UN chief calls for ‘immediate end’ to escalation of fighting in southwestern Syria, as thousands are displaced

The UN Secretary-General on Friday expressed his grave concern for thousands of civilians caught up in an escalation of fighting across southwestern Syria, close to the border with Jordan.

Monitor group: Hezbollah is pulling back from Israel-Syria border, Iran isn’t

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Iranian-backed terror group withdrawing to positions 40 kilometers from boundary at Russian request, but Iran refusing to do the same

Illustrative image of a tank flying the Hezbollah terror group's flag seen in the Qara area in Syria's Qalamoun region on August 28, 2017 (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara)

A Syrian war monitor group said Thursday that Hezbollah units deployed in Syria were pulling back dozens of kilometers from the Israeli border in response to a request from Russia, but that Iran was refusing to do the same with its forces in the area.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing what it described as “reliable sources,” said that the Lebanese terror group and its allied gunmen have begun withdrawing to positions 40 kilometers (25 miles) away for the border, and a similar distance from the Jordanian-Syrian border.

Russia, Iran and its proxy Hezbollah have been providing military assistance to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad as it battles against rebel groups in a civil war that is in its eighth year.

Israel has repeatedly said it wants Iran and the militias it is backing to withdraw from the border area, and recent media reports have said that Jerusalem had reached an agreement on the matter with Moscow.

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the border shows smoke rising near the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights during fights between the rebels and the Syrian army, June 25, 2017. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

The reported Hezbollah retreat came in response to a Russian demand that Iran and Hezbollah pull back, the Observatory said, and was the result of Moscow’s talks with “regional parties.”

However, the report said, Iran is refusing to pull back its own military forces from southern Syria unless there is a corresponding evacuation of US and international coalition forces from the al-Tanf base on the Syrian-Iraqi border. The US and its allies have been backing moderate rebel groups in the civil war as well as carrying out strikes against the Islamic State group.

Sources told the Observatory that the Russians have given the go-ahead for the Jordanians and Americans to hold talks with “factions” to reach an agreement on south Syria. The report did not specify which of the multiple groups vying for control of the area would be involved in the talks....

Japan could end Iran oil loading from October without exemption from U.S. sanctions – PAJ

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese oil refiners may have to stop loading Iranian crude oil from Oct. 1 if Japan’s government does not secure an exemption from U.S. sanctions to allow imports to continue, the president of the Petroleum Association of Japan (PAJ) said on Friday.

If payments to Iran cannot continue after a 180-day “wind-down period” ending on Nov. 4, it is possible that Japanese buyers of Iranian oil will have to make their last order for Iranian oil in August for September-loading cargoes, said Takashi Tsukioka, who is also chairman of Japan’s second-biggest refiner, Idemitsu Kosan Co.

That is because the payment for October-loading cargoes would be made in November, he told a monthly news conference on Friday.

Tsukioka said that Japan, which would have to get a reprieve from the U.S. by Nov. 4 to continue imports, would study the responses of other countries.

“I think it’s worth paying attention to what actions that some countries like China and India that raised (Iranian oil) imports during the previous U.S. sanctions would take,” he told reporters.

PAJ’s Senior Managing Director Shinya Okuda added that the Japanese trade ministry has been gathering information on details of the proposed U.S. sanctions.

Tsukioka told some reporters after the news conference that Japan’s refining industry had been bracing for a possible cut in Iranian oil import curbs, while the latest sanctions also raised international payment issues.

“In the wake of the last sanctions on Iran, financial institutions became very conservative amid worries that they could not operate in the United States,” he added.

Presence of Arab women in Israel Police increasing

...Calling Arab society “an inseparable part of Israeli society” Rivlin said that the police is the branch of the state that is responsible for maintaining law and order.

The Israel Police set itself a goal of recruiting women so that they could exercise their full potential within the female ranks of the police, said Alsheikh.

In the prism of police services to the public, he continued, it was important that every citizen should feel that he or she is represented by someone from his or her sector in the police force. This was particularly relevant with regard to the Arab sector, he emphasized.

When a resident of Umm el-Fahm knows that his sibling is a police officer in Rishon Lezion, it somehow rubs off on him.

Alsheikh also pointed out that there are many critical situations in which it is to the citizen’s benefit to have a policewoman rather than a policeman deal with the case.

He implied that this was often the situation in the Arab sector, whose society and traditions were not familiar to non-Arab police.

As Rivlin had done before him, Alsheikh commended the courage of the women in being “pioneers before the camp” and said the police were proud to have them serve in the force.

