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Friction Over Fish: China, Vietnam and the Philippines Battle for Ocean Resources

July 29, 2014

(Reuters) – On China’s southern Hainan island, a fishing boat captain shows a Reuters reporter around his aging vessel. He has one high-tech piece of kit, however: a satellite navigation system that gives him a direct link to the Chinese coastguard should he run into bad weather or a Philippine or Vietnamese patrol ship when he’s fishing in the disputed South China Sea.


By the end of last year, China’s homegrown Beidou satellite system had been installed on more than 50,000 Chinese fishing boats, according to official media. On Hainan, China’s gateway to the South China Sea, boat captains have paid no more than 10 percent of the cost. The government has paid the rest.

It’s a sign of China’s growing financial support for its fishermen as they head deeper into Southeast Asian waters in search of new fishing grounds as stocks thin out closer to home.

Hainan authorities encourage fishermen to sail to disputed areas, the captain and several other fishermen told Reuters during interviews in the sleepy port of Tanmen. Government fuel subsidies make the trips possible, they added.

A dinghy ferries people to fishing boats at a port in the city of Dongfang on the western side of China’s palm-fringed island province of Hainan, June 18, 2014.
REUTERS/John Ruwitch

That has put Chinese fishing boats – from privately owned craft to commercial trawlers belonging to publicly listed companies – on the frontlines of one of Asia’s flashpoints.

Most recently, they were a fixture around a Chinese oil rig positioned in disputed waters off Vietnam, where they jostled and collided with Vietnamese fishing boats for more than two months until China withdrew the drilling platform in mid-July.

Explanations for China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea usually focus on the strategic significance of the waterway, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year, or Beijing’s goal to increase its offshore oil and gas output.

Rarely mentioned is the importance of seafood to the Chinese diet, several experts said. A 2014 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), for example, said China’s per-capita fish consumption was 35.1 kg in 2010, nearly double the global average of 18.9 kg.

“Fish products are just so critical to China’s way of life. I think this is something most people haven’t factored into the equation when they’ve looked at these conflicts and disputes,” said Alan Dupont, a professor of international security at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

“It’s pretty clear that the Chinese fishing fleet is being encouraged to fish in disputed waters. I think that’s now become policy as distinct from an opportunistic thing, and that the government is encouraging its fishing fleet to do this for geopolitical as well as economic and commercial reasons.”



With 16 Chinese satellites in orbit above the Asia-Pacific at the end of 2012 and more planned, the 19-month-old Beidou system is a rival to the dominant U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) and Russia’s GLONASS. China’s military is already a big user of Beidou, or Big Dipper.

It’s unclear how often Chinese fishermen use Beidou to seek help. None of the fishermen Reuters interviewed in Tanmen said they had sent a distress call.

But fishermen could use the system to alert authorities if they had mechanical trouble or had a run-in with foreign maritime agencies, Chinese official media has said.

The push of an emergency button sends a message straight to the Chinese authorities, which because Beidou actively transmits location data, could pinpoint the exact whereabouts of a vessel.

Beidou’s unique short messaging system also allows users to communicate with other fishermen, family or friends.

When Philippine authorities boarded a Chinese fishing vessel in May in a contested reef in the Spratlys, one of the region’s main island chains, they quickly turned off the Beidou system, China’s official Xinhua news agency said at the time.

A senior Philippine police official disputed that report, saying the boat had no satellite tracking device. Nine Chinese fishermen from the boat are awaiting trial in the Philippines for catching endangered turtles.

Zhang Jie, deputy director of the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration, a government agency, said he did not have accurate information on Beidou usage but added that fishermen were encouraged to fish in any waters that belonged to China.

At the same time, Zhang told Reuters he did not believe the government wanted them to seek conflict with other countries.

Other authorities in Hainan, such as the provincial fisheries office and the bureau which enforces fishing regulations, did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did the China Satellite Navigation Office, which runs Beidou.

The Foreign Ministry along with the State Oceanic Administration, which has overall civilian responsibility for maritime affairs including the coastguard and fishing vessels, also did not respond to requests for comment.


Since President Xi Jinping took power in March last year, Beijing has increasingly flexed its muscles in the South China Sea. China claims 90 percent of the 3.5 million sq km (1.35 million sq mile) waterway, with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claiming parts of the ocean.

China sent its sole aircraft carrier through the South China Sea for the first time in late 2013 while its coastguard has sought to block the Philippine navy from re-supplying a military outpost on a reef claimed by Manila in the Spratlys.

While some of China’s actions have alarmed other claimants and drawn criticism from Washington, such as the placement of the oil rig off Vietnam, China says it has every right to conduct what it calls normal operations in its waters.

Only weeks after becoming president, Xi made what state media called a surprise visit to Tanmen, where he told fishermen the government would do more to protect them when they were in disputed waters.

Xi never elaborated, but a huge billboard near the port commemorates his visit, showing a picture of the president flanked by grinning fishermen with trawlers in the background.

Several fishermen from separate boats said the Hainan authorities encouraged fishing as far away as the Spratlys, roughly 1,100 km (670 miles) to the south.

The boat captain said he would head there as soon as his vessel underwent routine repairs.

“I’ve been there many times,” said the captain, who like the other fishermen declined to be identified because he was worried about repercussions for discussing sensitive maritime issues with a foreign journalist.

Another fisherman, relaxing in a hammock on a boat loaded with giant clam shells from the Spratlys, said captains received fuel subsidies for each journey. For a 500 horsepower engine, a captain could get 2,000-3,000 yuan ($320-$480) a day, he said.

“The government tells us where to go and they pay fuel subsidies based on the engine size,” said the fisherman.

Added one weather-beaten captain: “The authorities support fishing in the South China Sea to protect China’s sovereignty.”

