Posts Tagged ‘ISIL’

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s son ‘killed in Syria’

July 4, 2018

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s young son reportedly killed while fighting Syrian and Russian troops in central Homs province.

Baghdadi (pictured) rose to prominence when he declared Iraqi territories occupied by ISIL in 2014 [AP]
Baghdadi (pictured) rose to prominence when he declared Iraqi territories occupied by ISIL in 2014 [AP]

ISIL media outlets are reporting that the son of the group’s leader has been killed in Syria while fighting against government forces.

The announcement of the death of the young son of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared on the group’s social media accounts late on Tuesday.

It included a picture of a young boy carrying a rifle, identifying him as Huthaifa al-Badri.

The statement did not specify when he was killed. It said he was an elite fighter who was killed while fighting Syrian and Russia troops at a power station in central Homs province.

Al-Baghdadi has been reported killed or wounded on a number of occasions but is widely believed to still be alive.

Little is known about his family, but a woman and a child who were said to be his wife and daughter were detained in Lebanon in 2014.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group has been driven from nearly all the territory it once controlled in Syria and Iraq, though it still maintains a presence in the Syrian desert and remote areas along the border.



ISIL given ’48 hours’ to evacuate area south of Damascus

April 19, 2018

Al Jazeera

ISIL fighters have been in control of an area south of Damascus for nearly three years.

April 19, 2018
The Yarmouk refugee camp has been under ISIL control since April 2015, and has been under siege since late 2012 [Reuters]
The Yarmouk refugee camp has been under ISIL control since April 2015, and has been under siege since late 2012 [Reuters]

The Syrian military has given ISIL fighters 48 hours to leave a pocket they control in the capital’s south, a pro-government local newspaper reported on Thursday.

Syrian forces have for days been launching air attacks on the area controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in the south of Damascus, primarily around the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp and its surrounding neighbourhoods, Al-Watan daily said.

“The two-day window is an attempt to avoid a military assault. If they refuse to leave, the army is ready to launch a military operation to end their presence in the area,” the newspaper added.

Yarmouk, about 8km from central Damascus, was home to Syria’s largest Palestinian refugee community before the Syrian war began more than seven years ago.

Although most of the camp’s residents fled to other parts of Syria or to neighbouring countries, the United Nations estimates thousands remain trapped inside.

The camp has been under ISIL’s control since April 2015, and has been under siege since late 2012, barring thousands from exit and re-entry.

Since 2015, the Syrian government has regained control of the majority of Syria, with opposition groups now restricted to the northern part of the country.

Though other pockets controlled by ISIL group fighters still exist, the armed group were driven out of their last major stronghold in Syria in October last year, when the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces backed by the United States, launched a four-month long offensive to push them out of Raqqa.


Pakistan: Four Christians Killed in Easter Monday Attack

April 3, 2018

Al Jazeera

Members of same family targeted outside relative’s home while visiting southwestern city to celebrate Easter holiday.


The shooting in Quetta was the latest to target Pakistan's Christian community [Arshad Butt/AP]
The shooting in Quetta was the latest to target Pakistan’s Christian community [Arshad Butt/AP]

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – At least four people have been killed in an attack targeting Christians in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, officials say, the latest violence to target members of the minority in the South Asian country.

The four men, all members of the same Christian family, were shot to death outside a relative’s home in the Shah Zaman neighbourhood of the city on Monday evening.

“One young girl has been wounded, and four people have been killed, they were all Christians,” Ali Mardan, a senior police official, told Al Jazeera by telephone.

“They were shot dead.”

The family had travelled to Quetta to celebrate Easter with relatives, a family member told Al Jazeera.

“They were guests of ours, they came from Punjab [province] to celebrate Easter. As they left the house to go to the bazaar after dinner […] they were fired upon,” said Tariq Masih, a relative to the victims.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

At least four people were killed in a separate, unrelated shooting incident in Quetta on Monday, officials said.

That incident was related to a personal enmity, police said.

Attacks on minorities

Pakistan has been battling armed groups including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its allies, who seek to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law on the country, since 2007.

Violence has dropped in recent years, as a series of military operations have succeeded in displacing the TTP and allied groups from their strongholds in northwestern Pakistan, but sporadic large casualty attacks continue.

Attacks often target Pakistan’s minorities, including Shia Muslims as well as Christians, Hindus and members of the Ahmadiyya sect.

In December, a suicide bomb and gun attack targeting Sunday services at a church in Quetta killed at least eight people and left dozens of others wounded.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed responsibility for that attack in a statement, but provided no proof of its involvement.

