Archive | February 14th, 2015

UK dispatches troop carriers to Ukraine

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Press TV

Britain has delivered a number of troop transporters to Ukraine as fighting rages on unabated in the eastern parts of the former Soviet country despite a peace deal.

Ukrainian media reported on Friday that 20 British Saxon armored vehicles were handed in to Kiev, with another 55 expected to arrive soon.

The UK’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) said that the vehicles were transferred by a private firm under a 2013 deal with the eastern European country.

The troop carriers were first used by the MoD in the 1980s, but went out of service some three years ago, according to an MoD spokesperson.

The spokesperson stressed that the British government has been supplying “non-lethal assistance” to the Ukrainian army since the beginning of the crisis in the country.

“There has been no change to this and we have not provided lethal assistance. These vehicles were provided unarmed under a commercial contract dating 2013 by a private company,” the spokesperson added.

Earlier this week, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond also noted that London was keeping under review a decision not to arm Ukraine, adding it could not allow the Ukrainian army to collapse.

This is while Russia has repeatedly criticized plans by Western countries to supply weapons to Ukraine, saying it would only aggravate the situation in the country’s restive provinces.

The UK’s decision to send troop carriers to Ukraine came one day after Kiev reached a ceasefire agreement with pro-Moscow forces operating in the country’s volatile east following marathon peace talks in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, with leaders of Russia, Germany and France.

The mainly Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine have been the scene of deadly clashes between pro-Russia activists and the Ukrainian army since Kiev launched military operations to silence protests there in mid-April 2014.

More than 5,500 people have died and some 12,200 wounded in the conflict, the UN says. Around 1.5 million people have been also forced from their homes over the past months of turmoil.

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Report: 60% of victims of Israeli terror bombing were women, children, or elderly

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The barbaric, merciless terror bombing the Jewish state of Israel carried out against the Palestinian people trapped in the Gaza Strip last summer resulted in the deaths of over 2,000 people. The victims of this cold-blooded and calculated murder spree were largely innocent civilians – women, children, and the elderly.

The Jewish Daily Forward reports:

An Associated Press investigation into Israeli airstrikes on Gaza homes during last summer’s war against Hamas concluded that 508 people, or over 60 percent of the casualties, were children, women and older men.

The report, which the Associated Press called “the most painstaking attempt to date to try to determine who was killed in strikes on homes,” was compiled by investigating 247 Israeli airstrikes and interviewing witnesses.

Israel launched air strikes after an intensification of rocket fire attacks launched from Gaza onto southern Israeli towns.

Israeli officials have accused Hamas and other groups of launching attacks from population-dense areas. According to Israel, Palestinian groups used houses to hide weapons, fighters and command centers. Israeli officials said they used safeguards against hitting civilians, including calling off strikes at the last minute when civilians appeared and delivering warnings so civilians could evacuate.

The AP report concluded that 96 of those killed in airstrikes, or 11 percent of the total casualties, were “confirmed or suspected militants.” The Associated Press acknowledged that its numbers could be wrong since Hamas has not released a detailed casualty list.

The number of civilian deaths has been a central element of the heated discussion of the Gaza conflict. In August 2014, the United Nations reported that 70 percent of the war’s total Palestinian casualties were civilians. Israel refuted that report.

And just think: the entire U.S. political establishment – Republicans and Democrats – and most of the mainstream mass media outlets and personalities proudly supported the terroristic Jewish state of Israel during their genocidal bombardment of largely innocent and defenseless Palestinian civilians last summer. The Israeli military regularly bombs, attacks, and terrorizes the Palestinian people living under Jewish occupation, all with the full and unwavering political, diplomatic, military, and economic support of America and the Western world.

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Putin’s trust rating hits 85% historical high

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Russian President Vladimir Putin.(RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolskyi)Russian President Vladimir Putin.(RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolskyi)

The latest poll has shown that 85 percent of Russian citizens trust President Vladimir Putin and 74 percent say they would vote for him if presidential elections were held next weekend.

The poll, conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation on February 7-8 and released on February 13, shows that the current 85 percent trust rating is up from 75 percent in February 2014. The share of those who said they were ready to vote for Putin was also up from 45 percent one year ago.

84 percent of those polled said they approved of Putin’s work as president and only 7 percent admitted they were discontented with it.

The general attitude toward Putin was also mostly positive – 75 percent of Russians said they sympathized with their leader. Fourteen percent said they had both positive and negative sentiments about him and 7 percent reported that their attitude to the president was purely negative.

Other politicians’ ratings remained generally unchanged. Five percent of respondents said that if presidential polls were to be held next Sunday they would vote for the head of the populist-nationalist LDPR party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Four percent pledged support to the head of the Russian Communist Party, Gennadiy Zyuganov and 1 percent said they would vote for billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, the founder of the pro-business party Civil Platform.

The head of the Russian Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Research, Dmitry Badovskiy, connected the new surge in Putin’s ratings with Russia’s strong position on the Ukrainian crisis and personal diplomatic success of the president demonstrated at this week’s summit in Minsk. Another factor was people’s hope for Putin’s ability to cope with the ongoing economic crisis and return stability to the national economy.

According to the expert, the results of the research mean that in the conditions of a real presidential election, Putin would win with a result approaching 90 percent.

Putin’s approval ratings were on the rise in Russia last year and in December an overwhelming majority citizens named their president the “Man of the Year” when they chose among other serving Russian politicians.