To be sure, they have other reasons to make the journey. A study by the State Oceanic Administration said in October 2012 that fish stocks along the Chinese coast were in decline.

“Right now I would say competition for fishing resources is the main cause of tensions between China and regional countries,” said Zhang Hongzhou, associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.


At least one big Chinese fishing company is also flying the flag in disputed waters and benefiting from government assistance.

In late February, Shanghai-listed Shandong Homey Aquatic Development Co Ltd, which has annual seafood sales of $150 million, announced the launch of eight new 55-metre long (180-ft) trawlers from the port city of Dongfang on Hainan.

On its website, it said the move was a “response to the government’s call to develop the South China Sea and safeguard national sovereignty”.

Six weeks later, the Dongfang city government said Shandong Homey would get 2 million yuan ($322,500) for each boat in “renovation” grants, according to its website. Dongfang officials declined to comment.

Shandong Homey might need the money for repairs.

In late May, Vietnam’s government accused a Chinese trawler of ramming and sinking a small Vietnamese wooden fishing boat near the Chinese oil rig in an incident captured on video. China said the Vietnamese boat was being aggressive.

While footage of the May 26 incident is too blurry for the naked eye to determine the number on the Chinese ship’s hull, Vietnam’s coastguard said it was #11209.

Dang Van Nhan, 42, the captain of the sunken boat and who was rescued along with nine crew, told Reuters during an interview in the coastal Vietnamese city of Danang that it was #11202, saying he got a clear look.

The Dongfang city government website lists vessels #11209 and #11202 and six others as Shandong Homey’s eight new boats.

In the Dongfang harbor, several Shandong Homey boats lay anchored including vessels #11209 and #11202. Both have the same features as the trawler in the video.

Shandong Homey declined telephone and email requests to comment. One crew member at the port said the fleet returned to Dongfang in early June but then refused to say anything more.

Several Shandong Homey employees later surrounded a Reuters reporter and demanded to know why he was asking about the boats. They then turned him over to police, who briefly detained him.

($1 = 6.2025 Chinese Yuan)

(Additional reporting by Nguyen Phuong Linh in DANANG, Vietnam, Manny Mogato in MANILA and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Dean Yates)

South China Sea: Singapore, US kick off joint military exercise

July 29, 2014

The exercises from July 29 to Aug 8 are part of Exercise CARAT, which is in its 20th year and acts as a platform for regional navies work together to address shared maritime security priorities.

The USN’s Vice-Admiral Robert Thomas and RSN’s Rear-Admiral Timothy Lo at Tuesday’s briefing. (Photo: Loke Kok Fai)

SINGAPORE: The naval forces of Singapore and United States will carry out joint exercises in the international waters of the South China Sea as part of this year’s Exercise CARAT (Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training), which begins on Tuesday (July 29).

Vice-Admiral Robert Thomas of the US Navy (USN) Seventh Fleet said the joint exercises are in line with America’s “rebalancing” of forces in the Asia-Pacific and its commitment to freedom of access on the seas in the region. The USN’s warships and aircraft will work together with the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) during the joint exercise.

Commenting on the tensions in the South China Sea between China and regional countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam, Vice-Admiral Thomas said while the Chinese Navy will likely carry out further operations there, the USN priorities operational readiness in the region, including offering its resources to aid in humanitarian efforts.

He said he “did not want to speculate” on what would warrant US military intervention in the region.

Exercise CARAT Singapore officially commences on Tuesday and will continue through to August 8. Singapore has partnered with the USN since CARAT began in 1995. Besides Singapore, the other eight navies partnering the USN on CARAT are Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

According to a US navy report on Monday, the USS Wayne E Meyer and USS Halsey will participate in Exercise CARAT Singapore. This year’s exercises cover a broad range of naval complexities to include surface gunnery and air defence exercises, search and rescue, shipboard helicopter operations and maritime interdiction.

“The highlight of this year’s sea phase will be an anti-submarine warfare exercise involving USN and RSN helicopters, as well as RSN ships, where torpedoes will be launched against an underwater target,” the report stated.

Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, July 29, 2014 — You are anxious and worried about many things; There is need of only one thing

July 29, 2014

Saint Martha

Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary By Harold Copping

Memorial of Saint Martha
Lectionary: 402/607

Reading 1 jer 14:17-22

Let my eyes stream with tears
day and night, without rest,
Over the great destruction which overwhelms
the virgin daughter of my people,
over her incurable wound.
If I walk out into the field,
look! those slain by the sword;
If I enter the city,
look! those consumed by hunger.
Even the prophet and the priest
forage in a land they know not.Have you cast Judah off completely?
Is Zion loathsome to you?
Why have you struck us a blow
that cannot be healed?
We wait for peace, to no avail;
for a time of healing, but terror comes instead.
We recognize, O LORD, our wickedness,
the guilt of our fathers;
that we have sinned against you.
For your name’s sake spurn us not,
disgrace not the throne of your glory;
remember your covenant with us, and break it not.
Among the nations’ idols is there any that gives rain?
Or can the mere heavens send showers?
Is it not you alone, O LORD,
our God, to whom we look?
You alone have done all these things.


Responsorial Psalm ps 79:8, 9, 11 and 13


R. (9) For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.
Remember not against us the iniquities of the past;
may your compassion quickly come to us,
for we are brought very low.
R. For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.
Help us, O God our savior,
because of the glory of your name;
Deliver us and pardon our sins
for your name’s sake.
R. For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.
Let the prisoners’ sighing come before you;
with your great power free those doomed to death.
Then we, your people and the sheep of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
through all generations we will declare your praise.
R. For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.

