Archive | June 25th, 2017

US Mulls Sanctioning Venezuelan Oil as ‘Economic War’ Continues

NOVANEWS

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The Trump administration is debating imposing sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector, while Washington has raised “concerns” about U.S. firms giving a “financial lifeline” to the South American nation.

Reuters reported Sunday that the White House could hit Venezuela’s vital oil and energy sector, including state-run oil company PDVSA, with a number of different sanctions, including the possibility of a blanket ban on Venezuelan oil imports — imports that the United States heavily relies on.

Since President Donald Trump took office in January, he has stepped up targeted sanctions against Venezuela, including against the vice president, the chief judge and seven other Supreme Court justices.

While Trump officials hem and haw over the move that would further incapacitate the Venezuela’s economy, other senior officials are raising concern about U.S. firms’ Venezuela investments.

After Goldman Sachs Group Inc. came under fire for purchasing US$2.8 billion of state oil company bonds, one official told Reuters, “We’re concerned by anything that provides a lifeline for the status quo.”

Last week, Venezuela’s right-wing opposition-controlled National Assembly threatened not to pay the PDVSA bonds purchased by Goldman Sachs through a third party broker.

The National Assembly’s head, Julio Borges, one of the most prominent opposition leaders in the country, claimed that in purchasing the bonds, Goldman Sachs was “extending a lifeline” to a “dictatorship” and funding “human-rights abuses.”

In response, Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami announced on Thursday that the government would be launching a lawsuit against him, condemning Borges’ attempt to cut off Venezuela from legal and transparent international investments.

“The deal with Goldman provides a desperately needed boost to Venezuela’s shrinking international reserves, which had fallen to US$10 billion amid stagnant global crude prices,” Venezuela Analysis reported.

Borges’ threats against Goldman Sachs are the latest in what the government has dubbed an “economic war” waged by international financial institutions and the right-wing opposition.

Last month, the National Assembly president sent over a dozen letters to various international banks requesting that they cut off all transactions with the Venezuelan government and state enterprises. The letters threatened that doing business in Venezuela “would be engaging in crimes, and that such contracts would be legally and morally unacceptable.”

This isn’t the first time the United States has pushed for sanctions against PDVSA. In 2011, the Obama administration punished the company for doing business with Iran, a country toward which the United States and its allies have long been hostile.

PDVSA and government officials have accused international financial institutions in the past of working in favor of right-wing groups to destabilize the country and its key economic driver, the oil sector.

What the Venezuelan government has called an “economic war” on the country parallels the financial destabilization targeting the socialist government of President Salvador Allende in Chile in the early 1970s ahead of the CIA-backed military coup that ousted him from office in 1973. The U.S.-backed economic warfare sought to weaken Chile by “making the economy scream,” as then-President Richard Nixon put it in orders to the CIA, in order to topple the Allende government.

Since taking office, Trump has continued a policy of U.S. hostility toward Caracas, including by meeting with opposition figure Lilian Tintori, wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, in the White House in February.

The U.S. has also backed a campaign in the Organization of American States that President Nicolas Maduro’s government has slammed as attempted intervention. Top Venezuelan officials have accused the body of violating Venezuela’s sovereignty and have therefore initiated the process to withdraw from it.

After the most recent OAS meeting last week, Bolivian President Evo Morales strongly condemned the regional body and specifically OAS secretary general, Luis Almagro, warning that, “If not physically, he wants to politically eliminate the anti-imperialist presidents and governments” of Latin America.

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Remember Omran in Syria’s Aleppo?

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Al-Manar 

Remember the five-year-old boy whose bloodied and dusty image went viral on media outlets and social media last year?

Omran Daqneesh, whose photo made a CNN presenter weep on air, and whose photo was taken from a pocket of a Swiss Journalist in front of President Bashar Assad, in a bid to blame his government for “killing civilians in Aleppo”.

Today, a new footage of Omran has emerged. However this time a new story is being told, by Omran’s father.

In a video broadcast on Syrian TV, Omran’s father told TV presenter Kinana Alloush that he and his family did not get out of Aleppo, stressing that he did not consider himself and his family targeted by the Syrian army.

Moreover, the father revealed that Takfiri terrorists brought his son to the hospital “just to film him, in order to use him for their propaganda.”

He said that he did not hear a plane above his house before the alleged strike last August and said he rejected offers to leave Syria by parties wishing to damage the reputation of the country’s army.

Omran’s father said that he changed his son’s name and his hairstyle to evade individuals who threatened to kidnap him, noting that the insurgents intimidated him.

Below is a video of Omran aired on Press TV:

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‘The BBC Has Betrayed Its Own Rules Of Impartiality’

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‘The BBC Has Betrayed Its Own Rules Of Impartiality’: Yemen, Saudi Arabia And The General Election
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Media Lens 

A key function of BBC propaganda is to present the perspective of ‘the West’ on the wars and conflicts of the world. Thus, in a recent online report, BBC News once again gave prominence to the Pentagon propaganda version of yet more US killings in Yemen. The headline stated:

US forces kill seven al-Qaeda militants in Yemen, says Pentagon

Seven ‘militants’ killed is the stark message. A veneer of ‘impartiality’ is provided by the weasel words, ‘says Pentagon’. BBC News then notes blandly, and without quotation marks:

The primary objective of the operation was to gather intelligence.

Nowhere in the short article was there any attempt to provide an alternative view of who had been killed and why. Were they really all ‘militants’? How is a ‘militant’ distinguished from a ‘civilian’, or from a soldier defending his country against foreign invaders? There was not even a cautious statement to the effect that the Pentagon’s claims could not be verified, as one might expect of responsible journalism.

Instead, we have to turn to Reprieve, an international human rights organisation founded in 1999 by the British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith. The group reports that five of the ‘militants’ were civilians, including a partially blind 70-year-old man who was shot when he tried to greet the US Navy Seals, mistaking them for guests arriving in his village.

