursuing a “scorched earth policy” to force rebels to return to the negotiating table.
The joint command also issued a statement saying it would be willing to hold “a new round of negotiations” if a halt to hostilities was immediately put into place.
As rebels made their announcement, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor reported a halt to both Russian and Syrian government air strikes over the south.
The day-long volley began on Wednesday evening, after rebels announced the failure of talks with Russian negotiators over the south’s fate.
They said Russia had insisted opposition factions hand over their heavy weapons in one go, while rebels wanted to do so in several phases.
Moscow also reportedly refused requests from some rebels for safe passage to opposition-held territory in other parts of Syria, as was done in Eastern Ghouta and Aleppo.
The resumption of strikes hit areas near the border with Jordan and further west, according to the Britain-based Observatory.
Six civilians, including a woman and four children, were killed in strikes on the town of Saida.
Hours later, regime forces fully retook the town and also seized control of a security checkpoint on the Jordanian border for the first time in more than three years, the monitoring group said.
Rebels subsequently handed over a large swathe of the border area, amounting to 275sq km, to regime forces without a fight, said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
But the main prize, the Nasib border crossing, remains in opposition hands.
Syrian state media said government forces were targeting rebel positions in the southernmost parts of the province, and reported one person killed in opposition fire on government-held districts of Daraa city.
The bombing on rebel areas throughout the day yesterday sparked a new wave of displacement, with people streaming into olive groves and arid fields in search of safety.
Bahaa Mahameed, a doctor working in Daraa’s western countryside, said wounded civilians were streaming into his clinic after several days of calm.
“The warplanes are bombing like crazy. We can’t even find a safe place to put the wounded,” Mahameed told AFP.
Rebel territory in southern Syria was already included in a ceasefire agreed last year between Washington, Amman, and Moscow, but that did little to halt the regime’s attack.
The onslaught has sparked calls for restraint, and the United Nations Security Council is set to hold a closed-door emergency meeting on the offensive.
Daraa is considered the cradle of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that triggered Syria’s devastating civil war.
Nearly 150 civilians have died since the assault in the south began, according to the Observatory.
The offensive has also displaced 320,000 people, according to the United Nations, many south to the border with Jordan or west to near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Both countries have kept their borders closed, despite mounting calls to let Syrians escape to safety.
The International Rescue Committee said displaced families were struggling to cope with 45-degree heat, dry desert winds and scorpions and snakes.
Children were reported to be hit with cases of diarrhoea and lice after spending more than a week on the border.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the hostilities were hindering UN efforts to provide cross-border aid from Jordan.
“Thousands of innocent lives are going to be lost, once again, if urgent action is not taken,” he warned.

Syrian Militants Not Negotiating Seriously w/Russia May Be Blown To Hell

SOURCE
[SEE: ISIS leader’s son sent straight to hell ]

Russian air strikes hit southwest Syria

AMMAN/BEIRUT: Russian air strikes against insurgents in southwest Syria resumed Wednesday, residents and an activist group said, after a rebel said talks to restore government rule there peacefully had failed.

The air strikes targeted the towns of Tafas, northwest of the provincial capital Deraa, and Saida, to its east, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is waging a campaign in the southwest with Russian air support to recapture the region from rebel groups, and has seized a large chunk of their territory.

Russian air strikes had paused on Saturday evening, the Observatory said. The Observatory, along with residents and rebels in Saida, said barrel bombs were also dropped on Saida on Wednesday evening.

Rebels have been negotiating with Russia since Saturday, seeking a deal to end fighting by accepting the return of state sovereignty, but they have not been able to agree terms.

“The talks with the Russian enemy in Busra al-Sham have failed because of their insistence on handing over heavy weapons,” Abu Shaima, a spokesman of the central operations room representing main Free Syrian Army factions negotiating with the Russians told Reuters.

Another rebel spokesman, Ibrahim al-Jabawi, said the talks did not reach any conclusion. Russia wanted heavy weapons handed over in one go. The opposition wanted to surrender them in stages after tens of thousands of displaced people returned home, he said.