Canada: Mother of Muslim who plotted to bomb Times Square says he is not a terrorist, he’s mentally ill

Authorities describe many, many obvious jihadis as mentally ill, but if the information in this article is accurate, Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy may really be. Yet the two categories — jihadism and mental illness — are not mutually exclusive. It may be that he turned to Allah and jihad as a way out of his drug addiction, in hopes of tipping Allah’s great scales of judgment in his favor. It seems from the story and photo of him with his mother that he grew up in a devout household, so that was likely his frame of reference.

“He plotted to bomb Times Square for ISIS. Records show he’s mentally ill. Is he a terrorist?,” by Stewart Bell, Global News, June 20, 2018 (thanks to the Geller Report):

To Khdiga Metwally, the medical records spread across her kitchen table are more than a chronicle of her son’s history of addiction and mental illness; they are proof he is not a terrorist.

Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, a 20-year-old Canadian, faces a possible life sentence when he appears in a New York courtroom as early as next month for plotting a 2016 bombing at Times Square for the so-called Islamic State.

But his mother insists the case is not what it seems.

“Actually, it’s not a terrorist case, it’s a mental illness problem,” Metwally said in an interview at her home in an Oakville, Ont. suburb.

“We have all the reports that confirm that my son was sick.”

Those reports describe brain damage, bipolar disorder, obsessiveness and drug use beginning at age 14 that led to “huffing” — inhaling air fresheners, bug spray and anything else he could get his hands on.

In many ways, El Bahnasawy’s story is familiar: a youth radicalizes online and decides to kill in the name of ISIS. But medical records from four countries obtained by Global News make it more complicated.

The documents are an unprecedented and intimate look at the psyche of a young man who plotted mass killings in the West under the guidance of ISIS.

And they raise complicated questions.

To what extent does mental health explain the actions of some terrorists? Should terrorists with a history of mental illness be treated differently? Is a person with a mental illness, who engages in terrorism, still a terrorist?

The teen addict

“Abdulrahman has an extensive history of mental health problems and poor function, dating back to childhood,” according to a report by New York psychologist Katherine Porterfield, who reviewed El Bahnasawy’s medical files, met his family and spent 50 hours with him over nine months in 2017.

The medical records date back to the day he was born. In the delivery room in Kuwait City, his mother had a severe uterine rupture. The baby was delivered “swiftly,” according to the hospital report, but the traumatic birth may have deprived the infant of oxygen, possibly causing brain damage.

El Bahnasawy did not speak until he was four, according to Porterfield’s report for the U.S. legal defence team. He was an average student, “described as an anxious, hyperactive, and inattentive child.”

“His most consistent trait was his tendency to fixate or obsess about certain topics or interests,” Porterfield wrote. The solar system, soccer, computers and atheism all monopolized his attention during stages of his childhood. And once he tried marijuana, it became the latest of his all-encompassing obsessions.

He began “incessantly” talking about it. He researched how to grow it and droned on about how much he loved it. He argued with his parents about its benefits. “He essentially showed no interest in any other activities,” the psychologist wrote.

To get him away from what they saw as Canada’s “permissive society,” and hoping he would benefit from being closer to relatives, his parents returned the family to Kuwait. But even in the conservative Gulf state, El Bahnasawy had no trouble finding drugs.

He became addicted to chemical inhalants. When using them, he would hear a man’s voice that he thought came to him over radio waves. “He became one of my only friends and every time I wanted to talk to him I would get high and he was always there,” El Bahnasawy wrote in a letter to the judge hearing his case.

His parents got him into a Kuwait City hospital, where he was diagnosed with substance addiction and depression. To discourage him from relapsing, his father Osama El Bahnasawy videotaped him shaking from withdrawal.

He stayed for 40 days....

UN Envoy ‘confident’ deal can be reached to avert further violence around key Yemeni port city

The United Nations envoy for Yemen expressed confidence on Thursday that a solution can be found to prevent further violence in and around the port city of Hodeida.

Trump Retreats on Family Separation, Signing Order He Says Will End Policy

President Donald Trump reversed course on his policy separating immigrant children from parents who cross the U.S. border illegally, signing an executive order Wednesday that he said would end the practice.

“It’s about keeping families together,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”

The order directs Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to detain families together when they are apprehended after crossing the border and allows the immigrants to be housed on military bases. The directive may violate a 1997 court settlement and a 2008 law that require special handling of immigrant children.

Kirstjen Nielsen, Donald Trump, and Mike Pence on June 20.? (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Currently, Nielsen’s department must transfer them to the Department of Health and Human Services after 72 hours if they are unaccompanied, or release them after 20 days if they’re with parents or other caregivers.

Trump’s order included no timeline for Nielsen’s department to begin detaining families together and is silent on when or how children already taken from their parents will be reunited with them. Spokesmen for the White House didn’t immediately respond to questions about the new policy.

Brian Marriott, a spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families, a division of HHS, said in a statement that "It is still very early and we are awaiting guidance on the matter." He added that the agency’s focus was on providing care and "reunifying minors with a relative or appropriate sponsor as we have done since HHS inherited the program."

