Archive for March, 2017

Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, April 1, 2017 — “Like a trusting lamb led to slaughter” — O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge. Blessed are they who have kept the word with a generous heart.

March 31, 2017

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Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Lectionary: 249

Reading 1  JER 11:18-20

I knew their plot because the LORD informed me;
at that time you, O LORD, showed me their doings.

Yet I, like a trusting lamb led to slaughter,
had not realized that they were hatching plots against me:
“Let us destroy the tree in its vigor;
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will be spoken no more.”

But, you, O LORD of hosts, O just Judge,
searcher of mind and heart,
Let me witness the vengeance you take on them,
for to you I have entrusted my cause!

Responsorial Psalm PS 7:2-3, 9BC-10, 11-12

R. (2a) O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge.
O LORD, my God, in you I take refuge;
save me from all my pursuers and rescue me,
Lest I become like the lion’s prey,
to be torn to pieces, with no one to rescue me.
R. O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge.
Do me justice, O LORD, because I am just,
and because of the innocence that is mine.
Let the malice of the wicked come to an end,
but sustain the just,
O searcher of heart and soul, O just God.
R. O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge.
A shield before me is God,
who saves the upright of heart;
A just judge is God,
a God who punishes day by day.
R. O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge.

Verse Before The Gospel  SEE LK 8:15

Blessed are they who have kept the word with a generous heart
and yield a harvest through perseverance.

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Jesus and Nicodemus

Gospel  JN 7:40-53

Some in the crowd who heard these words of Jesus said,
“This is truly the Prophet.”
Others said, “This is the Christ.”
But others said, “The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he?
Does not Scripture say that the Christ will be of David’s family
and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?”
So a division occurred in the crowd because of him.
Some of them even wanted to arrest him,
but no one laid hands on him.

So the guards went to the chief priests and Pharisees,
who asked them, “Why did you not bring him?”
The guards answered, “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.”
So the Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived?
Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?
But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.”
Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them,
“Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him
and finds out what he is doing?”
They answered and said to him,
“You are not from Galilee also, are you?
Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

Then each went to his own house.

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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In chapter 7, John confirms that there were diverse opinions and much confusion among the people regarding Jesus. The relatives thought something (Jn 7, 2-5), people thought something different (Jn 7, 12). Some said: “He is a prophet!” (Jn 7, 40). Others said: “He leads the people astray!” (Jn 7, 12). Some praised him: “He is a good man!” (Jn 7, 12). Others criticized him: “He has not been educated, has not studied!” (Jn 7, 15). Many opinions. Each one had his own arguments, taken from the Bible or from Tradition. But nobody remembered the Messiah Servant, announced by Isaiah (Is 42, 1-9; 49, 1-6; 50, 4-9; 52, 13-53, 12; 61, 1-2). Today, also, there is much discussion on religion, and all take their arguments from the Bible. As in the past, the same thing today, it happens many times that little ones are deceived by the discourses of the great ones and, some times, even by the discourses of those who belong to the Church.

• John 7, 40-44: The confusion among the people. The reaction of the people is very diverse. Some say: he is the prophet. Others: he is the Messiah; the Christ. Others claim: He cannot be because the Messiah will come from Bethlehem and he comes from Galilee! These diverse ideas on the Messiah produce division and confrontation. There were some who wanted to take him, to arrest him, but they did not do it. Perhaps because they were afraid of the people (cf. Mt 14, 2).

• John 7, 45-49: The arguments of the authority. Previously, before the reaction of the people who were in favour of Jesus, the Pharisees had sent some guards to arrest him (Jn 7, 32). But the guards returned without Jesus. They had been greatly impressed in hearing people speak so well: “No one has ever spoken like this man!” The Pharisees reacted: “Have you also been led astray?” According to the Pharisees who said: “This rabble knows nothing about the Law” and allows itself to be deceived by Jesus. It is as if they said: “No, we the chief priests know things better and we do not allow ourselves to be led astray!” and they say that the people are “damned”! The religious authority of that time treated people with great contempt.

• John 7, 50-52: The defence of Jesus by Nicodemus. Before this stupid argument, the honesty of Nicodemus revolts and he raises his voice to defend Jesus: “But surely our Law does not allow us to pass judgment on anyone without first giving him a hearing and discovering what he is doing?” The reaction of the others is that Nicodemus is mocking them: “Nicodemus are you also from Galilee? Look at the Bible and you will see for yourself that prophets do not arise in Galilee!” They are sure! Holding the book of the past, they defend themselves against the future which arrives and disturbs them. Today, many people continue to do the same thing. They only accept the novelty if it agrees with their own ideas which belong to the past.

There are persons who accept only the novelty which agrees with their own ideas and which belongs to the past. And you?

http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-john-740-53

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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OUR SINCERITY IN WANTING TO KNOW JESUS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 11:18-20; PS 7:2-3, 9-12; JN 7:40-52]

We are coming nearer to Holy Week, when Jesus will reveal Himself as Lord in His passion, death and resurrection.  Tomorrow we will begin the fifth Sunday of Lent, when statues and images are veiled.  Already, at the beginning of the week, we have been asked to contemplate on the person of Jesus.  It is critical that we answer the question regarding the identity and person of Jesus, particularly so for those catechumens awaiting baptism, as our understanding of Jesus’ identity will determine our convictions. Who is Jesus?  This was the question Jesus posed to His disciples at Caesarea Philippi.  The gospel tells us that the people then could not agree on who He was. Some said, “Surely he must be the prophet”, and some said, “He is the Christ”.

Today, as in the past, the reaction to this question is diverse.  Different people have different opinions of Jesus.  Why is it that people are not in agreement as to who Jesus is?  It could be due to ignorance.  Where there is ignorance, there is no sin.  But this cannot be said of a culpable ignorance, when we do not bother to verify our beliefs or facts.  This was certainly the attitude of the Jews and their leaders.  They were not sincere in wanting to establish the identity of Jesus.  The people argued, “Would the Christ be from Galilee? Does not scripture say that the Christ must be descended from David and come from the town of Bethlehem?’”  Obviously, they did not know their facts.  This is also true for many people.  They do not check the facts before coming to a conclusion.