But their civilians are mere ‘collateral damage’ in war. Since January 2017, the US has launched 90 or more drone strikes in Yemen, killing around 100 people, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. This death toll includes 25 civilians, among whom were 10 children, killed in the village of al Ghayil in the Yemeni highlands during a US raid that was described by President Trump as ‘highly successful’.

Mentions of such atrocities were notable by their absence in ‘mainstream’ media coverage of Trump’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia where he signed trade deals worth around $350 billion. This included an arms deal of $110 billion which the White House described as ‘the single biggest in US history.’ It would not do for the corporate media, including BBC News, to dwell on the implications for Yemen where at least 10,000 people have been killed since the start of the Saudi-led bombing campaign in 2015. 14 million Yemenis, more than half the population, are facing hunger with the Saudis deliberately targeting food production.

The World Health Organisation recently warned of the rising numbers of deaths in Yemen due to cholera, saying that it was ‘unprecedented’. Save the Children says that at the current rate, more than 65,000 cases of cholera are expected by the end of June. The cholera outbreak could well become ‘a full blown-epidemic’. Moreover:

The upsurge comes as the health system, sanitation facilities and civil infrastructure have reached breaking point because of the ongoing war.

As US investigative journalist Gareth Porter observes via Twitter:

World leaders are silent as #Yemen faces horrible cholera epidemic linked to #Saudi War & famine. Politics as usual.

Iona Craig, formerly a Yemen-based correspondent for The Times, notes that ‘more than 58 hospitals now have been bombed by the coalition airstrikes, and people just do not have access to medical care in a way that they did before the war.’ As if the bombing was not already brutal, Saudi Arabia has imposed a cruel blockade on Yemen that is delaying, or even preventing, vital commodities from getting into the country. Grant Pritchard, interim country director for Save the Children in Yemen, says:

These delays are killing children. Our teams are dealing with outbreaks of cholera, and children suffering from diarrhoea, measles, malaria and malnutrition.

With the right medicines these are all completely treatable — but the Saudi-led coalition is stopping them getting in. They are turning aid and commercial supplies into weapons of war.

As one doctor at the Republic teaching hospital in Sanaa commented:

We are unable to get medical supplies. Anaesthetics. Medicines for kidneys. There are babies dying in incubators because we can’t get supplies to treat them.

The doctor estimated that 25 people were dying every day at the hospital because of the blockade. He continued:

They call it natural death. But it’s not. If we had the medicines they wouldn’t be dead.

I consider them killed as if they were killed by an air strike, because if we had the medicines they would still be alive.

None of this grim reality was deemed relevant to Trump’s signing of the massive new arms deal with Saudi Arabia. BBC News focused instead on inanities such as Trump ‘to soften his rhetoric’, ‘joins Saudi sword dance’ and ‘no scarf for Melania’. But then, it is standard practice for the BBC to absolve the West of any blame for the Yemen war and humanitarian disaster.

British historian Mark Curtis poses a vital question that journalists fear to raise, not least those at the BBC: is there, in effect, collusion between the BBC and UK arms manufacturer BAE Systems not to report on UK support for the Saudi bombing of Yemen, and not to make it an election issue? Curtis also notes that the BBC has not published any online article about UK arms being sold to the Saudis for use in Yemen since as far back as January. This, he says, is ‘misinforming the public, a disgrace’. He also rightly points out that the BAE Systems Chairman, Sir Roger Carr, was also Vice-Chair of the BBC Trust until April 2017 (when the Trust was wound up at the end of its 10-year tenure). The BBC Trust’s role was to ensure the BBC lived up to its statutory obligations to the public, including news ‘balance’ and ‘impartiality’. How could Sir Roger’s dual role not suggest a major potential conflict of interest?

On the wider issue of ‘mainstream’ media coverage of foreign policy, the political journalist Peter Oborne notes that:

Needless to say, the British media (and in particular the BBC, which has a constitutional duty to ensure fair play during general elections) has practically ignored Corbyn’s foreign policy manifesto.

Oborne writes that the manifesto:

is radical and morally courageous.

He explains that, pre-Corbyn:

Foreign policy on both sides was literally identical. The leadership of both Labour and the Conservatives backed the wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, the alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Sunni states in the Gulf.

London did what it was told by Washington. […] This cross-party consensus has been smashed, thanks to Jeremy Corbyn, the current Labour leader. Whatever one thinks of Corbyn’s political views (and I disagree with many of them), British democracy owes him a colossal debt of gratitude for restoring genuine political debate to Britain.

And of course his extremely brave and radical decision to break with the foreign policy analysis of Blair and his successors explains why he is viewed with such hatred and contempt across so much of the media and within the Westminster political establishment.

But, as Oborne notes, this important change has not been fairly represented in media coverage. In particular, on Yemen and Saudi Arabia:

It is deeply upsetting that the BBC has betrayed its own rules of impartiality and ignored Corbyn’s brave stand on this issue.

We challenged Andrew Roy, the BBC News Foreign Editor, to respond to Oborne’s observations. He ignored us (here and here). Roy’s silence is especially noteworthy given that he had once promised:

If there is a considered detailed complaint to something we’ve done, I will always respond to it personally.

Perhaps Oborne’s challenge to the BBC was not deemed sufficiently ‘considered’ or ‘detailed’ by the senior BBC News editor. Likewise, our own challenges over many years in numerous media alerts addressing BBC foreign coverage have been ignored or, at best, brushed away.

It was noteworthy that Corbyn’s considered response to the most recent terrorist attack in London was selectively reported, arguably censored, by BBC News. Corbyn said:

We need to have some difficult conversations, starting with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have funded and fuelled extremist ideology.

It is no good Theresa May suppressing a report into the foreign funding of terrorist groups. We have to get serious about cutting off the funding to these terror networks, including Isis here and in the Middle East.

