• Obama owes Netanyahu an apology

    28/Apr/2016 // 387 Viewers


    Obama owes Netanyahu an apology for denouncing the Israeli leader’s speech to Congress while taking the liberty himself to intervene outright in British politics.

    By: Alan M. Dershowitz, The Gatestone Institute 

    As President Obama winds up his farewell tour of Europe, it is appropriate to consider the broader implications of the brouhaha he created in Great Britain. At a joint press conference with British Prime Minister, David Cameron, Obama defended his intrusion into British politics in taking sides on the controversial and divisive Brexit (UK withdrawal from the European Union) debate. In an op-ed, Obama came down squarely on the side of Britain remaining in the European Union – a decision I tend to agree with on its merits. But he was much criticized by the British media and British politicians for intruding into a debate about the future of Europe and Britain’s role in it.

    Obama defended his actions by suggesting that in a democracy, friends should be able to speak their minds, even when they are visiting another country:

    “If one of our best friends is in an organization that enhances their influence and enhances their power and enhances their economy, then I want them to stay in. Or at least I want to be able to tell them ‘I think this makes you guys bigger players.'”

    Nor did he stop at merely giving the British voters unsolicited advice, he also issued a not-so-veiled threat. He said that “the UK is going to be in the back of the queue” on trade agreements if they exit the EU.

    Obama must either have a short memory or adhere to Emerson’s dictum that “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Recall how outraged the same President Obama was when the prime minister of a friendly country, Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke his mind about the Iran Deal.

    Netanyahu addresses US Congress in March 2015 against nuclear deal with Iran. (AP/Susan Walsh)

    Netanyahu addresses US Congress in March 2015 against nuclear deal with Iran. (AP/Susan Walsh)

    There are, of course, differences: first, Israel has a far greater stake in the Iran Deal than the United States has in whatever decision the British voters make about Brexit: and second, Benjamin Netanyahu was representing the nearly unanimous view of his countrymen, whereas there is little evidence of whether Americans favor or oppose Brexit in large numbers.

    Another difference, of course, is that Obama was invited to speak by Cameron, whereas, Netanyahu was essentially disinvited by Obama. But under our tripartite system of government — which is different than Britain’s Unitary Parliamentary system — that fact is monumentally irrelevant. Netanyahu was invited by a co-equal branch of the government, namely Congress, which has equal authority over foreign policy with the president and equal authority to invite a friendly leader. Moreover, not only are the British voters divided over Brexit, but Britain’s Conservative Party itself is deeply divided. Indeed, the leading political figure in opposition to Britain remaining in the European Union is a potential successor to Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party. So these differences certainly don’t explain the inconsistency between Obama’s interference in British affairs and his criticism of Netanyahu for accepting an invitation from Congress to express his country’s views on an issue directly affecting its national security.

    So which is it, Mr. President? Should friends speak their minds about controversial issues when visiting another country, or should they keep their views to themselves? Or is your answer that friends should speak their minds only when they agree with other friends, but not when they disagree? Such a view would skew the market place of ideas beyond recognition. If friends should speak about such issues, it is even more important to do so when they disagree.

    Obama’s ‘Apparent Hypocrisy and Inconsistency’
    A wit once observed that “hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.” It is also the currency of diplomacy and politics. That doesn’t make it right.

    The president owes the American people, and Benjamin Netanyahu, an explanation for his apparent hypocrisy and inconsistency. Let there be one rule that covers all friends – not one for those with whom you agree and another for those with whom you disagree. For me the better rule is open dialogue among friends on all issues of mutual importance. Under this rule, which President Obama now seems to accept, he should have welcomed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s advocacy before Congress, instead of condemning it. He owes Prime Minister Netanyahu an apology, and so do those Democratic members of Congress who rudely stayed away from Netanyahu’s informative address to Congress.

    The author is a renowned defense attorney, best-selling author and professor at Harvard Law School.

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  • Israel releases Eichmann plea letter on Holocaust day

    28/Jan/2016 // 752 Viewers


    Jerusalem (AFP) - Israel made public on Wednesday a decades-old handwritten plea from Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann for clemency for his role in the Holocaust, dated just two days before he was executed.


    In the request, written after he was brought to Israel in 1960, then tried, convicted and sentenced to death, Eichmann says the Israeli court overstated his role in organising the logistics of Hitler's "Final Solution" which involved the extermination of six million Jews.