But culpable ignorance, although regrettable, is not as sinful as pride and prejudice!  In the case of the religious leaders, a legalistic understanding of their inherited traditions blinded them. They reasoned, “Have any of the authorities believed in him? Any of the Pharisees? This rabble knows nothing of the Law – they are damned.” When we are constrained by our past, we can block out new experiences that the Lord wants to give.  Some Catholics, because they have been praying in the traditional way, cannot accept the gift of tongues or some of the charismatic ways of worship.  Hence, we must ask whether we are too entrenched in our experiences and traditions to allow ourselves to encounter God in new and creative ways.

In contrast, and ironically too, the Temple guards who were under instructions to arrest Jesus, heard Him and believed without even the need for miracles.  They went back to the chief priests and Pharisees without arresting Jesus.  In reply to their annoyance, they said, “‘there has never been anybody who has spoken like him.” The Pharisees answered “So you have been led astray as well?” As for Nicodemus, he tried timidly to defend Jesus, cautioning, “‘but surely the Law does not allow us to pass judgment on a man without giving him a hearing and discovering what he is about?” To this they answered, “Are you a Galilean too? Go into the matter, and see for yourself: prophets do not come out of Galilee.’”

We too are challenged to stand up for Jesus.  Do we have the courage to testify for Jesus like the Temple guards and Jeremiah, or are we  like the people who were indifferent, or like Nicodemus who was fearful and timid? The answer depends on how sincere we are in wanting to know Jesus, and whether we are deepening our study and contemplation of Him.

Today, we have Jeremiah who remained faithful to the mission that the Lord had given to him because he trusted in the Lord. This was even when he was deceived.  “The Lord revealed it to me: I was warned. Lord, that was when you opened my eyes to their scheming.  I for my part was like a trustful lamb being led to the slaughter-house, not knowing the schemes they were plotting against me.”

Jesus, too, knew their scheming, yet He allowed Himself to be crucified because He trusted in God’s vindication, like Jeremiah.  Yes, as Jeremiah says, “But you, Lord of hosts, who pronounce a just sentence, who probe the loins and heart, let me see the vengeance you will take on them, for I have committed my cause to you.”  Indeed, whether we stand up for Jesus or not is dependent on our personal conviction of who Jesus is.  Like the psalmist, let us place our trust in the Lord.  Let us surrender ourselves into His hands.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Pharisees and Sadducees in the Time of Jesus – by Tissot

A Meditation on Nicodemus

By Todd Pylant, pastor of First Baptist Church of Benbrook, Texas since 2004

If we were to judge the most important person that Jesus ever met solely by the number of people who had memorized portions of Jesus’ interactions with that person, Nicodemus would win hands down. The famous words of John 3:16 were spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus under the cover of darkness at their first meeting.

Nicodemus was a prominent Pharisee. And while we are accustomed to booing and hissing whenever the Pharisees enter the gospel stage, the party of the Pharisees had noble beginnings. A little over a hundred years before the birth of Christ, there was concern among the Jewish people that the purity of Judaism was being compromised by the increasing influence of Greek culture. When Greece conquered much of the known world in 333 BC, they spread their culture, and art, and language, and religion far and wide. And some of their religion and morals began to creep into Judaism. Those within the Jewish community who wanted to preserve the pure way of Moses coalesced into a movement which later became a party. This group was known as the “separatists” party, are better known as, the Pharisees.

So, the Pharisees began as a religious movement to keep Judaism pure and free from the influence of the paganism of the Greek culture. But by the time Jesus arrived, the Pharisees had gone from a movement to a police force, enforcing narrow applications of the Laws of Moses. No doubt, they saw themselves as the spiritual elite, entrusted with keeping the faith pure.

Not only was Nicodemus a Pharisee, he was also a member of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the ruling council of the Jewish people. It was made up of 71 elders, and it had considerable authority even under the rule of the Romans in the first century. It was the Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus and Stephen, ordered the apostles to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, and was instrumental in the arrest of the apostle Paul. Nicodemus was a member of this ruling council, and we have no evidence that he ever left his position even after his nighttime meeting with Jesus. So, Nicodemus was passionate about the Law of Moses, one of the spiritual elite, and a powerful ruler among the Jews.

Nicodemus came to Jesus with at least a modicum of belief, believing that He must be a teacher sent by God because He was able to do great and mighty deeds. Unlike many of the other Pharisees, at least he was able to admit that there had to be something about these miracles Jesus was doing. But Jesus started off the conversation with fire, completely avoiding the customary small talk. In response to Nicodemus’ compliment, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3.3). While those of us on this side of the Cross have heard about being born again, this was a shocking idea to Nicodemus. After Nicodemus asked the obvious question about how it was possible for an old person to enter his mother’s womb again, Jesus replied,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3.5-8)

We should not let our familiarity with these words keep us from hearing them anew. Jesus spoke these words to a man who had dedicated his life to both keeping the law of Moses and to policing the Law of Moses. He was a member of the Pharisees, generally considered the most religious people in all of Judea. And to a man who had been working hard all of his life to follow the laws of Moses, Jesus said, “You must be born again.”

The spirit of Nicodemus still lives today. Many times we will hear people say, “I have always believed in God.” And they will insist that they have been moral and good all of their lives. But if the goodness of the Pharisees was not enough, our efforts at morality will not be either. Just like Nicodemus, we all must be born again. Repentance and good works is not enough to see the Kingdom of God, and this new birth is brought about by the movement of the Spirit.

Of course, Nicodemus could not understand what it meant to be born again, any more than we can today. So Jesus compared the new birth of the Spirit to the blowing of the wind. We don’t know where it comes from, and we can’t see it move, but we can see, and hear, and feel the results. When Nicodemus asked, “How can these things be,” he was asking about the method of this new birth. Or, as the Message translates this verse, “What do you mean by this? How does this happen?”

