39% of Israelis support annexing the West Bank

Israeli illegal settlements

Israeli illegal settlements [file photo]

A recent survey, conducted by the independent Israeli Rafi Smith Institute, have shown that 39 per cent of Israelis support the annexation of the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

Citing Israeli media sources, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said that 39 per cent of Israelis support the annexation of the large Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank, with a Palestinian state being established in the remaining areas, including East Jerusalem.

The survey showed that only 30 per cent of Israelis support the establishment of a Palestinian state on Palestinian lands that Israel occupied in 1967.

A number of Israeli MKs and ministers announced they are happy with the findings of the survey. Israeli radio reported MKs planned to propose a bill to the Knesset calling for enforcing Israeli law in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Palestinians have been seeking to establish an independent state on Palestinian lands occupied by Israel in 1967.

US Secretary of State John Kerry called on Wednesday for the start of negotiations leading to an implementation of the two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders with a land swap agreement to also be in place.

Since the victory of US President-elect Donald Trump, many Israeli officials have voiced their demands for the annexation of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. This measure had been rejected by the outgoing administration of President Barack Obama.

The director of mapping at the Arab Studies Association, Khalil Tafakji, told Anadolu that there were 131 illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank with about 420,000 Israeli settlers living in them, and 10 large settlements in East Jerusalem with about 220,000 settlers.

In April 2014, Palestinian-Israeli talks stopped after Israel rejected stopping settlement activity and the release of prisoners who spent decades in Israeli jails.

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council passed a landmark resolution condemning Israel’s continued settlement activity and branding it as illegal.

Palestinian #opinion

MEMO Infographic by The White Canvas
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(Source / 31.12.2016)

Civic Bodies & NGOs in Wadi Barada Signal Alarm as Regime & Allies Mass Troops to Attack the Area

Civic institutions and NGOs in Wadi Barada valley northwest of Damascus appealed to the international community and the United Nations to take urgent action to save the lives of over 100,000 civilians trapped in the area.

In a statement released on Saturday, the civic institutions and NGOs in Wadi Barada valley warned against the possibility of massacres against civilians should regime forces and their allied Iranian-backed militias storm the area which has been subjected to constant aerial and artillery bombardment in recent days.

Local activists said that the Assad regime and its allied foreign militias are massing troops near the village of Ashrafiya on the outskirts of the valley in preparation for a large-scale ground attack on the rebel-held of villages of the valley. The regime build-up comes with intense bombardment by heavy artillery and barrel bombs despite the Russian-Turkish brokered ceasefire which took effect on Thursday.

Two barrel bombs and four airstrikes by regime jets hit the valley in the early hours of Saturday, while regime forces and the Hezbollah militia continue to pound the area with heavy artillery. The bombardment has caused complete power outage since it began last week, further increasing the suffering of civilians trapped inside the area. Regime forces have also been blocking the entry of food and medical supplies to the area for over a week.

The statement said that nearly five million people in Damascus and its countryside are facing a threat of water being cut off after regime jets bombed Ayn Alfija water pumping station, putting it out of service. The civic institutions and NGOs said they were ready to allow maintenance teams into the area to repair the facility once the regime bombardment stopped.

(Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Office / 31.12.2016)

On the Road to Raqqa… the ISIS Capital

Graffiti in Tal Saman, Syria, reads ‘‘YPG’’ and ‘‘Raqqa we are coming.’’

Graffiti in Tal Saman, Syria, reads ‘‘YPG’’ and ‘‘Raqqa we are coming’’

TAL SAMAN, Syria — “Raqqa we are coming” say the words spray-painted in Kurdish at the entrance to this empty little town, which lies on the front line of a U.S.-backed advance toward the ISIS capital.

The city of Raqqa is 17 miles away, a tantalizingly short hop to the place showcased in the militants’ propaganda videos as an Islamist utopia, where the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels were planned and where, U.S. officials warn, new plots against the West are being forged.

