Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

A New Dawn For America — January 20, 2017

January 20, 2017

By Peter Grier
Christian Science Monitor
January 20, 2017

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Inauguration Day Morning, January 20, 2017

Buckle up and brace yourself: Here comes the Trump swerve. After eight years of President Obama there’s a new chief executive entering the Oval Office, and he’s eager to grab the reins of government and steer the United States in a sharply different direction.

The G-forces created by this coming turn might be intense. Seldom in American history have the policy disagreements between a president and his predecessor been so great. Consider that the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement, is high on President Trump’s most endangered list. Mr. Trump is pushing the GOP Congress to repeal the ACA (also known as “Obamacare”) and replace it with something else as soon as possible. And ASAP in this case may mean “days.”

Trump’s likely to sweep away a number of Obama-era business and environmental regulations before inaugural balls get going. The new president’s approach to foreign policy – from Day 1 – promises to be transactional and unilateralist, whereas Obama’s was more alliance-oriented.

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Donald Trump. Credit Carolyn Kaster, AP

The incoming and outgoing presidents seem to get along on a personal level about as well as could be expected for two people with wildly different personalities and political views. So Transition 2017 won’t be awkward on that level. That’s not always so: In 1933, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt so despised each other that neither spoke a word as they rode from the White House to the Capitol for F.D.R.’s swearing-in.

On policy substance it’s another matter. The change from Obama to Trump might not constitute the U-turn of Hoover to F.D.R., when a tight money approach to the Depression gave way to an expansionist New Deal overnight. But it may be at least as consequential as, say, the switch from Democrat Harry Truman to Republican Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, or from Ike to Democrat John F. Kennedy eight years later. Both those transitions produced real change in how the US approached the world.

One caveat: Trump himself is a big variable. Allegations about his connections to Russia could morph into a story that consumes his time. And it remains unclear how many of his campaign promises should be taken literally. As a novice politician he has little ideological record. How will he adapt to being president, as opposed to running for office? Are his tweets real policy signals or just noise?

And Trump, like some other president-elects before him, will find it’s harder than he thinks to send the government careening off on a new tangent. The federal bureaucracy is skilled at absorbing and diffusing presidential orders. Congress and the courts have a lot to say about what happens in the District of Columbia. “Continuity” may be more Washington’s watchword than “change.”

But Republicans now control both chambers of Congress and the presidency. After eight years of Obama there’s a lot of pent-up demand on the right for GOP-led initiatives.

“I think [Trump] can be transformative not just because of himself but because the conditions are pretty good right now for an aggressive Republican administration,” says Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.

Like most modern presidents, Trump has already produced a list of things he vows to do in his first 100 days in office. That’s a benchmark that dates back to F.D.R. of course. In his first 100 days F.D.R. pushed 15 major pieces of legislation through Congress. This unprecedented burst of activity established federal insurance of bank deposits and – for the first time – regulated Wall Street. It created US agricultural supports and the Civilian Conservation Corps. It laid the foundation for today’s federal government structure.

Trump’s list is neither that sweeping nor, needless to say, that liberal. It includes potentially big changes nonetheless.

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Inauguration Day Morning, January 20, 2017

Some aren’t likely to actually take effect – for instance, Trump said in October that he’s going to propose a constitutional amendment to put term limits on Congress. The process to approve that would be lengthy and complex.

But others can be done easily. Trump has promised that he’ll immediately terminate what he terms Obama’s “illegal amnesties” for unauthorized immigrants. That would include the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows unauthorized immigrants brought to the US as kids to stay in the country. He’s said he’ll withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal Obama officials have worked on for eight years.

Presidents have lots of power to levy tariffs on imports of specific products or from particular countries, as Trump has threatened to do. They have plenty of leeway on foreign policy as well. In that regard Trump has vowed that on Day 1 he’ll go after China by labeling it a currency manipulator – a move that may have little actual effect but will annoy Beijing. And he insists that at the earliest possible moment the US will begin working on Trump’s Great Wall for the southern border (a barrier Obama has called “half-baked”).

The new president has not changed his position in regard to where the funding for this project is coming from.

“Mexico will pay for the wall,” insists Trump’s website still, highlighting the vow in red type.

In some ways obama’s legacy is uniquely vulnerable to reversal or alteration by a new chief executive. That’s because a substantial portion of it is built on a foundation of executive orders and other direct manifestations of presidential power.

Obama did not feel he had much choice. In his first two years in office he enjoyed safe congressional majorities, and he was able to get Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill through Congress. But in the 2010 midterm elections Democrats lost control of the House and barely held onto the Senate. After that the route through Capitol Hill for Obama’s legislative agenda was pretty much blocked.

So he turned to executive actions. DACA is a case in point: There was no way Obama could get a bill through Congress allowing unauthorized immigrants brought here as youngsters to stay in the US. Instead, he invoked his authority as the boss of federal law enforcement and ordered US prosecutors to use their discretion to leave such people alone. Republicans fumed (and sued) but now that’s a moot point.

“The great thing about executive power is that you can use it with efficiency and speed. The bad thing is that the next president can attack it with the same efficiency and speed,” says Mr. Zelizer.

The Iran nuclear deal is another example of this approach. It’s not a treaty approved by the Senate and enacted into US law. Instead, Obama used his presidential authority to lift Iranian sanctions, his ability to strike political international agreements, and the US vote in the United Nations Security Council to stitch together an accord aimed at curbing Iran’s uranium enrichment activities.

Trump could reverse much of that. During his campaign he vowed he would, saying that his “No. 1 priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal” and extract more concessions from Tehran. Whether he’ll fulfill this promise is an open question – at a recent Christian Science Monitor breakfast the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, said ripping up the agreement would create an international “crisis” and isn’t likely to happen. But Trump’s unpredictable. The power to act on this issue is in his hands.