To which Jesus said, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” Some English translations miss this, but Jesus identified Nicodemus as a prominent teacher among the Jews. It is highly likely, though I don’t think it can be proven, that Nicodemus was a student of Gamaliel, just like the apostle Paul (see Acts 22.3). And yet as a well studied, popular teacher, and learned man, his intellect left him short of understand the most basic of spiritual truths. And so Jesus explained himself to Nicodemus in remarkable clarity,

No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3.13-15 ESV)

These words, “If I be lifted up,” must have rung in Nicodemus’ mind for over three years.

We are not told how Nicodemus responded to Jesus in this nighttime meeting. He arrived believing Jesus was a teacher sent by God, but was confronted with a Jesus who claimed to have descended from heaven, to be the Son of God, and to be the giver of eternal life. And we have no evidence that Nicodemus believed or disbelieved. The conversation just ends, and Jesus and His disciples continued their travels into the Judean countryside.

But this is not the last we read of Nicodemus. We meet Nicodemus two more times in the gospel story. Later in the gospel of John, when the opposition to Jesus by the religious leaders was growing, and the division among the people as to the true identity of Jesus is increasing, we are told of a meeting of the Sanhedrin where some wanted to arrest Jesus. But Nicodemus took a stand for justice by saying, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” (John 7.51). Reading these words in the context of the gospel story, it sounds like Nicodemus was speaking from personal testimony. He had given Jesus a hearing, and he had been learning what Jesus was doing. And if the Sanhedrin would do the same, they might come to the same conclusion as Nicodemus. But of course, we don’t know what that conclusion was, that is until the last time we meet Nicodemus in the Scriptures.

After Jesus was crucified and declared dead, Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple of Jesus, asked Pilate for permission to bury the body of Jesus. Joseph feared the Jews, feared that the Jewish leaders might put him out of the synagogue which meant he would be ostracized from the Jewish community (see John 9.22). Joseph was joined in his task by Nicodemus, and together they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as was the burial custom of the Jews (see John 19.39-40). Reading between the lines, and connecting the dots, we see that Joseph was afraid of the Jewish leaders and kept his belief in Jesus secret, but he did not keep his secret from Nicodemus, who was one of the Sanhedrin. Joseph did not fear Nicodemus, which is why many feel that Nicodemus did become a believer of Jesus, a secret disciple if you will. Indeed, when Jesus was lifted up on the Cross, those who believed in him found eternal life.

So what do we do with the story of Nicodemus? On one hand, Nicodemus is the poster child for the intellectual seeking the truth about Jesus. He was studied and learned, but his book knowledge was not enough. In the end, faith required him to believe in what he could not see, the Spirit of the Son of God blowing in the wind. And the same is true today. Our knowledge about Jesus will take us so far, but to believe in Jesus we must take the step of faith into what cannot be proven to our intellect.

Nicodemus is also the poster child for the religious person seeking the truth about Jesus. Repentance and good deeds are not enough to enter the Kingdom of God. There must be a spiritual, God wrought new birth where the Spirit of God enters our soul and where we become new creations in Christ. This is all that matters (see Galatians 6.15).

Nicodemus, or at least the conversation he had with Jesus, helps us to understand the love of God. God’s love, so poetically described in John 3.16, is not the kind of love that is void of judgment. God’s love for mankind is not like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, giving out good gifts to all regardless of merit. There is a judgment side to the love of God, and that judgment was simply proclaimed to Nicodemus,

16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3.16-18)

The love of God does not erase condemnation, but it provided a way to escape the just wrath of God.

But Nicodemus is also the poster child for how the self righteous legalist reacts to the genuine gospel. In John 7, when Nicodemus came to the defense of Jesus suggesting that the Sanhedrin should hear him out and learn what Jesus was teaching, notice how they responded to Nicodemus. They said, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee” (John 7.52). The response of his colleagues in the Sanhedrin is more stinging that it sounds. First, they accused Nicodemus of being an ignorant peasant from Galilee, and nothing good comes out of Galilee (see John 1.46). If Nicodemus were really the learned man they thought him to be, he would not ask such silly questions. In short, they questioned his education, his knowledge, and his intellect simply because he suggested they give Jesus a fair hearing before making their judgment.

Second, they questioned his interpretation of the Scriptures. “Search and see” were code words for “Go back and read the Scriptures.” In other words, they accused Nicodemus of not being able to understand the basic teaching of the Old Testament.

Long after the church left the Pharisees behind, the religious yet un-reborn are still among us. The self-righteous legalist, even today, attacks the new born follower of Christ by questioning his upbringing, his intellect, and his understanding of the Bible. When the legalist is challenged to rethink their understanding of Jesus, the quick response is “I know the Bible, and if you want to be part of us, you had better read it like I do.” Paul wrote about the response of those who trust in works based righteousness with these words in Galatians,

29But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. (Galatians 4.29)

Nicodemus, born again according to the Spirit just as Jesus talked about in their first nighttime meeting, was beginning to feel the persecution from those who were still in the flesh.

The gospel was born in an environment where there were very religious people (the Pharisees) who were not born again. And from among these very religious people, some believed in the name of Jesus and experienced a divine new birth. And the reborn were persecuted by the legalists, to the point that they had to bury their Savior under the cloak of darkness. And while we wish that the church left all the self-righteous, un-reborn people behind, the same story continues today. Those who have been born again according to the Spirit, who dare to give Jesus a fair hearing and who long to really learn what He did and taught, are often mocked by the religious. In fact, the Scriptures warn us that as the Day of Christ’s return draws even closer,

1I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4.1-5 ESV)

Nicodemus endured the suffering of those who would not endure sound teaching, and we likewise must endure the suffering of those who would not listen to sound teaching as we fulfill our ministry to reprove, rebuke, exhort, and preach the Word.

https://fbcbenbrook.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/the-people-jesus-met-a-meditation-on-nicodemus/

See also:

http://sounddoctrine.net/Nick/topical/Nicodemus_Secret_Meeting_with_Jesus.htm

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Tillerson Clashes With NATO Allies Over Military Spending — Our nations “are bulwarks against the maniacs who think that by hurting us they can scare us.”