But a full offensive to retake the city could still be months or more away, despite hopes in Washington that an operation to take the ISIS most symbolically significant stronghold would be well underway before President Obama left office.

A rare visit to the Raqqa front line illustrated how near and yet far off the defeat of ISIS may be. The battle for Mosul in neighboring Iraq has stalled, the attack in Berlin has brought home the continued threat of terrorism, and there is still no plan for an offensive on Raqqa, making the war one of the most immediate, and complicated, challenges the Trump administration will have to confront.

Meanwhile, a preliminary operation to isolate and besiege Raqqa is going well. Over the past month, a Kurdish-Arab alliance called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been slicing briskly through ISIS lines in the northern and western countryside of Raqqa province. The fighters have captured some 140 villages and nearly 800 square miles of mostly empty rural land on two fronts in a just over a month, encountering little resistance along the way.

This is not the battle for Mosul, where large armored formations are converging from different directions. There are more sheep than soldiers scattered across the empty fields. Flocks trot through the landscape herded by boys on donkeys as the lightly armored pickup trucks and SUVs used by the Kurdish and Arab militias weave among them.

Every now and then, American soldiers hurtle past, a reminder that the U.S. military is very much invested in the Raqqa front, however remote it may be. There are around 600 Special Operations troops embedded with the SDF in northeastern Syria, a number that could rise before the battle fully takes shape, U.S. officials say. One of those troops was killed on Nov. 24, the first U.S. casualty of the war in Syria.

He died in Tal Saman, a victim of one of the mines and booby traps that have become the ISIS hallmark defense against advancing foes in Iraq and Syria.

Otherwise, the militants have put up little resistance, firing mortars as the soldiers advance but retreating well before their enemies arrive.

Bigger obstacles loom, however, in the form of a geopolitical tangle that could prove more daunting than any defenses mounted by ISIS.

At the heart of the issue is the U.S. military’s policy of sending arms to the area controlled by the main Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units, widely known as the YPG.

The decision has paid off so far. The YPG — which constitutes the Kurdish component of the SDF — has proved to be the United States’ most effective military ally in Syria, and it has retaken vast swaths of territory. It is also expanding deep into Arab areas as it presses forward against the militants, raising questions among observers about the long-term sustainability of the gains.

The cooperation has, moreover, provoked the ire of Turkey, because of the YPG’s long-standing ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington. Turkey is waging its own offensive against ISIS in nearby Aleppo province but has hinted it may soon turn on the SDF alliance and perhaps then make its own push for the ISIS capital.

The Syrian government also opposes the Kurdish expansion and has repeatedly said it plans to retake Raqqa, which it lost control of in 2013. Syria is backed by Russia, which is forging a new alliance with Turkey over Syria, potentially setting the stage for a global clash over who wins the prize goal.

To ameliorate the concerns of NATO ally Turkey, the U.S. military says it is giving arms only to Arab fighters within the umbrella SDF, formed last year to serve as a vehicle for the delivery of military aid. There are 13,000 Arabs now serving with the SDF, alongside 45,000 Kurds with the YPG, according to a U.S. military spokesman, Col. John Dorrian.

But there seems to be little doubt that the YPG is leading the fight. Its flags flutter over the checkpoints along the newly liberated rural roads and at the military bases closest to the front lines. Its graffiti is scrawled over the walls of the captured towns and villages, as in Tal Saman, where the initials “YPG” were spray-painted alongside the pledge to take Raqqa.

The Kurdish-Arab alliance, with U.S. assistance, plans to recruit and train an additional 10,000 Arab fighters for an offensive on Raqqa, said Rojda Felat, one of the commanders of the offensive to encircle the city. But YPG participation will be essential “because we have proved that we are the most effective fighters,” she said.

“We will even go past Raqqa,” she added, to other areas farther south controlled by ISIS, which is also known as ISIL or Daesh.