Gospel jn 11:19-27


Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary
to comfort them about their brother [Lazarus, who had died].
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you.”
Jesus said to her,
“Your brother will rise.”
Martha said to him,
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her,
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”

or lk 10:38-42


Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.”



Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
• The dynamics of the account. The condition of Jesus as an itinerant Teacher offers Martha the possibility to receive him in her house. This account presents the attitude of both sisters: Mary sitting down at Jesus’ feet is all taken up listening to his Word; Martha, instead, is taken up completely by many services and she gets close to Jesus to protest about her sister’s behaviour. The dialogue between Jesus and Martha occupies a long space in the account (vv.40b-42): Martha begins with a rhetorical question, “Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself?”; then she asks for the intervention of Jesus so that he can call the sister back to the domestic work which she has abandoned: «Tell her to help me”.
Jesus answers in an affectionate tone; this is the sense of the repetition of the name, “Martha, Martha”: he reminds her that she is concerned about “many things”, and in reality she needs “only one” and he concludes recalling that the sister has chosen the best part, and will not be taken away from her. Luke has built up this account on a contrast: the two different personalities of Martha and Mary; the first one is all taken up by “many things”, the second one does not do even one, she is all taken up with listening to the Master. The purpose of this contrast is to underline the attitude of Mary who dedicates herself to listen fully and totally to the Master, thus becoming the model of every believer.
• The person of Martha. She is the one who takes the initiative to receive Jesus in her house. In dedicating herself to receive the Master she is full of anxiety for the multiplicity of things to be prepared and by the tension of seeing herself alone to do it all. She is taken up by so much work, she is anxious, and experiences a great tension. Therefore, Martha “goes to Jesus” and addresses him a legitimate question for help: why should she be left alone by the sister. Jesus answers seeing that she is only worried, she is divided in the heart between the desire of serving Jesus with a meal worthy of his person and the desire to dedicate herself to listen to him. Jesus, therefore, does not disapprove the service of Martha, but only the anxiety with which she does it. But before, Jesus had explained in the parable of the sower that the seed that fell among the thorns recalls the situation of those who listen to the Word, but allow themselves to be taken up by other concerns (Lk 8, 14). Therefore, Jesus does not disapprove the work of Martha, the value of acceptance and welcoming concerning his person but he warns the woman about the risks in which she may fall: the anxiety and agitation. Jesus had already said something about these risks: “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and everything else will be given to you as well” (Lk 12, 31).
• The person of Mary. She is the one who accepts the Word: she is described with the imperfect form: “she listened”, a continuing action in listening to the Word of Jesus. Mary’s attitude is in contrast with that full of anxiety and tension of her sister. Jesus says that Mary has preferred “the best part” that corresponds to the listening of his Word. From the Word of Jesus the reader learns that there are not two parts of which one is qualitatively better than the other, but there is only the good one: to accept His Word. This attitude does not mean the evasion from one’s own tasks or daily responsibilities, but only the knowledge that listening to the Word precedes every service, every activity.
• Balance between action and contemplation. Luke is particularly attentive to link listening to the Word, to relationship with the Lord. It is not a question of dividing the day in times dedicated to prayer and others to service, but attention to the Word precedes and accompanies the service. The desire to listen to God cannot be substituted by other activity: it is necessary to dedicate a certain time and place to seek the Lord. The commitment to cultivate listening to the Word comes from the attention to God: everything can contribute: the environment of the place, the time. However, the desire to encounter God should come from within one’s own heart.
There is no technical element which automatically leads one to encounter God. It is a problem of love: it is necessary to listen to Jesus, to be with Him, and then the gift is communicated, and falling in love begins. The balance between listening and service involves all believers; in family life as well as in professional and social life: What can we do so that baptized persons persevere and attain the maturity of faith? We should educate ourselves to listen to the Word of God. This is the most difficult but surest way to attain maturity of faith.

Personal questions
• Do I know how to create in my life situations and itineraries of listening? Do I limit myself only to listen to the Word of God in Church, or rather, do I dedicate myself to personal and profound listening looking for suitable times and places?
• Do you limit yourself to a private use of the Word or do you proclaim it in order to become light for others and not only a lamp which lights one’s own private life?
Concluding Prayer
Yahweh, who can find a home in your tent,
who can dwell on your holy mountain?
Whoever lives blamelessly, who acts uprightly,
who speaks the truth from the heart. (Ps 15,1-2)


Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore


SCRIPTURE READINGS: 1 Jn 4:7-16; Jn 11:19-27

“Jesus said: ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’  ‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who has come into this world.’”  Faith in the resurrection does not require faith in Jesus’ divinity.

However, faith in Jesus as the Son of Christ is necessary if we were to believe in a life that never ends.  For this is what Jesus promised Martha, “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”  Jesus comes to give us life now.  Jesus is not saying that He has merely come to assure us of a life after death.  Rather, He is saying that faith in Him will ensure that life is lived to the fullest here and now.

But what does it mean for a man to live in such a way that he never dies?  Death and sickness in John’s gospel are symbols of sin and alienation.  To live a life that is eternal means to live a life of love in union with God and with our fellowman.  Such a life would be a sharing of the life of God.  In death, this life continues, hence we can never die, whether in this life or in the next. This is what John says, “God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him.”  Indeed, it is the way of love, the way of a clear conscience or, as the Psalmist tells us, a man with clean hands and pure heart, that man finds peace and joy.  Yes, John says, “We can know that we are living in him and he is living in us because he lets us share his Spirit.”

But the question is, how can we love like God and share in His spirit?  More often than not, we are more like Martha, egoistic even in love and service.  Like her, we are more concerned about ourselves.  We are worried as to how people view us and thus we seek to impress them. Egoistic service is often masqueraded as love. So in order to love genuinely, the way God loves us, it then presupposes that we understand and experience the unconditional love of God.  Without the prior love of God, we cannot love like Him.  Hence, John says, “this is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us.”