The first round of talks on Saturday prompted rebels to walk out, saying Russian terms amounted to a humiliating surrender. Jordan persuaded them back to the negotiating table, official sources said.

Numerous towns in the southwest had already struck their own surrender deals with the government in the teeth of the army advance and aerial bombardment, independently of the main rebel factions.

Warfare in southwest Syria is sensitive to neighbouring Jordan and Israel. The area is also a “de-escalation zone”, as agreed by Jordan, the United States and Russia last year to reduce fighting.

Although Washington warned it would respond to violations of the agreement, it has done nothing so far and rebels have said the United States told them to expect no American military help.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi held talks in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov earlier on Wednesday, and said a humanitarian catastrophe risked unfolding in southern Syria if there were no ceasefire.

Lavrov said all Syria-related issues were likely to be discussed at the coming summit meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The fighting in southwest Syria has caused an estimated 270,000 people to flee their homes, the United Nations said on Monday.

Trump Pushed For Plundering of Venezuela, Under the Cloak of “Humanitarian Intervention”

Donald Trump.
Getty Images

Trump asked aides if he could invade Venezuela last year: report

President Donald Trump pressed aides about whether he could invade Venezuela during an Oval Office discussion last year about imposing sanctions on the South American country as it was roiled by political and economic crises, according to a report on Wednesday.

​The suggestion stunned the aides, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster – both of whom are no longer with the administration – and sparked a heated debate for about five minutes last August, the Associated Press reported. ​

McMaster was among the advisers who explained that any military action could backfire and threaten the support the US built up with other Latin American governments to punish President Nicolas Maduro for jailing opponents and consolidating power in an effort to establish a dictatorship.

Despite the arguments against, Trump persisted and brought up the successful use of the US military to invade Panama and Grenada in the 1980s.

Although the president gave no indication he was about to call up the military, the idea appeared to remain in his head.

The next day, Aug. 11, Trump floated the idea that he would use a “military option” to solve the escalating unrest in Venezuela that threatened security in the area.

“We are all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away,” the president said. “Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering, and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.”

Trump also mentioned the proposal with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the AP reported, and in September spoke to leaders of four Latin American countries at the United Nations General Assembly about it.

Eventually, McMaster was able to persuade Trump of how dangerous an invasion would be.

​The White House declined comment, the AP reported, but a spokesman for the National Security Council said the US will consider all options to restore Venezuela’s democracy.

The US, Canada and the European Union have slapped sanctions on Maduro and dozens of Venezuela officials over allegations of corruption, drug trafficking and human rights abuses.

US Determined To Strangle Iranian Oil Sales To ZERO—State Dept.

“Our goal with respect to the energy sanctions, our goal is to increase pressure on the Iranian regime by reducing to zero its revenue from crude oil sales,” Brian Hook told reporters.

The US administration is also working to minimize disruptions to the global oil market due to the counter-Iran sanctions, but it is confident there is enough spare oil production capacity in the market, Hook added.

“We are not looking to grant licenses or waivers because doing so would substantially reduce pressure on Iran, and this is a campaign of imposing pressure,” Hook said. “We are prepared to work with countries that are reducing their imports on case by case basis, but as with our other sanctions we are not looking to grant waivers or licenses.”

Hook explained there are two parts to the United States’ sanctions that will be re-imposed against Iran. The first part will take effect on November 6 and targets Iran’s automotive sector, trade in gold and other key metals. The second part targets Iran’s energy sector and petroleum-based transactions, as well as transactions with the Central Bank of Iran.Oil prices raised this week after Washington stated it would offer no extensions or waivers to Iran’s oil buyers when sanctions return in November.

READ MORE: Iran’s Rouhani to Discuss Nuclear Deal During Visits to Switzerland, Austria

In addition, the US president decided to reinstate sanctions on Iran, previously lifted under the agreement in exchange for Tehran maintaining a peaceful nuclear program. The unilateral move taken by the United States has been opposed by other signatories of the nuclear agreement.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani earlier met with the officials of the legislative and the judicial branches of government to discuss measures aimed at adjusting for possible sanctions in order to “prevent their negative impact.”

