28 August 2014

Obama seeks allies for action in Syria as first American Jihadi reported dead

Aug 28, 2014

'Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy, and it won't be quick," Obama said.

WASHINGTON: President Obama has begun to seek and mobilize allies for possible US action in Syria and Northern Iraq even as reports emerged of an American jihadi dying in Syria fighting for extremists, coincidentally at the same time an Indian jihadi was also reported killed in the region. 

The American, Douglas McCain, was an African-American malcontent from Minneapolis who had converted to Islam and signed up with extremist forces in Syria. He is one of scores of American who have done so over the past year, terrifying Washington that they may return to the US mainland to launch attacks at home. 

McCain was reportedly killed in an internecine militants' fight near Aleppo, but the incident has galvanized the Obama administration into reminding Americans that the country cannot afford to take a hands off approach to the messy quagmire many are reluctant to return to. To make it more palatable domestically, Washington is returning to the old formula of seeking allies. 

President Obama indicated as much on Tuesday when he told a meeting of the American Legion that the US was building a coalition to "take the fight to these barbaric terrorists," and that the militants would be no match for a united international community. ''Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won't be easy, and it won't be quick," Obama said, preparing Americans for a possible incremental involvement that is expected to begin with airstrikes. 

Separately, administration officials are telling the media in background briefings that Washington is reaching out Australia, Britain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to provide support for potential US operations.

Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, of New Hope, Minnesota died in a battle between rival extremist groups in the suburbs of Aleppo. (Reuters Photo) 

Truce hopes fade over ‘Russia incursions’

Aug 28, 2014 

Smoke rises from buildings in Novoazovsk, eastern Ukraine, that were shelled by separatists. AFP

Ukraine accused Russian forces of launching a new military incursion across its border on Wednesday, a day after the leaders of both countries agreed to work towards ending a separatist war in the east of the country.

The accusation, which could not be immediately verified, quickly dented any sense of cautious optimism from Tuesday’s late-night talks between presidents Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko on resolving the five-month conflict.

Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said a group of Russian soldiers had crossed the border in armoured infantry carriers and a truck and entered the eastern town of Amvrosiyivka, not far from where Ukraine detained 10 Russian soldiers on Monday.

Lysenko said that fighting in the towns of Horlivka and Ilovaysk to the north and east respectively had killed about 200 pro-Russian separatists and destroyed tanks and missile systems. He said 13 Ukrainian service personnel had been killed in the past 24 hours and 36 had been wounded.

No comment was immediately available from the Russian defence ministry on the alleged incursion.

Russia has repeatedly denied sending weapons and soldiers to help the eastern rebels, and says the men captured on Monday had crossed an unmarked section of the border by mistake.

“As for the latest wave of panic in Ukrainian media that Russia is joining the war - if Russia joined the war, the counter-offensive would already be in Kiev,” Denis Pushilin, a former separatist leader, told reporters in Moscow.

Nawaz Sharif offered deputy PM post: Imran Khan

Aug 28, 2014 

Nawaz Sharif

Pakistan Opposition leader Imran Khan on Wednesday claimed that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had offered him the deputy PM’s post, an offer which he had rejected.

He also announced a complete suspension of dialogue with the government until Mr Sharif’s resignation.

Mr Khan insisted he is a democratic man and that he hasn’t done a thing that is undemocratic.

Mr Sharif earlier in the day said that no one will be allowed to derail democracy and violate the Constitution.

“Those who try to derail democracy and Constitution will be held accountable. No will be allowed to derail the democratic process and violate the Constitution”.

Addressing the National Assembly, the PM said his government represent mandate of 200 million people in the House. “Almost entire Parliament voted in favour of democratic process and we will fight against all obstacles in the way of democracy”, he said.

Mr Sharif lauded all segments of society for supporting democracy. He thanked the Parliament for overwhelming support for the democratic set-up.

Mr Sharif said demanding accountability of the government is the right of the people and the Opposition but insisted that he will never betray confidence of the House.

He said ongoing political turmoil has damaged national economy and stock markets have suffered because of the ongoing protests.

“The PM and his close aides have considered but rejected the unrealistic demands of (Pakistan Awami Tehrik leader) Tahir-ul-Qadri”, a senior government official said on Wednesday.

The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and PAT workers have started digging graves at the sites of their sit-ins in front of the Parliament House here. The two parties have been staging sit-ins for the last several days demanding Mr Sharif’s resignation.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered to completely clear all the routes leading to the Supreme Court by Thursday as PTI and PAT protesters failed to abide by an earlier order.

Stepping up pressure on the government, legislators of Imran Khan’s party in the Punjab province assembly resigned on Wednesday.

Opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly and PTI member Mehmoodur Rashid, along with 28 other members, handed their resignations from the House to the Punjab Assembly Secretariat.