Whether it is wise to send an overwhelmingly Kurdish force to capture the overwhelmingly Arab city of Raqqa is in question, however. A Kurdish push on Raqqa risks alienating the local population, perhaps encouraging residents who otherwise would not support ISIS to fight on its behalf, according to Abu Issa, a commander with the rebel Free Syrian Army’s Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa, or Raqqa Revolutionaries Brigade.

“We saw in Iraq and other places that if the local people are not involved in the liberation, there won’t be any stability,” he said in an interview at his headquarters, in a remote farmhouse in the countryside of Raqqa province. He and his group are from Raqqa, and though they are loosely allied with the SDF, they fly the flag of the Free Syrian Army.

“All the Arabs know that the SDF are YPG, and if things continue as they are, there will be big problems in the future, sectarian clashes and conflict,” Abu Issa said. “People don’t understand why the YPG are going to Raqqa. It’s an entirely Arab area, and the Arabs feel marginalized.”

Arab residents of the areas recently freed from ISIS control seem mostly just relieved to be rid of the extremists — and to have survived yet another battle, one that has so far proved mercifully brief. The fight has been so easy that there have been few casualties and relatively little damage to the isolated villages dotting the desert landscape.

The YPG fighters conduct what appear to be well-organized evacuations of the villages that lie in the path of the offensive. As people from areas close to the front lines leave, those from villages that have been cleared are allowed to return.

On one recent day, hundreds of people streamed into the destroyed Arab town of Ain Issa from villages well behind ISIS’ lines, in trucks piled high with children, mattresses and sheep. They had responded, they said, to messages sent by the Kurds to vacate their homes before the battles arrived. They said they were glad to seize the chance to escape the seemingly collapsing rule of the ISIS fighters fleeing in the other direction.

“They used to take people with them to use as human shields, but now they are not even doing this,” said Saleh Hassan, one of the men who said he had escaped his home through minefields to reach the Kurdish lines. “People were with them before, but now even their fighters are trying to defect.”

Ahmed Naim, 23, said he had covertly sold cigarettes and had many run-ins with the militants, who banned smoking. “Their days are numbered,” he said. “Daesh is finished, and the majority of the people are happy.”

It is hard to tell how happy people really are when armed guards are standing nearby. As the villagers who escaped areas behind the ISIS lines arrived in Ain Issa, others were returning to their homes in the village of Hisha, which was freed last month after a brief battle.

At the local barbershop, a line of long-haired customers waited on wobbly plastic chairs for haircuts that were forbidden under ISIS’ rule. “Nobody wants ISIS,” Mouay ad Khalaf said as he snipped the curly locks of a teenage boy.

But some men, when stopped in the street and asked what they thought of the change of authority, seemed less thrilled.

“They haven’t caused us any problems,” one man said vaguely. He didn’t want to be named.

“It’s okay,” said another who didn’t seem sure. “We’re cooperating with them.”

U.S. officials acknowledge the concerns about sending Kurds into battle in Raqqa but say that at the moment there is no alternative. “The only force that is capable on any near-term timeline is the Syrian Democratic Forces, of which the YPG are a significant portion,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told reporters last month.

Turkey has, meanwhile, been waging a rival offensive against ISIS farther west, in the province of Aleppo, where Turkish troops are backing Syrian Arab rebels with the Free Syrian Army, with the support of the United States. Though the focus of the fighting is on ISIS, Turkey has threatened to attack the SDF, potentially drawing troops and resources away from the Raqqa battle.

So complicated are the politics that there is still no plan for a Raqqa offensive, said Nasir Haj Mansour, a veteran Kurdish fighter who is now an adviser to the SDF. “Unfortunately, yes,” he said when asked whether he thought ISIS would still be in control of Raqqa in six months’ time.

And in a year?

“Probably, yes.”

(Source / 31.12.2016)

Islamic State urges Western “sons of Islam” to launch brutal New Year’s attacks

ISLAMIC State jihadis have urged their Western “sons of Islam” to launch brutal New Year’s attacks that will turn party venues into bloody battlefields.

