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If talks fail, Abbas said to be weighing dissolution of Oslo, PA

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Dramatic move would create security and diplomatic fallout for Israel; Bennett: ‘We won’t stop him’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly threatened to dissolve the PA and disband Palestinian security forces operating in the West Bank if peace negotiations with Israel fail, a move which would create huge security and diplomatic problems for Israel.

According to Palestinian sources cited by Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday, Abbas and top PA officials are considering the drastic move, which would involve cancelling the 1993 Oslo Accords and announcing that the Palestinian Authority is a “government under occupation” without full sovereignty, which would technically move full responsibility for the Palestinians, in the West Bank at least, to Israel.

The threat, which has reportedly been passed on to Israel, would also disband and abolish PA security forces operating in the West Bank, theoretically opening the way for expanded Palestinian unrest against Israeli forces. The move could also prompt a surge in international legal and diplomatic action against Israel.

Yedioth said a vote on the move is scheduled for a PLO meeting on Saturday, three days before the peace talks are currently scheduled to end.

The prospect of the PA’s dissolution was greeted with derision on Sunday by Economics Minister and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, who has been a vocal critic of the negotiations. As PA head, Abbas is “encouraging terrorism against Israel” with his threat, Bennett told Maariv.

“If he wants to go, we won’t stop him. Israel won’t conduct negotiations with a gun to our head,” he said.

The current round of US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are scheduled to end on April 29 after a nine-month negotiating period, and the two sides have been unable to come to an agreement to extend the talks. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said last week that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are striving to reach an agreement to extend their peace talks beyond the deadline.

However, officials in Jerusalem said Friday that no progress had been made in emergency talks that took place between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators the night before, and that the two sides would meet again this week after the Passover holiday.

Washington is pushing for an extension, but the negotiations hit an impasse two weeks ago when Israel refused to release a group of Palestinian prisoners as agreed at last year’s launch of the talks.

Under the agreement, Israel had committed to a four-phase release of 104 prisoners held since before the 1993 Oslo autonomy accords, but it cancelled the release of the last group of 26 at the end of March. Among them are 14 Israeli Arabs who the Jewish state is refusing to free. It also wanted a prior commitment from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to extend the peace negotiations, which Abbas refused to make.

According to Israel Radio, the Palestinians are adamant in their demand that all 26 prisoners be released, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to concede on the issue of releasing the Israeli Arab terrorists. The head of the Shin Bet security service advised Netanyahu to release the 14 Israeli Arab prisoners in question and deport them to the Gaza Strip or abroad, the report said, but Netanyahu said he would not act in a way that may endanger Israeli citizens. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told a group of Israeli MKs last week that he opposed any such deportation.

The Palestinians retaliated for the delay in the prisoner releases by seeking accession to several international treaties, a move Israel described as a “major breach” of understandings.

Abbas told the Israeli opposition MPs visiting him in the West Bank city of Ramallah last Wednesday that if talks were extended, he would want the first three months “devoted to a serious discussion of borders,” Haaretz reported.

The Palestinians want a state based on the lines that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Jews Ordered to Register in East Ukraine

Thursday, April 17th, 2014
A leaflet distributed in Donetsk, Ukraine, calls for all Jewish people over 16 years old to register as Jews. (Photo: The Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism)

A leaflet distributed in Donetsk, Ukraine, calls for all Jewish people over 16 years old to register as Jews. (Photo: The Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism)

Oren Dorell, USA TODAY

Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk where pro-Russian militants have taken over government buildings were told they have to “register” with the Ukrainians who are trying to make the city become part of Russia, according to Ukrainian and Israeli media.

Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee “or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated,” reported Ynet News, Israel’s largest news website.

Donetsk is the site of an “anti-terrorist” operation by the Ukraine government, which has moved military columns into the region to force out militants who are demanding a referendum be held on joining Russia. The news was carried first by the Ukraine’s Donbass news agency.

The leaflets bore the name of Denis Pushilin, who identified himself as chairman of “Donetsk’s temporary government,” and were distributed near the Donetsk synagogue and other areas, according to the reports.

Pushilin acknowledged that fliers were distributed under his organization’s name in Donetsk but denied any connection to them, Ynet reported in Hebrew.

Emanuel Shechter, in Israel, told Ynet his friends in Donetsk sent him a copy of the leaflet through social media.

“They told me that masked men were waiting for Jewish people after the Passover eve prayer, handed them the flier and told them to obey its instructions,” he said.

The leaflet begins, “Dear Ukraine citizens of Jewish nationality,” and states that all people of Jewish descent over 16 years old must report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and “register.”

It says the reason is because the leaders of the Jewish community of Ukraine supported Bendery Junta, a reference to Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement that fought for Ukrainian independence at the end of World War II, “and oppose the pro-Slavic People’s Republic of Donetsk,” a name adopted by the militant leadership.

The leaflet then described which documents Jews should provide: “ID and passport are required to register your Jewish religion, religious documents of family members, as well as documents establishing the rights to all real estate property that belongs to you, including vehicles.”

Consequences for non-compliance will result in citizenship being revoked “and you will be forced outside the country with a confiscation of property.” A registration fee of $50 would be required, it said.

Olga Reznikova, 32, a Jewish resident of Donetsk, told Ynet she never experienced anti-Semitism in the city until she saw this leaflet.

