Archive | January 20th, 2014

Nazi Bennett says his goal is to ‘torpedo’ any agreement with the Palestinians

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Nazi Bayit Yehudi leader says alliance with the Right in Likud would make it impossible for PM to make concessions to the Palestinians.

jpost

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will not have enough support to pass concessions to the Palestinians in the Knesset, according to a plan hatched by Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett.

Bennett intends to draft the support of enough MKs to block Netanyahu from adopting any of the proposals that are expected to be presented later this month by US Secretary of State John Kerry. He is obtaining the support of MKs in Likud Beytenu to prevent Netanyahu from replacing Bayit Yehudi in the coalition with Labor and Kadima.

“An alliance with the Right in Likud is an important mutual interest,” Bennett revealed in closed conversations.

“The goal is to torpedo any agreement and prevent deterioration to pre-1967 lines.”

While no MKs have signed any written commitment, Bennett is confident he will receive enough support from Likud Beytenu MKs to reject any possible agreement with the Palestinians by making it clear to Netanyahu that he would be left without a government.

“Bibi will realize he has no choice,” a source close to Bennett said.

Bennett’s No. 2 in Bayit Yehudi, Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, ruled out any concessions Sunday, saying that from his point of view, there are three settlement blocs: Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley.

More than 200 right-wing activists met with Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely and other MKs in Ofra Sunday to strategize how to prevent concessions to the Palestinians. The activists vowed to pressure MKs not to support any steps that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.

“All indications are that the Americans intend to force an agreement on Israel that would endanger its security and its values,” Hotovely warned at the event. “Talk of keeping only settlement blocs is adopting the path of [former Meretz leader] Yossi Beilin and is a sin against the Right.

The way to stop such destructive plans is via the Likud and the coalition. The prime minister must understand that he will have no coalition and he will have no party if he accedes to a diplomatic agreement.”

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‘It’s a huge embarrassment for the West to ignore Ukraine’s neo-Nazis’

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AFP Photo / Sergey SupinskyAFP Photo / Sergey Supinsky

The West has been turning a blind eye to all these neo-Nazis operating in Kiev, just like they were saying that there were no jihadists among Syrian opposition, Dmitry Babich, political analyst at the Voice of Russia, told RT.

The Ukrainian protesters clashed with police in Kiev after nearly 10,000 people took part in an anti-government demonstration at Maidan, or Independence Square, on January 18-19. What started as a peaceful demonstration turned into violent clashes with the police later Sunday. The most aggressive group of protesters, known as nationalists from Oleg Tyahnybok’s party, started throwing stones, debris and Molotov cocktails directly at the police, and using bats to beat the policemen.

RT: We are seeing some serious violence against the police in Ukraine. Why are they the victims here? What’s the crowd’s problem with them?

Dmitry Babich: I think that some people in the opposition decided that they could use the occasion that they had with this vote in the Ukrainian Parliament, the Rada, on January 16. At that time the majority of Rada deputies, despite the attempts by the minority opposition to block the session of the Rada, voted for the country’s budget which is needed urgently. This was condemned without real reason by a lot of Western governments so the opposition felt reassured, they decided to step up the protests and then these neo-Nazis got in because I think we should call a spade a spade. The ultranationalists from Western Ukraine, they are neo-Nazis.

RT: What these nationalists are campaigning for? Do they want closer ties with the West?

DB: Just like in 1941 they wanted closer ties with Adolf Hitler’s Germany and they expected Hitler’s help in fighting the Soviet Army, in the same way now they want to establish their government and their control over Ukraine. [But] they are actually a small minority in Ukraine.

RT: But the majority of the peaceful protesters are here in the square tonight, they have different names, different arguments.

Reuters / Gleb Garanich Reuters / Gleb Garanich

DB: I’m not sure, because these so-called peaceful protesters have been for months putting up with nasty slogans that these ultranationalists from Western Ukraine brought to Kiev. Slogans like “Україна — понад усё!” which is just the Ukrainian translation of “Deutschland über alles” – “Germany above everything,” the famous nasty Nazi slogan. This is the only part of the European population which is not repentant about their ancestors’ support for Adolf Hitler. Even in Latvia or in Finland, which were allied to Nazi Germany at certain periods in their history, even there you don’t have politicians and the mainstream media saying openly that what was done in 1941-42 was right. In Western Ukraine from these people you can hear direct support for Adolf Hitler. They say that Ukrainians are anthropologically superior to Russians, you can read all these terrible stuff in their newspapers and in their Internet messages.

