Senate Panel Approves Stiff Iran Sanctions and Says Russia Is Next

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke to reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. CreditAl Drago/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved on Thursday the most sweeping sanctions against Iran since the United States and five other nations reached an agreement with Tehran in 2015 to sharply limit that nation’s nuclear capability, and the committee warned Russia that it was almost certain to be the next target.

Because Iran has complied with the nuclear accord, the Senate committee had to find other reasons to impose the sanctions, and linked the penalties to Iran’s continued support for terrorism and its human rights violations, among other concerns. But the timing of the long-planned punishment was awkward, coming right after Iranians overwhelmingly re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, who has moved to expand personal freedoms in the country and integrate its economy with the West.

The Trump administration has supported new sanctions against Iran, which were approved 18 to 3 by the committee and could receive a full Senate vote as early as next month.

But Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson had pleaded for more time before new sanctions were imposed on Russia, hoping to use the first few months of the Trump administration to fundamentally change a relationship he recently said had hit its lowest point in years.

Continue reading the main story

Lawmakers on Thursday strongly hinted that they were no longer interested in giving Mr. Tillerson much additional rope, and the drive in both parties to impose sanctions is a clear outgrowth of the investigations into whether President Trump’s associates had improper connections to Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee — the committee’s Republican chairman and often a defender of Mr. Tillerson’s approach, to the chagrin of lawmakers in both parties who had hoped to pursue sanctions sooner — said he had seen “no difference whatsoever” in Russia’s conduct, citing its “work against our interest” in Syria.

“Unless he can come in and demonstrably show us — and I don’t think he will be able to, based on the intelligence I’ve read — we are going to move ahead with a Russia sanctions bill during this next work period,” Mr. Corker said of Mr. Tillerson.

Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, offered an addendum. “We have seen a change in Russia behavior,” he said. “It’s all been bad.”

During the presidential campaign Mr. Trump called the Iran nuclear deal a “disaster” that would eventually allow Iran to produce its own nuclear weapons. But as president he has been loath to make good on his promise to scrap the accord. Should he do so, Iran would be free to resume the production of uranium and plutonium, which are sharply limited under the existing agreement for the next 13 years.

Still, the vote on Thursday underscored the degree to which the broader promise of the Iran nuclear deal has gone awry. President Barack Obama and John Kerry, the former secretary of state, had hoped the deal, while limited to nuclear fuel production, would open a pathway to cooperation between the two countries.

Instead, both countries have retreated to their corners, with the Iranians working in other ways to influence activities in the Middle East, especially by propping up President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. The United States has done nothing to build on the accord, and Mr. Trump just visited Saudi Arabia, heaping praise on a country that has never held an open election and has a human rights record that rivals Iran’s.

Mr. Corker noted that the committee had waited to take up the sanctions bill until after the Iranian election, at the request of some members.

Among those who urged senators to reject the sanctions was Mr. Kerry, who negotiated the nuclear deal. “After Rouhani’s re-election, there is much up in the air/room for misinterpretation,” he said in a series of Twitter messages earlier this week. “This is not the moment for a new Iran bill.”

He lost that argument, with many of the Democrats on the committee voting for the sanctions. Mr. Cardin called Mr. Rouhani’s victory “an encouraging vote,” but argued that the new legislation remained essential.

“This bill is surgical,” he said, noting it had been designed to avoid undermining the 2015 agreement. “Just because they entered into a nuclear agreement, we’re not going to permit them to continue to support terrorism.”

Republicans have continued to express concerns about the Obama administration’s efforts. Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho, said the issues addressed in the current bill should have been part of the nuclear agreement.

“We shouldn’t have to do this,” Mr. Risch said, before supporting the measure, adding that “these people are not people who want to get on the international stage and take a place with the rest of the countries that want to see peace and harmony.”

Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, interjected: “These people — that’s a tough, tough phrase,” he said. “We’ve got no beef with Iranian people.”

Mr. Risch clarified that he was referring only to hostile Iranian leaders, not its citizens. “I should have made that clear,” he said.

Mr. Corker suggested that the bill was in fact “very congruent with the will of the Iranian people themselves,” an assertion that a fellow Republican, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, disputed.

Later in the meeting, the committee approved a separate measure to boost efforts to counter Russian propaganda and election interference in the United States and around the world.

Some senators made clear that they had expected to take up true sanctions by now.

“This is not a sanctions bill, though many of us wish it were,” Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said pointedly. “This is a defensive measure.”

