Palestinians welcome Trump’s talk of peace but offer lessons in two-state demands

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Palestinians welcome Trump’s talk of peace but offer lessons in two-state demands

President Trump discussed how to fight terrorism and improve international relations during a speech alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on May 23 in Bethlehem. (The Washington Post)
May 23 at 9:40 AM
President Trump told Israelis and Palestinians on Tuesday that he knows they are eager to reach a peace agreement with each other and that he is committed to helping them “make a deal.”In a speech at the Israel Museum as he prepared to end his four-day trip to the Middle East and depart for his next stop in Rome, Trump repeated his call for Arab countries and Israel to form a grand coalition with the United States to “drive out the terrorists and the extremists from our midst” and “defend our citizens and the people of the world.”

“This trip is focused on that goal,” he said.

Trump recognized that Israeli-Palestinian peace is a key component of cooperation in the region, although he has not outlined how he hopes to achieve an agreement that has eluded many presidents before him.

Trump on Middle East peace deal: ‘We’re going to get there eventually, I hope’
Speaking in Jerusalem, May 22, President Trump lauded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “commitment to pursuing the peace process.” (The Washington Post)

In some respects, his effusive praise for Israel during his two days here — which also included a Tuesday morning visit to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank — appeared to endorse Israeli claims to a united capital in Jerusalem.

Noting that Jerusalem is a “sacred city,” and that “the ties of the Jewish people to this holy land are ancient and eternal,” Trump recalled his Monday visits to the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, sites sacred to Jews and Christians in East Jerusalem, part of the West Bank, and claimed by Palestinians as the capital of their envisioned state.

To sustained applause, Trump cited the “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel, a place he called “a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people.” He spoke of “a future where Jewish, Christian and Muslim children can grow up together in peace.”

“America’s security partnership with Israel is stronger than ever,” he said. “Under my administration, you see the difference. Big, big beautiful difference, including the Iron Dome missile defense program . . . [and] David’s Sling,” an aircraft interception system. The former was established here under the Obama administration, the latter under President George W. Bush.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump, who introduced him and praised “the leadership that you bring,” condemned Monday night’s terrorist attack in Britain, claimed by the Islamic State.

But in describing the authors of global terrorism, Trump focused nearly all his attention on Iran and the anti-Israel organizations it supports, Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran’s leaders, he said, “routinely call for Israel’s destruction. Not with Donald J. Trump,” he said. “Believe me.”

Key moments from Trump’s news conference with Netanyahu
Here is President Trump’s May 22 joint news conference in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in less than two minutes. (The Washington Post)

“The United States is firmly committed to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and halting their support of terrorism and militias,” Trump said to sustained applause as Netanyahu stood and pumped his fist.

The audience included U.S. and Israeli officials, as well as prominent citizens from both. Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who donated millions of dollars to support Trump’s campaign and then his inauguration, were seated just behind the stage, near first lady Melania Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Before his speech, Trump and his delegation visited the World Holocaust Remembrance Center at Yad Vashem, where he said the Jewish people had built the state of Israel out of the “depths of suffering” as “a testament to [their] unbreakable spirit.”

Earlier, he had traveled to Bethlehem for a private meeting with Abbas to discuss the peace process and his vision for anti-terrorism cooperation.

In joint remarks afterward, Abbas said he welcomed Trump’s efforts, which had “given all the nations across the region so much hope and optimism of the possibility of making a dream come true.”

“Our commitment is to cooperate with you in order to make peace and forge a historic peace deal with the Israelis,” Abbas added.

But while Trump spoke in generalities about the goal, Abbas laid out the specifics of Palestinian demands — which have been supported by the Arabs and rejected by Israel through decades of unsuccessful peace negotiations shepherded by American presidents.

“We reassert to you our positions of a two-state solution along the borders of 1967, a state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, living alongside of Israel,” he said, referring to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank following a war against three Arab armies.

During the presidential campaign, Trump pledged to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but the plan has been shelved, at least temporarily.

Abbas said he had also drawn Trump’s attention to more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel who have been on a hunger strike for over a month, led by Marwan Barghouti, whom supporters call the Palestinian Nelson Mandela.

Abbas delivered to Trump a letter from the families of the strikers, who have demanded more family visits, access to telephones, medical care, the freedom to study and cessation of isolation as a punishment.

Israel and some U.S. lawmakers have objected to American aid to the Palestinians, claiming the money is used to make payments to the families of prisoners, who are considered “freedom fighters” among many Palestinians. Trump did not mention the aid or the payments in his public remarks.

Abbas also spoke of Palestinian insistence that all “final status issues” be resolved “based on international law” and United Nations resolutions, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative first offered more than a decade ago. It promised Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state.

Escorted by Israeli police and helicopters, Trump and his delegation sped down Hebron Road and found themselves, just minutes from their Jerusalem hotel, at the gates of Bethlehem in the West Bank.

The closeness of Bethlehem — the physical proximity between Israel and the Palestinian territory — surprised most first-time visitors in the entourage.

Trump and the convoy passed through the 26-foot-tall concrete wall with watch towers that is Israel’s barrier and past “Checkpoint 300,” where thousands of Palestinian workers cross into Israel each morning to reach their jobs on construction sites.

Trump has cited the Israeli barrier as an example of the kind of wall he wants to build between the United States and Mexico, but many Palestinians view it as a symbol of oppression.

Bethlehem is lively and crowded, home to Palestinian Muslims and Christians and the Church of the Nativity, the Byzantine-era sacred site built over the grotto where the faithful believe Jesus was born.

The city is also surrounded by hilltop Jewish settlements on three sides, built in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, communities that most of the world considers illegal, though Israel disputes this.

Later, Trump told his museum audience that after his meeting with Abbas, “I can tell you the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace … I know you’ve heard it before. I’m telling you, they are ready to reach for peace.

“My good friend Benjamin [Netanyahu], he wants peace.” Both sides, he said, “will face tough decisions. But with determination and compromise … Israelis and Palestinians can make a deal.”

There was no applause from the audience.

Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this article.

Taiwan moved up six spots on this year’s World Press Freedom Index. Here’s why that’s troubling.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

WorldViews

Taiwan moved up six spots on this year’s World Press Freedom Index. Here’s why that’s troubling.