    President Reuven Rivlin presented the previously unreleased letter, which was written to then president Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, at a ceremony to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

    "There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders," the presidency quoted Eichmann's letter as saying.

    "I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty," the German wrote.

    "I am not able to recognise the court's ruling as just, and I ask, Your Honour Mr President, to exercise your right to grant pardons, and order that the death penalty not be carried out."

    The letter was signed and dated: "Adolf Eichmann Jerusalem, May 29, 1962."

    He was hanged around midnight on May 31.

    Eichmann, one of the main organisers of the Holocaust, escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp after World War II and fled to Argentina in 1950, where he lived under a pseudonym until he was snatched by Mossad agents in Buenos Aires in May 1960 and smuggled to Israel.

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    The last page of a handwritten plea from Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann for clemency for his role in the Holocaust (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

    The last page of a handwritten plea from Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann for clemency for his role in the Holocaust …


    The ability of the security services to bring him to justice was a source of pride for the Jewish state, and Rivlin referred to the trial as a momentous moment in Israel's history.

    "In the first years after the Holocaust, the people in Israel were busy rebuilding and founding an independent state," he said.

    "The renewed Israeli society was not in the mindset to or able to remember.

    "The Eichmann trial broke the dam of silence. The ability of the young Jewish state to capture the Nazi murderer afforded a basic sense of security to the survivors of the Holocaust."

    Dismissing Eichmann's claims to be just a bureaucrat, Rivlin said: "The people who suffered from Eichmann's weakness were not given a moment of grace."

    - Remaining Nazis -

    Israel and its allies have continued to use their resources across the globe to pursue those responsible for carrying out the Holocaust, even though the majority of perpetrators are now close to death.

    On Tuesday, the Simon Wiesenthal Center -- named after a famous Nazi hunter -- produced a list of 10 alleged Nazis who could be prosecuted in 2016.

    Of the 10, four have trial dates already slated in Germany this year. Among them is Helma Kissner, who served as a radio operator in the Auschwitz death camp for four months in July 1944.

    Efraim Zuroff, Jerusalem director of the centre, said they would continue to chase every remaining perpetrator as "we owe it to the victims".

    "The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers. Old age should not afford protection to people that committed such heinous crimes," he told AFP.

    "The trials send a powerful message about the significance of the Holocaust."

    As the number of World War II Nazis alive diminishes, Zuroff said they are also seeking to focus on historical accuracy -- with strands of different societies in Europe keen to play down their role in the killings.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a statement on Tuesday, warned that anti-Semitism was again growing in Europe.

    "Even respected Western opinion leaders have become afflicted with hatred for the Jewish people and the Jewish state," Netanyahu said, without giving names.

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    The Red Cross travel document that Ricardo Klement -- alias Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann -- used to enter Argentina in 1950 (AFP Photo/HO)

    The Red Cross travel document that Ricardo Klement -- alias Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann -- used to enter Argentina …


    "The obsession with the Jews -- the fixation on the Jewish state -- defies any other rational explanation."

    Other documents presented at Wednesday's commemoration, in the presence of Holocaust survivors, included requests for clemency from Eichmann's wife Vera and his five brothers, along with Ben-Zvi's letter to his justice minister rejecting the appeals.

    Also in the collection, recently digitised by the presidential archives, are a transcript of Eichmann's defence counsel's Supreme Court appeal, the handwritten opinion of justice minister Dov Yosef, and a note by prosecutor Gideon Hausner for his opening address.

    Israel marks its own Holocaust remembrance day, which this year will be held on May 4-5.

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  • Thousands of Arab Israelis protest Islamic Movement ban

    28/Nov/2015 // 306 Viewers

    © AFP | Arab-Israelis hold up placards during a demonstration organised by the Arab minority in Israel to protest the ban of the radical branch of the Islamic Movement by Israel, on November 28, 2015, in Umm al-Fahm



    Thousands of Arab Israelis marched Saturday in northern Israel to protest against the decision to ban the radical wing of the Islamic Movement, with its leader denouncing the Jewish state.

    Under a sea of Palestinian flags, the descendents of Palestinians who remained in Israel after its creation in 1948 chanted "We are not terrorists" and "We are stronger than the ban".

    Israel banned the Islamic Movement's northern wing on November 17, accusing it of having instigated violence at a sensitive Jerusalem holy site that sparked weeks of Palestinian unrest.