Whoever follows Trump into the Oval Office may have the same sort of leeway on other important matters. Heavy reliance on executive actions has become a feature of the modern presidency, says former Senate historian Donald Ritchie. Given the GOP’s current hold on the House and Senate, it might be hard to foresee a day when Trump finds the legislative pathway blocked. But disputes can be intraparty as well as partisan. And the American electorate seems to have become used to punishing the party in power in midterm elections.

“If you look at the last couple of years of every president … once they lose control of Congress they have got to turn to executive orders if they want to leave a stamp on things,” Mr. Ritchie says.

For now, though, the US government is in united Republican hands. And the congressional GOP is more ideologically unified than ever. The party has moved to the right on many overarching domestic issues such as government spending and taxes. The few moderate Capitol Hill Republicans that remain could caucus in the back of a compact car.

Trump’s constructed a cabinet along similar lines. Even his picks from outside Washington are generally in concert with the congressional GOP’s thinking on domestic issues. Some nominees – such as the secretary-designate of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price – were plucked from Congress itself.

It’s almost certain that Congress will move a tax cut bill, probably shaped along lines long favored by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

It’s also virtually certain that lawmakers will repeal Obamacare and enact some sort of GOP health plan in its place. It’s likely that they’ll also try to substantially alter Medicaid and perhaps Medicare.

Trump continues to talk about an infrastructure bill, but that seems to be dropping on his list of priorities. Transition officials say it is no longer “core” and is likely to be addressed only after the Trump administration’s initial burst of action.

On most of these issues Democrats will be involved only on the margins. The US isn’t entering an era of bridge building. It’s continuing a period of partisan divide and rule in government.

Trump won’t transform Washington as a Republican who builds a new coalition with Democrats, says Zelizer. “He’ll transform it as a Republican who might achieve what his Republican predecessors were unable to do in terms of cutting down a lot of government and in some ways using the military more aggressively,” says the Princeton professor.

But there is a wild card here, a known unknown, an X-factor. That’s Donald Trump himself. As president, Trump is singular. Some historians compare him to Andrew Jackson, the first populist president, a man whose supporters the elite felt to be uncouth.

But Jackson had been a state governor and a general. Trump’s the only US chief executive in history who has never held political office or been a military officer. He’s the first to use social media to attack his adversaries. His blunt campaign style has been unique and refreshing to some, and horrifyingly transgressive to others.

What will he actually do? That remains an open question. Some of his recent tweets, if serious, have vast policy implications. In December he tweeted that the US “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability,” for instance. That implies he will propose a large new atomic weapons program, perhaps launching a new arms race. Unless the tweet was just a random musing thought, the kind all presidents probably have but haven’t previously made public.

Trump’s also tweeted that flag burners should face loss of US citizenship or some other sort of legal punishment. That would likely run afoul of First Amendment protections. Is he serious? He often complains about unfair media treatment and labels particular newspapers or TV programs “failing.” He’s talked about loosening libel laws. Will he use legal powers to go after the press?

The Trump Cabinet is conservative – predictably so, says David Greenberg, a professor of history and journalism at Rutgers University. With a few exceptions, its members are the same sort of people any of the Republican presidential candidates would have picked.

But Trump has also selected for his inner circle some “wild outsiders” who want to blow up the current political system, says Mr. Greenberg, such as former Breitbart News chair Steve Bannon. In that sense the 2017 transition might be similar to the 1969 handover of power from Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon.

Nixon picked a conservative cabinet but generally ignored it and dealt mostly with a favored few aides, such as Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman. Nixon’s temperament wasn’t so much conservative as authoritarian, Greenberg adds. “The worry most people have about Trump is along those lines,” he says. “People worry he will govern the way he has campaigned … [that] he will show the same contempt for norms that he has throughout the campaign.”

In that sense the transition from Obama to Trump will involve more than just a change in policies, says the Rutgers historian.

It’s also possible that Trump is less a breaker of Washington’s crockery and more a rookie politician who hasn’t yet figured out how to translate his business experience into presidential leadership.

If that’s the case, the best comparison might not be Nixon, but Jimmy Carter. President Carter was an outsider who knew little about how to get things done in the nation’s capital. To some extent, he never did figure it out. Carter, a former Georgia governor, treated Congress as if it were the Georgia state legislature – something you could go around via direct appeals to voters. That just did not work on the national level after he won the presidency.

“He had huge Democratic majorities and didn’t make the most of [them],” says Ritchie, the former Senate historian.

That example would foreshadow friction between Trump and the congressional Republican majority. There have been some examples of that in the pre-inaugural period: Trump objected to the timing of the House GOP effort to downgrade the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. Many Republican lawmakers have questioned Trump’s developing geopolitical “bromance” with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

For now, the GOP congressional leadership appears willing to accommodate Trump’s tweets and other eccentricities to get his presidential signature on long-sought conservative legislation. But this accommodation has shallow roots. Remember that back in June Mr. Ryan called Trump’s complaints about a Hispanic judge a “textbook definition of a racist comment.”

“Who is going to check [Trump]? It might be his own party in Congress,” says former House historian Raymond Smock, director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education.

Reality might checkTrump’s policy ambitions, too.

The US government isn’t actually a Ford Mustang (American made!) that a new president can whip into a tight slide and turn. It’s more like a container ship, a behemoth of the seas that has lots of inertia and takes miles to stop. Not exactly maneuverable.

All presidents come into office wanting to make an immediate impact. But that is harder than it looks.

“There is a lot more continuity than people think,” says George Edwards III, a presidential expert and distinguished professor of political science at Texas A&M University.

For one thing, the bureaucracy resists. This is a matter of procedure as much as obstinacy. It’s easy for a new president to sign an executive order undoing a predecessor’s executive order. But will there be a new regulation replacing an old one? Does it need to be published in the Federal Register for public comment? What’s its effect on the budget? And so forth.