Two committee members — Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, and Mr. Kaine — also introduced on Thursday a bill to authorize military force against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, a move intended to curb executive authority and reassert congressional power over authorization.

Now Turkey’s Dictator Erdogan (The Dog) Has Issued Arrest Warrant For An NBA Player As A Terrorist

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘HOT AIR’NEWS)

Keep your friends close and your friends who are homicidal dictators closer, I suppose.

Turkey’s efforts at international diplomacy were clearly bolstered when the Tyrant of Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, gained a White House audience with President Trump. During that meeting the two leaders supposedly discussed the release of American Pastor Andrew Brunson. (Which still hasn’t happened, by the way.) Many observers still seem to believe that Erdogan is holding out because he would like the United States to turn over cleric Fethullah Gulen, currently residing in Pennsylvania. But now Erodgan may be adding another name to his list. NBA center for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Enes Kanter, has an arrest warrant out for him in Turkey and their president really wants him brought to Ankara for “questioning.” (The Oklahoman)

Turkey has issued a warrant for the arrest of Thunder center Enes Kanter, according to a report from a Turkish pro-government publication.

According to a story from international news agency AFP, the Daily Sabah in Turkey reported that Kanter is sought for being a member of a “terror group.” A prosecutor in Istanbul opened an investigation into Kanter’s “alleged membership of an armed terrorist organization,” according to the AFP report…

Daily Sabah reported that the prosecutor would apply for an Interpol red notice to inform Interpol’s members that Kanter’s arrest is sought in an effort to ensure his deportation, according to the AFP report.

In terms of how he managed to get on Erdogan’s radar, Kanter definitely brought the attention on himself. He’s been tweeting out taunts to the Turkish government, daring them to try to come and get him and promising to go there and “spit in all their ugly, hate-filled faces.” On top of that, he’s openly aligned himself with Gulen, expressing his support for the cleric’s movement. Kanter is a citizen of Turkey but has a green card giving him lawful permanent resident status in the United States and has said that he’s working on obtaining US citizenship.

But being critical of the Erdogan regime and siding with Gulen aren’t crimes. (Well.. they’re not crimes in America, anyway. In Turkey that can get you executed.) The fact that he’s a Turkish citizen complicates matters a little, but we still have no reason to give this guy up and send him off to what would almost certainly be a lengthy stretch in a dungeon and some face time with one of Erdogan’s torturers.

Is this something that the Trump administration would ever seriously consider? The charges against Pastor Bronson are completely trumped up, if you’ll pardon the phrase, and it’s a slap in our face that he hasn’t already been released. But if he’s being used as a bargaining chip for some larger game of international diplomacy and intrigue, we’ve hit some dark times indeed.

Meanwhile, in an obvious show of hypocrisy, Turkey still has nothing to say in terms of regrets over Erdogan’s goons beating down unarmed protesters during his visit to Washington. As the Free Beacon reports, dozens of congressmen have signed on to an effort to have the perpetrators either arrested or expelled, but the White House remains silent on the matter thus far.

“This may be how they deal with dissenters in Turkey, but here in America that’s against the law,” Rep. Randy Hultgren (R., Ill.) said in a statement about the letter. “Our country is founded on the rights of free speech and freedom of peaceful assembly. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s security team’s brazen, physical assault on American citizens and legal residents peacefully protesting his policies is outrageous and follows a disturbing pattern. Foreign leaders, diplomats, and staff are invited guests of our nation, and they should act as such. All of those involved—at all levels—must be held accountable.”

You might be able to make the argument that Trump is in a tough spot right now when it comes to Turkey. No matter how deranged Erdogan may be, his country remains a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to dealing with Syria, and to a lesser extent, Russia and Iraq. But there also have to be limits to precisely how much we’re willing to tolerate in the name of cooperation from a supposed ally. We’re running into the same problem with the Philippines right now and it doesn’t paint a very pretty picture for the rest of the world.

More than enough time has passed now for Trump to craft some sort of deal and get Andrew Brunson home. Once that’s accomplished we can deal with Erdogan from at least a slightly stronger position. Dithering and continuing to wait is increasingly turning into a problem for this administration.

Is Jeff Sessions Just Another one of many Russian Crony’s On The Trump/Putin Payroll?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Jeff Sessions just added even more smoke to the Trump-Russia story

Story highlights

  • Sessions attributed the oversight to advice he received from an FBI employee who helped him fill out the form.
  • If Trump truly believes that this whole thing is a made-up story, then he should be unrelentingly supportive of the Mueller investigation

(CNN) Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to properly disclose his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in a security clearance application, CNN reported on Wednesday night.