    At Saturday's protest in Umm al-Fahm, about 60 kilometres (37 miles) north of Tel Aviv, its leader denounced what he called Israeli "terrorism" in an address to the crowd in Umm al-Fahm.

    "Who are the terrorists? This is racism by Israel, which closed the associations that were helping 23,000 orphans now left to go hungry," said Raed Salah.

    "You outlawed the Islamic Movement to scare us, but today it is the Palestinian people who are courageously saying 'No' to Israel's racism."

    Since it was founded in the early 1970s, the Islamic Movement has developed a network of religious, sports and educational associations, a model that spread across the Arab world.

    Today, Salah said, these associations provide services to half a million Arab Israelis from a population of 1.4 million, or 17.5 percent of Israel's.

    The movement says that these are the services that Israel should provide.

    Salah was recently sentenced to 11 months in prison for having called in 2007 "every Arab and Muslim to help the Palestinians and to launch an Islamic intifada" at the Temple Mount, sacred to Muslims and Jews.

    Israel says the movement's northern branch has stoked a wave of violence since October 1 that left dead 99 Palestinians and 17 on the Israeli side, as well as an American and an Ethiopian, according to an AFP tally.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government accuses it of inciting Arab Israelis and Palestinians to carry out violence spreading lies about the Temple Mount.

    "Any person who belongs to this organisation or who provides services to it or who acts within its framework is henceforth committing a criminal offence punishable by a prison sentence," his government said.




    Source: AFP

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  • Defense minister: Israel will respond with ‘full force’ to IS attacks

    28/Nov/2016 // 512 Viewers


    IN his first public comments after IDF troops killed four Islamic State fighters in a confrontation along the northern border with Syria, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Monday that Israel would not tolerate any provocations by the group and would respond unilaterally to attacks with “full force.”

    Speaking at his Yisrael Beytenu’s weekly faction meeting at the Knesset, Liberman said aggression against IDF soldiers would be met with an “immediate” response, and without coordination with other countries fighting in Syria.

    “For the first time an Islamic State force attacked our soldiers and we replied appropriately — with a powerful response,” Liberman said. “Israel is not looking for a fight but when we are faced with provocation — in Gaza, on the Syrian or Lebanese borders — we will respond with full force, as was done here.”

    Sunday saw the first case of an IS affiliate deliberately attacking Israeli troops inside Israel. Numerous mortar shells have fallen inside Israel, some of which may have been fired by these terrorist groups, though most were likely spillover from the fighting in Syria rather than a directed attack.

    The incident was sparked when soldiers from the Golani Brigade’s reconnaissance unit crossed the security fence with Syria to conduct an “ambush operation,” while remaining inside Israeli territory. The troops came under small arms fire from members of the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, formerly known as the Yarmouk Martyr’s Brigade, an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said.

    They returned fire, but soon came under attack from mortar shells. In response, the Israel Air Force targeted a truck “that had some sort of machine gun on top of it” and killed the four terrorists who were riding in it, the spokesperson said.

    Military officials have since described the incident as a one-off, saying they did not expect the jihadists to press ahead with more attacks on Israeli troops.

    Asked if Israel had coordinated with other countries fighting in Syria or planned to in the future, Liberman said that when attacked on its sovereign territory, Israel had no need to coordinate with anyone else and would respond “immediately.”

    “When we identify the source of fire, we respond to it. If not, then the sovereign is Assad’s army and we will respond there,” he added.

    Echoing Liberman, Netanyahu told his own Likud faction that Israel would not allow any Islamic extremist groups to open a new front on the country’s borders.

    “There have been several attempts to attack Israel’s forces along the border,” the prime minister said. “We will not allow any drizzle [of assaults], and if necessary, we will attack the enemy.”

    Both the IS-affiliated Khalid ibn al-Walid Army and the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the al-Nusra Front, which is linked to al-Qaeda, have been present on Israel’s borders for years, though they and the IDF had maintained a “live and let live” relationship until Sunday.

    Since March 2011, when the war broke out, dozens of mortars have landed in Israeli territory as a result of spillover fighting. The IDF often responds to fire that crosses into Israel by striking Syrian army posts.

    Israel has maintained a policy of holding Damascus responsible for all fire from Syria into Israel regardless of the source.

    Israel has also reportedly carried out airstrikes against Hezbollah and the Syrian Army deep inside the country to prevent arms transfers, with some of those reportedly coordinated with the US.