For another, existing laws and/or regulations usually develop constituencies. Take Obamacare. Republicans might want to go back to the era prior to the ACA, but doing so would involve taking health insurance away from millions of Americans. It would mean insurers could again deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions. Whatever its faults, the Obama health effort has moved the goal posts on the issue. Trump and the GOP need to take that into account.

Congressional Republicans are struggling with that right now as they try to put together an Obamacare replacement as quickly as possible. “You might make some adjustments, but they’ll provide health care to those millions of people,” Mr. Edwards predicts.

Nor do American interests in foreign policy change just because the nation held an election. A new president, taking office, often finds that there are good reasons the US has taken the international positions it has. The Iran deal might be a good example of this. If Trump rips it up, what will he do next? Lots of other nations had a say in its creation and aren’t eager to return to what existed before. That will greatly lessen US leverage. Meanwhile, Iran will demand changes of its own.

North Korea remains one of the biggest problems facing US diplomacy. Trump has already vowed that North Korean development of an intercontinental ballistic missile “won’t happen.” But as it happens, China is a huge influence on North Korea. It’s Pyongyang’s biggest neighbor and only friend. Will plunging into a trade war with Beijing help the US control Kim Jong-un?

Finally, presidential honeymoons are short. Trump is working with congressional majorities, which is good news for him, but he is also not particularly popular with voters for an incoming president, which is bad news. That will lessen his ability to get difficult things through Capitol Hill.

“Once he does things that really irritate people and there is pushback – ‘here is the guy who wants to make the air dirty’ or ‘business leaders say this will be bad for jobs’ – he is going to be even less popular,” says Edwards.

All presidential transitions are uncertain. The new president and the new executive branch team are untested. Other countries (Russia?) may see the transition period as a time to prod and test the US. Others (Israel?) may see it as an opportunity to get on better terms with the American administration. “But this one seems more uncertain. Trump has never held public office and he doesn’t have a long history of opinions in public policies,” says David Clinton, chair of the political science department at Baylor University.

Today’s situation might be comparable when Eisenhower took over from Truman in 1953, according to Mr. Clinton. Eisenhower had vowed during the campaign to go to Korea, then the theater of a shooting war. He hinted there would be a dramatic change in US strategy. He also instituted Project Solarium, a famous discussion in which three groups argued for three different US grand strategies in the developing confrontation with the Soviet Union.

In the end, Ike made tweaks in the US approach in these areas, but they were minimal. Containment remained the White House watchword for the cold war. “As it turns out, there wasn’t as much change as people thought there might be,” says Clinton.

That’s the way it has often been with transitions, he says. New presidents discovered that the US ship of state has so much inertia, and takes so much energy to change course, that it is best to single out priorities and work hardest on those.

“They just focused on a few issues, on a few things they thought they could handle. And that’s what happens with most presidents,” Clinton says.

Contributor Gail Russell Chaddock and staff writer Story Hinckley contributed to this report.

Senator John McCain Slams Obama on ‘Traitor’ Chelsea Manning — “Some of Our Allies Died” in Taliban Killing Spree

January 20, 2017

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This is a RUSH transcript from “The O’Reilly Factor,” January 18, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
Watch “The O’Reilly Factor” weeknights at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET!

O’REILLY: FACTOR “Follow-Up” segment tonight. Private Chelsea Manning, who is used to be Bradley Manning, is serving 35 years of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas convicted of multiple charges under the espionage act. Manning leaked hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, some of which put people in physical danger in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Yesterday, the President commuted Manning’s sentence.


OBAMA: The sentence that she received was very disproportional — disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received. And that she had to serve a significant amount of time. That it made sense to commute.


O’REILLY: Private Manning will be released in a few months.

And joining us now from Washington, Senator John McCain. So, your reaction to the commutation?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIR: Rage, frustration, and sorrow. Sorrow for the families of those individuals who identified in these leaks in Afghanistan that the Taliban went after and murdered. And rage because this President is basically endorsing a proposal that allows someone to go free who is responsible for the needless deaths of those people who are allies. But do you say to their families, Bill?

O’REILLY: How do you know that Manning’s leaks directly led to a person’s death? Did you get reports that they —

MCCAIN: I got reports that the Taliban went after the people that were identified in these reports. And by the way, why wouldn’t they?

O’REILLY: Sure. I mean, and I just wanted to know if it was specific leaks that came to you as a Senator which showed what WikiLeaks did with Manning’s help killed people that were helping the USA.

MCCAIN: Let me be specific. The information I received when I was there was that the Taliban went after these people. I assume, killed them.

O’REILLY: Okay. I guess Manning has served seven years, something like that, and then, President Obama says, that is enough. I mean, that is commiserate with what she did.

MCCAIN: Of course, that is outrageous. What is more egregious than providing the enemy with information that would help them, which over time, then, puts the lives of the men and women serving in uniform and greater danger? And is there any argument that anyone could have that WikiLeaks didn’t do that?

O’REILLY: So, you believe that the President is misguided and his sympathies here. Do you think it has anything to do with the private being transgender?

MCCAIN: I have no idea what the motivation is. I understand that there were a lot of people who were arguing for this commutation but I can’t expect — I would expect any commander-in-chief before commuting the sentence of someone of this nature would consult with our military leaders. You’d think that he called that the chairman of the Joint-Chief-of-Staff? What do you think about this?

O’REILLY: You know, his own Secretary of Defense said, don’t do it.

MCCAIN: Nor did any of our military leaders.

O’REILLY: All right. Friday, Trump becomes president. You and he have a strained relationship. Have you spoken with him since he won the election?

MCCAIN: I have spoken to him twice. And both times, it was about appointments. And by the way, I have very good and strong relationship with the Vice President-elect, with General Mattis, with General Kelly, with General Flynn. There’s a lot of people around the Vice President- elect, as I mentioned. And so, I have been talking with them a lot. Reince Priebus, as well, about appointments. So, we just got legislation passed today so that we can confirm General Mattis as Secretary of Defense right after the inauguration, immediately the same day. So, we have been working in some areas together.