Sky News broadcast Corbyn’s comments, but they do not appear to have been covered by BBC News. Certainly, as far as we can see, there is no mention of them in their ‘Live’ blog on the London attack or in Laura Kuenssberg’s analysis, ‘Election 2017: Impact of London terror attack on campaign’. And nothing about the Saudi link with terrorism appears in the BBC’s online report on Corbyn’s speech, focusing instead on the issue of May’s cuts to police numbers while Home Secretary. Even this issue alone, if properly and fully addressed by the media, should be a resigning matter for May as Prime Minister. Responding to the London attacks, Peter Kirkham, a former Senior Investigating Officer with the Metropolitan police, accused the government of lying over police numbers on UK streets. And a serving firearms officer says that:

The Government is wrong to claim police cuts have nothing to do with recent attacks.

Despite her denials, Theresa May’s cuts to police numbers have made attacks like London and Manchester much more likely.

Kuenssberg’s piece included passing mention of ‘the Tories’ record on squeezing money for the police’. But she gave no figures showing a reduction in the number of armed police; crucial statistics which she could have easily found from the Home Office.

Mark Curtis gives a damning assessment of BBC reporting on foreign affairs, particularly during the general election campaign. Noting first that:

One aspect of a free and fair election is “nonpartisan” coverage by state media.

He continues:

Yet BBC reporting on Britain’s foreign policy is simply amplifying state priorities and burying its complicity in human rights abuses. The BBC is unable to report even that Britain is at war – in Yemen, where the UK is arming the Saudis to conduct mass bombing, having supplied them with aircraft and £1 billion worth of bombs, while training their pilots.

Curtis then provides some telling statistics:

From 4 April to 15 May, the BBC website carried only 10 articles on Yemen but 97 on Syria: focusing on the crimes of an official enemy rather than our own. Almost no BBC articles on Yemen mention British arms exports. Theresa May’s government is complicit in mass civilian deaths in Yemen and pushing millions of people to the brink of starvation; that this is not an election issue is a stupendous propaganda achievement.

Indeed, our newspaper database searches reveal that, since the election was called on April 18, there has been no significant journalistic scrutiny of May’s support of Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen. The subject was even deemed radioactive during a public meeting in Rye, Sussex, when Amber Rudd, standing for re-election, appeared to shut down discussion of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Electoral candidate Nicholas Wilson explains what happened:

At a hustings in Rye on 3 June, where I am standing as an independent anti-corruption parliamentary candidate, a question was asked about law & order. Home Secretary Amber Rudd, in answering it referred to the Manchester terrorist attack. I took up the theme and referred to UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia & HSBC business there. She spoke to and handed a note to the chairman who removed the mic from me.

The footage of this shameful censorship deserves to be widely seen. If a similar event had happened in Russia or North Korea, it would have received intensive media scrutiny here. Once again, we note the arms connection with the BBC through BAE Systems Chairman, Sir Roger Carr. Wilson has also pointed out a potential conflict of interest between HSBC and the BBC through Rona Fairhead who was a non-executive director of HSBC while serving as Chair of the BBC Trust.

These links, and Theresa May’s support for the Saudi regime, have gone essentially unexamined by the BBC. And yet, when BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg responded to Corbyn’s manifesto launch, her subtle use of insidious language betrayed an inherent bias against Corbyn and his policies on foreign affairs. She wrote: ‘rather than scramble to cover up his past views for fear they would be unpopular’, he would ‘double down… proudly’. Kuenssberg’s use of pejorative language – ‘scramble’, ‘cover up’, ‘unpopular’ – delivered a powerful negative spin against Corbyn policies that, in fact, as Oborne argues, are hugely to his credit.

When has Kuenssberg ever pressed May over her appalling voting record on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen? In fact, there is no need for May to ‘scramble’ to ‘cover up’ her past views. Why not? Because the ‘mainstream’ media rarely, if ever, seriously challenge her about being consistently and disastrously wrong in her foreign policy choices; not least, on decisions to go to war.

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Remembering the U.S.S. Liberty

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The 50 year cover-up of a mass murder of U.S. servicemen orchestrated by Israel and its friends
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By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review 

There has been a lot of media coverage mostly written by Israelis or American Jews regarding Israel’s “victory” fifty years ago during the so-called Six Days War directed against its Arab neighbors but I have yet to see an account that mentions the fate of the U.S.S. Liberty. Nevertheless, the Liberty is not forgotten. This Thursday at noon at Arlington National Cemetery there will be a small gathering for the annual coming together with the survivors and friends of the most decorated ship in the history of the U.S. Navy, a victim of a particularly brutal and unprovoked attack by Israel that has been covered up for half a century by the powers that be in Washington. The moving service will include reminiscences by surviving crew members plus the ringing of a ship’s bell for each one of the thirty-four American sailors, Marines and civilians that were killed in the deliberate Israeli air and sea onslaught that sought to sink the intelligence gathering ship and kill all its crew. Present will be a number of veterans like myself and other Americans who are committed to ensuring that the story of the Liberty will not die in hopes that someday the United States government will have the courage to acknowledge what actually happened on that fateful day.

The Liberty survivors who will be present in Arlington on Thursday will be fewer than usual because the crew is having its own 50thanniversary commemoration in Norfolk, Virginia, home of the U.S. Atlantic fleet. In truth the attack on the U.S.S. Liberty by Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats on June 8, 1967, has almost faded from memory, with a younger generation completely unaware that a United States naval vessel was once deliberately targeted and nearly sunk by America’s “greatest friend and ally” Israel. The attack was followed by a cover-up that demonstrated clearly that at least one president of the United States even back nearly fifty years ago valued his relationship with the state of Israel above his loyalty to his own country.

It was in truth the worst attack ever carried out on a U.S. Naval vessel in peace time. In addition to the death toll, 171 more of the crew were wounded in the two-hour assault, which was clearly intended to destroy the intelligence gathering vessel operating in international waters collecting information on the ongoing fighting between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The Israelis, whose planes had their Star of David markings covered up so Egypt could be blamed, attacked the ship repeatedly from the air and with gunboats from the sea. When one Israeli pilot hesitated, refusing to attack what was clearly an American ship, he was instructed to proceed anyway.