Obama to convene UNSC meeting on foreign fighters: White House

U.S. President Barack Obama will convene a meeting of the U.N. Security Council next month on the threat posed by foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, the White House has said, amidst reports that another American jihadi has died in Syria fighting for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

It is estimated that foreign fighters from about 50 countries, including from India and about 100 from the U.S. are fighting for the ISIL, the terrorist outfit that has gained control over a large part of Syria and Iraq in the last couple of months.

“U.S. President, Barack Obama, is going to convene a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the threat that’s posed by foreign fighters,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said on Wednesday.

“That will be an important opportunity for the President to discuss with the leaders of the world what can be done cooperatively to try to counter the threat that those individuals with Western passports might pose to Western governments,” he said.

There are thousands of foreign fighters from up to 50 countries who have travelled to Syria to take up arms alongside ISIL, he said.

“We are very concerned about the risk that those individuals pose to the 50 countries from which they travelled. In many cases, these are individuals that have Western passports. They have some freedom of movement in our modern transportation system,” he noted.

He said the U.S. was working with Interpol and other law enforcement agencies as well as the homeland security agencies in the West and in the region to try to monitor the movements of the ISIL militants to mitigate the threat.

“These are individuals who have been radicalised. These are individuals who’ve received some military training. In some cases, they’re battle tested, and they’ve demonstrated, as McCain did, a willingness to die for their cause,” he said.

Mainstream U.S. media reported that a coalition of Syrian opposition, Nahrawan of Syria, announced that its forces had killed another unnamed American.

“We’re aware of media reporting and social media activity indicating that a second American citizen associated with ISIL has been killed in Syria,” said Caitlin Hayden, Spokesperson of the National Security Council at the White House.

“At this point, we are not in a position to confirm those reports. Should that change, we will provide an update,” Ms. Hayden said.

A day earlier, the U.S. confirmed the death in Syria of U.S. citizen Douglas McAuthur McCain.

“We previously were aware of his presence in Syria and his affiliation with ISIL. Without getting into too many more specifics, we of course use every tool we have to disrupt and dissuade individuals from travelling abroad for violent jihad and to track and engage those who return,” State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

She said this was a reminder of the growing concern that the U.S. and many countries in the world have about the thousands of foreign fighters engaged in Syria.

According to Pentagon, there could be about 100 American passport holders in Syria fighting for ISIL.

“I don’t know that we have a precise number. I certainly have seen a number of upward of 100. Certainly, we believe several dozens are involved in this kind of activity. And, frankly, there could be more. These kinds of people with these kinds of intentions, they’re not going to make them well-known,” Pentagon Press Secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, told the CNN.

“It is the foreign fighter threat that is something that definitely concerns us here in the Pentagon. And when we talk about the immediacy of the threat that ISIL poses, this is one of the factors that we’re talking about,” he said.

Ebola’s re-emergence, a wake-up call

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Scientists, researchers and the pharmaceutical industry should treat Ebola as a common enemy that must be defeated with modern medicine and better health-care infrastructure. Modernisation and development should not become the reasons for such viral outbreaks to take centre stage

The past two decades have seen the world experiencing, with alarming regularity, outbreaks of viral diseases like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), bird flu and swine flu. These have caused alarm and spread panic not only in populations that are directly affected but also in places away from the locations of these outbreaks. Even before memories of these outbreaks have faded, there are new outbreaks; the recent re-emergence of the Ebola virus, for example, has underscored the fact that humans are increasingly and continuously at risk from life-threatening viral diseases, and that the unexpected can be expected anytime. These emerging infectious diseases that occur in most parts are generally connected with a rapid growth in population. Human activities like changes in land use, increased urbanisation and high population density in cities, increased contact with wild animal reservoirs, climate change and a deterioration in health-care systems, particularly in developing and poor countries are the major causes.

Spread and impact

The current outbreak of the Ebola virus in some West African countries is unprecedented and seems to have spun out of control. What started in three of the poorest countries in West Africa — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — already ravaged by political turmoil and civil war, has now spread beyond their borders. The epidemic — which the World Health Organization (WHO) says has affected more than a million humans — has already claimed more than a thousand lives. Although officially reported cases are between 2,000-3,000, it is quite likely, as it often happens in such cases, that the actual number of those affected is much more.

In the current outbreak, the first reported case was that of a two-year-old boy who died on December 6, 2013, which was soon followed by the deaths of his mother, his three-year-old sister and his grandmother. By the end of March 2014, the disease had erupted in many locations and the outbreak was termed as “unprecedented.” By end July, it had caused widespread panic, fear and disruption, including steps that led to the closure of borders between the affected countries. The death of a nurse in Lagos, Nigeria, on August 6 and, since then, several more cases in that country, have added an entirely different dimension to this extraordinary health threat.

