Archive for December, 2017

Support the thousands of protesters risking their lives in Iran

December 31, 2017

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh | 

Iran is experiencing a political earthquake. The fault lines are clear: On the one side, the theocratic regime and its suppressive forces; on the other, the Iranian people. At least two dozen cities across the country witnessed large-scale demonstrations on Friday and Saturday against a regime that has been sorely incapable of addressing the country’s economic and political demands. The protests have now grown over 50 cities and several protesters have been shot dead as security forces opened fire.

“Death to the dictator” is once again echoing among Iran’s struggling population, mainly youths and women. For months, thousands of people have been protesting in various quarters, demanding justice for the plundering of their wealth by institutions tied to the “supreme leader” and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. However, the scale and political orientation of the Dec. 29 and 30 protests were striking and remarkable.

“The people live like beggars/(Khamenei) lives like a God,” thousands of demonstrators chanted in several towns on Dec. 30.

One of the most interesting chants in Tehran’s protests Sunday was “Reformists, hard-liner, game is over now,” reflecting the desire by Iranians for regime change.

On Thursday, Iran’s second-largest city, Mashhad, saw the spark of the protests. Several thousand people began their demonstrations by complaining about rising commodity prices (in some cases, food prices have seen a 20-30 percent hike in the last week alone).

Quickly, however, the protests were reoriented toward the regime’s senior officials, including President Hassan Rouhani and supreme leader Ali Khamenei: “Death to Rouhani,” “Death to Khamenei,” and “Death to the dictator,” the protesters chanted.

Then on Friday, the cities of Kermanshah, Shiraz, Rasht, Qom, Hamedan, Ahvaz, Isfahan, Zahedan, Qazvin, and Sari rose up, joined by a large number of smaller towns. There are several noteworthy characteristics about what has been reported thus far.

First, the political nature of the protests has been made clear from the start, although the underlying impetus was the economic situation and particularly the vast financial corruption permeating the regime.
Khamenei, as the main figure of the theocracy, has been a permanent fixture in the protesters’ slogans. And protesters continue to call on the regime to “Free all political prisoners.”

Second, the regime’s main players were quick to point out that there is a leading opposition movement that can lead the protests toward their final destination: the regime’s downfall.

During at least seven Friday prayer sessions across Iran, senior mullahs pointed the finger at the opposition and other foreign governments.

The state security and anti-riot forces were out in full force, using water cannons to disperse crowds and drawing chants of “Shame on you” from crowds who refused to give up any ground.

The fearlessness, courage and leading role of women has been exceptional. Dozens of video clips circulating on social media attest to this. In one case, a woman stands in front of security forces and shouts “Death to Khamenei,” an offense that could carry the death penalty.


Trump must reach out to the Iranians paying the ultimate price to bring down a common enemy.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

The third prominent characteristic of the recent rallies is that the protesters are clearly drawing a line between the Iranian people’s desired policies and those actually carried out by Tehran. These include the regime’s disastrous regional policies, including its wars in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

In many cities, including Zahedan, young demonstrators, in a country where unemployment is running rampant, chanted: “Leave Syria alone, think about us instead.”

Protesters in the city of Qom, the home of the main religious seminary, chanted “Death to Hezbollah.” Others chanted “Forget Gaza, forget Lebanon; I’d give my life for Iran.”
All political and economic indications are that protests in Iran will continue to grow.

Just eight years earlier, the people of Iran rose up in their millions against the dictatorship. The US administration at the time stayed abhorrently silent, provoking people on the streets to chant, “Obama, Obama, are you with them [mullahs] or with us?”

Washington did not offer support, enabling the mullahs to brutally crushed the demonstrations with impunity. The mullahs were even rewarded with a flawed nuclear deal and billions of dollars.

In a statement after the recent demonstrations, the US State Department said: “On June 14, 2017, Secretary Tillerson testified to Congress that he supports ‘those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of government. Those elements are there, certainly as we know.’ The secretary today repeats his deep support for the Iranian people.”

It is time for the administration of US President Donald Trump to go beyond words, however, and to actively reach out.

President Trump should lend moral support to millions of Iranians who are paying the ultimate price to bring down a common enemy: The evil dictatorship in Iran that is bent on nuclear weapons and regional domination. They need us just as much as we need them.

• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh


Israel ruling party votes for push to annex West Bank

December 31, 2017


© AFP/File | An Israeli soldier looks towards Palestinian protestors during clashes in the West Bank village of Madama December 28, 2017, just days before the central committee of Israel’s Likud Party voted for a resolution in favor of annexing the West Bank

JERUSALEM (AFP) – The central committee of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party on Sunday voted for a resolution urging Likud parliamentarians to push to annex the occupied West Bank.The non-binding vote by the party’s decision-making committee called on its MPs “to spread Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria (the West Bank)”.

Netanyahu, who is a member of the central committee, was not present for the vote.

The prime minister says he still supports a two-state solution with the Palestinians, although he has also pushed for Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli occupation for 50 years.

In October, Netanyahu decided to postpone a vote on a controversial bill that critics say would amount to the de facto annexation of Israeli settlements surrounding Jerusalem.

The bill had been expected to be voted on by a ministerial committee in a move that would fast-track its progress through parliament.

Israel occupied the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, in the Six-Day War of 1967. It later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community.

It sees the entire city as its indivisible capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

Israeli settlements are deemed illegal under international law and widely seen as the main obstacle to peace.

More than 600,000 Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem among 2.9 million Palestinians, with frequent outbreaks of violence.

Likud’s central committee counts around 3,700 members, and according to Israeli media some 1,500 were present for Sunday’s vote.

Iran’s winter of discontent

December 31, 2017

Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg | 

It is too early to determine where Iran’s protests are going: To change the regime or reform it. Are they the beginning of a revolution against the regime or a mere adjustment in its policies? Either way, the people of Iran and the region as a whole could benefit from a change in Iran’s policy of meddling in its neighbors’ affairs while neglecting the needs of its own citizens.

The mass protests started on Thursday and have quickly become the largest since the “Green Revolution” of 2009. Last week’s events started with large demonstrations in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city and a conservative stronghold. Within three days, they had spread to towns all over Iran, such as Ahvaz, Amol, Arak, Ardabil, Bandar Abbas, Dorud, Esfahan, Gorgan, Hamedan, Kashan, Kashmar, Kerman, Kermanshah, Khorramabad, Neyshabur, Qazvin, Qom, Rasht, Sari, Shahinshahr, Shahrekord, Shahroud, Shiraz, Urmia, Yazd, Zanjan, Zahedan and finally to Tehran; in other words, all over Iran’s political, ethnic and regional landscape.

Observers have made comparisons between these recent protests and the “Green Revolution” protests against the 2009 Iranian presidential election results. Those protests, which started in June 2009 and continued into 2010, were spurred by the disputed re-election of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against reform candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and others. The official election results claimed that Ahmadinejad had won 63 percent of the vote, despite widespread irregularities and projections that the opposition candidates would win larger shares.

The 2009-10 protests were suppressed through the use of excessive force and widespread atrocities committed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the paramilitary Basij. The Green movement was symbolized by Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman who was shot dead in broad daylight and whose last moments were captured by cameras and broadcast the world over.

While similar in size, the recent wave of protests appear to be markedly different from those in 2009-10, which were organized by supporters of opposition candidates who did not question the overall legitimacy of the Iranian regime at the time, but questioned election results. By contrast, the recent demonstrations appear to be directed against the entire establishment, including the Supreme Leader and his military and security arms, such as the IRGC and Basij. The quick spread of the protests to almost every corner of the country is another marked difference.

Initially, they appeared focused on economic complaints, such as unemployment and inflation, with chants against Rouhani and his administration. Very quickly, they started to attack the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and the IRGC, two previously untouchable institutions. Also unprecedented was the explicit and widespread criticism targeting Iran’s involvement in Syria and Lebanon, citing Lebanese Hezbollah by name — a hitherto hallowed regional proxy for Iran.

In fact, however, the economic and political aspects of the protests are closely linked. The economic suffering of ordinary citizens is a direct result of the regime’s external policies and costly adventures throughout the region and beyond.

Demonstrations throughout the country appear to be directed against the entire establishment, including the Supreme Leader and his military and security arms — marking them out as different from the Green Revolution of 2009.

Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

Iranian citizens certainly read the news and visit neighboring countries. They need to go no further than their brothers across the Gulf to notice that Iranians have gotten a short shrift, especially in economic terms, since 1979, the year of the Iranian Revolution. For example, the United Arab Emirates, the GCC country with which Iranians are most familiar, has managed to produce an economic miracle over the last four decades, while Iran has retreated on almost every economic and social front.

With only about one-ninth of Iran’s population, the UAE’s economy has surpassed that of its near neighbor. In 1979, Iran’s GDP at $90 billion was almost three times that of the UAE, which at the time was around $31 billion. Today, UAE GDP has jumped to $407 billion, ahead of Iran’s GDP of $368 billion in goods and services. UAE per capita GDP of $46,000 dollars is more than 10 times that of Iran’s $4,500. Social indicators have also suffered in Iran over the past decades: Its rank in life expectancy, for example, has declined from 129th to 153rd in the world.

Iran is one of the richest countries in the region in terms of resources, but it has failed to direct those riches toward the welfare of its people. Iran is believed to hold the fourth-largest oil reserves and the second-largest gas reserves in the world. And, with its large population and educated labor force, it could have harnessed those resources as their neighbors have done with fewer resources.

Instead, the Iranian regime has directed its resources and its people’s energies into constructing a complicated web of militias and terror groups to wreak havoc in the region. It funds Hezbollah of Lebanon and dozens of sectarian-based groups from Pakistan to Syria to Yemen. It finances, arms and trains terrorists from Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, among others. Instead of providing economic assistance or humanitarian aid to vulnerable communities, Iran provides them with weapons.

Iran’s adventurism has not been limited to the Gulf region. Its agents have spread violence in many parts of Asia, Africa and Europe, as well as North and South America.

Iran is also developing its ballistic missile program at a rate rivalled only by North Korea, which poses a serious threat to regional peace and security. It has also drained more resources that should have been spent on improving the living conditions of its citizens.

The cost of Iran’s adventures is not lost on ordinary Iranians. With these protests, they are demanding accountability and reform. And if reform does not come soon, their demands for a regime change could get louder.

• Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is a columnist for Arab News. He can be reached by email: Twitter: @abuhamad1

Iran’s Leaders Face Challenge Over Mounting Protests

December 31, 2017

Government efforts to reel in unrest sets up potential showdown as protests expand to more than a dozen cities

 Iranian students clash with riot police during an antigovernment protest around the University of Tehran on Saturday.
Iranian students clash with riot police during an antigovernment protest around the University of Tehran on Saturday. PHOTO:STR/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Iran’s biggest wave of street protests in almost a decade is presenting a mounting challenge to the country’s leadership, as demonstrations mushroomed Sunday despite threats of a government crackdown, pushing the president to appeal for calm.

The unrest began Thursday as a rebuke to the economic management of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who many Iranians blame for failing to control inflation and fix high unemployment. But protests have widened and have featured chants targeting Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who sits atop the country’s unique form of Islamic government.

Unverified video shared on social media showed unrest Sunday in dozens of cities, from the capital Tehran to Sandanaj and Kermanshah in the west, Isfahan in central Iran and Chabahar in the southeast. There were protests in Mashhad, where demonstrations first broke out Thursday, and in Shiraz in the south.

Some of the videos showed large numbers of people out on the street chanting against Mr. Khamenei and the Iranian system and in some cases clashing with security forces, who at times used batons and water cannons to disperse crowds. “Death to the dictator!” has been a common refrain.

As has been the case on other days, however, the precise scale of the protests was difficult to judge because reporting on them was limited in state-dominated media, and foreign media access to the country is tightly controlled.

Mr. Rouhani attempted to extend an olive branch Sunday in his first comments since the unrest, even as he admonished protesters to work hand-in-hand with the government to address corruption and economic problems.

“People are completely free to express their criticism and even protest,” he said. “But at the same time we should take into consideration that criticism and protest must be in a way that ends with the improvement of people’s and country’s conditions.”

Mr. Rouhani also slammed U.S. President Donald Trump, who has taken to tweeting about the unrest. Mr. Trump has expressed sympathy for protesters, angering the leadership of a country he considers a prime enemy and a threat to Israel.