RT: That’s not what the people of Vitaly Klichko are standing for, is it?

DB: Unfortunately, Vitaly Klichko is ready to use them. He doesn’t condemn [them]. And in this situation, I’m sure that Klichko will find a way out and say that these are provocateurs sent by Yanukovich or he’ll just say that this is a small radical part of the opposition that doesn’t really represent it. The problem is that both Klichko and Yatsenyuk stood side-by-side with these people, they stood side-by-side with their leader Oleg Tyahnybok, an open anti-Semite.

RT: Publicly, Vitaly Klichko’s people are very distant from those nationalists. But you are not saying that Klichko is actually agreeing with this clashes tonight, are you?

DB: The problem is that when the violence first erupted last year, Klichko failed to really condemn it – they always blame everything on the government. And this time again they are going to blame everything on the government, instead of admitting that they have some very bad people among them on Maidan. And I think it’s a huge embarrassment for the West because it’s just like with the Syrian opposition: the West has been saying that there are no jihadists among the opponents of Mr. Assad until we saw public executions and we suddenly found out that the most combat-ready forces in the Syrian opposition are the jihadists. In the same way the West has been turning a blind eye to all these neo-Nazis now operating in Kiev.

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Russian terrorist group threatens Sochi Olympics

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terrorism

Islamic militant group claims responsibility for Volgograd bombings, warns Putin of more bloodshed

Times of Israel

An Islamic militant group in Russia’s North Caucasus claimed responsibility for twin suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgograd last month and posted a video threatening to strike the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

There had been no previous claim of responsibility for the bombings, which killed 34 people and heightened security fears before next month’s Olympics.

In the video, two Russian-speaking men sitting in front of black banners with Arabic verses warned President Vladimir Putin that if the games are held, “we will give you a present for the innocent Muslim blood being spilled all around the world.”

They added that “for the tourists who come there will be a present, too.”

The video was posted Sunday on the website of the militant group Vilayat Dagestan.

An explosion in a trolleybus late December killed at least 14 people in the second suicide attack in the Russian city Volgograd in as many days, raising the specter of violence at the upcoming Winter Olympics. That attack came less than 20 hours after a bombing of a local train station that killed 17 and wounded over 30.

The attacks came several months after Chechen Islamist rebel leader Doku Umarov called for new attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including the Sochi Games.

Suicide bombings have rocked Russia for years, but most have been in the North Caucasus region, the center of an insurgency seeking an Islamist state in the region. But Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, has been struck three times in two months — suggesting militants may be using the transportation hub as a renewed way of showing their reach outside their restive region.

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Ministers nix bill defining ‘Price Tag’ attacks as ‘terror’

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Deuteronomy

ed note–ask the average Palestinian who has been on the receiving end of these acts whether or not they were terrorized, and the answer of course is that they have. 

The reason that the Jewish state cannot classify such acts as ‘terrorism’ is because to do so is to deny the VERY FOUNDATION upon which Judaism exists, which is in murder, genocide, despoilment and theft of ‘the other’.

Times of Israel

Amid a recent spike in reports of settler vandalism and violence in the West Bank, a key cabinet committee has rejected a bill that aimed to define Price Tag attacks as acts of terrorism.

The proposed legislation, sponsored by Labor MK Eitan Cabel, would amend the legal definition of “terror” to all acts of nationalistic, religious, or ideological intent and would make the penalties for these attacks far more severe.

While the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted against granting government support for the bill on Sunday, Cabel plans to bring the measure to a floor vote in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday.

“There is an absurd situation wherein a bunch of criminals place themselves above the law, while the hands of the state and the security forces are tied in terms of appropriate and deterrent punishment,” Cabel said. “We cannot accept these actions, not when they are perpetrated against Jews, and not when they are perpetrated against Arabs.”

He also said that he intends to introduce another bill under which perpetrators, in extreme cases, could be liable for punishments of up to 20 years in prison.