The most disgusting part of the tale relates to how U.S. warplanes sent to the Liberty’s aid from an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean were called back by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara acting under orders from President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who declared that he would rather see the ship go to the bottom of the sea than embarrass his good friend Israel. Ironically, the first ship to reach the Liberty and offer assistance was from the Soviet Union, an offer that was declined.

Johnson was reportedly feared Jewish influence over Congress and in the media, which might work together to block his “Great Society” legislative initiatives, not to mention his expected reelection bid in 1968. It was an early manifestation of the power of the Jewish lobby in American politics and foreign relations. One has to hope that both LBJ and McNamara are currently burning in hell.

The incredible courage and determination of the surviving crew was the only thing that kept the Liberty from sinking. The ship’s commanding officer Captain William McGonagle was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic role in keeping the ship afloat, though President Lyndon Baines Johnson broke with tradition and refused to hold the medal ceremony in the White House, also declining to award it personally, delegating that task to the Secretary of the Navy in a closed to the public presentation made at the Washington Navy Yard. The additional medals given to other crew members in the aftermath of the attack made the U.S.S. Liberty the most decorated ship based on a single engagement with hostile forces in the history of the United States Navy.

The cover-up of the attack began immediately. The Liberty crew was sworn to secrecy over the incident, as were the Naval dockyard workers in Malta, and even the men of the U.S.S. Davis, which had assisted the badly damaged Liberty to port were ordered to be silent. A hastily convened and conducted court of inquiry headed by Admiral John McCain acted under orders from Washington to declare the attack a case of mistaken identity. The inquiry’s senior legal counsel Captain Ward Boston, who subsequently declared the attack to be a “deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew,” also described how “President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered him to conclude that the attack was a case of ‘mistaken identity’ despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.” The court’s findings were rewritten and sections relating to Israeli war crimes, to include the machine gunning of life rafts, were excised. Following in his father’s footsteps, Senator John McCain of Arizona has used his position on the Senate Armed Services Committee to effectively block any reconvening of a board of inquiry to reexamine the evidence. Most of the documents relating to the Liberty incident have never been released to the public in spite of the 50 years that have passed since the attack took place.

The faux court of inquiry and the medals awarded in secret were only the first steps in the cover-up, which has persisted to this day, orchestrated by politicians and a media that seem to place Israel’s interests ahead of those of the United States. Liberty survivors have been finding it difficult even to make their case in public. In April 2016 a billboard that read “Help the USS Liberty Survivors – Attacked by Israel” was taken down in New Bedford Massachusetts. The billboard had been placed by the Honor Liberty Vets Organization and, as is normal practice, was paid for through a contractual arrangement that would require the billboard company to post the image for a fixed length of time. It was one of a number of billboards placed in different states. Inevitably, Israel’s well connected friends began to complain. One Jewish businessman threatened to take his business elsewhere, so the advertising company obligingly removed the billboard two weeks early.

After fifty years, the dwindling number of survivors of the Liberty are not looking for punishment or revenge. When asked, they will tell you that they only ask for accountability, that an impartial inquiry into the attack be convened and that the true story of what took place finally be revealed to the public.

That Congress is deaf to the pleas of the Liberty crew should surprise no one as the nation’s legislative body has been for years, as Pat Buchanan once put it, “Israeli occupied territory.” The Lobby’s ability to force Congress and even the presidency to submit to its will has been spelled out in some detail by critics, first by Paul Findley in They Dare to Speak Out, later by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in The Israel Lobby, in Alison Weir’s Against Our Better Judgment, and most recently in Kirk Beattie’s excellent Congress and the Shaping of the Middle East.

Government willingness at all levels to protect Israel even when it is killing Americans is remarkable, but it is symptom of the deep corruption that has generated a tendency to go to bat for Israel reflexively, even when it is damaging to U.S. interests and to the rights that American citizens are supposed to enjoy. I note particularly legislation currently working its way through Congress and numerous statehouses make it illegal for any federal or state funding to go to any entity that supports the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement, better known as BDS. BDS is a way to put pressure on the Israeli government over its human rights abuses that is both non-violent and potentially effective. Israel’s supporters have labeled BDS as anti-Semitic and have had some success in making any criticism of Israel labeled a “hate crime.”

So the treatment of the U.S.S. Liberty should surprise no one in a country whose governing class has been for decades doing the bidding of the powerful lobby of a tiny client state that has been nothing but trouble and expense for the United States of America. Will it ever end? As the Israel Lobby currently controls the relevant parts of the federal government and much of the media, change is not likely to happen overnight, but there are some positive signs. The BDS movement is growing in spite of the pressure it is experiencing and will not go away. And opinion polls suggest that the American people are finally waking up to realize that they are sick and tired of the entire farce playing out in the Middle East under Israeli direction. Israel, which aggressively spies on us, kills our citizens and takes billions of dollars of our tax money which could be better spent here, is no friend of the United States and never has been. Just ask anyone who served on the U.S.S. Liberty.

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A confrontation is looming on the Iraq-Syria border

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By Mehan Abedin 

Reports that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have warned Iraqi Shia militias not to enter SDF-controlled territory are, on the face of it, a potential addition to the complexity of the conflict in Syria. The SDF is dominated overwhelmingly by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish militia which is politically and ideologically aligned to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The YPG is the key US ally in Syria and the spearhead of the imminent assault on the Daesh stronghold of Raqqa.

While it remains to be seen to what extent this belligerent statement by the SDF reflects official YPG policy, there can be little doubt that the inspiration for the move was the United States and the intended recipient of the message is Iran. It is the latest sign of an aggressive US posture in Syria vis-à-vis Tehran and forces aligned with the Iranians. In this instance the primary US objective is to block Iran from constructing a land corridor from Iraq all the way to the Syrian Mediterranean coast.

However, this latest escalation will reinforce Tehran’s determination to press ahead with its plans and to reap the rewards of its considerable investment of blood and money in the Syrian conflict. Iran holds the advantage in this tug of war, for not only is Tehran willing to risk military confrontation but it also has more assets on the ground, as well as greater long-term strategic resolve.