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Pegida UK promoter has ties with far right, wants to ‘ban Islam’

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Members of KOEGIDA, Cologne's anti-immigration movement affliated with Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA), protest during a demonstration against Islamisation in Cologne, January 14, 2015. (Reuters / Ina Fassbender)

Members of KOEGIDA, Cologne’s anti-immigration movement affliated with Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA), protest during a demonstration against Islamisation in Cologne, January 14, 2015. (Reuters / Ina Fassbender)

The official spokesman for Pegida UK has admitted to spreading anti-Islamic hate and was found to have social media links with far-right organizations, despite saying that Pediga “would not want to associate ourselves with them.”

Matthew Pope, who has given interviews to local newspapers in Newcastle upon Tyne, in northeast England, as the official spokesperson of Pediga UK, said the group is protesting the supposed Islamification of Britain.

The Facebook group for the first UK rally, scheduled to take place in Newcastle upon Tyne on February 28, shows around 600 people are planning to attend.

A number of anti-fascist groups are already planning to resist the march, labeling Pegida UK racist and Islamophobic, at the same time as voicing concerns over violence toward members of the general public.

Unfortunately, we’ve witnesses a spike in attacks on the Muslim community and I think it’s very important that everyone stands out and says that we don’t want the Muslim community targeted,” joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) Weyman Bennet told Sputnik News.

We want people to stand together, we don’t want division. We want a society where people can stand together — black, white, Muslims, gay, straight, young and old to say that we oppose division and people that want to divide our society.”

Pegida, which translates from German as Patriotic Europeans Against The Islamization Of The West, has staged rallies thought Germany and drawn thousands to the streets, both in support of its aims and to oppose it.

In Dresden, 25,000 people marched with the group, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called “full of prejudice, a chilliness, even hatred.” The growing popularity of Pegida mirrors the rise of anti-Muslim feeling throughout Europe, which has seen the rise of neo-Nazis in Greece and the National Front in France.

Pope told the Newcastle Chronicle that Pediga UK chose to hold its march in the northeast city rather than London so as not to conflict with far-right “extremist” groups in the capital.

There are a lot of right-wing extremists there and we wouldn’t want to associate ourselves with them,”Pope said.

He claimed Pediga UK only protests Islamic extremism. However, the activist’s Facebook page suggests otherwise.

Pope’s personal account shows he likes other far-right British groups such as the British National Party (BNP), Britain First, the English Defence League (EDL), and Anti-Islam (England Division).

In December, Pope claimed he was going to quit the “anti-Islam” movement and focus on Christianity.

I have decided to leave the anti-Islam movement. I am now focusing on Jesus only. I feel the people involved in most of it are in it for the wrong reasons,” he posted on Facebook.

“I should be promoting Father’s kingdom instead to promoting hatred (even though that was never my intent). I confess that I spread hate through ‘Ban Islam’ with over 90,000 followers, I should have been more responsible.

“After my walk with Christ started, I tried educating about Islam through ‘Islam, Deceiver,’ but I can see there is too much hatred from people to continue my work.”

Since supposedly moving away from the spread of anti-Islam sentiment, Pope has since become involved in the promotion of Pegida UK. He claims the prevailing nationalism of other far-right groups is detracting from the main aim of fighting Islam, however.

“I support the anti-Islamic movement. But I do not support groups that emphasize the patriotism. Any group that deliberately draws attention away from the real issue (Islam) is going to fail,” he wrote.

You, like the EDL and Britain First, are just going to be labeled as racist bigots. It’s the price for being nationalist. Until people ditch the patriotic side of things the general public will only label you as racist.

“The problem is not the terrorists. Policing, governments and [the] army will control that. It is the moderate Muslims that need to be exposed.”

“And I am afraid all the St George’s crosses and skinheads can’t solve that. Making the moderate Muslims drop their guard and show Islam’s true intent is a game of intellect.”

Pope, who claims to be a qualified mental health nurse, has been unemployed for a number of months. He blames immigration for the lack of UK jobs.

He has previously been charged with grievous bodily harm.

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E. Ukraine leaders order ceasefire, voice amendments to constitution

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Image result for Ukraine leaders PHOTO

RT 

The eastern Ukrainian militias have stopped all military action in accordance with the Minsk peace deal. They will suppress any provocations that may be organized by Kiev forces, said Aleksandr Zakharchenko, head of Donetsk People’s Republic.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has ordered troops to cease fire at Sunday midnight local time (22:00 GMT) in line with the Thursday Minsk agreement. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page that “all National Guard and Interior Ministry units will halt fire at midnight.”

Meanwhile, Defense Ministry spokesman of Donetsk People’s Republic, Eduard Basurin, has ordered that all eastern Ukrainian militia units halt fighting “on the entire line of contact,” RIA Novosti reports. A similar statement has come out of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, saying that local militia are to stop all combat actions at midnight.

Earlier, leaders of the restive Ukrainian republics said their regions have ratified the peace deal.

The militias will stop all military action outside the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Zakharchenko said. However, he said that the self-defense forces will reply to any provocative actions by the Kiev troops, including assaults and precision fire.

The DPR leader also said that rebels won’t release a large group of Ukrainian troops, who have been entrapped near the village of Debaltsevo since early February.

“Their every attempt to break out will be suppressed,” Zakharchenko is cited by RIA-Novosti news agency.

The rebels’ leader reminded that “there wasn’t a word mentioning Debaltsevo in the agreements” signed in Minsk on February 12, which means that “Ukraine simply betrayed the 5,000 people trapped in the Debaltsevo ‘cauldron’.”

Earlier, Basurin said that the Ukrainian troops near Debaltsevo won’t be shelled, but won’t be released as well, with surrender being the only option.

Zakharchenko has put his signature under a decree, which foresees the beginning of the ceasefire at 01:00 AM local time on Sunday – midnight for Kiev and 2200 GMT.

