Archive for June, 2017

Despite hacking charges, U.S. tech industry fought to keep ties to Russia spy service

June 30, 2017
Reuters
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By Joel SchectmanDustin Volz and Jack Stubbs | WASHINGTON/MOSCOW

(Editors note: Attention to language in paragraph 22 that may be offensive to some readers.)

As U.S. officials investigated in January the FSB’s alleged role in election cyber attacks, U.S. technology firms were quietly lobbying the government to soften a ban on dealing with the Russian spy agency, people with direct knowledge of the effort told Reuters.

New U.S. sanctions put in place by former President Barack Obama last December – part of a broad suite of actions taken in response to Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election – had made it a crime for American companies to have any business relationship with the FSB, or Federal Security Service.

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Previous Reuters Cyber coverage:

Under pressure, Western tech firms bow to Russian demands to share cyber secrets
More Cyber Risk news

U.S. authorities had accused the FSB, along with the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, of orchestrating cyber attacks on the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, a charge Moscow denies.

But the sanctions also threatened to imperil the Russian sales operations of Western tech companies. Under a little-understood arrangement, the FSB doubles as a regulator charged with approving the import to Russia of almost all technology that contains encryption, which is used in both sophisticated hardware as well as products like cellphones and laptops.

Worried about the sales impact, business industry groups, including the U.S.-Russia Business Council and the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, contacted U.S. officials at the American embassy in Moscow and the Treasury, State and Commerce departments, according to five people with direct knowledge of the lobbying effort.

The campaign, which began in January and proved successful in a matter of weeks, has not been previously reported.

In recent years, Western technology companies have acceded to increasing demands by Moscow for access to closely guarded product security secrets, including source code, Reuters reported last week.

Russia’s information technology market is expected to reach $18.4 billion this year, according to market researcher International Data Corporation.

The sanctions would have meant the Russian market was “dead for U.S. electronics” said Alexis Rodzianko, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, who argued against the new restrictions. “Every second Russian has an iPhone, iPad, so they would all switch to Samsungs,” he said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Commerce Department Bureau of Industry and Security declined to comment. A State Department official said Washington considered a range of factors before amending the FSB sanction and regularly works with U.S. companies to assess the impact of such policies.

The lobbyists argued the sanction could have stopped the sale of cars, medical devices and heavy equipment, all of which also often contain encrypted software, according to a person involved in the lobbying effort. The goal of the sanctions was to sever U.S. business dealings with the FSB – not end American technology exports to Russia entirely, the industry groups argued.

“The sanction was against a government agency that has many functions, only one of them being hacking the U.S. elections,” said Rodzianko.

The lobbyists assembled representatives from the tech, automotive and manufacturing sectors to make the case to the U.S. Treasury Department, said the person involved in the lobbying effort.

The industry groups did not argue against the intent of the sanction but asked for a narrow exception that would allow them to continue to seek regulatory approvals from the FSB while still keeping in place the broader ban on doing business with the spy agency.

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“PUNISHMENT FOR VERY BAD ACTS”

The industry groups represent a number of technology firms with a large presence in Russia, including Cisco and Microsoft.

Reuters was unable to determine which companies were directly involved in the lobbying. Microsoft said it did not ask for changes to the sanctions. In a statement, Cisco said it also did not seek any changes to the sanction but had asked the Treasury Department for clarification on how it applied.

In order to get encrypted technology into Russia, companies need to obtain the blessing of the FSB, a process that can sometimes take months or even years of negotiation. Before granting that approval, the agency can demand sensitive security data about the product, including source code – instructions that control the basic operations of computer equipment.

The United States has accused Russia of a growing number of cyber attacks against the West. U.S. officials say they are concerned that Moscow’s reviews of product secrets could be used to find vulnerabilities to hack into the products.

Some U.S. government officials rejected the industry groups’ arguments. They openly embraced the prospect of any ripple effect that cut further trade with Russia.

Kevin Wolf was assistant secretary at the Commerce Department and oversaw export control policy when the FSB sanction was put in place. Wolf said within days of the sanction taking effect, Commerce received numerous calls from industry groups and companies warning of the unintended consequences.

But for Wolf, who was “furious” with Moscow over the alleged cyber attacks, any additional curbs on trade with Russia was a bonus rather than an unintended downside.

“I said, ‘Great, terrific, fuck ’em … The whole point is to interfere with trade’,” recounted Wolf. “The sanction was meant to impose pain (on Russia) and send a signal as punishment for very bad acts.”