The Ebola disease is severe, with mortality rates as high as 90 per cent, caused by rapidly acquired haemorrhagic fever. The Ebola virus was identified in 1976 in two different outbreaks — one in Sudan, and the other in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire), in a village close to the Ebola river from which the disease derives its name. Five species of the Ebola virus characterised so far have been named after the locations of their emergence: Zaire (EBOV), Bundibugyo (BDBV), Sudan (SUDV), Taï Forest (TAFV) and Reston (RESTV). Several outbreaks in Africa were caused by the first three species. The current, and by far the worst, outbreak in West Africa is caused by the most lethal of the above five species — the EBOV. These outbreaks have infected both human and non-human primates including the chimpanzee and the gorilla, causing a substantial loss of lives among these species. What exactly triggers the Ebola outbreaks remains poorly understood, but periodic and unpredictable outbreaks are followed by the disappearance of the virus into its natural reservoirs, though only to reappear.

After an incubation period of two to 20 days, the Ebola infection shows a sudden onset of the disease resulting initially in flu-like symptoms: fever, chills and malaise. As the disease progresses, it results in multi-system involvements indicated by the person experiencing lethargy, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and headache. Haemorrhagic conditions usually set in at its peak, resulting in uncontrolled bleeding, shock, convulsions and severe metabolic disorders. Fatal clinical signs come up early, with death occurring within about two weeks. In non-fatal cases, the fever resolves itself and is generally co-related with the host’s ability to mount an antibody response, suggesting the possibility of a protective mechanism.

The transmission route

The African fruit bat is considered to be the natural host for the Ebola viruses as well as the major source of human infection. The chimpanzee and the gorilla can also carry the virus and infect humans but they are merely accidental hosts and not natural reservoirs. How the human first gets infected in an outbreak is not clear but close contact with bats is considered to be the major reason. Ebola then spreads through direct contact with body fluids of an infected person which includes blood, urine, saliva, semen and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids. Close contact with infected dead persons can also cause the infection. However, unlike flu viruses, Ebola does not spread through air.

Treatment options

Whisky's Worries Mirror Economic Fears in Scotland

August 25, 2014

ISLAY, Scotland (AP) -- Carl Reavey plunged his nose into the glass, inhaled the amber liquid's scent, then sipped. Slowly.

It's said that Scotch tastes of the place where it is made, so Reavey's Bruichladdich Black Art single malt would offer a touch of barley, a splash of the sea, and a whiff of salt from the island of Islay, 140 miles (225 kilometers) west of Glasgow.

That taste takes time - a long time - to produce, with top-rated Scotch aged for decades. And it means distilleries need to have long-term plans for investments and financing - all of which could be thrown into turmoil in a single day, Sept. 18, when Scotland votes on whether to leave Britain.

Whisky makers and many other businesses are worried about the risks involved in finding themselves overnight in a new country with, among other things, a different currency.

"The uncertainty associated with independence, rather than independence itself, really, I think is the concern," Reavey said.

The most contentious issue so far has been what currency an independent Scotland would use. The central government has ruled out sharing the pound, saying British taxpayers shouldn't be forced to underwrite economic and fiscal policies over which they have no control. Pro-independence leader Alex Salmond has refused to offer a plan B, arguing that the stance of the unity advocates is merely a scare tactic.

For many companies, that's not a bluff worth calling.

If Scotland were to take a new currency, businesses would suddenly find themselves in the position of having to pay back loans they took in pounds with new money of uncertain value. The risk is a new currency would be weaker than the pound because it would be based on an economy, Scotland's, which is smaller than the rest of Britain, which includes England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

***Iraq and Syria Follow Lebanon's Precedent

August 26, 2014

Lebanon was created out of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. This agreement between Britain and France reshaped the collapsed Ottoman Empire south of Turkey into the states we know today -- Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and to some extent the Arabian Peninsula as well. For nearly 100 years, Sykes-Picot defined the region. A strong case can be made that the nation-states Sykes-Picot created are now defunct, and that what is occurring in Syria and Iraq represents the emergence of those post-British/French maps that the United States has been trying to maintain since the collapse of Franco-British power.

The Invention of Middle East Nation-States

Sykes-Picot, named for French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot and his British counterpart, Sir Mark Sykes, did two things. First, it created a British-dominated Iraq. Second, it divided the Ottoman province of Syria on a line from the Mediterranean Sea east through Mount Hermon. Everything north of this line was French. Everything south of this line was British. The French, who had been involved in the Levant since the 19th century, had allies among the region's Christians. They carved out part of Syria and created a country for them. Lacking a better name, they called it Lebanon, after the nearby mountain of the same name.

The British named the area to the west of the Jordan River after the Ottoman administrative district of Filistina, which turned into Palestine on the English tongue. However, the British had a problem. During World War I, while the British were fighting the Ottoman Turks, they had allied with a number of Arabian tribes seeking to expel the Turks. Two major tribes, hostile to each other, were the major British allies. The British had promised postwar power to both. It gave the victorious Sauds the right to rule Arabia -- hence Saudi Arabia. The other tribe, the Hashemites, had already been given the newly invented Iraqi monarchy and, outside of Arabia, a narrow strip of arable ground to the east of the Jordan River. For lack of a better name, it was called Trans-Jordan, or the other side of the Jordan. In due course the "trans" was dropped and it became Jordan.