Iraqi dimension

The spectre of Iraqi Shia militias formally organised as Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) on the Iraq-Syria border is a clear sign of the shifting balance of power in Iraq in the wake of Daesh’s military collapse. Whilst the biggest winners of this collapse in north-western Iraq are the Iraqi Kurds, in the context of the US-Iran rivalry in the country, the Iranians have managed once again to outmanoeuvre their American foes. Both powers have invested considerable resources in the fight to dislodge Daesh from Mosul with a view to expanding their own influence in Iraq.

As the Iraqi army and specialised units of the federal Iraqi police force have borne the brunt of the fighting inside Mosul, by contrast the PMUs made a strategic push for areas west of the city. In view of the PMU’s multi-level connectivity to the infrastructure of Iranian influence in Iraq, this decision was almost certainly made in Tehran.

Control of sensitive points on the Iraq-Syria border is a key objective of the PMU, for reasons of deterrence and power projection. From a deterrent point of view, the control of borders creates a wider sense of security and deters Daesh and its allies from regrouping in nearby areas. In terms of power projection, the PMU needs to create an impression that it has the ability (if not the volition) to cross the border brazenly in organised form with a view to supporting the Syrian government and allied forces.

The volition aspect is important as hitherto the PMU has not formally crossed the border, even though large numbers of Iraqi Shia militiamen have undoubtedly crossed in order to augment their Syrian allies in multiple battle zones.

The latest belligerent statement by the SDF notwithstanding, in reality there is little risk of an imminent conflict between the PMU and the YPG. Despite their deep political and ideological differences, both sides share pragmatic common interests, not least antipathy towards Syrian rebels and jihadists.

Moreover, inside Iraq the PMU is allied to the Sinjar Resistance Units (SRU), an ideological compatriot of the YPG in so far as both groups are extensions of the PKK. There are reports that the PMU mopping-up operations at key points on the Iraq-Syria border are being supported actively by the SRU.

Syrian dimension

In grand strategic terms, PMU presence at key points of the Iraq-Syria border essentially means that Iran has established partial control over this sensitive border. Whilst this marks an expansion of Iranian influence in Iraq, its real significance lies in the messages it sends across the border in Syria.

In immediate terms, it is a response to recent US escalation, notably last month’s bombing of a pro-Syrian convoy close to al-Tanf. It is a sign of resolve by the Islamic Republic and a message that it will not sit idly by as the US sets about dominating north-east Syria by proxy, principally via the SDF.

At a deeper strategic level, it signifies Tehran’s resolve to construct the land corridor linking Iran to Syria. This project is vital to Iranian national security as well as wider economic and commercial considerations. Furthermore, the Iranians view this corridor as payoff for their unwavering support to the Syrian government from the onset of the conflict.

In view of the fact that a central aim of US concentration of forces, advisors and proxies in areas close to the Iraqi border appears to be to derail the Iranian land corridor project, a clash at some point is inevitable. De-escalation on this front by either party sends an unmistakable message of weakness with wider repercussions for control of post-conflict Syria.

Within Syria, though, the US is playing catch-up following years of relative disengagement. Absent the deployment of a sizeable military force to eastern Syria, the US is set to lose this tug of war with Iran. For a start, local US allies are neither reliable nor necessarily durable. As an umbrella organisation, the SDF is bound to fragment at some point, most likely following the military defeat of Daesh in Syria.

Whilst the core of the SDF, namely the PKK-aligned YPG, will remain a cohesive force, the durability of “Rojava” as a political entity inside Syria is not a valid proposition. All the key stakeholders in the conflict, notably the Syrian government, the Syrian opposition, the Syrian rebels on the ground, and not least Turkey, are fundamentally opposed to a PKK statelet inside Syria masquerading as Kurdish autonomy.

The battle for eastern Syria will begin in earnest following Daesh’s ejection from Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor. Absent a dramatic change in the confluence of perspectives, interests and events, US- and Iranian-aligned forces are set for a major clash in the region.

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Lavrov: Deconfliction zones in Syria announced without Damascus’ consent illegitimate

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Russia considers the US-led coalition airstrike against pro-Damascus fighters in Syria an act of aggression and rejects the justification for the attack issued by the Pentagon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

The Tuesday airstrike near the town of At Tanf in eastern Syria “was an aggressive act, that violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic and – deliberately or not – targeted the forces which are most effective in fighting terrorists on the ground,” the minister said on Wednesday.

The Pentagon justified the attack by saying that the pro-government forces “advanced inside the well-established deconfliction [sic] zone in southern Syria.”

The US claimed that it attacked the pro-Damascus convoy because it posed threat to “partner forces” based in At Tanf. The US military earlier stated that an area within 55km from the town was a designated “deconfliction zone,” where forces not allied with the US are apparently not allowed to enter.

Lavrov rejected that reasoning, saying that he is not familiar with the term.

“I don’t know anything about such zones. This must be some territory, which the coalition unilaterally declared [deconfliction zones] and where it probably believes to have a sole right to take action. We cannot recognize such zones,” he said.

Lavrov said Russia, Turkey and Iran have signed a deal, which has been endorsed by the UN Security Council, to establish so-called “de-escalation zones” in several parts of Syria. Damascus agreed to this approach and the exact borders and mechanisms for observing a truce inside those zones are currently being negotiated.

“This approach was agreed to by Syria. We consider illegitimate any unilateral declaration of ‘deconfliction zones’ not endorsed by Damascus. We hope the coalition will adhere to the agreement it has reached with us, which states that the de-escalation zones must be agreed to in detail by all stakeholders,” he said.

He added that, according to some reports, the force attacked by the coalition was being deployed to prevent Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) fighters from destroying two bridges and a road connecting Syria with Iraq, and that the intervention had allowed the terrorists to carry out their plan.

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Four events that shook the Middle East in 3 days

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By Adam Garrie | The Duran 

Recent events follow a worrying pattern.

This week has been one of change, uncertainty and violence in the Middle East. While the specific linkage between each of the following events must be analysed on an individual basis of proximate causation, there is a wider pattern which has emerged.