ISIL, also known as ISIS, has claimed responsibility for several attacks targeting civilians in Balochistan province, of which Quetta is the capital, in recent years, including an attack on a Sufi shrine and multiple attacks on Hazara Shias.

On Sunday, a Hazara Shia man was killed and another wounded in a targeted attack in a Quetta bazaar, local media reported.

In all, at least 242 people were killed in attacks in Balochistan province in 2017, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal research organisation.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s Web Correspondent in Pakistan. Additional reporting by Saadullah Akhtar in Quetta.


Turkey-Allied Jihadists Slaughtering Christians, Yazidis in Syria’s Besieged Afrin

March 22, 2018


Turkey-linked jihadists from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and al-Qaeda are taking advantage of the Ankara offensive in the besieged Afrin region in northwestern Syria to slaughter Christians and Yazidis, caution several activists.

The warnings come as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced over the weekend that his allied forces conquered the center of the Kurdish-held city of Afrin.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

U.S. President Donald Trump’s State Department has expressed “a serious and growing concern” over the situation in the Syrian city, but maintains, “We remain committed to our NATO ally Turkey, to include their legitimate security concerns.”

Khalid Haider, a U.S.-based Yazidi (or Yezidi) activist with ground sources in Syria, told Breitbart News the Turkish military is working alongside ISIS in Afrin, noting:

Time and time again the indigenous people of Syria are suffering, but this time is at the hands of members of the Turkish military who have been incubating ISIS terrorists. ISIS militants and their leaders are embedded with the Turkish military, and they are annihilating religious minorities. The world needs to wake up and stop this from happening.

Haider went on to say that Turkey-linked ISIS jihadists are killing Christians and Yazidis for not knowing how to behave like proper Muslims, telling Breitbart News:

Please be advised that any Christian or Yazidi who is captured by those ISIS militants is asked how many times do Muslims bow during prayers and how many times do Muslims pray. And if the Christians and Yazidis don’t have the correct answer, they are killed.

Haider’s comments echo activists who recently told the Catholic News Service (CNS) that Turkey-affiliated members of al-Qaeda and ISIS are targeting Christians and Yazidis.

Citing the activists, CNS notes, “Turkey is using hardline jihadist proxies, including Islamic State and al-Qaida militants, to eliminate the presence of Kurds and other ethnic and religious minorities along its border.”

Al-Qaeda maintains what experts have described as the terrorist group’s strongest branch in Syria.

“The situation is dire. They feel desperate. They are crying out to God every hour,” Charmaine Hedding, the head of the Christian aid organization known as the Shai Fund, told the Catholic News Service (CNS), referring to religious minorities.

“The jihadist militants consider Yezidis ‘infidels,’ while there have been announcements made that if you kill Christians, you will go straight to paradise,” added Hedding, noting that she maintains contact with members of the religious groups via satellite phone.

Lauren Homer, a U.S.-based international human rights lawyer familiar with the situation in Afrin, told CNS that Turkey is engaging in ethnic cleansing and other war crimes in the region.

She said:

Farming villages and small towns have already been ‘cleansed’ of their inhabitants. Yezidi villages and Christian churches stand empty. Ancient landmarks, homes, and farmland lie in ruins due to Turkish bombs. Many war crimes have occurred. They’re documented by both residents and by gloating Turkish fighters.

Homer’s comments coincide with what United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Nadia Murad, a Yazidi human rights advocate who survived the ISIS genocide in the Middle East, noted in a statement last week, in which she said, “This horror is reminiscent of the initial actions of ISIS in Iraq. Medical and healthcare services are urgently needed, This situation foreshadows ‘ethnic cleansing’ and genocide.”

On January 20, Turkey launched an operation to seize Afrin from the U.S.-allied Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) defending it, which Ankara claims to be an extension of the terrorist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).

Although the Trump administration continues to praise the YPG’s contribution to the ongoing fight against ISIS, it has apparently abandoned the Kurds in northern Syria.

“The United States does not operate in the area of northwest Syria, where Afrin is located,” Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, declared on Monday, echoing the American military.

“Observers said so far; the United States military seems to be doing little to protect its Kurdish and Christian allies in northwestern Syria, who are largely credited with eradicating Islamic State from the area as part of the U.S.-led military coalition,” notes CNS.

Haider and other activists have urged the Trump administration to take action to stop the slaughter of religious minorities at the hands of Turkey-allied jihadists.

Citing the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which uses a network of ground sources to keep tabs on the conflict, the Associated Press (AP) reports that “nearly 200,000 people have fled the Afrin region in recent days amid heavy airstrikes, entering Syrian government-held territory nearby.”