Gene Hamilton, legal counsel to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, said the Justice Department will ask a court to allow the administration to detain families for longer than 20 days.

Intense Criticism

Trump has come under intense criticism from Congress and the public over the separations, which have resulted in more than 2,000 children being placed in federal custody, according to the government. Senate Republicans were preparing to advance legislation that would prohibit the government from splitting up families apprehended after crossing the border.

Trump’s decision to end the policy himself, though, represents a rare retreat for a president who often appears to court controversy. It also calls into question many of the administration’s recent claims about the basis of the “zero tolerance” policy that was announced by Sessions in April.

‘Zero Tolerance’

“It continues to be a zero tolerance,” Trump said Wednesday. “We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally.”

The president and his top aides have insisted for days that they had no choice but to separate children from their parents due to unspecified U.S. laws. Trump has blamed Democrats for the policy, saying they must cooperate on legislation to end the policy. There is no law requiring children to be separated from their parents at the border, and Trump could have stopped the practice at any time.

In the end, under increasing pressure from his own party, Trump chose to do just that. He acted as it became clear that House Republicans were unable to reach consensus on either of two immigration bills they were considering that included provisions to halt family separations. House leaders still hope to have votes on both bills on Thursday.

A tent encampment near the Tornillo Port of Entry on June 19.? (Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“What we have done today is we are keeping families together,” Trump said. “The borders are just as tough, just as strong. They can come in through ports of entry if they want. That’s a whole different story. And that’s coming in through a process, and the process is what we want.”...

UN head says Israel, Hamas on ‘brink of war’

...Confronted by thousands of rioting Gazans, including armed Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists attempting to overrun the border fence separating Israel from Gaza Strip, Israel used a variety of measures, including, in some cases, live fire.

Preventing a mass infiltration of armed terrorists seeking to kidnap or kill IDF soldiers or civilians was seen by Israel as justification for using such aggressive means.

The IDF said that it did not target paramedics and journalists embedded with the rioters, many of whom were found to be affiliated with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups.

However, Gueterres questioned Israeli actions.

“The killing of children, as well as of clearly identified journalists and medical staffers by security forces during a demonstration, are particularly unacceptable,” Guterres said. “They must be allowed to perform their duties without fear of death or injury.”

Guterres also warned that actions by Hamas and other terrorist groups not only risk Palestinian and Israeli lives but “efforts to restore dignity and the prospects of a livable future for Palestinians in Gaza.” He cited rockets fired at Israel and attempts to breach the Gaza-Israel fence by some protesters.

“I unequivocally condemn the steps by all parties that have brought us to this dangerous and fragile situation,” the secretary-general said.

The rioters have pressed demands for a “right of return” for descendants of Palestinian refugees to ancestral homes in what is now Israel. More than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled after Palestinians and Arab states launched a war on Israel in rejection of the 1947 UN Partition Plan that sought to create a Jewish and Palestinian state in Israel.

Two-thirds of Gaza’s 2 million residents are descendants of refugees.

Israel pulled out its military and evacuated all Jewish communities from the Gaza Strip in 2005. In 2007, Hamas wrested control of the coastal enclave from the Palestinian Authority in a violent coup.

Guterres said that “only by changing the reality on the ground — by recognizing and addressing the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, ensuring that all sides recommit to the 2014 cease-fire understandings, and supporting Egyptian-led efforts to restore control of the legitimate Palestinian government in Gaza — can we preserve the possibility of a viable, independent and fully representative Palestinian state and avert another disastrous, lethal conflict.”

Guterres said Israel’s May 30 decision to advance, approve and issue tenders for some 3,500 housing units in Judea and Samaria was “the largest batch of advancements at one time since June 2017,” adding that it creates “yet more obstacles” to a two-state solution.

The UN secretary-general did not mention as “obstacles” Palestinian incitement, the violent rift between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas that has prevented democratic elections since 2007, Palestinian corruption or Hamas terrorist activities against Israel.

Turkey: Election Time Again

...Presidential candidates

Five candidates will race against Erdoğan in the first round of the vote on June 24. They are: CHP’s Muharrem Ince, IYI’s Meral Akşener, SP’s Temel Karamollaoğulları, HDP’s Selahattin Demirtaş (who is running his campaign from his prison cell), and Doğu Perin?ek, an eccentric former Maoist who is now a leftist-nationalist. The successful candidate should win 50% plus one vote in the first round. Most polls expect Erdoğan to fail to win in the first round. They estimate the first-round ranking to be in this order: Erdoğan, Ince, Akşener, and Demirtaş. Should that occur, Erdoğan will face Ince in the second round, with IYI and SP most likely uniting behind the opposition candidate. That would make Demirtaş’s Kurdish voters the kingmaker.