And thus, along with Syria, five entities were created between the Mediterranean and Tigris, and between Turkey and the new nation of Saudi Arabia. This five became six after the United Nations voted to create Israel in 1947. The Sykes-Picot agreement suited European models and gave the Europeans a framework for managing the region that conformed to European administrative principles. The most important interest, the oil in Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula, was protected from the upheaval in their periphery as Turkey and Persia were undergoing upheaval. This gave the Europeans what they wanted.

What it did not do was create a framework that made a great deal of sense of the Arabs living in this region. The European model of individual rights expressed to the nation-states did not fit their cultural model. For the Arabs, the family -- not the individual -- was the fundamental unit of society. Families belonged to clans and clans to tribes, not nations. The Europeans used the concept of the nation-state to express divisions between "us" and "them." To the Arabs, this was an alien framework, which to this day still competes with religious and tribal identities.

The states the Europeans created were arbitrary, the inhabitants did not give their primary loyalty to them, and the tensions within states always went over the border to neighboring states. The British and French imposed ruling structures before the war, and then a wave of coups overthrew them after World War II. Syria and Iraq became pro-Soviet states while Israel, Jordan and the Arabians became pro-American, and monarchies and dictatorships ruled over most of the Arab countries. These authoritarian regimes held the countries together.

Reality Overcomes Cartography

**The Hard Hand of the Middle East

August 21, 2014

Reality can be harsh. In order for the United States to weaken and eventually defeat the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, it could use help from both the Iranian regime and that of President Bashar al Assad in Syria. In the Middle East, it takes illiberal forces to defeat an even more illiberal force. The mullahs' Iran and al Assad's Syria sadly represent the material at hand, with which the United States must somehow work or tolerate, however surreptitiously, however much it will deny it at the same time. Ah, you might say, What about the moderate, liberal opposition in Syria? Answer: Such forces are more viable on paper than on the battlefield.

The truth is understood but cannot always be admitted, either by officials or by journalists -- the truth being that order is preferable to disorder, meaning dictatorship is preferable to chaos, even if dictatorship itself has often been the root cause of such chaos.

The Islamic State is the fruit of chaos. It arose in a vacuum of authority. That vacuum was created by both the weakening of an absolutist (albeit secular-trending) regime in Syria and the inability of a stable, power-sharing system to take hold in Iraq following America's dismantling of Saddam Hussein's own repressive rule. And the worse the chaos, the more extreme will be the reaction. Thus, from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq that together have killed many hundreds of thousands of people and have featured a plethora of armed groups, the Islamic State has emerged in all its horrifying barbarity.

This harsh moral and political reality extends beyond Syria and Iraq to the larger Levant and the Middle East. Egypt is now, once again, governed by an illiberal, Pharaonic regime, worse arguably than that of the deposed military dictator Hosni Mubarak. It has killed many demonstrators in the streets. It features a budding personality cult around its president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Yet it is a friend of Western and Israeli interests, whereas the democratically-elected government it illegally deposed, that of the Muslim Brotherhood, was demonstrably not a friend of the West or Israel. That's right, Western interests can sometimes -- often, actually -- be better served by autocracies than by democracies: that's if the autocracy in question happens to be more liberal and secular in its values than the democracy in question. It is the regime's philosophical values that are crucial -- more so than the manner of how it came to power.

As the situation now stands, if there is going to be a less violent relationship between Israel and Gaza it is more likely to occur through the auspices of the al-Sisi regime in Cairo than through the Obama administration in Washington. It might not even be an exaggeration to say that the Israeli government, for the moment at least, trusts al-Sisi more than it trusts U.S. President Barack Obama. Though Obama might like to think of himself as a realist, the fact is that a President Richard Nixon or a President George H. W. Bush -- and their secretaries of state, Henry Kissinger and James Baker III -- would have openly acknowledged their friendship with the current Egyptian regime, while Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, cannot quite bring themselves to do it.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon asks India-Pakistan to resolve issues through peaceful talks

August 26, 2014

Ban Ki-moon has asked India and Pakistan to resolve their issues peacefully and through dialogue.

There have been 21 ceasefire violations by Pakistani troops in less than a fortnight and 23 in August.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has asked India and Pakistan to resolve their issues peacefully and through dialogue, against the backdrop of cancellation of foreign-secretary level talks between the two nations and continued ceasefire violations by Pakistan along border posts.

“The Secretary-General calls on both sides to solve the issues peacefully and through dialogue,” according to a statement given from the office of Ban’s spokesperson in response to questions about the cancellation of the talks and ceasefire violations.

The statement did not respond to a question whether the UN chief would intervene in the tensed situation and encourage the leaders from the two countries to meet.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government cancelled the August 25 meeting scheduled in Islamabad between the foreign secretaries after Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit held talks with Kashmiri separatist leaders. Also, ceasefire violations by Pakistani forces along the Line of Control and the International Border have increased over the last few weeks.