Wolf left the Commerce Department when President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20.

Other officials felt that the impact on legitimate trade was too great. “The intention of the sanction was not to cut off tech trade with Russia,” said a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the process.

The lobbyists had also argued that since the sanctions only applied to U.S. technology makers, it would put them at a disadvantage to European and Asian companies who would still be able to interact with the FSB and sell products in Russia.

“We were asking for a narrow technical fix that would give a fair deal for American companies,” Dan Russell, CEO of the U.S.-Russia Business Council, said in an interview.

The advocacy worked. State and Treasury officials began working to tweak the sanction in January before Obama left office, according to people involved in the process.

On Feb. 2, the Treasury Department created an exception to the sanction, about two weeks after Trump took office, to allow tech companies to continue to obtain approvals from the FSB.

 

(Reporting by Joel Schectman and Dustin Volz in Washington and Jack Stubbs in Moscow; Editing by Ross Colvin)

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Ten Years of Russian Cyber Attacks on Other Nations

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/hacking-in-america/timeline-ten-years-russian-cyber-attacks-other-nations-n697111

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John Emerson, Washington's man in Berlin, to meet with Guido Westerwelle, German foreign minister, over claims Angela Merkel's phone was tapped by US

Chancellor Merkel called President Obama demanding answers after reports emerged that the US may have been monitoring her phone Photo: YVES HERMAN/REUTERS
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James Clapper talking to a group of people
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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks at the Center for American Progress’ 2014 Making Progress Policy Conference in Washington November 19, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron

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Susan Rice

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Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama at a joint news conference in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 25.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama at a joint news conference in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 25. Photo: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg News
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French, German and Italian ministers to meet on Sunday over migrant help

June 30, 2017

Reuters

The interior ministers of France, Germany and Italy will meet in Paris on Sunday to discuss ways to help Italy, which has been struggling with the masses of migrants arriving on its shores and has demanded solidarity from other members of the European Union.

With the backing of the European Commission, Italy has threatened to close its ports to migrant rescue boats so as to redirect them to other Mediterranean countries.

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Vos Hestia in the Mediterranean sea

It has seen more than 500,000 migrant arrivals since 2014, including 82,000 so far this year.

“I will receive the Italian and German interior ministers on Sunday,” French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told Reuters on the sidelines of a police academy graduation.

But an aide said the meeting was not likely to yield an immediate decision given that EU interior ministers are due to meet next week in Tallinn, Estonia.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Friday that the executive arm of the bloc will discuss further measures with Italy and Greece in the coming week to help them deal with their migrant arrivals.

The Commission on Thursday threw its weight behind a plea by Italy for other EU states to allow rescue boats carrying migrants to dock in their ports. It has been suggested that the ports in Barcelona and Marseille could receive migrant boats.

(Reporting by Catherine Lagrange and Jean-Baptiste Vey; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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Turkey urges ‘respect of Qatar’s rights’ to solve Gulf crisis

June 30, 2017

AFP

© Turkish Defence Ministry/AFP | Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik (R) and Qatari counterpart Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah held talks in Ankara. Turkey has stood by Doha throughout the Gulf crisis

ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkey on Friday said the rights of Qatar must be respected as it hosted the defence minister of Ankara’s main Gulf ally which has been left isolated by Saudi-led sanctions.Khaled bin Mohammed al-Attiyah met with Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik at the defence ministry in Ankara, the state-run news agency Anadolu said on Thursday.

The meeting came as Ankara, which has stood by Doha throughout the crisis, resists pressure to shutter a Turkish military base on the emirate that Qatar’s neighbours want to see closed.

In the talks, Isik said that “the current issues between the (Gulf) countries, who are brothers, must be resolved soon on the basis of a sincere dialogue and respect for Qatar’s rights.”

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain announced on June 5 the suspension of political, economic and diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting extremist groups.

Doha denies the claims. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the allegations are baseless and offered Ankara’s full support.

Turkey has provided food and other aid through hundreds of planes and a cargo ship, although Ankara’s attempts to mediate between the sides have so far come to nothing.

Crucially, Ankara is also setting up a military base on the emirate that is set to give Turkey a new foothold in the Gulf, sending in a first deployment of two dozen troops.

Last week Riyadh and its allies issued 13 demands to Qatar for resolving the crisis, including the closure of the Turkish military base and the Doha-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera.