“This man in the U.S. who wants to sympathize with our people has forgot that a few months ago he was calling the Iranian people terrorists,” Mr. Rouhani said.

Analysts say the protests have been remarkable in part because they lack a clear leader and have spread to out-of-the-way cities and towns all over the country. As they spread, they have targeted the Supreme Leader with a directness that some say hasn’t been seen since the revolution in 1979. Mr. Khamenei has final say in matters of state.

Authorities also appear to have been taken off guard by the eruption, which didn’t follow a familiar pattern of unrest in Tehran radiating out to other urban centers. These protests began in Mashhad, a Shiite holy city that contains the enormous Imam Reza shrine.

“It’s the most anti-regime event I’ve ever seen,” said Alireza Nader, a senior researcher at the Rand Corporation in Washington. “People are not calling for reforms, they’re not supporting [former reformist President Mohammad] Khatami or Rouhani. In fact their anger is directed toward the entire establishment.”

In an apparent bid to head off demonstrations, the Iranian Labor News Agency reported Sunday that authorities were ordered to block mobile internet and some landline connections in areas where gatherings were taking place. Another report on a state television website suggested authorities were restricting connections on cellphones to Instagram and Telegram, a messaging app that is ubiquitous in Iran and has been widely used to exchange photos and video of protests.

Pavel Durov, Telegram’s chief executive, tweeted the authorities were blocking access for the majority of Iranians after the company refused to shut down peacefully protesting channels, including one that was giving times and places for protests and distributing videos of unrest.

Telegram shut down reformist journalist and activist Roohollah Zam’s @amadnews channel on Saturday after it issued calls to use Molotov cocktails and firearms against police, Mr. Durov said. But Telegram wouldn’t shut down another peaceful channel that replaced it, he said.

The government has promised to crack down on any illegal gatherings, and new reports of arrests surfaced Sunday.

Aliasghar Naserbakht, Tehran’s deputy governor for security, said Sunday that authorities arrested about 200 people in Tehran the previous night, according to the semi-official ILNA. Ali Aghazadeh, the governor general of Iran’s Markazi Province, said more than 100 were arrested on Saturday night, according to the semi-official Tasnim News Agency. More than 50 were also arrested in Mashhad on Thursday.


The wave of unrest is the largest in Iran since protests in 2009 over the disputed re-election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Popular anger about what many perceived as rigged voting results coalesced into the so-called Green Movement, which organized mass protests and drew a harsh government crackdown.

This time, double-digit inflation and unemployment, coupled with the planned removal of subsidies and new taxes, drove the unrest at first. Another spark was Iranians’ losses in unregulated financial schemes that have collapsed in recent years.

The jury is still out on whether the building demonstrations will become a tipping point toward revolution. Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, said there were notable differences between the mass 2009 protests and these demonstrations, which “show no well-defined demands, no leadership or organization, and are diffused around Iran.”

“Their size is much smaller,” he said in a note, although he added they could damage the regime’s legitimacy, and that protests were inherently unpredictable.

Mr. Rouhani won reelection in May after spearheading Iran’s nuclear deal in 2015, which removed many international sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its disputed nuclear program. But the benefits from that diplomacy have been slow to reach average Iranians, even as major foreign companies, including plane makers Boeing and Airbus and car makers Peugeot and Renault, won major new business in the country.

Because the demonstrations have drawn in working-class crowds and centered, at least initially, on economic concerns, the government has struggled to find a response. Many of the people in the streets are Iranians who hard-line politicians court with promises of handouts, and the unrest can’t easily be dismissed as having foreign origins or being guided by an out-of-touch elite.

Big protests in Iran. The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!

Many Iranians, especially younger generations born after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, view the system as oppressive and want to change how the country is governed.

The protests have almost all targeted the government and ruling system, though there have been a few counter-demonstrations by the system’s supporters.

Those supporters have dismissed the protests as illegal vandalism, even as they acknowledged and pledged to address a litany of complaints that have driven the unrest.

“Nobody should overlook people’s protests,” said Amir Mohebian, a professor and strategist aligned with the country’s conservatives. “People have demands and the system should remove the problems as much as it can. But vandalism and anarchism will not be tolerated anywhere in the world.”