May 3 at 12:18 PM

Taiwan appeared to make a sudden leap forward in press freedom this year, moving up six places to secure the 45th spot in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

However, its climb should concern people about the state of media freedom — especially in Asia, according to Reporters Without Borders, the media watchdog nonprofit that releases the annual ranking.

That’s because Taiwan’s jump “does not reflect real improvements, but rather a global worsening of the situation in the rest of the world,” the group said in a statement. In particular, it masks the decline of media freedoms in other Asian countries, as well as the growing threat of “press freedom predators” in the region, such as China and North Korea.

“In this area, the situation reflects the global situation that prevails in the 2017 RSF World Press Freedom Index: a world in which strongmen are on the rise and attacks on the media have become commonplace, even in democracies,” the group said.

The Paris-based organization (also known internationally by its French name, Reporters sans Frontières, or RSF) pointed to China exerting economic and political pressure to influence Taiwanese media. Taiwan is a self-governing democratic island that China considers part of its territory, and Beijing is extremely sensitive to questions about Taiwan’s status.

It is not unusual for some Taiwanese media outlets to take stances that echo Chinese Communist Party propaganda, Taipei RSF bureau director Cédric Alviani told The Washington Post by phone Wednesday, which the United Nations has declared World Press Freedom Day.

“In Taiwan, the Taiwanese tycoons also have their own businesses in China,” Alviani said. “It’s easy for China to put pressure on the business executives and say, ‘Okay, you have to be nice with the media you own. We want you to cover the story this way or we don’t want you to mention that.’ ”

Alviani also pointed to Apple TV recently allegedly blocking a satirical comedy show that is critical of the Chinese government — ironically titled “China Uncensored” — not only in mainland China but also in Hong Kong and Taiwan, which are not subject to Chinese law. Reporters Without Borders last month condemned the tech company’s move as setting a dangerous precedent for “international corporate submission to the demands of Chinese censorship.”

“This kind of self-censorship is much more serious than the one a single reporter would apply to himself,” Alviani said.

Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told The Post “there was a couple day period” when the show was not available in Taiwan and Hong Kong but that it has since been made accessible there.

Despite the obstacles, Taiwan continues to hold the highest rank for press freedom among Asian countries, followed by South Korea (at 63rd place) and Mongolia (69th), according to this year’s index. Coverage of political scandals in South Korea — which led to the impeachment and ouster of Park Geun-hye this year — proved that the media there maintained its independence, the group said.

“However, the public debate about relations with North Korea, one of the main national issues, is hampered by a national security law under which any article or broadcast ‘favourable’ to North Korea is punishable by imprisonment,” the group pointed out.

It was Taiwan’s relative freedom that led Reporters Without Borders to decide this year to open its first Asia bureau in Taipei, rather than in Hong Kong or elsewhere in Asia.

Hong Kong dropped four places on the World Press Freedom Index from 2016, coming in at 73rd this year. Media there continue to face challenges when covering stories that are critical of mainland China, and reporters have faced physical intimidation and oppression.

“This is the kind of thing that made us think twice, because if we open an office in Hong Kong, our communications and safety might not be ensured,” Alviani said. “To open an original bureau, you need to find a place that is stable, a place where you could foresee what is happening in coming years.”

Alviani said that RSF journalists have been reporting from Taipei since last month, in a sort of “soft opening” for the new bureau, and that it will be fully operational in the coming months.

Part of the bureau’s focus will be on the countries that hold “many of the worst kinds of records” for media freedom in the Asia-Pacific region, including:

  • The world’s biggest prisons for journalists and bloggers: China (176th) and Vietnam (175th).
  • Most dangerous countries for journalists: Pakistan (139th), the Philippines (127th) and Bangladesh (146th).
  • Second-biggest number of “press freedom predators” at the head of the world’s worst dictatorships: Laos (170th), China (176th) and North Korea (180th).

The group called out Chinese President Xi Jinping as “the planet’s leading censor and press freedom predator” and one of the biggest reasons China ranks 176th among 180 countries on this year’s index. Only Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea are ranked lower.

On Wednesday, World Press Freedom Day, China further clamped down on the media, issuing regulations that go into effect June 1, according to Reuters.

The rules “apply to all political, economic, military, or diplomatic reports or opinion articles on blogs, websites, forums, search engines, instant messaging apps and all other platforms that select or edit news and information,” Reuters reported. “All such platforms must have editorial staff who are approved by the national or local government Internet and information offices, while their workers must get training and reporting credentials from the central government.”

The Chinese government’s censorship and restrictions on media and the Internet, combined with its growing economic and political power, have the potential to affect other countries and private companies, Alviani said.

“China’s philosophy is more like everyone is free to do whatever they want to report — but within a certain limit, and this limit is never very clear,” he said. “In philosophical terms, freedom has to be unconditional. If you’re free within certain limits, you are not free.”

The Washington Post Hosts Reporters Without Borders 2017 World Press Freedom Index

 

Play Video67:57
The Washington Post and Reporters Without Borders held a conversation on freedom of press around the world. The program featured a presentation of the 2017 World Press Freedom Index followed by a conversation with Tom Malinowski, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and journalists from Syria, Turkey and Canada, moderated by The Post’s Dana Priest. (Washington Post Live)

Read more:

Washington Post, Gay Marriage & Taiwan Christians

 

April 25, 2017

Washington Post, Gay Marriage & Taiwan Christians

Christians comprise less than 5% of Taiwan. But, according to a recent Washington Post story that read more like a commentary, they are the main obstacle to Taiwan’s becoming Asia’s first country to ratify same sex marriage.

The story fulsomely quoted Taiwanese advocates of gay marriage, but the reporter evidently either didn’t interview any opponents or didn’t find their comments sufficiently interesting to include. These unnamed opponents are instead dismissively paraphrased, accused of making claims “contrary to evidence,” at least in the reporter’s view. Supposedly they resort to “homophobic tropes” and pander to “parental fear.”

On Twitter, the reporter responded to congratulations for her slant with: “Trying my best not to report bigotry as fact.” So the views of several billion people in the world, possibly the majority of humanity, apparently don’t merit serious treatment if they clash with Western elite political correctness.

 

Meanwhile, unnamed church groups are ominously described as “well-funded” without saying by whom. Public comments by Taiwan’s justice minister opposing judicial redefinition of marriage are cited mockingly.