The latest bill comes several months after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck down a recommendation by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and the Shin Bet security services to apply the designation of terror to Price Tag assailants. Netanyahu dismissed the recommendation in June, but agreed to define the attackers as “unlawful combatants,” effectively granting the security services increased surveillance powers on suspects and putting in place additional investigative and enforcement policies that are not permitted with ordinary citizens.

Israeli officials have increasingly referred to anti-Arab Price Tag attacks as terrorism in recent months.

“The unacceptable trend, known as ‘Price Tag,’ is in my opinion terror in every sense of the word, and we are acting and will continue to act against the perpetrators, firmly and with zero tolerance, in order to eradicate it,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on January 8. “It is a stain on Israel and it undermines the settlement enterprise.”

The term “Price Tag” refers to acts of violence and vandalism usually performed against Palestinians and their property and typically carried out by Jewish nationalists as retribution for government moves. They have become increasingly common in recent years. Mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and Israeli military bases have been targeted in such attacks.

UN figures published last week indicate that the annual rate of Jewish extremist attacks against Palestinians has almost quadrupled over the past eight years, including cutting down trees, defacing mosques and churches and beating Palestinian farmers.

The torching of a mosque near the settlement of Ariel last week drew harsh condemnation from the US State Department.

“We believe that such hateful and provocative actions against a place of worship are never justified,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said in a press briefing. “We look to Israeli law enforcement officials to quickly investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack.”

The events leading up to the most recent attack began when troops uprooted olive trees planted on private Palestinian land by settlers from the Esh Kodesh outpost in early January.

Later that day, about 20 Israelis moved toward nearby villages, including Qusra. Palestinians said the settlers damaged olive trees, and were caught by villagers after a stone-throwing clash and held by them for more than two hours before being handed to the army. Many of the settlers were beaten.

Footage of the settlers, surrounded by an angry crowd, led the TV news in Israel that day, with commentators saying serious bloodshed was averted by local Palestinians who shielded the settlers. The settlers, meanwhile, insisted that they were hiking and denied any connection to violence or vandalism against Palestinians.

There have been a series of so-called Price Tag attacks in apparent retaliation for the Qusra incident.

On January 10, vandals cut down 30 trees in the Palestinian town of Kafr Qasim and left a sign reading “Greetings, Esh Kodesh.”

A day earlier, slogans such as “Death to the Arabs,” “Revenge,” “Jews wake up,” and “Esh Kodesh” were sprayed on a building in the village of Sinjil, near Ramallah.

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U.N. chief invites Iran to Geneva 2, Syria opposition threatens to withdraw

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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

Reuters

Syria’s political opposition said on Monday it will withdraw from international peace talks scheduled this week unless United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon retracts an invitation to Iran, President Bashar al-Assad’s main backer.

Washington, however, suggested it could support Iran’s participation if it explicitly declares its support for a June 2012 plan for a political transition that the United States says means Assad would have to step down.

“This is something Iran has never done publicly and something we have long made clear is required,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. “”If Iran does not fully and publicly accept the Geneva communique, the invitation must be rescinded.

Ban said earlier that he had invited Iran to attend the first day of talks on January 22 in Montreux, Switzerland and that Tehran had pledged to play a “positive and constructive role” if it was asked to participate.

Less than 48 hours since Syria’s main political opposition group in exile, the National Coalition, agreed to attend the talks, dubbed “Geneva 2,” it threatened to withdraw.

“The Syrian Coalition announces that they will withdraw their attendance in Geneva 2 unless Ban Ki-moon retracts Iran’s invitation,” it said in a Twitter post, quoting National Coalition spokesman Louay Safi.

Another senior Coalition member, Anas al-Abdah, told Al-Jazeera TV by phone that the body was “surprised” by the invitation to Iran. “It is illogical and we cannot in any way accept it.”

Some 130,000 people have been killed and a quarter of Syrians driven from their homes in the civil war, which began with peaceful protests against 40 years of Assad family rule and has descended into a sectarian conflict, with the opposing sides armed and funded by Sunni Arab states and Shi’ite Iran.

Western and Gulf Arab nations say they have been reluctant to support the idea of Iran participating at all because it is supporting Assad militarily and has never backed a plan for a political transition in Syria agreed at an international conference in Geneva in June 2012.

