Archive | November, 2016

Syria: Jihadi Fronts Fall Apart, Egypt Enters The Fight

Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front gesture as they drive in a convoy touring villages in the southern countryside of Idlib

The Syrian army (SAA) and its allies made huge progress in east-Aleppo. There, as seemingly everywhere else, the Jihadi’ fronts are breaking down. Disunity in the opposition, in reflection of disunity among their sponsors, disrupts all of their attempts for new initiatives. The largely hidden Russian air campaign behind the “rebel” frontlines diminished their material and personal reserves.

New help for the Syrian alliance will soon come in form of Egyptian forces. With various “rebel” enclaves eliminated by fighting or peace deals more Syrian troops will be freed and become available for new campaigns.

Turkey has been told in no uncertain words to pull back from its Syria (and Iraq) plans. With more forces available and under solid Russian (air) protection new SAA initiatives towards Idleb in the north of the country as well as against Raqqa in the east will now become possible.

After breaking the Jihadi front in the north-eastern part of the east-Aleppo cauldron yesterday, the defenses there fell completely apart. The Jihadis had to pull back and the whole norther third of the Jihadi held east-Aleppo is now rapidly falling to the Syrian government forces. The main reason for the defeat of the Jihadis is – tadaaah – the “lack of hospitals”:

“The revolutionaries are fighting fiercely but the volume of bombardments and the intensity of the battles, the dead and the wounded, and the lack of hospitals, are all playing a role in the collapse of these frontlines,” said an official from Jabha Shamiya, one of the biggest groups fighting against Assad in northern Syria.

The destruction of the last hospital for transsexual cats in Aleppo by a thermobaric barrel nuke must have been the tipping point of the fight. This is, I believe, the first time such a ludicrous propaganda excuse has been given for a total defeat.

In reality the Syrian forces are avoiding casualties and use their overwhelming firepower to clear the way before their infantry proceeds. This demolishes any defense line the “rebels” can set up even before the real fighting starts. Only hardened and very disciplined troops could hold such a line under fire and offer real resistance. The “rebels” can’t.

The map, via Electronic Resistance, shows the SAA progress today:

About 1,500 civilians escaped from east-Aleppo towards the SAA. (New reports say 4,000 – this proves that rebels had held these civilians hostage.) All over the U.S./UN propaganda numbers of 200,000, 250,000, 300,000 civilians in east-Aleppo are rapidly proven to be the nonsense (and financial racket) they always were. The recovered areas are almost empty of any civilians. As shown back in mid October the real number of people in in east-Aleppo were likely some 4-5,000 Jihadis (less now), half of them hardcore al-Qaeda, and probably 20,000 civilians, mostly immediate families of the fighters. (It is quite possible that even these guestimates were way too high.)

East of Aleppo city a Turkish move towards Al-Bab was halted by a Syrian airstrike under Russian protection. Erdogan’s plans for a Turkish aligned entity including at least Al-Bab, Raqqa and Manbij went up in smoke. Elijah Magnier gives an excellent overview of the interests behind the various moves in the area and the current events there: On the same day, one year apart, Russia gets its revenge and stops Turkey at the gates of al-Bab.

In the south of Syria around Damascus two more small “rebel” enclaves gave up and made peace deals with the government. Fighters who profess to want to die on the battlefield are given a chance to relocate to Idleb where they will later be eliminated (or -more likely – from where they will flee to Europe).

The Jihadi pocket in east Ghouta has been diminished over the last weeks and is down to one empty medium city and a few villages. It will be cleaned up within the coming days. An Jihadi attempt to relieve a Jihadi pocket in west Ghouta failed:

Qalaat Al Mudiq @QalaatAlMudiq – 3:49 AM – 26 Nov 2016
Rebels started a new battle in #Quneitra province aiming to break the siege of W. #Ghouta. Pre-emptive shelling ongoing.

[lots of “progress” and “successes” tweets]

Qalaat Al Mudiq ‏@QalaatAlMudiq – 6:53 AM – 27 Nov 2016 
@QalaatAlMudiq Battle stopped after disagrements btwn groups involved to break siege of W. #Ghouta & Khan Ash Sheikh evacuation abt to start

The Egyptian powers that are, mostly in the armed forces, had kicked the Muslim Brotherhood out of the government. The MB had supported the Jihadists in Syria and Libya and were drifting themselves further into a more radical direction. The Egyptian army move had come after the Saudis had urged for such. They had offered huge amounts of economic help for a new government. The MB were seen as a danger to Riyadh. Then the Saudi priorities changed. The Wahhabis suddenly made up with the political Islam ideologues in the MB. Together with the Muslim Brotherhood ruled Turkey and MB supporter Qatar the new Saudi Arabian rulers reinforced a campaign to implement Islamist rule in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

This changed the situation for Egypt. Turkey and Qatar became enemies as did their proxy forces in Libya. When the Saudis officially asked the Sisi government in Egypt to support the Muslim Brotherhood the end of the alliance was reached. The MB is THE enemy for Egypt, not ever to be allowed in power again anywhere. It also broke with the U.S. who had supported the MB everywhere. Instead friendly relations with Russia were renewed.

Cairo believes that the installation of any kind of Islamist regime in Syria would endanger Egypt. (Israel could easily transfer Jihadis it actively supports in the Syrian Golan heights to the Sinai peninsula.) It also believes that the current Saudi regime will haven fallen apart due to internal fighting by the end of 2017. It therefore now offers serious help to Syria to fight its enemies down.

A few weeks ago a high level Egyptian military delegation came to Syria to discuss their taking part in the campaign under Syrian and Russian command. It is claimed that Egyptian air planes and helicopters relocated to an airport in the Syrian Hama governate. Egypt has a large ground army and open sea access towards Syria. I can and likely will provide serious ground troop elements.

France had build two Mistral-class amphibious assault ship for Russia but, as part of sanctions over Ukraine, was not allowed to deliver them to Russia. They were, in the end, sold to Egypt. There they were equipped with Russian helicopters and electronics. It is rumored that they operate with Russian officers on board.

Each ship can deliver a full battalion, some 400-900 men and all their equipment, to the beach. With both Egyptian ships doing two rounds each from Suez to Latakia a full infantry brigade with all its ground support elements could be delivered to Syria within days. The Russian helicopters on board of the Mistrals would be the supporting air element. The Russian fleet in the eastern Mediterranean would cover the moves.

This would be a fully organized, brigade size military unit able to fight battles on its own in a coherent way. Such a unit is much more valuable that the mostly irregular Shia forces the Iranians hired to help in Syria. Those need logistic and command support from the Syrian army. The Egyptians can, given a task, run on their own. For geopolitical reasons (aka the Suez canal) neither the U.S. nor Turkey would dare to touch them.

There are currently some 4,000 Iraqi and some 4,000 Iran hired Shia forces in Syria. 400 Iranian IRCG officers are there to advise and command those. Hizbullah has send some 2,000 of its special forces Ridwan units. Russia has in addition to its air and air defense elements special forces and command elements on the ground. The Egyptian force with some 4,000 soldiers would not be huge addition but it would be a good united fighting element. The political support which such a unit symbolizes is certainly of equal if not more value.

France, which feverish supports the Jihadis in Syria, would be completely embarrassed by such a move. The whole world would laugh over its sanction move against Russia when the “Egyptian” Mistrals come in support of the Syrian government under Russian command.

If such an Egyptian move happens a Syrian government campaign towards Raqqa is suddenly not only possible but even likely. The Egyptian army has some experience fighting Jihadis in the Sinai. It is not overly shy of taking casualties and it hates the Islamists. It can easily reinforce its own units on the ground with whatever number is needed. If Egypt is serious with this, ISIS in Raqqa is toast and all U.S. plans for a “Salafist principality” in east-Syria and west-Iraq will be in shambles.

With all the above and a president Trump likely to pull back support for the Jihadis in Syria the end of the war is coming into sight. Even if Qatar and others continue their support, as it promises, for the Jihadis those will have no chance against the much better organized alliance around the Syrian government.

The strongly U.S. influenced European Council for Foreign Affairs just put out a new paper on Syria aimed at EU governments: The First Trump Test – European Policy And The Siege Of Aleppo.

The sub-headline reads:

There is no longer any real hope of deposing Assad. Europe must instead work towards an ugly deal that salvages something for the Syrian people.

A better title would have been: How the EU totally screwed up and lost out with its slavish following of U.S. insanity and its opposition to Assad and Russia.

The EU is so disunited and without any foresight and vision that it can not even handle the blackmailing by the wannabe Sultan of Turkey. Blocking all EU credits and support for the Turkish economy would bankrupt Erdogan’s government within months. Putin has shown how to handle the dude. How come no one in in Brussels (or Berlin) has learned from that?

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CIA Continues to Supply TOW Guided Missiles to Al Qaeda Affiliated ‘Syrian Rebels’ Involved in Child Beheading


Syrian “US-backed rebel group” Nour al-Din al-Zenki became widely known past July after beheading a child near Aleppo city and posting the video of this.

Initially, some mainstream media attempted to defend the ‘moderate opposition group’, explaining that it was a “mistake” and an isolated case.