Sessions attributed the oversight to advice he received from an FBI employee who helped him fill out the form. The FBI employee told Sessions he didn’t need to note every interaction — especially passing ones — with foreign officials. So, Sessions didn’t.
This is not an uncommon occurrence. Phil Mudd, who spent time at the CIA and the FBI and now works as a counter-terrorism analyst for CNN, acknowledged Thursday morning on “New Day” that he, too, didn’t list every foreign official he came into contact with on his security clearance forms — comparing it to going 62 in an area where the speed limit is 55.
Fair enough.
The problem here for Sessions — and the Trump administration more broadly — is that the meetings the Attorney General failed to disclose are with the Russian ambassador. Not the ambassador to France or England or literally any other place in the world.
And that means the omissions matter. Because they land amid a federal investigation now being run by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign. And two congressional investigations into the matter. And the firing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn due to his misleading comments about his own conversations with Kislyak. And the Russia ties of former Trump advisers Paul Manafort and Carter Page. And Sessions’ own recusal from the federal investigation due to his meetings with Kislyak. And the reports that Trump asked then FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn and the Russians during a Feb. 14 meeting.
You get the idea. There’s just a massive amount of smoke here. Is it possible that the smoke isn’t being produced by a fire, as Trump insists? Sure. But the growing amount of smoke belies Trump’s repeated insistence that the investigation is simply “fake news” or a “witch hunt.”
The public disagrees with Trump on this, too. In a new Fox News national poll, more than six in ten (61%) of people said they were concerned with reports of “Russian meddling in U.S. affairs,” as opposed to just 38% who said they weren’t concerned. Almost 7 in 10 (68%) approved of the appointment of a special counsel to look into Russia’s meddling and possible collusion with elements of the Trump campaign. People were split on whether they thought evidence would be found proving the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians; 43 percent said they expected that to happen while 45 percent said they didn’t.
If Trump truly believes that this whole thing is a made-up story, then he should be unrelentingly supportive of the Mueller investigation. Because Mueller is the only person at this point who can clear away all the smoke and show that there is no fire. (Not even Trump can do that at this point — even if he wanted to. The story has gotten totally beyond his control.)
And yet, Trump continues to work to undermine Mueller and his findings. Which means that every development like this latest one with Sessions will just add more smoke to the story. At this point, there’s so much smoke surrounding Trump and Russia, it’s getting very hard to see.

Venezuela’s Government Has Now Murdered 58 Civilians During Ongoing Protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Protesters Turn to State Media Regulator as Venezuela Unrest Continues

Venezuela

Protests against socialist President Nicolas Maduro continued in Venezuela on Friday as the opposition urged demonstrators to rally again on Saturday at the offices of the state media regulator.

Riot police in Venezuela fired tear gas and water cannon to stop anti-government protesters from marching on a key military installation Friday during the latest violence in nearly two months of unrest.

The opposition is trying to sway the support of the armed forces, a key pillar of the government of Maduro, who is resisting opposition calls for early elections.

Retired military personnel joined demonstrators who tried to march to the Los Proceres complex, which houses the defense ministry and lies close to a major military base in Caracas.

Friday’s protest was aimed at “demanding that the armed forces lower their weapons and not be complicit in the dictatorship,” said Freddy Guevara, an opposition leader who is vice president of parliament, the only branch of government the opposition controls.

He called on the military to reject a “constituent assembly” to be elected in July and tasked with drafting a new constitution, saying Maduro’s plans “will liquidate Venezuelan democracy forever.”

Masked protesters threw Molotov cocktails at riot police in scenes familiar after nearly two months of unrest.

A 33-year-old man who was injured Thursday night during a protest in the western city of Cabudare died on Friday, bringing the death toll from eight weeks of unrest to 58.

Several people were also injured in the capital on Friday, including opposition lawmaker Carlos Paparoni, who was struck in the leg with a blunt object.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega blamed military police for hundreds of injuries and at least one death.

Protesters brand the socialist president a dictator, blaming him for economic turmoil and food shortages.

Maduro is resisting their calls for early elections, saying the opposition and the United States are plotting a coup against him.

Despite the opposition’s calls for the military to abandon Maduro, the high command has retained its public support for him so far.

A crowd of Maduro’s supporters in red shirts started a counter-demonstration on Friday near the presidential palace in central Caracas.