The DPR head also said that the Donetsk People’s Republic won’t grant control over its border with Russia to Ukrainian border guards: “Today an order will be issued to create the border guard service. Not a single Ukrainian soldier will enter our territory.”

Poroshenko warns of martial law

Meanwhile, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has once again warned that if the Minsk agreements fail, “martial law will be implemented not only in Donetsk and Lugansk, but in the whole country”.

Moscow has expressed hopes Kiev and the rebels, as well as all the sides, which supported the Minsk peace deal, including France and Germany, “will do everything for the signed agreements to be scrupulously implemented,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“Ukraine’s official representatives… as well as those of several Western countries, the US in particular, have essentially expressed solidarity with the opinion of radical nationalists in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) and have began distorting the contents of the Minsk agreements,” the ministry said.

On Saturday, Poroshenko spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on the phone, with the three heads of state stressing that all sides must fulfill the obligations they’ve taken according to Minsk agreements, first of all, those concerning the ceasefire.

The Ukrainian president also had a telephone conversation with US president Barack Obama, during which the two leaders “agreed on the further coordination of efforts in the event of an escalation” in Ukraine’s southeast.

Poroshenko and Obama “discussed the situation in Donbass and expressed concerns about the situation in Debaltsevo,” according to the Ukrainian president’s website.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart, John Kerry, also discussed the situation in southeastern Ukraine on the phone, and stressed “the importance of strict implementation of the ceasefire regime by the conflicting sides.”

Lavrov also emphasized that the Minsk peace deal “also includes obligations by Kiev to remove the financial and economic blockade of the [Ukrainian] southeast; to provide an amnesty; to stage a constitutional reform by the end of the year and adopt legislation on the special status of Donbass,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on its Facebook page.

The contact group, which includes representatives from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, held video consultations on Saturday, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said.

According to the OSCE, all parties agreed to take necessary measures to establish the agreed truce and de-escalation of the conflict, including in the areas of Debaltsevo and Mariupol.

The contact group will continue holding consultations on a regular basis to ensure the implementation of the Minsk agreements, a statement from the watchdog added.

Constitutional change

The Minsk agreement provides for a security zone separating the Kiev forces and the rebels, a ceasefire beginning on Sunday and a heavy weapons pullout to be completed in 14 days. The deal was signed by the contact group, which includes the leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, a representative of the OSCE, Ukraine’s former president Leonid Kuchma, and the Russian ambassador to Ukraine,

A separate declaration supporting the deal was agreed upon by the so-called “Normandy Four” leaders – French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who also gathered in Belarusian capital.

In accordance with the deal, on Saturday the eastern Ukrainian republics also proposed amendments to the constitution. One of the key demands is to grant certain regions the right to define and form the structure of local governments themselves, Denis Pushilin, DPR representative at the Minsk talks, said.

The rebels also want the official status for the Russian language and other minority languages, spoken in Ukraine’s central regions, he said. Another proposed amendment foresees the decentralization of fiscal and tax systems, “up to the possibility of creating in free economic zones and other special economic regimes on certain territories,” Pushilin is cited by TASS news agency.

While the Minsk deal is hoped to secure an end to the bloody and devastating internal conflict that has taken the lives of over 5,300 people in the UN’s estimates since last April, shelling in Donetsk was reported throughout the whole of Saturday.

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What It’s Like Living Under Drones — In Victims’ Own Words

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‘I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies.’

Image result for Drones PHOTO

Mohammed Saleh Tauiman was just 13 years old in 2014 when the Guardian newspaper gave him a camera so he could record life under the drones that flew over Marib province, Yemen.

His father and teenage brother had been killed in a US drone attack in 2011 while they were herding the family’s camels. Afterward, he lived in constant fear of what he called the “death machines” that circled above him in the sky.

“I see them every day and we are scared of them,” he said to the Guardian. “A lot of the kids in this area wake up from sleeping because of nightmares from them and some now have mental problems. They turned our area into hell and continuous horror, day and night, we even dream of them in our sleep.”

And then, on Jan. 26, a drone killed Mohammed. The Guardian asked both the CIA and the Pentagon whether they’d identified the 13-year-old boy as an Al Qaeda militant. Neither agency gave a comment.

It’s just the latest tragedy caused by the controversial US drone campaign.

Six years ago, on Jan. 23, 2009, President Barack Obama launched his first drone strikes just three days into his presidency, killing at least nine civilians in the course of two strikes in North Waziristan.

Since then, US drones have killed more than 2,400 people in strikes targeting markets, homes, funerals and even weddings, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a UK-based nonprofit. Between 2004 and 2013, drone strikes killed an estimated 2,525 to 3,613 people.

In May 2013, Obama defended the drone strikes, saying they were legal, effective, and saved American lives. He said civilian casualties would “haunt” him for the rest of his life, but that he needed to weigh the loss of civilian lives against the threat to life posed by terrorists.

There are doubts, though, about how effective Obama’s drone campaign has been when it comes to avoiding civilian casualties and killing terrorists. Researchers found that only 12 percent of drone strike victims in Pakistan could be identified as militants and fewer than 4 percent were indentified as members of Al Qaeda. More than a third of those who were described as militants were not designated a rank” and nearly 30 percent were not even linked to a specific group.

Unmanned aircraft have done more than just kill and injure thousands of civilians, according to the program’s critics, which include the United NationsHuman Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Drones terrorize and traumatize the population, forcing people to keep their children home from school, avoid large gatherings that may prove suspicious, and remain hidden, lest they be killed before proven innocent.