AP learned from a Kurdish official that “more than 800 YPG fighters have been killed in the 58 days of fighting, and estimated that 500 civilians were killed.”

“The Observatory puts the number of casualties at over 280 civilians, adding that more than 1,500 Kurdish fighters have been killed since Jan.20,” adds AP.

UN Required to Step in to End US, Israel Escalation against Syria

February 21, 2018

Fars News (Iran)

UN Required to Step in to End US, Israel Escalation against Syria

TEHRAN (FNA)- Various terrorist groups, including ISIL, Al-Qaeda and their affiliates, continue to find themselves on America’s and Israel’s good sides and it’s official.

Israel’s mounting interest in the US-led war on Syria, and in particular in picking fights with the Syrian government, Iran, and Hezbollah – after the defeat of ISIL by these allied forces – have included reports by analysts of a growing amount of Israeli arms and ammunition flowing across the border for Qaeda-allied terrorist groups on the Golan frontier.

To be clear, similar reports and evidence have put the United States on the side of all these terror proxy groups, like Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which have been active in the area for some time. After all, American officials, the Pentagon regime, and the CIA continue to be very public saying they prefer ISIL over the elected government in Syria.

No wonder the regime changers are pushing the UN Security Council members for the Syrian government and its allies to halt their ongoing offensive in the Idlib province. Their desperate attempts to stop the successful offensive are designed primarily to save the Nusra Front and other terror proxies. This way they can claim they need to stay in the country, support the so-called “moderates”, and prolong their illegal occupation and war on the pretext of fighting terror.

The US has done the same to save the ISIL forces. In early February this year, US forces intensified their heliborne operations to evacuate ISIL commanders trapped in Hasaka province. Local sources in Hasaka confirmed that the US helicopters conducted heliborne operations in the village of Tuwaimin, 50km Northeast of al-Shadadi, in Southern Hasaka. The sources said militants, including an ISIL security commander, were evacuated from the region. The area where the operation took place is still occupied by the terrorist group.

If still in doubt, consider this: US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, has just proposed legislation that would prohibit US assistance to terrorist organizations in Syria as well as to any organization working directly with them. Equally important, it would prohibit US military sales and other forms of military cooperation with other countries, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, that provide arms or financing to those terrorists and their collaborators.

Gabbard’s Stop Arming Terrorists Act’ challenges for the first time in Congress a US policy toward the conflict in the Syrian war that should have set off alarm bells long ago:

In 2012-13 the Obama administration helped its allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia provide arms to Syrian and non-Syrian armed groups to force President Bashar Assad out of power. And in 2013 the administration began to provide arms to what the CIA claimed to be “relatively moderate” groups. According to a declassified October 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report, that policy which began in September 2011 helped build up Al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise Nusra Front as well as ISIL into the dominant threat to Syria, Iraq, the region, and the rest of humanity.

The closest Washington came to a public reprimand of its allies over the arming of terrorists in Syria was when Vice President Joe Biden criticized their role in October 2014. In remarks at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, Biden complained that “our biggest problem is our allies.” In his words, “The forces they had supplied with arms were Nusra and Al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”

The significance of all this is clear: In blatant violation of International Law and the UN Charter, which bars UN member states from supporting military action to overthrow other members’ governments, the US and its allies have been largely responsible for having extended the power of ISIL and Al-Qaeda across a significant part of Syrian territory.

The CIA, the Mossad and the Pentagon regime are still doing anything they can to regime change post-ISIL Syria. Unless the United Nations and the international civil society confront the warmongers explicitly, they will continue to be complicit in the consolidation of power by Al-Qaeda in Syria, even if ISIL has been defeated there.

Here is the conclusion: Much of the carnage that has ravaged Syria during the past seven years is due to the criminal actions and the calamitous policies of the United States and its allies in the Middle East, mainly Israel and Saudi Arabia. Their failed regime-change war is at risk of a new round of escalation. Now, faced with an alarming risk of a renewed escalation, it’s time for the United Nations to step in to end the US and Israeli threats and aggressions against Syrian sovereignty. It’s not clear why the UN has never condemned Israel’s continued attacks on Syria and the United States’ unauthorized deployment in the country both in support of the terrorists in open alliance with Al-Qaeda.