Scenarios

There are four post-election possibilities:

  • Erdoğan wins the presidency and AKP wins a parliamentary majority

  • Erdoğan wins, but AKP loses a parliamentary majority

  • Erdoğan loses the presidency but his AKP wins a parliamentary majority

  • Erdoğan and AKP both lose


    An electoral defeat for?Erdoğan and his party is the least likely outcome.

    The fourth option is the least likely, and few observers view the third as likely either. The hot bet is either 1 or 2. If, however, option 4 materializes, Turkey will go through a painful period of regime change, with street violence and a near civil war emerging as potential dangers in a perilously polarized society. Erdoğan fans, who often gather in violent groups, would not believe the vote count had been fair (even if it was) and would take to the streets to clash with the “traitors” who went against their “great leader.”

    The first option would mean simply business as usual: Turkey descends further into Islamist one-man rule, and the nation – now further polarized along secular and conservative lines – turns less manageable. The second option would be the most interesting: it would not please Erdoğan and may leave his hands tied. In theory, Erdoğan could rule by decree, but an opposition-majority parliament might always pass laws nullifying his decrees (as the constitution states). Erdoğan would in that case be forced to abolish parliament (and his office) and call for early elections to be held within a minimum 90 days. The Turks could find themselves at the ballot box once again later this year.

    The ‘Gaza factor’

    Trouble in Gaza – indeed, any Israel-related conflict, like the Israeli-Lebanese war in 2006 – has always benefited Erdoğan, who is Turkey’s anti-Zionist, pro-Hamas strongman. Erdoğan is invariably the quickest and fiercest Turkish politician to rush to bash Israel every time the Arab-Israeli dispute turns violent. His election rallies were filled with party loyalists who waved Palestinian along with Turkish flags.

    Erdoğan has extensively abused the Turks’ pro-Palestinian sentiment and turned it into votes. It took the opposition more than a decade to discover the “Palestinian ammunition” and challenge Erdoğan’s abuse. Once again, as in 2014, the news of “our Muslim brothers dying with Jewish bullets” came ahead of a Turkish presidential election, with Erdoğan calling Israel an apartheid state and a terror state, labelling the deaths of 60 Gazans “genocide,” calling for an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and hastily putting together a public rally “in solidarity with our Palestinian brothers.”

    But this time, he lost his monopoly power over general anti-Israeli sentiment in the country when the opposition bloc enthusiastically took up that rhetoric, sometimes even surpassing it. The opposition parties joined a non-partisan parliamentary statement that condemned “Israeli violence in Gaza.” CHP even proposed that the government downgrade its diplomatic ties with the Jewish state and abolish the reconciliation accord of December 2016. When the Turkish government decided to temporarily recall Ambassador Kemal ?kem, the CHP said that was not enough – he should be recalled indefinitely.

    During his campaign, Erdoğan has promised to further consolidate power in a regime based on unity of powers (legislative, executive, and judicial). Ince promises to undo Erdoğan’s executive presidential system by returning to the separation of powers. With the April 2017 referendum, the Turks decided to give away their democracy. Now, just over a year later, they may decide to take it back.

    Burak Bekdil is a fellow at the Middle East Forum

Palestinians: How to Achieve a Better Life

  • "It's become safer to demonstrate against Israel than against Abbas or the Palestinian Authority. Israel is at least a country of law and order and they have human rights organizations and a powerful media and judicial system. We can only continue to dream of having something like what the Jews have." — Palestinian activist.

  • At the end of the day, Palestinians know that the power struggle between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is not between good guys and bad guys, but between bad guys and bad guys. These bad guys are no different from other Arab dictatorships that enslave and kill their people. Anyone who thinks that Mahmoud Abbas is eager to go back to the Gaza Strip is living in a dream world.

  • If the Palestinians ever wish to seek a better life, the first thing they need to do is rid themselves of the "leaders" who have destroyed their lives.

In the past two weeks, Palestinians received yet another reminder that they are living under undemocratic regimes that have less than no respect for public freedoms.

The regimes of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip never miss an opportunity to remind their people of the dire consequences that await anyone who speaks out against the leaders. The two Palestinian regimes have been forcing it down the throats of their people for many years.

Still, some Palestinians seem surprised each time the PA or Hamas send their police officers to break up (or, more precisely, to break bones in) a demonstration in Ramallah or the Gaza Strip.

The streets of Ramallah and Gaza City showcase, yet again, that the Palestinians' true tragedy over the past five decades has been failed and corrupt leadership -- one that keeps dragging them from one disaster to another; one that never offers them any hope; one that has been radicalizing and brainwashing its people; one that steals large portions of the financial aid provided by the international community, and one that has brought them nothing but dictatorship and repression....