Erdogan hit back at the Saudi-led demands, saying the sweeping demands were “against international law” and saying that asking for the withdrawal of Turkish troops was a “disrespect to Turkey.”

Yet Ankara has also been careful not to directly criticise Riyadh and previously urged the kingdom to lead attempts to solve the crisis.

US President Donald Trump spoke with Erdogan on Friday by telephone on the crisis, the White House and Turkish presidency said.

Dozens feared drowned after ‘migrant boat sinks off Libya’

June 30, 2017

AFP

AFP | Libya is the departure point for thousands of migrants trying to reach Europe, and every year the Red Crescent recovers hundreds of bodies who have perished on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea

ROME (AFP) – Some 60 people are missing and believed drowned after the dinghy they were on sank off Libya, the International Organization for Migration said Friday, citing survivor testimony.The inflatable had been carrying 140-150 people including women when it began taking on water five hours after setting off from North Africa on Monday, according to 80 survivors who were brought to safety in Italy.

“They don’t know how long it was before help arrived. They clung to bits of the dinghy until it fell dark, then a boat arrived and they were rescued,” IOM spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo told AFP.

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HMS Echo

The survivors were later transferred to the British military ship HMS Echo, which is currently operating in the Mediterranean as part of the EU’s anti-trafficking Operation Sophia.

They were among 550 people the HMS Echo disembarked in the Italian port of Brindisi on Friday, following an intense week of rescues at sea.

With smugglers taking advantage of a spell of good weather and calm seas, more than 10,000 people were rescued from rickety boats off Libya since Sunday alone.

Nearly 77,000 migrants have landed in Italy since January, up 15 percent on the same period in 2016.

The latest deaths increase the toll of people dying attempting the crossing or missing, feared drowned, to nearly 2,100 since the beginning of 2017.

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Amid China’s South China Sea Construction, President Duterte has been a passive observer

June 30, 2017
Faced with China’s version of “build, build, build” in the South China Sea, President Rodrigo Duterte is keeping his “non-combative” stance in dealing with Beijing, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said yesterday. PPD/Robinson Niñal, File

MANILA, Philippines –  Faced with China’s version of “build, build, build” in the South China Sea, President Duterte is keeping his “non-combative” stance in dealing with Beijing, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said yesterday.

“We need to reiterate the fact that the President has said – his approach to the situation, to regional geopolitics has always been to come into a mutual understanding and dialogue in order to resolve cases like these,” Abella said during the “Mindanao Hour” program held in Davao City.

While the government would rather leave the matter to the Department of National Defense and Department of Foreign Affairs, Abella stressed that Duterte has made his position clear on the issue – to be “non-adversarial” and opt for “peaceful dialogue.”

“We need to just go back to the fact that the President at this stage has been non-combative and non-adversarial, but has approached regional geopolitics from the point of view of dialogue and mutual understanding and mutual support,” Abella said.

He was reacting to a report of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative – part of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies – that new missile shelters and radar and communication facilities were being built on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Panganiban (Mischief) and Zamora (Subi) reefs in the Spratlys.

The report said the ongoing installation of a very large antenna array on Panganiban should be of concern to the Philippines due to its proximity to an area claimed by Manila.

The facility would certainly boost Beijing’s ability to monitor the surroundings, the report said.

Duterte began cozying up to China right after assuming the presidency last year, purportedly as part of his pivot to China and “separation” from the US, which has been critical of his bloody war on drugs.

He also described his warming of relations with Beijing as a step toward an independent foreign policy.

On Wednesday, Duterte witnessed the turnover by Beijing of a military package worth about P500 million delivered by cargo aircraft at Clark Freeport.

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua also donated P5 million in assistance for families of soldiers killed or injured in the government’s fight against the Maute group in Marawi City. Beijing also donated P15 million to help in the rebuilding of the war-torn city.

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/07/01/1715182/amid-chinas-build-build-build-rody-non-combative

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The international arbitration court in the Hague said on July 12, 2016, that China’s “nine dash line” was not recognized under international law — making the Vietnamese and Philippine claims on South China Sea islands valid and lawful.

China builds military facilities in Spratlys — Ignoring international law

June 30, 2017
China has built new military facilities on islands in the South China Sea, a US think tank reported on Thursday, a move that could raise tensions with Washington, which has accused Beijing of militarizing the vital waterway. File

WASHINGTON – China has built new military facilities on islands in the South China Sea, a US think tank reported on Thursday, a move that could raise tensions with Washington, which has accused Beijing of militarizing the vital waterway.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), part of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said new satellite images show missile shelters and radar and communications facilities being built on the Fiery Cross (Kagitingan), Mischief (Panganiban) and Subi (Zamora) reefs in the Spratly Islands.

