Civilian Casualties Rise as Israel Hammers Gaza From the Air

By Karl Vick in TIME magazine

Palestinian relatives of eight members of the Al Haj family, who were killed in a strike early morning, grieve in the family house during their funeral in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, July 10, 2014. Khalil Hamra—AP

Raising questions of how long air campaign can go on

The death toll among Palestinians scrambling under a relentless Israeli air assault in the Gaza Strip edged above 80 on Thursday, including four toddlers and at least another 10 children under age 16.

Meanwhile, the barrage of rockets Gaza militants launched toward Israeli cities failed to produce a significant casualty on the third day of Israel’s offensive. A media report that a missile had critically injured someone in a car in Ashdod, a coastal city near Gaza, was withdrawn by smartphone alert 28 minutes later.

Everything about the latest offensive is moving fast, especially relative to the last round of fighting. That November 2012 air campaign — dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense by Israel — lasted eight days. Israel’s current offensive, Operation Protective Edge, has bombed more than half as many targets in Gaza in less than half the time — 860 in three days compared with 1,500 in eight days last time. The Israeli military said it destroyed more buildings in the first 36 hours of the current campaign than in all of Pillar of Defense. More people are dying too: the 80 fatalities reported so far is, once again, more than half the reported death toll from the longer bombing two years earlier.

All of it raised the question of how long the Israeli bombardment can go on.

Israel’s wars have a half-life, a variable that slides with circumstances and unscheduled events, but which is decided, to a significant degree, by how the world views the fight. So long as it sees a democracy defending its people against terrorism, Israel enjoys considerable leeway. And that’s how most of the Gaza wars start out: Gaza, a coastal enclave of 1.8 million Palestinians patrolled on three sides by Israeli forces, which also parcels out its electricity, water and food, is a hotbox for militants. Those militants want to hit Israel any way they can, and the way that works best is missiles. More than 500 rockets have roared out of Gaza since Tuesday. Each triggers a siren somewhere in Israel, and often sympathy from some parts of the world moved by photographs of panicked mothers scrambling to shelter their children.

Read more at TIME

The Paper Tiger of the Tigris: How ISIS Took Tikrit Without a Fight

World News Forum

Reuters

An Exclusive Report by Andrew Slater in The Daily Beast.

Before a shot was fired, rumors of ISIS led Iraqi forces to flee Tikrit. As Baghdad fights to retake the city, they’re up against a force made more powerful by the initial retreat.

Around 2 p.m. on Wednesday the 11th of June, ISIS forces entered the city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, in a small vanguard of just 30 unarmored trucks without firing a shot. This underwhelming force was a far cry from the horde of ISIS fighters the soldiers and policemen of the city feared would come swarming out of the desert. That fear of ISIS had more to do with the fall of Tikrit, than anything the group actually did inside the city. Fear alone was enough to induce surrender and retreat.

In a province with tens of thousands of Iraq Security Forces, Tikrit, the provincial…

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Open Carry Gun Extremists Plan March Through ‘Black Neighborhood’

By Leslie Salzillo in the Daily Kos

source: PoliticusUSA

The ‘Open Carry Texas’ group out of Houston has decided to march through a predominantly black neighborhood to ‘educate’ people of their rights. The first thing that comes to most of our minds? What if armed black men decided to march through a predominantly white neighborhood to educate… Wait, let’s go one deeper. What if armed black men decided to march through a white ‘Stand Your Ground’ neighborhood to educate them… Let that one roll around in the brain for a minute.

There is talk the march was originally planned for Juneteenth Day, a holiday that celebrates the abolition of slavery. That would have been June 19th, but there was some sort of schedule mix up – you know, it being open carry, open season. They’re very busy.

“One Open Carry member posted to Facebook:

‘…white people think that most young blacks are just thug a$$ed pieces of $hlt! Prison and home life are no different for most of them. You go to prison, you still eat for free, free cable, free roof over your head, free gym membership, free……there is really no punishment for them. Going to prison will not change their lives, just their address.'”