However, under the pressure of public opinion, the US State Department was pushed to announce that the US may consider withdrawing its support from “rebels” if reports of beheading of 14-year old boy are confirmed.

Nour al-Din al-Zenki was a “CIA-vetted” group and was receiving TOW missiles through the CIA program.

The subsequent developments showed that child beheadings are not enough reason for the CIA to withdraw its support from Nour al-Din al-Zenki.

The group continues to use US-supplied TOW missiles.

On November 21, the group’s official Twitter page released a photo of group member, using a US-supplied missile.

Then, “moderate rebels” published a video, confirming this.

Sentense: Considering high intensity of battles in which the group is involved in Syria (for example in Aleppo city and in its countryside), there are almost no doubts that it uses newly-delivered missiles

Posted in SyriaComments Off on CIA Continues to Supply TOW Guided Missiles to Al Qaeda Affiliated ‘Syrian Rebels’ Involved in Child Beheading

Aleppo: How US-Saudi Backed “Rebels” Target “Every Syrian”

Aleppo: How US-Saudi Backed “Rebels” Target “Every Syrian”

In early November, Fares Shehabi, a member of the Syrian parliament from Aleppo, organized a trip to Aleppo for 13 Western journalists, including myself, with security provided by forces in the Syrian Arab Army.

While I had traveled to Aleppo independently as recently as July and August, for many others in the delegation, it was their first visit to the city or their first visit since the war on Syria began in 2011.

On previous visits to Aleppo, I met with the Aleppo Medical Association and saw a maternity hospital hit twice by rocket and mortar attacks by militants under Jaysh al-Fatah (the Army of Conquest), a loose alliance of anti-government terrorist groups. I met with members of a branch of the Syria Civil Defense and Christian and Muslim religious leaders. Just north of the city, I visited Nubl and Zahraa, towns besieged for more than three years by the Free Syrian Army, the Nusra Front, and other affiliated terrorist factions before the Syrian Arab Army drove them out in February of this year. I saw the liberated region of Bani Zaid and the al-Layramoun industrial district. I interacted with civilians in public parks, streets, and markets.

Ahead of my trip earlier this month, I was interested to see what might have changed following the liberation of still more areas by the SAA. I also hoped to speak with civilians who had fled the terrorist-held areas of Aleppo’s eastern districts since I had last visited, during which time eight humanitarian corridors had been established for civilians and members of terrorist factions willing to relinquish their arms or to accept safe passage to areas in Idlib and government-secured parts of western Aleppo.

However, on Nov. 4, no one fled terrorist-held areas of Aleppo. Family members of civilians still there say their loved ones are being used as human shields by groups like the Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, or Nour al-Din al-Zenki — the so-called “moderate rebels” and “opposition forces” backed by the United States, NATO, Israel and Gulf allies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Returning to Aleppo

Syrian citizens gather at the scene where two blasts exploded in the pro-government neighborhood of Zahraa, in Homs province, Syria, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016. Two blasts in the central Syrian city of Homs killed more than a dozen people and injured many others in a wave of violence. (SANA via AP)

From Damascus, the bus traveled along smooth, paved roads to Homs, where we passed the entrance to Zahraa, a neighborhood plagued by terrorist car and suicide bombs. Moving out of Homs, we continued eastward along a narrow road for about an hour until we reached the Ithriya-Khanasser road, and the last leg of the trip to Aleppo.Though the Ithriya-Khanasser road was flanked by the wreckage of buses and cars, attacked mostly by Da’esh (an Arabic acronym for the extremist group commonly referred to in the West as ISIS or ISIL) in recent years, and although Da’esh continues to creep onto sections of the road at night to lay mines, our travel there was without incident.

When I reached the southeastern suburb of Ramouseh in July, it was by taxi. The driver sped through the suburb, fearing Nusra Front snipers less than a kilometer away. He floored it for at least 500 meters, speeding through risky spots and weaving in and out of a valley in perfect range of terrorist shellings, ultimately reaching an SAA checkpoint before entering Greater Aleppo.

Castello Road was only means of entering Aleppo in August. The road, which runs into the northern part of the city, had recently been secured but still threatened by terrorist shelling.

Ramouseh was re-secured prior to our November visit, and again became the main means of entering Aleppo. In November, we traveled by bus, escorted by security, and the threat of snipers was weakened by SAA advances in recent months. Above the sniper embankment of barrels and sandbags, I had a clearer view toward Sheikh Saeed district — areas which terrorist factions had long occupied and from which they sniped and shelled Ramouseh.

One of our first stops was the Aleppo Chamber of Industry, where MP Shehabi outlined the systematic looting of Aleppo’s factories.

According to Shehabi, of the 70,000 small to large enterprises and factories which once thrived in Aleppo, only about half have survived that widespread destruction and gutting of factories. Of the roughly 35,000 enterprises now operating in Aleppo, he estimated that only about 7,000 are factories and they’re operating at just 15 percent capacity.

Shehabi said the Chamber has photo and video evidence of burglaries in factories. He continued:

“We documented the transfer of our heavy equipment, production equipment, like power generators, like textile machinery. These are heavy, not something you can smuggle easily. These would be on the highway, under the monitoring of Turkish police. Stolen production lines, how can you allow stolen production lines to enter your country without any paperwork?”

The Chamber, along with other Syrian industry associations, filed a lawsuit against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in European courts in 2013, seeking damages. That lawsuit and others launched by Syrian authorities accuse Erdoğan of not just harboring terrorists, but allowing and even enabling them to enter Syria to destroy or disassemble factories and return to Turkey with stolen machinery and hardware.

None of these legal proceedings have been resolved, and Shehabi describes the Chamber’s lawsuit as “stumbling.” Shehabi was among four of Aleppo’s top businessmen to be hit with EU sanctions in 2011. These sanctions, the MP said, represent a hurdle preventing a fair resolution.

The Chamber now operates out of a rented villa, as the historic building which housed the Chamber of Industry in the Old City was destroyed on April 27, 2014, when explosives were denoted in an underground tunnel. Shehabi said he had gone on Syrian national television, calling on governments to impose a commercial boycott of Turkey, about two weeks prior to the attack.

“They didn’t bomb the building next to it, there was only one security guard inside [no military personnel], and it’s not at the frontline, so why bomb it?” he asked, noting his suspicion that the Chamber had been deliberately targeted due to the legal action it was taking against Erdoğan.

The FSA’s underground prison in al-Layramoun

We walked through the ornately-carved entrance of a building in the al-Layramoun industrial district that once housed a dye factory. More recently, though, it’s been used as a base by the 16th Division of the Free Syrian Army. In an interior room, I noticed a 4G mobile phone card from Turkcell, Turkey’s leading mobile phone operator.

In neighboring buildings we saw bags of materials reportedly used to make the gas canister and water heater explosives known colloquially as Hell 1 and Hell 2, the latter of which can inflict significantly more damage, including leveling entire floors of houses. There were also metal fragments, which are added to explosives to inflict maximum damage. Another room contained a pile of shavings which one of the Syrian soldiers accompanying us said was used to compress explosives in the gas canister bombs which the Free Syrian Army and other terrorist groups fire upon neighborhoods in greater Aleppo.

When we approached the Nusra Front-occupied road leading toward Daher Abed Rabbo, SAA soldiers advised us to run, not walk.

Just beyond that road, bunkered three stories below ground, the Free Syrian Army’s nightmarish improvised prison for SAA captives was untouched by the bombs inflicting damage above-ground. These attacks target terrorists who fire on the civilians of Aleppo and retreat underground.

Al-Layramoun and Bani Zaid are home to the same landscape of battered buildings that one finds in areas where militants have bunkered deeply down. Seeing the destruction, some of the other journalists in our delegation mention only the physical damage to the buildings. “Buildings lay pancaked by airstrikes,” one wrote, pointing an incriminating finger at the Syrian government without giving any context as to why these areas were hammered.

The real shame is not actually the physical destruction of buildings, but the incursion into these districts by Western-backed terrorists, including the Free Syrian Army, the Nusra Front, and Da’esh, among others. Nearly six years into the needless bloodshed, their criminal and savage acts against Syrian civilians and soldiers are well-documented. And it’s common knowledge that they bunker down to avoid airstrikes.

The Free Syrian Army’s nine suffocating, improvised metal solitary confinement cells and three rooms used as regular cells in the underground prison bunker in al-Layramoun were all intact despite the aerial bombings. Buildings are devastated above-ground because of the presence of militants deep underground, where airstrikes inflict considerably less damage.

18 killed in Nov. 3 terror attacks 

On the afternoon of Nov. 3, after meeting with Dr. Mohammed Batikh, director of Al-Razi Hospital, the victims of terror attacks which had begun a few hours prior began to arrive one after another, maimed and critically injured. The vehicle bombings and bombardment of Grad missiles, among other attacks, left 18 people dead and more than 200 injured, according to Dr. Zaher Hajo, the head of forensic medicine at Al-Razi Hospital.