“We don’t know if these notifications were distributed by pro-Russian activists or someone else, but it’s serious that it exists,” she said. “The text reminds of the fascists in 1941,” she said referring to the Nazis who occupied Ukraine during World War II.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, the oldest pro-Israel group in the USA, said the leaflets should be seen in the context of a rising tide of anti-Semitism across Europe and the world, and that it should prompt a strong response from the White House.

“This is a frightening new development in the anti-Jewish movement that is gaining traction around the world,” Klein said.

Secretary of State John Kerry called the incident “grotesque.”

“It is beyond unacceptable,” Kerry said. “And any of the people who engage in these kinds of activities — from whatever party or whatever ideology or whatever place they crawl out of — there is no place for that.”

Kerry, who participated in a conference on Ukraine with his counterparts from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union, told reporters all parties condemned anti-Semitism and all religious intolerance.

Michael Salberg, director of the international affairs at the New York City-based Anti-Defamation League, said it’s unclear whether the leaflets were issued by the pro-Russian leadership or a splinter group operating within the pro-Russian camp.

But the Russian side has used the specter of anti-Semitism in a cynical manner since anti-government protests began in Kiev that resulted in the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovych. Russia and its allies in Ukraine issued multiple stories about the the threat posed to Jews by Ukraine’s new pro-Western government in Kiev, Salberg said.

Those stories were based in part on ultra-nationalists who joined the Maidan protests, and the inclusion of the ultra-nationalist Svoboda party in Ukraine’s new interim government. But the threat turned out to be false, he said.

Svoboda’s leadership needs to be monitored, but so far it has refrained from anti-Semitic statements since joining the government, he said. And the prevalence of anti-Semitic acts has not changed since before the Maidan protests, according to the ADL and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, which monitors human rights in Ukraine.

Distributing such leaflets is a recruitment tool to appeal to the xenophobic fears of the majority, “to enlist them to your cause and focus on a common enemy, the Jews,” Salberg said.

And by targeting Donetsk’s Jews, they also send a message to all the region’s residents, Salberg said.

“The message is a message to all the people that is we’re going to exert our power over you,” he said. “Jews are the default scapegoat throughout history for despots to send a message to the general public: Don’t step out of line.”

World’s Oldest Holocaust Survivor in Oscar-nominated Documentary, dies at 110

Friday, February 28th, 2014

See also the obituary for Alice Herz-Sommer at the bottom of this article.

Alice Herz-Sommer, pictured here on her 107th birthday, is the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary. (Polly Hancock)

Alice Herz-Sommer, pictured here on her 107th birthday, is the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary. (Polly Hancock)

By Tom Tugend /

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — In her 110 years, Alice Herz-Sommer has been an accomplished concert pianist and teacher, a wife and mother — and a prisoner in Theresienstadt.

Now she is the star of an Oscar-nominated documentary showing her indomitable optimism, cheerfulness, and vitality despite all the upheavals and horrors she faced in the 20th century.

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, a 38-minute film up for best short documentary at the Academy Awards to be handed out on Sunday, March 2, begins in her native Prague. Alice — everyone from presidents on down calls her Alice — was born on Nov. 26, 1903 into an upper-class Jewish family steeped in literature and classical music.

A friend and frequent visitor was “Uncle Franz,” surname Kafka, along with composer Gustav Mahler and other luminaries.

Trained as a pianist from childhood, Alice made her concert debut as a teenager, married, had a son, and seemed destined for the pleasant, cultured life of a prosperous Middle European. But everything changed in 1939 when Hitler, casually tearing up the Munich accord of a year earlier, marched his troops into Prague and brought with him his anti-Semitic edicts.

Her public concert career was over, yet the family managed to hang on in an increasingly restrictive existence in the Czech capital.

In 1943, however, Alice and her husband, their 6-year old son Raphael (Rafi), and Alice’s mother were loaded on the transport to Theresienstadt. The fortress town some 30 miles from Prague was touted by Nazi propaganda as the model ghetto — “The Fuhrer’s gift to the Jews,” with its own orchestra, theater group, and even soccer teams.

With the full extent of the Holocaust still largely unknown, Alice took her deportation with relative equanimity, as was typical for many European Jews.

“If they have an orchestra in Terezin, how bad can it be?” she recalled asking, using the Czech name of the town.

Alice soon found out, as her mother and husband perished there. Alice was saved by her musical gifts; she became a member of the camp orchestra and gave more than 100 recitals.

But her main focus was on Rafi, trying to make his life bearable, to escape the constant hunger, and infuse him with her own hopefulness.

“What she did reminded me of Roberto Benigni in the Italian film Life is Beautiful,” said Malcolm Clarke, director of The Lady in Number 6. “He plays an Italian Jew who pretends to his young son that life in the camp is some kind of elaborate game for the boy’s special amusement.”

Liberated in 1945, Alice and Rafi returned to Prague but four years later left for Israel. There she taught at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and performed in concerts frequently attended by Golda Meir, while Rafi became a concert cellist.

Alice said she loved her 37 years living in Israel, but when Rafi, her only child, decided to move to London, she went with him. A few years later Rafi died at 65, but the mother remained in her small flat, No. 6, in a North London apartment house.

Nearly all of the film was shot over a two-year period inside the flat dominated by an old Steinway piano on which Alice played four hours each day, to the enjoyment of her neighbors.