The president has launched steps to reform the constitution in response to the crisis. His opponents say that is a bid to dodge elections and cling to power.

The National Electoral Council said those who wanted to stand for election to the constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution should sign up next Thursday and Friday.

Meanwhile, the state telecom regulator Conatel has come under scrutiny for its coverage of the protests.

In the mountains above Caracas, two government officials often stand watch over the antennas of TV news network Globovision, poised to take it off air if regulators object to coverage of anti-government protests, according to two station employees.

They said the 24-hour Venezuelan news station receives regular warnings from Conatel against showing live footage of clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces, or broadcasting terms such as “dictatorship” and “repression.”

“It’s a daily threat,” said one of the employees, citing information from station managers and asking not to be identified for fear of reprisals.

“Conatel is making decisions about coverage.”

In contrast to past waves of unrest in Venezuela, particularly during Hugo Chavez’s 1999-2013 rule, the nation’s three main private television stations have provided minimal live coverage of the latest anti-government demonstrations.

They rarely show more than a few minutes of real-time images of protests.

However, the private networks, including Globovision, do give broadly equal weight to opposition and government leaders and supporters in broadcasts – contrary to assertions by critics that they muzzle the opposition.

“If people abroad sampled Venezuela’s TV media directly, as opposed to judging it by what is said about it by the international media and some big NGOs, they’d be shocked to find the opposition constantly denouncing the government and even making very thinly veiled appeals to the military to oust Maduro,” said Joe Emersberger, a Canadian blogger who tracks Venezuelan media and writes for state-funded Telesur network.

“Focusing on ‘live’ coverage is just a way to avoid acknowledging they (protests) are being extensively covered.”

Regulators do openly describe vigilance of coverage, with Conatel director Andres Mendez recently telling state TV the regulator was constantly evaluating Globovision and some of its anchors. “We sometimes have pleasant conversations with (Globovision’s) president,” he said.

Ruling Socialist Party officials scoff at the idea of any censorship, insisting the government is the victim of a US-supported campaign by private local and international media to depict it as a repressive regime and thus justify a coup.

They recall that private media openly backed a bungled 2002 coup against Chavez, and accuse media of exaggerating the protests to weaken Maduro’s government.

Unable to follow the protests live on TV, many Venezuelans have turned to other sources of information, especially online.

“I find out what’s going on from my phone and social media,” said Claudia Mejias, who watches Colombian network Caracol via cable at the hair salon where she works and then shares information with friends via Whatsapp and Facebook.

Though social media platforms have to some extent supplanted TV news, they frequently transmit inaccurate information.

And only 53 percent of Venezuelans have internet access, according to one local research firm.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Inciters in Egypt should be Pursued Internationally

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Inciters in Egypt should be Pursued Internationally

The repeated crimes targeting Egypt are an evil act that requires regional and international actions, as its causes and consequences are no longer an Egyptian matter.

What happened on Friday in Minya is part of a series of terrorist attacks linked to the Egyptian armed opposition as well as to the opposition factions that are openly inciting violent attacks.

It is imperative to demand that all the incitement and actions against Egypt be considered as international crimes as is the case today with terrorist organizations like ISIS, al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Sharia and others.

Governments and media outlets allowing the incitement against Egypt must be held accountable because they are directly responsible for what is happening in the country.

We must accuse these governments and media outlets of taking part in what is happening in Egypt because the government apparatuses are no longer targeted as they used to justify themselves earlier and consider their actions as a war between the regime and the opposition.

The majority of the crimes now are directed against civilian facilities, leading to civilian victims and inciting religious sectarianism between Copts and Muslims.

We support the Egyptian people and we cannot stay neutral in the face of these repeated crimes. Keeping mum on the incitements justifying such hideous terrorism attacks, coordinated with opposing political forces, cannot be tolerated anymore.

The Muslim Brotherhood, and the governments supporting the group, must be aware of the gravity of what they are doing because they are responsible for these terrorist operations that are the outcome of their irrational political actions.

These groups and their supporting governments will be targeted through international curbs, prosecution and isolation, holding them accountable for the crimes committed in Egypt.

The conflict with the Egyptian government has gone too far. The political, organizational, media, and financing campaign against the Egyptian government has gone too far after failing to create a peaceful civil opposition movement.

After the failure in repeating the Egyptian Spring scenario, they started advocating and justifying attacks against the government.

As the world is fighting together against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, it will be angered by what is happening in Egypt.