The body of a civilian who was killed in the Nov. 3 attacks in Aleppo. Nov. 3, 2016. (Photo: Eva Bartlett)

The corridors and emergency ward at Al-Razi Hospital, one of two state-run hospitals in Aleppo, quickly became clogged with the injured and grieving family members. In one crowded interior corridor, one of the wounded screamed out in pain: “Ya, Allah! Ya, Allah!”In another corridor, a 15-year-old boy with a cast on one leg and bandages on his head, said the mortar attack which injured him had killed his 4-year-old cousin and left his 6-year-old cousin with critical injuries.

In a front room, a mother wailed for her son who had suffered severe injuries. She screamed and pleaded for someone to save him, her only son. Not long after, though, the news came in: the 26-year-old had died. Her son, a doctor, was not the first medical professional to die in terrorists’ routine bombings of Aleppo neighborhoods.

Dr. Nabil Antaki, a gastroenterologist from Aleppo, with whom I met on my trips to Aleppo in July and August, messaged me in October about his friend and colleague, Dr. Omar, who was injured on Oct. 6 when terrorist factions unleashed an attack on Jamiliye Street, killing 10 people. Just a few days after the attack, Dr. Omar, too, died.

At the morgue behind Al-Razi Hospital on Nov. 3, inconsolable family members leaned against the wall or sat on the pavement, coming to grips with the deaths of loved ones.

One 14-year-old boy had been there on Nov. 2, when his father was killed. On Nov. 3, he returned when his mother was killed. Both of this boy’s parents are dead, both killed in terrorist attacks on the city’s New Aleppo district.

A man spoke of a 10-year-old nephew who was shot in the head by a terrorist sniper while the boy was on his roof.

A woman and her children leaned against an iron rail next to the door to the morgue, weeping over the death of her husband, their father, who was killed while parking a car. When the man’s mother arrived, she collapsed, shrieking in grief.

The body of a civilian who was killed in the Nov. 3 attacks in Aleppo. Nov. 3, 2016. (Photo: Eva Bartlett)

And in the midst of all of this, all these women and children, a car arrived at the morgue with the body of yet another victim of the day’s terror attacks, Mohammed Majd Darwish, 74. His upper body was so bloody that it was unclear whether he had been decapitated.Near the morgue, Bashir Shehadeh, a man in his forties, said his family had been displaced already from Jisr al-Shughour, a city in Idlib. His mother, some of his friends, and his cousin have been killed by terrorist factions’ shellings. He said enough was enough, and called on the SAA to eliminate the terrorist threat.

Al-Razi’s Dr. Batikh said a private hospital, Al-Rajaa, was hit by a mortar attack. “They cannot do operations now, the operating room is out of service.”

One of the most notable attacks on hospitals was the December 2013 double truck bombing of Al-Kindi Hospital, the largest and best cancer treatment hospital in the Middle East. I have previously reported on other attacks on hospitals in Aleppo, including the May 3 rocket attack which gutted Al-Dabeet, a maternity hospital, killing three women. On Sept. 10, Dr. Antaki messaged me:

“Yesterday, a rocket, sent by the terrorists, hit a maternity hospital in Aleppo in Muhafazat Street. Two persons working in the hospital were injured. No death. But the point is that it is a hospital and it was hit by a rocket.”

Dr. Batikh and Dr. Mazen Rahmoun, deputy director of Al-Razi, said the hospital once had 68 ambulances, but now there are only six. The rest, they said, were either stolen by terrorist factions or destroyed.

Aleppo’s doctors continue to treat the daily influx of injured and ill patients in spite of the dearth of ambulances and effects of Western sanctions which mean a lack of medical equipment, replacement parts, and medicine for critical illnesses like cancer.

According to the hospital’s head forensic medicine, Dr. Hajo, in the last five years, 10,750 civilians have been killed in Aleppo, 40 percent of whom were women and children. In the past year alone, 328 children have been killed by terrorist shelling in Aleppo, and 45 children were killed by terrorist snipers.

Humanitarian Crossings: Shelling of Castello Road 

Less than 100 metres away, the second of two mortars fired by terrorist factions less than 1 km from Castello Road on Nov. 4. The road and humanitarian corridor were targeted at least six times that day by terrorist factions. Nov. 4, 2016. (Photo: Eva Bartlett)

On Nov. 4, prior to our 9:30 a.m. arrival at the Bustan al-Qasr crossing and until our departure an hour later, no one had been able to cross from the area just beyond crossing, which is occupied by Jaysh al-Fatah militants.Two weeks prior to our arrival, journalists had reported that terrorist factions heavily shelled the crossing and areas around it starting in the early morning.

A Syrian general at the crossing confirmed that shelling had taken place on Oct. 20, adding that three police officers had been wounded. A journalist in the delegation asked the general what he would say to Syrian civilians like Bashir Shehadeh, who demanded that the SAA eliminate the terrorist factions.

“We need to be patient, because the civilians there are not able to leave, they are not guilty,” the general replied. “We don’t work the way that the terrorists work.”

Regarding the amnesty decree issued by President Bashar Assad in late July, the general explained that terrorists who want to be granted amnesty could lay down their arms. Those who choose to go on to Idlib would be granted safe passage by the Syrian government and army, in coordination with the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

According to the general, when two militants arrived at the Bustan al-Qasr crossing about two months ago, they surrendered their arms and proceeded under amnesty.

Five months ago, he said, 12 civilians crossed there, were treated in Aleppo’s hospitals, and returned to their homes in terrorist-held eastern Aleppo.

At the Castello Road humanitarian crossing, the large green buses which were said to be evacuating militants from areas of eastern Aleppo in recent weeks were there again, waiting to ferry away more. Ten ambulances, three buses, and 14 minivans were lined up in anticipation of any civilians or militants trying to leave terrorist-occupied areas, whether for safe passage elsewhere or to settle in government-secured areas of Aleppo.

Ten ambulances wait at the Castello Road crossing to treat anyone exiting via the humanitarian corridors established by the Syrian government and Russia, including militants who lay down their arms. Nov. 4, 2016. (Photo: Eva Bartlett)

George Sire, 25, an anesthesiologist at Salloum Hospital in Aleppo, was one of the volunteers who arrived at the crossing with five of the private hospital’s ambulances, at the request of the Syrian government.When speaking with a Syrian commander about permitting men who had used arms against Syrian civilians and soldiers to lay down their arms and reconcile, he said they are sons of the country and urged them to reconcile.

At around 1:30 p.m. the first shell struck, hitting near Castello Road. About 10 minutes later, while I was being interviewed, a second hit, this time considerably closer, within 100 meters — close enough, in fact, to create a cloud of dark smoke over the road. It prompted security to usher me away from the road and move our delegation away from the crossing.

I later learned that another five shells targeted the crossing, injuring a Syrian journalist and two Russian soldiers.

No one passed through this or any of the other seven humanitarian corridors that day.

Displaced by terrorists

For around four years, simple shelters at the Hafez al-Assad Mosque have housed around 1,000 people, all Sunni families displaced from areas occupied by militants.

Most of those with whom I spoke listed similar reasons for leaving their homes and described being in fear for their lives because of the terrorist presence.

“They came and destroyed houses and killed civilians before they attacked the state. The army is protecting us, it’s the gangs [that] are the ones destroying the country,” one man told me.

He said his two brothers in terrorist-controlled areas in eastern Aleppo are “not allowed to leave.”

“They’ve tried many times but they are prevented. If the armed groups see anyone carrying luggage, they’ll arrest them right away.”

He and others at the shelter complained that, according to their family members, the terrorist factions horde and control any food within the areas they occupy.

Like elsewhere in the city, the shelter and area immediately surrounding the mosque are routinely hit with mortars and explosive bullets.

An older man led me around a corner, pointing to a spot where he said a 29-year-old man was killed by a terrorist-fired explosive bullet.

“He was standing here. His stomach was torn open,” he told me.

The Old City: Life among ruins

The small bus ferrying over a dozen journalists and a very alert special forces soldier, Ali, to the Old City at one point suddenly bolted ahead. A sniper was staked out to our left, in an area occupied by terrorist factions roughly 500 meters away, we were told.

After entering the Old City, and crossing a street shielded from sniper fire by an earthen embankment and a metal screen, at times the only means of continuing on in the Old City was by stepping through holes hammered into the walls connecting buildings. By crossing through buildings, we avoided the snipers who are ready fire on anyone who moves on the street.

Across the narrow street, a shock of greenery stood in stark contrast to the grey tones of destruction created by years of fighting against some of the worst terrorism the world has ever known.

Rami, a Syrian soldier from Banias, explained that he had planted herbs and green onions here as he did when he had been stationed along the desert-like Ithriya-Khanasser road in the past. Rami’s soft smile and kind demeanor betrayed his personal loss: a brother killed while serving in the SAA.

While walking through the government-secured areas of Aleppo’s Old City, we came across a single vendor, Mahmoud. He used to sell traditional Arabic musical instruments, but circumstances have forced him to abandon that business in favor of selling basic goods to roughly 25 customers per day. He refuses to leave the Old City, where he’s only about 200 meters from the Nusra Front and other Jaysh al-Fatah militants.