Originally the filmmakers considered “Dancing Under the Gallows” as the film’s title before going with “The Lady in Number 6.”

It was a wise decision, for the film is anything but a grim Holocaust documentary, with Alice’s unfailing affirmation of life usually accompanied by gusts of laughter.

Her health and speech have declined in recent months, and she no longer does interviews. But in a brief phone conversation, conducted mainly in German, Alice attributed her outlook partially to having been born with optimistic genes and a positive attitude.

“I know there is bad in the world, but I look for the good,” she said, and “music is my life, music is God.”

At 104, she took up the study of philosophy and likes to quote German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who said “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

The film is peppered with such observations, which coming from anyone else might be considered a sign of Candide-like naivete.

A sampling of her sayings: “Wherever you look, there is beauty everywhere”; “After a century on the keyboard, I still look for perfection”; “I’m so old because I use my brain constantly. The brain is the body’s best medicine”; and “A sense of humor keeps us balanced in all circumstances, even death.”

Many of the observations are recorded by Caroline Stoessinger in her book A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor, which forms the basis for the film, and her on-screen interviews.

Stoessinger, a New York concert pianist, interviewed Alice and her friends over a period of 15 years and became an ardent admirer of her subject.

“Alice doesn’t complain, she doesn’t look back, she has no anxieties,” Stoessinger said. “Even in Theresienstadt, she never doubted that she would survive.”

Stoessinger also convinced Clarke to direct the film. He won an Oscar in 1989 for his short documentary You Don’t Have to Die, and an Oscar nomination for Prisoner of Paradise, which also focused on life and death in Theresienstadt.

The film’s producer, Nick Reed, like Clarke, was reluctant to take on the new assignment.

“We asked ourselves, who is going to watch another Holocaust documentary with a really old lady? Fred Bohbot, our executive producer, Malcolm, and I have really been stunned by the enthusiastic reaction to the film,” Reed said.

Clarke and Reed are British-born Canadians. Neither is Jewish, but as Reed put it, “I am not a Jew, but I’m Jewish.”

Asked about the film’s budget, Reed responded, “About 35 cents, a bus token, and bits of old chewing gum.”

The Lady in Number 6 was released in some 100 theaters across the United States on Feb. 21 and subsequently in other countries.


Alice Herz-Sommer, Who Found Peace in Chopin Amid Holocaust, Dies at 110
By Margalit Fox /

 Alice Herz-Sommer in her London apartment in 2012./ Credit Yuri Dojc

Alice Herz-Sommer in her London apartment in 2012./ Credit Yuri Dojc

Throughout her two years in Theresienstadt, through the hunger and cold and death all around her, through the loss of her mother and husband, Alice Herz-Sommer was sustained by a Polish man who had died long before. His name was Frédéric Chopin.

It was Chopin, Mrs. Herz-Sommer averred to the end of her long life, who let her and her young son survive in the camp, also known as Terezin, which the Nazis operated in what was then Czechoslovakia from 1941 until the end of the war in Europe.

Mrs. Herz-Sommer, who died in London on Sunday, February 23 at 110, and who was widely described as the oldest known Holocaust survivor, had been a distinguished pianist in Europe before the war. But it was only after the Nazi occupation of her homeland, Czechoslovakia, in 1939 that she began a deep study of Chopin’s Études, the set of 27 solo pieces that are some of the most technically demanding and emotionally impassioned works in the piano repertory.

For Mrs. Herz-Sommer, the Études offered a consuming distraction at a time of constant peril. But they ultimately gave her far more than that — far more, even, than spiritual sustenance.

Alice Herz in 1924, then a noted musician in Prague.

Alice Herz in 1924, then a noted musician in Prague.

“They are very difficult,” Mrs. Herz-Sommer told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2010. “I thought if I learned to play them, they would save my life.”

And so they did.

In recent years, because of her great age; her indomitability; her continued, ardent involvement with music (she practiced for hours each day until shortly before she died); and her recollections of her youthful friendships with titans like Franz Kafka and Gustav Mahler; Mrs. Herz-Sommer became a beacon for writers, filmmakers, and members of the public eager to learn her story.

She was the subject of biographies, including “A Century of Wisdom: Lessons From the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor” (2012), by Caroline Stoessinger, who confirmed her death.

Mrs. Herz-Sommer was also profiled in documentary films, one of which, “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life,” a 38-minute portrait directed by Malcolm Clarke, is a 2014 Oscar nominee for documentary short subject. The awards take place on Sunday (March 2).

What seemed to draw audiences to Mrs. Herz-Sommer above all, as Mr. Clarke’s film makes plain, was her evident lack of rancor about her wartime experience. In the books and films about her, and in a welter of newspaper and magazine interviews, she expressed her unalloyed joy in making music and, quite simply, in being alive.

She was discouraged, she said, about just one thing.

“I am by nature an optimist,” Mrs. Herz-Sommer told The Observer, the British newspaper, in 2010. “But I am pessimistic about future generations’ willingness to remember and care about what happened to the Jews of Europe, and to us in Terezin.”

Alice Herz was born in Prague on Nov. 26, 1903, one of five children of a cultured, German-speaking, secular Jewish family. Her father was a prosperous businessman; her mother moved in the city’s shimmering artistic circles and numbered Kafka and Mahler among her friends.