1. Qatar Isolated

On the 5th of June, Saudi Arabia led a charge of Arab and Muslim nations cutting off all diplomatic, commercial and transport links with Qatar. Qatar now stands isolated from its neighbours including and especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Now, Saudi Arabia has threatened war on its small neighbour, something which still seems unlikely due to the heavy American military presence in Qatar and Saudi, but the threatening nature of Saudi’s most recent statement should not be taken lightly.

Qatar and Saudi are both well known sponsors of Salafist terrorism, including of groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda but in this diplomatic spat Saudi may be going rogue. Alternatively, Saudi may be acting in private concert with the United States which has its largest base in the Middle East inside Qatar.

It is looking increasing likely that Qatar may be the subject of some sort of regime change, in spite of being a long time US ally.

While many point to the falling price of oil as the real reason that tensions between Saudi and Qatar have been renewed, Saudi cites Qatar extending channels of communications with the Islamic Republic of Iran as well as the more amorphous and hypocritical (though true) charge of ‘sponsoring terrorism’ as the primary justification for the new cold war in the Gulf which may became a hot war if Saudi threats are to be believed.

While America has remained formally neutral, Donald Trump has Tweeted his support to Saudi while condemning Qatar.

2. US and Kurds advance on Raqqa

Just weeks after Kurdish dominated SDF forces in Syria allowed a number of ISIS fighters and commanders to escape the besieged city and escape towards Deir ez-Zor, America began hitting Raqqa with missile strikes from the George H.W. Bush carrier group in the eastern Mediterranean. Simultanious to this, Kurdish forces are now rapidly advancing towards the centre of Raqqa.

If America and the Kurds take the self-procalimed ISIS capital, it could be not only a deeply symbolic victory but it could help tilt the balance of a peace settlement in favour of Kurdish and American geo-political designs on Syria.

This is all happening as the Syrian Arab Army makes considerable advances on remaining terrorist strongholds in Homs, Hama, Aleppo and most importantly Deir ez-Zor.

3. US Airstrike on Syrian Forces in Southern Syria

On the 6th of June, the same day that America started launching missile attacks at alleged ISIS targets in Raqqa, American fighter jets struck a large convoy of the Syrian Arab Army and its allies near the Jordanian and Iraqi borders in southern Syria.

While the United States said that it did not want to target the convoy, the convoy of Syrians (in its own country) refused to stop. Russia tried to get both sides to stand down but neither listened.

This event should be understood not as a part of America’s strategic master plan for Syria which is more focused on Syria’s northern and eastern regions, but instead should be viewed as a further malicious attempt for America to assert authority in Syria, where it currently operations in contravention to international law.

4. Terror In Iran

On the morning of June the 7th, the Iranian Parliament and the Mausoleum of Imam Khomeini were attacked by multiple terrorists carrying automatic weapons and suicide bombs.

The attack was a clear attempt to strike at the heart of Iranian government and a memorial to the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran whose death on 3 June 1989, Iran has been recently commemorating.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack but this claim must be examined thoroughly. It remains unlikley though not impossible, that crazed ISIS fighters could so easily sneak into Iran which is a very secure and stable state.

This is why groups which have been able to pull off attacks in Iran, the Albanian based terrorist group Mojahedin-e Khalq along with Israel’s secret intelligence service are key suspects.

By contrast, ISIS have never yet been able to strike inside Iran,

What does it all mean?

America has been desperate to build an alliance of mainly Sunni Arab nations against Iran, at the same time, Saudi Arabia has considered the possibility of having to rely on Pakistani mercenaries in the event of a war with Iran that many in Saudi seem foolish enough to want to start.

Qatar has thrown this plan off while Pakistan’s refusal to go along with the Saudi scheme against Qatar has made Saudi Arabia worry.

The inability of Sunni Arab states and the wider Sunni Muslim world to unite against Iran may have some in the west worried.

There is every possibility that the attack on Iran was coordinated by western and or Israeli actors frustrated at the lack of Arab unity against Iran and took matters into their own hands using a terrorist proxy. This of course is speculation, but it follows on from an existing and deeply worrying pattern.

Posted in Middle EastComments Off on Four events that shook the Middle East in 3 days

Chile Judge Jails 106 Ex-Agents of Pinochet Dictatorship

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Over 100 former members of the secretive National Intelligence Directorate, DINA, under Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet are facing jail time for the kidnapping and murder of 16 people belonging to dissident left-wing movements.

The sentence was issued early Friday against 106 secret police officers belong to “Operation Colombo” during the years that followed the 1973 overthrow of democratically-elected President Salvador Allende, when Pinochet was consolidating his U.S.-backed military government.

Judge Hernan Cristoso ruled that the 16 killed belonged either to the socialist party or leftist groups like the Revolutionary Left Movement, MIR. Those killed had been abducted before being transferred to torture centers in the Chilean capital, Santiago.

The 16 are among over 3,000 people who faced enforced disappearances and murder by the Pinochet government, which acted in league with neighboring governments in Argentina, Brazil and other South American nations through Operation Condor, a Cold War-era campaign across Latin America that resulted in tens of thousands of activist deaths.

The United States supported the right-wing governments during its competition with the Soviet Union, which it feared was undermining U.S. interests in the region through its own support for left-wing groups.

Chile has been attempting to grapple with its authoritarian past as judges and government figures increase convictions of Pinochet-era officials found to have committed human rights violations.

The 106 former agents have been sentenced to between 541 days and 20 years in jail, where they will be joining other former state security personnel that are serving time for other cases.

The Chilean government has also been ordered to pay the equivalent of US$7.5 million to the families of the deceased activists.

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Exploitation of children in propaganda war against Syria continues

NOVANEWS
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By Eva Bartlett 

In December 2016, filmmakers in Egypt were arrested in the process of staging an Aleppo video with two children: the girl was meant to look injured, and the boy was to vilify both Russia and Syria.

Even the corporate media reported on it, including: “The girl’s dress, covered in red paint, was what caught the attention of a police officer driving by, the ministry said.”