The large amount of taxpayer money now being spent on security, because Western leaders did not have the foresight to control immigration in the face of glaring jihad threats, is appalling. Islamic State jihadis are moving freely in and out of Western countries and have infiltrated the refugee stream, as they vowed to do. But this threat is not a call to infiltrate the refugee stream; it is a call to Muslims who are already in Western countries to rise up and wage jihad.

Western authorities also continue to provide fertile ground for stealth jihadists in our midst by working with a list of groups that have been designated “unindicted co-conspirators” to jihad funding activity. These authorities think that are fostering interracial and interreligious dialogue when in reality they are just breaking down Western resistance to dangerous ideologies.

The Islamic State threat continues:

“Be ready for shedding the blood, scattering the shreds and funerals, for the eyes of caliphate lions are looking straight towards you and promise you with bitter deaths.”

Now that we have been infiltrated by both stealth and violent jihadists, the latter of whom are moving freely in and out of Western countries, authorities are now hard-pressed to protect their citizens from lone wolf attacks during Christian celebrations.

A big thank you to stealth and violent jihadists — and to the authorities who have failed the public.

More on this story. “ISIS call on ‘Western sons’ to launch BRUTAL attacks on New Year’s revellers”, by Aletha Adu, Express, December 30, 2016:

ISIS-affiliated media group, Nashir Media Foundation, posted a series of terrifying images on an encrypted channel which encouraged their cowardly supporters to seize the momentum Anis Amri created following the Berlin Christmas attacks, in which the Tunisian hijacked a truck and brutally murdered 12 Christmas shoppers.

In one image, a knife-wielding militant chases a ‘Santa on the run’ under a threatening caption which read: “You disbelieving dogs which prepared for Christmas celebrations.

“Be ready for shedding the blood, scattering the shreds and funerals, for the eyes of caliphate lions are looking straight towards you and promise you with bitter deaths.”

The terror network is calling on militants in the West to take part in ‘lone wolf’ attacks in variety of public venues including cinemas, malls and hospitals.

A dark-figured jihadi stands next to a burning graphic of a numerical 2017 in one of the images, next to the an inscription which reads: “We will make your New Year mayhem with bombings and trampling attacks.”

The New Year terror threats come shortly after the militants promised to bomb Christians and their churchesin the United States, Canada, France and the Netherlands.

Posted on the same Telegram app, the terror group published the long list of Churches for their “sons of Islam” to launch bloody attacks on worshipers.

Militants left a final horrifying message in another image, which reads: “Oh disbelievers, as you are preparing for Christmas celebrations, we advise you to prepare as well……

(Source / 31.12.2016)

Settlers take over Palestinian building in East Jerusalem

Palestinian man seraches through the rubble of his home in east Jerusalem, Silwan on August 26 2013 [Saeed Qaq/Apaimages]

Palestinian man seraches through the rubble of his home in east Jerusalem, Silwan on August 26 2013

Israeli settlers raided the Wadi Hilweh area of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem after midnight this morning and took over a Palestinian-owned residential building.

According to eyewitness accounts documented by local organisation the Wadi Hilweh Information Centre, approximately 20 Israeli settlers escorted by masked Israeli special forces raided the building while its residents were not inside.

The settlers blocked off the Al-Fakhouri area of the neighbourhood with a truck, preventing people from approaching, and took control of the building, which is located less than 100 metres south of the Old City’s walls and the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

The centre said that the building has changed ownership between three Palestinian families over the years – the Abu Irmeileh, Maswadeh and Al-Rajabi families – and that several other families rented space in the building, which consists of two 16-square metre space floors.

They added that a Palestinian woman changed the locks to the building yesterday, and that late last night, Israeli settlers raided Wadi Hilweh to install surveillance cameras at the entrance of the neighbourhood.

When asked about the involvement of Israeli forces in the raid, Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld questioned the validity of the reports, telling Ma’an that Wadi Hilweh Information Centre’s claims that Palestinian property had been taken over by settlers were “not serious” and “irrelevant”.