March 31, 2017

German foreign minister said U.S. demands on military spending were ‘totally unrealistic’

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prepare for a group photo of 28 foreign ministers a conference of foreign ministers on Friday. The meeting in Brussels is Tillerson’s first visit to NATO headquarters as secretary of state. Photo by Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. couldn’t “maintain a disproportionate share of NATO’s defense expenditures.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson squared off against his German counterpart on Friday as the Trump administration stepped up its pressure on allies to raise their military spending.

Mr. Tillerson said he wants member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to agree at their summit in May to increase such spending by the end of the year or to make concrete plans to reach2% of gross domestic product by 2024—a target the Germans have contested.

As part of that process, Mr. Tillerson suggested that the U.S. would want to see annual milestones that would ensure the defense investment pledgeis implemented by the 2024 deadline.

“As President Trump has made clear, it is no longer sustainable for the U.S. to maintain a disproportionate share of NATO’s defense expenditures,” Mr. Tillerson said at a meeting of allied foreign ministers in Brussels.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel acknowledged Germany should spend more but said demands for spending 2% of GDP were “totally unrealistic.” To meet the U.S. target, he said, Germany would have to increase spending by some €35 billion ($37 billion).

Mr. Gabriel declined to answer questions about whether Germany intended to develop the kind of spending plans pushed by the U.S.

Raising German military spending—now at about 1.2% of GDP—has long been seen by the U.S. as key to Europe shouldering more of its own defense.

Mr. Gabriel, a member of the left-leaning Social Democratic Party, has stepped up his criticism of further spending increases as September elections near, arguing that a strong defense isn’t enough to ensure security.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, of the ruling Christian Democrats, has been more supportive of increased military spending than the SPD, who is a junior partner in her governing coalition.

After President Donald Trump’s meeting with Ms. Merkel earlier this month, he made waves in Berlin by tweeting that “Germany owes…vast sums of money to NATO,” a charge German officials have dismissed.

Mr. Trump promised in his first budget proposal to boost U.S. military spending by $20 billion to “rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America at a time we most need it.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has embraced the push by the U.S. and said Europe must raise its spending and improve its military capabilities.

“Increased military spending isn’t about pleasing the United States. It is about investing more in European security because it is important to Europe,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, on a visit to London where he met with his British counterpart, underlined the U.S. stance, and British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon called on allies to “raise their game.”

An official at the NATO meeting said there was “a reasonable consensus” for the call, with a number of allies detailing their plans. But officials acknowledged reaching agreement on the exact language of the spending plans will be a challenge, given Germany’s concerns.

Some allied officials predicted the alliance would agree on spending plans, but only after intense negotiation over language that could give countries a degree of flexibility.

Mr. Stoltenberg noted that the U.S. has demonstrated its commitment, including by adding troops in Eastern Europe this year as part of a force meant to deter Russia.

In London, Mr. Mattis said Russian aggression and the country’s alleged interference in foreign elections and in Afghanistan are matters of common concern between the U.S. and the U.K. Mr. Mattis said the West was confronting a range of challenges, from Iran’s alleged sponsorship of international terrorism to missile tests by North Korea.

“Our two nations are bulwarks against the maniacs who think that by hurting us they can scare us,” Mr. Mattis said. “They do not understand: We don’t scare.”

On Russia, Mr. Mattis accused Moscow of violations of international law, citing its annexation of Crimea and alleged interference in foreign elections. He also said the U.S. has observed “Russian activity vis-à-vis the Taliban” in Afghanistan, though he wasn’t specific.

Mr. Fallon said Britain, the U.S. and other allies “need to be extremely watchful now of this persistent pattern of Russian interference.”

Write to Julian E. Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com and Jason Douglas at jason.douglas@wsj.com

“North Korea has got to be stopped.” — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis Says

March 31, 2017

By Gabe Joselow and Alexander Smith
NBC News

LONDON — After years of North Korea thumbing its nose at the international community, on Friday Defense Secretary James Mattis appeared to signal enough was enough.

“Right now, [North Korea] appears to be going in a very reckless manner … and that has got to be stopped,” Mattis said at a press conference in London.

He didn’t give any details about how the administration of President Donald Trump plans to deal with the reclusive nation, which, under Kim Jong Un, has drastically increased its missile and nuclear-testing program.

But Mattis’ remarks continue a recent trend of Trump officials taking a harder line on North Korea.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the “diplomatic … efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of de-nuclearization have failed.”

He also said that military action was “on the table.”

Many experts say that Trump’s options are limited, however.

Kim has pledged to develop a weapons capable of striking the U.S. and its allies. Three of the country’s nuclear tests were completed under his rule and he conducted more missile tests over the past four years than in the rest of the country’s history.

Trump could try to levy more sanctions on the country, although these have not stopped previous tests and Tillerson appeared to dismiss this approach earlier this month.

But a full-scale invasion would be unlikely — not to mention extremely difficult — according to U.S. Army strategist Maj. ML Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh wrote an article in the Modern War Institute at West Point, which is a research center of the United States Military Academy, warning of North Korea’s tough, “Afghanistan-like geography” and an army that could act like “a much better-trained, much better-armed version of the Taliban.”

An American invasion would also carry the risk of a retaliatory missile strike against America’s allies, South Korea and Japan. The South Korean capital of Seoul, with its population of 10 million, is just 50 miles from its border with the North.