“There’s a pervasive fear for people every second of the day,” said Sarah Knuckey, one of the lead researchers and editors of the 2012 report, Living Under Drones to MSNBC. “It has a significant mental health impact for people living there.”

But don’t just listen to drone critics. Listen to the people of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia in their own words. Here are just a few harrowing accounts from ordinary people who have seen and experienced the devastating human cost of US drone strikes firsthand:

Zubair Rehman

“I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer gray skies,” Zubair, a 13-year-old boy from North Waziristan, Pakistan, said in a testimony before Congress in October 2013. “The drones do not fly when the skies are gray … When the sky brightens, drones return and we live in fear. It’s something that a 2-year-old would know  … We hear the noise 24 hours a day.”

Zubair’s grandmother was killed by a drone strike on Oct. 24, 2012, as she was picking okra in a field. He testified together with his father and 9-year-old sister.

Rafiq ur Rehman

“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” said Zubair’s father, Rafiq ur Rehman, a Pakistani primary school teacher. He described his deceased mother, Momina Bibi, as the “string that held our family together.”

“As a teacher, my job is to educate. But how do I teach something like this? How do I explain what I myself do not understand? How can I in good faith reassure the children that the drone will not come back and kill them, too, if I do not understand why it killed my mother and injured my children?”

Aziz Mabkhut al-Amri

“As we were driving to the site, I felt myself going deeper and deeper into darkness,” said Aziz. His brother Abdullah Mabkhut al-Amri’s wedding in Rada’a, Yemen in December 2013 made headlines when four hellfire missiles struck it. “That is the feeling of a person who sees his brothers, cousins, relatives and friends dead by one strike, without reason.”

Saeed Mohammed Al Youseffi

“People were really terrified,” said Saeed Mohammed Al Youseffi of Ma’rib Province, who was set to get married two days after the tragedy in Rada’a. “People are afraid now to attend any large gathering — weddings, funerals. Everyone is just trying to survive.”

 

Oum Saeed

“We don’t know who is with Al Qaeda,” said Oum Saeed, a middle-aged mother of 10, “but the drones know.”

Faisal bin Ali Jaber

“Yemen is losing an entire generation to drones,” said Faisal bin Ali Jaber, an environmental engineer in Yemen who lost two family members in a 2012 drone strike. He said leading a normal life is impossible “when you have a drone hovering above your neighborhood.”

Malik Jalal

“Drones may kill relatively few, but they terrify many more,” said Malik Jalal, a tribal leader in North Waziristan. “They turned the people into psychiatric patients. The F-16s might be less accurate, but they come and go.”

Nazeer Gul

“The drones are like the angels of death,” said Nazeer Gul, a shopkeeper in Pakistan. “Only they know when and where they will strike.”

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Family Of Slain American Activist Denied Justice From Zio-Nazi Highest Court

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Decision ‘amounts to judicial sanction of immunity for Zio-Nazi military forces when they commit injustices and human rights violations,’ said Corrie’s family.
Rachel Corrie, a pro-Palestinian activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003

The family of Rachel Corrie—the 23-year-old U.S. activist crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer while nonviolently protesting a home demolition in Palestine 12 years ago—was denied justice by Israel’s top court on Thursday.

The rejection is the latest stage in the family’s decade-long legal battle to hold Israel liable for Corrie’s death, on charges that the military either killed her deliberately or was negligent.

Corrie, who hailed from Olympia, Washington, had been volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement for two months in Gaza when she was run over and killed by Israeli forces near the Rafah crossing in 2003. Her death sparked international outrage at Israeli human rights abuses, as well as accolades for Corrie’s life and legacy.

Since her killing, Corrie’s parents—Cindy and Craig—have continued their daughter’s work for global justice.

However, they have so far not seen justice in Israel’s courts.

Corrie’s family first filed a wrongful death civil suit in 2005. In 2012, Judge Oded Gershon of the Haifa district court sided with the military and charged that Corrie was responsible for her own death. “She did not move away as any reasonable person would have done,” ruled Gershon. “But she chose to endanger herself.”

This dismissal garnered widespread condemnation, including from U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who slammed the probe into Corrie’s killing as unsatisfactory.

On Thursday, Israel’s supreme court rejected the Corrie family’s appeal of the 2012 ruling.

“Our family is disappointed but not surprised,” the Corrie family said in a statement released on Thursday. “Nevertheless, it is clear that this decision, affirming the August 2012 lower court finding, amounts to judicial sanction of immunity for Israeli military forces when they commit injustices and human rights violations.”

“Rachel’s case provides yet another example of how the Israeli justice system is failing to provide accountability,” the statement continues. “We urge the international community, and not least the U.S. government, to stand with victims of human rights violations and against impunity, and to uphold fundamental tenants of international justice.”

The court has determined, however, that a separate case filed by Corrie’s family, which charges that her remains and autopsy were mishandled, may proceed through a lower court.

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Texas Mosque Torched … Police And Media Won’t Call It A ‘Hate Crime’ Either

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A Houston mosque was set ablaze just days after three Muslims were executed by a man who had repeatedly expressed anti-Islamic statements in North Carolina.

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A Houston, Texas mosque was set ablaze this morning, on the Islamic day of congregation or “Jum`ah,” but law enforcement officials, and the mainstream media refuse to call this a “hate crime.” This comes just days after three Muslims were executed by a man who had repeatedly expressed anti-Islamic statements in North Carolina. The media and police have termed those executions “a parking dispute” rather than a hate crime.

The Houston Fire Department says that they responded around 5:30am this morning to a fire that had engulfed the Quba Islamic Institute.