The report said the building of a large antennae array on Mischief should be of concern to the Philippines. Last year, the United Nations-backed Permanent Arbitration Court had awarded the Philippines sovereign rights over Mischief off Palawan, which the Chinese began occupying in 1993.

The US has criticized China’s build-up of military facilities on the artificial islands and is concerned they could be used to restrict free movement through the South China Sea, an important trade route.

Last month, a US Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in a so-called freedom of navigation operation, the first such challenge to Beijing’s claim to most of the waterway since US President Donald Trump took office.

China has denied US charges that it is militarizing the sea, which also is claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

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Trump has sought China’s help in reining in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and tension between Washington and Beijing over military installations in the South China Sea could complicate those efforts.

China has built four new missile shelters on Fiery Cross Reef to go with the eight already on the artificial island, AMTI said. Mischief and Subi each have eight shelters, the think tank said in a previous report.

In February, Reuters reported that China had nearly finished building structures to house long-range surface-to-air missiles on the three islands.

On Mischief Reef, a very large antennae array being installed would presumably boost Beijing’s ability to monitor the surroundings, the think tank said.

A large dome recently was installed on Fiery Cross and another is under construction, indicating a sizeable communications or radar system, AMTI said. Two more domes are being built at Mischief Reef, it said.

A smaller dome has been installed near the missile shelters on Mischief, “indicating that it could be connected to radars for any missile systems that might be housed there,” AMTI said.

“Beijing can now deploy military assets, including combat aircraft and mobile missile launchers, to the Spratly Islands at any time,” it said.

‘Golden period’

In Manila, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano’s visit to Beijing is timely as relations between China and the Philippines have entered a “golden period of fast development.”

He said the two countries have signed 22 cooperative agreements in less than six months and China has become the Philippines’ biggest trading partner for the first time.

“The agenda is very clear, for the enhancement of relations between China and the Philippines,” Zhao said of Cayetano’s meeting with Chinese officials.

Cayetano, who left for a four-day official visit to China last Wednesday, has met Chinese leaders, including Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, according to Zhao.

“I think Secretary Cayetano is doing a very good job and the Chinese side attach great importance to his first official visit to China in his capacity as secretary of foreign affairs,” the ambassador said.

“He has very good conversations with his counterpart Wang Yi,” he said.

Zhao said the South China Sea issue would likely be tackled during Cayetano’s meeting with Chinese leaders.

“I think this will be one of the topics. You know China and the Philippines have already established bilateral channel between the two ministries of foreign affairs to talk about the South China Sea and related issues, and that China has already been open and we would hope that it would be friendly and candid exchange of views through that bilateral channel,” he pointed out.

In July last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated China’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea.

Despite the legal victory, Duterte has chosen to put the ruling on the back burner, saying he would revisit it later in his term.

The arbitral tribunal’s decision came three years after the previous Aquino administration turned to the court for help to assert the country’s jurisdiction over land features in the West Philippine Sea coveted or already seized by China.

Beijing has vowed not to honor the ruling.  – Reuters

The world is seeing, today, a lesson in how China honors international agreements —  in Hong Kong:

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The international arbitration court in the Hague said on July 12, 2016, that China’s “nine dash line” was not recognized under international law — making the Vietnamese and Philippine claims on South China Sea islands valid and lawful.

China says Hong Kong handover agreement ‘no longer relevant’

June 30, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Hong Kong’s police officers intervene in an altercation between Pro-China protesters and pro-independence representatives during President of China Xi Jinping’s three-day visit to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover from Britain to China

BEIJING (AFP) – In the midst of celebrations marking 20 years since Britain returned Hong Kong to China, Beijing declared that the document which initiated the handover “is no longer relevant.”The remarks on Friday came a day after UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson stressed Britain’s commitment to the historic Sino-Britain Joint Declaration, which gave Hong Kong rights unseen on the mainland through a “one country, two systems” agreement.

The U.S. State Department also said Thursday that the US “remains concerned about any infringement of civil liberties in Hong Kong,” and expressed support for the “further development of Hong Kong’s democratic systems.”