That justice minister belongs to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, elected to power last year led by a presidential candidate supporting gay marriage. The government seems to prefer redefining marriage through legislation rather than judicial fiat. Such legislation has been stalled due to apparently growing opposition. Unmentioned directly in the Post article, there is a multi faith coalition opposing this legislation, which includes Christians but also Buddhists and Taoists, who respectively each represent about one third of Taiwan’s population. Taiwan’s Christians are deemed “homophobic” but the more numerous religious groups are not cited.

Catholics comprise about half of Taiwan’s Christians. Their bishops have published a lengthy pastoral letter explaining why Catholic doctrine opposes same sex marriage. You can read it here. Presbyterians are the largest Protestant denomination, and although they are politically on the left and often aligned with the Democratic Progressive Party, their General Assembly has opposed same sex marriage with its own pastoral letter.

The Post article offers quotes denying allegations that same sex marriage is a Western imposition on Taiwan. Supposedly Taiwan’s sexual openness is due to its history of free spirited seafarers and their “seafaring gods.” Asian history is full of seafarers and traditional seafaring gods, on which Taiwan has no monopoly. Same sex marriage, especially conceived as a “right,” is a uniquely Western creation.

Same sex marriage as a right is also ironically a legacy of Western Christianity, especially Protestantism, with its stress on equality and individualism. Egalitarianism of persons has led to egalitarianism of sex. Taiwan is being asked to accept the social mores of Scandinavia, Holland and New England, where secularized Protestantism reigns.

And Taiwan is partly receptive, unlike the rest of Asia, because it is so Westernized. The Post article asserts same sex marriage is the logical legacy of Taiwan’s struggle against dictatorship. There’s more to the story. After losing Mainland China, Chiang Kai-shek created one party rule under his Kuomintang. But it fostered capitalism and close ties with the West, especially America. Democracy’s advent in the 1980s was the unintended but predictable result.

Taiwan because of its unique political status is arguably the least Asian of Asian countries. More than other Asian countries, it is experiencing a battle between Western individualism and traditional Asian mores centered on family. My guess is that many Taiwanese same sex marriage proponents are themselves from Protestant backgrounds and have secularized their understanding of human rights to include marriage and gender redefinition, like many in North America and Western Europe.

Here’s a postscript. Chiang Kai-shek was Methodist, and Taiwan under the Kuomintang had relative religious freedom while Communist China under Mao tried to destroy Christianity. Yet today Taiwan is at most 5% Christian (with only a few dozen Methodist churches) while Mainland China, where religion still faces restriction, is at least 5%, and some estimate approaching 10%. Under current church growth rates, China in 20 years or so may have more Christians than any other country.

Taiwan’s religious landscape and its debate over same sex marriage are far more complicated and interesting than the Post story, with its editorial caricatures, was able to admit.


Bill O’Reilly is officially out at Fox News

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Bill O’Reilly is officially out at Fox News

Bill O’Reilly let go from Fox News Channel amid sexual harassment claims
 
Bill O’Reilly, longtime host of Fox News’s top-rated show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” will not return to the network. His departure comes after six women alleged he sexually harassed them.(Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)
April 19 at 2:41 PM
Fox News has ended its association with Bill O’Reilly, the combative TV host and commentator who has ruled cable-news ratings for nearly two decades and was the signature figure in the network’s rise as a powerful political player.The conservative-leaning host’s downfall was swift and steep, set in motion less than three weeks ago by revelations of a string of harassment complaints against him. The questions about his conduct represented yet another black eye to Fox, which had dealt with a sexual harassment scandal involving its co-founder and then-chairman Roger Ailes, just last summer.

“After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” 21st Century Fox, the news channel’s parent company, said in a statement Wednesday.

After Ailes’s departure, Fox and 21st Century Fox — both controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his family — had vowed then to clean up an apparent culture of harassment at the news network. Instead, the allegations kept coming — against Ailes, O’Reilly and some of the remaining senior executives that Ailes had hired.

Fox has also lost popular hosts Greta Van Susteren and Megyn Kelly since the turmoil began last summer. The network, however, continued to roll in record ratings, driven in part by viewer interest in Donald Trump, a longtime friend of Ailes, Murdoch and O’Reilly and a frequent interview guest for years.

The loss of O’Reilly, however, is of a different magnitude: His program, “The O’Reilly Factor,” has been the network’s flagship show for nearly 20 years, and in many ways has embodied its conservative-oriented spirit.

It was just last month that Fox re-signed O’Reilly to a multimillion-dollar, three-year contract, fully aware of the long history of complaints against him.

He still seemed to be at the peak of his popularity and prestige only three weeks ago. His 8 p.m. program, which mixes discussion segments with O’Reilly’s pugnacious commentary, drew an average of 4 million viewers each night during the first three months of the year, the most ever for a cable-news program. His popularity, in turn, helped drive Fox News to record ratings and profits. O’Reilly was also the co-author of two books that were at the top of the bestseller lists in April.

But the fuse was lit for his career detonation when the New York Times disclosed that O’Reilly and Fox had settled a series of harassment complaints lodged against him by women he’d worked with at Fox over the years.

The newspaper found that O’Reilly and Fox had settled five such allegations since 2002, paying out some $13 million in exchange for the women’s silence. Two of the settlements, including one for $9 million in 2004, were widely reported. But the others had been kept secret by O’Reilly, Fox and the women involved.

In addition, a sixth woman, a former “O’Reilly Factor” guest named Wendy Walsh, alleged that O’Reilly had harassed her in 2013. Although Walsh never sued or sought compensation, she spoke against him in public, drawing more negative attention to Fox and O’Reilly over the past few weeks. A seventh, still anonymous woman filed a complaint with the company on Tuesday, alleging that he made disparaging racial and sexual remarks to her while she was employed at Fox in 2008.

O’Reilly has never acknowledged that he harassed anyone. In his only public statement about the matter in early April, he said his fame made him a target of lawsuits and that he settled the harassment claims against him to spare his children negative publicity.

After the revelations, Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, were forced to decide whether the economic and reputational fallout from the O’Reilly scandal was irreversible.

O’Reilly had previously survived several controversies during his 21 years at Fox, including a lurid sexual harassment case in 2004 that was fodder for New York’s tabloid newspapers. He also beat back a wave of headlines in 2015, when reporters examined his claims about his days as a young reporter and found them to be dubious. All the while, O’Reilly’s audience not only stuck with him, but continued to grow.