FROM MARCH 22: North Korea launches 3rd test missile since Trump took office 2:05
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Credit Suisse apparent target of massive tax fraud probe — “Hundreds of suspects”

March 31, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Ben Simon | Credit Suisse simply said its offices had been ‘visited’ by authorities, but reports say it’s the main target of a sweeping tax evasion probe

GENEVA (AFP) – Authorities in Europe and Australia announced a sweeping tax evasion probe Friday reportedly targeting Credit Suisse clients and top employees, as officials detailed arrests and the seizure of artworks and gold.

There was no definitive confirmation that Credit Suisse was the main target of the fraud investigations, run by at least four European countries and Canberra and apparently involving hundreds of suspects.

The Swiss financial giant simply confirmed that its offices in London, Paris and Amsterdam had been visited by local authorities on Thursday “concerning client tax matters”.

“We are cooperating with the authorities”, Switzerland’s number two bank said in a statement.

Dutch prosecutors said dozens of people were being probed for tax fraud and money laundering, and that “administrative records” had on Thursday been seized from “a Swiss bank” which they did not name.

Two people accused of not declaring their savings have been arrested and two other suspects were interrogated, according to a statement from the National Prosecutor?s Office for Serious Fraud, Environmental Crime and Asset Confiscation (FIOD).

“Properties, and jewellery, an expensive car, expensive paintings and a gold bar”, were seized from houses in The Hague and three other areas, the Dutch statement added.

Simultaneous criminal investigations were ongoing in Britain, France, Germany and Australia, according to The Hague.

– ‘Senior employees’ targeted –

Britain’s Revue and Customs office said that it on Thursday along with international partners had launched a criminal probe into tax evasion and money laundering “by a global financial institution”.

“The first phase of the investigation, which will see further, targeted, activity over the coming weeks, is focused on senior employees from within the institution, along with a number of its customers,” the statement from London said.

It also made no mention of Credit Suisse, but said the investigation should serve as a stark reminder to institutions that aim to help clients evade tax.

Would-be tax cheats “need to wake up to reality and accept that attempting to hide wealth overseas, or within institutions, doesn’t work.”

– 346 people implicated –

In Australia, revenue and financial services minister Kelly O’Dwyer said investigators there had identified more than 346 people “with links to Swiss banking relationship managers” for possible tax evasion.

O’Dwyer also referred in a statement to corresponding probes in Britain, France, Germany and The Netherlands.

Australian investigators plan to “move quickly” against those who schemed to hide wealth, she said, noting however that some of those in the firing line will likely be exonerated.

The launch of a coordinated, international probe targeting an iconic Swiss bank came as a surprise to Bern, Switzerland’s ATS news agency reported.

The Swiss attorney general’s office was not aware of the operations and demanded a written explanation from Dutch officials in particular over the lack of cooperation, according to ATS.

Credit Suisse has previously been in the crosshairs of tax officials.

US regulators fined the bank $2.6 billion (2.4 billion euros) in 2014 for helping Americans evade taxes.

“Credit Suisse continues to follow a strategy of full client tax compliance,” the bank said Friday.

burs/bs/nl/jh

by Ben Simon

© 2017 AFP

Aung San Suu Kyi’s heavy burden in Myanmar

March 31, 2017

By Ravi Velloor

One year on, it looks like Myanmar’s leader made a mistake going for political settlement before settling the economy.

Writing in these pages a year ago I took note of the remarkable double transition – political and economic – that was unfolding in Myanmar as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) prepared to take office after its landslide victory the previous November. Few nations have tried to do so much all at once and there was no question that the road ahead was going to be a difficult one. The old order was clearly having difficulty letting go, even as it ran smack into a new regime eager for change and tasting power after long years of struggle.

Twelve months on, it is clear that this has been no easy task, and the results a mite mixed, if not messy.

Undeniably, the charisma, and halo, of The Lady, as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is called, is substantially secure in the domestic space. Equally, her lack of experience, dearth of administrative talent within her circle and a lofty sense of destiny associated with her family’s role in Myanmar’s modern history are also proving to be a problem.

The economy, once thought to be the next Asian Tiger, has slowed. Meanwhile, her government’s thin-skinned nature as it confronts legitimate criticism has come as a surprise to those who admired Ms Suu Kyi for resolutely standing up for freedom of speech and human rights during her days in Opposition.

Myanmar's foreign minister and de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, left, walks with Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces General Min Aung Hlaing, right, in the airport of capital Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Friday, May 6, 2016. Suu Kyi and Myanmar's president Htin Kyaw left Myanmar on a one-day official visit to Laos, their first overseas tour since taking over power in March 2015. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

Myanmar’s foreign minister and de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, left, walks with Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces General Min Aung Hlaing, right, in the airport of capital Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Friday, May 6, 2016. Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s president Htin Kyaw left Myanmar on a one-day official visit to Laos, their first overseas tour since taking over power in March 2015. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

The inability to speak up for Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority, particularly, has dulled her lustre internationally. A foreign minister from the Indo-Pacific region who’s had several meetings with her over the year past says Ms Suu Kyi seems unable to rise above her majoritarian Burman-Buddhist instincts when it comes to the Rohingya, who are Muslims.

Is this sentiment of betrayal a valid one? Yes, and no.

Part of the problem of the cult of Suu Kyi is that the world, particularly Western media, had built her up to be something she is not. Now that she’s been elevated to her current heights – “above the President” – as she famously promised, they want to see her perform to their playbook.

Unfortunately, that is the last thing the strong-willed Lady will do. This is a woman who has her own ideas. True, she has her limitations, and they are severe but Ms Suu Kyi has a sense of destiny as the daughter of General Aung San, as well as a vision for Myanmar. She will not be rushed.

But it would have at least been wise to make haste slowly. One obvious mistake she has made was to prioritise a political settlement with the nation’s restive minority groups over reforming the economy. Last September, her government met 17 of the 20 major ethnic groups in an effort to seek a lasting peace from the ethnic conflicts that wrack Myanmar. It was the first time since the Panglong Conference of 1947 put together by her father that an event of this scale had been organised.