“I’m an ordinary person,” Mahmoud said. “They destroyed everything.”

Walking past devastated shop after devastated shop, and through the graceful arches of covered markets typical of old Syrian cities, MP Fares Shehabi pointed out:

“You see the blackened ceilings? That’s from when the terrorists withdrew. They set fires to stall the advance of the Syrian army, and also to try to hide their looting. They cannot accuse the army of having bombed here, the roof is intact.”

Exiting from this particular market area, we came to a sandbagged, partially-screened area. We were given stern orders not to move forward: The famous Aleppo Citadel was ahead, and to the left and right of our position at the destroyed Carlton Hotel, terrorist snipers lay in wait.

When terrorists detonated mass amounts of explosives in tunnels underneath the Carlton Hotel in May 2014, Col. Abu Majed told us that “all of Aleppo felt it.”

“They have bombed over 20 historic buildings via tunnels,” Shehabi said. “If they were real Syrians, they would not bomb historical buildings.”

At least 7,500 shops in the Old City are gone, lost to burning, looting and utter destruction. “That’s 7,500 families,” Shehabi reminded us.

Visiting frontline targeted areas

The Syrian Catholic Church of Aleppo still has a gaping hole in one wall since being hit by terrorist shelling roughly two years ago. At the time of the attack, the congregation was inside worshipping, the choir singing.

The Syrian Catholic Church of Aleppo has been targeted with shelling five times by terrorist groups, including the Nusra Front, that occupy areas just 500 meters away. The shelling that left this hole occurred two years ago, while congregation members were worshipping, the choir singing. At least 10 people were injured. Nov. 2, 2016 (Photo: Eva Bartlett)

A church leader said it had been targeted five times, the last incident apparently involving a rocket just a few weeks prior to our arrival. Terrorist factions were an estimated 300-500 meters away, he said.He estimated that one-third of the 1,350 families who used to worship there have fled to other areas of Syria or abroad, mainly due to safety concerns.

“We were living in security and peace. These areas are being targeted, they want to force us to leave. Every Syrian is being targeted,” he told the delegation.

Some of the remaining congregation members have chosen to worship in a narrow corridor inside the building over the past two years.

Further in the city, the Maronite Church of Aleppo’s Bishop Joseph Topji said roughly two-thirds of his community of around 800 families have left, hoping to find safer conditions elsewhere.

Inside a building belonging to the church, Bishop Topji welcomed us and explained:

“We don’t have a church now. We used to have two churches, but both are destroyed. We only have this place, a chapel which holds around 70 people.”

Walking along darkened streets in Talal, an area historically rich with churches that are now destroyed or massively damaged, Shehabi urged caution: “We are 50 meters from al-Nusra. Beyond these buildings, the frontline.”

Rev. Ibrahim Nseir, pastor of the Arab Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Aleppo, led us through the Christian areas of Talal, reminding us to remain as silent as possible.

“No voices, because that will let them hear that we are here. It will be very dangerous,” he said quietly. “Quickly, ya eini… Please, everybody, quickly…”

We then took a bus to Midan district, where we walked along the darkened streets. Our Syrian military accompaniment urged the group to stay together and listen carefully.

As we walked, Rev. Nseir described attacks on schools and the area, an Armenian district, which was heavily hit.

“Here we are in one of the most targeted places,” he said, pointing out ruts in the ground from mortar strikes.

A local resident told us:

“On September 5, two gas canister bombs his this area, we had three martyrs, shebab around age 30. One was married with a 1-year-old child. Another was about to get married. Four days before his wedding, he was killed. Over six days in September, we received 85 shells.”

As we walked, Shehabi cautioned: “Bela dow, bela dow—no light. There’s a sniper, guys, there’s a sniper. Turn off your lights.” The sniper was an estimated 1 km away, according to the locals walking with us, who said snipers sometimes come within 500 meters.

With night settled in, it was difficult to ascertain the intensity of the damage, but the darkened homes and streets spoke volumes of a neighborhood abandoned by former residents with deep safety concerns.

According to a representative of the Syrian Catholic Church of Aleppo, around one-third of the congregation’s 1,350 families have fled to other areas of Syria or even gone abroad, primarily seeking security and distance from the mortars and rockets of terrorist factions. Congregation members stopped worshiping in the church chapel two years ago after repeated instances of shelling. They now gather in a small interior corridor where they feel somewhat safer. Nov. 2, 2016. (Photo: Eva Bartlett)

Aleppo’s religious leaders defy divisiveness 

Inside his church, a new structure built about a year ago to replace the historic church destroyed by terrorists in years prior, Rev. Nseir introduced three Sunni leaders from the city: Dr. Rami Obeid, Dr. Rabih Kukeh, Sheikh Ahmed Ghazeli.

“These Sunni leaders are considered ‘infidels’ by al-Nusra and company,” Nseir said, explaining that they don’t follow the distorted Wahhabi ideology guiding the Western-backed terrorist factions like the Nusra Front and others which had been deemed “moderate rebels” and “opposition forces.”

Before turning the floor over to these religious leaders, Rev. Nseir noted:

“When the church was destroyed, the first person to call me was Mufti Hassoun, who told me, ‘Don’t worry, reverend, we’ll rebuild the church.’”

Dr. Kukeh spoke generally on the multi-denominational culture of Syria:

“The mosaic we are living in Syria is incomparable to any way of living all over the world. Christians and Muslims, Sunnis and Shiites. There is no discrimination based on religion or sect. The propaganda spread throughout the media have no roots here.”

Rev. Ibrahim Nseir, pastor of the Arab Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Aleppo, with three top Sunni scholars and leaders, Dr. Rami Obeid, Rabih Kukeh, Sheikh Ahmed Ghazeli, who reject Wahhabism. Dr. Kukeh said of the terrorist factions: “Those who are killing the Sunnis are the same who claim that they are defending the Sunnis.” Nov. 2, 2016. (Photo: Eva Bartlett)

In regards to the terrorists who portray themselves as freedom-fighting jihadists, Dr. Kukeh said:

“Those who are killing the Sunnis are the same who claim that they are defending the Sunnis. The shells that hit us daily are sent by them.”

He named six Sunni sheikhs in Syria, most in Aleppo, who were assassinated by terrorists for not joining them. One of them, Sheikh Abdel Latif al-Shami, was tortured to death in July 2012.

Dr. Kukeh, who said he named his oldest son after the former Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, “because I love that man,” explained that in 2012 he was living in eastern Aleppo when terrorists began to occupy districts there. He was targeted for assassination because he did not agree with the terrorists’ ideologies.

He said he was convicted of charges related to his writing for a local publication, his son’s name, and a lack of anti-government demonstrations emanating from his mosque. Those demonstrations never occurred, he said, because he never encouraged them like other Wahhabi sheikhs did elsewhere.

The conversation drifted from the source of terrorism in Syria, Wahhabism, and its distorted, un-Islamic nature, to the unity I’ve heard Syrians all over speak of. One of the sheikhs, his name lost in a flutter of voices, repeated what’s become a familiar sentiment among Syrian civilians and soldiers:

“Aleppo is one, Syria is one. We reject the division of Aleppo, we reject the division of Syria.”

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The Imperative to Democratize Artificial Intelligence

ai_0 artificial intelligence

MIT Technology Review recently published an article titled,An AI Ophthalmologist Shows How Machine Learning May Transform Medicine.”

In it, it describes how Google researchers at their DeepMind subsidiary used artificial intelligence (AI) to scan images of human eyes to detect a common form of blindness as well as, or better than trained experts can.

They achieved this by using the same machine learning techniques Google and other tech giants including Facebook use to analyze images that show up on their web platforms. Instead of creating complex programs to handle every conceivable detail in an image, researchers instead teach machines how to learn on their own when exposed to large volumes of pre-tagged examples.

In the MIT Technology Review article, DeepMind’s algorithm studied some 128,000 retinal images that were already classified by ophthalmologists.

The breakthrough is only the latest in a long line of advances in AI. AI machine learning is already being widely used in real-world applications, including sifting through the United Kingdom’s National Health Service’s records, automatically tagging – and flagging – images, videos, and voice across vast social networks, improving efficiency at utility plants by spotting trends and automatically adjusting power consumption, inputs, and outputs, as well as developing protocols for both pharmaceutical production and genetic engineering.

DeepMind’s research into analyzing medical imagery is already set to be integrated into its UK NHS collaboration, according to the Guardian in an article titled,Google DeepMind pairs with NHS to use machine learning to fight blindness,” which reports:

Google DeepMind has announced its second collaboration with the NHS, working with Moorfields Eye Hospital in east London to build a machine learning system which will eventually be able to recognise sight-threatening conditions from just a digital scan of the eye.

The collaboration is the second between the NHS and DeepMind, which is the artificial intelligence research arm of Google, but Deepmind’s co-founder, Mustafa Suleyman, says this is the first time the company is embarking purely on medical research. An earlier, ongoing, collaboration, with the Royal Free hospital in north London, is focused on direct patient care, using a smartphone app called Streams to monitor kidney function of patients.

In essence, those who control AI technology have access to algorithms that can perform specific tasks better than any trained human can. This confers on those who control this technology an immense advantage and creates disparity those without AI technology have no means of competing against.