The incidences of fakery and hoaxes, however, does not end there.

Also in December, the scene of a ‘Girl running to survive after her family had been killed’ was said to be in Aleppo. In reality, it was a scene from a Lebanese music video, which someone at some point clearly chose to depict as in Aleppo, for the same anti-Russian, anti-Assad vilification purposes.

In November 2014, a clip dubbed ‘Syrian hero boy’ went viral, viewed over 5 million times already by mid-November. The clip showed what appeared to be a little boy saving his sister from sniper gunfire, and was assumed to have been in Syria.

The Telegraph’s Josie Ensor didn’t wait for any sort of verification of the video which she cited as having been uploaded on November 10, the next day writing: “… it is thought the incident took place in Yabroud – a town near the Lebanese border which was the last stronghold of the moderate Free Syrian Army. Experts tell the paper they have no reason to doubt its authenticity. The UN has previously accused the Syrian regime of ‘crimes against humanity’ – including the use of snipers against small children.”

On November 14, the BBC brought on ‘Middle East specialist’ Amira Galal to give her expert opinion on the clip. She asserted: “We can definitely say that it is Syria, and we can definitely say that it’s probably on the regime frontlines. We see in the footage that there is a barrel, it’s painted on it the Syrian army flag.”

Once again, the so-called ‘experts’ got it wrong. The barrel which Galal referred to had a poor imitation of the flag of Syria painted on it, the flag’s color sequence out of order. The clip she was so certain had been filmed in government areas of Syria was actually produced in Malta by Norwegian filmmakers.

From Video to Twitter Hoaxes

In the propaganda war on Syria, there are convincing lies, and then there are the blindingly clear hoaxes. In the latter realm, the Bana al-Abed Twitter persona takes first prize. The child is being abused by her own family who have seemingly forced her to pretend she can speak English (she cannot).

We were meant to believe that sophisticated and nuanced tweets, often calling for Western intervention, are coming from an English-illiterate seven-year-old girl or her mother — whose husband was a militant in Aleppo.

In a detailed article, Barbara McKenzie looks at the campaign which uses the brand Bana for war propaganda. An excerpt includes: “Bana, the little girl supposedly tweeting from Aleppo, but actually the front for an account run from London, was selected to be the empathetic face of the campaign for a no-fly zone in Syria. Her account was tailored to create the impression of perpetual bombing, perpetual war crimes, on the part of Russia and the Syrian government.”

Bana not only tweeted with impossible frequency from eastern Aleppo, defying any internet lapses those of us who have gone to Aleppo have experienced. Whatever the actual explanation for her alleged preciousness and high-tech abilities, the child was clearly exploited, and continues to be.

Her twitter account continues its advocacy for Western intervention in Syria. Not at all suspicious.

Real Poster Children Brutally Beheaded, Sniped, Starved, Maimed

Effective war propaganda tugs at the heart strings, using many tactics, including adorable children in threatening situations, or dead, and comes hand in hand with condemnations for crimes committed, allegedly, by the villain(s) being caricatured. In the following instances, children being injured or murdered did occur, but the condemnations were muted or not at all.

A few weeks prior to the photo of Omran Daqneesh going viral as the poster child for suffering in Syria, terrorists of the Nour al-Din al-Zenki faction beheaded a boy said to be around 12 years old.

Although the decapitators filmed the entire savage act, posing for gleeful selfies as they tortured the boy prior to murdering him, leaders and media in the US took little notice of the horrific slaughter. Ten days after the questionable events which led to the light injury of Omran, two young boys in the Idlib villages of Foua and Kafraya were shot in their head and neck respectively by a sniper from Jaysh al-Fateh terrorists in the village of Binnish close by. The injuries were serious. They were rendered even more serious given that the villages had been completely surrounded and fully under siege by terrorists since March 2015.

In April 2017, a convoy of children, women, elderly and ill being evacuated from Foua were attacked by a terrorist explosion, with reports over 200 murdered, including 116 children. The attack included luring with potato chips and filming children in the convoy before later blowing them up and claiming to be rescuing them. Not only did these terrorists murder civilians and children, but they staged the scene to then look like heroes.

Indeed, in the West this massacre was called a hiccup and little denunciation was made about the vast numbers of dead, let alone the injured.

In October, 2016, Press TV was one of the few outlets to report on another adorable Aleppo boy, Mahmoud, “a six-year-old Syrian boy who was born without arms, and recently lost both of his legs after stepping on a mine planted by militants in Syria’s Aleppo.”  The report includes scenes of Mahmoud showing his resilience, adjusting to life without any limbs. But for corporate media, Mahmoud’s were the wrong villains.

Terrorist bombings and snipings have killed children in schools and homes throughout Syria over the years, including the October 2014 terrorist car and suicide bombing of the Akrama Al-Makhzoumi School in Homs, killing at least 41 children by conservative estimates, or up to 48 children by other reports, along with women and other civilians, as well as attacks on Aleppo schools, as I detailed earlier.

In Aleppo and in Damascus, I have visited numerous hospitals and seen endless poster children of suffering in Syria. The differences between these children and those which Western and Gulf media present us, is that these children were murdered, rendered critically-injured, or maimed by the bombs, mortars and snipings of terrorists which the West presents as “moderate rebels”, so their stories will never be front page, much less heard.

The Bitter Truth

The Western and Gulf media work in lockstep with the narratives emanating from Washington on Syria. It is not coincidental that certain photos and stories of Syrian children go viral, while other more damning photos and sordid realities get no notice period.

Regarding the Omran case, we now know that he was not gravely hurt as media tried to imply, that his family have gone back to their lives in Aleppo, and the exploitation and lies around Omran cannot continue.

When I met them on June 6th, they showed no signs of the duress which terrorists and their backers—which include Western corporate media—claim. Instead, some neighbors were over, discussing media fabrications around Omran.

However, the children who are believed to have been exploited and used in the 2013 Ghouta chemical weapons fabrications remain missing and have not gone back to their lives, nor have their families in the Latakia countryside.