Gen Aung San’s fence-mending laid the ground for the unified Myanmar of today although the deal soon fell apart leading to the military intervention in 1962, which would continue for decades.

Unfortunately, his daughter’s efforts at reviving what she called the “Panglong spirit” proved unsuccessful. The war with Kachin separatists continues unabated. Thousands have been displaced from their homes. Many more have fled into China, which takes a keen interest in Myanmar’s ethnic issues and is said to be in close contact with several of the groups, some of which actually demanded a Chinese official presence at the talks table. In the last four months, fighting between the Myanmar armed forces and the Northern Alliance, a coalition of four rebel groups, has been especially fierce in Shan state.

DASHED HOPES FOR THE ECONOMY

In hindsight, some observers believe, tackling the economy first would have been the easier option and one where she could have shown quicker results. In the year past, the economy has performed poorly. Blessed with nature’s bounties more than any other South-east Asian country, Indonesia included, the nation of 54 million, despite its years of isolation, is in a far better state than, for instance, several states in the Indian sub-continent. There was hope that this country, which once supplied doctors and teachers around South-east Asia, could be the next Vietnam at the very least.

That doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon. Foreign investment is slowing and there is little chance that Myanmar will match the US$9.4 billion FDI flow it received in the year through March 2016. Exports are slowing too, largely on account of falling prices of natural gas even as the country shipped less of the commodity.

The World Bank earlier projected Myanmar could expand at a 7 per cent clip through 2019. Now, that number looks uncertain. Much of the boom is in the real estate sector around Yangon as well as the telecommunications sector, whose penetration has been impressive as a result. Consumer goods companies are also eyeing the lucrative market.

VICTORIES AGAINST THE ODDS

To be sure, Ms Suu Kyi has not been without her victories, even as she is playing against a stacked deck. According to the current military-drafted Constitution, the armed forces appoint not only the defence, home and border affairs ministers but also a quarter of both national and state legislative bodies. That ties her hands substantially.

The forces also look upon her with deep wariness. Shortly before she took power, the military extended the service tenures of the top general and his deputy by five years, essentially to deny Ms Suu Kyi a say in the issue. Likewise, departing President Thein Sein’s government decided to give China’s Citic Corp the contract to build the Kyaukpyu Special Economic Zone in Rakhine state after sitting on the files for a year and a half. By doing so, less than two years after cancelling the Myitsone Dam project with China, the military sought to press on Ms Suu Kyi a fait accompli on another tricky project with strategic ramifications.

Ms Suu Kyi has navigated these sinkholes fairly adroitly, executing a master stroke by having herself appointed State Counsellor, insisting on an independent foreign policy and by not pushing up too hard against the military – the reason, perhaps, why she is so reticent on the Rohingya issue.

Likewise, she has successfully kept the hardline Buddhist fringe at bay. These achievements cannot be overlooked. For its part, the military is surely aware that the Myanmar people do not wish to see a return of its regime. More will be known of her current standing with the public in the by-elections for 19 seats being held tomorrow.

One issue she needs to tackle is building a second line of leadership in her government and NLD. A complaint heard across the board is that her rule is heavily centralised in her person, leading to near paralysis in decision-making that is vexing investors and all who take an interest in Myanmar. Perhaps it is time to groom some of the younger crop. Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein has gained respect as an administrator. Mandalay Region Chief Minister Zaw Myint Maung  also is well-regarded.

This then is the situation the Lady is caught in. At the back of her mind, no doubt, is the man whose name she carries: her father, Gen Aung San, Burma’s unifying hero who negotiated his nation’s independence from Britain and was assassinated that year, a few days after her second birthday. She sometimes refers to the military as “my father’s army”.

Myanmar, in some ways, is the father she has never known. Living far away from her Oxford-based husband Michael Aris (who died in 1999), and from her sons, Ms Suu Kyi is bereft of the companionship, close kinship associations and trusted inner circle that would help her discuss her troubles threadbare with people she trusts absolutely. It is a heavy burden.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2017, with the headline ‘Suu Kyi’s heavy burden’.
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Related:

Why concerns about an India-Pakistan nuclear war are highly exaggerated — Yet some still ponder “nuclear first strike”

March 31, 2017

By Bharat Karnad

Updated: Mar 31, 2017 07:27 IST

Narendra Modi

Agni 4 missile seen during the full dress rehearsal for the Republic Day Parade, New Delhi. (File Photo)(Reuters)

The latest edition of the Carnegie Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington that just ended featured American and foreign nuclear specialists chasing, as usual, the elusive nuclear catastrophe they are convinced is round the corner. There was also the obligatory alarm raised about South Asia. This year, the India-Pakistan “nuclear flashpoint” thesis was tweaked to claim that India has abandoned its No First Use (NFU) commitment and adopted a strategy, in case of an “imminent” launch, of a pre-emptive “comprehensive strike” against Pakistan. Such a course is being contemplated, it was argued, to spare the country the “iterative tit-for-tat exchanges” and prevent the “destruction” of Indian cities.

This hair-raising conclusion was not supported by other than extremely flimsy evidence — three unrelated statements by separate persons. Let’s examine and contextualise these statements in turn. The erstwhile defence minister Manohar Parrikar stated not long after taking office that India would “not declare one way or another” if it would use or not use nuclear weapons first. This was said expressly to inject ambiguity of response that is crucial for the credibility of the Indian nuclear posture. This credibility was lost in 1999 when the previous BJP government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee mindlessly made the draft-nuclear doctrine public, and later compounded the problem by replacing “proportional response” in the draft with “massive retaliation”. Incidentally, Parrikar’s avowal was in light of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political decision to not initiate a formal revision of the doctrine promised by the ruling party in its 2014 election manifesto.