    Since Russia became heavily involved in Syria, Jerusalem and Moscow have held several top-level meetings aimed at making sure their forces do not become entangled in the labyrinthine civil war.

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  • Family buries first Russian soldier dead in Syria, doubts suicide

    28/Oct/2015 // 384 Viewers

    © AFP / by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber | Russian soldiers carry the coffin of serviceman Vadim Kostenko, 19, who died while serving in Syria, ahead of his funeral in the village of Grechnaya Balka, in the Krasnodar region, on October 28, 2015



    The first Russian serviceman confirmed dead in Syria was laid to rest on Wednesday as his family and friends disputed the official explanation that his death was caused by suicide.

    Authorities said 19-year-old soldier Vadim Kostenko hanged himself at Russia's airbase in the Syrian province of Latakia due to relationship trouble but his loved ones said they would never believe he had taken his own life.

    Several hundred people attended the funeral ceremony at the small village of Grechanaya Balka in southern Russia, including soldiers and several journalists as international attention has focused on Moscow's bombing campaign in Syria.

    Friends and family wept as a wooden coffin was lowered into the ground with a three-shot gun salute at a local cemetery after being carried slowly through the village by four servicemen as part of the funeral procession.

    Afterwards locals laid wreaths and flowers at the grave as Kostenko's distraught mother clutched a framed picture of her son.

    - 'Not a suicide'-

    The defence ministry announced on Tuesday that a Russian serviceman serving as a technical specialist at the Hmeimim airbase in Latakia had committed suicide due to problems with his girlfriend.

    On Wednesday, the main military prosecutor's office said the first autopsy results showed the cause of death as "suicide by hanging while off duty due to problematic personal circumstances outside the base."

    But family and friends said they did not believe this version of events.

    The soldier's mother was too distraught to comment so it fell upon his 14-year-old sister to brief the media.

    "His body arrived last night. We saw his nose and jaw were broken, he had marks on his neck," Yekaterina Kostenko told AFP inside the family home, a brick house at 102 Soviet Street, before the funeral.

    "This was not a suicide," said Kostenko, a blue-eyed girl with freckles and a long brown braid.

    Svetlana Shpag, 42, a former colleague of Kostenko's mother, said: "No one believes the suicide story. He couldn't have killed himself for a girl. He wasn't one of those suicidal kids."

    "The only reason he could have killed himself is if someone was about to take his life."

    A defence ministry source said a priest had come earlier in the day but could not lead a service as per Orthodox tradition because the death was being treated as a suicide.

    Two people, including a person close to Kostenko's family, had earlier told AFP the soldier had died from unknown causes.

    Some experts say the defence ministry in Moscow often cite a suicide to conceal the true reason of a soldier's death.

    Genuine suicides are rare, with servicemen instead coming under "physical and psychological pressure" in most of the cases, Anna Kashirtseva, spokeswoman for the Mother's Right group, told AFP.

    Defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters that any suggestions pointing to possible foul play were "insinuations."

    - 'In his blood' -

    One person close to Kostenko's family said that some people had encouraged the young man not to go to Syria.

    "But he said he couldn't not go," said Nadezhda, who did not give her last name. "He had it in his blood."

    On September 30, Russia launched its bombing campaign in Syria, with President Vladimir Putin saying Moscow needed to target Islamic State militants before they crossed into Russia.

    After the intervention -- Moscow's first military foray outside the Soviet Union since the ill-fated Afghanistan occupation in 1979 -- Putin saw his approval rating climb to 89.9 percent, an all-time high, according to a state pollster.

    Russian warplanes have carried out sorties from the Hmeimim airbase and Russian servicemen are based there to help service the aircraft, among other tasks.

    Russia says its ground troops are not taking part in combat operations in Syria and there have been no official reports of any servicemen dying in fighting in the war-torn country.

    by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

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  • Jesus' Tomb Opened for First Time in Centuries [See photo]

    28/Oct/2016 // 1063 Viewers

    The Holy Edicule, the shrine that surrounds the rock tomb traditionally believed to belong to Jesus Christ, sits within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Here, a conservation team led by the National Technical University of Athens works on a long-awaited restoration project of the structure.

    The original rock where Jesus Christ is traditionally believed to have been buried in Jerusalem has been exposed to the light of day for the first time in centuries.

    According to an exclusive report by National Geographic, a partner in the project at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the original rock surface has been covered with marble slabs since at least 1555, and possibly longer.