Corporations and nations wielding this power, as the number of applications expands, represent an alarming, emerging disparity that may lead to the same sort of abuses and exploitation other forms of technological disparity throughout history have wrought.

Democratizing AI 

Effort into developing AI applications involves big-data. Training machines rather than merely programming them, means exposing them to large amounts of information they can sift through and train themselves with. In order to do this, not only do large amounts of information need to be collected, they need to be tagged or otherwise classified so machines have a baseline to improve against.

A deep learning developer box, via CADnetwork.

The development of these large data sets, as well as developing algorithms to exploit them, requires (at the moment) large numbers of participants outside of corporations like Google and their subsidiaries like DeepMind.

Toward that end, opensource software libraries for machine learning, like Google’s TensorFlow are available online for free. GitHub, an online development repository, offers access to a wide range of other available machine learning libraries coders and programmers can use.

The physical hardware currently being used to build deep learning machines include GPUs (Graphics Processing Units) similar to those found in high-end gaming computers. Instructions are online on how to build deep learning machines, including information provided by companies like NVIDIA which make commercially available GPUs.

While it remains to be seen what individual or independent groups of developers can achieve in terms of democratizing this technology, it may be in the best interests of nation-states to begin developing their own AI programs rather than wait for Google, Facebook, and even China’s Baidu to “share” this technology with them.

It may also be in their best interests to examine the merits of promoting the democratization of this technology. Where a lack of resources to acquire high-level researchers at an institutional level exists, democratizing and thus tapping a larger pool of talent to even the odds in the AI race while also raising public literacy regarding this increasingly pivotal technology may be an alternative option.

Research into AI cannot be “banned” and breakthroughs cannot be “un-invented.” With the tools already widely (and in some cases, freely) available to advance AI, attempts to put this civilization-changing technology “back in the box” will only waste time and resources. The only way to counter the harmful application of AI is by possessing an equal or greater capacity to utilize the technology and increase the number of people both educated in how it works, and capable of applying it in reaction to harmful exploitation of it.

Just like information technology, nuclear weapons, or even firearms tilted the global balance of power in favor of those who initially wielded them before more acquired and exploited these technologies, AI too poses a threat unless and until it is more widely adopted and democratized.

With the power to focus on and master any task at superhuman levels, we ignore the challenge to balance this emerging power at our own peril.


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Fake Catholic Groups and the “Catholic Spring” Emails


Beginning in 2007, orthodox Catholic writers including myself wrote dozens of articles in an attempt to expose the funding and duplicitousness of two fake Catholic groups: the OSF funded Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United. (For example, see here and here and here.) Now, with the release of the leaked emails this week from longtime Democratic Party operative and current Clinton campaign chair, John Podesta, there is confirmation that Podesta personally helped to launch these two progressive groups to infiltrate the Catholic Church in an attempt to provide a liberal revolt against the US bishops. Calling it a “Catholic Spring,” Podesta acknowledged that he “created” these groups to begin a progressive revolution in the Catholic Church.

In a 2012 email to Podesta—with the subject line of “opening for a Catholic Spring?”—a progressive activist named Sanford Newman, President of Voices for Progress, conspired with Podesta to create a “Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic Church.” Podesta responded to the suggestion by claiming that he had already created Catholic groups ready to act when needed: “We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this.”

This is not a surprise, but it is vindication for those of us who have been warning about these groups for nearly a decade. In 2008, some of us began to expose the source of the funding for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United, as well as the devious activities they engaged in as they attempted to diminish the authority of those bishops opposing the Affordable Care Act. Some of us were punished by the Obama administration for our journalistic work through punitive political audits by the IRS.  But most of us continued to defend the Church and her leaders against what we knew then was an orchestrated attack by the Obama administration. In a 2009 Wall Street Journal op-ed, I wrote that “when Mr. Obama was running for president, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United tried to neutralize the abortion issue throughout his campaign—suggesting that his proposals on social justice issues like poverty were the real way to reduce abortion rates without restricting abortion rights.”

In the leaked emails to Podesta, Democrat activist Newman suggests that they exploit the US bishops’ opposition to the Affordable care Act’s mandate for contraception and asks whether the Catholic Health Association would side with progressives in their offensive against the Church.  We know now that Sr. Keehan, as leader of the Catholic Health Association, did indeed side against the USCCB in helping to pass Obama’s health care act—an act replete with funding for abortion and mandates for contraception.

Once President Obama was elected, he appointed Alexia Kelley, formerly the founding Director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, to head his Obama’s Center for Faith Based and Community Initiatives.  Her office became heavily involved in helping to pass the Affordable Care Act—despite protestations from the USCCB.  Kelley brought a decade (1993-2002) of experience of working on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development for the Bishops Conference—during which time she helped funnel more than seven million dollars to ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now).  Under criminal investigation in several states,

ACORN’s voter registration drives helped to elect President Obama.  Chris Korzen, then the leader of Catholics United—the sister organization of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good—and a leader of the Catholic Voting Project in 2004 (another Democrat funded organization), organized support for pro-choice Kathleen Sebelius’s appointment as secretary of Health and Human Services by gathering signatures for an online petition titled “Catholic for Sebelius.”  Enlisting the help of progressive Catholic leaders like Sr. Carol Keehan, and Catholic Sen. Robert Casey (D) to persuade people that the Affordable Care Act was “pro-life legislation,” these organizations attempted to marginalize anyone who presented an alternative narrative.

While Sr. Keehan claimed that President Obama’s health care reform “draws on Catholic social teachings,” and was an “ethical necessity, a building block for the common good of the nation,” the bishops realized that the health care act had contraception mandates that included abortifacients and could not be allowed. For all of her lobbing efforts, Sr. Keehan was awarded one of the signing pens from President Obama when he signed the Affordable Care legislation.  In June 2015, President Obama was asked to give the keynote address at the Catholic Health Association’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. “It has been my privilege,” said Sr. Keehan in introducing Obama, “to work with the president and his team over the past seven years”.

Korzen, as Director of Catholics United, claimed that his organization was simply a non-partisan Catholic social justice organization interested in “following Church teachings”. Yet his statements and activities have always contradicted his assertions. The Catholics United website revealed that the organization began its advocacy work in the spring of 2004 when “a group of Catholic activists and friends formed the Catholic Voting Project to promote the U.S. Catholic bishops’ 2003 document Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility.” Claiming that the mission of the Catholic Voting Project was to encourage a public dialogue about faith and politics, the Voting Project was criticized early on by orthodox Catholics such as Catholic Answers founder Karl Keating as a “front” for electing Senator John Kerry as President.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Kelley teamed with Democratic Party operatives James Salt, Korzen, and other leaders of Catholics United to help neutralize the abortion issue by casting it in pro-Democratic Party terms, claiming that reducing poverty was the better way to reduce abortion.  Kelley was joined at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good by other colleagues from the USCCB, including John Gehring, Tom Chabolla and Francis Xavier Doyle.  Gehring parlayed his position as assistant media director at the USCCB to a communications position at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. Today, Gehring works as a senior writer and Catholic outreach coordinator at Jim Wallis’ Soros-supported Faith in Public Life where he continues his attacks on the Catholic bishops who disagree with his progressive politics. Gehring, who wrote a 2015 book about Pope Francis’ “radical” challenge to the “American Catholic Church”, was assisted in his work to helping to elect progressive politicians at the offices of Faith in Public Life by Nick Sementelli, another former employee of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

Like Alexia Kelley, Tom Chabolla worked at the USCCB’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development before he went to work as the assistant to the president of the SEIU, the Service Employees International Union.  Chabolla served as one of several union leaders on the Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good Advisory Board.  The highest level “graduate” of the USCCB is Francis X. Doyle who was the associate general secretary of the USCCB before he became the treasurer-secretary of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.  In this capacity, Doyle played an important role in helping to pass the Affordable Care Act.  Publicly identifying himself as a former associate general secretary of the USCCB, Doyle always implied that he speaks for Catholics.

During the time Korzen led Catholics United as a lobbying organization (501c4), he used bullying tactics against faithful Catholic writers who attempted to expose his questionable activities. Korzen was instrumental in triggering the political audit of William Donohue, the leader of the Catholic League. Donohue found out about Korzen’s role in triggering the audit from a CNN reporter. It is likely that Korzen also played an important role in triggering my IRS audit also—although the Obama administration has refused to respond fully to three Freedom of Information Act  requests from Atty. Charles LiMandri on my behalf.

Now, with the release of the Podesta emails, there is confirmation that the claims of the two organizations were lies from the start. The two groups were never created to help support the bishops.  On the contrary, they were created from with the intention of provoking a revolt against the bishops who are, as Sanford Newman snidely wrote, still “stuck in the Middle Ages.” While Korzen seems to have disappeared from politics, Alexia Kelley is now ensconced as the leader of yet another major Catholic philanthropy organization.  And Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good continues its commitment to electing Democrats primarily through its newest initiative Millennial—a journal founded and funded through Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good targeted to young Catholics.  Like its parent organization, Millennial continues the misleading claims that they “aim to move beyond partisan and ideological divisions, bringing together all those who support the global common good and the worth and dignity of the human person.”  While they have attempted to remove all traces of their connection with Podesta’s Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good on their website, their donor page is still hosted on the Catholics in Alliance website.