President Trump has tweeted repeatedly about the protests in recent days. “The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism,” he said. “Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”

After he began tweeting about the protests Saturday evening, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman on Saturday dismissed what he called an American attempt to interfere in the country’s domestic affairs.

Write to Asa Fitch at

Anti-Semitism in Germany: Jewish life ‘under threat’ — In Germany says Jewish life is only possible with police protection

December 31, 2017

The former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany says Jewish life is only possible with police protection. She claims the threat comes from the center of German society and says the government needs to act.

Charlotte Knobloch

In an interview with the German newspaper Heilbronner Stimme the former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, voiced grave concern Friday over growing anti-Semitic sentiment in the country. She said that public Jewish life is under threat and can only be lived out “in public with police protection and under the most serious security precautions.”

Knobloch pointed out the fact that Hanukah celebrations in Berlin and Munich, as well as the large menorahs installed in both cities, were, by necessity, accompanied by massive, around-the-clock police protection. A large menorah installed in the city of Heilbronn, for instance, was attacked and damaged by vandals.

Read more: Frank-Walter Steinmeier: Germany still faces anti-Semitism

‘Anti-Semitism in the heart of German society’

Knobloch also called for Germany’s federal government to create a new authority to monitor and defend against growing anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism, has grown on the right and the left, in the Muslim community and also in the heart of German society.” Knobloch, who is currently the president of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, says that an efficient approach to fighting public and covert anti-Semitism is long overdue.

In April, Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, recevied an expert report it had commissioned on the problem. The report found that Jews in Germany were facing increasing anti-Semitism in their everyday lives, leading them to fear for their safety.

Read more: How safe are Jews in Germany?

More recently, a video documenting a 60-year-old German man berating and insulting a Jewish restaurant owner in Berlin highlighted the issue in extremely vivid terms. A friend of restaurant owner Yaori Feinberg filmed the ugly encounter and it subsequently went viral after she put it online. Feinberg, who was later visited by Israeli Ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff and praised for his courage as well as for keeping his cool during the confrontation, said that the run-in was “the tip of the iceberg,” adding that he regularly receives anti-Semitic hate mail.

Read more: German Council of Jews chairman condemns “immensely dangerous” PEGIDA movement

‘Disgusting but not unusual’

Commenting on the video, Charlotte Knobloch said: “The hostility and threats that can be seen in the video are disgusting but not unusual. Many overt and covert forms of anti-Semitism are on the rise in every area of society.” She underlined the fact that the video did not represent an isolated incident but rather the “everyday experience of Jewish people. Anti-Semitism is widespread online and on social media but also in the analog world. Jewish students, for instance, suffer greatly from this phenomenon—’Jew’ has once again become an insult in German schoolyards.”

Israel: Netanyahu’s Party Votes for Resolution Calling on Israel to Annex West Bank, Increase Settlements

December 31, 2017

While most Likud ministers support the move, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not commented; however, he hasn’t prevented the vote, which he did with contentious issues in the past

By Chaim Levinson Dec 31, 2017 8:39 PM

Culture Minister Miri Regev outside a Likud party branch in Yeruham, southern Israel, November 2017.

Culture Minister Miri Regev outside a Likud party branch in Yeruham, southern Israel, November 2017. Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Likud Central Committee voted Sunday to unanimously accept a resolution that calls on the party’s leaders to move to formally annex the West Bank.

The vote by the ruling party is nonbinding and was called for in a letter signed by some 900 members of the central committee.

The wording of the resolution states: “On the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the regions of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], including Jerusalem our eternal capital, the Likud Central Committee calls on the Likud’s elected officials to act to allow free construction and to apply the laws of Israel and its sovereignty to all areas of the liberated Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria.”

Most of the Likud ministers in the government support the resolution.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not present at the event, but over 1,000 people attended, including former education minister and Netanyahu rival Gideon Sa’ar, who called on Likud to support the move.

“It is going to happen in a few years. Let us lead Likud. All big historical moves were led by Likud and it is our generation’s goal to remove any question mark looming over the future of the settlements,” Sa’ar said.

In the past, Netanyahu would have prevented such meetings being called to discuss ideological issues, saying it had a diplomatic cost overseas while having little significance in Israel. This time, though, he chose not to intervene.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev said at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday morning that the resolution was “good and important.” She said she believed it would pass by “a very large majority of Likud Central Committee members.”