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 Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang (By KIM KYUNG HOON for REUTERS)

In response to the US and UK statements, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang detailed Hong Kong’s “comprehensive achievements with the support of the central government and mainland.”

Citing Hong Kong’s low unemployment rate and free economy during a regular press briefing Friday, Lu said: “Now Hong Kong has returned to China for almost two decades and this communique is a historical document.”

“It’s no longer relevant,” Lu said, “and the UK has no sovereignty, governing power or the right to supervision over Hong Kong.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who arrived in Hong Kong on Thursday to lead handover anniversary celebrations, has said that he wanted to ensure the continuation of the “one country, two systems” set-up.

Xi’s three-day visit comes three years after “Umbrella Movement” protesters crippled the city for months as they camped out on thoroughfares, calling for reforms and the protection of Hong Kong’s unique status.

A huge security operation has been put in place for the Chinese president’s visit and the anniversary celebrations, with thousands of police deployed to keep demonstrators away.

The Sino-British declaration said Hong Kong would be a “Special Administrative Region” of China, and would retain its freedoms and way of life for 50 years after the handover date on July 1, 1997.

As part of the deal, Hong Kong was guaranteed rights including freedom of speech and an independent judiciary, but there are concerns those liberties are disappearing as Beijing becomes ever more assertive.

Young activists calling for self-determination or independence have emerged as a result.

“I’ve no doubt that Hong Kong’s future success will depend on the rights and freedoms protected by that treaty,” UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said.

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GOP senator calls for ObamaCare repeal first, replacement LATER

June 30, 2017

By 
The Hill

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Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) told Fox News on Friday that if Republicans can’t pass a bill to replace ObamaCare soon, they should repeal the entire law and work on a replacement later.

Speaking on “Fox and Friends,” Sasse said that if progress isn’t made by July 10, he’ll call on the president to separate the process.

“To date, we’ve been trying to do those two things at once, and not been making enough progress” Sasse said. “I still hope that process can work, but most people are leaving D.C. today to go home for the Fourth of July weekend.”

“If we don’t get this resolved by the Monday of next week, July 10, if there isn’t a combined repeal-and-replace plan, I’m writing a letter to the president this morning urging him to call on us to separate them,” he told Fox News.

Sasse said that the GOP has the votes it needs in the Senate to repeal ObamaCare, and it should focus on that first.

“Every Republican except one has already voted for repeal in the past,” Sasse said. “Let’s do that first, if we can’t do them together.””Let’s do as much repeal as we can,” Sasse continued, “And then let’s ask the president to cancel our August 8 work period, and then stay here and work on replace separate.”

Nine GOP senators have already said they won’t vote for the Senate’s bill to replace ObamaCare in its current form. The Senate GOP holds a 52-48 majority, meaning they can afford just two Republican defections and still pass the bill.

Includes video:

http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/340213-gop-senator-calls-for-maximum-repeal-of-obamacare-first-then-replacement

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Israeli plane hits Syrian army in latest Golan exchange

June 30, 2017

AFP

© AFP | A picture taken from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights shows smoke billowing from the Syrian side of the border on June 25, 2017

JERUSALEM (AFP) – An Israeli warplane struck a Syrian army post on Friday, the Israeli military said, hours after stray fire from Syria’s civil war hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

“In response to the projectile launched earlier today at Israel from Syria, an Israel Air Force aircraft targeted the Syrian army position that fired the mortar,” the English-language Israeli statement said.

“The errant projectile was a result of internal fighting in Syria.”

It was the fourth such exchange in a week as Syrian troops battle rebels, including hardline Islamists, on the other side, leading to occasional stray fire.

There have been no casualties on the Israeli side but the Jewish state also responded to the previous three incidents by striking Syrian government positions.

Rebels recently launched an offensive against government forces in Quneitra on the Syrian side of the armistice line.

Israel has conducted several air strikes in Syria since that country’s civil war erupted in 2011, most of which it has said had been against arms convoys or warehouses of its Lebanese arch-foe Hezbollah.

The Iran-backed movement is a key supporter of the Syrian regime and is fighting alongside government forces.

In April, Israel shot down what it identified only as “a target” over the Golan, hours after Syria accused it of hitting a military position near Damascus airport.

Israel did not confirm or deny the reported Damascus attack.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that he would not tolerate any spillover from the fighting in Syria.

“We will respond to every firing,” he said. “Whoever attacks us, we will attack him. This is our policy and we will continue with it.”