BAN EXPECTS IRAN REPLY SOON

Ban said he had spoken at length with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in recent days and that he believed Tehran supported for the Geneva 2012 plan.

“He has assured me that like all the other countries invited to the opening day discussions in Montreux, Iran understands that the basis of the talks is the full implementation of the 30 June, 2012, Geneva communique,” he said.

“Foreign Minister Zarif and I agreed that the goal of the negotiations is to establish by mutual consent a transitional governing body with a full executive powers,” Ban said. “It was on that basis that Foreign Minister Zarif pledged that Iran would play a positive and constructive role in Montreux.”

“Therefore as convener and host of the conference I have decided to issue an invitation to Iran to participate,” Ban said. “Iran needs to participate as one of the important neighboring countries.”

Ban said he expected Iran would issue a statement soon in response to his invitation.

Earlier this year the United States said that Iran might play a role on the sidelines of the Syria peace conference in Montreux. Tehran dismissed the idea of being relegated to the sidelines, saying it was beneath Iran’s dignity.

The key players in the talks are Assad’s government and opposition rebels. The Islamic Front, an alliance of several Islamist fighting forces that represents a large portion of the rebels on the ground, said on Sunday it rejected the talks, further dampening hopes of success.

Ban said he had invited on Sunday a total of 10 additional countries to attend on January 22 – the Vatican, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Korea and Iran. Speaking to reporters at U.N. headquarters, Ban made clear that the full negotiations between the government and opposition would begin in earnest on January 24 in Geneva.

Syrian opposition groups and Washington, which accuse Tehran of supporting Assad with manpower and arms during the uprising against him, have long had reservations about the participation of Iran, although Ban and the United Nations’ special envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, have long backed Tehran’s involvement.

While there has been a warming in U.S.-Iranian ties this year including a November 24 deal to curb the Iranian nuclear program, there are no visible signs that this has led to greater improvement in other areas such as Syria, where they are on opposite sides of the civil war.

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Ahead of talks, Assad says he won’t step down

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Days before Geneva II conference gets underway, Syrian  president insists that only the people can vote him out of office

Times of Israel

Syrian President Bashar Assad on Sunday said he would not relinquish power, and that the end of his rule would not be a subject of peace talks this week in Montreaux, Switzerland. Assad made his remarks to visiting Russian lawmakers.

“If we wanted to surrender we would have surrendered from the start,” Assad said, according to the Interfax news agency. “This issue is not under discussion. Only the Syrian people can decide who should take part in elections.”

However, without providing any further information, the president’s spokesman called the quotes inaccurate.

The aim of the conference, dubbed Geneva 2, is to agree on a roadmap for Syria based on one adopted by the US, Russia and other major powers in June 2012. That plan includes the creation of a transitional government and eventual elections.

The opposition coalition does not want Assad to have any role during a transitional period in Syria.

The US and Russia have been trying to hold the peace conference since last year and it has been repeatedly delayed. Both sides finally agreed to sit together at the negotiating table after dropping some of their conditions.

The opposition coalition was under huge pressure from its Western and Arab sponsors to attend the peace talks and its decision to go was widely welcomed by the US, Britain and Russia.

In Istanbul, meanwhile, the leadership of Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, was meeting to decide on its delegation for the peace talks, which were set to open Wednesday.

Senior coalition member Ahmad Ramadan said the meeting would decide who will negotiate with the Syrian government delegation at Geneva 2.

Under immense pressure from its foreign patrons, the coalition decided late Saturday to take part in the peace talks, paving the way for the first direct negotiations between the rival sides.

The US and Russia have been trying to convene the conference since May, but it was repeatedly postponed. Both sides finally agreed to sit together at the negotiating table after dropping some of their conditions.

Ramadan said the 15-member delegation will include two representatives of the country’s ethnic Kurdish minority, two for the rebels and two for opposition groups based in Syria.

Mustafa Osso, a member of the National Kurdish Council, said they might have two people selected to represent them.

In Damascus, a few dozen people, including some in need of medical treatment, left the besieged rebel-held Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk Sunday, said a member of Palestinian Struggle Front who goes with the name Abu Jamal. The move came a day after some 200 food parcels were sent into Yarmouk.