But this time, the intense media coverage surrounding O’Reilly led to a stampede of advertisers away from O’Reilly’s program, leaving it almost without sponsorship over the past two weeks. Various organizations, including the National Organization for Women, called for O’Reilly’s firing, and intermittent protests began outside Fox News’s headquarters in New York. Morale among employees at the network reportedly was suffering, too.

The Murdochs also had more than just O’Reilly’s TV career to consider: The O’Reilly controversy was casting a shadow over 21st Century’s $14 billion bid to win the British government’s approval to buy Sky TV, the British satellite service. Leaving O’Reilly in place would likely have been a public-relations nightmare for James and Lachlan Murdoch, the sons who head 21st Century Fox, Fox News’s parent.

The Murdoch family abandoned a 2011 offer for Sky amid another scandal, the phone-hacking conspiracy perpetrated by employees of the Murdoch-owned News of the World tabloid in London. A parliamentary panel later declared Rupert and James Murdoch to be “unfit” to run a public company — a description they hoped would not be revived by regulators with the O’Reilly matter hanging over them.

In the wake of the Ailes scandal last summer, the Murdoch brothers vowed to clean up a workplace environment that women at Fox had described as hostile under Ailes. In one of their few public statements on the matter, they said at the time, “We continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect.”

But those efforts have seemed unavailing, and at times have even seemed hypocritical. Since the Ailes scandal, the company has continued to employ almost all of the senior managers who were in charge when Ailes was allegedly harassing employees, including Bill Shine, currently Fox’s co-president. Shine was accused of enabling Ailes’s retaliatory efforts against an accuser, Fox contributor Julie Roginsky, in a sexual-harrassment lawsuit Roginsky filed earlier this month.

The external and internal pressure left the Murdochs with a dilemma: Keep the networks’ most valuable asset and hope to ride out the storm around him, or cut him loose and end the drama.

In the end, even an endorsement from President Trump could not save O’Reilly: In an interview with Times reporters on April 5, Trump called O’Reilly “a good person” and said he should not have settled the complaints made against him. “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong,” Trump said.

Fox said that Tucker Carlson, host of a discussion program now airing at 9 p.m., will take over O’Reilly’s 8 p.m. time slot. “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” in turn, will be replaced at 9 p.m. by Fox’s 5 p.m. show, “The Five,” starting on Monday. “The O’Reilly Factor” will continue for the remainder of the week, with guest hosts Dana Perino and Greg Gutfeld. Martha MacCallum and Sean Hannity will remain in their current spots at 7 p.m and 10 p.m., respectively, and the 5 p.m. hour will be occupied by a new show, hosted by Eric Bolling, starting May 1.

Facebook murder suspect killed himself after police pursuit in Pennsylvania

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

‘We have our closure’: Facebook murder suspect killed himself after police pursuit in Pennsylvania

April 18 at 4:10 PM

Pennsylvania police detail final hours of manhunt for Facebook murder suspect

 

 
Steve Stephens, the man who posted a video of himself on Facebook shooting an elderly man in Cleveland, was found dead by Pennsylvania State Police on April 18. (Reuters)

The man suspected of fatally shooting a 74-year-old, randomly selected target and posting a video of the killing on Facebook committed suicide as police were closing in on him Tuesday, authorities said.

Steve W. Stephens — the subject of a nationwide manhunt after Sunday’s horrific slaying in Cleveland reignited a debate about violence in the Internet age — was spotted late Tuesday morning at a McDonald’s in Erie County, Pa.

A restaurant manager told the New York Times that drive-through employees recognized Stephens, phoned police and tried to delay him by holding up his french fries.

“He just took his nuggets and said, ‘I have to go,’” the manager said.

Pennsylvania State Police said they chased him from the McDonald’s for about two miles, finally ramming his car.

“As the vehicle was spinning out of control … Stephens pulled a pistol and shot himself in the head,” police said in a statement.

Thus ended a desperate, rapidly expanding search that began Sunday — when a video on Stephens’s Facebook page appeared to show him gunning down Robert Godwin Sr. for no apparent reason.

“We have our closure,” Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson said at a news conference in Ohio.

But Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams probably spoke for many when he said moments later: “We have so many questions.”

Godwin was killed on Easter, as he walked alone down a residential road in east Cleveland, carrying a grocery bag.

He was reportedly collecting aluminum cans, though his family told CNN that he was walking home from a holiday meal when Stephens — 6-foot-1 and 224 pounds, according to police — approached with a cellphone camera.

“I found somebody I’m about to kill,” Stephens said in the live video. “He’s an old dude.”

There was little in Stephens’s history, as told by those who knew him, to suggest the violence he was about to document.

He had no criminal history. He had worked for many years at a children’s behavioral center in Ohio, where he had no red flags in his personnel file, according to the Erie Times-News.

A neighbor told CNN that he often stayed with his girlfriend and her children in a house outside Cleveland and that he was there two days before the killing, fixing the garage.

But Stephens’s mother told CNN that he’d bid her a cryptic farewell that weekend. He’d said that he was “mad at his girlfriend” and — in a phone call shortly before the killing — that he was “shooting people.”

Authorities say Stephens had never met Godwin before he pulled his Ford Fusion up beside him about 2 p.m.

Stephens approached Godwin. “Can you do me a favor?” Stephens said, as seen in the video. He asked Godwin to say the name “Joy Lane.”

“Joy Lane?” Godwin responded.

“Yeah,” Stephens said. “She’s the reason why this is about to happen to you.”

Stephens then asked Godwin how old he was, raised a gun into the frame and pulled the trigger.

The camera spun around; when the picture came back into focus, Godwin was on the ground.

In the video, Stephens claimed to have killed more than a dozen people. Police said they have not confirmed any other deaths.

Williams, the police chief, said Tuesday that the case started with one tragedy and ended with another, about 100 miles from the street in Cleveland where Godwin died. “A loss of life is a loss of life,” the chief said.

Stephens posted a subsequent video — on his cellphone, telling someone to go online to watch the footage.

“I can’t talk to you right now. I f‑‑‑‑‑ up, man,” he says.

“I shamed myself,” he adds in the video, posted by Cleveland.com. “I snapped. Dog, I just snapped, dog. I just snapped. I just killed 13 motherf‑‑‑‑‑‑, man. That’s what I did — I killed 13 people. And I’m about to keep killing until they catch me, f‑‑‑ it. … I’m working on 14 as we speak.”