Where is this love concretely found?  John tells us, “God’s love for us was revealed when God sent into the world his only Son so that we could have life through him … when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.”  So Jesus is the revelation of the love of God in person.  But in order to believe that Jesus is the revelation of God’s love, we must first recognize His divinity.  Necessarily, the confession of Jesus as the resurrection and the life is necessary to vindicate His divinity and establish Him as the Life-giver.  Without confessing in Jesus’ divinity, then we will not be able to speak of Jesus as the revelation of God’s person.  Thus the focus is not a life after death.  The purpose of John’s gospel is that we might believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and in believing, we find eternal life. The Passion reveals the depth of God’s love and mercy whereas the resurrection reveals Jesus’ divine Sonship.

Thus, only when we experience the love of God in the person of Jesus, especially in His death and resurrection, then this love is no longer an abstract knowledge but a historical reality.  Only such an experience will empower us to love like Him. Consequently, John said, “Since God has loved us so much, we too should love one another … since love comes from God and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.  Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love.”

This primacy of God’s love is portrayed in Mary and Martha in the gospel.  Mary understood the necessity of experiencing the love of God in person before doing anything.  Thus, Mary sat waiting for Jesus.  She did not rush out of the funeral wake to welcome Jesus.  She knew that the initiative of love must come from Jesus.  Indeed, we also know that when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He said, “Come out.”  In other words, Lazarus who was dead in sin required the invitation from God in love before he could respond.

Unfortunately, Martha never learnt her lesson.  She was busy as usual and rushed out from the funeral wake in order to confront Jesus who came too late to heal her brother.  She was not called but acted on her own.

What is the lesson we can draw from this episode?  Namely this; we must be like Mary who was actively open to love.  If she continued sitting instead of welcoming Jesus, it was because she knew that even if her brother died, he lived forever.  Mary herself was living the life of God, eternal life.  She did not make a distinction between this life and the next.  She lived as if she would never die and if she died, she knew her life would continue.   Martha however, who failed to hear the liberating call of Jesus, placed her trust more on herself than on the love of God.

Yet, today’s celebration is one of hope.  We are more like Martha than Mary.  Thus, Martha is our hope rather than Mary.  It is significant to note that Mary was not accepted as a saint; unless this same Mary was Mary Magdalene whose feast we celebrated last Thursday.  Whatever the case, if the early Church canonized Martha as a saint, it was because she is meant to be our hope.  Like her, we will also be able to make the confession of Christ as the Son of God, and as the Resurrection and the Life with conviction one day.

This happens when we discover through grace that it is not we who love God, but God who loves us first.  Our task is simply to accept this love.  That this love is accepted will be manifested in our unconditional love for others.  In this way, the promise of Jesus of sharing in His spirit and life already in this life will be fulfilled.  Hence, we live a life that never dies.  Through our celebration of the Eucharist, we experience His love coming to us in a real and personal way, when we receive His body and blood made possible by the Incarnation and the Resurrection.

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Israel: Not A Fan of John Kerry and His Peace Efforts

July 29, 2014

Broken Peace Process, Iran Nuclear Talks Stir Resentment on Both Sides

By  Gerald F. Seib
The Wall Street Journal

U.S.-Israeli tensions have been boiling since Israeli officials have rejected overtures by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, shown on phone, to broker a cease-fire to the conflict with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. AFP/Getty Images

U.S.-Israeli relations had been surviving a spring and summer of exceptional strains pretty well.

Until now, that is. Suddenly, serious stress fractures are opening up as the Israeli operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip enters its third week—and they figure to get worse before they get better.

The clearest sign came Sunday, in the form of what might have seemed just another pro forma White House statement, describing a call between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Those two leaders have a relationship filled with all the warmth and conviviality of relations between Sens. Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, and the tension crackled through the seemingly dry language.

“The President…reiterated the United States’ serious and growing concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives, as well as the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza,” said the statement.

Related Video

U.S.-Israeli relations were surviving a summer of strains pretty well, until now. Stress fractures have suddenly appeared, and things figure to get worse before they get better. WSJ Washington bureau chief Jerry Seib joins Lunch Break with Tanya Rivero to discuss. Photo: Getty

Specifically citing attempts by Secretary of State John Kerry to broker a cease-fire in the fight between Israel and Hamas—efforts openly derided by some Israeli officials—the statement went on to say that “the President made clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian cease-fire that ends hostilities now” and leads to a permanent end of hostilities.

As is usually the case, there is a backdrop to these tensions, one important to understand in grasping the real meaning of the cracks appearing now.

On the U.S. side, there is residual anger at Israel’s response, spanning months leading up the current crisis, to efforts by Mr. Kerry to broker a broader peace deal with the Palestinians. That peace process broke down just days before the discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teenagers, apparently killed by Palestinians, which set off the chain of events that led to the current wave of fighting and rocket attacks.

Nobody thinks the demise of that round of Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking led directly to the outbreak of hostilities, of course. But American officials do think the breakdown did make the situation harder to contain. “One of the reasons for a peace process,” says a senior official, “is that without a peace process you have a vacuum.”

On the Israeli side, officials felt that, between the weakness of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and the extremism of Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, they had no meaningful partner for peace.

Worse, some considered the American push a grandstand play by Mr. Kerry. The attitude was summed up by the comment of one senior Israeli official, reported in an Israeli newspaper, that Israel’s best bet was for Mr. Kerry to “get a Nobel Peace Prize and leave us alone.”