O’REILLY: Okay. The big difference between you and Donald Trump at this point is Russia. Do you feel you will be able to convince him to take a harder line against Putin?

MCCAIN: I certainly hope others around him can. I know how General Mattis feels. I know how General Flynn feels. I know how even Mr. Tillerson feels. Look, we cannot reward misbehavior. We have to go back to Ronald Reagan, peace through strength, get strong, and then deal with them. And that way is the only way we can get there.

O’REILLY: So, he lift sanctions. If Trump lift sanctions, you’re not going to be real pleased?

MCCAIN: I am going to be deeply, deeply disappointed. And by the way, so are all the people in the Baltic countries and in Ukraine and in Georgia, that right now, are under the threat of military action by Vladimir Putin.

O’REILLY: Okay. Finally, the boycott has not extended to the Senate. There are Congress people, as you know, dozens has done it. Democrats not showing up to the inauguration. But the Senate has held. Why is that? Why aren’t the senators, the Democratic senators, some of them far left, why aren’t they boycotting?

MCCAIN: Well, I say with typical Senate snobbery, we are not to like that.


O’REILLY: They are the school kids, you are the professors. Right?

MCCAIN: Yes. I think that they have smaller constituencies and more narrow constituencies. My colleagues, and some cases, represent millions of people. And so, I think they are respecting the peaceful transition of power, which is characterized most successful experiment in democracy in history.

O’REILLY: All right. Senator, we always appreciated. Thanks very much.

Includes video:

Senator John McCain’s Statement:


U.S. Bombers Hit Islamic State in Libya

January 19, 2017

Strikes outside Sirte mark widening of U.S. campaign

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber flies over the Missouri Sky after taking off from the Whiteman Air Force Base in Johnson County, Mo., in October 2002. American B-2 bombers struck at multiple sites in Libya on Wednesday evening as part of a push against Islamic State in northern Africa.

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber flies over the Missouri Sky after taking off from the Whiteman Air Force Base in Johnson County, Mo., in October 2002. American B-2 bombers struck at multiple sites in Libya on Wednesday evening as part of a push against Islamic State in northern Africa. PHOTO: HYUNGWON KANG/REUTERS

WASHINGTON—American B-2 bombers struck at multiple sites in Libya on Wednesday evening, hitting an Islamic State training camp and other locations and killing dozens of Islamic State fighters, according to Pentagon officials, in what represents a broadening of the U.S. war against the extremist group in northern Africa.

The Pentagon and coalition members in the fight against Islamic State in Libya were still assessing the impact of the strikes, but as many as 90 Islamic State fighters may have been killed, according to military officials.

The strikes occurred in the desert outside Sirte, Libya, a city where the Pentagon last month concluded an intense airstrike campaign against Islamic State. But even after Sirte had been judged to be clear of Islamic State fighters, some militants had escaped the coastal city to outlying areas.

The latest bombings came after a decision by President Barack Obama on Monday to widen what’s known as the “area of active hostilities,” or battle ground, where the U.S. military may operate, according to the officials. Previously, the U.S. military was limited to the area immediately in and around Sirte. Strikes outside that area required additional review by the White House.

But days before departing the White House for good, Mr. Obama decided U.S. Africa Command should be able to strike at those Islamic State targets. The U.S. is aligned with the Government of National Accord, or GNA, in Libya, whose forces have conducted ground operations against Islamic State.

Libya has become a magnet for Islamic State fighters since operations by the U.S.-led coalition put pressure on the group inside Iraq and Syria. The focus of effort was in Sirte, but military officials have known for months that some militants had left Sirte and that other Islamic State targets existed outside the area.

U.S. Africa Command previously didn’t have immediate authority to strike targets outside of that area. Any such targets required review by the White House under what’s known as the Presidential Policy Guidance, or PPG.

The Pentagon began its airstrike mission in Sirte on Aug. 1, using the USS Wasp, an amphibious ship, as a base of operations off the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean Sea. The ship was used to drop more than 420 munitions onto targets inside Sirte before completing that mission in December.

Write to Gordon Lubold at

Sen. Tom Cotton Slams Obama on ‘Traitor’ Chelsea Manning

January 19, 2017

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Sen. Tom Cotton  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

By Todd Beamon   |   Tuesday, 17 Jan 2017 06:09 PM

Sen. Tom Cotton Tuesday slammed President Barack Obama’s commuting of Chelsea Manning’s 35-year prison term, saying that his leaking classified information to WikiLeaks in 2009 provided “grave harm to our national security.”

“I am very surprised,” the Arkansas Republican, an Army veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, told Jake Tapper on CNN. “Chelsea Manning pleaded guilty to very serious crimes leaking highly classified information that put at risk the lives of our troops and our diplomats, our intelligence officers — allies who helped us around the world.


“This was grave harm to our national security,” he added. “Chelsea Manning is serving a sentence and should continue to serve that sentence.”

In one of his final acts, President Obama’s move allowed Manning — who committed the leaks as Bradley Manning — to go free nearly three decades early. She will leave prison in May.

Manning was an U.S. Army intelligence analyst and was convicted in military court in 2013 of six violations of the Espionage Act and 14 other offenses for leaking more than 700,000 documents and some battlefield video to WikiLeaks.

She was sentenced to 35 years in prison, serving nearly seven years before Obama’s action on Tuesday.

In November, Manning asked the president to commute her sentence to time served.

Immediately after the president’s decision was announced, Cotton — who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee — said that “we ought not treat a traitor like a martyr.”

“There will be time to review her sentence and seek a parole in the future,” the first-term senator told Tapper. “But for the president, especially a president who has made so much recently about the danger that WikiLeaks has posed our national security, to commute Manning’s sentence I think is disappointing.


“I wish Barack Obama would have allowed the military justice system to proceed in due course rather than short-circuiting the sentence 28 years before it was set to expire.”