There have been 21 ceasefire violations by Pakistani troops in less than a fortnight and 23 in August.

Defence Minister Arun Jaitley has said in New Delhi that India has been responding effectively and strongly to the ceasefire violations by Pakistan side.

India has also further strengthened its counter infiltration grid to tackle any attempt by Pakistan to push in militants during the ceasefire violations.

Indian Trade Seen Booming With ASEAN

August 26, 2014

A new report highlights the growing economic ties ASEAN is enjoying with India.

ASEAN business ties extending west into India have never enjoyed the same cachet as trade with China to the north. That’s partly because access to India was blocked by Myanmar’s isolation and partly because a two-decade economic boom in China soaked-up as much capital as ASEAN investors could spare.

But that equation is changing as China’s economy slows and growth buckles under debt while India reappraises its relationship with ASEAN amid the prospect that overland routes from Southeast Asia through Myanmar will improve east-west trade potential.

This optimism was underpinned this week with the release of a report from Standard Chartered forecasting that Indian exports into ASEAN would rise dramatically over the next 10 years to $280 billion a year, up from $33.13 billion in the 2013/14 financial year. Two-way trade is currently locked in at around $80 billion a year.

The report saw Indian export potential in six areas: petroleum products, organic chemicals, vehicles (including auto parts), pharmaceuticals, gems and jewellery, and apparel and clothing accessories.

“The first three are categories where ASEAN already accounts for a sizeable chunk of total Indian exports, and where export growth is high. The last three are areas where we feel there is potential for India to increase export growth rates,” Standard Chartered said.

Meanwhile ASEAN’s trading strengths would depend largely on natural resources and electronics.

The creation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by the end of 2015 will also dramatically reshape the economic landscape. The 10 members of ASEAN will emerge as a single market and production base with combined gross domestic product values of $2.3 trillion. That compares with India’s GDP of $1.8 trillion and China’s $8.3 trillion.

50 days on, Israel and Palestine truce begins

APPalestinians celebrate the ceasefire in Gaza City on Tuesday. Israel and Hamas agreed Tuesday to an open-ended ceasefire, halting a seven-week war that killed more than 2,200 people. 
APA displaced Palestinian child stands in a classroom, at the Abu Hussein U.N. school in Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip. File photo 

Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, Israel is to ease imports into Gaza, including aid and material for reconstruction.

Israel and Hamas agreed Tuesday to an open-ended ceasefire, halting a seven-week war that killed more than 2,200 people, the vast majority Palestinians, left tens of thousands in Gaza homeless and devastated entire neighbourhoods in the blockaded territory.

Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, Israel is to ease imports into Gaza, including aid and material for reconstruction. It also allows Palestinians to fish six nautical miles, up from three nautical miles.

In a month, the ceasefire calls for talks to begin in Cairo on more complex issues, including building a seaport and airport in Gaza, and Israel’s demand that Hamas disarm.

Previous ceasefire deals have collapsed since the war began on July 8, 2014 and it was not clear if this one would hold. The truce took effect at 7 p.m. local time (9.30 p.m. IST), but violence persisted until the last minute.

In Israel, mortar shells fired from Gaza killed one man and seriously wounded two people, authorities said.

Gaza truce open-ended, but puts off tough issues

Aug 27, 2014

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced some criticism from hard-line critics and residents of Israeli communities near Gaza who said the deal failed to defuse the threat from Gaza militants. 

GAZA CITY: Israel and Gaza's ruling Hamas agreed on Tuesday to an open-ended cease-fire after seven weeks of fighting — an uneasy deal that halts the deadliest war the sides have fought in years, with more than 2,200 killed, but puts off the most difficult issues.

In the end, both sides settled for an ambiguous interim agreement in exchange for a period of calm. Hamas, though badly battered, remains in control of Gaza with part of its military arsenal intact. Israel and Egypt will continue to control access to blockaded Gaza, despite Hamas' long-running demand that the border closures imposed in 2007 be lifted.

Hamas declared victory, even though it had little to show for a war that killed 2,143 Palestinians, wounded more than 11,000 and left some 100,000 homeless. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers and six civilians were killed, including two killed by Palestinian mortar fire shortly before the cease-fire was announced.

Large crowds gathered in Gaza City after the truce took effect at dusk, some waving the green flags of Hamas, while celebratory gunfire and fireworks erupted across the territory.

Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, promised to rebuild homes destroyed in the war and said Hamas would rearm. "We will build and upgrade our arsenal to be ready for the coming battle, the battle of full liberation," he declared, surrounded by Hamas gunmen.

The Israeli response was more subdued.

"This time we hope the cease-fire will stick," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. He portrayed the deal as one Hamas had rejected in previous rounds of negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced some criticism from hard-line critics and residents of Israeli communities near Gaza who said the deal failed to defuse the threat from Gaza militants. Since July 8, Hamas and its allies have fired some 4,000 rockets and mortars at Israel, and tens of thousands of Israelis evacuated areas near Gaza in recent weeks.

Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, Israel is to ease imports to Gaza, including aid and material for reconstruction. It also agreed to a largely symbolic gesture, expanding a fishing zone for Gaza fishermen from three to six nautical miles into the Mediterranean.

In a month, talks are to begin on more complex issues, including Hamas' demand to start building a seaport and airport in Gaza. Israel has said it would only agree if Hamas disarms, a demand the militant group has rejected.

Israel, Hamas agree to open-ended Gaza ceasefire

APPalestinians celebrate the ceasefire in Gaza City on Tuesday. Israel and Hamas agreed Tuesday to an open-ended ceasefire, halting a seven-week war that killed more than 2,200 people. 
APA displaced Palestinian child stands in a classroom, at the Abu Hussein U.N. school in Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip. File photo 

Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, Israel is to ease imports into Gaza, including aid and material for reconstruction.

Israel and Hamas agreed Tuesday to an open-ended ceasefire, halting a seven-week war that killed more than 2,200 people, the vast majority Palestinians, left tens of thousands in Gaza homeless and devastated entire neighbourhoods in the blockaded territory.

Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, Israel is to ease imports into Gaza, including aid and material for reconstruction. It also allows Palestinians to fish six nautical miles, up from three nautical miles.

In a month, the ceasefire calls for talks to begin in Cairo on more complex issues, including building a seaport and airport in Gaza, and Israel’s demand that Hamas disarm.

Previous ceasefire deals have collapsed since the war began on July 8, 2014 and it was not clear if this one would hold. The truce took effect at 7 p.m. local time (9.30 p.m. IST), but violence persisted until the last minute.

In Israel, mortar shells fired from Gaza killed one man and seriously wounded two people, authorities said.

Gaza’s ace athlete left with no track to run


NYTNader-al-Mouri with his father beside the rubble of their family home.

Everything looked about the same in this town near Gaza’s northern border with Israel: piles of smashed concrete to the left and right, up ahead and in the rear view.

As we drove through the destruction earlier this month, Fares Akram, my Gaza-based reporting partner, somehow recognised a certain street as one we had been on four months before, to visit Nader al-Masri, Gaza’s premier distance runner.

There are few street addresses in Gaza, never mind Google Maps, but asking directions of passers-by will usually get you where you need to go. When Fares rolled down the window to confirm that we were in Mr. al-Masri’s neighbourhood, a series of strangers nodded and pointed the way — but not before clapping their hands against each other at an angle, in what has become a universal sign here. Roughly, it means “all gone.”

We had written about Mr. al-Masri in April, because Israel had denied exit permits to him and two dozen other runners who wanted to compete in a marathon in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Now, I searched the pile that had been his home for any sign of his vast collection of trophies and medals from 40 international competitions.

We found Mr. al-Masri at a United Nations school-turned-shelter not far away, along with about 80 of his relatives. He said they had left home July 21, the day after Israel dropped leaflets and sent text messages warning that the neighbourhood would not be safe.

When he took advantage of a halt in the hostilities to return, he said, “I did not recognise the street,” though he had lived there for 33 of his 34 years.

He said that he retrieved some of his awards from the rubble, but that others remained buried. He wore a fine black Adidas running shirt with yellow piping on the sleeves and “Palestine” in Arabic on the back, but his feet were in flip-flops; his sneakers were under the pile, too. His plans to compete in South Korea in October, where he hoped to run well enough to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, were fading. “All the places where I used to train are levelled,” he said. “I’m handcuffed.”

A serene oasis

Sharif meets Pak Army Chief to discuss political turmoil

August 26, 2014

The meeting between the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) came in the wake of protests by thousands of supporters of Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, demanding the Prime Minister's resignation. Source: AP photo

The issue of recent border "skirmishes" was also a subject of discussion in the meeting, Dawn News reported.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday met Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif to discuss the current political crisis caused due to anti-government protests here and the recent Indo-Pak border “skirmishes”.

“Overall security environment including the prevailing situation was discussed in the meeting. There was a consensus on the need to resolve the ongoing issue expeditiously in the best national interest,” a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The meeting between the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) came in the wake of protests by thousands of supporters of Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, demanding the Prime Minister’s resignation.

The government did not give further details about the meeting but the army has already asked the two sides to end the crisis through negotiations.

The issue of recent border “skirmishes” was also a subject of discussion in the meeting, Dawn News reported.

There have been 95 ceasefire violations by Pakistan along the Line of Control and it has also breached the ceasefire pact 25 times on the International Border.

Sharif’s meeting with the Army Chief came on a day when the DGMOs (Director General Military Operations) of India and Pakistan held talks to discuss “all relevant issues”. The meeting between Sharif and the Army Chief was held after declarations by Khan and Qadri, making it clear that they will not call off their protests until the Prime Minister resigns.

The protesters allege that last year’s general election was rigged and therefore are calling for a re-election. Qadri has called for an overhaul of the entire system.

Supporters of Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) are camped outside the Parliament since last week.