Meanwhile, Israel also was squirming over the talks between the U.S. and five international powers and Iran over the Iranian nuclear program. As it became obvious that those talks were moving in the direction of an agreement that would leave Iran with a continuing capacity to enrich uranium, Israeli discomfort grew. When the talks were extended earlier this month for four more months, it grew further. A separate issue, yes, but one that affects the atmosphere.

None of that seemed to matter much when hostilities broke out between Israel and Hamas across the Israeli border in the Gaza Strip. At the outset, Mr. Obama publicly supported Israel’s right to strike back when hit by rockets fired at its cities from Gaza.

Notably, there were no American calls for a cease-fire then. The U.S. was tacitly accepting Israel’s desire to take advantage of the hostilities to clean out some of Hamas’s enlarged supply of rockets, and to close down tunnels its forces had dug into Israeli territory. When Israel accepted an Egyptian cease-fire proposal and Hamas rejected it, White House acceptance of Israel’s military actions was clear.

That began to change when Israel moved from an aerial offensive to a ground incursion into Gaza. American and Israeli analyses fell out of sync. U.S. officials began to fear that the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians were stirring up enough anger in the Gaza Strip and West Bank to put the longer-term U.S. quest for peace out of reach for a long, long time.

So Mr. Kerry jumped in. Tensions grew as Israelis felt his proposals for a cease-fire didn’t give sufficient security guarantees, seemed to equate the state of Israel and radicals in Hamas, and empowered Hamas’s backers in the governments of Turkey and Qatar. A temporary ban on American airline flights into Israel on safety grounds infuriated Israelis.

American officials, meantime, chafed at the open Israeli hostility toward what they considered a good-faith effort by Mr. Kerry to end a nasty fight that they feel can harm Israel in the long run.

This diplomatic dance isn’t occurring in a vacuum, however. Israelis consider Hamas a problem, but they regard Iran’s nuclear program an existential threat. Those nuclear talks with Iran resume soon. American officials actually aren’t optimistic about reaching a long-term deal, but Israelis are nervous. Which is why more tensions likely lie ahead.

Write to Gerald F. Seib at


Lawmakers Unveil $17 Billion Fix for Veterans Affairs

July 29, 2014

Measure Would Also Give VA Secretary More Leeway to Fire Senior Executives

By Ben Kesling and Michael R. Crittenden
The Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON—House and Senate negotiators unveiled a $17 billion package Monday to begin addressing long wait times and mismanagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs, a down payment on a broader reassessment of how the agency provides care to veterans.

The deal between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), who head the Senate and House panels overseeing the VA system, includes $10 billion to help veterans gain access to care from non-VA providers if they are unable to readily schedule appointments or don’t live near VA facilities. Both the House and Senate are expected this week to vote on the measure, which would also give the VA secretary broad new authority to fire underperforming senior executives.

“People understand this issue should and must go beyond politics, that we have people who have put their lives on the line and come back with a whole lot of problems,” said Mr. Sanders at a Monday news conference announcing the deal.

The agreement still needs the green light from a committee of House and Senate lawmakers, after which it will need to be approved by both chambers before being sent to the White House for the president’s signature. About $12 billion of the total is considered emergency funding, which doesn’t need to be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget—a decision that could still bring objections from more conservative Republicans. Mr. Miller said he was optimistic Congress would act this week to pass the bill.

“Taking care of veterans is not an inexpensive proposition and our members understand that,” Mr. Miller said. “This is the way we have to make sure veterans are not standing in line.”

Mr. Sanders said policy makers need to have a broader debate over the best way to provide care to veterans and what changes can be made to the VA system. Before that can happen, emergency actions are warranted, he said.

“Planes and tanks and guns are a cost of war. So is taking care of the men and women who use those weapons and fight our battles,” Mr. Sanders said.

The compromise bill included a three-year extension to a VA pilot program to treat brain-injured veterans in private rehabilitation facilities. The assisted-living program had been set to expire in October, and, with Congress seemingly in a partisan stall, the VA had begun ousting dozens of brain-damaged veterans from facilities nationwide.

The brain-injury care program has been the subject of two articles in The Wall Street Journal, including a Feb. 20 front-page article about former Marine Cpl. Justin Bunce , who was injured by an explosion in Iraq in 2004 and lives with other brain-damaged veterans in a VA-funded home in Germantown, Md.

The two lawmakers have been negotiating for weeks over dueling House and Senate measures, wrangling over costs and how broad the changes should be in the final measure. Frustrations boiled over late last week as the two sides appeared well apart, with Mr. Sanders pressing for as much as $25 billion in funding while Mr. Miller said spending should be capped at $10 billion. Representatives for both lawmakers said over the weekend that all sides had to make compromises on the current iteration of the conference committee bill.

Even though the bill provides more funding for the VA, some veterans groups have expressed concern about the way the money is being spent.

“We remain concerned that simply giving veterans plastic cards and wishing them good luck in the private sector is not a substitute for a coordinated system of care,” said the Disabled American Veterans, a veteran advocacy group. The group has said in the past that VA doctors know how best to treat veterans and the system needs more care providers rather than money to send vets to non-VA doctors.

Mr. Sanders said the deal includes funding for the VA to enter into leases on 27 new medical facilities, as well as money to hire more doctors and help with improving the agency’s physical infrastructure. Other provisions are intended to improve accountability and help both veterans and active-duty troops receive better care.

Mr. Miller said lawmakers were also able to reconcile differing approaches to giving the VA secretary more authority to fire top-level employees for incompetence or mismanagement. Under the deal reached, a board would have 21 days to review any appeal filed by a senior executive who has been fired.

Last week, Sloan Gibson, acting VA secretary, said his department needed $17.6 billion over the next three years to make necessary fixes. “Some of the things he said are needed will get funded,” said a staff member familiar with the deal.