A spokesperson for Israel’s Jerusalem municipality could not be immediately reached for comment on the case, or whether ownership of the building had been transferred to the settler group Elad.

The right-wing Elad group is a strong force in the Israeli settler movement in East Jerusalem, leading a takeover of 25 buildings in Silwan last year, according to the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ).

Also known as the Ir David Foundation, Elad aims to “rediscover and preserve the Biblical city of David,” in an effort to connect Jews to their Biblical roots through tourism, archaeological excavation and “Judaising Jerusalem” by buying out homes in Palestinian majority neighbourhoods.

(Source / 31.12.2016)

US admits bombing second Mosul hospital

AImage of a bombed hospital [Anadolu]

Image of a bombed hospital

The United States Central Command (CENTCOM) has confirmed that it has likely bombed a medical facility in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul resulting in civilian casualties, as Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) continue their US-backed assault to recapture the city from Daesh militants.

An airstrike by the US-led Coalition hit a van in a hospital compound parking lot and could have killed civilians, the CENTCOM confirmed late last night.

The van was carrying Daesh fighters was targeted and hit in the airstrike, CENTCOM said on behalf of the Combined Joint Strike Force.

“A Coalition airstrike struck a van carrying ISIL fighters observed firing a SPG9/RPG recoilless rifle before loading the weapon in the van and driving off,” CENTCOM’s statement read.

“The van was struck in what was later determined to be a hospital compound parking lot resulting in possible civilian casualties.” This is not the first time that a hospital in Mosul has been bombed by the Coalition.

On 7 December, Coalition warplanes launched an air raid on the Al-Salem hospital complex after ISF troops from the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) failed to make any headway in their push against Daesh, and needed air support to be able to evacuated from their botched assault.

According to the Coalition, the hospital was being used “as a base of operations and command and control headquarters” by Daesh, though activists on the ground in Mosul criticised both the ISF and the Coalition for the attack due to the likely presence of civilians.

With regard to yesterday’s strike, CENTCOM said that it “takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously and this incident will be fully investigated and the findings released in a timely and transparent manner.”

(Source / 31.12.2016)

Israeli forces remove memorial stone dedicated to slain Palestinian in Abu Dis

steen-abu-dis

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Israeli forces Friday removed a stone memorial dedicated to slain Palestinian Mazin Hasan Ureiba set up by the family in the town of Abu Dis in the central occupied West Bank district of Jerusalem, claiming that the monument was a form of “incitement.”

Ureiba, an officer in the Palestinian Authority general intelligence service and a father of four, was shot dead by Israeli forces on Dec. 3, 2015 after opening fire on Israeli soldiers stationed at the Hizma checkpoint north of Jerusalem in the West Bank.
Bassam Bahr, head of the Abu Dis Committee for Defending Lands and Resisting Settlements, told Ma’an that Israeli forces raided Abu Dis and removed the monument set up in order to memorialize Ureiba and his mother, while also serving as Sadaqah (charity) by providing running water to passerbys.
Bahr added that Israeli soldiers used hand tools to remove and break apart the memorial stone, before hanging up a paper which stated that the memorial was removed for “incitement and immortalizing the martyr,” and also stated that the decision to remove the memorial was made by an Israeli military leader in the area.
Israeli authorities had issued an order several days ago demanding the removal of the memorial stone.
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An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that she would look into reports on the incident.
According to Ma’an documentation, Ureiba was among the 246 Palestinians to have been killed by Israelis in a wave of unrest across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel which began in October 2015.Meanwhile, 34 Israelis were killed by Palestinians during the same time period.
In recent months, Israeli forces have detained scores of Palestinians for alleged “incitement,” alleging that the unrest that erupted last year was encouraged largely by “incitement” among Palestinians, particularly during funerals of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces and for social media activity.Palestinians have instead pointed chiefly to the frustration and despair brought on by Israel’s nearly 50-year military occupation of the Palestinian territory and the absence of a political horizon as reasons for the social unrest.
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(Source / 31.12.2016)

Turkey demands US support for its operation in Syria

Turkish military vehicles drive in al-Rai town, northern Aleppo province, Syria, Dec. 27, 2016

Despite Turkey’s high-profile collaboration with Russia and Iran aimed at ending the Syrian crisis, Turkey’s position in Syria remains confusing.