As a child, Alice knew both men; Kafka (“a slightly strange man,” she recalled) attended one of the family’s Passover seders.

Alice began piano lessons at 5 and at 16 embarked on conservatory studies in Prague; by the time she was an older teenager, she was giving well-received concerts throughout Europe.

In 1931 she married Leopold Sommer, a businessman and amateur violinist; the couple had a son, Stepan (also spelled Stephan), in 1937.

In 1939, with the Nazi invasion imminent, some of Mrs. Herz-Sommer’s family fled Czechoslovakia for then-Palestine. She remained in Prague to look after her frail widowed mother.

Mrs. Herz-Sommer’s mother was deported to Terezin in 1942 and from there sent to a death camp, where she was killed.

It was after Mrs. Herz-Sommer escorted her mother to the deportation center in Prague (“the lowest point of my life,” she said) that she resolved to start work on Chopin’s Études.

In 1943, Mrs. Herz-Sommer and her husband and their son were dispatched to Terezin. Part ghetto, part concentration camp, Terezin, northwest of Prague, was promoted by the Nazis as a model institution: many of its inmates had been among Czechoslovakia’s foremost figures in the performing arts.

Terezin had an orchestra, drawn from their ranks, whose members quite literally played for time before audiences of prisoners and their Nazi guards. Mrs. Herz-Sommer, playing the camp’s broken, out-of-tune piano, joined them.

“It was propaganda,” she later said. “We had to play because the Red Cross came three times a year.”

But for Mrs. Herz-Sommer, who played more than 100 concerts in Terezin, the sustaining power of music was no less real.

“These concerts, the people are sitting there — old people, desolated and ill — and they came to the concerts, and this music was for them our food,” she later said. “Through making music, we were kept alive.”

Terezin was a transit camp. From there, Jews were deported to forced-labor and death camps; of some 140,000 Jews who passed through Terezin, nearly 90,000 were deported to “almost certain death” at such camps, according to the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Some 33,000 died in Terezin itself.

One of the prisoners transported from Terezin was Leopold Sommer, who in 1944 was sent to Auschwitz, and on to Dachau. He died there, probably of typhus, in 1945, a month before liberation.

Music spared Mrs. Herz-Sommer a similar fate. One night after she had been in Terezin for more than a year, she was stopped by a young Nazi officer, as Ms. Stoessinger’s book recounts.

“Do not be afraid,” he said. “I only want to thank you for your concerts. They have meant much to me.”

He turned to leave before adding: “One more thing. You and your little son will not be on any deportation lists. You will stay in Theresienstadt until the war ends.”

After the war, Mrs. Herz-Sommer returned with Stepan to Prague but found its open anti-Semitism intolerable. In 1949, they emigrated to Israel, where she taught for many years at the Rubin Academy of Music, now the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.

In the mid-1980s, she moved to London, where her son, an eminent cellist known since their time in Israel as Raphael Sommer, had made his career.

After her son died of an aneurysm in 2001, at 64, music once again sustained her. Mrs. Herz-Sommer’s neighbors in her London apartment building, where she occupied Flat No. 6, knew she had weathered the blow when they heard her practicing once more.

Mrs. Herz-Sommer’s survivors include two grandchildren.

She was the subject of a BBC television documentary, “Alice Sommer Herz at 106: Everything Is a Present,” and another biography, “A Garden of Eden in Hell” (2007; later reissued as “Alice’s Piano”), by Melissa Müller and Reinhard Piechocki.

A few years ago, after advancing age had immobilized one finger on each hand, Mrs. Herz-Sommer reworked her technique so she could play with eight fingers.

But though her hands were failing, her musical acumen remained sharp. In November, on Mrs. Herz-Sommer’s 110th birthday, Alex Ross, The New Yorker’s music critic, wrote in the magazine’s culture blog of having called on her in London the year before.

Because Mrs. Herz-Sommer could find journalists wearying, Mr. Ross, at the urging of her biographer Ms. Stoessinger, presented himself as a musician.

“Play something,” Mrs. Herz-Sommer commanded him.

Mr. Ross, at her piano, gamely made his way through some Schubert before Mrs. Herz-Sommer stopped him.

“Now,” she said, “tell me your real profession.”

Iran says warships headed close to U.S. borders

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

By Associated Press
Saturday, 8 February 2014

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian warships dispatched to the Atlantic Ocean will travel close to U.S. maritime borders for the first time, a senior Iranian naval commander said Saturday.

The commander of Iran’s Northern Navy Fleet, Admiral Afshin Rezayee Haddad, said the vessels have already entered the Atlantic Ocean via waters near South Africa, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The fleet, comprising a destroyer and a helicopter-carrying supply ship, began its voyage last month from the southern Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. The ships, carrying some 30 navy academy cadets for training along with their regular crews, are on a three-month mission.

The voyage comes amid an ongoing push by Iran to demonstrate its ability to project power across the Middle East and beyond.

IRNA quoted Haddad as saying the fleet is approaching U.S. maritime borders for the first time. The Islamic Republic considers the move as a response to U.S. naval deployments near its own coastlines. The U.S. Navy’s 5th fleet is based in Bahrain, just across the Persian Gulf.

Peace Talks Update — Israel accepts, Palestine rejects

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014
John Kerry and Benjamin Netanyahu

John Kerry and Benjamin Netanyahu

By Ryan Jones /

Regional media reports over the weekend indicated that Israel is set to accept U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework proposal for reaching a final status peace agreement, while the Palestinians are looking to stall or outright reject the plan.