It will not be difficult to hold accountable the governments that support the Egyptian terrorist groups whether in terms of funds or media exposure.

More than 90 persons were killed in four terrorist sectarian attacks in Cairo, Alexandria, Tanta, and the last one in Minya.

The new international approach does not only pursue terrorist organizations but will also point the fingers at the governments that allow extremist ideologies or accept their political discourse as well as the governments that promote extremism, both in the media and political levels.

There is no doubt that there is an interrelation between these groups claiming to be peaceful but at the same time agreeing on terror ideologies. They are now considered as a political entities. This applies to the Muslim Brotherhood, with its Egyptian branch in particular.

The attack in Minya, similar to the crime in Manchester few days ago, is part of the cycle of violence, following justification of terrorism, media propaganda and indirect funding. Terrorism has become an international crime, and it is no longer an internal problem that can be limited to solidarity and acts of consolation.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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US to Test First Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Interceptor

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

US to Test First Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

US

At a time when North Korea is trying to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the United States announced that it will test an existing missile defense system to try to intercept an ICBM.

The test, scheduled for Tuesday, is the first time the United States will try to intercept an ICBM, announced US officials.

The goal is to more closely simulate a North Korean ICBM aimed at the US homeland. The test had been planned well in advance and was not in reaction to any specific event. they explained.

The United States has used the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, managed by Boeing Co. and in place to counter attacks from rogue states such as North Korea, to intercept other types of missiles but never an ICBM.

While US officials believe Pyongyang is some years away from mastering re-entry expertise for perfecting an ICBM, it is making advances.

This week the head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency said that if left unchecked, North Korea is on an “inevitable” path to obtaining a nuclear-armed missile capable of striking the United States.

The remarks are the latest indication of mounting US concern about Pyongyang’s advancing missile and nuclear weapons programs, which the North says are needed for self-defense.

The Missile Defense Agency said an interceptor based out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, one of 36 in California and Alaska, will be used in the test to shoot down a target similar to an ICBM over the Pacific Ocean.

The system has carried out successful intercepts in nine out of 17 attempts dating back to 1999. The most recent test was in 2014. Last year a science advocacy group said the system has no proven capability to protect the United States.

The American interceptor has a spotty track record, succeeding in nine of 17 attempts against missiles of less-than-intercontinental range since 1999. The most recent test, in June 2014, was a success, but that followed three straight failures. The system has evolved from the multibillion-dollar effort triggered by President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 push for a “Star Wars” solution to ballistic missile threats during the Cold War — when the Soviet Union was the only major worry.

North Korea is now the focus of US efforts because its leader, Kim Jong Un, has vowed to field a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching American territory. He has yet to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, but Pentagon officials believe he is speeding in that direction.

The Pentagon has a variety of missile defense systems, but the one designed with a potential North Korean ICBM in mind is perhaps the most technologically challenging. Critics say it also is the least reliable.

The basic defensive idea is to fire a rocket into space upon warning of a hostile missile launch. The rocket releases a 5-foot-long device called a “kill vehicle” that uses internal guidance systems to steer into the path of the oncoming missile’s warhead, destroying it by force of impact. Officially known as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, the Pentagon likens it to hitting a bullet with a bullet.

An interceptor is to be launched from an underground silo at Vandenberg and soar toward the target, which will be fired from a test range on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. If all goes as planned, the “kill vehicle” will slam into the ICBM-like target’s mock warhead high over the Pacific Ocean.

The target will be a custom-made missile meant to simulate an ICBM, meaning it will fly faster than missiles used in previous intercept tests, according to Christopher Johnson, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency. The target is not a mock-up of an actual North Korean ICBM.

“We conduct increasingly complex test scenarios as the program matures and advances,” Johnson said Friday. “Testing against an ICBM-type threat is the next step in that process.”

Officials say this is not a make-or-break test.

The interceptor system has been in place since 2004, but it has never been used in combat or fully tested. There currently are 32 interceptors in silos at Fort Greely in Alaska and four at Vandenberg, north of Los Angeles. The Pentagon says it will have eight more, for a total of 44, by the end of this year.

In its 2018 budget presented to Congress this week, the Pentagon proposed spending $7.9 billion on missile defense, including $1.5 billion for the ground-based midcourse defense program. Other elements of that effort include the Patriot designed to shoot down short-range ballistic missiles and the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which the US has installed in South Korea as defense against medium-range North Korean missiles.

The Trump administration has yet to announce its intentions on missile defense.