Realizing that its fight against the Islamic State (IS) in the group’s stronghold of al-Bab is proving to be more difficult and costly in terms of lives than initially expected, the Turkish military is accusing its Western allies of deserting it and the Turkey-backed Free Syria Army (FSA) as they combat terrorism in Syria.

In a progress report prepared for the press, the Turkish military said it was not getting any help from its allies, which it claimed were merely looking on as Turkish forces engaged in fierce fighting in al-Bab.

The military added that delays in launching the US-led operation to liberate Raqqa had also enabled IS fighters there to move to al-Bab to fight Turkish forces and the FSA.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went further and claimed that the US-led coalition was not only withholding support from Turkey’s campaign in al-Bab, but was also backing IS, as well as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

According to Ankara, the PYD and the YPG are terrorist groups linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but it has failed to convince Washington.

“It’s very clear. We have confirmed evidence, with pictures, photos and videos,” Erdogan claimed earlier this week with regard to his accusation.

Erdogan also said the US-led coalition was not honoring its promise to help Turkey capture al-Bab. “Whether they do or they don’t, we will continue along this path in a determined way,” he said. “There is no going back.”

Washington denied Erdogan’s claim that it is aiding IS as “ludicrous,” but repeated that it would continue to work with the YPG against IS.

Turkey wants to prevent the Syrian Kurds from gaining an autonomous region along the Turkish border. It has vowed to keep YPG fighters out of al-Bab, and to expel them from the nearby town of Manbij. On Dec. 24, Erdogan reiterated that al-Bab will be taken, and that the Turkish military would then move on to Manbij, and from there to the “IS capital” of Raqqa.

In a further sign that the Turkish operation has run into difficulties, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters, “The international coalition must carry out its duties regarding aerial support to the battle we are fighting in al-Bab.” He added that withholding this support was “unacceptable.”

Turkey has openly said that the aim of its Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria, launched Aug. 24, is to not only target IS but also the YPG. Washington, however, does not consider the YPG to be a terrorist group and has also declared openly that it wants Turkey to concentrate on fighting only IS in Syria.

The United States initially provided air support to Turkish forces and the FSA as they moved against IS in the towns of Jarablus and Dabiq, which were captured with relatively few casualties. The US military announced in November, however, that it was not participating in Turkey’s operation in al-Bab. This announcement came after Turkish forces started bombing YPG positions around al-Bab.

In August, the town of Manbij was captured from IS by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is comprised mainly of YPG fighters. Erdogan’s determination to move on to Manbij appears to be another reason why the United States is reluctant to help Turkey in al-Bab.

According to the perplexing scenario put forward by Erdogan, Turkey’s aim is to capture al-Bab before the YPG, rid Manbij of YPG fighters and work with the US-led coalition to liberate Raqqa from IS, after convincing Washington to dump the YPG. How it plans to achieve all of this on its own is not clear.

Nihat Ali Ozcan, a security expert for the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, argues that “clashing agendas” is behind Washington’s reluctance to help Turkey in al-Bab.

“Washington wanted Turkey to move only 20 kilometers [12 miles] deep into Syria and close the access roads in and out of Turkey used by [IS],” Ozcan told Al-Monitor. “When Turkey went beyond this and started attacking the YPG, US plans — especially with regard to capturing Raqqa — were disrupted.”

He added, “It seems as if Washington wants to teach Turkey a lesson now by leaving it on its own in al-Bab.”

Ankara’s dilemma is that Russia is also unlikely to provide military support to Turkey in al-Bab, despite the diplomatic cooperation between the two countries in Syria.

According to Ozcan, Russia’s limited support for Operation Euphrates Shield is also contingent on Turkey’s remaining focused on “killing radical Islamists,” and not going after other groups or posing difficulties for the Syrian regime.