Labor Minister Haim Katz said: “We express what the Likud Central Committee is thinking.” And Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis said, “The first clause in the Likud constitution is that the right to Israel was given to the Jewish people. Two states for two peoples is a concept that has disappeared from the world. And to my joy, U.S. President [Donald] Trump is sitting in the White House and does not accept this mistaken concept.”

Self boycott?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting, in Jerusalem, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting, in Jerusalem, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017. Gali Tibbon/Pool Photo via AP

The vote came hours after the Likud-led government gave final approval to a cooperation agreement with the European Union that contains a provision excluding the settlements. With the approval of the agreement, Israel now de facto agrees to a boycott of the settlements.

Even though Regev filed an objection to the agreement concerning cross-border cooperation in the Mediterranean area, she was the only one who did and the agreement with the EU was approved automatically – after Netanyahu approved the deal a week ago.

In accordance with the EU’s standing policy, the terms of the ENI CBC Med agreement include a territorial provision explicitly excluding grants to Israel for projects beyond its 1967 borders – meaning potential recipients in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights cannot participate in the program.

The EU agreement has also been signed by the Justice Ministry, headed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and the Foreign Ministry, which led the efforts to have Israel participate in the program. Tzipi Hotovely serves as deputy foreign minister under Netanyahu. Both Hotovely and Shaked have spoken out strongly about boycotts against the settlements, but neither filed an objection to the EU agreement.

As Haaretz first disclosed two weeks ago, Netanyahu’s approval of the agreement would have been final automatically if no cabinet ministers had filed objections to it by the beginning of January. In practice, the agreement consents to a European funding boycott of the settlements.

In addition to Regev, several other cabinet members recently approached Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely about the agreement, whose ministry led efforts to have Israel participate in the program. Hotovely asked her ministry’s European division and legal department to examine the issue.

Chaim Levinson
read more:


Hamas calls U.S. Ambassador ‘Racist’ — Says all ties should be cut with U.S.

December 31, 2017


 DECEMBER 31, 2017 18:43

Fawzi Barhoum

HAMAS SPOKESMAN Fawzi Barhoum is carried by Gazans during a celebration in Gaza City.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Palestinians should cut off all ties with the United States because of “racist” and “ignorant” comments US Ambassador David Friedman made to The Jerusalem Post last week, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said on Saturday.

Friedman, a driving force behind US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy there from Tel Aviv, told the Post that while the Palestinians’ angry reaction was expected, “We were disappointed with some of the rhetoric, which was ugly, needlessly provocative and antisemitic.”

“As we go forward,” he added, “this has to change.”

Barhoum said that Friedman’s statements reflected “the ambassador’s racism, ignorance and contempt for Palestinian rights and international law. He is affirming, in this policy, that they are partners to the occupation in all of its crimes against our people and its holy sites.”

According to the Hamas spokesman, the statements “are sufficient to justify an official Palestinian declaration of cutting ties with the American administration and ending Oslo.” He said the time has come to end the Oslo process, which, he said, “has led to the relinquishment of Palestinian rights and reinforcement of the Israeli occupation.”

The is not the first time that the Palestinians have lambasted Friedman. For instance, in September, the Palestinians were furious when Friedman said in another interview that the settlements are “only occupying 2% of the West Bank,” and that he sees the settlements as part of Israel.

Nabil Shaath, a senior advisor to President Mahmoud Abbas, called Friedman at the time “this alleged ambassador of the United States” and said he “has absolute ignorance of facts of law of the position of the United States.”

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.