    During a conservation project to shore up the shrine surrounding the tomb, a team from the National Technical University of Athens in Greece realized that they would need to access the substructure of the shrine to restore it, said Fredrik Hiebert, the archaeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society. [See Photos of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

    "The Greek conservation group are the first, as far as we know, to actually open this," Hiebert told Live Science. "It's pretty exceptional."

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  • Breaking! Former Israeli president, Shimon Peres, dies at 93

    28/Sep/2016 // 976 Viewers


    Israeli ex-president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres died on Wednesday, some two weeks after suffering a major stroke, triggering an outpouring of grief for the beloved elder statesman.

    The 93-year-old died in his sleep at around 3:00 am (0000 GMT), Rafi Walden, who is also Peres’s son-in-law, told AFP.

    He had been surrounded by family members, a source close to Peres told AFP.

    His family held a press conference later in the morning, praising Peres’s tireless work ethic and what they called his devotion to peace.

    “He had no interest other than serving the people of Israel,” said his son Chemi, his eyes moist as he read a letter on behalf of the family at the hospital.

    US President Barack Obama immediately hailed Peres as a friend who “never gave up on the possibility of peace.”

    “There are few people who we share this world with who change the course of human history, not just through their role in human events, but because they expand our moral imagination and force us to expect more of ourselves,” Obama said in a statement.

    “My friend Shimon was one of those people.”

    Former US president Bill Clinton, who helped usher in the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s, said: “The Middle East has lost a fervent advocate for peace and reconciliation.

    “I’ll never forget how happy he was 23 years ago when he signed the Oslo accords on the White House lawn, heralding a more hopeful era in Israeli-Palestinian relations.”

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his “profound sadness”. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, the head of Labour, Peres’s longtime party, said he will be “forever remembered as an icon of Israel’s history.”

    Peres held nearly every major office in the country, serving twice as prime minister and also as president, a mostly ceremonial role, from 2007 to 2014.

    He won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for his role in negotiating the Oslo accords, which envisioned an independent Palestinian state.

    The former hawk turned dove was widely respected both in Israel and abroad.

    Active in old age

    Peres had been in hospital near Tel Aviv since September 13, when he was admitted feeling unwell and suffered the stroke with internal bleeding. He had been under sedation and on respiratory support in intensive care.

    But there were signs of improvement last week, and on September 18 Peres’s office said doctors planned to gradually reduce his sedation and respiratory support to judge his response.

    Walden had said at the time that Peres had seen “very slow, moderate improvement”.

    But on Tuesday a source said his condition had taken a downturn and he was “fighting for his life”. Family members arrived at the hospital.

    In January, Peres was hospitalised twice because of heart trouble.

    In the first case, the hospital said he had suffered a “mild cardiac event” and underwent catheterisation to widen an artery.

    He was rushed to hospital a second time just days later with chest pains and an irregular heartbeat.

    Peres had sought to maintain an active schedule despite his age, particularly through events related to his Peres Center for Peace.

    When leaving hospital in January, Peres said he was keen to get back to work.

    “I’m so happy to return to work, that was the whole purpose of this operation,” he said.

    In March, he met British supermodel Naomi Campbell at his Peres Center for Peace during an event linked to International Women’s Day. On the same day, he met visiting US Vice President Joe Biden.

    Born in Poland in 1923, Peres emigrated to what was then British-mandated Palestine when he was 11.

    He joined the Zionist struggle and met David Ben-Gurion, who would become his mentor and Israel’s first prime minister.

    Peres became director general of the nascent defence ministry at just 29.

    Beyond his accomplishments in the public eye, he was also seen as a driving force in the development of Israel’s undeclared nuclear programme.

    Peres once confided that the secret to his longevity was daily exercise, eating little and drinking one or two glasses of good wine.


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  • Twin suicide bombing kills 70 in Baghdad's deadliest attack this year

    29/Feb/2016 // 316 Viewers


    By Kareem Raheem


    BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A twin suicide bombing claimed by Islamic State killed 70 people in a Shi'ite district of Baghdad on Sunday in the deadliest attack inside the capital this year, as militants launched an assault on its western outskirts.

    Police sources said the suicide bombers were riding motorcycles and blew themselves up in a crowded mobile phone market in Sadr City, wounding more than 100 people in addition to the dead.

    A Reuters witness saw pools of blood on the ground with slippers, shoes and mobile phones at the site of the blasts, which was sealed off to prevent further attacks.