Newman, in his February 11, 2012 e-mail to John Podesta, wrote:

This whole controversy with the bishops opposing contraceptive coverage even though 98% of Catholic women (and their conjugal partners) have used contraception has me thinking . . . There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church. Is contraceptive coverage an issue around which that could happen. The Bishops will undoubtedly continue the fight.

Yes, there needs to be a “Catholic spring”, but not the sort envisioned by the clueless Newman (who admitted his “total lack of understanding of the Catholic church”), and Church leaders need to continue the fight, even if some of them lack a stomach for the so-called “culture wars”. It will require, among other things, an attentiveness to how underhanded, misleading, cynical, and even bigoted are the constant political machinations.

Thankfully, some do understand. In an essay posted earlier today on the First Thingssite, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput recounts being approached in 2008, prior to the Obama-McCain presidential election, by two Catholics United operatives:

They voiced great concern at the manipulative skill of Catholic agents for the Republican Party. And they hoped my brother bishops and I would resist identifying the Church with single-issue and partisan (read: abortion) politics.

It was an interesting experience. Both men were obvious flacks for the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party—creatures of a political machine, not men of the Church; less concerned with Catholic teaching than with its influence. And presumably (for them) bishops were dumb enough to be used as tools, or at least prevented from helping the other side. Yet these two young men not only equaled but surpassed their Republican cousins in the talents of servile partisan hustling. Thanks to their work, and activists like them, American Catholics helped to elect an administration that has been the most stubbornly unfriendly to religious believers, institutions, concerns and liberty in generations.

As Archbishop Chaput notes, “I never saw either young man again. The cultural damage done by the current White House has—apparently—made courting America’s bishops unnecessary.” Perhaps. But what is necessary is a clear vision of the serious challenges facing Catholics now and far into the future from those who work to not only influence the Church but to manipulate and mislead her under the guise of “Catholic” labels.

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Jill Stein’s Vote-Recounts Aim for a Hillary Clinton Victory

clinton stein

Prior to the U.S. election, Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and the Obama White House, were saying that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was aiming to make Americans distrust the results of the November election. Of course, at that time, Clinton was considered almost certain to win.

Here was a typical piece of their campaign-propaganda at that time — the time when the expectation was that if there would be any challenge to the election-results, it would be coming from Trump, not from Clinton:

However, after Clinton turned out to be the loser in the election’s initial results, the face on that magazine-cover ought to be Jill Stein’s, instead of Vladimir Putin’s, because Stein is actually the person who turns out to be the prime mover in the attempt to discredit the initial outcome of November’s election.

The Clinton campaign is now joining Jill Stein’s effort to switch the results in three states — Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — that barely went tor Trump in the vote-count (Stein is ignoring to have vote-recounts in the states that Hillary had barely won: New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Nevada; so, this is hardly a non-partisan operation).

Furthermore, an article by Steve Rosenfeld at the anti-Russian website alternet headlined on November 26th, «Green Recount Effort Poised to Explore Whether Russia Hacked the Vote for Trump: The stakes and lines of inquiry became clearer as the Clinton campaign joined the effort». This fascinating report from a different anti-Russian propaganda site, indicates that «the first recount petition filed by the Greens, in Wisconsin, primarily focused on Russian hacking, not on the more easily understood line of inquiry of different voting technologies reporting different margins of victory for Trump despite their locations».

Rosenfeld supported that line of attack against a Trump win, citing as evidence for it an article at the anti-Russian website Medium, by an anti-Russian computer scientist at the University of Michigan, who argued that Russia possessed both the capacity and the will to throw the election to Trump. That professor cited as his sources other anti-Russian entities, such as the Obama Administration, and the rabidly anti-Russian Ukrainian regime that Obama had installed in a bloody coup (fronted by ‘democracy protesters’in Kiev during February 2014 (and which even a CIA-friendly American intelligence-expert called «the most blatant coup in history»). The Michigan anti-Russian professor said:

«Federal agencies publicly asserted that senior officials in the Russian government commissioned these attacks. Russia has sophisticated cyber-offensive capabilities, and has shown a willingness to use them to hack elections. In 2014, during the presidential election in Ukraine, attackers linked to Russia sabotaged the country’s vote-counting infrastructure and, according to published reports, Ukrainian officials succeeded only at the last minute in defusing vote-stealing malware that was primed to cause the wrong winner to be announced».

(Where that anti-Russian professor linked «election in Ukraine,» the source linked-to was the anti-Russian Christian Science Monitor, headlining in June 2014, «Ukraine election narrowly avoided ’wanton destruction’ from hackers (+video): A brazen three-pronged cyber-attack against last month’s Ukrainian presidential elections has set the world on notice – and bears Russian fingerprints, some say». The «Russian fingerprints» that were actually identified in that article, however, were not at all the Russian government, but «pro-Russia hackers, [who] infiltrated Ukraine’s central election computers and deleted key files, rendering the vote-tallying system inoperable», and who promptly posted online «spilling e-mails and other documents onto the web», which hardly seems like the sort of surreptitious election-manipulation operation that the professor, and Clinton, and Stein, are allegedly trying to document to have occurred in the Trump-Clinton electoral contest.)

So, all of that professor’s sources were anti-Russian and accepted U.S.-government propaganda without question — and furthermore cited sources as being evidence for hypotheses that they didn’t actually support.

Rosenfeld’s article noted that that professor’s article had prompted «the Clinton campaign’s top lawyer, Marc Elias» to seek a recount in the three states that in the initial counts had barely tipped to Trump: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. And, coincidentally Jill Stein had already been seeking funding to do precisely that; so, the Clinton campaign was now conveniently jumping aboard her bus (if it wasn’t actually Clinton’s bus from the very start — and funded by Clinton’s billionaires).

Both CNN and the ‘alternative news’ site alternet, and other ’news’ sites, quoted the Clinton campaign’s lawyer, Elias, who wrote at Medium, that, «just yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the Russian government was behind much of the ‘fake news’ propaganda that circulated online in the closing weeks of the election». (Was he referring to the fake news at sites, and print-publications, such as TIME? No.) On November 27th, I headlined «The Lying Washington Post Gets Exposed, And All Major U.S. ‘News’ Media Refuse To Report It», and documented, both from my own research and from the research by two reporters at The Intercept, that the Washington Post ‘news’ story cited there by the Clinton lawyer was itself fake ‘news’, an outright lie. Instead of America’s ‘news’ media publicizing the exposing of the hoax by the Washington Post, which had been based upon a hoax started by unnamed persons, America’s ’news’ media, and the Clinton campaign’s lawyer, were still citing that hoax, by ‘PropOrNot’ and spread virally now by the WP and other U.S.-government fronts, or ‘news’ media, as being their authority.

On November 28th, TIME headlined «What You Need to Know About the Wisconsin Recount», and a sub-headed section there was:

«What is Clinton’s role?

Peripheral. The effort is being led by Stein, who is filing petitions and raising the money necessary to secure the recount in each state. Though Clinton officials have weighed in on some of Trump’s responses, insight into the Clinton camp’s thoughts on the recount was provided by Elias via Medium».

Subscriptions to the mainstream ‘news’ media have been soaring ever since these medias’ predictions regarding who would almost certainly win the Trump-Clinton electoral contest became disconfirmed by subsequent events. This is like what had happened after those media had told us in 2002 and 2003 that Saddam Hussein must be overthrown because of his weapons of mass destruction. At such times as this, most people seek the assurance of obtaining their information only from ‘the top quality news sources’. And, of course, all of those ‘news’ sources validate all of the other ones; so, those are the ones which benefit the most from the public’s confusions and uncertainties. This is the way ‘democracy’ functions. It’s built on trust. (Trust in ‘authority’, of course.)

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Obama Extends Global Reach of US Special Operations Death Squads


In major actions reported only briefly by the establishment press, President Obama has given vast new scope to the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), authorizing it to carry out assassinations across the globe.

The units of JSOC have long been employed by the chiefs of the six major regional military commands, such as Centcom, which covers the Middle East and Central Asia, to conduct counter-terrorism operations. One such unit, Seal Team Six, carried out the assassination of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

Obama has approved a proposal to give JSOC independent authority to operate outside the regional commands, essentially as a globalized assassination force. JSOC units will bypass the regional commanders and report directly to Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in the Pentagon.

According to the Washington Post, “The missions could occur well beyond the battlefields of places like Iraq, Syria and Libya, where Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) has carried out clandestine operations in the past. When finalized, it will elevate JSOC from being a highly-valued strike tool used by regional military commands to leading a new multi-agency intelligence and action force.”

The mandate of the new formation, to be called the “Counter-External Operations Task Force,” or Ex-Ops in Pentagon jargon, will embrace the entire planet. This means US military death squads could be sent to virtually any location, from European cities to South American jungles, including the United States itself.