President Donald Trump recently ordered the Pentagon to undertake a ballistic missile defense review. Some experts argue the current strategy for shooting down ICBM-range missiles, focused on the silo-based interceptors, is overly expensive and inadequate. They say a more fruitful approach would be to destroy or disable such missiles before they can be launched, possibly by cyberattack.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Snakes can actually hunt in packs

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF POPULAR SCIENCE)

Snakes can actually hunt in packs

But you should only be scared if you live in a cave in Cuba.

Cuban boa

Scary enough on its own.

The world is a scary place without knowing that snakes hunt in packs. But one biologist in Cuba just couldn’t leave well enough alone, so he proved for the first time ever that reptiles don’t just hunt near each other, they hunt with each other.

Snakes are not social creatures. They don’t live in packs like wolves or chatter to each other like prairie dogs. They join forces for just one thing: to kill. Snakes have long been known to hunt in groupings, it just wasn’t clear how coordinated these efforts were. It makes sense that they would all have a similar sense of where the best spot to hunt is, so many snakes gathering in one area doesn’t necessarily mean they’re coordinating. To prove that, you’d have to prove that the snakes were actually taking each other into account—that if boa #2 shows up and sees boa #1, he’s more likely to stick near that first snake, because being together helps them. And ideally, you would also prove that when snakes hunt together, they’re more successful.

Of course, to do that for the Cuban boa, you have to hang out in a cave all night watching snakes dangle from the ceiling eating bats. And that’s exactly what Vladimir Dinets, an assistant professor at University of Tennessee, decided to do. He published his results in the journal Animal Behavior and Cognition. Desembarco del Granma National Park in eastern Cuba has one cave in particular where Dinets set up shop. Nine boas lived inside, which he could apparently tell apart by their markings because he is a snake whisperer, and for eight consecutive days he watched them hunt. The boas would slither up the walls at sunset and just before dawn to catch bats, hanging upside down from the ceiling of the passage that connected the roosting chamber to the exit where their leathery prey would have to pass by.

Keep in mind that all this goes down in almost complete darkness. They’re in a national park with little light pollution, inside a cave, at fairly dark times of the day. Dinets sat in a dark cave filled with snakes and bats and calmly recorded each and every movement that the snakes made. He divided up the passage areas into sections, so he could later monitor how close the snakes were to each other, and noted every time a new snake joined the fray. And then each and every time a snake caught a bat, he recorded that too. Not just the fact that a snake caught a bat, but which snake caught a bat.

The boas themselves aren’t bothered by the dark because they hunt by touch. When bats brush against them, the snakes strike. Dinets wasn’t bothered because he seems to be some kind of superhuman.

Boas who hunted alone were in the very tiny minority, and it’s no wonder—they were much worse at catching bats. With three snakes present, each boa caught an average of one bat per snake and usually did it in under seven minutes (the boas left once they caught a bat, so the maximum batting average was one). If the snake was alone, that average dropped to 0.33 and it took them about 19 minutes to even get the bats they managed to get. Some lone boas actually gave up and went home. So when the boas entered the passage and encountered other snakes, they nearly always chose to set up camp alongside each other. Together they could form a kind of barrier, such that bats had a harder time avoiding the boas.

Unlike wolves, the boas didn’t otherwise hang out together. They’re solitary creatures. Wolves hunt together for primarily social reasons—multiple studies have shown that they don’t necessarily get more food by sticking with a pack. Snakes hunt together for the strategy. How cold-blooded of them.

Egypt Conducts Air Strikes Against Terrorist Group In Eastern Libya That Massacred Christians Earlier Today

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

By Ahmed Aboulenein | MINYA, EGYPT

Egyptian fighter jets carried out strikes on Friday directed at camps in Libya which Cairo says have been training militants who killed dozens of Christians earlier in the day.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said he had ordered strikes against what he called terrorist camps, declaring in a televised address that states that sponsored terrorism would be punished.

Egyptian military sources said six strikes took place near Derna in eastern Libya at around sundown, hours after masked gunmen attacked a group of Coptic Christians traveling to a monastery in southern Egypt, killing 29 and wounding 24.

The Egyptian military said the operation was ongoing and had been undertaken once it had been ascertained that the camps had produced the gunmen behind the attack on the Coptic Christians in Minya, southern Egypt, on Friday morning.

“The terrorist incident that took place today will not pass unnoticed,” Sisi said. “We are currently targeting the camps where the terrorists are trained.”