    In a statement circulated online, Islamic State said it was responsible for the blasts: "Our swords will not cease to cut off the heads of the rejectionist polytheists, wherever they are," it said, using derogatory terms for Shi'ite Muslims.

    Iraqi forces backed by airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition have driven Islamic State back in the western Anbar province recently and are preparing for an offensive to retake the northern city of Mosul.

    But the militants are still able to strike outside territory they control, often targeting members of Iraq's Shi'ite majority, most recently on Thursday when two Islamic State suicide bombers killed 15 people at a mosque in the capital.

    Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the attacks were in response to Islamic State's recent defeats: "This gang targeted civilians after it lost the initiative and its dregs fled the battlefield before our proud fighters," he said on his official Facebook page.

    At dawn on Sunday, suicide bombers and gunmen attacked Iraqi security forces in Abu Ghraib, seizing positions in a grain silo and a cemetery, and killing at least 17 members of the security forces, officials said.

    Security officials blamed Islamic State, and a news agency that supports the group said it had launched a "wide attack" in Abu Ghraib, 25 km (15 miles) from the center of Baghdad and next to the international airport.

    Footage circulated online by the Amaq news agency appeared to show Islamic State fighters crouching behind dirt berms and launching the attack with automatic rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Reuters could not verify the video's authenticity.

    Security forces had mostly regained control by Sunday evening but officials said there were still clashes.

    Baghdad-based security analyst Jasim al-Bahadli said the assault suggested it was premature to declare that Islamic State was losing the initiative in Iraq.

    "Government forces must do a better job repelling attacks launched by Daesh. What happened today could be a setback for the security forces," he said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.


    Army and police sources said the militants had attacked from the nearby Islamic State-controlled areas of Garma and Falluja, driving Humvees and pickup trucks fixed with machine guns.

    A curfew was imposed as a regiment of Iraq's elite counter-terrorism forces was mobilized to retake the silo in Abu Ghraib and prevent the militants approaching the nearby airport, security officials said.

    Iraqi army helicopters bombarded Islamic State positions in the and Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan said at least 20 militants had been killed in the government's counter-offensive.

    Fighters from the Hashid Shaabi, a coalition of mainly Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias, were mobilized to Abu Ghraib to reinforce regular government forces in the area, said Jawad al-Tulaibawi, a local Hashid commander.

    Powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr also called on fighters loyal to him to be on alert to protect Baghdad. Shi'ite militias like Sadr's 'Peace Brigades' were seen as a bulwark against Islamic State's sweeping advance in 2014 which threatened Iraq's capital and its most sacred Shi'ite shrines.

    (Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad and Ali Abdelaty in Cairo).

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  • Egyptian Lawmaker Hit with Shoe for Meeting with Israeli Ambassador

    29/Feb/2016 // 413 Viewers


    An Egyptian lawmaker hit a fellow parliamentarian with his shoe Sunday over the latter’s meeting with the Israeli ambassador to Egypt.

    Sunday’s parliament session in Egypt was adjourned for 10 minutes as two lawmakers were kicked out after one hit the other with his shoe – a gesture of contempt in the Arab world – for meeting with the Israeli ambassador to Egypt, the state-run MENA news agency reported.

    Tawfiq Okasha, a popular TV talk show host and parliament member, has been engulfed in controversy since Thursday when Israeli ambassador Haim Koren posted a picture on the embassy’s Facebook page of the two of them meeting Wednesday evening.

    Kamal Ahmed

    Egyptian lawmaker Kamal Ahmed (Ahram)

    The parliament formed a committee to look into parliamentarian Kamal Ahmed’s assault against Okasha during Sunday’s session, according to the parliament’s website. But Ahmed himself was unrepentant and some parliamentarians were openly supportive of the attack.

    “I delivered the Egyptian people’s message, and Egyptian martyrs, and the Palestinian people’s rights, and our historical symbols such as Gamal Abdel Nasser,” Ahmed told the YouTube channel Parlamany, which tracks Egyptian parliamentary affairs.

    Direct Dealing with Israelis Remains Deeply Taboo

    “As a parliamentarian and as an Egyptian citizen, I think that Kamal Ahmed’s shoe will enter history books, and that it represents the Egyptian people’s rejection to normalization with Israel,” said MP Osama Sharshar in an interview with Parlamany.