The first part of the sanctions will take effect on August 6, targeting Iran’s automotive sector, trade in gold, and other vital metals, Hook said. The remaining sanctions will snap back on November 4 against Iran’s energy sector, petroleum-based transactions, and transactions with Iran’s Central Bank, he added.

The Trump administration is not seeking regime change in Iran, only a change of Tehran’s behavior, Hook said. He added that Iran has been using money received through the JCPOA to fund destabilizing activities in the Middle East, including Syria.

So Much For Arab Royal Veracity…UAE/Saudi Planes Pound Hodeidah Amid Cease Fire

[UAE announces pause in offensive on Yemen’s Hodeidah]

Saudi-led airstrike hits school in Hodeidah, kills 3 civilians

Editor: yan

SANAA, July 2 (Xinhua) — An airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition hit a school in Red Sea port city of Hodeidah and killed three civilians on Monday, local media outlets from both rival warring forces reported.

Pro-Yemeni government online news website, Hodeidah.net, reported that the airstrike hit near Abdullah Atiyah school in Zabid coastal district, about 60 km southwest of Hodeidah port city, killing three residents and wounding four others including a child.

It said the airstrike was targeting Houthi rebels, but mistakenly hit near the school, in which part of the school and nearby houses were badly damaged.

Meanwhile, Houthi-controlled state Saba news agency reported the same story.

The attack was the latest in a series of airstrikes that resulted in the deaths of civilians in Yemen.

Last week, nine members of a Yemeni family were killed in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike on Amran city in north of the Yemeni capital Sanaa, according to local officials.

The impoverished Arab country has been locked in a civil war since the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels overran much of the country militarily and seized all northern provinces in 2014, including the capital Sanaa.

Saudi Arabia leads an Arab military coalition that has intervened in the Yemen war since 2015 to support the government of exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

More than 10,000 Yemenis have been killed in the war, mostly civilians, and about 3 millions have been displaced.

UAE/Saudis Call Pause To Their Seige of the Yemeni Port of Hodeideh

[UAE announces pause in offensive on Yemen’s Hodeidah]

“We welcome continuing efforts by UN Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, to achieve an unconditional Houthi withdrawal from Hodeida city and port”

Pro-Houthi politicians claim victory against Gulf-backed forces in Hodeideh

BEIRUT, LEBANON (6:00 P.M.) – Several pro-Houthi Movement (var. Ansallah Movement) politicians recently declared that the UAE’s announcement of a ceasefire in Hodeideh was due to their military failures.

Among the politicians that claimed victory was the Spokesperson for the National Salvation Governorate, ‘Abdul-Salaam Jaber.

Jaber specifically claimed via Saba News Agency that the recent statement by the UAE’s Foreign Minister, Anwar Gargash, proved his nation’s military failures in Hodeideh.

The Yemeni political leader said that Gargash’s statement “confirms that the so-called legitimate government is only a plea used by the UAE-Saudi forces to occupy Yemen.”

“The US-backed Saudi-led coalition forces thought that they would be able to occupy the province of Hodeidah quickly but the army and popular committees made that impossible,” he continued.

Also criticizing the UAE ceasefire was the Yemeni Army Spokesperson, General Sharif Luqman, who said that the failure to occupy the Hodiedah Governorate by the UAE-backed forces proved they were defeated.

The ceasefire was recently put in place by the UAE in order to promote peaceful dialogue between the Gulf-backed troops and Houthi forces.

Two Princes and the Emperor’s Son-In-Law

What Have These “Princes” Got Up Their Collective Royal Sleeves?

 

Prince William BREAKS Royal tradition in Middle East PEACE bid after ‘LIFE-CHANGING’ trip

The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, has made it his life mission to bring “just and lasting peace” to the Middle East after he met with both Israeli and Palestinian officials during his historic trip to the region.