Israel’s Channel 2 News reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman are all prepared to sign off on a non-binding version of the proposals, which, among other things, recommends:

  • The division of Jerusalem, though without going into specifics;
  • A gradual Israeli withdrawal from most of the “West Bank,” while retaining control over large Jewish settlement blocs;
  • A limited land swap to compensate the Palestinians for the settlement blocs;
  • Recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state”; and
  • Compensation for so-called “Palestinian refugees,” but no “right of return” to Israel-proper.

Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper last week quoted senior Palestinian Authority official Yasser Abed Rabbo as rejecting the American proposal as “Israeli ideas.”

Like his boss, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Rabbo has made the “right of return” for millions of Palestinians to Israel a non-negotiable point in the peace process.

On the related point of recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told his audience at a conference in Munich last week that he could never agree to such a condition, as doing so amounted to “asking him to change his narrative.”

Erekat went on to claim that his ancestors had lived in the region for “5,500 years before [biblical leader of Israel] Joshua Ben-Nun came and burned my hometown Jericho.” Of course, such a claim means that Erekat and his Palestinian Authority colleagues are either liars, or are in possession of time-travel technology.

You see, the Palestinians claim to be Arabs. They also rightly claim that the Arabs are descendants of Abraham through his son Ishmael. And, as any casual student of history knows, Jericho was around long before the time of Abraham, meaning that the Patriarch’s offspring couldn’t possibly have been around for the founding of the “oldest city on earth.”

Meanwhile, Abbas’s envoy to Iran, Jibril Rajoub, avoided such flights of fancy and went straight to making threats. “If the talks fail, armed struggle against [Israel] could be a strategic solution for the Palestinian people,” Rajoub was quoted as telling Iranian media, emphasizing that Palestinians “never abandoned the solution of an armed uprising.”

Afghan girl wearing suicide bomber’s vest detained

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

The child, believed to be the 8- to 10-year-old sister of a Taliban commander, was instructed to carry out a suicide attack on border police in Helmand province on Monday but her cries gave her away, according to various reports.

By Nina Golgowski / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Published: Monday Jan 6, 2014
Updated: Tuesday Jan 7, 2014

Spozhmai, believed to be 8 to 10 years old, was going  be used by the Taliban as a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. NOOR MOHAMMAD/GETTY

Spozhmai, believed to be 8 to 10 years old, was going be used by the Taliban as a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. NOOR MOHAMMAD/GETTY

An Afghan girl has been detained by police while wearing a suicide bomber’s vest in southern Afghanistan, according to reports.

The child, identified as Spozhmai, believed to be the 8- to 10-year-old sister of a Taliban commander, was instructed to carry out a suicide attack on border police in Helmand province on Monday when discovered, the BBC reported.

Caught on Monday. 6 January 2014, wearing a vest packed with explosives, Spozhmai said at a press conference in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, that her brother had forced her to wear the vest and ordered her to detonate herself at a police checkpoint. NOOR MOHAMMAD/GETTY

Caught on Monday. 6 January 2014, wearing a vest packed with explosives, Spozhmai said at a press conference in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, that her brother had forced her to wear the vest and ordered her to detonate herself at a police checkpoint. NOOR MOHAMMAD/GETTY

Her death sentence came after being accused by her father and brothers of having “illicit relations” with officers,

Spozhmai talks in Helmand province in Afghanistan Jan. 6 after she was stopped from becoming a suicide bomber for the Taliban. NOOR MOHAMMAD/GETTY

Spozhmai talks in Helmand province in Afghanistan Jan. 6 after she was stopped from becoming a suicide bomber for the Taliban. NOOR MOHAMMAD/GETTY

She was consequently forced to put on the vest and cross a river to get to her target, but because of the cold she started to cry.

An Afghan security official, left, sits next to Spozhmai, who was wearing a suicide bomber's vest and was detained by the Afghan police officials in Helmand, Afghanistan, on Monday. WATAN YAR/EPA

An Afghan security official, left, sits next to Spozhmai, who was wearing a suicide bomber’s vest and was detained by the Afghan police officials in Helmand, Afghanistan, on Monday. WATAN YAR/EPA

Those cries reportedly caught the attention of an Afghan soldier, just as her brother, identified by the Afghan news organization as Zahir, fled.

Some reports claim the girl tried to activate the button to detonate her vest; others claim she was stopped before she was able to.

The child has requested not to be returned to her family, fearing repercussions.

Israel hit by rocket attack from Lebanon

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

By Jennifer Smith /
December 29, 2013

The Israeli military has today shelled the Lebanese border in retaliation for being struck by two rockets, it has emerged.

Five rockets were launched on Sunday morning according to Israeli authorities, though only two are thought to have landed near the northern town of Kiryat Shmona.

Artillery was fired toward the source of the launch shortly afterwards according to a military statement.

An Israeli regional security officer stands looks over the rocket's debris. Relations between the two countries had been relatively peaceful until Dec 29 attacks.

An Israeli regional security officer stands looks over the rocket’s debris. Relations between the two countries had been relatively peaceful until Dec 29 attacks.

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon searches rocket launchers which fired from Lebanese territory this morning sparking the violence.