“The damage on the back building is total,” Houston Fire Department district chief Ken Tyner explained.

“The whole entire building back there is burned up,” he added.

Congregants tell us that the mosque and attached Islamic school towards the front of the building are completely intact and unharmed by the fire, but they believe this was an arson attack on them as Muslims.

“The first thing we think about is hate crimes that could go on,”Hala Saadeh, a congregant, said. “It says right on the front – Islamic Institute. We’re not hiding ourselves.”

Imam Zahid Abdullah added that just Wednesday morning, he witnessed a suspicious man who had been casing the property. Just last night, he added: “My son was passing by here and somebody was sitting here in a white Ram, making mockery, chanting.”

“We don’t want to blame anyone,” Saadeh concluded. “We want a full investigation of what is going on.”

For now, law enforcement and local media are refusing to call this arson what it is: another hate crime against members of the American Muslim community.

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With Riyadh, How Much Longer Can Washington Look The Other Way?

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One political analyst tells MintPress that “this particular friendship is interest-based. Politically, culturally and ideologically, those two powers stand on polar opposites, and therefore, their alliance will shift or dissolve based on each player’s needs.“
President Barack Obama meets new Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdul Aziz in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia and the United States’ long-standing friendship is undergoing an unprecedented stress test. The two allies, which have weathered decades of wars, one Arab Spring movement and the rise of Islamic radicalism, find themselves at a difficult crossroads following the death of 90-year-old King Abdullah last month.

With Abdullah’s half-brother, former Crown Prince Salman, 79, now at its helm, Saudi Arabia is not the same kingdom it was only a few weeks ago. With Abdullah gone, new players are set to rise, each bringing a new dynamic to the table. How Washington will engage and relate to these new political currents remains to be seen.

If Salman’s changes in Riyadh so far are a sign of things to come, Saudi Arabia is poised for sharp change in its political tone. Within days of assuming the crown, Salman swept through Abdullah’s court, bringing down the old guard to make way for the new king’s men.

With 30 royal decrees issued back to back, Salman demoted and promoted officials in key positions — military, religious and government. Those changes saw Princes Mishaal and Turki bin Abdullah, two of Abdullah’s sons, relieved of their responsibilities, as well as the heads of intelligence and other key agencies replaced alongside a cabinet shuffle.

Most noticeable was Salman’s decision to raise the profiles of two the House of Saud’s third-generation princes: Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the deputy crown prince and minister of the interior; and Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s 30-year-old son, who is now defense minister and head of the royal court.

As Salman consolidated his hold on the throne by sidelining Abdullah’s bloodline in favor of his own, the country could soon engage in a new direction. Yet what that direction is, exactly, no one yet knows.

With rumored tensions between the sons of the founder of Al Saud dynasty, the mighty kingdom could fall victim to infighting and deep family feuds.

Yet if past frictions between those two hegemons are anything to go by — Syria, Iran and Egypt have all been difficult diplomatic chokepoints — the Middle East and to a greater extent the world could be in for a major policy shift, especially since Saudi Arabia’s own footing in the region appears to be faltering.

“Washington’s friendship with Riyadh is tied up to Al Saud’s abilities to rule over not just Saudi Arabia but the greater region. Changes inside the kingdom and a shift in power dynamics across the Middle East and Asia has meant that Al Saud is losing its footing to other rising stars — Turkey, Iran and to a certain extent countries like Qatar,” Mojtaba Mousavi, an Iran-based political analyst and editor in chief of Iran’s View, told MintPress News.

“Should the House of Saud fall, Washington could find itself friendless in the region,” Mousavi continued. “This is a reality U.S. officials are wrestling with.”

“The more influence Saudi Arabia will lose to rising regional powers, the greater the divide in between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia will appear. It is important to remember that this particular friendship is interest-based. Politically, culturally and ideologically, those two powers stand on polar opposites, and therefore, their alliance will shift or dissolve based on each player’s needs.”

In 2007 Saleh al-Kallab, Jordan’s former minister of information, compared the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to “a Catholic marriage where you can have no divorce,” but it appears an annulment shouldn’t be counted out.

What began some six decades ago as an alliance made in heaven, a perfect alignment of geo-strategy, political interests and financial betterment, has devolved into a diplomatic and political dichotomy, in which Washington’s friendship toward Riyadh has prevented its officials from cultivating new friendships and striking new strategic partnerships in the increasingly fluid Middle East and North Africa region.

In the fast-moving post-Arab Spring world, Saudi Arabia’s absolute theocracy stands an endangered political species. Western governments — and, in particular, the U.S. — have been trapped in a suffocating policy straightjacket. From the pull of history to the inertia of bureaucracies or the power of political lobbies, officials have relied on old thinking and antiquated alliances to solve new problems. Here lies America’s Saudi paradox, but here, too, lies too an opportunity for change.

The president and the king

The bond which has united the U.S. and Saudi Arabia over the past six decades was sealed during a clandestine meeting between U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud in February 1945. Less than a decade after large reserves of oil were found in modern day Dhahran, east of the kingdom, in 1938, the U.S. secured a key alliance against Soviet Russia — a move which would secure its standing as a supra-regional superpower. Every American president and Saudi king since have stood by this alliance, united in the understanding that each has needed the other to assert themselves as a political giant.

Yet time has a way of eroding even the tallest mountain.

Under the agreement brokered by Roosevelt and Abdul Aziz, the U.S. promised to act as a military ally and bodyguard to the House of Saud, providing a security umbrella for Saudi Arabia against any non-American foreign influence, especially the Soviet Union. The U.S. continues to hold up its end of the deal with arms sales and related security program coordination.