Gambia Leader’s Term Extended as Tourists Are Evacuated — Obama Was Urged To Take Action on Gambia in 2014 for Torture, Killings, Human Rights Abuses

January 18, 2017

DAKAR, Senegal — Gambia said Wednesday its legislators have voted to extend President Yahya Jammeh’s term by three months, just hours before his mandate was set to expire. The president-elect has vowed to take office regardless of whether Jammeh leaves. Amid the uncertainty, tourist evacuations began.

In a sign of mounting international pressure, Nigeria confirmed a warship was heading toward Gambia as a “training” exercise as regional countries prepared a possible military intervention.

As the crisis deepened, more than 1,000 mainly British and Dutch tourists were evacuating the tiny West African nation on specially chartered flights. Hundreds were streaming into the airport, seeking information on departures.

On Tuesday, Jammeh declared a three-month state of emergency as he seeks to stay in power despite losing elections in December. President-elect Adama Barrow has vowed to be sworn in Thursday, with the backing of the international community. Barrow was in neighboring Senegal for his safety, and it was not clear how an inauguration would be carried out.

Jammeh has challenged the election results, citing voting irregularities, and the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS has threatened to send in troops to make him leave.

Nigerian Navy spokesman Capt. Dahun Jahun said his country’s air force was contributing 200 supporting troops for the standby force for Gambia. He said 11 pilots, 11 crew members and 80 “supporting troops” already had deployed. Senegal and Ghana also are contributing to the force.

Gambia, a country of 1.9 million people, is estimated to have just 900 troops.

Thousands of people have been fleeing to Senegal, including a number of Jammeh’s former government ministers, who resigned this week.

Travel group Thomas Cook said it planned to bring home nearly 1,000 vacationers, and four flights were being added Wednesday. The evacuation was not mandatory, but offered those who want to leave the option.

Many tourists continued to enjoy lying on the beach. While Jammeh’s government has been accused by human rights groups of arbitrary detentions and torture of opponents during his 22-year rule, the government has promoted Gambia as “the smiling coast of Africa.”

In the Netherlands, travel company Corendon said it was sending planes to Gambia to bring home tourists. The company said 831 Dutch tourists were on Corendon vacations there.

Another Dutch tour operator, Tui, was sending five aircraft to repatriate Dutch and Belgian tourists. Tui said it had 815 Dutch tourists and 228 Belgians in the country.

Tui spokeswoman Petra Kok said the company was making it clear to tourists that if they decide to stay, it is their own responsibility. The Dutch government has a negative travel advisory in place for tourists wanting to visit the country.

Gambia’s new state of emergency bans people from “any acts of disobedience” or violence, and it tells security forces to maintain order.


Associated Press writer Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands and Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria contributed to this report.



US should act against Gambia’s dictatorship

Ending Yahya Jammeh’s rampant human rights abuses requires more than press statements and finger wagging

By Jeffrey Smith
Al Jazeera

December 17, 2014 2:00AM ET
Enough blood has been spilled in Gambia and too many voices already silenced by Jammeh’s brutal regime. US taxpayer money should not contribute to this escalating repression.

There are a number of steps that the U.S. should immediately consider. First, all U.S. aid to Gambia should be reviewed to ensure its intended effectiveness and nondiscrimination in its disbursement. Humanitarian programs that are currently funneled through the Gambian government should be redirected to third parties, preferably civil society groups that guarantee consistent service to all beneficiaries, regardless of sexual orientation or political beliefs. The U.S. should halt military assistance to Jammeh’s government, which has routinely violated the rights of its citizens.

Second, the U.S. can hit Jammeh where it hurts by restricting his travel and barring individuals implicated in corruption and human rights abuses from traveling to the U.S. and its territories. Relevant U.S. agencies should freeze assets in the United States held by Jammeh, his immediate family and members of his inner circle — for example, Jammeh’s $3.5 million mansion in Potomac, Maryland.

Third, the U.S. can pull Gambia from the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which grants trade incentives to African countries for opening their economies. Jammeh’s administration has clearly failed to make “continual progress toward establishing … the rule of law, political pluralism and the right to due process, a fair trial and equal protection under the law,” as required by the act. The U.S. has done this before with Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, often because of undemocratic rule, and most recently in Swaziland over serious concerns over the lack of workers’ rights.

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Finally, the U.S. and its regional allies should organize an all-inclusive national conference, consisting of a broad spectrum of Gambian society — including opposition parties, civil society groups, press unions, the bar association and the diaspora — to draw up a road map for the country’s transition to democracy, good governance and respect for human rights.

Our elected leaders should not shake hands with dictators and merely issue occasional press statements. Jammeh’s onslaught against LGBT people is part of a much broader spectrum of human rights abuses that have been perpetrated with impunity for two decades. U.S. taxpayer money should not contribute to this escalating repression. Enough blood has been spilled in Gambia and too many voices already silenced by Jammeh’s brutal regime.

Jeffrey Smith is a senior advocacy officer at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy.

Russia says Snowden can stay two more years

January 18, 2017


© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File | US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden has been living in exile in Russia since 2013

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian authorities have extended US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden’s Russian residency permit by two years, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.The former National Security Agency contractor shook the American intelligence establishment to its core in 2013 with a series of devastating leaks on mass surveillance in the US and around the world.

The announcement came as outgoing US President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of army private Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for handing classified US documents to WikiLeaks.

Snowden was not on Obama’s list of commutations or pardons.

“Snowden’s residence permit has just been extended by two years,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on her Facebook page.

His lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, could not be reached on Wednesday morning to confirm Zakharova’s statement.

Snowden has been living in exile in Russia since 2013, where he ended up after spending weeks in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

He was initially granted permission to stay in Russia for one year amid the rapid deterioration in Moscow’s relations with Washington.

The revelations from the documents he leaked sparked a massive row over the data sweeps conducted by the United States domestically and in allied nations, including of their leaders.

Snowden welcomed the action on Manning’s sentence, writing on Twitter: “Let it be said here in earnest, with good heart: Thanks, Obama.”