– ‘Determined to respond’ –

Netanyahu was speaking at the Israeli settlement of Katzrin in the Golan, when a Syrian mortar shell hit further north and the Israeli military retaliated.

“During my speech, shells from the Syrian side landed in our territory and the Israel Defence Forces have already struck back,” he said.

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

Around 510 square kilometres of the Golan are under Syrian control.

“Our line is clear,” Netanyahu said in his Hebrew-language speech on Wednesday.

“We are not interfering in the bloody conflict in Syria, which has been going on for more than six years, but we are determined to respond firmly and forcefully to any violation of our sovereignty.”

“We shall not permit radical Islam, led by Iran or Daesh, to open a terrorist front against the State of Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights,” he added using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State Jihadist group.

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In Tough Times, Religion Can Offer a Sturdy Shelter — And May Cure What Ails Us

June 30, 2017
Many recent studies have shown that religious observance can strengthen resilience to stress and illness.
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Our Lady of Guadalupe
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By Melvin Konner
The Wall Street Journal
June 30, 2017 9:36 a.m. ET

Zealots in our time have spilled enough blood in the name of religion that some authors—for instance, the late Christopher Hitchens in “God Is Not Great”—have blamed religious feeling itself for evil deeds. But a flood of recent research has shown how faith strengthens resilience to stress, including illness. A new study extends that research to Mexican immigrants in the U.S.

Strikingly, many of these studies on faith have come out over the past few years. Some are U.S.-based: Research published in May found that among over 5,000 American adults, regular churchgoers had better physiological stress measures and lower mortality. The Black Women’s Health Study reported in April that it had found a similar mortality benefit among 36,600 women. A 2015 article on 32,000 cancer patients found better physical health in those with greater religion and spirituality.

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The effects transcend borders and particular religions. Among 37,000 patients in Japan, the more religious had fewer cardiovascular risk factors and were less likely to get diabetes; likewise Orthodox Christians in Greece. Religiousness was associated with better compliance in dialysis patients in Saudi Arabia; in Northern India, Hindu identification predicted better stress coping. Both Buddhist and Muslim women in Thailand managed their diabetes better if they were religious. Even in secular Denmark, religion protected health.

Mary Read-Wahidi and Jason DeCaro, anthropologists at the University of Alabama, explored the stresses of immigration in Scott County, Miss., publishing their work in May in the Medical Anthropology Quarterly. Between April and August 2013, the researchers systematically interviewed 60 Mexican immigrants sharing a devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe in the county, in the central part of the state. As earlier researchers had shown with African-American women facing racism and so many others around the world dealing with illness, religious observances moderate the stresses of life in a new country.

Anthropologists would call the Virgin of Guadalupe a master symbol—one that has many meanings and functions in people’s lives. Her following is particularly strong in Mexico, where, according to legend, she appeared in 1531 to a poor peasant named Juan Diego and—in winter—filled his cloak with flowers. Soon a local bishop and eventually the Catholic Church were persuaded by Juan’s account. The immigrants of Scott County identified with the humble Juan Diego and melded their religious feeling with strands of nationalism: He was indigenous, yet under Spanish colonialism he had become a stranger in a strange land.

Some of the immigrants in the study were undocumented, living in fear of discovery. Many were doing hard, dangerous work, and most didn’t have health insurance; Dr. DeCaro calls them “a deeply disempowered community.” The researchers tested them on the Immigration Stressor Scale, with questions like: How often do you feel lonely or isolated? How often do you worry about meeting the basic needs of your family? The subjects also rated their own well-being, physically and socially.

Additionally, the researchers developed a scale for “cultural consonance” with Guadalupan devotion—in other words, how many Guadalupan beliefs and practices the subjects adopted, such as keeping a statue of the Virgin in their homes or cars, pursuing the tradition of bringing her flowers (recalling her favor to Juan) or rating her annual festival as very important. Paths to high-consonance scores could vary, from praying to the Virgin regularly to attending communal events in her honor. Those with high cultural consonance were resilient to the effects of stress on well-being: Greater immigration-related stress wasn’t tied to worse physical or psychosocial outcomes. Those with low readings on the cultural consonance scale showed lower well-being with greater stress.

“Guadalupan devotion is buffering that negative effect,” Dr. Read-Wahidi said. Spiritually or psychologically, the Virgin of Guadalupe is helping her Scott County followers hang on.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-tough-times-religion-can-offer-a-sturdy-shelter-1498829765