A substantial portion of funding will be used to help veterans who are waiting more than 30 days for an appointment or who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility gain access to care from a non-VA physician.

It will also extend coverage for rural veterans by extending a program designed to help those far from major VA medical facilities get local care.

The VA will also be required to report to Congress on planned improvements to the VA’s antiquated appointment-scheduling software, which hasn’t been substantially improved since the 1980s.

Robert McDonald, President Barack Obama‘s nominee for VA secretary, cleared a hurdle last week when he was endorsed by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and now awaits confirmation by the full Senate, which is expected to come this week.

Write to Ben Kesling at and Michael R. Crittenden at

Another Provocation from Putin? Russia Tests Ground-Launched Cruise Missile — Violated 1987 Treaty With U.S.

July 29, 2014

By Karen DeYoung
The Washington Post

The Obama administration has determined that Russia violated a 1987 treaty on intermediate-range missiles by testing a ground-launched cruise missile, a senior administration official said.

The violation, which began some years ago, is included in a 2014 compliance report on the treaty to be released Tuesday and was the subject of a letter President Obama sent Monday to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“This is a very serious matter which we have attempted to address with Russia for some time now,” the official said. “We encourage Russia to return to compliance with its obligations . . . and to eliminate any prohibited items in a verifiable manner.”

It was unclear how long the testing lasted, or whether it was ongoing. The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that “we have notified Russia of our determination and are prepared to discuss this in a senior-level bilateral dialogue immediately.”

Obama’s letter to Putin was first reported online Monday by the New York Times, which said that Russia began testing the missiles in 2008 and that the State Department first raised the possibility of a violation with Russian officials in 2013. At the time, the paper said, Russia said it had looked into the matter and considered it closed.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, prohibits possession, production or flight testing of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles, or possession or production of launchers of such missiles.

News of the alleged violation comes as relations between the United States and Russia are seriously strained over Russia’s backing of separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine. Obama administration officials have said that, despite their growing differences and the imposition of U.S. economic sanctions over Ukraine, Moscow has continued to cooperate with Washington on a range of nuclear and other foreign policy issues.

See also: The New York Times
U.S. Says Russia Tested Cruise Missile, Violating Treaty

U.S. President Ronald Reagan, right, shakes hands with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Dec. 8, 1987, after the two leaders signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (Bob Daugherty/Associated Press)

Obama, Kerry Have Never Impressed Israel With Their Commitment, Resolve

July 28, 2014

We here at Peace and Freedom have been unapologetic supporters of Israel for many year. Israel’s peace and security — in fact it’s very nationhood, has always been assured and secured by the United States.

Israel is surrounded by peoples and nations that have openly express a desire and intention to kill all Jews and rid the world of the “Zionist State.”

Each conflict for Israel is a potentially existential event.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have need seemed to back Israel the way their American forefather have dine back to the Truman Administration. Naturally, this is of grave concern to Israel and all Israelis.

With an avowed terrorist organization, Hamas, now a part of the coalition with the Palestinians, Mr. Netanyahu and his cabinet in Israel believe the time to act had come.  To Israel, it is unacceptable that Hamas is allowed to sent Iranian supplied rockets raining down on the Israel people while Iran negotiated with the U.S. on its nuclear program.

Don’t forget, not too long ago Iran said its purpose was to wipe Israel from the map.

We at peace and freedom support Israel and the Israeli people, and we see no proof in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq or other places that the Kerry-Obama team can be relied upon to protect American allies and respect decades long American commitments.


See video:


U.S. Secretary of State john Kerry appeared on all five major American TV Sunday talk shows on July 20, 2014.



WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration pushed back strongly Monday at a torrent of Israeli criticism over Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest bid to secure a cease-fire with Hamas, accusing some in Israel of launching a “misinformation campaign” against the top American diplomat.

“It’s simply not the way partners and allies treat each other,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Her comments were echoed by the White House, where officials said they were disappointed by Israeli reports that cast Kerry’s efforts to negotiate a cease-fire as more favorable to Hamas.

“Israel has no better friend, no stronger defender than John Kerry,” said Tony Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser. He said the criticism of Kerry was based on “people leaking things that are either misinformed or attempting to misinform.”

The coordinated pushback came amid growing U.S. frustration with the number of Palestinian civilian casualties as Israel wages an air and ground war in the Gaza Strip. Obama and Kerry have been pressing Israel to accept an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire.

The U.S. has made little progress in achieving that objective. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised speech Monday that his country must be ready for “a prolonged campaign” against Hamas in Gaza.

As Kerry returned from the region over the weekend, Israeli media commentators leveled almost nonstop criticism of his attempts to bring Qatar and Turkey — two countries viewed by Israel as strong Hamas supporters — into the cease-fire negotiations. Kerry was also accused of abandoning some of Israel’s key demands during the negotiations, including demilitarizing Gaza.

In trying to implement the cease-fire over the weekend, “U.S. Secretary of State of State John Kerry ruined everything,” wrote columnist Ari Shavit in Monday’s Haaretz, Israel’s leading liberal newspaper. “Very senior officials in Jerusalem described the proposal that Kerry put on the table as a ‘strategic terrorist attack.'”

U.S. officials disputed the notion that Kerry had formally presented a proposal and cast the document in question as a draft given to the Israelis as part of an effort to gain their input in seeking a weeklong cessation of hostilities. Officials said the draft was based on an earlier Egyptian cease-fire proposal that Israel had accepted but Hamas had rejected.

Psaki said the U.S. was “surprised and obviously disappointed” to see the draft proposal made public. She also argued that there was a difference between the characterization of Kerry’s handling of the negotiations by Israeli media and what government officials were telling the U.S. privately.