The blockade on Yarmouk has devastated the camp, where residents and activists say 46 people have died since October of starvation, illnesses exacerbated by hunger or because they couldn’t obtain medical aid.

Footage aired by Lebanon’s private Al-Mayadeen television station showed mostly women and children leaving the camp in ambulances.

An elderly woman, who said she suffered from diabetes, high blood pressure and an ulcer, told the station “we were suffering from hunger, cold and darkness.”

“May God help the residents of the camp,” the woman said.

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Syrian opposition says will not attend peace talks if Iran participates

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syrianrats

Syria’s main opposition body, the National Coalition, will not attend peace talks in Switzerland scheduled for this week unless the United Nations retracts its invitation to Iran by 7 p.m. GMT on Monday, a senior coalition member said.

jpost

Late on Sunday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon surprised the National Coalition when he invited Iran to the conference, dubbed “Geneva 2″ and seen as the most serious international effort to end the near three-year conflict.

Iran promptly accepted a role in the Geneva II conference on Sunday night after Ban invited Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to participate in the talks based on “extensive” private communications between the two men.

“We are giving a deadline of 7 p.m. GMT for the invitation to be withdrawn,” Anas Abdah, member of the National Coalition’s political committee, told Reuters.

Abdah reiterated that the Coalition would accept Iran’s participation only if it “publicly states that it is withdrawing its forces, committing to the Geneva 1 agreement in full and committing to implementing any results of Geneva 2.”

The conference is scheduled for January 22, and will include participation from the government of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad as well as the organized opposition fighting for his ouster.

The United States responded with surprise to Ban’s decision to invite Iran to the peace conference.

A spokesman for Ban told reporters last week that an invitation would only be extended to Iran if Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry deemed it appropriate, a suggestion that Kerry seemed to warm to earlier this month, saying Iran might be able to help “on the sidelines.”

However on Sunday, Ban told reporters he had extended a full invitation to Iran, as well as to Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, the Vatican, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, the South Korea.

“As I have said repeatedly, I believe strongly that Iran needs to be part of the solution to the Syrian crisis,” Ban told reporters.

“I have spoken at length in recent days with Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Javad Zarif. He has assured me that, like all the other countries invited to the opening day discussions in Montreux, Iran understands that the basis of the talks is the full implementation of the 30 June 2012 Geneva Communique, including the Action Plan.”

Ban continued, saying he and Zarif had agreed the goal of the talks should be to establish a “transitional governing body with full executive powers…by mutual consent.”

The US responded in a statement by State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki saying, “if Iran does not fully and publicly accept the Geneva communiqué, the invitation must be rescinded.”

“The United States views the UN Secretary General’s invitation to Iran to attend the upcoming Geneva conference as conditioned on Iran’s explicit and public support for the full implementation of the Geneva communiqué including the establishment of a transitional governing body by mutual consent with full executive authorities. This is something Iran has never done publicly and something we have long made clear is required,” Psaki added.

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Half dozen explosions kill 26 people, injure 67 in Baghdad

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Iraqis inspect the aftermath of a car bomb explosion in Baghdad’s eastern neighbourhood of al-Jadidah on January 20, 2014 (AFP Photo / Ali Al-Saidi.

A series of bomb explosions in Baghdad has killed at least 26 people and injured a further 67, reports Reuters, citing Iraqi police and medics.

The bloodiest attack occurred Monday in mainly Shiite Muslim Abu Dsheer district in the south of the capital, where a car bomb blasted near a crowded market killing seven and injuring 18 people.

In total, seven blasts rocked the Iraqi capital, as security forces battled Sunni Muslim militants around the western cities of Falluja and Ramadi, according to Reuters.

There are conflicting reports on the number of victims of today’s violence, with Associated Press writing about 16 killed and more than 40 injured.

According to the agency, two explosions went off in the predominantly Sunni south Baghdad neighborhood of Dura. At least three cars loaded with explosives detonated in the mostly-Shiite areas of Baghdad Jadidah, Hurriyah and Bayaa.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attacks. But Sunni militants, including those linked to Al-Qaeda are widely blamed for the rise in violence in the republic.

This comes after a wave of violent attacks and blasts in the capital and across Iraq left at least 30 people dead and dozens injured over the weekend.