“Since October 2010, Congress has been notified of proposed sales to Saudi Arabia of fighter aircraft, helicopters, missile defense systems, missiles, bombs, armored vehicles, and related equipment and services, with a potential value of more than $90 billion,” a January report by the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. Congress’ think tank, said.

Meanwhile, a report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute puts Saudi Arabia as the world’s fourth largest military spender, just behind Russia and ahead of France. In 2013 Saudi Arabia’s military spending hit $67 billion, representing a 118 percent rise since 2004.

In return, Saudi Arabia assured the U.S., and the soon-to-be NATO alliance, of a reliable source of energy at reasonable prices to help implement what was to become the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe. It would also ensure American postwar leadership through NATO and unparalleled U.S. economic growth.

This alliance was recently put into play against Russia, when Riyadh eagerly drove oil prices to the floor to bankrupt Moscow’s economy to secure NATO-U.S. supremacy east of the Caucasus.

Even earlier, though, keen to secure itself a buffer against the rising power of Soviet Russia, the House of Saud was more than happy to fill America’s coffers with petrodollars, thus securing a lasting friendship with a power that was too distant to pose an immediate hegemonic threat.

As author and journalist Stephen Kinzer recalled in his 2010 book, “Reset Middle East,” Abdul Aziz admitted that he had willed an alliance with the U.S. over one with other, closer Western powers based on geography. “You are very far away,” the king reportedly told an American official.

It is on the back of this Saudi royal friendship that the U.S. was able to stretch the span of its political and military empire — an empire made strong by the constant flow of petrodollars and Saudi Arabia’s willingness to play into its energy policy through OPEC.

Meanwhile, because Saudi Arabia’s checkbook proved so useful to a petrodollar-dependent America, Washington and its Western allies have long turned a blind eye to Riyadh’s terror games.

Yet six decades on, Roosevelt’s post-WWII policy has shifted from its axis, revealing a split which could soon prove far too wide to bridge. While there have been Saudi-U.S. rifts before — the 1973 oil embargo, for example — the fallouts of the Arab Spring combined with the rise of Islamic radicalism could prove too great for both players to handle.

Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, explained to The New York Times in January: “The Saudis are hard pressed to think of any country or collection of countries that can do what the United States can do.”

“At the same time, they are worried that the United States’ intentions are changing at a time when they don’t have an alternative or even the structure to find an alternative,” Alterman continued.

A strained friendship

Cracks forming in the Saudi-U.S. partnership became most visible in October 2013, when Abdullah took the unprecedented step of refusing to take the coveted temporary seat to which it had been elected on the U.N. Security Council. The snub was followed by warnings from Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s spy chief at the time, that the kingdom would move its pawns out of the White House lawn in view of President Barack Obama’s failure in attacking Syria to bring down President Bashar Assad as well as disputes over supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt versus Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s army chief, and placing pressure on Iran over its supposed nuclear ambitions.

As far as Riyadh is concerned, Obama has proven too timid in his backing of moderates in Syria, thus failing to act as a barrier to an increasingly powerful Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch nemesis.

“This was a message for the U.S., not the U.N.,” Bandar told European diplomats about Abdullah’s refusal to chair the UNSC.

Now, with Abdullah gone and the old alliance on shaky ground, U.S. officials face an increasingly complicated conflict of interest vis a vis Saudi Arabia, whereby the two old friends have wildly different views on what the post-Arab Spring Middle East should look like and what policies to pursue to achieve their respective visions.

Although both partners might seek the same immediate goals — the removal of Assad and a non-nuclear Iran — they don’t agree on how to get there.

As noted by David Gardner in a piece for the Financial Times in 2013, “If they [the Saudis] want to retreat into full-throated Wahhabism and pursue a reactionary and sectarian agenda turbocharged by petrodollars, then this is perhaps a good moment for the west to review this relationship.”

Yet foreign policy is only one aspect of the problem.

Saudi Arabia’s friendship has become more than just a political conundrum or the manifestation of American exceptionalism — it has devolved into a toxic political liability. Looking at America’s war on terror and its pursuit of a democratic new world order, it is difficult to imagine Saudi Arabia as a valid partner, especially when its leadership stands as the very negation of democracy.

How does one extract oneself from the embrace of financial realities, though?

“The United States finds itself at an awkward crossroads with regards to its long-standing strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia. If Washington were to continue backing Riyadh unequivocally, the negative impact of Saudi foreign policy on U.S. interests in the Middle East could soon outweigh the positives,” Anthony Biswell, a London-based political analyst on the Middle East and external Yemen consultant for IHS Global Limited, told MintPress.

How much longer can Washington look the other way?

While U.S. officials may have been keen to overlook Saudi Arabia’s democratic and human rights issues in the past for the sake of regional stability and a thriving world economy, the American public has grown increasingly less complacent.

As Adam Taylor wrote for the Washington Post on Monday:

“Americans and other Westerners seem to have grown more and more skeptical about the true nature of their ally. In particular, an unusual set of circumstances –  including the fearsome rise of the Islamic State, the death of Saudi King Abdullah and renewed concerns about Saudi links to the 9/11 attacks – have lead to a significant public debate about Saudi Arabia’s true values.”

And there lies a faultline U.S. officials might no longer be able to rationalize to their nationals. Indeed, if Washington feels it can paint Assad as a ferocious anti-democratic despot whose presidency needs to be deposed, how can it justify the House of Saud’s beheadings and public floggings?

One of the most oppressive and dictatorial regimes in the region, Saudi Arabia’s human rights track record is as appalling as it is bloody.