In March 2017, physicians with Swedish Doctors for Human Rights, after examining a White Helmet’s video, wrote: “… Swedish medical doctors, specialists in various fields, including pediatrics, have revealed that the life-saving procedures seen in the film are incorrect – in fact life-threatening – or seemingly fake, including simulated resuscitation techniques being used on already lifeless children.”

The article noted that Dr Lena Oske, a Swedish medical doctor and general practitioner, said of an adrenaline injection shown in the video, “If not already dead, this injection would have killed the child!”

While in al-Waer, Homs, on June 9, 2017, speaking with a woman who had returned not long after the last terrorist had been bused out in the government’s reconciliation agreement, she told me a story of her friend from the area. Bearing in mind that this is second hand information (and that I didn’t have time to stay another day to meet the friend in question), I’ll leave her words and this 2012 link as food for thought regarding the use of children, alive or day, for war propaganda against Syria: “In 2014, my friend’s son, Louay was leaving his school. A mortar fell on the street nearby and he was hit with shrapnel. The Red Crescent took him in an ambulance to al-Bour, a nearby aid association, which couldn’t treat him, so he was taken to a government hospital in al-Zahra’a. They tried to save him, but he died.

They took him back to al-Bour where they cleaned him for burial. While my friend was waiting, people from al-Bour carried him onto the street yelling the regime killed him, look what the regime does to children.’”

Later, she saw on both al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya footage of her son, with men blaming the “regime” for killing children in Syria.

But she didn’t agree. The government helped her son and tried to save his life. He was 7 years old.

 

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EU: Another Step Down the Slippery Slope

NOVANEWS
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By Andrei AKULOV | Strategic Culture Foundation 

The EU Commission has launched legal action against Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland which refused to take in refugees from Italy and Greece. The three EU states have acted «in breach of their legal obligations», the Commission said in a statement, adding that it had previously warned the countries to observe «their commitments to Greece, Italy and other member states». The three member states «have not yet relocated a single person», the statement says. The EU members under fire remain defiant.

In September 2015, the EU committed to relocating up to 160,000 refugees from the two countries within two years. However, not all EU states have found the measures acceptable, saying that the migrant crisis cannot be solved through obligatory quotas. Hungary and Slovakia are currently challenging the decision in the EU Court of Justice, and an advocate-general of the court will issue an opinion on July 26. Slovakia was able to avoid legal action against it by responding to EU warnings and opening its doors to a small group of migrants.

Only 20,869 of the 160,000 refugees have so far been relocated in the EU. More than 1.6 million asylum seekers have arrived in Europe since the start of the refugee crisis in 2014.

Now the Commission has launched infringement procedures against the three nations refusing to comply, before possibly referring them to the top European court. The legal battle could last many months or, even, years. As a result, the three states could be imposed financial penalties.

The very fact of launching legal procedures heats up tensions inside the EU at the time the bloc is going through a period of instability and uncertainty, with its unity tested by Brexit, weak economies and growing support for Eurosceptic and nationalist-minded parties.

Perhaps, it’s easier to pay fines than take in refugees and face grave security problems as a result. Going to the bottom of it – it’s not fines that really matter. All the countries opposing the EU migration policy are net beneficiaries of EU funding. A mood is developing among the older EU members to withhold cohesion funds from countries that oppose the relocation of refugees, although no legal basis for this actually exists. But if it starts, the EU will become a battlefield to make the vaunted unity a pipedream. If the events turn this way, the EU will become very much different from what it is today.

The Visegrád countries (V4) – Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – have found common ground in recent years opposing the EU’s relocation policy and rejecting the idea of a two-speed Europe, but also in advocating the preservation of the Union’s cohesion policy. Indeed, why should East Europeans share the burden of the immigration crisis, especially in view that security policy is a national, not European, competence? These countries call for strengthening of the national states in EU decision-making process.

Poland and Hungary have joined together recently to oppose Brussels stance on human rights.

The V4 also oppose the two-speed» and «multi-speed» concepts supported by EU founders. They believe that the idea would turn them into «second class» members of the bloc.

The «East European revolt» is just part of a bigger process with deepening EU divisions and alliances being formed inside the alliance.

Prospect for the future? The situation inside the EU has bleak prospects for improvement. It calls for a closer look at the recent developments inside the EU. In February, the European Parliament backed three resolutions on strengthening centralization of the bloc. One of the resolutions proposes limiting or even totally abolishing the right of individual member states not to comply with collective decisions – just exactly what the East European members oppose so vehemently. The adoption of the resolutions may be the first step towards a fundamental change in the EU Treaty.

In February, leaders of the lower chambers of parliaments of Germany, Italy, France, and Luxembourg published a letter demanding a «Federal Union» be implemented without delay. It was published by Italian La Stampa on February 27. They call for «closer political integration — the Federal Union of States with broad powers. «Those who believe in European ideals, should be able to give them a new life instead of helplessly observing its slow sunset», the paper reads.

The idea to create a «common European defense» is a dubious endeavor; it presupposes additional financial burden at the time the US increases pressure to make Europeans raise NATO expenditure. Add to this the need to pay more for the migrants against the background of stagnating economy to see how unrealistic all these plans are. Europeans have already been made pay more for US liquefied gas for political reasons, while Russia can offer supplies at much lower prices.

Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister and European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, believes that the European Union must reform, or face the risk of collapse as a result of internal and external challenges. Noam Chomsky, a prominent US scholar, has predicted that the EU will disintegrate. The EU will collapse in 2017, predicts Mark Blyth, a lecturer in political economy at Brown University in the US, known for forecasts to come true.

The event marks a turning point in EU history. This is the first time EU members will face legal procedures for non-compliance with the rules established by Brussels. It shows how the migration crisis has divided the bloc. The process will not die away, migrants will continue their route north to the wealthier countries and the tensions inside the EU will grow. Rival blocs and perpetuate divisions will not disappear, turning the EU into a patchwork of blocs within blocs. The project of European integration does not look viable anymore. Legal actions cannot bridge the differences dividing its members.

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