“She put me at my pushing point, man,” Stephens says, speaking of Lane, laughing and calling it the “Easter Sunday Joy Lane massacre.”

CBS News reported that it communicated with Lane via text message.

“We had been in a relationship for several years,” she wrote, according to the network. “I am sorry that all of this has happened. My heart & prayers goes out to the family members of the victim(s). Steve really is a nice guy … he is generous with everyone he knows. He was kind and loving to me and my children.”

The case prompted Facebook to review how quickly and easily its users can report material that violates standards.

“We have more to do here, and we’re reminded of this this week by the tragedy in Cleveland,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a developer conference Tuesday. “We will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening;”

Three men were shot last year in Norfolk while one was broadcasting live on Facebook from inside a car. And in 2015, a shooter killed a TV journalist and her cameraman during a live television broadcast before posting his own video of the killing on Facebook.

In January, four people in Chicago were accused of attacking an 18-year-old disabled man while broadcasting the assault on Facebook Live. They have since pleaded not guilty.

Other live platforms have been used to broadcast similar videos.

Facebook said it suspended Stephens’s account minutes after learning of the gruesome video.

But it had circulated for hours by then, horrifying countless people.

“This is something that should not have been shared around the world. Period,” Cleveland’s police chief said.

On Monday, in a tearful interview on CNN, Godwin’s relatives said they forgave Stephens.

“The thing I would take away most from our father is that he taught us about God: how to fear God, how to love God and how to forgive,” Tonya Godwin-Baines, the victim’s daughter, said on CNN.

And so, she said, “each one of us forgives the killer, the murderer. We want to wrap our arms around him.”

Authorities just wanted to find him.

 

Authorities issued an arrest warrant on a charge of aggravated murder, put him on the FBI most-wanted listed, and offered up to $50,000 for information leading to his arrest — while warning that he was “armed and dangerous.”

Williams said authorities had contact with Stephens via cellphone early in the investigation, but his last known location was the site where Godwin was killed.

“I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason for what happened,” the police chief told reporters Monday. “I don’t think there’s anything we can point to specifically to say that this is what sparked this. Only Steve knows that.”

Hundreds of reports of possible sightings started to pour in from across the country — most of them inaccurate.

Early Tuesday, someone called police to report that he thought he had seen Stephens at a hotel in Washington, but a police spokesman there said authorities quickly determined that the person was not the man being sought.

On Tuesday morning, FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson said Stephens could be anywhere.

“You’re going to see law enforcement activity who knows where,” she told The Washington Post.

It’s not clear what brought Stephens to Erie County. Police described the area as remote, rural and full of potential hiding places.

Cleveland.com reported that he’d posted to Facebook about extensive gambling losses at a casino nearby, and police told CNN that he was a regular patron.

In any case, Pennsylvania State Police were on the trail of his Ford Fusion by 11 a.m., after getting the tip from the McDonald’s.

They scoured the area for the “Facebook Killer” and chased his car for about two miles — before causing it to crash across the street from a former elementary school, according to the Erie Times-News.

“As the officers approached that vehicle, Steve Stephens took his own life,” Williams said.

“We would like to have brought in Steven peacefully and really talk to him and find out why this happened,” he said.

Not everyone thought so.

“All I can say is that I wish he had gone down in a hail of 100 bullets,” Godwin’s daughter Brenda Haymon told CNN.

Drew Harwell, Travis M. Andrews and Fred Barbash contributed to this report, which has been updated numerous times. An earlier version incorrectly identified the suspect’s license plate as well as the year Facebook launched its live-streaming feature.

Egypt frees U.S. charity worker held for three years in pretrial detention

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK POST)

Egypt frees U.S. charity worker held for three years in pretrial detention

April 16 at 11:19 AM
An Egyptian court on Saturday acquitted a U.S. charity worker who had spent almost three years in pretrial detention for her work with a charity helping street children.Police arrested Aya Hijazi, her husband and six others in May 2014 on charges of abusing children in her care and engaging in human trafficking, kidnapping, sexual exploitation and torture.

Human rights groups said the charges were fabricated. Her detention came as part of a broader crackdown that has neutered independent civil society in Egypt.

The acquittal comes about two weeks after President Trump met Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi in Washington, the strongman’s first visit to the United States since he came to power in a 2013 military coup.

On Saturday, the Cairo Criminal Court dropped all charges against Hijazi and her co-defendants and ordered their release. As Judge Mohamed el-Feqqi read his verdict aloud, the courtroom erupted. Dressed in white prison uniforms, Hijazi and her husband, Mohammed Hassanein, embraced inside the defendants’ cage as friends and family cried, cheered and chanted for joy.

“They were singing, ‘The sun of freedom has risen,’ ” said Tarek Hussein, an activist who attended the hearing.

Hijazi, an Egyptian American, and Hassanein, an Egyptian citizen, are co-founders of the Belady Foundation, which provided services for Cairo street children. Police raided the organization’s premises in May 2014, also detaining a cook, an artist who shared the premises and the children present at the time.

A forensic report by the public prosecutor later found no evidence that any of the foundation’s children had been sexually abused.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and several U.S. lawmakers have spoked out about the case.

Lawyers said Saturday that the state’s witnesses had offered contradictory and inadequate evidence against the defendants. “Even the child and his mother testified at court in defense of Aya and the others,” said Taher Abol Nasr, Hijazi’s attorney.

Tens of thousands of Egyptians have been detained or forcibly disappeared by security forces since Sissi led a putsch against Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in summer 2013.

State officials depict the crackdown as part of a war against Islamist extremists who threaten to destroy the country. Human rights groups and activists say the dragnet has extended to dissidents of all political persuasions.

The Trump administration has proposed massive cuts to U.S. foreign aid, but the White House has said it expects that the $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid to Egypt will continue.

“You have a great friend and ally in the United States and in me,” Trump told Sissi during their meeting at the Oval Office.

Non-governmental organizations in Egypt have faced growing pressure since late 2011, when authorities raided 17 pro-democracy and rights groups, accusing them of joining an international conspiracy against Egypt.

During Sissi’s presidency, that pressure has accelerated, and representatives of many of the country’s leading human rights groups have been arrested, subjected to travel bans or had their assets frozen.