In a January report, Adam Coogle, a Middle East and North Africa Researcher with Human Rights Watch, lists some of Abdullah’s human rights offenses, highlighting some of Al Saud’s worst best-kept secrets: systematic repression, harsh corporal punishments and abuses against migrant workers.

Most shocking was the 2014 sentencing of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi to public flogging. A pro-democracy activist, Badawi was condemned to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for speaking out against the Saudi regime.

Where Washington might have found “a cautious reformer” in Abdullah, Salman’s narrative appears decisively more reactionary. On Jan. 26, three days after Abdullah was set to rest, Salman ordered his first beheading.

Mousa bin Saeed Ali al-Zahrani, a teacher convicted of raping several young girls (a crime he denied up to his death), was publicly beheaded in Jeddah. Al-Zahrani is just one of an estimated five people who have been beheaded since Salman took the throne. Against this backdrop, more people and the media are drawing disturbing parallels between Al Saud’s practices and that of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Speaking to International Business Times this month, Ali Al-Ahmed, a Saudi expert and the director of the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs, emphasized, “Both ISIS and Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy rely on the same ideology and system of religious interpretation in their approach to punishment.”

“The Saudi judicial process, if we can call it that, is the same as ISIS’,” he added.

This may be the very straw which might break the camel’s back: Saudi Arabia’s political ideology can never reconcile with Americans’ democratic idealism. Yet Washington’s dependency on Saudi oil and Saudi money has forced the political class to be an accessory to human rights violations.

“It is time it stopped being a relationship dripping with deference by the west and dollars by the Saudis, a spectacle of liberal democracies sucking up to an absolute monarchy governed by the precepts of medieval theologians,” Gardner asserted in the Financial Times in 2013.

As U.S. officials evaluate their standing in the kingdom with Salman now in charge, this transition of power might lead to a change in policy or, as Biswell termed it, “tactical political distancing.”

Posted in USA, Saudi ArabiaComments Off on With Riyadh, How Much Longer Can Washington Look The Other Way?

The Putin-Did-It Conspiracy Theory

NOVANEWS

Exclusive: A new truce agreement in Ukraine rekindles hope that the bloodshed can be reduced if not stopped, but Official Washington’s gross misunderstanding of the crisis, blaming everything on Russia’s President Putin, raises doubts and portends a potentially grave catastrophe, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The original falsehood behind the Iraq War was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and intended to use them against America either directly or by giving them to al-Qaeda. The opening lie about the Ukraine crisis was that Russian President Vladimir Putin instigated the conflict as part of some Hitlerian plan to conquer much of Europe.

Yet, while the Hussein-WMD claim was hard for the common citizen to assess because it was supposedly supported by U.S. intelligence information that was kept secret, the Putin-Ukraine lie collapses under the most cursory examination based simply of what’s publicly known and what makes sense.

President Barack Obama talks with President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation as they join other leaders en route to the APEC Family Photo at the International Convention Center in Beijing, China, Nov. 11, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama talks with President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation as they join other leaders en route to the APEC Family Photo at the International Convention Center in Beijing, China, Nov. 11, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Nevertheless, the New York Times – much as it did when it was falsely reporting breathlessly about “aluminum tubes” for Iraq’s non-existent nuclear weapons program – continues to promote U.S. government propaganda about Ukraine as fact and dismisses any rational assessment of the situation as crazy.

On Friday, the Times concluded its lead editorial with the assertion that: “What remains incontrovertible is that Ukraine is Mr. Putin’s war.” But the point is anything but “incontrovertible.” Indeed, the crisis was most certainly not instigated by Putin.

The actually “incontrovertible” facts about the Ukraine crisis are these: The destabilization of President Viktor Yanukovych’s elected government began in November 2013 when Yanukovych balked at a proposed association agreement promoted by the European Union. He sought more time after the sticker shock of learning from Kiev economic experts that the deal would cost Ukraine $160 billion in lost revenue by cutting trade with Russia.

It was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, not Vladimir Putin, who pushed the EU agreement and miscalculated the consequences, as the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel has reported. Putin’s only role in that time frame was to offer a more generous $15 billion aid package to Ukraine, not exactly a war-like act.

Yanukovych’s decision to postpone action on the EU association prompted angry demonstrations in Kiev’s Maidan square, largely from western Ukrainians who were hoping for visa-free travel to the EU and other benefits from closer ties. Putin had no role in those protests – and it’s insane to think that he did.

In February 2014, the protests grew more and more violent as neo-Nazi and other militias organized in the western city of Lviv and these 100-man units known as “sotins” were dispatched daily to provide the muscle for the anti-Yanukovych uprising that was taking shape. It is frankly nutty to suggest that Putin was organizing these militias. [See Consortiumnews.com’s When Is a Putsch a Putsch.”]

Evidence of Coup Plotting

By contrast, there is substantial evidence that senior U.S. officials were pushing for a “regime change” in Kiev, including an intercepted phone call and various public statements.

In December 2013, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, a neocon holdover, reminded Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion in their “European aspirations.” In early February, she discussed with U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt who the new leaders of Ukraine should be. “Yats is the guy,” she declared, referring to Arseniy Yatsenyuk. [See Consortiumnews.com’s Who’s Telling the Big Lie on Ukraine?”]

The Maidan uprising gained momentum on Feb. 20, 2014, when snipers around the square opened fire on police and protesters touching off a violent clash that left scores of people dead, both police and protesters. After the sniper fire and a police retreat — carrying their wounded — the demonstrators surged forward and some police apparently reacted with return fire of their own.