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon searches rocket launchers which fired from Lebanese territory this morning sparking the violence.

More than 30 shells hit a mountainous region around the southern Lebanese border near Rachaya, say witnesses.

Officials confirmed no one had been injured as a result of the violence that has sparked concern after the two countries remained peaceful following a 2006 ceasefire.

It was not immediately clear who initiated the rocket attack, though a U.N. peacekeeping force in south Lebanon said it was working with the Lebanese Army to obtain further details.

In a statement, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel held the Lebanese government and military responsible for the rocket attack, the first along the frontier since August.

Yaalon said the military responded with ‘massive shelling toward the (rocket) launch area, and if needed will use even greater force’.

There have been no reports of further cross-border conflict following the exchange that took place this morning.

The Israeli border in Lebanon had been relatively quiet since a month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas tormented the region in the summer of 2006. Over a thousand Lebanese were killed and some 160 Israelis died in that conflict, which was brought to an end with a UN-brokered ceasefire after 34 days of violence.

There have been sporadic bouts of unrest in the region since, with the most recent being the death of an Israeli soldier who was killed by a Lebanese army sniper. The incident is thought to have been an isolated act.

A car bombing in an upscale district of Beirut on Friday Dec 27th shook the city and prompted an increase of military presence throughout the country.

South Lebanon is a stronghold of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrilla group which is currently engaged in Syria’s civil war in support of President Bashar al-Assad. Palestinian factions are also in the area, with some small bands of militants laying claim to rocket attacks.

Relations between the two countries had been relatively peaceful since a ceasefire was brokered at the end of a month-long conflict in 2006 (pictured).

Relations between the two countries had been relatively peaceful since a ceasefire was brokered at the end of a month-long conflict in 2006 (pictured).

Senior Hezbollah Commander Killed in Beirut — video

Friday, December 6th, 2013

By Hussein Malla and Zeina Karam / Associated Press

BAALBEK, Lebanon | The attackers waited in an olive grove around midnight. As the Hezbollah commander pulled into the garage of his nearby apartment building, they went in after him. Five bullets were pumped into his head and neck from a silencer-equipped pistol — an assassination that reverberated across the Middle East.

The killing early Wednesday of Hassan al-Laqis, described as a member of the inner circle of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, was the latest in a series of recent attacks against the Iranian-backed group.

Hezbollah blamed Israel, which denied involvement. However, the Shiite militant group’s open support of Syrian President Bashar Assad has enraged Sunnis and left it with no shortage of enemies eager to strike at its strongholds and leadership. Dozens of people have been killed in deadly car bombings claimed by radical Sunni groups.

The group’s participation in the civil war in Syria is highly divisive and unpopular in Lebanon, where many feel it has deviated from its raison d’etre of fighting Israel and exposed the Shiite community to retaliation.

Most recently, two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, killing 23. An al-Qaida-affiliated group claimed responsibility, saying it was payback for Hezbollah’s support of Assad.

Al-Laqis’s killing came shortly after Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia of being behind the embassy bombings in a sharp escalation in rhetoric against the Sunni regional powerhouse. In a three-hour interview with a local TV station, he indirectly suggested an alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia was trying to destabilize his group.

The Saudi monarchy is engaged in a proxy war with Iran over influence in the region, and in that, Riyadh has increasingly found common ground with the Jewish State.

“The assassination is another notch in tensions between Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia,” said Kamel Wazne, founder of the Center for American Strategic Studies in Beirut.

“There will be repercussions. It’s going to be more like an open battle,” he said.

Two previously unknown Sunni groups claimed responsibility on Twitter for al-Laqis’s assassination, but the claims could not be verified.

Al-Laqis, 53, was killed as he returned home from work, Hezbollah said.

“The brother martyr Hassan al-Laqis spent his youth and dedicated all his life in this honorable resistance since its inception up until the last moments of his life,” a statement from the group said.

An official close to the highly secretive group said al-Laqis held some of Hezbollah’s most sensitive portfolios and was very close to Nasrallah and his inner circle, often acting as a link with officials in Tehran.

“He was one of the brains behind much of the group’s operations,” the official said.

Hezbollah distributed a photo of al-Laqis and said Israel had tried to kill him several times. The image showed a man wearing beige-and-khaki military clothes, with neatly cut black hair and a graying close-cropped beard.

There were conflicting reports on whether he was involved in the Syria war, where the group’s fighters have helped Assad’s troops gain the upper hand in key areas near the border with Lebanon.

Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said the U.S. has seen reports of the killing and was looking to all parties “to cooperate with a full investigation.”

“We’ve been very concerned by recurring instances of sectarian and political violence in Lebanon, and we have talked about the negative impact that Syria has had in Lebanon and Iraq,” she said.

Al-Laqis was shot with a pistol equipped with a silencer at close range after he parked in his apartment building in the Hadath neighborhood southwest of Beirut, according to a Lebanese security official and the official close to Hezbollah. Several assailants appear to have been involved, they said.

Muddy footprints led from the olive grove to the parking garage. Yellow police tape blocked off the area, and Hezbollah investigators were at the scene.

He was struck by five bullets in the head and neck, the Lebanese official said. The gunmen fled, and al-Laqis was taken to a nearby hospital but died of his wounds, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

“I was trying to sleep, and I heard … a bullet being fired and a dog barking,” said Abdullah, a resident who asked to be identified only by his first name for security reasons.