Read more at the Daily Kos

Syria: the story behind one of the most shocking images of the war | World news | The Guardian

From the archives of the Pulitzer Prize winning English newspaper, The Guardian.
Originally published 3-10-2013.

The Progressive Democrat offers its sincerest congratulations to The Guardian.

Bodies revealed by the Queiq river’s receding waters. Photo: Thomas Rassloff/EPA

It is already one of the defining images of the Syrian civil war: a line of bodies at neatly spaced intervals lying on a river bed in the heart of Syria’s second city Aleppo. All 110 victims have been shot in the head, their hands bound with plastic ties behind their back. Their brutal execution only became apparent when the winter high waters of the Queiq river, which courses through the no man’s land between the opposition-held east of the city and the regime-held west, subsided in January.

It’s a picture that raises so many questions: who were these men? How did they die? Why? What does their story tell us about the wretched disintegration of Syria? A Guardian investigation has established a grisly narrative behind the worst – and most visible – massacre to have taken place here. All the men were from neighbourhoods in the eastern rebel-held part of Aleppo. Most were men of working age. Many disappeared at regime checkpoints. They may not be the last to be found. Locals have since dropped a grate from a bridge, directly over an eddy in the river. Corpses were still arriving 10 days after the original discovery on January 29, washed downstream by currents flushed by winter rains.

Read more atThe Guardian.

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Stateless and Starving

Yarmouk and the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Negotiations

Residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp, south of Damascus on January 31, 2014. (Courtesy Reuters)

There is little by way of human cruelty that has not been visited on the people of the Levant over the past century. Iraqis, Israelis, Lebanese, Palestinians, and Syrians have all faced massacres, terrorism, bombings, and any number of other atrocities, including what are probably the only two uses of chemical weapons since World War II. But calculated starvation — the deliberate policy of withholding food from suffering, ordinary people on a mass scale — has very little history in the region. And that makes the situation in the Yarmouk camp just outside Damascus, where 18,000 Palestinian refugees are slowly and deliberately being starved by the Syrian dictatorship, all the more horrifying.

The Palestinians trapped there can do little to alleviate their plight. And humanitarian efforts by the United Nations and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have so far been thwarted by pro-regime forces. But the Palestinian leadership and people should recognize that Yarmouk has urgent, if indirect, implications for the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.

Every Arab state has tried, at one time or another, to manipulate the Palestinian issue for its own purposes. But the Assad family’s Baathist regime in Syria has been uniquely hostile to the mainstream Palestinian national movement. It has shown time and again that its official commitment to the Palestinian cause is a smokescreen for its own interests. It has never really accepted the idea that Palestine, or Lebanon for that matter, is a separate entity from a greater Syria, which it still aspires to create. And its primary concern has been to ensure as much Palestinian subservience as possible to the Damascus dictatorship’s ideology and interests.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

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Use Force to Save Starving Syrians

By DANNY POSTEL and NADER HASHEMIFEB. 10, 2014

Daniel Zender

DENVER — THE Syrian people are starving. According to the United Nations, about 800,000 civilians are currently under siege. In areas around the cities of Homs, Aleppo and Deir Ezzor and in parts of the capital, Damascus, no food, medical supplies or humanitarian aid can get in, and people can’t get out. Many have already died under these “starvation sieges” and hundreds of thousands teeter on the brink, subsisting on grass and weeds. In Damascus, a cleric has ruled that under these conditions, Muslims are permitted to eat normally forbidden animals like cats, dogs and donkeys.

This is not a famine. Food is abundant just a few miles away from these besieged areas. Military forces — mainly the army of President Bashar al-Assad, but in some cases extremist anti-Assad militias — are preventing food and medicine from reaching trapped civilians. In addition to starving, many people in besieged areas have been stricken by diseases, including polio, but can’t get medical treatment because doctors can’t get through.

This moral obscenity demands action by the international community. Any armed group that prevents humanitarian access — whether the Syrian regime’s forces or rebel militias — should be subject to coercive measures.