Khan is insisting that Sharif should step down for at least 30 days to let an independent probe into the alleged rigging in polls won by the Prime Minister’s ruling PML-N.

El Qaida”: The Persistent, Baseless Claim That Terrorists Will Swarm the U.S. From Mexico

No terrorists allowed.

The Mexican government is expressing some irritation with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who suggested last week that there’s a “very real possibility” that members of ISIS or other terrorist groups are entering the U.S. illegally via Mexico. As Perry acknowledged in his own remarks—and as the Pentagon confirmed—there’s “no clear evidence” that this is happening. But as is generally the case when fears of “El Qaida” periodically emerge, a lack of evidence is no barrier to bold sweeping claims.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer atSlate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Intelligence officials have warned for some time that there’s a possibility of terrorists entering the U.S. from Mexico, and there is indeed some evidence of groups like Hezbollah operating in South America. It would be foolish, then, to completely rule out the possibility that terrorists have crossed into the United States from down Mexico way. But the frequent claims that this is already a major problem are, well, ridiculous. 

Last year, for instance, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert declared on C-SPAN that "We know al-Qaida has camps over with the drug cartels on the other side of the Mexican border” and that the group’s operatives are being trained to “act Hispanic.” This claim appears to have been based on essentially nothing.

Also last year, Deroy Murdock of National Review argued that “there are at least 7,518 reasons to get the U.S./Mexican border under control.” That figure refers to the number of citizens of State Department-listed “state sponsors of terrorism” arrested entering the U.S.—not just at the Mexican border—in fiscal 2011. More than half of those were from Cuba, a country which is still on the State Department’s list for a variety of reasons but whose immigrant population in the U.S. is not known as a hotbed of jihadist sentiment. (This isn’t to imply that those entering the U.S. from Syria or Afghanistan are likely terrorists. More likely, they’re fleeing terrorism.)

In 2012, Breitbart.com and a number of other conservative sites claimed that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had “admitted” that terrorists enter the U.S. from Mexico “from time to time.” The evidence for this supposed admission: what seems like a deliberate misreading of a garbled answer during congressional testimony. (Napolitano hasn’t always helped her own cause on this issue. In 2009 she had to walk back comments that seemed to suggest, falsely, that the 9/11 hijackers had entered the U.S. from Canada.)

Afghanistan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah threatens to pull out of election process

Aug 26, 2014

"The invalidation process is just a joke and there is no intention of throwing out fraudulent votes," Abdullah's chief auditor, told reporters in Kabul.

KABUL: One of two candidates competing to succeed Afghan leader HamidKarzai threatened on Tuesday to pull out of a UN-supervised audit of a disputed presidential election, undermining a process meant to defuse a standoff between the contenders. 

The audit is part of a US-brokered deal between presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, both of whom claim to have won the election designed to mark Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power. 

"The invalidation process is just a joke and there is no intention of throwing out fraudulent votes," Fazel Ahmad Manawi, Abdullah's chief auditor, told reporters in Kabul. 

"Today, I announce that if our demands are not accepted by tomorrow morning, we will not continue with this process and any outcome will have no value to us." 

Abdullah led after a first-round vote in April but failed to secure an outright majority. He trailed behind Ghani in a June run-off, according to preliminary figures, and has since rejected the outcome, claiming widespread vote rigging. 

As part of a plan to end the dispute, the Independent Election Commission is meant to throw out, or "invalidate", ballots deemed fraudulent in an audit of all eight million votes cast. 

Tension over the outcome of the vote has raised the spectre of another civil war in Afghanistan after the country was torn apart by years of fighting in the 1990s, which eventually led to the rise to power of the Taliban. 

"Whatever consequences are going to follow, we will not be responsible," Manawi said, adding that the United Nations was aware of their complaints but had failed to address them properly. 

Afghanistan's Western allies are hoping a new leader will be in place before September 4, when a Nato summit is due to be held in Wales. 

Countries at the summit will weigh how much aid Afghanistan will get after most foreign troops pull out at the end of this year. 

A peaceful transfer of power would allow the United States and Afghanistan's other Western allies to trumpet a degree of success as their troops leave after nearly 13 years of inconclusive war.

Europe's Slow Surrender to Intolerance

AUG 22, 2014

On the one hand, it is completely unsurprising that Europe has become a swamp of anti-Jewish hostility. It is, after all, Europe. Anti-Jewish hostility has been its metier for centuries. (Yes, the locus of much anti-Jewish activity today is within Europe’s large Muslim-immigrant population; but the young men who threaten their Jewish neighbors draw on the language and traditions of European anti-Semitism as much as they do on Muslim modes of anti-Semitic thought.)

On the other hand, the intensity, and velocity, of anti-Jewish invective -- and actual anti-Jewish thuggery -- has surprised even Eurocynics such as myself. “Jews to the gas,” a chant heard at rallies in Germany, still has the capacity to shock. So do images of besieged synagogues and looted stores. And testimony from harassed rabbis and frightened Jewish children.