“I did not bother myself, but later I heard people screaming. … Then our neighbors told us that one of the neighbors was assassinated,” Abdullah said.

Another resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of his safety, said none of the neighbors was aware that al-Laqis was a security man and that he went about his business like everyone else.

Al-Laqis did not have bodyguards with him, suggesting he did not want to draw attention to himself.

The assassination marked a rare breach of the Shiite militant group’s security — the fourth successful penetration of a Hezbollah enclave in recent months.

It also underscored how the militia has found itself engaged on multiple fronts: shoring up Assad’s rule in Syria while also keeping up the fight against Israel.

Some of Hezbollah’s most loyal supporters in the Shiite community have been reluctant to embrace its fight in Syria.

That involvement has raised tensions in Lebanon’s Sunni and Shiite communities as each side lines up in support of their brethren in the Syrian civil war. That has fueled predictions that Lebanon, still recovering from its 15-year civil war that ended in 1990, is on the brink of descending into full-blown sectarian violence.

In Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, there have been bloody street battles between rival sides nearly every day, with at least 12 people killed last week.

Al-Laqis was buried later Wednesday in his hometown of Baalbek in eastern Lebanon. A few thousand people took part in pouring rain, and women wept as Hezbollah pallbearers carried the coffin, wrapped in the group’s yellow flag, through the streets. Hezbollah fighters fired in the air in mourning.

“The Israeli enemy is naturally directly to blame,” the Hezbollah statement said. “This enemy must shoulder complete responsibility and repercussions for this heinous crime and its repeated targeting of leaders and cadres of the resistance.”

Israeli officials categorically denied involvement. Still, Israel could view the fallout from Hezbollah’s armed intervention in Syria — and the long list of enemies it has created — as cover to move against one of the group’s senior figures and settle old scores with Hezbollah and Iran.

Hezbollah has fought several wars against Israel. Al-Laqis’s son, Ali, died fighting Israel in the month-long 2006 war. Israel’s Mossad intelligence service has been suspected of assassinating Hezbollah commanders for more than two decades.

In 1992, Israeli helicopter gunships ambushed the motorcade of Hezbollah leader Sheik Abbas Musawi, killing him, his wife, 5-year-old son, and four bodyguards. Eight years earlier, Hezbollah leader Sheik Ragheb Harb was shot and killed in south Lebanon.

One of the biggest blows for the group came in 2008 when top military commander Imad Mughniyeh was killed by a bomb that ripped through his car in Damascus. Hezbollah and its primary patron, Iran, blamed Israel’s Mossad for the killing.

drone purpose


Saturday, November 9th, 2013
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for closed-door nuclear talks at the United Nations offices in Geneva Switzerland. / photo: Martial Trezzini/AP

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for closed-door nuclear talks at the United Nations offices in Geneva Switzerland. / photo: Martial Trezzini/AP

Top diplomats meet with Tehran to seek nuclear concessions.


GENEVA (AP) — Talks on a deal to temporarily curb Iran’s nuclear program ran into trouble Saturday when France questioned whether the proposal went far enough, casting doubt an agreement could be reached during the current round of negotiations.

Chances of bridging all differences diminished as the day went on.

A Western diplomat in Geneva for the talks told The Associated Press it appeared that a new round of negotiations would be needed to agree on all points of a startup deal meant to lead to a comprehensive agreement ensuring that Tehran’s nuclear work remains peaceful.

He said preparations were being made by both sides for an announcement later in the day of a new meeting within a few weeks. He said earlier that the French were holding out for conditions on the Iranians tougher than those agreed to by the U.S. and France’s other negotiating partners, diminishing hopes of a done deal Saturday.

Comments by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif increased skepticism that the two sides would agree on the full contours of a first-step deal at the current negotiating round.

`’There are differences,” Zarif told Iranian state TV, adding that if open questions remained after Saturday, the talks would reconvene within a week to 10 days.

But the current talks in Geneva were still underway late Saturday, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany and Russia meeting with one another, and some with Zarif. Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Baodong Li also arrived Friday evening.

The foreign ministers of the seven delegations discussing Iran convened a meeting late Saturday night, and the Iranian officials were not included.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke of `’several points that … we’re not satisfied with compared to the initial text,” telling France-Inter Radio his nation does not want to be part of a “con game.”

He did not specify, but his comments suggested France thought a final draft of any first-step deal was too favorable to Iran, echoing concerns raised by Israel and several prominent U.S. legislators.

The French position was confirmed by another Western diplomat. Both gave no specifics and demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the diplomatic maneuvering.

Iranian state TV strongly criticized the French position, calling France `’Israel’s representatives at the talks.

Iran’s IRNA news agency cited Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as urging world powers to reach a deal.

“I hope the parties negotiating with Iran in the 5+1 group use the exceptional opportunity that the Iranian nation has provided to the West and the international community so that we achieve a positive result in a reasonable time,” IRNA quoted Rouhani as telling a Japanese foreign minister visiting Tehran Saturday evening.

Rouhani said sanctions and threats don’t benefit anyone.

Iran “has insisted that threats and sanctions have not resolved any problem and further complicate the path forward, and believes that the only solution is talks on the basis of respect and mutual confidence,” IRNA quoted him as saying.

Optimism about an interim agreement had been high when the talks were extended for a third day on Saturday and raised to a ministerial level.