“Aya Hijazi, her husband, and their colleagues are finally free, but the system that subjected them to a travesty of justice for nearly three years remains unchanged,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Shouting above the din from his courtroom cage Saturday, Hassanein vowed to continue their charity work. “We promised the children they won’t return to the streets again, and this promise was hindered for three years. We will return and meet that promise,” he said.

Loveluck reported from Beirut.

21 Year Old Female British Student Stabbed To Death In Jerusalem

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

A British exchange student was fatally stabbed Friday by a Palestinian attacker just steps from Jerusalem’s Old City, where thousands of Jews and Christians gathered for religious holidays at one of the busiest times of the year, officials said.

Thousands of people filled parts of the ancient city: Jews to celebrate Passover, which ends Monday in Israel; and Christian pilgrims for Good Friday. The attack took place inside a car of the city’s light-rail train near the entrance to the Old City’s Christian Quarter.

The woman identified as Hannah Bladon, 21, was treated for stab wounds in a hospital and later died, police said.

Bladon was an exchange student from the University of Birmingham in Britain, and she arrived in Israel in January to spend a semester at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the latter said in a statement.

Israel’s Shin Bet security agency named the suspected attacker as 57-year-old Jamal Tamimi from East Jerusalem, a mostly Arab area. They said he had mental health issues and had attempted suicide this year while hospitalized. Tamimi was arrested at the scene, the report said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared the attack to other violent acts around the world in recent weeks. “Radical Islam strikes at the capitals of the world and, unfortunately, terrorism has hit the capital of Israel — Jerusalem,” he wrote on Facebook.

Israel considers Jerusalem its united capital, and all of its official offices are based there. Palestinians want part of Jerusalem as the capital of any future state.

Friday’s killing is the latest in a spate of stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks by Palestinians over the past 18 months.

Israel has been accused internationally of being too heavy-handed in response to the attacks, which have left nearly 50 Israelis and more than 200 Palestinians dead. Israel says most of the Palestinians killed were attempting to carry out attacks against Israeli civilians, soldiers or police officers.

The targeted stabbings and other attacks started in October 2015 with almost daily assaults. Incidents slowed in mid-2016 and, with Israeli forces stepping up their response, fatal attacks are now rare.

The violence contrasts with the first and second intifadas of the 1980s and 2000s, which were centrally organized and included mass unrest.

China Issues Stern Warning To the U.S. And North Korea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

April 14 
China issued a stern warning Friday to both the United States and North Korea, urging them not to push their recriminations to a point of no return and allow war to break out on the Korean Peninsula.In comments carried by China’s official Xinhua news agency, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said “storm clouds” were gathering, an apparent reference to North Korean preparations to conduct a new nuclear test and the United States’ deployment of a naval strike force to the waters off the peninsula. In addition, the U.S. military has been conducting large-scale military exercises with South Korean forces, drills that the North considers provocative.

“The United States and South Korea and North Korea are engaging in tit for tat, with swords drawn and bows bent,” Wang said at a news conference after a meeting with visiting French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Xinhua reported. “We urge all parties to refrain from inflammatory or threatening statements or deeds to prevent irreversible damage to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.”

If they allow war to break out on the peninsula, they must bear the historical responsibility and “pay the corresponding price,” Wang warned. In the event of war, “multiple parties will lose, and no one will win,” he said. “It is not the one who espouses hasher rhetoric or raises a bigger fist that will win.”

Wang also indicated that China is willing to broker a resumption of “dialogue,” whether it be “official or unofficial, through one channel or dual channels, bilateral or multilateral.”

Trump says good trade with China hinges on help with North Korea

 

Play Video1:32
President Trump spoke highly of Chinese President Xi during a press conference at the White House on April 12, but avoided commenting directly on the decision not to label China a currency manipulator. “We’re going to see,” he said when asked if a deal was struck. (White House)

Earlier Friday, North Korea accused President Trump of “making trouble” with his “aggressive” tweets, amid concerns that tensions between the two countries could escalate into military action.

And the North Korean army threatened to annihilate U.S. military bases in South Korea and the presidential palace in Seoul in response to what it called Trump’s “maniacal military provocations.”

Tensions have been steadily mounting in recent weeks, as North Korea prepares for what it is calling a “big” event to mark the anniversary of the founder’s birthday Saturday, while the Trump administration warns that all options are on the table.

Expectations for a nuclear test or missile launch in the lead-up to Saturday’s celebrations in Pyongyang have not come to pass. Instead, there are signs that the regime is getting ready to hold a huge parade this weekend, perhaps showing off new missiles — something that would qualify as the “big” event it had heralded.

The United States has sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the Korean Peninsula region, and Trump has repeatedly tweeted that if China will not use its leverage to rein in North Korea, the United States will act.

Vice President Pence arrives in Seoul on Sunday on the first leg of an Asia tour, and he will doubtless underscore Washington’s strong alliances with South Korea and Japan and their determination to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

But North Korea’s vice foreign minister said Trump was “becoming more vicious and more aggressive” than previous presidents, which was only making matters worse.

“Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words,” Han Song Ryol told the Associated Press in an interview in Pyongyang. “So that’s why. It’s not the DPRK but the U.S. and Trump that makes trouble,” he said, using the abbreviation for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as North Korea is officially known.

Han also repeated the regime’s common refrain that North Korea is ready to act to defend itself.

“We’ve got a powerful nuclear deterrent already in our hands, and we certainly will not keep our arms crossed in the face of a U.S. preemptive strike,” Han told the AP.

As for when the next nuclear test would take place, “that is something that our headquarters decides,” he said.

His message chimed with a statement Friday from North Korea’s Institute for Disarmament and Peace that it was the United States pushing the Korean Peninsula, “the world’s biggest hotspot,” to the brink of war by bringing back a naval strike group.

“This has created a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out any moment on the peninsula and pose a serious threat to the world’s peace and security,” the statement said.

North Korea has a habit of fueling tensions to increase the rewards it might extract from the outside world if it desists. Previously, North Korea has agreed to return to denuclearization talks in return for aid or the easing of sanctions.

Trump is tearing up that old playbook, analysts said.

“This approach to North Korea is relatively new,” said James Kim of the Asan Institute of Policy Studies in Seoul. “The approach in the past has been very calculated.”