According to the Post, a reorganization making counter-terrorism an independent, global command has been discussed in the Pentagon for 15 years, since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but it was always rejected on the grounds that it would cause friction with the regional commanders and create duplication in command structures.

The newspaper did not address the question of why now, a decade-and-a-half later, the Obama administration has decided to press forward with the new global counter-terrorism initiative. The decision is likely, at least in part, a response to the debacle of the US “war on terror” from the standpoint of the global aims of American imperialism.

The US wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria and repeated drone strikes in other countries, including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, have inflicted catastrophic levels of death and destruction, but they have not achieved the hoped-for hegemonic control of the region and its vast energy resources. Obama’s decision represents a determination to escalate US military violence in Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.

Another likely consideration is the possibility that the ongoing military offensives against Islamic State territories in Syria and Iraq, and particularly the siege of Mosul, could lead to thousands of ISIS militants turning to terrorist attacks outside the Middle East.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter traveled to Paris last month with SOCOM Commander Raymond Thomas for talks with security officials from several European countries. A major topic was the impact on Europe of a sudden weakening in the military position of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Carter told his European counterparts that JSOC “has been put in the lead” of countering ISIS external operations, the first mention of the impending Pentagon reorganization.

The Post report sought to present the Obama-approved reorganization as an effort to set limits on the operations of special forces under the incoming Trump administration, including “approval by several agencies before a drone strike and ‘near certainty’ that no civilians will be killed guidelines.” But these restrictions are for cosmetic purposes only and have not stopped the mass slaughter of civilians by drone missile warfare.

Moreover, Trump is not bound in any way by executive orders issued by Obama. The fascistic president-elect has already made his intentions clear, as far as US Special Forces operations are concerned. He has vowed to order the killing of the wives and children of suspected ISIS fighters, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

The latest White House orders serve to facilitate these homicidal intentions. Less than a month ago, Obama was campaigning against the election of Trump, denouncing him as unfit to be commander-in-chief and as a menace to the world. Now, as Foreign Policy magazine reported, Obama is “handing the incoming Trump team tools to wage war that no president has held before.”

In one particular theater of US counter-terrorism operations, Somalia, Obama has taken additional action to escalate the carnage by declaring the Islamist group al-Shabab to be part of the armed conflict authorized by the US Congress in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks.

The legal maneuver, reported Monday by the New York Times, demonstrates the infinitely expandable scope of the US-declared “war on terror.” The Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed by Congress on September 14, 2001, approved military action against Al Qaeda and associated forces, including the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The 2001 AUMF has been interpreted by the Bush and Obama administrations as a blanket authorization for military action wherever the president claims to find a connection to Al Qaeda, no matter how tenuous. Al-Shabab was not founded until 2007, six years after the 9/11 attacks, in response to the US-backed invasion of Somalia by Ethiopian troops. It has never conducted operations outside of East Africa.

The Times noted that the Somalia decision was one of a series of Obama actions expanding the military’s authority, including broadening the scope of air strikes in Afghanistan and approving air strikes against Sirte, the Libyan city held by supporters of ISIS. More than 400 air strikes followed, pounding into rubble a city already devastated by five years of civil war following the 2011 US-NATO bombing campaign.

The preparations to reinforce the pseudo-legal basis of the war in Somalia no doubt began well before the election, when Obama expected to hand off authority to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But it has continued uninterrupted after Trump’s victory, and as the Times reported, it is “a move that will strengthen President-elect Donald J. Trump’s authority to combat thousands of Islamist fighters in the chaotic Horn of Africa nation.”

Earlier this month, the British-based Guardian reported that “Barack Obama will not tighten the rules governing US drone strikes ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration.” An Amnesty International USA official, Naureen Shah, told the newspaper, “Obama has normalized the idea that presidents get to have secret large-scale killing programs at their disposal.”

These events shed a new and sinister light over the reports of frequent closed-door discussions between Obama and Trump during the three weeks since the November 8 election. “They’ve been talking regularly on any number of issues,” Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program Sunday.

Obama was at pains, in his first post-election statement, to dismiss the bitter vituperation of the election campaign, declaring that the electoral struggle between the Democrats and Republicans was merely “an intramural scrimmage.” This is profoundly true: both parties represent the same class, the American financial aristocracy, and its global interests, defended in the final analysis by death and destruction inflicted by the American military machine.

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Donald Trump’s USA: Global Empire or Fortress America? ‘Video’

trump élection

While on the campaign trail, President-Elect Donald J. Trump made a range of statements suggesting a shift away from a policy of interventionism, combined with a focus on safeguarding US borders and jobs at the expense of the dominant ideology of globalism. Can and will he deliver on these promises? There are many reasons to believe he will genuinely push US foreign policy in this direction, but at the same time he will face obstacles on his path.

One of the factors clearly helping him is the increasingly indisputable fact that globalism as an ideology has been discredited, except, ironically, among the liberal “creative classes” and among the financial elites. The rest of the society and of the elite is increasingly skeptical of such policies if not downright opposed to them, which means they are willing to experiment with economic nationalism and even isolationism.

Trump also benefits from the fact that nearly all neo-conservatives have endorsed the Hillary candidacy, apparently convinced her victory was all but inevitable. Being on the losing side, they have eliminated themselves from consideration for positions within the Trump Administration, and the early personnel choices reflect it. The early pick of the former CIA Director James Woolsey is indicative of the gradual shift toward the Fortress America model. While Woolsey did support the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he notably refrained from calling for a “no-fly zone” over Syria and he is also in favor of expanding US energy production in order to reduce the dependence on Middle Eastern oil, which is a prerequisite for the US political and military disengagement from the region.

Another prominent figure in the Trump camp is General Michael Flynn who, like Woolsey, comes from the intelligence community, prioritizes the Islamist threat, and, like Woolsey, is a former Democrat who can’t find a home in the Democratic Party that has been taken over by the neo-conservatives. Tellingly, Flynn attended a high-profile dinner in Moscow in 2015, and delivered a speech at the 2016 GOP convention from which the anti-Russian tone of the Democratic campaign were missing. One also must not forget that the most important official in the Trump Administration will be Vice President Mike Pence whose primary focus is domestic US politics, with an eye on creating jobs and reducing the size of the government.

That is not to say any of them are in principle opposed to “global empire,” but with one caveat:  the neocons seem committed no matter what the cost and risk, while Trump’s people have in the past supported various trade agreements, invasions, and international confrontations, including Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine, as long as the cost was low.  Whereas the neocons can be fairly described as psychologically disturbed, Trump’s conservatives are cost-and-benefit pragmatists. A decade ago, it did seem the “global empire” had no adverse consequences.

Not anymore. Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Syria have only imposed costs on the US, with no benefits in sight. Millions of migrants and refugees, dislodged by a combination of free trade policies and color revolutions, are a political problem for both EU and Europe. Last but not least, Russia’s political and military responses to NATO aggression against Ukraine and Syria, and its ability to withstand, and even benefit from, Western economic pressure, makes the prospect of pursuing “global empire” policies increasingly costly and risky, while the demonstrated effectiveness of Russian policies make Russia appear as an attractive potential ally. Trump’s election was hopefully the event necessary to tip the scales toward the “Fortress America” strategy relying on a combination of strengthening US borders, making the country less dependent on international trade and resources, and reducing the cost of international engagements.

At the same time the “global empire” camp will not go away without a fight, even though the cards it is holding are very weak indeed. Not only have they associated themselves with a losing candidate, their policies’ lack of success means they have no credible blueprint to offer. Attempts to discredit Trump using sex scandals or alleged links to the Kremlin have had no effect and may in fact have backfired. The weak “color revolution”-like demonstrations in various US cities are having no effect. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Trump-Pence team manages to dissuade the mainstream media from continuing the negative coverage of the president-elect in order to force him to stray from his chosen path. One can also envision pressure on Trump being exerted through pressuring the members of his family using scandals, in order to “teach” him that defying the US “deep state” will be costly. Similar techniques have been used about several international leaders, with Ukraine’s President Yanukovych being effectively neutralized during the Maidan by the massed propaganda barrage. Trump does benefit, however, from his core constituencies simply not believing US mainstream media.

At a minimum, the “global elites” will attempt to find as much compromising information concerning Trump, his family, and close associates as possible, in order to make him an “offer he can’t refuse” backed up by a sizable financial “consolation prize”. If Trump refuses to succumb to direct and indirect pressure and attempts to pursue even part of what he promised during the campaign, Trump’s opponents will embark on more drastic measures, including a Maidan-like permanent demonstration aimed at tarnishing Trump’s reputation or even an assassination attempt. While the former is highly likely, the latter is somewhat less plausible because it would result in elevate Trump to martyrdom and also set a precedent for future assassinations, which is something the US elite fears greatly.  However, Trump will have to deal with tremendous and constant psychological pressure that will be exerted on him through his close associates, family, and of course the media, in order to disorient him and throw him off course.