Obama commuted the 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, covicted of leaking thousands of secret documents to Wikileaks — “This treachery put American lives at risk.”

January 18, 2017


Image may contain: 2 people, closeup

Republican senator accusing Obama of treating “a traitor like a martyr.”


President Barack Obama has commuted the 35-year prison sentence given to Chelsea Manning for leaking thousands of secret documents to Wikileaks in 2010, setting her on track for release in May.

Wikileaks said last week that Julian Assange, the site’s publisher, would agree to extradition to the US if Ms Manning were freed. It is unclear if Mr Assange, the subject of an espionage investigation, will follow through, though a member of his legal team said he stands by his statements.

Ms Manning, a US army soldier born Bradley Manning, is the most high-profile of 273 individuals granted clemency or presidential pardons on Tuesday,  Mr Obama’s third-to-last full day in office. 


The decision is also the most controversial, with one Republican senator accusing Mr Obama of treating “a traitor like a martyr”.

Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, may now be willing to face extradition to the USCREDIT: AP

“I don’t understand why the president would feel special compassion for someone who endangered the lives of our troops, diplomats, intelligence officers and allies,” Tom Cotton, the senator, said in a statement.

Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, called Mr Obama’s decision “outrageous”.

“Chelsea Manning’s treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets,” he said. “President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty International called the step “long overdue”, saying Ms Manning’s treatment had been “unconscionable”.

The White House had signalled that Ms Manning was being considered for clemency, contrasting her case with that of Edward Snowden, who also leaked sensitive documents to Wikileaks before fleeing to Russia.

“Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” Josh Earnest, Mr Obama’s spokesman said last week.

Edward Snowden tweeted his appreciation for Chelsea Manning’s pardon CREDIT: AFP

“Mr Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary and sought refuge in a country, that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”

Among the materials leaked by Ms Manning, who served as an Army intelligence analyst and was deployed to Iraq, was video of an American helicopter attack that resulted in the deaths of innocent Iraqi civilians and two reporters.

Ms Manning also leaked diplomatic cables containing sensitive information. US officials said the leaks harmed American foreign policy and strained relations with allies.

She will now be released on May 17, after seven years in prison.

Mr Snowden took to Twitter on Tuesday to thank Ms Manning’s supporters, and Mr Obama for enabling her release.

Mr Snowden also thanked Ms Manning “for what you did for everyone”, and urged her to “stay strong” for the next five months.

Wikileaks called the news a “victory”. Mr Assange released a statement, but did not say whether he now planned to turn himself over to the US authorities.

“Thank you to everyone who campaigned for Chelsea Manning’s clemency. Your courage & determination made the impossible possible,” he said.

Mr Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for more than four years, and also faces sexual assault allegations in Sweden, which he denies.

With today’s 209 commutations, @POTUS has commuted sentences of more people than the last 12 presidents combined. 

Wikileaks said Mr Assange was “confident of winning any fair trial in the US”, adding that the Obama administration had prevented the possibility of an impartial jury.

Ms Manning’s case was polarising, with military and intelligence officials largely furious at the leaks, and human rights and transparency activists calling her a hero.

Ms Manning pleaded guilty during her trial and apologised for her actions, but still received the longest sentence ever for a leak conviction.

She later applied to the Obama administration for a commutation, saying there was “no historical precedent” for such an “extreme” sentence.

Mr Obama also pardoned James Cartwright, a retired Marine general who pleaded guilty last year to making false statements to investigators. Mr Cartwright had denied leaking classified information, despite having done so.

Mr Obama has commuted the sentences of 1,385 individuals throughout his presidency, the most in history. The majority of those people received long sentences for drug-related crimes.

Obama commutes Chelsea Manning sentence — Leaked U.S. Government information from National Security Agency to Wikileaks

January 18, 2017

BBC News

Senator John McCain said the president’s decision was “a grave mistake that I fear will encourage further acts of espionage”.

Chelsea Manning

Manning declared her new identity the day after sentencing. AP photo

President Barack Obama has commuted Chelsea Manning’s sentence for leaking documents to Wikileaks in 2010.

The 29-year-old transgender US Army private, born Bradley Manning, will be freed on 17 May instead of her scheduled 2045 release.

She was sentenced to 35 years in 2013 for her role in leaking diplomatic cables to the anti-secrecy group.

The leak was one of the largest breaches of classified material in US history.

Media caption Journalist Glenn Greenwald: Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden “acted with extreme amounts of courage”

The White House had suggested in recent days it was open to commuting Manning’s sentence.

She twice attempted suicide last year at the male military prison where she is being held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Manning also went on a hunger strike last year, which ended after the military agreed to provide her with gender dysphoria treatment.

In one of his final acts as president, Mr Obama granted commutation of sentences to 209 individuals and pardons to 64 others.

Chelsea Manning at Fort Meade, Maryland, in July 2013

Chelsea Manning, then Bradley, was convicted in 2013. Reuters

However, Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who leaked information on mass surveillance programmes before fleeing the US, will not be granted a pardon.

Russian authorities said on Wednesday that Mr Snowden had been granted a two-year extension to his temporary asylum in the country.

Why Manning? Rajini Vaidyanathan, BBC News

Chelsea Manning’s case divided public opinion in the US. To some she was a whistleblower who lifted the veil on US military secrets. More than 100,000 people signed a White House petition calling for her release and the campaign for her commutation was well publicised. But to others Manning was a traitor who compromised the safety of US military personnel.

House Speaker Paul Ryan described President Obama’s commutation as treachery. When I attended Manning’s sentencing in 2013, the prosecution asked for a tougher sentence than the 35 years handed down. They said they wanted to send a message to future potential leakers.

The White House has yet to explain why it made the decision to free Manning. It’s worth noting that Mr Obama was accused of waging a war on whistleblowers for prosecuting more people under the Espionage Act than any other US president before him.

What has been the reaction?

Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, told the BBC the commutation would be a great relief to his client.

“It really is a great act of mercy by President Obama,” said Mr Coombs. “For myself and Chelsea, I’m very thankful he took that option.”

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story of Edward Snowden’s leaks, told the BBC: “I don’t think she (Manning) should have spent a single day in prison.”

He said she was “heroic and has inspired millions of people around the world”.

But Republican Senator John McCain said the president’s decision was “a grave mistake that I fear will encourage further acts of espionage”.

And House Speaker Paul Ryan said it was “just outrageous”, adding that the US Army private had “put American lives at risk”.

What was in the leaked cables?

The US Army charged Manning with 22 counts relating to the unauthorised possession and distribution of more than 700,000 secret diplomatic and military documents and video.

Included in those files was video footage of an Apache helicopter killing 12 civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

Manning also passed on sensitive messages between US diplomats, intelligence assessments of Guantanamo detainees being held without trial and military records from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The disclosures were considered an embarrassment to the US, prompting the Obama administration to crack down on government leaks.

At a sentencing hearing, Manning apologised for “hurting the US” and said she had mistakenly thought she could “change the world for the better”.

What next for Julian Assange?

Wikileaks, the anti-secrecy organisation which published the diplomatic cables, has previously said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Mr Obama granted clemency to Manning.

The White House said the Manning commutation was not influenced in any way by Mr Assange’s extradition offer.

Mr Assange, who has taken refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, did not immediately comment on whether he plans to surrender.

But he did tweet: “Thank you to everyone who campaigned for Chelsea Manning’s clemency. Your courage & determination made the impossible possible.”

The US justice department has not publicly announced any indictment against Mr Assange. It is Sweden that has sought to extradite him, for an alleged sex crime.

Why no pardon for Edward Snowden?

More than a million supporters of Mr Snowden have petitioned President Barack Obama to pardon him.

But according to the White House, the National Security Agency leaker has not himself submitted the necessary documents for clemency.

In November, Mr Obama told German newspaper Der Spiegel: “I can’t pardon somebody who hasn’t gone before a court and presented themselves.”

The White House last week pointed out that Manning had passed through the US military justice system and acknowledged her crimes.

Mr Snowden, however, fled the US in 2013, evading charges in America which could put him in prison for up to 30 years.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said “the disclosures by Edward Snowden were far more serious and far more dangerous”.

He had also “fled into the arms of an adversary and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine the confidence in our democracy”, Mr Earnest added.

How do pardons and commutations work?

Mr Obama has commuted 1,385 sentences and issued 212 pardons, more than the total granted by the past 12 presidents combined.

In America, a pardon not only lifts the sentence but removes other penalties such as the bar on convicted felons sitting on federal juries, and state-level prohibitions on such things as voting or possession of firearms.

A commutation means the sentence is lifted but the civil handicaps outlined above remain.

Neither a pardon nor a commutation is an acknowledgment of innocence.

How Obama’s failures paved the way for American socialism

January 17, 2017

By Ryan Cooper

Socialism in America?

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The year 2008 was an auspicious time to graduate from college. I have been a political obsessive since my early life, but as a science major, I had not paid much attention to political economy, focusing instead on the war in Iraq, the war on drugs, and civil liberties. So when the economy entered free-fall in early 2008, hemorrhaging millions of jobs just as I was set to enter the job market, it felt as though the foundations of America were cracking apart.

It seemed like an all-hands-on-deck moment, and led me to my first moment of electoral political activism: knocking on doors for the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama. When he and his party won a gigantic victory, and the president-elect gave a thrilling victory speech, it seemed as though everything that was wrong with America was about to be set right. George W. Bush was just an anomaly on the road to a better and brighter future.

But it was not to be. On Tuesday night, over eight years later, President Obama gave his farewell address. It is a perfect moment to recount how the soaring hopes and eventual bitter disappointments of his presidency paved the way for a return of American socialism.

To start with, it must be said that Barack Obama is a hugely able person, certainly one of the most formidable occupants of the presidency. He is perhaps the second-best writer among presidents (after Lincoln), a rivetingly charismatic orator, and an inspirer of intense personal loyalty. His mind is subtle and his reasoning deft. He is virtually always cool and collected, and exudes competence. In few other times has an American head of state’s political legacy been so defined by his singular characteristics.

But this top-heavy account also goes some distance towards explaining why so much of the Obama promise fizzled out. He came to power at the head of a political force that was much more anti-Bush and dazzled by his personal charm than it was behind any coherent political or ideological program. What’s more, he took power at an extraordinarily unfortunate moment — when the neoliberal economic structures that had been built up on a bipartisan basis since 1980 came totally unglued. The economy had been rotting from the top for decades, and was in total freefall from the second he took office.

In the moment of panic, the old logic of Keynesianism managed to get through, and total collapse was avoided with the Recovery Act. But the president was far too dedicated to institutional thinking — to appearing respectable according to existing elite norms — to make the radical political break that was, in retrospect, obviously necessary.

Neoliberalism quickly reasserted itself among Obama, his inner circle, and the right half of his party. They just barely managed to get health-care reform through, deeply compromised by capitulation to the insurance and medical industries, and punched full of holes by neoconservative-lite senators like Joe Lieberman. They pivoted to austerity in early 2010, and lost their 60-vote Senate supermajority with the death of Teddy Kennedy and a shocking loss in the ensuing election. Unwilling to abolish the filibuster, and with unemployment still at 10 percent due to the inadequate stimulus, the Democrats were crushed in the 2010 election — ironically, most of those who lost were in the party’s conservative wing and most pro-austerity.

But, in keeping with a political movement overly focused on a single personality, Obama’s closest associates mostly did not treat this as a political emergency. Instead, they cashed out with plush consulting gigs (or went to work for David Cameron). They continued to rake in mega-payouts from corporations while the party fell to pieces downballot.