Daesh yet to suffer ‘enduring defeat,’ says US Secretary of State Tillerson

February 13, 2018
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 Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (right) meets with Rex Tillerson. AFP photo
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that “the end of major combat operations does not mean we have achieved the enduring defeat of ISIS.”
KUWAIT: The end of major combat operations against Daesh does not mean the US and its allies have achieved an enduring defeat of the militant group, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday.
Tillerson, speaking at a meeting in Kuwait of the US-led global coalition against Daesh, also said Washington had decided to provide an additional $200 million of aid to stabilize liberated areas in Syria.
“The end of major combat operations does not mean we have achieved the enduring defeat of ISIS,” he said, referring to the group using an acronym.
“ISIS remains a serious threat to the stability of the region, our homelands, and other parts of the globe.”
The hard-line militants, who lost all territory they held in Iraq and are on the cusp of defeat in Syria, are trying to gain territory in other countries where they are active, he said, adding that “History must not be allowed to repeat itself elsewhere.”
“In Iraq and Syria, ISIS is attempting to morph into an insurgency. In places like Afghanistan, the Philippines, Libya, West Africa, and others it is trying to carve out and secure safe havens.”
Tillerson said he was concerned over recent events in northwest Syria, where Turkey launched an assault last month on a US-allied Kurdish militia it considers a threat on its southern border, adding that he was keenly aware of Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns.”

CAIRO, Feb 12 – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday the United States supports Egypt’s fight against Islamic State but reiterated that it advocated free and fair elections in the Arab country.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Tillerson also said that Washington remained committed to achieving a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Tillerson arrived in Egypt at the start of a regional tour amid heightened tensions between Israel and Syria after an Israeli F-16 aircraft was shot down. It also follows a major security operation by the Egyptian military to crush Islamist militants who have killed hundreds of people since 2013.

“We agreed we would continue our close cooperation on counterterrorism measures,” Tillerson said.

“The Egyptian people should be confident that the U.S. commitment to continue to support Egypt in fight against terrorism and bringing security to Egyptian people is steadfast.”

The Egyptian military campaign comes ahead of presidential election in March, in which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seeking a second term in office.

Asked about the Tillerson said the United States supports a credible, transparent election in Egypt and Libya.

“We have always advocated for free and fair elections, transparent elections not just in Egypt but in any country,” Tillerson said.

“The U.S. is always going to advocate for electoral process that respects rights of citizens,” he told journalists, adding that the United States was also keen to continue supporting Egypt in its economic recovery

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Turkey’s Ground and Air Forces Penetrate into Syria Toward Afrin

January 21, 2018

Al Jazeera

Turkey says it has launched a much-awaited air and ground offensive against the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin in northern Syria.

Image result for Turkish army, afrin, Photos

After days of shelling, Turkish fighter jets on Saturday carried out air raids on the border district targeting positions held by the Syrian Kurdish PYD and YPG groups.

The heavy bombardment began as units of pro-Ankara rebels known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) started moving into Afrin, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Image result for Turkish fighter jets, afrin, photos

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that the operation in Afrin would be followed by a push in the northern town of Manbij, which the US-backed Kurdish forces captured from ISIL in 2016.

Turkey considers Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the YPG, “terrorist groups” with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long fight inside Turkey.

The US has previously armed the YPG, viewing it as the most effective ground force in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group.

Erdogan said that all Kurdish armed groups “are all the same” and that changing their names “does not change the fact that they are terror organisations”.

According to estimates, there are between 8,000 to 10,000 Kurdish fighters in the Afrin area.

Image result for Turkish army, afrin, Photos

‘Complicated situation’

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Antakya in Turkey, said the launch of the operation followed a week of “increasingly strong political rhetoric” coming from Turkish officials.

“The Turkish army says it is only targeting what it calls ‘terrorists’ … and not civilians – but certainly it will be terrifying for civilians in that area because they are surrounded,” she added.

“To highlight the complexity of this war, there is now a NATO ally, Turkey, bombing a group that the US calls its best ally when it was fighting ISIL on the ground and still continues to do so – so it’s an incredibly complicated situation.”

In recent days, Ankara has been repeatedly threatening to crush the Syrian Kurdish fighters.

On Friday, Turkey’s Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli said his country would go ahead with its military offensive in Afrin, saying Syrian Kurdish fighters there pose a “real” threat to his country.

Ankara fears the establishment of a Kurdish corridor along its border and had been deploying troops and tanks there in preparation for the ground assault.

“We will wipe out this corridor step-by-step, starting from the west,” Erdogan said on Saturday. “Afrin operation has de facto started in the field. This will be followed by Manbij.”

Syria had earlier warned against any operation and said it would shoot down Turkish fighter jets.

Ground push

On Friday, Turkey mobilised thousands of FSA rebels to Hatay province near the Syrian border, as part of the planned offensive.