The second reference is to the former national security adviser (NSA) Shivshankar Menon’s observation in his recent book that the Indian nuclear strategy has “far greater flexibility than it gets credit for”. The doctrine drafters in the first National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) intended and so shaped the doctrine, especially Section 4, to make it “elastic”, to enable escaping the limitations of “minimum” deterrence imposed by the prime minister in his suo moto statement to Parliament on May 28, 1998, before the constitution of the NSAB. The NFU declaration makes for fine rhetoric, distancing India from the hair-trigger situation Pakistan strives for the world to believe exists in the subcontinent. It is in Pakistan’s interest to talk up Hindu animus and predatory India, because it justifies not just its nuclear arsenal but its emphasis on first use of tactical nuclear weapons. In the event, treating NFU as a conditional constraint is what Menon hints at.

The third piece of proof trotted out is the views of retired Lieutenant General BS Nagal, a former strategic forces command (SFC) commander, particularly his view that a democratically-elected government cannot morally risk the decimation of the Indian people by sticking literally to the NFU pledge. It was during Nagal’s tenure at the SFC, it may be recalled, when the then NSA MK Narayanan publicly revealed that the military was not in the know of nuclear arsenal details and, by implication, that the SFC was not in the nuclear loop. It may therefore be safely deduced that the views Nagal has developed was outside the SFC ambit.

However, certain developments in the nuclear weapons sphere do indeed make possible an Indian first strike. Such as the ongoing process of canisterising Agni missiles, including presumably the 700-km range Agni I meant for the Pakistan and Tibet-Chengdu contingencies. It, in fact, provides the country not only with a capability for launch-on-warning but also for striking pre-emptively should reliable intelligence reveal an adversary’s decision to mount a surprise attack.

Nuclear missiles in hermetically sealed canisters are ready-to-fire weapons and signal an instantaneous retaliatory punch to strongly deter nuclear adventurism. Thus, all nuclear weapon states keep a part of their strategic forces in ready state, there being no guarantees that a confrontation or conflict with another nuclear power will keep to a sub-nuclear script. Having the wherewithal for pre-emptive action and launch-on-warning then is only a reasonable precaution.

Whatever their capabilities to fight nuclear wars, the chances of either India or Pakistan initiating a nuclear exchange for any reason are remote for the very good reason that western governments and analysts rarely acknowledge, because most of them are unaware or wilfully ignore the social context of India-Pakistan tensions, namely, the fact, whether anybody likes it or not, of these South Asian countries being organically linked.

Divided communities, continuing kith and kinship relations, shared religion and culture, mean that the so-called India-Pakistan “wars” are less wars, more “riots” — short periods of hostilities in geographically constrained spaces, hence the famously apt description of these by the late Major General DK Palit, originally of the Baloch Regiment, as “communal riots with tanks”.

Bharat Karnad is professor, Centre for Policy Research, and was part of the group that drafted the nuclear doctrine

The views expressed are personal

http://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/concerns-about-an-india-pakistan-nuclear-war-are-highly-exaggerated/story-rnKGeo3qZ0oCpMhR1edRqL.html

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India may be reinterpreting its nuclear weapons doctrine, circumstantial evidence suggests, with potentially significant ramifications for the already tenuous nuclear balance in South Asia.

New assessments suggest that India is considering allowing for pre-emptive nuclear strikes against Pakistan’s arsenal in the event of a war. This would not formally change India’s nuclear doctrine, which bars it from launching a first strike, but would loosen its interpretation to deem pre-emptive strikes as defensive.

It would also change India’s likely targets, in the event of a war, to make a nuclear exchange more winnable and, therefore, more thinkable.

Analysts’ assessments, based on recent statements by senior Indian officials, are necessarily speculative. States with nuclear weapons often leave ambiguity in their doctrines to prevent adversaries from exploiting gaps in their proscriptions and to preserve flexibility. But signs of a strategic adjustment in India are mounting.

This comes against a backdrop of long-simmering tensions between India and Pakistan — including over state-sponsored terrorism and the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir — which have already led to several wars, the most recent in 1999.

The new interpretation would be a significant shift in India’s posture that could have far-reaching implications in the region, even if war never comes. Pakistan could feel compelled to expand its arsenal to better survive a pre-emptive strike, in turn setting off an Indian buildup.

This would be more than an arms race, said Vipin Narang, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who studies nuclear powers.

“It’s very scary because all the ‘first-strike instability’ stuff is real,” Mr. Narang said, referring to a dynamic in which two nuclear adversaries both perceive a strong incentive to use their warheads first in a war. This is thought to make nuclear conflict more likely.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/world/asia/india-long-at-odds-with-pakistan-may-be-rethinking-nuclear-first-strikes.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fworld&action=click&contentCollection=world&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0

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Mistakes, He’s Made a Few Too Many — Crisis reveals the character of men — Trump better be ready

March 31, 2017

Crisis will inevitably strike, so America needs stability and strength. Will Trump be ready?

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Israel approves new settlements

March 31, 2017

B PAUL GOLDMAN
NBC News

The Israeli Security Cabinet on Thursday approved the construction of the first new Jewish settlement in the West Bank in 20 years, setting the stage for a confrontation with the Palestinians who bitterly oppose the project and claim the land as their own.

The move — which still needs approval from the entire Cabinet — came despite a request from President Donald Trump in February to put the brakes on any new settler developments.

Image: Israeli settlers block Amona evacuation
Israeli settlers block the road during the evacuation of the settlement. Abir Sultan / EPA

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been under pressure at home by hard-line settlers and their backers to relocate some 30 families who had been forcibly evicted from the Amona settlement in the West Bank after the Israeli high court ruled it was illegal.

Netanyahu’s announcement Thursday was terse and straight to the point: “The Political-Security Cabinet unanimously approved this evening the establishment of a new settlement for the evacuees of Amona, in the Shilo Valley region.”

While more than 600,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, Israel has not built a full-fledged new settlement since the 1990s. Instead, building during that period has expanded existing settlements or taken place in unauthorized outposts like Amona. Netanyahu’s hard-line government, which is dominated by settler allies, recently passed legislation aimed at legalizing dozens of those outposts.