“No one is calling to complain about the secretary’s handling of the situation,” Psaki said.

Kerry did not directly mention the criticism during brief remarks on Monday. However, he did seek to debunk the notion that the U.S. had backed away from its support for the demilitarization of Gaza, which has been a top priority for Israel.

“Any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must lead to the disarmament of Hamas and all terrorist groups,” Kerry said.

While the Obama administration maintains that it supports Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, officials have grown increasingly concerned about the civilian casualties in Gaza. The White House said Obama spoke with Netanyahu Sunday and expressed “serious and growing concern” about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.

More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed over the past three weeks, Palestinian health officials say. According to the United Nations, about three-fourths of them were civilians. Israel has lost 43 soldiers and two civilians, as well as a Thai worker.

On Monday, a strike on a Gaza park killed 10 people, nine of them children. Israeli and Palestinian authorities traded blame over the attack as fighting in the Gaza war raged on despite a major Muslim holiday.


Associated Press writer Peter Enav in Jerusalem contributed to this report.


Follow Matthew Lee at and Julie Pace at

Forget the Facts. Blame Israel First … CNN does.

July 28, 2014

A U.S. CNN news anchor recently tried to blast Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, concerning the claim that the IDF had purposefully shot at a United Nations school causing huge civilian casualties.  To the ambassador’s credit, the anchor had to back down.

Criticism concerning the school attack ensued before any definitive investigation.  Of course, it’s always “Blame Israel First!”  Once the public hears the claim, public opinion gels against Israel.  Is this an intentional strategy of news services to bias public opinion against Israelis and Jews, a strategy to foster anti-Semitism around the world?  Why not just stick to reporting facts?

Earl Cox

What is Israel up against?  Is the IDF in Gaza to fight citizens of Gaza, families whose desire it is to simply live, work, and play?  Do Gazans even have choices even when there is no conflict?   No, they do not.  The IDF is fighting hardened, we-don’t-care-who-dies, as long as we get our way, terrorists.  Hamas and Fatah, the governing bodies of Gaza, have reduced the Palestinian population to living according to their brand of slavery.  Hamas and Fatah are the enemies of free people, whether to Israelis or their own.  They are deliberately placing women and children in harms way, even prohibiting them to leave areas where Israeli security forces warn them in advance to evacuate for their own safety.
Here’s how Hamas operates in Gaza.  You cannot tell me that you think this is normal.  Elite Israeli operatives behind enemy lines have detected and destroyed many bomb-laden and booby-trapped homes.  These homes contain large quantities of weapons inside.  Rocket launchers and weapons are also hidden in heavily populated areas, deep inside spaces where civilians try to go about their daily lives.  Buildings and tunnels surround orchards.  The homes of Hamas operatives, area commanders, and rocket cell members are divided:  part for family living and part for a military command center.   Tunnels also originate inside these homes.   Booby traps can sometimes be seen from the outside of a home.  In Gaza today, daily life and military infrastructure are totally interwoven.  This is a complex and dangerous situation for Israel’s elite force and ground troops and for Gaza residents.
Since 2006, Hamas has turned “tunneling” into a national profession, said a senior member of an Israeli elite force.   A network of sophisticated highly engineered tunnels begins a few kilometers away from the Israeli border.  These tunnels pass under the frontier so that dozens of terrorists can infiltrate Israel in order to bomb and kidnap Israeli men, women and children.
But it’s worse than that!  It is being reported that there were plans for a massive New Year’s attack!  Thousands of terrorists were reportedly set to invade Israel via tunnels during upcoming Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year beginning September 24) so that they could kill and kidnap as many Israelis as possible.  According to reports, Prime Minister Netanyahu informed his cabinet about this foiled plot during a recent cabinet meeting.  He said that if this attack had not been discovered and stopped, Israeli fatalities could have exceeded the 2,200 killed during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  As further substantiation of the purpose for tunnels, an article by General James T. Conway, USMC (ret) posted in the Wall Street Journal July 24th is of interest.  He said after examining one tunnel,  “Unlike tunnels that I had seen during the Iraq war that were designed for smuggling, this Hamas tunnel was designed for launching murder and kidnapping raids.  The 3-mile-long tunnel was reinforced with concrete, lined with telephone wires, and included cabins unnecessary for infiltration operations but useful for holding hostages.”
Thankfully, the IDF, in spite of being fired upon by terrorists, being booby trapped and suffering casualties, they have been successful so far and report that Hamas combat battalions appear to have become demoralized and less determined.  Apparently Hamas operatives were less prepared for a ground offensive than for Israeli air power.  They could deal with air power, because they had gone “underground.”  A ground offensive was Israel’s primary option to counter tunnels, the hiding of military assets in homes, schools, mosques, and hospitals.  That was the only way to protect as many civilian lives as possible.  Yet, this choice undoubtedly exposed more Israeli soldiers to injury and death than air power would have.
If news is the goal of CNN or any other news provider, there are plenty of sources for truth in reporting concerning the Hamas/Israeli conflict.  When you dig out truth, the good guys and the bad guys are obvious.  Again I ask, is there a strategy to “Blame Israel First” so as to bias public opinion against Israel? Anti-Semitism is serious business with possible horrendous consequences.  Truth is that the, “Israeli military prides itself on halting raids when women and children are found inside, holding fire and allowing the women and children to leave before continuing a raid is the rule, not the exception,” a senior source said. “That’s who we are and this is the source of our strength.”

Iraq crisis: End ‘very near’ for Christianity after Isis takeover, says Bishop

July 28, 2014

By Heather Saul  
The Independent

 A displaced Iraqi Christian displays a tattoo of Christ on the Cross at Saint Joseph’s church. The vicar of the only Anglican church in Iraq has warned the end for Christians in the country appears “very near”  Getty Images

Canon Andrew White is appealing for help after an Isis deadline for Christians to convert, pay or face death expired

The vicar of the only Anglican church in Iraq has warned the end for Christians in the country appears “very near” as he appealed for help after a deadline set by Islamic militants to convert or be killed expired.