That has gone out the window with talk about military options, he said. “We always knew all these options were there, but no one was bold enough to go down that path. It’s a new approach.”

Some in Beijing are noting the difference, too.

“It should be noted that there is a personality difference between Trump and Obama,” the Global Times newspaper wrote Friday. The paper does not speak for the Chinese government on policy but often reflects a strain of thinking within the Communist Party.

“Trump is also willing to show he is different. Bombing Syria helps him to show that,” it continued, while noting that he was far from “revolutionary” because he dispatched only missiles, not troops.

But North Korea could prove different if it calls Trump’s bluff and conducts another nuclear test, the paper said. “Trump just took the office; if he loses to Pyongyang, he would feel like he had lost some prestige.”

Right now, Trump has some cards to play, said Kim of the Asan Institute.

“He might say: ‘If you want one less battleship in the region, what are you going to give me?’” he said, in a reversal from the usual situation in which North Korea asks what it can get from its adversaries in return for changing its behavior.

Amid these tensions, reports of impending military action have been swirling.

NBC News, citing intelligence officials, reported Thursday that the United States was ready to launch a preemptive strike if North Korea appeared to be about to conduct a nuclear test.

But a defense official said this was “speculative,” and analysts said they highly doubted that Washington would take such action, describing a situation in which tougher sanctions and more rigorous implementation remained the best remedy.

Trump’s tweets and his conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping seem designed to push Beijing to crack down on North Korea, and there have been some indications that China is getting tougher on its errant neighbor.

China banned coal imports from North Korea in mid-February — potentially cutting off an economic lifeline — and Chinese customs data released Thursday showed a 52 percent drop in imports in the first three months of this year, compared with the same period last year.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government is taking precautions of its own.

Trump Officials Demand That Russia (Putin) Stop Supporting Mass Murderer Assad

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Officials in the Trump administration on Sunday demanded that Russia stop supporting the Syrian government or face a further deterioration in its relations with the United States.

Signaling the focus of talks that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to have in Moscow this week, officials said that Russia, in propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, bears at least partial responsibility for Wednesday’s chemical attack on villagers in Idlib province.

“I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad, because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility,” Tillerson said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Although officials acknowledged that they have seen no evidence directly linking Russia to the attacks, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that Russia should be pressed to answer what it knew ahead of the chemical attack since it has positioned warplanes and air defense systems with associated troops in Syria since 2015.

“I think what we should do is ask Russia, how could it be, if you have advisers at that airfield, that you didn’t know that the Syrian air force was preparing and executing a mass murder attack with chemical weapons?” McMaster said on Fox News.

The timing of the comments, with Tillerson heading soon to Moscow, signaled the administration’s intent to pressure Russia to step away from Assad, who is supported by the Kremlin with military aid and diplomatic cover.

The fallout from the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians, plus the U.S. missile strike that came in retaliation for it, adds strain to a rocky relationship that is at its lowest point in decades. A host of issues are responsible, topped by Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and Moscow’s support for separatists in Ukraine, and have prompted U.S. and European sanctions. These topics have now been overshadowed by last week’s missile strike.

The Russians had hoped that relations with the United States might improve under President Trump, who expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign. Tillerson’s nomination and ­confirmation as secretary of state also raised prospects. given the former ExxonMobil executive’s experience negotiating a major deal with Rosneft, the state-controlled oil giant.

But 11 weeks into Trump’s presidency, expectations have been substantially lowered.

“This is a big cold shower,” said Samuel Charap, a Russia analyst with the Rand Corp. “Even if behind closed doors they might engage on other issues in a more pragmatic manner, the public posture is going to be one of emphasizing how they disagree about [Syria]. Putin is not going to want to be seen as chummy with the U.S. secretary of state.”

On Sunday, both Tillerson and Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, cast doubts on Assad’s legitimacy as Syria’s leader. Haley said that eventually the unrest in Syria cannot end if Assad remains in power.

“In no way do we see peace in that area with Russia covering up for Assad,” Haley said. “And in no way do we see peace in that area with Assad at the head of the Syrian government.”

Tillerson noted other instances when Syrian forces deployed chemical weapons, and other attacks on civilians involving barrel bombs and conventional weapons.

“I think the issue of how Bashar al-Assad’s leadership is sustained, or how he departs, is something that we’ll be working [on] with allies and others in the coalition,” said Tillerson, who after weeks of keeping a low profile was making his debut on the Sunday morning talk shows. “But I think with each of those actions, he really undermines his own legitimacy.”

Neither suggested that Assad’s demise was imminent.

“Once the ISIS threat has been reduced or eliminated, I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilizing the situation in Syria,” Tillerson said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” using an acronym to refer to the Islamic State militant group.

The U.S. missile strike in Syria carries the implicit threat of a larger U.S. role in the conflict. Tillerson said Sunday that the strike functioned as a warning to any country acting outside of international norms, in an apparent reference to North Korea.

“At least in the short run, it will further complicate efforts to improve the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship, which seemed to be Tillerson’s objective in going to Moscow,” said Jeffrey Mankoff, a Russia analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “In the longer term, the threat of further U.S. intervention is a card that the U.S. can play to get the Russians to tighten the screws on Assad — on both the chemical weapons and possibly on accepting a political deal with the opposition.”

Tillerson departed around dawn Sunday for Italy to attend a meeting of the G-7 nations, a bloc of industrialized democracies. He is due to arrive late Tuesday in Russia for his first visit as secretary of state.

He and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are scheduled to meet, but it is not known if the secretary of state will also speak with Putin, who personally bestowed the Order of Friendship on Tillerson in 2012.

Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said the Russians still hold out hope for a breakthrough, but that depends on whether Putin and Trump hit it off, not on anything Tillerson and Lavrov say.

“Things will only happen as a result of direct personal, sustained contact between Putin and Trump,” McFaul said. “That’s the way things work with Putin.”

But closer ties with Russia also carry political risks for Trump. Should the Trump administration ease sanctions ­imposed over Ukraine, for instance, critics would label it payback for Russia’s ­pre-election hacks targeting Democrats.

Several analysts said that Assad has humiliated Putin by using chemical weapons despite Russia’s guarantee that Syria’s stockpiles would be whisked away. Moscow’s interest in getting sanctions eased is greater than its loyalty to Assad. And that could provide maneuvering room for Tillerson.