On Saturday, at least four people were killed and 12 injured when a car bomb exploded near a restaurant in the neighborhood of Mansour in western Baghdad. Another car explosion at the bus station in the eastern part of the city killed four and injured six people, while a blast near one of the hospitals in the north killed four and injured eight, authorities said.

Violence in Iraq has been on the rise over the past year, with almost 9,000 people killed in 2013 which became the bloodiest year for Iraq since 2008, according to UN estimates.

In December tensions escalated further, after authorities broke up an anti-government Sunni protest camp and arrested a Sunni lawmaker on terrorism charges in Anbar province. After that the army was forced to pull back from the province, allowing al-Qaeda fighters to seize control of Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital Ramadi.

Iraqi security forces along with allied Sunni tribesmen have been trying to recapture the overrun territories.

On Sunday, the military launched a major operation on Ramadi to expel militants from parts of the city that have been under their control for several weeks.

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South Korean educators visit I$raHell to learn about Holocaust

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holocaust

Israel Hayom

A delegation of South Korean educators began a 12-day seminar on Sunday at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial’s educational facility.

The group of some 20 teachers, principals and administrators came out of their interest in the Holocaust, the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

A statement released by Yad Vashem on the program said its participants “will attend lectures and discussions on Holocaust history and pedagogy, meet with Holocaust survivors and hear their testimonies, experience extensive, in-depth tours of the campus and have the opportunity to partake in classes taught by top educators and historians about various topics related to the Holocaust.”

“Over the past few years, we have seen a growing interest in the Holocaust around the world, including in countries geographically far from the events themselves,” Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said in a statement. “The seminar for educators from South Korea joins others we have held recently for Asian educators from China and India. I welcome the increasing significance of Holocaust education in Korea, and am pleased to be able to host the first group of Korean educators at our school.”

Yad Vashem’s educational facility holds annual seminars in more than 20 different languages. It was founded in 1993 and is considered a world leader in Holocaust education.

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Paris conference on Syria: US, European allies renew push for regime-change

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Alex Lantier

Top US and European diplomats assembled Sunday in Paris for a two-day meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria group, renewing the push for regime-change in Damascus.

The talks came amid reports that US officials are preparing renewed shipments of supplies to Syrian Islamist opposition forces. Only four months after nearly going to war with Syria and its allies in Lebanon and Iran to support the Al Qaeda-linked Syrian opposition, the NATO powers are again stoking the sectarian conflicts that are inflaming the region.

The Paris meeting on Sunday focused on pressing the various Islamist militias within the US-backed Syrian opposition to participate in the January 22 “Geneva II” talks. The Geneva talks aim to negotiate a transitional agreement for opposition militias to share power with the current Syrian regime, paving the way for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave office.

The Friends of Syria countries—the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan—issued a statement after Sunday’s meeting. Asserting that “Assad and his close associates with blood on their hands will have no role in Syria,” the statement addressed the Syrian opposition: “We invite them to form, as soon as possible, a delegation of opposition forces to participate in the political process.”

The role of the opposition as the chosen instrument of US-backed regime-change underscores the reactionary role of pseudo-left groups such as the International Socialist Organization in the US, France’s New Anti-capitalist Party, and Germany’s Marx21 group, which have hailed the Syrian opposition as carrying out a “revolution.”

After meeting with Syrian National Coalition (SNC) leader Ahmad Jarba, US Secretary of State John Kerry declared: “I am confident personally that the Syrian opposition will come to Geneva. It was a very constructive meeting today [with Jarba]. I am confident that he and others will be in Geneva. I am counting on both parties to come together.”

He added, “With respect to the Assad regime, we have been told from day one they are allegedly prepared to negotiate.”

Given that Jarba and the imperialist-backed SNC have only tenuous connections to the Islamist opposition groups fighting inside Syria, which have bitterly opposed a negotiated settlement, it is unclear whether Jarba will get the opposition to join the Geneva talks. Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Paris, Jacky Rowland, noted that Syrian opposition officials had not made any statements supporting Kerry’s claims that they would attend the talks. “It is by no means certain,” Rowland wrote, “that the Coalition is ready to say ‘yes’ to that invitation.”