But the growing evidence indicates that the initial sniper fire originated from locations controlled by the Right Sektor, extremists associated with the Maidan’s neo-Nazi “self-defense” commandant Andriy Parubiy. Though the current Ukrainian government has dragged its feet on an investigation, independent field reports, including a new one from BBC, indicate that the snipers were associated with the protesters, not the Yanukovych government as was widely reported in the U.S. media a year ago.

The worsening violence led Yanukovych to agree on Feb. 21 to a deal guaranteed by three European countries. He accepted reduced powers and agreed to early elections so he could be voted out of office. Yet, rather than permit that political settlement to go forward, neo-Nazis and other Maidan forces overran government buildings on Feb. 22, forcing Yanukovych and his officials to flee for their lives.

The U.S. State Department quickly deemed this coup regime “legitimate” and Nuland’s choice, Yatsenyuk, emerged as Prime Minister, with Parubiy put in charge of national security.

In other words, there is plenty of evidence that the Ukraine crisis was started by the EU through its mishandling of the association agreement, then was heated up by the U.S. government through the work of Nuland, Pyatt and other officials, and then was brought to a boil by neo-Nazis and other extremists who executed the coup.

A Nutty Conspiracy Theory

But there is zero evidence that Putin engineered these events. There is no evidence that he got Merkel and the EU to overplay their hand; no evidence that he organized the neo-Nazi militias in Lviv; no evidence that he manipulated U.S. officials to manipulate the “regime change” behind the scenes; no evidence that he ordered the Maidan militants to attack.

Is the New York Times really suggesting that Putin pulled the strings on the likes of Merkel and Nuland, secretly organized neo-Nazi brigades, and ruthlessly deployed these thugs to Kiev to provoke violence and overthrow Yanukovych, all while pretending to try to save Yanukovych’s government – all so Putin could advance some dastardly plot to conquer Europe?

The Times often makes fun of “conspiracy theorists,” but the Times’ narrative is something that would make even the most dedicated “conspiracy theorist” blush. Yet, the Times not only asserts this crazy conspiracy theory but calls it “incontrovertible.”

Beyond the lack of evidence to support this conspiracy theory, there is no rational motive for Putin to have done what the Times claims that he did.

In the actual chronology of event, Putin was preoccupied with the Winter Olympics in Sochi when the Ukraine crisis took its turn for the worst a year ago. He was fearful that the Olympics would be marred by Chechen or other terrorism and thus was personally overseeing security.

Putin had spent some $40 billion on making the Olympics a glamorous show to introduce the new Russia to the world as a country ready to join the West. I’m told that he was very proud of Russia’s position in the G-8 and felt he had built a constructive relationship with President Barack Obama by helping him resolve crises in Syria and Iran in 2013.

The last thing Putin wanted to do was provoke a crisis in Ukraine. Nor is there any intelligence that he had designs on the Baltic States, as the conspiracy theory contends.

However, when a right-wing regime seized power in a violent coup in Ukraine on Russia’s border and then took provocative actions against Ukraine’s ethnic Russians, Putin responded to calls from Crimea – both from its parliament and a referendum – to take the peninsula back into Russia.

Putin also feared that the new powers in Kiev might give the historic Russian naval base at Sevastopol to NATO with its nuclear-armed submarines. In other words, as much as the New York Times has bandied about claims of a Russian “invasion” of Crimea, the Crimeans requested Russia’s intervention and up to 25,000 Russian troops were already there in the agreement with Ukraine over the naval base.

Reactor, Not Instigator

But the key point is that Putin was reacting to the Ukraine crisis, not instigating it. As even former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger explained to Der Spiegel, “The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest. It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia.”

Kissinger added, “Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn’t make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine.”

In this case, Kissinger is clearly right. It never made any sense for Putin to provoke the Ukraine crisis. Yet, that became the lie upon which the United States has built its increasingly aggressive policies over the past year, with politicians of all stripes now shouting that America must stand up to the madman Putin and “Russian aggression.”

This is a dangerous “group think” for a number of reasons, not the least the disturbing fact that both the United States and Russia have lots of nuclear weapons. On a less existential level, the “Putin-is-Hitler” analogy has prompted a major miscalculation on the right approach for the Obama administration to take vis a vis Putin.

As Harvard Professor Stephen M. Walt has noted, the most effective response to a crisis is different if a foreign leader is an aggressor on the march or if the leader feels cornered. The former calls for a “deterrence model,” i.e., a tough reaction. But a tough response in the latter case will only make the beleaguered leader more belligerent like a cornered animal, thus spinning the crisis into more dangerous territory under what’s known as the “spiral model.”

“When insecurity is the taproot of a state’s revisionist actions, making threats just makes the situation worse,” Walt wrote. “When the ‘spiral model’ applies, the proper response is a diplomatic process of accommodation and appeasement (yes, appeasement) to allay the insecure state’s concerns.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s ‘Realists’ Warn Against Ukraine Escalation.”]

Perhaps the new ceasefire agreement in Minsk – spearheaded by German Chancellor Merkel – will finally help defuse the crisis, with the legitimate concerns of the various sides being taken into account rationally rather than letting the past year’s hysteria continue to control events.

But the Times’ editorial doesn’t give much reason for hope that America’s upside-down “group think” has righted itself in any meaningful way. In the mainstream media’s latest repeat of the Iraq-WMD fiasco, the Times and virtually every other major news outlet remain committed to a dangerous misreading of the facts about Ukraine.

And anyone who dares point out the real history of the crisis is immediately shouted down with the anti-intellectual riposte: “Putin apologist!” — just as in 2002-2003, when anyone who doubted the certainty about Iraq’s WMD was a “Saddam apologist.”

Posted in RussiaComments Off on The Putin-Did-It Conspiracy Theory

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