Anadolu reported that the FSA rebels were taken “under extensive security” in a convoy of at least 20 buses, from the province of Kilis.

Last year, Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield, in which Turkish-backed FSA rebels cleared a large part of northern Syria of armed fighters.

“The language coming from the Turks has been that the Afrin operation is going to be the start, then they are going to move into Manbij and then all the way to the Iraqi border,” said Dekker.

“Manbij is a town west of the Euphrates, the YPG remains there and Turkey always wanted the YPG to move east of the Euphrates. The last time there was a confrontation there between the two sides the Americans moved in with troops and vehicles to calm that down.”

Syrian Kurds rally on Thursday against the Turkish threats in Afrin, Aleppo province [AP]

Following the start of Turkey’s air campaign, the defence ministry of Russia, which controls the airspace over Afrin, said it was pulling back soldiers that had been deployed near the city.

It said in a statement that “to prevent possible provocations, to exclude the threat to life and health of Russian servicemen, the operational group of the Center for Reconciliation of warring parties and military police in the Afrin area is relocated to the Tell-Adjar area”.

Moscow’s military intervention in Syria in 2015 turned the war in favour of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“It’s now clear that the Russians have given tacit green light to this [Turkish operation] because they control the airspace – so seeing Turkey flying air sorties means the Russians have agreed to this.”

“However, we have also heard from the Russians that they are concerned that they are watching it closely and that they urge constraint.”

This came as Turkish officials reportedly had discussions with US and Russian officials, as well as a rare official contact with Assad’s government.

Meanwhile, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, warned against more military activities in Syria.

“We’ve seen the reports of shelling in Afrin. We reiterate our call on all concerned parties to avoid further escalation and any acts that could deepen the suffering of the Syrian people,” Dujarric said.

“All parties must ensure protection of civilians at all times, under any circumstances.”

The US had also urged Turkey to avoid taking action against the Kurdish rebels, urging Ankara to keep its focus on ISIL.

There have been reports that the US was also trying to recruit Kurdish fighters in Syria to fight against ISIL.

In response, Turkey warned that its relations with the US would be “irreversibly harmed” if Washington moves to form the 30,000-strong army in the north of Syria.


Two 19-Year-Old Bedouin Women From Israel’s South Charged With Plotting ISIS Attack

January 8, 2018

The 19-year-old women are accused of swearing allegiance to the organization, trying to enlist supporters and plotting bombing attack on New Year’s Eve

By Almog Ben Zikri Jan 08, 2018 2:25 PM

19-year-olds Rahman al-Assad (left) and Tasnin al-Assad from Bedouin town of Lakiya in southern Israel.

19-year-olds Rahman al-Assad (left) and Tasnin al-Assad from Bedouin town of Lakiya in southern Israel. Shin Bet security services

Two teenage Bedouin women from Israel’s south region were charged Monday with planned to carry out an attack on behalf of the Islamic State group, Shin Bet security services said in a statement.

19-year-olds Rahman al-Assad and Tasnin al-Assad from the Bedouin town of Lakiya are accused of swearing allegiance to the organization, trying to enlist supporters and plotting a deadly terror attack against Israelis and Jews.

A 24-year-old man, Ahmad Abu Ramila, was also charged in connection to the plot with contacting a foreign agent, conspiracy to commit a crime, and destroying evidence for erasing his communication with the women.

A gag order was placed on their arrests in late December prior to the indictments submitted to the Be’er Sheva District Court.

The women, acccording to the indictment, had plans to travel abroad with the intention to join the Islamic State’s affiliate in Egypt’s Sinai region, saying the teens made contact with the group sometime last year.

According to the indictment, the group requested the women explore the possibility of carrying out an attack in Israel. Tasnin was asked to visit Ben-Gurion University to determine whether they could bring in a bomb. After visiting, they determined such a venture impossible.

Upon request to consider the Be’er Sheva central bus station as a site for attack, the women refused, citing the amount of Muslim citizens of Israel who pass through.

The indictment also wrote that Rahma al-Assad contacted Abu Ramila inquiring whether he would assist in an attack during New Year’s Eve celebrations. He refused to carry out the attack, but Rahma insisted. According to the indictment, Tasnin attempted to help Abu Ramila get out of committing the attack.

A gag order was placed on their arrests in late December prior to the indictments submitted to the Be’er Sheva District Court. It is unclear whether the two women are related.