The daily Hurriyet reported this week that Russia was preventing Turkish fighter jets from flying over al-Bab. Citing unnamed sources the paper said, “Russia does not want Turkish jets in the region because it is going to engage in military activities south of al-Bab.”

The Syrian regime is also keen to capture al-Bab before Turkish forces and the FSA. Some analysts have even argued that the regime in Damascus would rather see Kurds in the town than Turkish forces or the FSA.

Ankara’s fixation on the Syrian Kurds, and its inability to address this issue politically, seems to be turning into the boulder on which Turkey’s Syria agenda founders. There is also no guarantee that Moscow will ultimately support Ankara’s line against the Syrian Kurds.

Although Moscow does not support Kurdish autonomy, Russian officials have said that the Kurds must also have a voice in any Syrian settlement.

Sources close to the Turkish government are signaling their hope that the US position will change under the presidency of Donald Trump. Hurriyet columnist Abdulkadir Selvi, who stands close to Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party, indicates that the government has great expectations of Trump.

“Ankara is preparing for the Trump era. It values Trump’s stated position about not working for regime change in other countries, but concentrating on fighting terrorism,” Selvi wrote in his column.

He was referring to the widespread belief among government circles that the Obama administration was somehow involved in the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey aimed at toppling Erdogan. Ankara is still smarting over Washington’s reluctance to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Islamic cleric accused of masterminding the coup attempt.

Selvi said Ankara wants Trump to see matters from Turkey’s point of view and to “mark a new beginning” in Turkish-US ties. Trump has nevertheless expressed his admiration for Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Given the openly expressed desire by Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to cooperate to end the Syrian crisis, it remains to be seen if Turkish hopes invested in the new US administration will bear fruit or merely compound Turkey’s already difficult situation in Syria.

(Source / 31.12.2016)

Funerals set off for 2 slain Palestinians returned after being held by Israeli state

begrafenis-2-palestijnen

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Funerals were held Saturday for two slain Palestinians whose bodies were released on Friday by Israeli authorities in the occupied West Bank districts of Ramallah and Jerusalem.

The bodies of Maen Nasser al-Din Abu Qaraa, 23, from the village of al-Mazraa al-Qibliyaa in the central occupied West Bank Ramallah district, and Hamad Khader al-Sheikh, 21, from the village of Beit Surik in the West Bank district of Jerusalem were held by the Israeli state for 57 and 17 days, respectively.
The body of Abu Qaraa was carried from the Ramallah Governmental Hospital to al-Mazraa al-Qibliyaa for the final goodbyes and burial, while the body of al-Sheikh was taken from the same hospital to his family home in the village of Beituniya, before returning his body to his home in Beit Surik.
The bodies of Abu Qaraa and al-Sheikh were both wrapped in the Palestinian national flag, and had two different funerals due to the distances between the villages.
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Al-Sheikh’s father said that the family was relieved that they had received their son’s body and were finally able to bury him, while friends of Abu Qaraa remembered the slain Palestinian, saying that he had always been an activist and used to smile and “love life.”
Deputy Secretary-General of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), a group which Abu Qaraa was aligned with, said during his funeral that “in accordance with international law, it is our people’s right to resist in order to achieve national freedom and independence.”
Abu Qaraa was killed by Israeli forces on Nov. 3 near the entrance of the illegal Israeli Ofra settlement after he allegedly attempted to carry out a stabbing attack.
An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an at the time that a Palestinian “armed with a knife attempted to stab an Israeli soldier guarding a bus stop” near Ofra, and that she was not aware of any Israelis being injured in the case.
Israeli forces reportedly prevented Palestinian medics from approaching the scene, eyewitnesses said, adding that Israeli medical teams did not treat him, leaving him to bleed to death.
Meanwhile, Al-Sheikh was killed after carrying out a stabbing attack in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem on Dec. 14, injuring one Israeli soldier.
Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri said at the time that a suspect approached a group of Israeli police forces deployed near the Austrian Hospice hospital in the Old City, took out a screwdriver and stabbed one of the officers in the head, lightly injuring him.
Witnesses at the time said al-Sheikh was left on the ground bleeding for 20 minutes, adding that a Palestinian doctor arrived on the scene but was pushed away by Israeli forces before they finally let him administer first aid to the wounded Palestinian until Israeli ambulances arrived at the scene.
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The release of the bodies of Qaraa and al-Sheikh was the latest round of returns of Palestinian bodies by Israeli authorities, with nine Palestinian bodies being released last week and seven released the week prior.
Israeli authorities dramatically escalated a policy of withholding Palestinian bodies killed by Israeli forcesamid unrest that erupted across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel in October last year, having repeatedly claimed that funerals of Palestinians had provided grounds for “incitement” against the Israeli state.
However, following an uproar of protest among Palestinians over the policy, Israeli authorities began scaling down the practice, although Israeli authorities have continued to hold nine Palestinian bodies for between eight and three months.
When Israeli authorities have decided to return slain bodies and allow funerals in the occupied Palestinian territory, the ceremonies have been typically restricted by a long list of conditions imposed by Israeli authorities, including limiting the number of attendees and the deployment of Israeli soldiers throughout the event.
A joint statement released by Addameer and Israeli minority rights group Adalah in March condemned Israel’s practice of withholding bodies as “a severe violation of international humanitarian law as well as international human rights law, including violations of the right to dignity, freedom of religion, and the right to practice culture.”
The statement said it appeared “many” of the Palestinians whose bodies Israel was holding had been “extrajudicially executed by Israeli forces during alleged attacks against Israelis, despite posing no danger.”