On foreign policy, Obama’s coldness overtook his ethical sense. He was much more concerned with avoiding “dumb wars” and the concomitant waste of resources than he was about respecting the moral personhood of all human beings. His was a presidency that embraced or extended most of the violently illiberal Bush security apparatus, and whitewashed what it did not endorse; a presidency where American bombs and special forces are in dozens of countries around the globe; a presidency where an American grandfather must hear from locals in Yemen that his 16-year-old American grandson, targeted by the Obama drone program without explanation, was “blown to pieces.” Meanwhile, Obama’s personal charm ensured that the many slavish Democratic partisans would invent reasons to support these actions.

Taken together, these failures — the grindingly slow and unequal economic recovery, the inadequate and frustrating health-care reform, the collapse of the party downballot, and the overseas moral atrocities — quietly paved the way for a return of American socialism. (Much of Obama’s final speech, in which he returned to the same themes of unity and faith in America as his 2004 convention speech and the 2008 campaign, sounded frankly preposterous with Donald Trump waiting in the wings.)

But it took the crowning of Hillary Clinton by party grandees and Democratic partisans as the approved nominee to demonstrate just how ready the country was. She is Obama with none of the spellbinding magnetism, a far longer history of neoliberal triangulation, and an immense pile of baggage to boot. Cranky old Bernie Sanders, the only self-described socialist anywhere near the top rank of politics, ran what was to be a protest primary campaign to raise awareness and push his pet issues. Instead, to the complete astonishment of everyone, including himself, he nearly won.

He got so much traction in part because his unapologetically left-wing agenda obviously plugged the holes in the Obama presidency. No more fiddly little tax credits and jerry-rigged market mechanisms. Deal with student debt by making college free for all. Deal with the broken health-care system with Medicare for all. Deal with crumbling infrastructure with a cool trillion bucks in spending. Deal with climate change with an aggressive carbon tax. Deal with income inequality by sharply increased taxes on the rich, massive redistribution, and running the economy red-hot. On that and many other issues, democratic socialist policy provided a convincing account of why the Obama years have felt so desperate, and how they might be fixed.

And then Clinton lost to the most buffoonish nominee in American history — and Sanders has become the most popular politician in the country.

I still find it impossible not to feel some affection for Obama, even after all this. But it is unquestionably true that his brand of politics is dead. It remains to be seen whether democratic socialism can mount an effective challenge to Trump. But on the left, that is where the energy and vision lies.

Hamas slams “absurd” Paris peace conference as France and others try to “impose” peace

January 16, 2017


© POOL/AFP/File | Islamist movement Hamas dismissed the results of the Paris peace conference (pictured), calling it “absurd” on January 16, 2017

GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – Islamist movement Hamas rejected Monday the outcome of a Paris conference on Israeli-Palestinian peace, labelling the summit “absurd.””The Paris conference is a return to the absurd negotiation approach, which lost the rights of the Palestinian people and gave legitimacy to the Zionist entity on Palestinian land,” Fawzy Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, said in a statement.

Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, while the Palestinian Authority led by president Mahmud Abbas controls the West Bank and is the partner for peace negotiations with Israel and the West.

Barhoum called for the various Palestinian factions to unite on a “national strategy” around the “resistance in defence of our people.”

Around 70 countries attending Sunday’s talks in Paris agreed a joint statement supporting an independent Palestinian state as part of a negotiated settlement with Israel.

Members of the Izz ad Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, take part in a ceremony, on December 18, 2016 in Gaza City, in the memory of one of their leaders, Mohamed Zaouari, who was murdered in Tunisia. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The statement warned Israel and the Palestinians against “unilateral steps” that could threaten a two-state solution, but included no serious enforcement mechanisms.

Abbas ally Saeb Erekat welcomed the conference as creating “momentum” towards ending Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.



Hamas trying to drum up support in West Bank, Shin Bet says, arresting 13

Israeli security services break up plot by terrorist group to win over local Palestinians with social programs, money

January 16, 2017, 12:46 pm
IDF troops make a late-night arrest in the West Bank on January 11, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

IDF troops make a late-night arrest in the West Bank on January 11, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Israeli security forces arrested 13 alleged Hamas members on Sunday night who were involved in a “hearts and minds” operation in the West Bank aimed at garnering local Palestinian support for the terrorist organization, the Shin Bet security service revealed Monday.

Over the past few weeks, the Shin Bet, working alongside the Israel Defense Forces, uncovered the “extensive” Hamas operation in the West Bank, specifically in Ramallah and the surrounding areas, the agency said.


This Hamas operation, which included dozens of operatives, was geared toward winning over the Palestinian population through social outreach projects and financial assistance.

Hamas gave money to Palestinian prisoners, to the families of terrorists and to its student auxiliary, known in Arabic as Kutla Islamiyah, the Shin Bet said.

In addition to making 13 arrests, security forces also seized alleged Hamas funds, a vehicle and a large amount of propaganda.

One of the 13 people detained was a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the defunct parliament of the Palestinians.

According to the Shin Bet, the funding for this operation came both from abroad and from the Gaza Strip, where Hamas rules.

“The discovery of this infrastructure teaches us about the ongoing strategic intentions of Hamas to operate and set itself up in the field, as it tries to undermine the local authority. And this is done alongside its attempts to carry out vicious terror attacks,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.

Also on Sunday night and early Monday morning, IDF troops arrested 17 other Palestinians suspects in operations across the West Bank, the army said.

In the village of Safa, west of Ramallah, security forces arrested an alleged Hamas member and seized thousands of shekels that “according to intelligence information” came from terrorist organizations, the army said.

Another alleged Hamas member was picked up in the village of Rantis, north of Modiin.

IDF soldiers and Shin Bet agents also shut down a workshop in al-Aroub, outside Bethlehem, which the army said was used to manufacture illegal weapons. Four drill-presses were also confiscated.

Five of the people arrested are suspected of throwing rocks or taking part in violent demonstrations. The army would not disclose the charges against the other detainees.