Almog Ben Zikri
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Iran in the North, ISIS in the South: These Are the Threats Israel Is Facing in 2018

December 29, 2017


With Trump increasingly detached from Mideast events and more concerned with North Korea, Israel has picked a very bad time to neglect its relations with U.S. Jewry

By Amos Harel Dec 29, 2017 8:19 PM

Protesters burn an Israeli flag during a Hezbollah demonstration in the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon on December 22, 2017

Protesters burn an Israeli flag during a Hezbollah demonstration in the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon on December 22, 2017 AFP PHOTO / Mahmoud ZAYYAT

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World developments in recent months will likely continue to gather momentum in the early part of 2018. The main focus for the United States – and therefore for the rest of the international community, too – is no longer the Middle East but what’s happening far from these parts, in North Korea.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s frequent threats have so far failed to budge North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un. It won’t be easy to find a peaceful way to dissipate this tension. If the verbal escalation continues, even war cannot be ruled out.

Plenty of strategic experts say there’s a high probability of a military confrontation between Washington and Pyongyang sometime in 2018. If that does happen, it will be the first time the United States is going to war against another country boasting a nuclear capability. America’s most recent wars, in 1991 and 2003 against Iraq, would look like child’s play in comparison.

Trump appears to be weighing military action, despite the reservations of his security advisers. The polls currently predicting Republican losses in the Senate and House in the 2018 midterm elections next November might also act as a catalyst for a military move.

People watching a TV screen showing images of U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, November 21, 2017.Ahn Young-joon/AP
The Americans are also attaching more significance to the country’s political and economic rivalries with Russia and China, respectively. The Middle East has taken a back seat.

Although in recent weeks the U.S. administration has been making a concerted effort to give the impression that America is in the Middle East to stay, Israel sees it differently. The United States is packing up and leaving the various parties to their wars.

The U.S. military presence in Syria is minimal and not expected to grow. Now the Americans so kindly got the Islamic State out of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s way, his regime and its supporters are seizing control of most of the territory abandoned by the crumbling caliphate. And Russia and China (the latter so farto a lesser extent) are gradually entering the diplomatic vacuum left by the Americans.

Beyond the United States’ dwindling interest in Syria and the ongoing stagnation of the peace process with the Palestinians, the increasing risk of a war on the Korean Peninsula will greatly reduce the attention Washington pays to Israel’s security needs and expectations.

Up to now, whenever Israel has become embroiled in a local military conflict in Lebanon or Gaza, the United States has generally been there to help – either by working to achieve a cease-fire or by sending increased aid shipments to restock depleted emergency stores.

In the event of another war erupting here, we can probably count on Trump to fire off a strongly worded tweet in support. But a continuing crisis with North Korea on the verge of boiling over will necessarily monopolize Washington’s focus, and overshadow any escalation on one of Israel’s borders.

In 2017, dramatic changes occurred in nearly every arena concerning Israel. Yet the predictions of the intelligence agencies for the coming year haven’t radically shifted.

Instability on the various borders slightly increases the risk of war, despite all parties’ clear desire to avoid a military confrontation at this time. Internal shocks accompanied by local tensions with Israel could degenerate into a war that Israel doesn’t want. Gaza is the most volatile area right now.

The most dangerous possibility is a flare-up with Hezbollah in Lebanon, which could also spill over to the Syrian border in the Golan Heights. Like most countries in the West, Israel was surprised by the rate at which the Assad regime reclaimed control of about 70 percent of Syrian territory this year – with the help of Russian air support and the additional troops provided by Hezbollah and the Iran-backed Shi’ite militias.

The Assad regime’s return to the Golan Heights now looks inevitable, and the chances that Israel will extend aid to the Sunni rebels’ villages are not high.

There are conflicting views within the defense establishment about the gravity of the threat posed by Iran’s influence on Assad’s regime. In public statements, Israeli spokespeople frequently cite the need to keep Shi’ite militias away from the border in the Golan Heights.

A Palestinian protester kicks a flaming tire during clashes with Israeli security forces north of Ramallah, December 22, 2017
A Palestinian protester kicks a flaming tire during clashes with Israeli security forces north of Ramallah, December 22, 2017ABBAS MOMANI/AFP

But another argument is being made that the main focus should be on Iran’s attempts to rebuild Assad’s surface-to-surface missile battery, which was nearly depleted in the civil war. This would enable Iran to threaten the Israeli home front, via proxies, from three fronts: Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.

In Lebanon, the big Saudi gambit in November ended in a total fiasco. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was extricated from his forced stay in Riyadh and then rescinded the resignation announcement that had been dictated to him by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

For now, Hezbollah’s political and military power has not been dented. The organization has no clear reason to start a war with Israel, but it will keep on building up its power – and with the fighting in Syria subsiding, it will be able to devote more resources to this.