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(Source / 31.12.2016)

Israel’s Bennett: Major settlement blocs to be annexed in January

Israeli Minister Naftali Bennett

Israeli Minister Naftali Bennett

The leader of the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, said yesterday that Israeli government policy will change with the arrival of the Trump administration.

“This is what government will be. From January 20, there’ll be a different policy in the government,” Bennett said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2. He repeated a call that Israel annex most of the West Bank.

Speaking to Israel’s Ynet News yesterday, the Israeli education minister said that on 20 January, when US President-elect Donald Trump enters the White House, “Palestine will be taken off the agenda,” advocating instead that Israeli “law be imposed on areas in Judea and Samaria”, in reference to the West Bank

“Israeli government policy will be to annex Ma’ale Adumim,” he added.

Ma’ale Adumim, one of the largest West Bank settlements, a city with a population of some 40,000, lies about five miles east of Jerusalem.

One day after US Secretary of State John Kerry underlined his support for a two-state solution, Bennett said that Kerry got things 100 per cent right when he said many Israeli leaders are dead-set against the two-state solution but insisted that’s what makes Kerry so wrong to push for a Palestinian state.

“In Judea and Samaria, what you call the occupied territories, we have to apply Israeli sovereignty on the Jewish areas, and provide autonomy for the Palestinians in the Palestinian areas. That’s the only realistic way forward,” he told the BBC.

 According to Ynet News, Bennett added that he would advance an agenda to ensure that Israeli law also apply to the Jordan Valley, Ariel and Ofra where there are half a million Jews and 70,000 Arabs.

The pro-settler leader has sought to refute the notion that a two-state solution offered the greatest prospect for peace, reiterating that “the Palestinians already have a Palestinian state in Gaza. They chose to turn it into Hamastan.”

“The State of Israel is about to change. If we impose the law on Area C, on a strategic level the picture will be different,” Bennett continued.

Last month, Bennett met with members of Trump team, urging that the future administration look at alternatives to the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including his own plan to annex some parts of the West Bank while giving Palestinians increased autonomy in other areas of the territory.

In a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on lawmakers not to publicly discuss annexation, saying that President Barack Obama may have other actions prepared to take against Israel on the Palestinian issue before he leaves office in three weeks, the Times of Israel reported.

(Source / 31.12.2016)