Protests in Iran fanned by exiled journalist, messaging app

December 31, 2017

The Telegram app closed a channel run by Roohallah Zam after Iranian authorities complained that it was inciting violence, just hours before the government shut down the app entirely on Sunday. (AP)
DUBAI: As protests over Iran’s faltering economy rapidly spread across the country, a channel on a mobile messaging app run by an exiled journalist helped fan the passions of some of those who took to the street.
The Telegram app closed a channel run by Roohallah Zam after Iranian authorities complained that it was inciting violence, just hours before the government shut down the app entirely on Sunday. Zam, who denies the allegations, meanwhile launched new channels to spread messages about upcoming protests and share videos from demonstrations.
What happens next could influence the future course of the largest protests Iran has seen since 2009.
It’s hard to overstate the power of Telegram in Iran. Of its 80 million people, an estimated 40 million use the free app created by Russian national Pavel Durov. Its clients share videos and photos, subscribing to groups where everyone from politicians to poets broadcast to fellow users.
While authorities ban social media websites like Facebook and Twitter and censor others, Telegram users can say nearly anything. In the last presidential election, the app played a big role in motivating turnout and spreading political screeds.
Telegram touts itself as being highly encrypted and allows users to set their messages to “self-destruct” after a certain period, making it a favorite among activists and others concerned about their privacy. That too has made it a worry of Iranian authorities.
Zam has used the app to share news and information published by his AmadNews website. Posts included times and locations for protests, as well as videos of demonstrators shouting inflammatory chants, including those targeting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.
Officials have meanwhile targeted Telegram in recent remarks, with prosecutors going as far as filing criminal charges against Durov.
On Saturday, Iran’s Telecommunications Minister Mohammed Javad Azari Jahromi wrote to Durov on Twitter, complaining AmadNews was “encouraging hateful conduct, use (of) Molotov cocktails, armed uprising and social unrest.”
Durov responded by saying Telegram suspended the account.
“A Telegram channel (Amadnews) started to instruct their subscribers to use Molotov cocktails against police and got suspended due to our ‘no calls for violence’ rule. Be careful — there are lines one shouldn’t cross.” Durov tweeted.
Zam, who has said he fled Iran after being falsely accused of working with foreign intelligence services, denied inciting violence on Telegram.
Telegram’s decision drew criticism from free Internet advocates and Iranians. Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who exposed US government surveillance programs in 2013, said Telegram should instead be working on how to make the service accessible after a potential government ban.
“Telegram will face increasing pressure over time to collaborate with the Iranian government’s demands for this or that,” Snowden wrote on Twitter.
He added: “You can’t keep an independent, destabilizing service from being blocked in authoritarian regimes, you can only delay it.”
Those words proved prophetic Sunday, as Durov himself wrote on Twitter that Iran blocked the app “for the majority of Iranians after our public refusal to shut down … peacefully protesting channels.” Iranian state television later quoted an anonymous official as saying the app would be temporarily limited as a safety measure.
It also marks a setback for Zam, the son of cleric Mohammad Ali Zam, who once served in a government policy position in the early 1980s. The cleric wrote a letter published by Iranian media in July in which he said he wouldn’t support his son over AmadNews’ reporting and messages on its Telegram channel.
“I found that you crossed the red line,” the cleric wrote, referring to comments the channel circulated about Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Our red line is the supreme leader, but you passed the red line.”
Zam did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday from The Associated Press, though he published a video late on Saturday on the channel being blocked.
“Unfortunately the Amadnews was blocked,” Zam said in a message to his followers. A new channel “will continue its work as hard as before and with the help of God, we will become millions again.”
At least 1.7 million people have viewed the first message on the new channel, according to Telegram. It called for protests on Sunday at sites across Iran before the government ordered the app shut down.

Battles on 2 fronts as Syria closes out another violent year

December 31, 2017

Smoke rises following an air strike on the rebel-held besieged town of Harasta, in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus (AFP)
BEIRUT: Government forces battled with rebels and Al-Qaeda militants on two fronts in Syria on Sunday as the country prepared to close out another violent year since the country descended into civil war in 2011.
Rebels supported by an Al-Qaeda-linked cell renewed their assault against pro-government forces that have been holding a vast pocket of the Damascus suburbs under siege, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A second front between many of the same groups saw fresh fighting in northwest Syria, along the border between Idlib and Hama provinces, according to the Observatory and Syrian military media.
The fighting outside Damascus was concentrated around the contested town of Harasta and a nearby military installation. The insurgents flanked the installation on Sunday, trapping an unknown number of pro-government forces inside, reported the Observatory. The local, activist-run Ghouta Media Center reported fierce clashes and dense government airstrikes.
Twenty-one soldiers and 26 rebels and Al-Qaeda fighters were killed in two days of clashes, according to the Observatory’s director, Rami Abdurrahman.
Rebels first attacked the installation seven weeks ago. The government responded with waves of indiscriminate air strikes and artillery attacks that killed more than 250 civilians in what are called the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, which are still under rebel control.
The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, said shelling and rocket fire killed 19 people in eastern Ghouta on Saturday, one day after medical evacuations were completed to save the lives of 29 others. The Red Cross and Red Crescent took three days to evacuate 29 patients from the besieged suburbs to receive urgent medical care at government hospitals in Damascus.
The UN says government forces are holding 400,000 people under siege in eastern Ghouta. The region was once a hotbed of protest against President Bashar Assad’s government. The subsequent crackdown on demonstrations in Ghouta and other parts of the country in 2011 sparked the ongoing civil war that has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced half of Syria’s population.