Moreover, Trump’s political foes will pursue an international approach, using NATO and EU as means of exerting pressure on the new administration, through military provocations if need be. US, being a relatively sparsely, resource-rich country not unlike Russia, can pursue a “Fortress America” strategy. The EU would find it much more difficult to do so without embracing authoritarian governance, as it requires a “Lebensraum”-like sphere of influence that will provide natural resources which the continent lacks. But this Europe has no Grande Armee or Wehrmacht– it has to rely on US military power and subversion. Hence the  hysterical European reaction to the US election, for the adoption of a “Fortress America” strategy by the US renders EU’s own strategy of expansion obsolete.

Deciding what to do about the US relationship to Europe that has become a major net drain on US resources will therefore be a major challenge for the Trump Administration. If it is pulled down the same path as its predecessor, it will ultimately be because of its inability to redefine its relations with an increasingly burdensome and costly set of allies on the other side of the Atlantic, and for this reason the outcome of the upcoming elections in Germany and France is of critical importance.

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US-backed “Rebels” Face Defeat in Aleppo


In what is being described as the worst defeat for US-backed forces since the outset of the war for regime-change in Syria nearly six years ago, government troops, backed by forces from the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and Iraqi Shia militias, have retaken over 40 percent of eastern Aleppo, the last urban stronghold of the so-called “rebels.”

According to a report from Iran, which, together with Russia, is a principal backer of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, Syrian army units have conquered 20 square kilometers out of the total of 45 square kilometers making up eastern Aleppo.

The government advance has been extremely rapid, suggesting a rout of the US-backed militias. The ground offensive follows two weeks of intense Syrian air strikes, launched after a month-long cessation of bombing by both Syrian and Russian warplanes.

Syrian government media reported that the army had captured the Sakhour area and was clearing it of mines. Government control of this part of the city would effectively split the area held by the “rebels” in two.

The government advance has led to tens of thousands of civilians fleeing the areas controlled by the Islamist militias for safety in both government-controlled western Aleppo and the Sheik Maqsoud district held by the Kurdish YPG militia.

The YPG has joined in the offensive against eastern Aleppo, further complicating the US intervention in Syria. While Washington has backed the Islamist militias fighting the Assad government, it has also sought to use the Kurdish YPG as its principal proxy force in the US military campaign against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in Syria.

Turkey, Washington’s NATO ally in the region, has also sent troops into Syria, ostensibly to combat ISIS, but directed principally at preventing the Syrian Kurdish forces from consolidating control over territory near the Turkish border. As a result, on multiple fronts Washington is backing forces that are fighting against each other.

The civilians fleeing eastern Aleppo told stories of the horrors of the Russian-Syrian government bombing campaign as well as the repression and terror carried out by the Islamists controlling the neighborhoods in the east. It has been widely reported that the US-backed militias previously shot civilians trying to leave.

Before the war began in 2011, Aleppo was Syria’s second-largest city as well as its commercial capital.

Western Aleppo, where approximately 1.5 million people live–as opposed to less than 200,000 in the “rebel”-held eastern part of the city–is under the control of the Syrian government. It has come under indiscriminate mortar fire from the US-backed rebels aimed against the civilian population.

Both the Russian media and the Washington Post reported Monday that US Secretary of State John Kerry has mounted a new campaign aimed at brokering a ceasefire in Aleppo. While couched in humanitarian rhetoric, the principal aim of these efforts is to prevent the complete collapse of the US-backed militias and the consolidation of the Assad government’s control over all of Syria’s major population centers.

The media and Obama administration officials have violently denounced the Syrian government and its ally Russia for the siege of eastern Aleppo. The situation today, however, is the reverse of what prevailed a year ago when the so-called rebels were laying siege to western Aleppo, which faced an imminent humanitarian catastrophe. At that time, there were no humanitarian concerns expressed by Washington.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby on Monday denied that Kerry was engaged in “frantic or frenetic, last-ditch efforts” to salvage the US-backed regime-change operation before the fall of Aleppo and the inauguration of Donald Trump, who has expressed disagreements with current US policy.

Kirby acknowledged that the continuing sticking point in attempts to reach a new agreement with Moscow was Washington’s failure to keep its pledge to separate supposedly “moderate rebels” from the fighters of the al-Nusra Front, the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda.

“That is a difficult thing,” said the State Department spokesman. “We’ve talked about that for many months, this marbleization, if you will, of–the marbling of opposition groups with al-Nusra.”

The “difficulty” is that the only significant armed opposition forces in the regime-change operation orchestrated by Washington and its allies consist of al-Nusra and ISIS, both offshoots of Al Qaeda, which for the decade-and-a-half of the “war on terror” has been portrayed as the foremost threat to the security of people of the US and the world.

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The Fantasy at the Centre of Nazi’s “Muezzin Bill”


The Fantasy at the Centre of Israel’s “Muezzin Bill”. Legislation to “Stop the Dawn Call to Prayer”


Israeli legislation ostensibly intended to tackle noise pollution from Muslim houses of worship has, paradoxically, served chiefly to provoke a cacophony of indignation across much of the Middle East.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his support this month for the so-called “muezzin bill”, claiming it was urgently needed to stop the dawn call to prayer from mosques ruining the Israeli public’s sleep. A vote in the parliament is due this week. The use of loudspeakers by muezzins was unnecessarily disruptive, Mr Netanyahu argued, in an age of alarm clocks and phone apps.

But the one in five of Israel’s population who are Palestinian, most of them Muslim, and a further 300,000 living under occupation in East Jerusalem, say the legislation is grossly discriminatory. The bill’s environmental rationale is bogus, they note. Moti Yogev, a settler leader who drafted the bill, originally wanted the loudspeaker ban to curb the broadcasting of sermons supposedly full of “incitement” against Israel.

And last week, after the Jewish ultra-Orthodox lobby began to fear the bill might also apply to sirens welcoming in the Sabbath, the government hurriedly introduced an exemption for synagogues.

The “muezzin bill” does not arrive in a politically neutral context. The extremist wing of the settler movement championing it has been vandalising and torching mosques in Israel and the occupied territories for years.

The new bill follows hot on the heels of a government-sponsored expulsion law that allows Jewish legislators to oust from the parliament the Palestinian minority’s representatives if they voice unpopular views.

Palestinian leaders in Israel are rarely invited on TV, unless it is to defend themselves against accusations of treasonous behaviour.

And this month a branch of a major restaurant chain in the northern city of Haifa, where many Palestinian citizens live, banned staff from speaking Arabic to avoid Jewish customers’ suspicions that they were being covertly derided.

Incrementally, Israel’s Palestinian minority has found itself squeezed out of the public sphere. The “muezzin bill” is just the latest step in making them inaudible as well as invisible.

Notably, Basel Ghattas, a Palestinian Christian legislator from the Galilee, denounced the bill too. Churches in Nazareth, Jerusalem and Haifa, he vowed, would broadcast the muezzin’s call to prayer if mosques were muzzled.

For Mr Ghattas and others, the bill is as much an assault on the community’s beleaguered Palestinian identity as it is on its Muslim character. Mr Netanyahu, on the other hand, has dismissed criticism by comparing the proposed restrictions to measures adopted in countries like France and Switzerland. What is good for Europe, he argues, is good for Israel.

Except Israel, it hardly needs pointing out, is not in Europe. And its Palestinians are the native population, not immigrants.

Haneen Zoabi, another lawmaker, observed that the legislation was not about “the noise in [Israeli Jews’] ears but the noise in their minds”. Their colonial fears, she said, were evoked by the Palestinians’ continuing vibrant presence in Israel – a presence that was supposed to have been extinguished in 1948 with the Nakba, the creation of a Jewish state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland.

That point was illustrated inadvertently over the weekend by dozens of fires that ravaged pine forests and neighbouring homes across Israel, fuelled by high winds and months of drought.

Some posting on social media relished the fires as God’s punishment for the “muezzin bill”.

With almost as little evidence, Mr Netanyahu accused Palestinians of setting “terrorist” fires to burn down the Israeli state. The Israeli prime minister needs to distract attention from his failure to heed warnings six years ago, when similar blazes struck, that Israel’s densely packed forests pose a fire hazard.

If it turns out that some of the fires were set on purpose, Mr Netanyahu will have no interest in explaining why.

Many of the forests were planted decades ago by Israel to conceal the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages, after 80 per cent of the Palestinian population – some 750,000 – were expelled outside Israel’s new borders in 1948. Today they live in refugee camps, including in the West Bank and Gaza.

According to Israeli scholars, the country’s European founders turned the pine tree into a “weapon of war”, using it to erase any trace of the Palestinians. The Israeli historian Ilan Pappe calls this policy “memoricide”.

Olive trees and other native species like carob, pomegranate and citrus were also uprooted in favour of the pine. Importing the landscape of Europe was a way to ensure Jewish immigrants would not feel homesick.

Today, for many Israeli Jews, only the muezzin threatens this contrived idyll. His intermittent call to prayer emanates from the dozens of Palestinian communities that survived 1948’s mass expulsions and were not replaced with pine trees.

Like an unwelcome ghost, the sound now haunts neighbouring Jewish towns.

The “muezzin bill” aims to eradicate the aural remnants of Palestine as completely as Israel’s forests obliterated its visible parts – and reassure Israelis that they live in Europe rather than the Middle East.

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