Jarba did indicate, however, that he was pleased by the tone of the discussions and the renewed focus on regime-change. “We all agreed there is no future for Bashar al-Assad and his family in Syria. His departure is inevitable,” he said.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, “It’s the regime of Bashar al-Assad that is feeding terrorism. We must bring that regime to an end.”

Such statements by Fabius are a cynical attempt to cover up a politically criminal policy being pursued by the major imperialist powers, which have deliberately stoked up a sectarian civil war in Syria in which NATO and the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms have relied on Sunni Islamist terrorist organizations tied to Al Qaeda. Having nearly gone to war to rescue these forces from defeat last September, the US and its co-conspirators are moving to reorganize the Al Qaeda-linked opposition so as to align it more directly with American foreign policy.

Fighting has erupted between rival factions of the Islamist opposition near the northern cities of Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa. The London-based, pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that the fighting has claimed 697 lives, including 100 civilians, of whom 21 were executed.

It appears the fighting is taking place between US-backed Islamist factions and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has fallen out of favor with Washington, particularly after joining a Sunni uprising against the US-backed regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in neighboring Iraq.

This fighting has laid the basis for Washington to resume its direct aid to the Syrian opposition. The US announced December 11 that it had suspended its official aid shipments, carried out in parallel with covert weapons shipments overseen by the CIA, after it emerged that US aid to the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) had gone to a collection of Al Qaeda-linked militias called the Islamic Front. Washington is now preparing to restart shipments to the FSA following the Islamic Front’s attacks on ISIS forces.

Washington is arming the FSA even though, as an anonymous senior administration official told the New York Times, “There’s no way to say 100 percent that it would not end up in the hands of the Islamic Front.”

While the US presents its actions as part of an effort to limit the influence of Al Qaeda in the US-backed opposition, it appears the main beneficiaries will be ISIS’ rivals, the Islamic Front and the Al Nusra Front. Al Nusra has itself openly pledged loyalty to Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri

Noting that the FSA would not benefit from the revival of US aid as much as Al Nusra, Le Nouvel Observateur cited Romain Caillet of the French Institute for the Near East in Beirut, who said: “Al Nusra is playing a double role. It is taking over various headquarters, largely without violence, and is waiting to see how things turn out to know whether they will keep their positions or give them up. Many fighters have already pledged allegiance to Al Nusra.”

Caillet added, “If ISIS really disappeared in Syria, all its foreign fighters who are not killed, captured, or have not fled the country will go over to Al Nusra, if only to protect their families, as many came with their wives and children.”

US imperialism’s strategy of fomenting regime-change across the Middle East by manipulating alliances with Sunni Islamist forces—which it embarked on after the working class toppled the Egyptian dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in 2011—has devastated the region. Having torn Syria to shreds, it is threatening to engulf the entire Middle East in a broad war.

Fighting between the Syrian regime and the US-backed opposition has devastated Syria and the region, forcing 2.3 million people to flee to refugee camps outside Syria and internally displacing some 6.5 million people. Taken together, this represents over a third of Syria’s population of 22.4 million people.

Speaking on the spreading social catastrophe inside Syria, UN humanitarian affairs chief Baroness Valerie Amos told the BBC: “The sick and wounded have not been able to leave, we’ve not been able to get food in. There are reports of people on the brink of starvation, including in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp close to the center of Damascus.”

Fighting also continues to escalate in Iraq, particularly in Sunni-majority areas of western Iraq, near the border with Syria, and US officials are considering a renewed invasion of the country already devastated by the 2003 invasion. The ongoing fighting, USA Today observed, is “raising the possibility of a major war in the Middle East with untold death, global oil shocks and, eventually, US military intervention.”

Yesterday, 22 people were killed and more than 80 wounded in a series of car bombings and shootings in Baghdad and in Tuz Khurmato, in northern Iraq’s Salaheddin province.

The Iraqi regime is massing its forces outside of Fallujah, where Sunni Islamist forces have taken over the city and are holding it against the Maliki government, to whom the Obama administration is rushing military equipment and assistance.

Former US army intelligence officer Jessica Lewis told AFP, “The US Marines had difficulty assaulting Fallujah in 2004. The Iraqi army is not prepared to sustain a comparable fight.” In an assault, she added, “Iraqi security forces will most likely level Fallujah by overusing artillery and stand-off weapons to suppress the threat.”

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