In the West Bank, Trump’s December 6 announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital effectively threw the Palestinian Authority a lifeline (as Alex Fishman wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth this week).

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas feared he would soon be faced with a new U.S. peace initiative that was much closer to the Israeli negotiating positions. The protests throughout the Arab and Muslim world enabled Abbas to get ahead of the curve by declaring he no longer believes the Americans can be a fair mediator in the peace process, thus delaying any discussion of the administration’s proposals by weeks, if not months.

It’s a convenient situation for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, too, since even a pro-Israel U.S. proposal would be opposed by Habayit Hayehudi and part of his own Likud party, which would further rattle his already shaky governing coalition.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left shaking hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul during an emergency summit on Jerusalem, December 13, 2017.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left shaking hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul during an emergency summit on Jerusalem, December 13, 2017.Yasin Bulbul/AP

However, Trump’s announcement did not resolve all of Abbas’ problems – and it also created some new ones. His participation in the protest summit organized by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan following Trump’s announcement angered the Saudis and jeopardizes Saudi support for the PA – which amounts to some $30 million per month. And although the PA is keeping the weekly anti-Trump protests on a very low flame, the leadership cannot guarantee that things won’t get out of control.

In Gaza, the stalemate in reconciliation talks between Hamas and the PA is causing Hamas to become more financially strapped and exacerbating its strategic woes. Hamas’ new leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, essentially already abdicated management of Gaza when he announced that responsibility was being transferred to the PA. However, fearing a trap, Abbas is not about to rush in and the PA’s presence in Gaza remains minimal. The money is still stuck, too.

Israel is concerned that this combination of circumstances could push Hamas to take another gamble on a military escalation, even though Hamas leaders are well aware of the potentially devastating implications.

In Sinai, the ISIS offshoot Wilayat Sinai has notched up some recent successes. Egypt is far from subduing the organization – despite the massive assistance it receives from Israel, according to Arab media reports.

For now, Wilayat Sinai is concentrating on attacking the Egyptian security forces. But Israeli defense officials are aware of the possibility it could attempt a showy major attack on the Israeli border, using the attack capabilities it has shown in operations against the Egyptians.

skip – Video showing the ISIS attack on al-Arish Airbase in North Sinai posted on Twitter.

Israel’s intelligence agencies are trained and authorized to observe and analyze what is happening on the “red” (enemy) side of the map. In their security assessments, they do not include what is happening on the “blue” (Israeli) side.

But there is one ongoing process that has the potential to do vast strategic harm to Israel, and warnings about it are frequently heard in talks with security officials. This is the rift between the government and the Reform and Conservative movements in America, following Netanyahu’s retreat on the Western Wall agreement and his government’s derisive attitude toward much of American Jewry.

The behind-the-scenes role played by Jewish organizations with regard to Congress and the U.S. administration, ensuring U.S. military aid to Israel and promoting legislative initiatives of vital strategic importance to Israel, is barely discussed by the Israeli public.

The argument could be made that some of this support is excessive and gives right-wing Israeli governments too much maneuvering room whenever a U.S. peace plan is presented. But we also cannot ignore the crucial role Jewish activism plays when there are urgent security needs – from joint funding for missile defense systems like Iron Dome and Arrow, to getting sanctions imposed on Iran to slow its military buildup.

A visit to the Western Wall by senior Reform rabbis was punctuacted by pushing, punching and shoving from ultra-Orthodox worshippers and the police. November 19, 2017
A visit to the Western Wall by senior Reform rabbis was punctuacted by pushing, punching and shoving from ultra-Orthodox worshippers and the police. November 19, 2017Noam Rivkin Fanton

Netanyahu allowed the Western Wall plan to be buried because he placed internal coalition needs – relations with the ultra-Orthodox parties – above the long-term alliance with American Jewry.

Ariel Kahana reported in Makor Rishon last month that, in private conversations, Netanyahu tells people that he thinks the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism in the United States will disappear within two generations due to assimilation and a low birth rate, so there is no point investing in ties, Instead, he says, the focus should be on securing the support of Orthodox Jews and evangelical Christians. (Netanyahu’s office said the comments were taken out of context.)

This assessment disregards how much Israel relies on American Jewry – from its philanthropy directed at civil society here, to ensuring defense aid and diplomatic support in Washington. This could turn into a very damaging trend in the long run.