That appears to be Tillerson’s calculation, too.

“I do not believe that the Russians want to have worsening relationships with the U.S.,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But it’s going to take a lot of discussion and a lot of dialogue to better understand what is the relationship that Russia wishes to have with the U.S.”

Mike DeBonis and Abby Philip contributed to this report.

Trump Officials Defend Syria Strikes

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Trump officials defend Syria strikes, say they were in ‘vital national interest’

Haley: U.S. airstrikes on Syria were a ‘very measured step’
 
 
At the United Nations on April 7, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley defended America’s actions in Syria, whereas ambassadors from Syria and Russia called the airstrikes “aggression,” and urged the U.S. to seek a political solution to Syria’s civil war. (Reuters)
April 7 at 4:53 PM
The Trump administration on Friday defended its strikes against Syrian military targets overnight, while Russia and Syria slammed the attacks and warned they would provoke more terrorism and instability in the region.From the United Nations to Capitol Hill to the Pentagon, U.S. officials said the attacks were justified in targeting the Shayrat air base that was used to launch a chemical weapons attack that killed scores of men, women and children in Syria’s Idlib province Tuesday.

“It is in our vital national interest to prevent the use and spread of chemical weapons,” the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, told the U.N. Security Council during a special meeting on the strikes. She added that she had warned the council on Wednesday that the United States might act alone.

“Assad did this because he thought he could get away with it,” Haley said of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “He thought he could get away with it because he knew Russia would have his back. That changed last night.”

But Russia condemned the strikes against its ally in Damascus and said it was suspending an agreement to minimize the risk of in-flight incidents between U.S. and Russian aircraft operating over Syria.

President Vladi­mir Putin’s spokesman said the risk of confrontation between warplanes of the U.S.-led coalition and Russia in the skies over Syria has “significantly increased” after President Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Shayrat in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed more than 70 civilians.

U.S. military officials said they warned the Russians in advance that they were not the target of the missile attacks launched early Friday from the USS Ross and USS Porter, and that Russian forces did not attempt to use their advanced air-defense systems in Syria to stop the U.S. missiles.

The two countries have traded information about flights by a U.S.-led coalition targeting the Islamic State and Russian planes operating in Syria in support of the Assad government, to avoid accidents and misunderstandings, an effort known as “deconfliction.” The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday it was suspending the pact effective at midnight, because it sees the U.S. strike “as a grave violation of the memorandum.”

U.S. military officials said they continued to communicate with the Russians before the deadline, including after the attack.

“There’s someone who is on the other end who is talking to us,” a senior U.S. military official said Friday.

U.S. launches missile strikes in response to Syrian chemical attack

Washington Post reporter Dan Lamothe explains why President Trump launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian military airfield on April 6 and what this means for the fight against the Islamic State. (Sarah Parnass, Julio Negron/The Washington Post)

But the Kremlin’s decision to suspend the 2015 memorandum of understanding on the air operations immediately ratcheted up tensions further, even as Russian officials hoped the strike against Assad’s forces would not further sour U.S.-Russian relations already in a deep chill.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to visit Moscow next week in what was to be an attempt to reset relations with Moscow and lay out U.S. positions on a variety of issues, including Ukraine and suspected attempts by Russia to meddle in the U.S. presidential election. Now, however, the prospects for the meeting have been overshadowed by the fallout from the strikes, which Russia’s U.N. envoy called an “illegitimate action by the United States.”

“The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious,” Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said during the U.N. Security Council debate.

“The U.S. has often talked about the need to combat international terrorism,” Safronkov added, yet it attacked the Syrian air force, which he claimed is leading that fight in Syria.

“It’s not difficult to imagine how much the spirits of terrorists have been raised by this action from the United States,” he said.

And Syria’s representative, Deputy Ambassador Mounzer Mounzer, called the United States and its allies, Britain and France, “the three colonialists” who, he said, pursue hypocritical ends in the Middle East.

The Russian government and some critics in the United States have questioned whether it is clear that the Syrians launched chemical weapons, rather than the suspected nerve agent being dispersed by other means such as a conventional bomb hitting a chemical storage facility on the ground. But U.S. military officials said they have high confidence that they know what happened.

“We know the routes that the aircraft took, and we know these aircraft were overhead at the time of the attack,” one senior U.S. military official said of the chemical weapons strike Tuesday.

The Pentagon released images Friday that it said showed the blast site where the Syrian bomb carrying a chemical weapon, likely sarin, detonated on Tuesday. Military officials said the staining on the road around the blast site crater is indicative of a chemical weapons attack. It was launched about 6:50 a.m., and a Russian-made aircraft piloted either by Syrians or Russians carried out an airstrike later in the day on a nearby hospital where many of the victims were taken for treatment, military officials said.

Senior U.S. military officials said they are investigating whether the Russian military participated in any recent chemical weapons strikes against civilians in Syria. But the officials said they do not yet have any information suggesting that the Russians did so.

The Syrian regime has increasingly faced pressure from opposition forces and was in danger of losing control of Hama air base in northwestern Syria, the officials said. The installation is believed to be used as both a base for Syrian helicopters and as a manufacturing facility for barrel bombs.

On March 25, a chlorine attack was launched in Hama, and a second chemical weapons attack of an undisclosed kind of gas was launched March 30, one senior U.S. military official said. That escalated to the attack Tuesday, in which the Syrians launched their largest chemical weapons attack since 2013, he said.

“This escalatory pattern of using industrial chemicals, to using suspected chemical munitions, to verified chemical munitions, caused us obviously great concern about the direction this was going,” the official said.

In Congress, lawmakers called for a response to the chemical weapons attack that could include punitive measures against Russia, Assad’s chief sponsor in his war effort.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested Friday that he would look favorably on a proposal to step up sanctions against Russia, Iran and others who support the Assad regime’s war effort in Syria — a measure that passed in the House last year but was never taken up in the Senate.

Putin has been supplying Assad’s army with warplanes and other reinforcements that the United States believes have been used in attacks on Syrian civilians.

But McConnell deferred to the Trump administration as to whether those sanctions would be necessary — unless bipartisan support for such a move in the Senate is considerable.

“If they [the administration] feel they need additional sanctions, or we can come up with something that seems to enjoy bipartisan support, I’d be open to it,” McConnell said. “The Russians are not out friend.”

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