But I find myself most bothered by what seems to have been, on the surface, a relatively minor incident. The episode took place last weekend at a Sainsbury’s supermarket in central London. Protesters assembled outside the store to call for a boycott of Israeli-made goods. Quickly, the manager ordered employees to empty the kosher food section. One account suggests that a staff member, when asked about the empty shelves, said “We support Free Gaza.” Other reports suggest that the manager believed that demonstrators might invade the store and trash it. (There is precedent to justify his worry.)

After a good deal of publicity following the incident, Sainsbury’s apologized to its Jewish customers. “This will not happen again,” its corporate affairs director, Trevor Datsun, said, according to the Jewish Chronicle. “Managers will be told not to move kosher food because of some perceived threat.”

Why do I find this incident to be more disturbing than, say, reportedattacks on kippah-wearing Jews, or the scrawling of swastikas onJewish shops?

To the extent that it suggests that Israel and Judaism have been thoroughly conflated in the minds of many Europeans, the Sainsbury's kosher controversy is similar to other recent incidents. Kosher products -- in the case of the Sainsbury’s branch in question, some apparently from the U.K. and Poland -- were intuitively understood to be stand-ins for Israel itself, just as French Jewish males wearing kippot were understood by their attackers to be stand-ins for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kremlin is Caught Putting Boots on the Ground in Ukraine


Captured Russian paratroopers bolster charges of a stealth invasion while their families protest against what could become a very unpopular war.

MOSCOW, Russia — Hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko sat down for their first serious peace talks in Minsk on Tuesday, angry families of Russian paratroopers gathered outside a military base at Kastroma, deep in the Russian heartland. They demanded to know who had deployed their sons and husbands to Ukraine, where ten members of of the 331st Airborne Regiment of the 98th Division were captured on Monday afternoon, and others may have been wounded and killed.

Officially, the Kremlin has denied the Russian army gives active support to rebels fighting in the separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, and the division's commanders repeatedly promised the relatives some explanation, but, really, there was not much they could say. Their boys had already appeared on videos released by Kiev.

The Kremlin’s strategy ever since it staged the secession and annexation of Crimea earlier this year has been to deny any active role, and when discovered, continue to issue blanket denials until its objectives were accomplished. Thus it continues to obfuscate about the role it allegedly played supplying rebels with the sophisticated antiaircraft missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing almost 300 innocent civilians. Thus it dismissed charges by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Friday that Moscow had state “a major escalation” since mid-August, including the use of Russian forces, Russian artillery, and transfers of advanced weapons including armored personnel carriers and tanks. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded by complaining of regular “disinformation about our ‘incursions.’”

But the issue of the captured paratroopers is harder to deny and much more politically sensitive inside Russia. While the essentially bloodless annexation of Crimea was hugely popular and there is widespread sympathy for the Russian-speaking rebels in the regions of eastern Ukraine known collectively as Donbass, the Russian public does not want to see Russian boots on the ground there. The latest polls published by Public Opinion Foundation earlier this month showed that only 5 per cent of the Russian population expects the Russian army to be deployed across the border.

The soldiers from the 331st Airborne were captured by Ukrainian security forces after a firefight on Monday afternoon near the village of Dzerkalne in the Donetsk region, according to officials in Kiev, who released videos of four detainees being questioned at a Ukrainian military camp.
An unnamed defense ministry official saying they crossed the border "by accident."

Putin is key to avoiding a new cold war

25 August 2014 
The presidential summit in Minsk offers hope of a deal over Ukraine. But the Russian leader will not accept humiliation 

‘It would be extremely hard to contain, for more than a few months, a Russian-Ukrainian war within those countries’ boundaries.’ Photograph: Kimmo M ntyl /Rex

If the presidents of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine meet as planned in Minsk tomorrow, it will inevitably recall the time leaders of those same republics met to dissolve the USSR at the Belavezha hunting lodge in Belarus on 8 December 1991.

Then, the key figure was the president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin. Now it is Vladimir Putin. In 1991, George HW Bush was still striving to keep the Soviet Union together, and he was not sure which way Yeltsin would move. Today, Obama will be hoping for a settlement, but is very unsure of the outcome.

There is little doubt that the United States and the European Union will have done their utmost to persuade the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, to negotiate constructively. President Putin’s position remains unclear. But we can be sure that it will be, as Churchill defined Russia, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. Churchill, though, went on to offer a clue to solving the riddle: “Perhaps there is a key – that key is Russian national interest.”

There are four essential issues that have to be addressed, and probably not all of them can be resolved in one meeting. First and foremost, a devolved government for eastern Ukraine. Next, a full endorsement of all international agreements on air travel relating to Ukraine, Crimea and Russia. Then, linked to this, an agreement on all the issues surrounding the gas pipelines passing through Ukraine. Finally, though it may be too early for this, resolution of the international status of Crimea, perhaps along the lines of an indefinite international lease of Crimea to Russia along the lines of the US-Cuba agreement over Guantánamo.