France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, has denounced the international community’s failure to prevent starvation as “absolutely scandalous” and is now calling for “much stronger action.”

Read more at The New York Times

Why Bankrolling Israel Prevents Peace in the Middle East

An Israeli soldier stands beside a tank in Avivim near the Israel-Lebanon border (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

We Americans have funny notions about foreign aid. Recent polls show that, on average, we believe 28 percent of the federal budget is eaten up by it, and that, in a time of austerity, this gigantic bite of the budget should be cut back to 10 percent. In actual fact, barely 1 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid of any kind.

In this case, however, truth is at least as strange as fiction. Consider that the top recipient of US foreign aid over the past three decades isn’t some impoverished land filled with starving kids, but a wealthy nation with a per-head gross domestic product on par with the European Union average, and higher than that of Italy, Spain or South Korea.

Consider also that this top recipient of such aid—nearly all of it military since 2008—has been busily engaged in what looks like a nineteenth-century-style colonization project. In the late 1940s, our beneficiary expelled some 700,000 indigenous people from the land it was claiming. In 1967, our client seized some contiguous pieces of real estate and ever since has been colonizing these territories with nearly 650,000 of its own people. It has divided the conquered lands with myriad checkpoints and roads accessible only to the colonizers and is building a 440-mile wall around (and cutting into) the conquered territory, creating a geography of control that violates international law.

“Ethnic cleansing” is a harsh term, but apt for a situation in which people are driven out of their homes and lands because they are not of the right tribe. Though many will balk at leveling this charge against Israel—for that country is, of course, the top recipient of American aid and especially military largesse—who would hesitate to use the term if, in a mirror-image world, all of this were being inflicted on Israeli Jews?

Read more at The Nation

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Al-Qaida breaks ties with group in Syria

In this Sunday Feb. 2, 2014 citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center (AMC), an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows buildings damaged by Syrian government forces airplanes, in Aleppo, Syria. Syrian government helicopters and warplanes unleashed a wave of airstrikes on more than a dozen opposition-held neighborhoods in the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, firing missiles and dropping crude barrel bombs in a ferocious attack that killed dozens of people, including at least 17 children, activists said. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)

CAIRO (AP) — Al-Qaida’s central leadership broke off ties with one of the most powerful militant groups in Syria, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and distanced itself from the rebel infighting in that country’s civil war, according to a statement Monday.

The announcement appeared to be an attempt by al-Qaida to put its house in order and reassert influence among rival Islamic groups that have turned against one another in Syria, where the groups have joined rebels in fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.

In past months, the Islamic State — created by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of al-Qaida’s branch in Iraq — has increasingly clashed with other hard-line Islamic factions, including assassinating commanders of rival groups with car bombs and shootings.

Al-Baghdadi created the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant last year in defiance of orders from the terror network’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, who at the time ordered him to remain the head of al-Qaida’s branch in Iraq, while authorizing another group, Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, to operate in Syria in al-Qaida’s name. Al-Baghdadi went ahead and created the new group, becoming a powerful force in Syria’s conflict.

In Monday’s statement, al-Qaida’s general command announced it has “no connection” with the Islamic State, underlined that the group “is not a branch of the al-Qaida organization,” and said al-Qaida “is not responsible for its actions.”

Al-Qaida did not condone the group’s creation “and in fact ordered it to stop,” the statement said.

It also condemned the infighting among Islamic groups, saying, “We distance ourselves from the sedition taking place among the mujahedeen factions (in Syria) and of the forbidden blood shed by any faction.” It warned that mujahedeen, of holy warriors, must recognize the “enormity of the catastrophe” caused by “this sedition.”

It also condemned the infighting among Islamic groups, saying, “We distance ourselves from the sedition taking place among the mujahedeen factions (in Syria) and of the forbidden blood shed by any faction.” It warned that mujahedeen, of holy warriors, must recognize the “enormity of the catastrophe” caused by “this sedition.”

Read more at the Associated Press