Houston Police Arrest Armed Man In High-Rise Hotel New Year’s Eve Venue In What Could Have Been Las Vegas-Style Shooting

December 31, 2017
© AFP | Houston police were called to deal with a “drunk, belligerent suspect” 


Police in Houston, Texas said Sunday they had arrested a belligerent man in possession of a number of guns at a high-rise hotel where a major New Year’s celebration is planned.

The arrest, coming as cities across the country and around the world were preparing New Year’s Eve celebrations, sparked fears of a repeat of the Oct. 31 mass shooting from a hotel room in Las Vegas, Nevada, that left 58 killed and hundreds wounded.

Houston police said they had yet to determine whether the man had any ill intent. They have yet to release his identity.

Police Lieutenant Gordon Macintosh said police were called to the Hyatt Regency Hotel shortly after midnight to deal with a “drunk, belligerent suspect.”

The first officers to respond had to call for backup when the man refused to comply with their orders, Macintosh said in a video interview carried on the Houston Chronicle website.

When police escorted the man back to his room, they found “several guns,” Macintosh said. Other news media described these as including an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and a handgun, as well as a large quantity of ammunition.

The suspect was arrested for unlawfully carrying a weapon as well as for trespassing, Macintosh said. But he said the man was so intoxicated that police were not immediately able to interview him.

The Hyatt says its New Year’s Eve party spans four floors, featuring live performances and the dropping of 50,000 balloons at midnight. A hotel employee said the party was still on despite the “disturbance.”

The Oct. 31 shooting from a high-rise hotel in Las Vegas by a heavily armed 64-year-old man, who killed himself as police closed in, was the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.

Police in other cities have said they are taking extraordinary security measures around the year-end celebrations, most prominently at Times Square in New York, where police said they would deploy rooftop observers and counter-snipers in more buildings than usual, as well as patrolling hotels.


Intoxicated man found with small arsenal on top floor of Hyatt Regency downtown, police say

By Megan Kennedy – Content Editor

HOUSTON – A man has been arrested on multiple charges after police located a small arsenal of guns on the top floor of the Hyatt Regency on Louisiana Street downtown, Houston police said.

Police at the hotel called for backup around 1:30 a.m. Sunday after they attempted to arrest the man for being intoxicated and trespassing. When help arrived, police noticed ammunition laying around the man’s hotel room, Lt. Gordon Macintosh with Houston police said.


The man was arrested for unlawfully carrying a weapon and trespassing. When investigators looked into his room further, they located an AR-15, a shotgun, a handgun and lots of ammunition, Macintosh said.

The Hyatt is preparing its own New Years Eve celebration at the hotel with a 50,000 balloon drop at the stroke of midnight, its website said.

The man’s white Chevrolet Silverado was located and towed to be searched and examined, Macintosh said.

Police are waiting to interview the man until he has sobered up, Macintosh said.

Situation from this morning at downtown hotel is contained. No specific threats to @HoustonTX@houstonpolice will be heavily deployed throughout the city to include SWAT react teams. Proud of officers & Hyatt. As always be vigilant & report suspicious a activity to authorities.

Investigators are working to learn more about this incident.

The Hyatt Regency Houston has released the following statement:

The safety and security of our guests and colleagues is our top priority, and consistent with the hotel’s prepared security plans, heightened measures are in place on New Year’s Eve. We are fully cooperating with authorities on an investigation, and further questions should be directed to the Houston Police Department.