He said Egypt would not hesitate to carry out further strikes against camps that trained people to carry out operations against Egypt, whether those camps were inside or outside the country.

Egyptian military footage of pilots being briefed and war planes taking off was shown on state television.

East Libyan forces said they participated in the air strikes, which had targeted forces linked to al-Qaeda at a number of sites, and would be followed by a ground operation.

A resident in Derna heard four powerful explosions, and told Reuters that the strikes had targeted camps used by fighters belonging to the Majlis al-Shura militant group.

Majlis al-Shura spokesman Mohamed al-Mansouri said in a video posted online that the Egyptian air strikes did not hit any of the group’s camps, but instead hit civilian areas.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack on the Christians, which followed a series of church bombings claimed by Islamic State in a campaign of violence against the Copts.

Islamic State supporters reposted videos from earlier this year urging violence against the Copts in Egypt.

At a nearby village, thousands later attended a funeral service that turned into an angry protest against the authorities’ failure to protect Christians.

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Ambulances and medics outside Maghagha Hospital in Minya Province, Egypt in this screen grab take on May 26, 2017. REUTERS TV
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“We will avenge them or die like them,” mourners said, while marching with a giant wooden cross.

GUNFIRE AND BLOOD

Eyewitnesses said masked men opened fire after stopping the Christians, who were in a bus and other vehicles on a desert road. Local TV channels showed a bus apparently raked by gunfire and smeared with blood.

Clothes and shoes could be seen lying in and around the bus, while the bodies of some of the victims lay in the sand nearby, covered with black sheets.

Eyewitnesses said three vehicles were attacked. First to be hit was a vehicle taking children to the monastery as part of a church-organized trip, and another vehicle taking families there.

The gunmen boarded the vehicles and shot all the men and took all the women’s gold jewelry. They then shot women and children in the legs.

When one of the gunmen’s vehicles got a flat tire they stopped a truck carrying Christian workers, shot them, and took the truck.

One of the gunmen recorded the attack on the Copts with a video camera, eyewitnesses said.

The attack took place on a road leading to the monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor in Minya province, which is home to a sizeable Christian minority.

Security forces launched a hunt for the attackers, setting up dozens of checkpoints and patrols on the desert road.

Police armed with assault rifles formed a security perimeter around the attack site while officials from the public prosecutor’s office gathered evidence. Heavily armed special forces arrived later wearing face masks and body armor.

The injured were taken to local hospitals and some were being transported to Cairo. The Health Ministry said that among those injured were two children aged two.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has made a point of improving relations with Cairo, said his country stood with Sisi and the Egyptian people.

“This merciless slaughter of Christians in Egypt tears at our hearts and grieves our souls,” Trump said.

The Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Egypt’s 1,000-year-old center of Islamic learning, said the attack was intended to destabilize the country.

“I call on Egyptians to unite in the face of this brutal terrorism,” Ahmed al-Tayeb said. The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawki Allam, condemned the perpetrators as traitors.

The head of the Coptic Christian church, Pope Tawadros, who spoke with Sisi after the attack, said it was “not directed at the Copts, but at Egypt and the heart of the Egyptians”.

Pope Francis, who visited Cairo a month ago, described the attack as a “senseless act of hatred”.

ONGOING PERSECUTION

Coptic Christians, whose church dates back nearly 2,000 years, make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 92 million.

They say they have long suffered from persecution, but in recent months the frequency of deadly attacks against them has increased. About 70 have been killed since December in bombings claimed by Islamic State at churches in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Tanta.

An Islamic State campaign of murders in North Sinai prompted hundreds of Christians to flee in February and March.

Copts fear they will face the same fate as brethren in Iraq and Syria, where Christian communities have been decimated by wars and Islamic State persecution.

Egypt’s Copts are vocal supporters of Sisi, who has vowed to crush Islamist extremism and protect Christians. He declared a three-month state of emergency in the aftermath of the church bombings in April.

But many Christians feel the state either does not take their plight seriously enough or cannot protect them against determined fanatics.

The government is fighting insurgents affiliated with Islamic State who have killed hundreds of police and soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula, while also carrying out attacks elsewhere in the country.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Additonal reporting by Eric Knecht, Mostafa Hashem, and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by John Stonestreet, Lisa Shumaker and Andrew Hay)

Heavy rain and floods in Sri Lanka leave 91 dead, government says

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Heavy rain and floods in Sri Lanka leave 91 dead, government says

Residents of Bellana village in the Kalutara district watch as heavy machinery tries to move landslide debris on Friday, May 26, 2017

Story highlights

  • India is sending two ships filled with relief supplies, minister says
  • The monsoon rains came after two months of drought

Colombo, Sri Lanka (CNN) At least 91 people are dead and more than 100 are missing after heavy monsoon rains drenched Sri Lanka’s southwest, the country’s Disaster Management Centre said Friday.