    Tawfiq Okasha

    In Feb. 2012, Egyptian parliamentarian and talk show host Tawfiq Okasha claimed that Jews held the same racist and genocidal ideology as Hitler (MEMRI)

    Egypt has full diplomatic relations with Israel, but directly dealing with Israelis remains deeply taboo in Egyptian society even after the two countries signed the 1979 U.S.-sponsored peace treaty.

    Following the shoe beating, Okasha spoke with the Parlamany channel, saying of Ahmed, “If he hit me 30 times with a shoe on my head, he is still like my father.”

    Okasha said he met with Koren in order to serve Egypt’s interests. That included a discussion of Ethiopia’s under-construction Grand Renaissance Dam. Cairo fears the dam may cut into Egypt’s vital share of the Nile waters.

    “They (Israel) are the ones building the Renaissance Dam, are we fooling ourselves?” Okasha asked, making reference to a widely-believed conspiracy theory that Israel is supporting Ethiopia’s dam in an attempt to harm Egypt’s interests.


    Israel Cites Importance of Meeting

    Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said the meeting had taken place at Okasha’s invitation.

    “The importance of the meeting was in the fact that it took place,” he said.

    Ambassador Haim Korem (L) posted a photo with Egyptian lawmaker Tawfiq Okasha on the embassy website. (Twitter)

    Ambassador Haim Korem (L) posted a photo with Egyptian lawmaker Tawfiq Okasha on the embassy website. (Twitter)

    Koren spoke with Israeli Army Radio Sunday morning before the shoe assault, saying he would meet again with the Okasha, if invited, despite the uproar.

    “It was a good and warm meeting. He wanted assistance mainly on water, economy and agriculture issues as well as options to develop trade and bring investments to Egypt,” Koren said. “It was clear that this would raise lots of objections from some parliamentarians and other elements who boycott Israel.”

    Okasha had announced a week before the meeting took place on TV that he had invited the ambassador to have dinner with him at his home.

    Okasha’s meeting with Koren has been heavily discussed on public affairs shows, and MENA reports the parliament on Sunday decided to form a special committee to investigate the meeting.

    By: AP

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  • Breaking: Iran says its pilgrims will not attend haj in Saudi

    29/May/2016 // 403 Viewers


    DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran said on Sunday its pilgrims would not attend the annual Muslim haj pilgrimage, blaming regional rival Saudi Arabia for "sabotage" and failing to guarantee the safety of pilgrims.

    Saudi Arabia, which oversees the pilgrimage to Mecca by more than two million Muslims from around the world, accused Iran of effectively depriving its citizens from the religious duty by refusing to sign a memorandum reached after talks with Iran's Haj and Pilgrimage Organization.

    Relations between the two Gulf powers plummeted after hundreds of Iranians died in a crush in last year's haj and after Riyadh broke diplomatic ties when its Tehran embassy was stormed in January over the Saudi execution of a Shi'ite cleric.

    The dispute has provided another arena for discord between the conservative Sunni Muslim monarchy of Saudi Arabia and the revolutionary Shi'ite republic of Iran, which back opposing sides in Syria and other conflicts across the region.

    "Due to ongoing sabotage by the Saudi government, it is hereby announced that ... Iran's pilgrims have been denied the privilege to attend the haj this year, and responsibility for this rests with the government of Saudi Arabia," Iran's Haj and Pilgrimage Organization said in a statement carried by state media.

    Saudi media earlier said an Iranian delegation had left the kingdom without an agreement over the haj, the second time the two countries have failed to reach a deal.

    Saudi Arabia has blamed Iran for the impasse.

    "Saudi Arabia does not prevent anyone from performing the religious duty," Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a news conference with visiting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

    "Iran refused to sign the memorandum and was practically demanding the right to hold demonstrations and to have other advantages ... that would create chaos during haj, which is not acceptable," he added.

    Iranian Culture Minister Ali Jannati said the issue of ensuring the safety of the pilgrims was paramount for Tehran following the death of hundreds of Iranian pilgrims last year.

    "The Saudi government deliberately acted in a way to prevent Iranian pilgrims from ... attending haj this year," Jannati told Iran state television.

    Eight months after the last haj, Saudi Arabia has still not published a report into the disaster, at which it said over 700 pilgrims were killed, the highest death toll at the annual pilgrimage since a crush in 1990.

    Iran boycotted the haj for three years after 402 pilgrims, mostly Iranians, died in clashes with Saudi security forces at an anti-U.S. and anti-Israel rally in Mecca in 1987.

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