The IDF fesses up

In recent years, in academia and then later in the media, there has been discussion about young people being channeled into specific jobs in the Israel Defense Forces based on their economic background. Pricey prep courses for service in the cybersecurity units; the IDF’s requirement that candidates for certain jobs take and pass the psychometric exam at their own expense; the decline in the percentage of youngsters from “high quality groups” enlisting for combat service – all of these reflect a clear trend the army has been doing its best to suppress for some time.

During an event at the Dov Lautman Conference on Education Policy earlier this week, a partial acknowledgement about the situation was heard for the first time. Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz, head of the manpower directorate, was taking questions from the audience.

Someone asked, “Is there a division in the IDF that perpetuates the social gaps rather than having the army serve as a melting pot? Are new recruits from the outlying towns going to combat service while those from the Sharon [the wealthy coastal region encompassing Tel Aviv] are going into technological areas?”

To which Almoz replied, “There is no institutional division. I can cautiously say this: We would like it to be more mixed. We would like for it not to be divided that way. I also think it’s our job to say so out loud, and there are organizations in this country that are helping us. It shouldn’t be that if you tell me your socioeconomic situation, I can basically decide right now what your path in life will be – that I’ll know from the start where you’ll go to school, where you’ll serve, what university you’ll go to, what your profession will be and what kind of income you’ll earn.

“I think there needs to be a little more of a mix, and we’re addressing that,” Almoz added.

In other words, the IDF is recognizing the problem and is, for the first time, publicly stating it is taking steps to change the situation.

Amos Harel
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Forgotten in hell: Half of abducted Iraqi Yazidi girls remain in ISIS captivity & sex slavery

December 29, 2017

RT — Russia Today

Ayman was sold by ISIS militants to a Muslim couple in Mosul, hugs his grandmother after he was returned to his Yazidi family, in Duhok, Iraq, Jan. 31, 2017. (Reuters)
15yo Nadi could barely speak when RT crew met her just a few hours after she was bought out after years of slavery for $2,500 – not the highest ransom by far, as ISIS terrorists fetch $10,000 on average for young Yazidi girls.
Nadi is one of thousands of Yazidi girls, captured and then enslaved by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists who would turn the girls – often no older than 10 years – into forced laborers, sex slaves, and send them on suicide missions. With the self-proclaimed IS caliphate crumbling, the slave trade has become a source of income for the retreating militants in need of money to flee the battlefield and resettle in nearby countries.
The girl was kidnapped in 2015 in Mosul – then a major IS stronghold in Iraq – where the group’s mastermind, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared a self-styled terrorist caliphate in June 2014. Though Mosul was “liberated” in July, Nadi’s long journey home ended just two hours before RT’s Murad Gazdiev spoke to her in Baghdad.

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Asked how she feels now that her horrific ordeal is over, Nadi, still visibly shaken but already smiling, said “good, thank God.” She was rescued by a group of local men who track down Yazidi girls taken captive by ISIS and try to bring them back by either negotiating a price with the militants or stealing them.

Nadi’s family forked out $2,500, which was handed over to the militants in a clandestine exchange operation with no law enforcement involved as militants threaten to kill the captives if they are exposed.

“ISIS say that if we show the girls still in their possession – or if their relatives appear on TV – the deal will be off. That they’ll kill their hostages,” a man involved in the rescue told RT.

Despite all the difficulties and controversy, deals are still being struck with the terrorists, as remnants of ISIS are in desperate need of money and the relatives of the girls do not have much hope of ever seeing them again otherwise.

“When ISIS fighters flee to Turkey – they sell their slaves because they need money to go back to their home countries,” the man said.


Image result for Yazidi girls taken prisoner by islamic state, photos

Yazidi girls are treated by jihadists as human commodities that could be easily sold or given away as presents. A man, who preferred to stay anonymous, told RT that he knows several girls as young as 10, 11, and 12 who were “all raped” by the militants and “were gifted or sold as many as 15 times.”
The price tags militants put on the abducted girls and women ranges from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. “If they’re in a dangerous place – it can be 80 thousand dollars. Otherwise, around 10-15 thousand,” he said.

There are nearly 3,000 Yazidis that are still missing with their fate unknown according to Vian Dakhil, Yazidi Member of the Council of Representatives of Iraq, which has gained prominence for leading rescue efforts on behalf of Iraqi MPs. Dakhil would sometimes pay ransom with her own money, saying that no amount of money is worth more than a life.

“I was stunned by the tragedy of the Yazidi people,” she told RT. She recalled the story of a 12-year-old sex slave girl, who drugged her ISIS captors with sleeping pills and walked with her aunt 30km before they were rescued. “Yazidi women have incredible inner strength. At first I could not believe how they could endure all of this.”

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