Nearly 24,000 people in 13 districts have been impacted by flooding or landslides, the disaster center said.
The districts most affected were Ratnapura, 100 km (62 miles) southeast of Colombo and Kalutara, about 40 km (25 miles) south of the capital, which both had a series of landslides after the monsoon rains.

Sri Lankan military rescuers and villagers stand on the debris of a house that was destroyed by a landslide in Bellana village on Friday.

Troops have been deployed for rescue operations and the Home Ministry has set up a 24-hour relief center for the people affected.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena was scheduled to return to Colombo Friday night after a two-day state visit to Australia and plans to hold an emergency meeting with emergency officials to discuss relief operations, an administration official said.
Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake told CNN a ship full of relief supplies from India will arrive at the Colombo Port on Saturday morning. He said this was only part of the assistance India has offered — a larger vessel carrying more supplies and personnel will arrive Sunday.
“We have a problem of limited resources to cope with the situation. Hence, we have made many appeals,” he said.

Residents watch a rescue operation in Bellana village after monsoon rains caused landslides in the region.

The South West monsoon responsible for the rain came after nearly two months of prolonged drought, which had prompted the World Food Programme to deliver aid to those affected.
Dunesh Gankanda, acting minister of Disaster Management, told reporters that a full assessment of the damage and an updated toll for the dead and missing would be known only when all reports from the districts were received.

Russian diplomat claimed Kushner wanted back channel to Kremlin: report says

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Russian diplomat claimed Kushner wanted backchannel to Kremlin: report says

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner suggested backchannel communications between the Trump transition and Russia, Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak reportedly said.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner suggested backchannel communications between the Trump transition and Russia, Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak reportedly said.

(EVAN VUCCI/AP)

Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner wanted to create a backchannel communications link between the President’s transition and the Kremlin, according to alleged discussions reported Friday.Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak told other officials in Moscow that Kushner had suggested the backchannel after a meeting at Trump Tower that also included future National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to the Washington Post.

Friday night’s report, based off of information from U.S. officials, came the same day that the Post reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election had requested documents from the Trump campaign.

A letter from the committee, one of the four main inquiries into the election interference and possible Trump campaign collusion, asked for all documents going back to 2015, the Post reported.

Jared Kushner scrutinized in Trump-Russia investigation: reports

The investigations into the meddling and potential collusion have accelerated in recent weeks after the firing of FBI Director James Comey, who confirmed the FBI investigation in March and reportedly resisted pressure from Trump to end it’s look at Flynn.

Flynn and former Trump campaign chair Manafort are believed to be targets of the investigation, though multiple outlets reported Thursday that Kushner was considered a person of interest.

Team Trump had previously confirmed the meeting between Kushner, Flynn and Kislyak, but has said it was not out of the ordinary.

The Post report Friday was based off of conversations Kislyak had with other Russian officials, and the Americans involved did not comment.

Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner fail to disclose art worth millions

Sergey Kislyak reportedly told superiors about the potential of a backchannel after a December meeting.

Sergey Kislyak reportedly told superiors about the potential of a backchannel after a December meeting.

(CLIFF OWEN/AP)

It is not unusual for incoming presidential administrations to meet with foreign leaders, though before the December meeting the Kremlin had been accused of orchestrating a campaign to influence the November election.

A joint intelligence community report released in January said that the effort was aimed at helping Trump.

Kushner had originally failed to report his meeting with Vladimir Putin’s man in America on his application for a security clearance, but his lawyer said that the documents were submitted prematurely and his client would inform authorities in an interview.

A potential backchannel between the Trump team and the U.S.’s former Cold War foe had previously been raised by a report in April, when the Post reported that controversial Blackwater founder Erik Prince, also Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s brother, had acted as a go-between in January.

Prince reportedly acted as an envoy for Trump in a secretive meeting with unidentified emissary from Putin in the Seychelles, remote islands in the Indian Ocean, though Prince and the White House denied that he was sent by the incoming adminitration.

The Post reported Friday that the Kushner-Kislyak conversation in December talked about a Trump representative meeting a “Russian contact.”