Canon Andrew White, dubbed “the bishop of Baghdad” for his work at St George’s church in the capital, spoke after the ultimatum handed to Christians in the northern city of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq Levant (Isis) to convert, pay a tax or be put to death passed last week.

For those Christians who did not comply with the decree by 19 July, Isis warned that “there is nothing to give them but the sword.” Many have since fled their homes and Rev. Andrew-White told BBC Radio 4 Today desperate Christians were trapped in the desert or on the streets with nowhere to go.

“Things are so desperate, our people are disappearing,” he said. “We have had people massacred, their heads chopped off.

“Are we seeing the end of Christianity? We are committed come what may, we will keep going to the end, but it looks as though the end could be very near.”

READ MORE: Time runs out for Christian Iraq: Isis deadline passes with mass flight

A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that from 14 July homes in Mosul were painted with the letter “N” for Nasrani (the Arabic word for Christian). Others were painted with the letter “R” for Rafidah, a word commonly used by Sunni to describe Shia.

The vicar is in London to speak about the crisis and raise awareness of the urgent need to provide more help to the persecuted minority.

“The Christians are in grave danger. There are literally Christians living in the desert and on the street. They have nowhere to go,” he told the programme.

“We do not want Britain to forget us. We – and I’m saying ‘we’ talking like an Iraqi Christian – have always been with the British because they have already been with us.

“Individual churches, individual Christians in Britain, have been a bigger help than anybody around the world.”

Up to a million Christians lived in Iraq prior to the US-led invasion in 2003, with many residing in areas such as Mosul where the communities date back to the first centuries of Christianity.

There are now thought to be fewer than half that number.


Israelis, Hamas See A Lull in the Fighting as Cease Fire Plans Again Unfold

July 28, 2014

Jerusalem (AFP) – Fighting subsided in war-torn Gaza Monday at the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr as world powers ramped up pressure on the warring sides to immediately end their 21-day confrontation.

Following increasingly urgent calls by the UN and the US for an “immediate ceasefire,” a senior source in the West Bank said Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was heading to Cairo along with representatives of Hamas for fresh talks on ending the violence in Gaza.

“Abbas is forming a Palestinian delegation including Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives to meet Egyptian leaders and discuss a halt to Israel’s aggression against Gaza,” the source told AFP, without saying when the talks would take place.

“The aim is to examine with Egyptian leaders how to meet Palestinian demands and put an end to the aggression,” he said.

Earlier US President Barack Obama phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to demand an “immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire”, in a call echoed several hours later by the UN Security Council.

As diplomatic efforts intensified to broker an end to the bloodletting which has claimed over a thousand lives, both sides appeared to have settled into an undeclared ceasefire arrangement with the skies over Gaza mostly quiet.

Military spokesman General Moti Almoz described the calm as “an unlimited lull” but warned that the army was ready to resume its activity at any time.

The army said two rockets had struck Israel since midnight (2100 GMT) while in Gaza, an AFP correspondent confirmed there had been no overnight air strikes, although sporadic raids resumed in the afternoon with a 4-year-old boy and another person killed by tank shelling near the northern town of Jabaliya.

Another three succumbed to their wounds overnight, raising the death toll in Gaza to 1,037.


There was little mood for celebration in Gaza City as the three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr that ends the holy fasting month of Ramadan got under way.

Several hundred people arrived for early-morning prayers at the Al-Omari mosque, bowing and solemnly whispering their worship. But instead of going to feast with relatives, most went straight home while others went to pay their respects to the dead.

Among them was Ahed Shamali whose 16-year-old son who was killed by a tank shell several days ago.

“He was just a kid,” he said, standing by the grave. “This is the Eid of the martyrs.”

“After the destruction and war we’ve seen here, there’s no Eid for us now,” said a 44-year-old man who gave his name only as Issa.

Meanwhile in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, some 45,000 worshippers rallied in support of war-torn Gaza as they gathered for the Eid prayers, police and an AFP correspondent said.

“Our blood for Gaza,” they chanted, many of them wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with logos reading: “Gaza, supporting you is our Eid” and “We are all Gaza.”


- ‘Ceasefire now’ -


Early on Monday, the UN Security Council appealed for both sides to accept an “immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire” to permit the urgent delivery of aid, in a non-binding statement which elicited disappointment from the Palestinian envoy.

The UN statement came after Obama phoned Netanyahu to stress “the strategic imperative” of implementing an immediate humanitarian truce.

Despite the relative calm on the ground, a diplomatic row was brewing between Israel and Washington over US efforts to end the violence, which on Friday saw the Israeli cabinet unilaterally rejecting a truce proposal laid out by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“Very senior officials in Jerusalem described the proposal that Kerry put on the table as a ‘strategic terrorist attack’,” Ari Shavit wrote in Haaretz, saying the anger was over his decision to reportedly formulate an initiative along the lines proposed by Hamas allies Turkey and Qatar.

The decision “to go hand in hand with Qatar and Turkey, and formulate a framework amazingly similar to the Hamas framework, was catastrophic. It put wind in the sails of Hamas’ political leader Khaled Meshaal,” he said.

“Israel was very close last night to a decision to announce a unilateral ceasefire,” wrote Nahum Barnea in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot.

“And then came Obama’s telephone call to Netanyahu, and the tension between the Israeli government and the US administration turned into a crisis, which is now threatening to disrupt the path to a ceasefire,” he wrote.


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