The Palestinians and much of the international community consider the settlements obstacles to peace because they occupy up territory where the Palestinians seek to establish a future state. Israel says the status of settlements as well as other issues, such as security, should be resolved in peace talks.

FROM FEB. 2: Israeli UN Ambassador: ‘Settlements Are Not The Obstacle To Peace’ 5:00

A leading settler organization welcomed the decision, but warned that it would watch the government carefully to see what came next.

“The true test will be the implementation of these plans and their manifestation as actual bricks and mortar on the ground,” said Oded Revivi of the Yesha Council. “We will be monitoring the government very closely to see that these plans come to fruition, enabling a new era of building throughout our ancestral homeland.”

Palestinian Liberation Organization committee member Hanan Ashrawi, meanwhile, immediately condemned the decision.

Related: Netanyahu: U.N. Will Not Dictate Terms to Israel

“Today’s announcement once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace,” she said.

Israeli opposition groups like Peace Now also chimed-in with condemnation.

“Netanyahu is held captive by the settlers, and chooses his political survival over the interest of the state of Israel,” the group said. “By giving in to settler pressure, Netanyahu is leading Israelis and Palestinians to a reality of one state and apartheid.”

In an email to NBC News, United Nations Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq “reiterated the U.N.’s long-standing position that settlements are unhelpful to the peace process.”

There was no immediate response from the White House.

By last week, the proposed new settlement was on the agenda when Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, met with Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, The Washington Post reported.

Some 330 right-wing Israeli settlers lived in Amona, which was the largest of the outposts built in the West Bank without official authorization.

After a lengthy legal battle, the Israeli court ordered the settlers to leave Amona because their homes were built on privately owned Palestinian land. And when Israeli security forces arrived, they were met with violence.

Hamas Blames Israel in Killing — “We harvest what we sow.” — “Hamas will retaliate.”

March 31, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Adel Zaanoun | Billboard of Mazen Faqha, a military commander of Hamas shot dead in the Gaza Strip, in an assassination which Hamas says bears bore the hallmark of Israel’s intelligence service Mossad
GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – After openly accusing Israel of assassinating a key military commander near his Gaza home, experts agree that Palestinian militant group Hamas will want to retaliate. The question is when and where?

Israeli and Palestinian experts both said Hamas would seek to avenge the killing of Mazen Faqha, 38, but from a distance.

A commander in Hamas’s armed wing, Faqha was shot four times near his home on March 24 in what appears to have been a meticulously planned assassination.

Hamas said the shooting, which was allegedly carried out with silencers, with the body found several hours later, bore the hallmark of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

Other possibilities exist — an inside job by Hamas rivals or Islamist extremists — but Israel is the obvious suspect.

It accused Faqha of being the brain behind several deadly suicide bombings during the second intifada, or uprising, in the early 2000s.

The Jewish state has remained silent but several Hamas figures have been assassinated by Israel in the past, including founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

By killing him in Hamas-run Gaza, where no Israelis are allowed to enter, Israel would be sending a clear message it can reach its enemy anywhere.

Hamas’s potential responses are restricted by its wariness to spark a full confrontation from Gaza, with the impoverished enclave still not recovered from three wars since 2008.

The Islamist group could seek to strike inside Israel itself or in the West Bank, occupied by the Israel and separated geographically from Gaza by Israeli territory.

Hamas has previously responded by firing rockets into Israel, but has chosen not to immediately this time, noted Mustafa al-Saouaf, former editor-in-chief of the Hamas-linked Palestine newspaper.

In the streets of Gaza, giant posters show Faqha with a masked fighter from Hamas’s armed wing.

Videos on Palestinian social networks show Israeli ministers and officials in the crosshairs of guns. “We harvest what we sow,” they read in Arabic and Hebrew.

The movement has been careful not to spell out its intentions, with Yahya Sinwar, a military leader recently elected to head Hamas in Gaza, remaining silent.

His appointment in February was interpreted by many analysts as indicating that the military wing was in the ascendancy over the political inside Hamas.

The Islamist movement may be deliberately remaining quiet to cause “real anxiety in Israel” as they “do not understand what Hamas wants and can do”, Saouaf said.

– Rules of the game –

Hamas can open “direct confrontations, return to suicide attacks or attempt to assassinate a political or military figure,” Saouaf added.

Hamza Abu Shanab, an expert on Palestinian movements, said the most likely response would come in the West Bank as it was a “possible front” for confrontation.

More than 400,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, while Israelis have kept out of the Gaza Strip since 2005.

Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political analyst in Gaza, said Hamas was following the example of Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah, which when attacked by Israel says “they will decide when and how they want to respond”.

On the Israeli side, experts said they felt the “rules of the game” were changing.

Intelligence specialist Yossi Melman said in the Maariv newspaper that if Israel was indeed behind the killing. it would “point to a change in approach”.

“If it indeed has succeeded in assassinating Hamas commanders or experts without leaving a trace of its fingerprints — be that in Gaza or abroad — that means Israel has decided to adopt a more offensive stance.”

By keeping silent instead of claiming assassinations as it has in the past, Israel is “leaving it to Hamas to exercise restraint”, the leftwing Haaretz said.

Little information about the investigation has seeped out.

Unusually, Hamas temporarily closed the only crossing point for people from Gaza into Israel, in an apparent attempt to prevent the assassins escaping.

Gaza’s attorney general has banned reporting about the case, but security sources said around 10 people had been arrested or interrogated in connection with the murder.

by Adel Zaanoun

Beijing speaks softly ahead of Xi-Trump summit after US president anticipates ‘difficult’ meeting

March 31, 2017

China’s foreign ministry paints rosy picture for ties despite US president’s critical tweets

By Zhuang Pinghui and Teddy Ng
South China Morning Post

Friday, March 31, 2017, 11:36 a.m.
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Trump sees ‘very difficult’ meeting with Xi Jinping

Friday, March 31, 2017, 8:00 a.m.