How Jared Kushner forged a bond with the Saudi crown prince

Russian Air Force Launches Large-Scale Attack Along Turkish Border As Turkey Backs Up

[Turkey is withdrawing military forces from Afrin region ]

BEIRUT, LEBANON (10:00 A.M.) – The Russian Aerospace Forces unleashed a massive attack on the southwestern countryside of the Idlib Governorate this morning.

The Russian jets began their attack by launching several airstrikes over the Jisr Al-Shughour District, targeting the areas controlled by the foreign jihadists along the Turkish border.

According to a military report from the Latakia Governorate, the Russian Aerospace Forces specifically struck the jihadist rebels at the border-towns of Al-Najiyah and Bdama, which are located in the western part of the Jisr Al-Shughour District.

In addition to launching airstrikes, the Russian military fired several ballistic missiles towards the Jisr Al-Shughour District and northern part of the Al-Ghaab Plain.

The Russian military conducted these strikes in retaliation for the jihadist attacks on the Hmeymim Airbase in southwest Latakia.

The jihadist rebels are believed to be behind the three armed drone attacks that have targeted the Russian military’s Hmeymim Airbase.

While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the Russian military has accused the Uzbek and Turkestani jihadists of carrying out these armed drone attacks.

The Russian military has managed to repel all of these armed drone attacks, despite the prevalence of these strikes by this unknown group in the Latakia Governorate.

Insight On the Brewing Battle of Al-Tanf–Kurdistan24


Shadowy battle over Iran’s ‘Land Bridge’ continues

Members of Iraq’s Shia-dominated Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Mosul. (Photo: Archive)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan24) – A British Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter jet bombed a shadowy force loyal to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad which threatened coalition troops around al-Tanf some ten days ago, The Sunday Times of London reported.

Al-Tanf is a strategically located town near Syria’s border with Iraq and Jordan. US and British Special Forces use the fortified garrison there to train an Arab partner force, the Maghawir al-Thawra (MaT, Commandos of the Revolution), to fight the Islamic State (IS).

Al-Tanf sits astride the main highway linking Baghdad and Damascus and, by extension, Iran and the Mediterranean.

It is one of three major border crossings between Syria and Iraq.

Another border crossing lies in the north, where Kurds in Iraq and Syria live in close proximity. They are not particularly friendly to Tehran, and it is not optimal territory for an Iranian transit route.

A third border crossing, Albu Kamal, is located some 300 kilometers northeast of al-Tanf. Like al-Tanf, Albu Kamal is in an Arab area.

Control of one or both of those border crossings—al-Tanf or Albu Kamal—would serve Tehran in its bid to create a strategic corridor stretching through friendly territory, all the way to Lebanon.

The establishment of such an Iranian land bridge to the Mediterranean has been a concern for several parties, particularly Israel.

That al-Tanf and Albu Kamal have both been targets of bombing raids in recent weeks suggests a quiet, intensifying conflict over an Iranian route to Lebanon.

The RAF jet dropped one 500-pound laser-guided bomb on June 21, following an incident in which, what Britain’s Ministry of Defense described as an “unidentified force,” fired on MaT fighters and coalition advisers. A Syrian army officer was killed and seven others were wounded, the Times reported.

Five days before, on June 17, forces loyal to Syria and Iran in Albu Kamal were targeted, apparently by Israeli planes. They included elements from Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)—militias, mostly Shi’ite, mobilized to fight IS.

The PMF has been formally incorporated into the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), although the PMF includes Iranian-backed militias that, ten years ago, were involved in killing US forces in Iraq.

Kata’ib Hizbollah is one such organization. It, and its leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, were designated by the US Treasury Department in 2009, as threats to the coalition and to Iraq’s peace and stability.

Now Muhandis is deputy commander of the PMF, and his organization, Kata’ib Hizbollah, is formally part of the ISF.

In the June 17 strike on Albu Kamal, 22 fighters from Kata’ib Hizbollah were killed. The command of the ISF denied that they were in Albu Kamal on Iraqi orders, but earlier reports suggest otherwise.