Fabius cited differences over Iran’s Arak reactor southeast of Tehran, which could produce enough plutonium for several nuclear weapons a year once it goes online.

He also said there was disagreement over efforts to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment to levels that would require substantial further enriching before they could be used as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal pointed to “rather large cohesion” among the negotiators and said France wanted “the international community to see a serious change in the climate” of talks with Iran.

`’There have been years of talks that have led to nothing,” Nadal said, alluding to the need for tough terms on Iran.

Iran, which denies any interest in nuclear weapons, currently runs more than 10,000 centrifuges that have created tons of fuel-grade material that can be further enriched to arm nuclear warheads.

It also has nearly 440 pounds (200 kilograms) of higher-enriched uranium in a form that can be turned into weapons much more quickly. Experts say 550 pounds (250 kilograms) of that 20 percent-enriched uranium are needed to produce a single warhead.

Iran says it expects Arak, the plutonium producing reactor, to be completed and go online sometime next year. It would need additional facilities to reprocess the plutonium into weapons-grade material, and the U.N’s nuclear agency monitoring Iran’s atomic activities says it has seen no evidence of such a project.

Fabius said Iran is opposed to suspending work on Arak while nuclear negotiations go on in an attempt to reach a first-stage agreement, then a comprehensive final deal limiting Tehran’s atomic work. He said that `’for us” suspension was absolutely necessary, but it was unclear if that meant France was alone in seeing the issue as non-negotiable or whether he was speaking for the rest of the negotiating group.

Iran also is being asked to blend down “a great part of this stock at 20 percent, to 5 percent,” Fabius said. Uranium enriched to 5 percent is considered reactor fuel grade and upgrading it to weapons-level takes much longer than for 20 percent enriched uranium.

Fabius suggested that the six powers were looking for an Iranian commitment to cap future enrichment at 5 percent.

Kerry and his European counterparts arrived in Geneva on Friday with the talks at a critical stage following a full day of negotiations Thursday, and he said some obstacles remained in the way of any agreement offering sanctions reductions for nuclear concessions.

The presence of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Chinese deputy foreign minister provided fresh hope for at least an interim deal.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Friday that any agreement in the making was a “bad deal” that gave Iran a pass by offering to lift sanctions for cosmetic concessions that he said left intact Tehran’s nuclear weapons-making ability. Israel is strongly critical of any deal that even slightly lifts sanctions unless Iran is totally stripped of technology that can make nuclear arms.

The White House said Friday that President Barack Obama called Netanyahu to update him on the ongoing talks and that Obama affirmed he’s still committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The White House said Obama and Netanyahu would stay in close contact.

On Friday, Kerry tempered reports of progress, warning of “important gaps” that must be overcome. But Lavrov’s deputy, Sergei Ryabov, was quoted then as saying that Moscow expects them to produce a “lasting result expected by the international community.”

The talks primarily focus on the size and output of Iran’s enrichment program, which can create both reactor fuel and weapons-grade material suitable for a nuclear bomb. Iran insists it is pursuing only nuclear energy, medical treatments and research, but the U.S. and its allies fear that Iran could turn this material into the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

Italy remembers 1943 roundup of Jews

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

By Nicole Winfield / Associated Press

ROME – Italy on Wednesday marked the 70th anniversary of the roundup and deportation of Jews from Rome’s ghetto amid turmoil over the late Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke and his Holocaust-denying final statement.

Priebke died Friday in Rome, where he was serving a life term for his role in the 1944 massacre of 335 civilians at the Ardeatine Caves outside the capital. It was one of the worst atrocities of Germany’s World War II occupation of Italy.

His death unleashed a torrent of emotion because he left behind a testament in which he not only defended his actions but denied that Jews were gassed in Nazi concentration camps.

His testament has enraged Rome’s Jewish community, which gathered Wednesday in Rome’s main synagogue to commemorate the Oct. 16, 1943, roundup of Jews and warn of the continued dangers posed by Holocaust deniers like Priebke.

The head of Italy’s Jewish communities, Renzo Gattegna, referred to Priebke in his remarks but refused, amid applause, to pronounce his name “to not profane this sacred place.”

He said the Nazis were assassins of innocents.

“Their followers are assassins of memory. They will never win,” he declared.

On Tuesday, a Senate committee passed a bill criminalizing such Holocaust denial — passage that was given greater impulse because of the outcry over Priebke’s final testament.

The head of Rome’s Jewish community, Riccardo Pacifici, said the uproar over Priebke has shown the “beautiful face of Italy,” given the solidarity by both civil and Catholic Church officials to deny him a church funeral.

The anniversary came during the continued debate about what to do with Priebke’s remains. Plans by a fringe Catholic church to celebrate a funeral Mass for him were called off Tuesday amid clashes between Priebke’s right-wing supporters and protesters.

Rome’s mayor and prefect announced that negotiations were underway with Germany to take in the remains, which reportedly were spirited out of the church compound overnight and taken to a military air base.

Wednesday’s commemorations began at 5:30 a.m. with the sounding of the shofar, a ram’s horn trumpet, to commemorate the moment when Nazi forces began rounding up more than 1,000 Jews from Rome’s ghetto and nearby neighborhoods.

The Jews spent two days in a military college before being deported by train to Auschwitz. Only 16 survived.

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