Albu Kamal lies across the border from the Iraqi town of al-Qaim. On February 23, the Iran Observed Project of Washington’s Middle East Institute, reported that Iraq’s Interior Minister had announced that Baghdad “is planning on opening the al-Qaim-Albu Kamal border crossing between Iraq and Syria,” and the PMF “will play a role in maintaining security” on the border.

The report described the quiet race to control Albu Kamal between the US and its partner, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the one hand, and Syria, Iran, and their partners, on the other.

“What helped the pro-Damascus forces to reach Albu Kamal first and encircle the area,” the Iran Observed Project explained, “was the entry of Iranian-backed Iraqi militiamen into Albu Kamal from the Iraqi side.”

“Iran-linked Iraqi groups such as Kata’ib Hezbollah and Harakat al-Nujaba had participated in the liberation of the Iraqi border town of al-Qaim,” it reported, so it was easy for them to move on Albu Kamal.

After the June 17 strike on Albu Kamal, US Spokespersons followed Baghdad’s line in claiming that the forces killed there had not been under Iraqi orders.

However, al-Muhandis asserted otherwise. “We tell the Americans that we as the [PMF], including all of its formations, we follow the Iraqi government,’ he said in a statement. “We won’t remain silent on hitting us.”

Muhandis also had a warning for the Iraqi government. “Remaining silent on this incident, saying that that position is outside of Iraqi territory, hence we have nothing to do with it, is forfeiting the blood of our martyrs.”

Israel Warns Syrian Army Away From Its Own Golan

 

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel beefed up its tank and artillery deployment on the Golan Heights frontier with Syria on Sunday, cautioning Damascus’ forces to keep a distance as they sweep rebel-held areas over the border.

Backed by Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched an offensive last month to regain the southwestern Deraa region, driving thousands of refugees toward neighboring Jordan and Israel.

Israel’s military deployed tank and artillery reinforcements to the Golan on Sunday, a statement said, “in light of developments on the Syrian Golan Heights”.

In its statement the military said Israel was holding to its non-intervention policy.

Israel says it is neutral in the seven-year war but has carried out scores of air strikes in Syria on suspected Iranian targets, Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas or in response to what it said were attacks directed against its own forces in the Golan.

Addressing the Israeli cabinet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had apprised Russia and the United States of its position on the developments in the Golan, alluding to a separation of forces agreement with Syria after the 1973 Middle East war that created a buffer zone patrolled by the U.N. Disengagement and Observer Force (UNDOF).

“We will continue protecting our borders, we will provide humanitarian aid to the full extent possible, we will not allow entry into our territory and we will demand strict adherence to the 1974 disengagement deals with the Syrian army,” he said.

Israel seized much of the Golan from Syria in the 1967 war and annexed the strategic plateau, a move not recognized abroad.

Citing the Syrian instability, Israel has sought U.S. endorsement for its claim of sovereignty over the Golan. A senior Netanyahu cabinet minister said in May the Trump administration could soon oblige. Washington has not commented on the matter.

A report in March on UNDOF activities said Syria’s armed forces maintained positions in the Golan which violated the accord, as did Israel’s deployment to the area of 155 mm artillery, Iron Dome anti-missile systems and related equipment.

Since 2016, Israeli forces have provided humanitarian aid to Syrian villagers and internally displaced refugees across the Golan in a bid to keep the frontier quiet. The military says it has stepped up aid in recent days as people fleeing Syria have been arriving at a clip of hundreds a day and now number in the thousands.

An Israeli army officer in charge of humanitarian efforts on the Golan said on Sunday that several thousand Syrians displaced by the Deraa fighting had sought refuge in villages and tent camps set up by international relief workers on the frontier.

“I imagine that (they) assume that they are far less likely to get shelled. I imagine that they do not see what happened to them in Deraa or in Aleppo or in the Damascus suburbs happening to them close to the Israeli border,” the officer, a lieutenant-colonel who declined to be named, told Reuters.

Asked how Israel might respond if the Syrian army were to carry out strikes near the border, the Israeli officer described such a scenario as unlikely. “I imagine that, in such a situation, our commanders would assess the incident and decide on an appropriate response,” he said.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky