Heavy rain inundates homes in Gaza Strip, forces schools to shut down

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GAZA (Ma’an) — Damage caused by heavy rain forced all schools in the besieged Gaza Strip to close on Thursday, local sources said.

The head of emergency committee of Gaza City, Saad al-Din al-Atbash, said that crews were working non-stop to deal with the consequences of the inclement weather.
The Ministry of Education in Gaza decided to close all schools due to the persistent bad weather, while some universities suspended classes.
Gaza civil defense spokesman Muhammad al-Maydana told Ma’an that ten homes were flooded in the northern Gaza Strip neighborhood of Saftawi and had to be evacuated, adding that no one was injured.
The Ministry of Agriculture, meanwhile, said that Gaza had witnessed a 65 percent occurrence of rainfall in the past 24 days. Ministry official Shafiq al-Arawi said that the rain would benefit plants and soil and replenish the aquifer water supplies in the Gaza Strip.
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The flooding came as Gaza’s power company said on Thursday that Egyptian lines feeding the blockaded coastal enclave with 20 megawatts of electricity had been damaged.
Gaza has been hit by severe flooding in the past, exacerbating the dire situation faced by Palestinians in the blockaded and war-torn coastal enclave, where thousands of Gazans have been unable to rebuild their homes after Israel’s 2014 offensive and suffer from severe electricity and drinking water shortages.
A 2012 United Nations report warned that water from Gaza’s sole aquifer would become completely undrinkable by the end of 2016, with damages becoming irreversible by 2020.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a report in January outlining the dire humanitarian situation in the besieged Gaza Strip and reiterating its support for lifting the decade-long siege of the territory, which it called “collective punishment” imposed on Palestinians in contravention of international law.
Ending the Israeli blockade would be the only way to ensure Palestinians in Gaza have access to “basic and inalienable human rights,” the report concluded.
(Source / 16.02.2017)

Hamas to Announce Amended Charter in Coming Weeks

Speaker of Hamas Political bureau Khaled Mashaal.

Speaker of Hamas Political bureau Khaled Mashaal

Ramallah- Speaker of Hamas Political bureau Khaled Mashaal said on Wednesday that Hamas would be publishing a new charter in the “coming weeks,” which would reflect “Hamas’s thought and political legacy.”

Last month, senior Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan said Hamas was working on “a clear political document” that would eliminate the rampant anti-Semitism currently found in the group’s charter.

Mashaal hailed the rise of Yahya Sinwar to become the group’s leader in the Gaza Strip as a success for “Hamas-style democracy.”

Speaking via live video stream to a conference organized by Zaytuna Center for Studies and Consultations in Beirut and entitled “The Issue of Palestine: Strategic Evaluation 2016 – Strategic Assessment 2017,” Mashaal said: “Sinwar’s victory in becoming head of the Hamas movement in Gaza is part of the Hamas-style democracy that we cherish and of which we are proud.”

Mashaal also emphasized, as have other senior Hamas officials since Sinwar’s election, that the group’s overall policies toward Israel will not be revised under the new leadership.

“There will be no change in the strategy of the resistance,” Mashaal said.

“Rather, there is a change of personalities that does not alter the strategies of Hamas, which are derived from its institutional leadership.”

He confirmed that the Palestinian cause has managed to remain despite attempts to obliterate it under all huge pressures and ordeals.

According to Mashaal, the Palestinian people have maintained the cause through sacrifices and through the leadership and commitment to the Palestinian constants.

Hamas’s original 1988 charter makes numerous anti-Semitic statements, including claims of Jewish world domination. The text also utilizes Islamic scripture to provide justification for attacking and killing Jewish people around the world.

(Source / 16.02.2017)

Netanyahu asks Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights

Image of the security fence along the Golon Heights

Image of the security fence along the Golon Heights

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked US President Donald Trump on Wednesday to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

Most of the world considers the Golan, a high plateau between northeastern Israel and southwestern Syria, to be occupied by Israel, which annexed the territory in 1981 in a move not recognised internationally.

During a briefing with Israeli and foreign media after meeting Trump at the White House, Netanyahu was asked whether he had raised the Golan issue. “Yes,” he replied.

Read: Trump and Netanyahu fawn over each other, Twitter reacts

Asked how the US president had responded, he said: “I wouldn’t say that he was surprised by my request.” Netanyahu did not elaborate.

Israel made a similar request to the Obama administration in 2015, but it was rejected, diplomats said at the time.

While Israel has long coveted sovereignty in the Golan, it is unclear whether the White House would take such a step now, given that it could further complicate the Syrian conflict.

If the United States were to recognise Israel’s claim, it would likely anger Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran in his war with Islamist militants and rebel groups.

The Trump administration has talked about working more closely with Russia to end the Syrian conflict. Recognising Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan could undermine those efforts.

Also read: Netanyahu pledges his leadership of ‘historic alliance’ with the US

It could also spur Iran and its proxies in Syria, particularly the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah, to turn more of their focus against Israel, targeting its forces stationed across the Golan Heights.

Israel has warned Hezbollah, with which it fought a six-week war in 2006, against attacking its territory. It has carried out occasional air strikes in the Syrian portion of the Golan to target Hezbollah fighters, including units smuggling arms.

Israel’s argument for sovereignty over the territory is based partly on the fact that Syria has splintered over the past five years of fighting, to the extent that Israel says there is no one to whom it could hand back the Golan.

But with the United States and Israel looking to forge an ever-tighter relationship, it is also possible that Trump, who has shown himself to be unpredictable at times, could decide to recognise Israel’s sovereignty.

Also read: Netanyahu wants a war that he knows he can’t win

As well as around 25,000 Israeli settlers in the territory, many of them working in agriculture, there are about 20,000 Druze of Syrian citizenship, many of whom have relatives living in just across the valley in Syria.

(Source / 16.02.2017)

Local Council in Dara’a Declares City a Disaster Area as Russian Airstrikes Intensify

The local council in Dara’a declared the FSA-held parts of the city a disaster area as the Russian jets continue to relentlessly bomb the city. The intense airstrikes have killed seven people and knocked out six field hospitals in the past few days.

At least seven people from one family were killed in Russian airstrikes that targeted the areas close to the Jordanian border where hundreds of families fled from Dara’a escaping Russian airstrikes. The Russian jets also struck a field hospital in Dara’a city on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the Washington-based International Rescue Committee (IRC) said that Dara’a Albalad hospital was put out of service following a rocket attack on Monday evening. While no one was killed, four health workers were injured in the attack, which also caused huge damage to the IRC-supported hospital.

Russian air forces have carried out no fewer than 40 airstrikes on Dara’a city in the past few days, mainly targeting vital civilian facilities in Dara’a Albalad and Tarqi Alsad districts. The ongoing wave of Russian airstrikes on Dara’a is the first to hit the province since Russia intervened directly on Assad’s side in late September 2015.

The punishing aerial campaign Russia has launched on Dara’a came in response to the advances made by the FSA groups inside Dara’a on Sunday. The FSA groups launched a major offensive on the regime-held parts of Dara’a, capturing the district of Manshiya. The offensive aims to thwart the regime plans to advance on Nassib border crossing with Jordan and came in response to the ongoing truce violations by regime forces and their allies.

Meanwhile, the UN on Tuesday said it was “very concerned about an increase in fighting in and around Dar’a City over the past few days, which has resulted in the displacement of over 9,000 men, women and children so far.”

Farhan Haq, Deputy spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said that many of the displaced have moved to farms and villages south east of Dar’a city. Additional people are likely to be displaced in the coming days if the fighting continues, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

The Syrian Coalition condemned the brutal bombardment campaign by regime forces and their allies in Dara’a province, stressing that it constitutes a blatant violation of the ceasefire agreement.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Coalition said that the campaign is being carried out with the direct support of Russia, a guarantor country, which puts the cease-fire agreement at risk of total collapse.

The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air forces and the Iranian-backed militias, have committed no fewer than 80 breaches of the ceasefire agreement in the past three days, including over 30 breaches in Dara’a city and its countryside.

These breaches have resulted in horrible massacres claiming the lives of at least 47 people, mostly civilians.

(Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department + Agencies / 16.02.2017)

Israel demolished record number of homes in 2016

The Israeli organisation accused Israeli government of using demolition policies to steal the Palestinian lands

Israeli occupation demolished a “record number of Palestinian homes in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2016,” Israeli rights group B’Tselem announced on Tuesday.

“The scale of demolitions documented by B’Tselem this year is the most extensive since we began systematically documenting demolitions in 2004,” the report pointed out

Israeli occupation demolished a “record number of Palestinian homes in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2016,” Israeli rights group B’Tselem announced on Tuesday.

Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Tselem) said in a report that the Israeli occupation authorities carry out the demolition of Palestinian homes under the pretext that they are “lacking building permits.”

“The scale of demolitions documented by B’Tselem this year is the most extensive since we began systematically documenting demolitions in 2004,” the report pointed out.

It noted that “in East Jerusalem, the authorities demolished 88 residential buildings and 48 other structures. Elsewhere in the West Bank, the authorities demolished 274 residential buildings and 372 non-residential ones.”

The Israeli organisation said that these demolitions are indicative of Israel’s efforts to limit Palestinian presence in the areas it seeks to take over, taking advantage of planning and administrative tools to that end.

“The state is forcing tens of thousands of people to live in inhuman conditions, without basic living conditions and with no hope or possibility of bettering their situation,” B’Tselem concluded.

“This policy, implemented on the ground for years, is unlawful and immoral. It constitutes the forcible transfer of protected Palestinian residents within the occupied territory, whether directly, through the demolition of their homes, or indirectly, through the creation of impossible living conditions.”

B’Tselem added that this policy offers decisive evidence that Israel has long-term plans to continue controlling the area, while oppressing and dispossessing its residents.

(Source / 16.02.2017)

How Hamas’ new Gaza leader came to power

Freed Palestinian Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar (C) greets supporters following his release from an Israeli jail at a welcome tent near his home in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip, Oct. 19, 2011

Even as reports were emerging of Yahya Sinwar’s Feb. 13 election to replace Ismail Haniyeh as the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, other reports from Gaza are pointing to a significant decline in the health of Mohammed al-Deif, the commander of the movement’s military wing. Some Gaza sources even claim he is at death’s door.

Deif is considered a living legend for surviving all Israeli attempts on his life. The top of Israel’s most wanted list was injured in September 2002, during the second Palestinian intifada, when two missiles fired from an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) helicopter hit a car in which he was traveling on Salah al-Din Street in Gaza City. Deif was severely injured, sustaining head wounds and face burns, and lost his sight in one eye. He underwent complex treatments by doctors sent from Egypt to Gaza and survived.

Deif survived another assassination attempt in July 2006, when the IDF attacked a house where he was staying. Once again, he was seriously hurt, forced to undergo a series of orthopedic treatments and vacate his position as head of the Hamas military wing. Command of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades was handed over to Ahmed Jabari, who was subsequently killed by Israel in November 2012 on the eve of its Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip.

Deif was once again called to take charge despite his serious disabilities, the fierce headaches from which he suffered and the daily use of painkillers in order to keep going. During Operation Protective Edge, in August 2014, another attempt was made to take him out, when an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a house in which he was staying with one of his wives and two of his children. The wife and the children were killed in the attack. Deif survived, once more.

Over time, each injury he sustained only added to Deif’s glory and to the belief in his immortality and protection by Allah. Even after Operation Protective Edge, and despite his declining health, he is still considered the dominant figure of the Hamas military wing. But according to sources in the Gaza Strip, he is gradually growing weaker. Deif can no longer carry out the demanding tasks of a military leader. According to a reliable source in Gaza, who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, in recent months Deif has been suffering memory lapses or, as the source described it, “blurred thinking,” probably the result of the head injuries he sustained in the attempted assassination in 2002.

The persistent reports of Deif’s deteriorating health are known to Israeli defense authorities. An Israeli defense source confirmed on condition of anonymity that Deif’s “fingerprints” have fallen off the Israeli radar screen in recent months, telling Al-Monitor that two familiar figures had taken over command — Deif’s deputy, Marwan Issa, and Gaza’s new Hamas leader, Yahya Sinwar.

Sinwar, who was freed by Israel as part of the 2011 deal for the return of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, was the most senior Palestinian prisoner released. His release was obtained at the insistence of his brother, Mohammed Sinwar, the commander of the Khan Yunis Division of Hamas and one of the few people who knew where Shalit was being held captive. At the time, Mohammed Sinwar made the deal for Shalit’s exchange conditional on freedom for his brother, among other Palestinian prisoners. When the released Hamas prisoners arrived at the Rafah crossing in Gaza, a black Mercedes awaited senior prisoner Sinwar. He was picked up by commanders of the military wing as befits a commander in chief back from the wars.

Yahya Sinwar identified the vacuum in the leadership of the military wing as a result of Deif’s partial incapacity, and paved his way wisely to the top. He knew how to take advantage of the title he had been given — “liaison between the military and political wing” — the real meaning of which was the de facto head of the military wing. Deif still holds the title of commander in name, by virtue of his past glory.

Sinwar’s election to lead Hamas in Gaza created a sea change within the movement, blurring the line maintained since its inception between its political and military wings. The process of electing Hamas’ new leadership is still ongoing and will be completed once Haniyeh is elected as the chief of Hamas’ political bureau (instead of Khaled Meshaal). The election of Sinwar as Hamas’ leader in Gaza is part of this process. Deif continues to carry the title of Hamas military branch chief. Nobody will take this title away from him, as long as he is alive. But in view of his medical condition, Sinwar will be the one de facto ruling directly also over the military branch, having been one of its founders.

One of the heads of the Fatah movement in Gaza told Al-Monitor that merging the two positions could benefit Hamas and the Gaza Strip as a whole. Ever since Hamas overthrew Fatah and took power in June 2007, the heads of the military wing — Deif, Jabari, Issa and others — intimidated the heads of the political leadership. Jabari and Deif used to “straighten out” and “bend” the political leaders to their will, forcing Hamas seniors Haniyeh and Meshaal to dance to their tunes and to heed the threat of their weapons. Now, there is one leader wielding all the power, who is expected to rule ruthlessly.

In his appointment as the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Sinwar assumes responsibility for the movement’s political, diplomatic and military activities, and will no longer have to hide behind the gradually disappearing Deif. Israeli defense officials share this assessment. They see this as an inevitable stage in the development of Hamas.

It is hard to say how long Deif will continue to retain the military commander’s title. But, as mentioned previously, another inspiring figure is already emerging from the wings: Yahya Sinwar, sentenced to three life terms in an Israeli jail but released, and chosen this week to lead Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

(Source / 16.02.2017)

Israeli forces install checkpoint at main entrance of Salfit-area village

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SALFIT (Ma’an) — Israeli forces installed a military checkpoint at the main entrance of a village in the central occupied West Bank on Wednesday evening, locals said.

Ahmad Shqeir, a resident of the village of al-Zawiya in the Salfit district, told Ma’an that Israeli forces were questioning residents, inspecting their IDs, and searching their cars at the checkpoint, causing traffic congestion.
A spokesperson for the Israeli army told Ma’an that they would look into the reports.
Palestinian communities are routinely subjected to road closures by Israeli military forces for purported “security reasons,” an act which rights groups have denounced as amounting to collective punishment.
(Source / 16.02.2017)

Dozens of ISIS Leaders Escape from Iraq to Syria

Iraqi special forces soldiers drive in a desert near Mosul, Iraq October 25, 2016.

Iraqi special forces soldiers drive in a desert near Mosul, Iraq October 25, 2016

Erbil – Several ISIS commanders and their families are escaping from Mosul through Tal Afar and al-Baaj to Syria after managing to break the siege imposed by militias of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) around Tal Afar.

Sheikh of al-Shammar Tribe had confirmed that ISIS caliphate Abu Baker al-Baghdadi was injured after the coalition’s raid on Tal Afar while he was still inside the town.

Media Official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Mosul, Ghyath al-Surji told Asharq Al-Awsat that ISIS militants launched an extensive attack on PMF front lines to the west of Tal Afar. Using armored vehicles, tanks, and bombed cars, and after six continuous hours of battling, ISIS was able to break siege and open a passage towards Baaj.

According to Surji, during the night, dozens of cars carrying ISIS leaders and their families escaped on the road dug by the militants from Tal Afar to Syria, through Baaj.

Sheikh Thair Abdul Karim Watban al-Jarba, of the Arab Tribe Shammar in west Mosul, said that about 50 cars carrying militants of ISIS’ special forces coming from Syria tried to enter Tal Afar a few days ago.

The convoy was led by Iraqi national Abu Jannat, Baghdadi’s deputy, and was on a mission to accompany Baghdadi himself and several leaders and their families. Yet, Iraqi Air Force attacked them near al-Houl area where all but two cars were completely destroyed.

Jarba told Asharq Al-Awsat that during the air strike, Abu Jannat was killed along with head of security in Tal Afar, Zeid al-Afari.

According to information retrieved by the sheikh, Afari was one of the most prominent militants in ISIS and he was buried in Baaj, a day after the air strike.

Jarba confirmed that Baghdadi was injured during a coalition air raid in Tal Afar, almost ten days ago, and that was why he hadn’t been able to leave the city.

He added that ISIS militants are escaping daily from Baaj and nearby areas towards Syrian territory. He also stated that ISIS is murdering any civilian who tries to escape from the occupied right coast of the city towards the liberated left coast. Over 50 young men from Mosul had been executed by ISIS for attempting to escape.

Sheikh Jarba revealed that all of Arab families had returned to areas liberated by Peshmerga forces.

Based on directives of the President of Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani, a brigade of Arab volunteers has been formed as part of the elite Peshmerga force, to protect their areas. Jarba said that on February 07, the first batch of volunteers graduated and it included 1,000 fighters who would form al-Jazira Brigade.

A resident in Mosul told Asharq Al-Awsat over the phone that the situation is getting worse on the right coast of Mosul, cautioning that the area may be on the brink of a humanitarian disaster if Iraqi Forces are late to liberate it.

(Source / 16.02.2017)

Hamas: We will ‘fiercely’ defend against new Israeli war on Gaza

The armed branch of Hamas, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades members attend the opening ceremony of the monument for assassinated Tunisian aircraft engineer Muhammed ez-Zevvari, by Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades in Rafah, Gaza on January 31, 2017

The chief of Hamas’ political bureau Khaled Meshaal yesterday warned Israel of launching any new offensive on the Gaza Strip, Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency reported him as saying via video conference from Doha.

While speaking to a conference organised in Istanbul by the think-tank Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies, Meshaal said: “The [Israeli] enemy has been threatening to launch a new offensive [on Gaza] and we warn it against carrying out such offensive.”

He stressed that if the Israeli occupation insisted on taking this choice, the Palestinians would not have any other choice “except to strive fiercely in order to protect themselves.”

Recently, several Israeli ministers have threatened and warned that Israel may be considering launching a new war on Gaza after a round of Israeli airstrikes took place, claiming that they were executed in response to an alleged rocket attack launched from Gaza towards Israeli cities.

Alastair Sloan: Netanyahu wants a war that he knows he can’t win

Meanwhile, Meshaal said: “Hamas has developed its resistance means and built a well-trained army [Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades] that defeated the Israeli army during previous offensives.”

Regarding the election of the new Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Al-Sinwar, who will be taking over from Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Meshaal said: “Hamas is sticking to its principles and unchangeable vision and it will abide by reinforcing internal Shura and democracy.”

He added: “The responsibility of the leadership is to maintain balance of the national programmes without paying high prices such as recognising the [Israeli] occupation,” further adding that recognition of Israel as long been a request of the so-called international Quartet on the Middle East that includes the UN, US, EU and Russia.

“If we recognised Israel, all the international capitals would have been opened for us,” he said, signifying that Hamas had made sacrifices to protect Palestinian national interests without compromising on fundamental principles, such as refusing to recognise the Israeli occupation as legitimate.

Meshaal also called on the other Palestinians factions to follow suit, and to rearrange their agendas related to the national programme of the Palestinian aspiration for self-determination.

Israel tells Gaza heart patient: Spy for us or die

(Source / 16.02.2017)

Solidarity with Palestine activists in Spain threatened with imprisonment for boycotting racism #DefensemDDHH

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network expresses its strongest solidarity with the nine activists for justice in Palestine in Spain threatened with imprisonment and fines for advancing the campaign for the boycott of Zionism, racism and injustice.

In August 2015, Palestine activists in Spain launched a campaign to call on the Rototom Sunsplash music festival, which identifies itself as a human rights-oriented, progressive festival, to cancel the performance of Matisyahu, an American performer well-known for his heavy involvement in supporting Israeli colonialism and ethnic cleansing. Matisyahu has performed at many galas and events for anti-Palestinian projects and fundraisers, including the “Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces,” which raises money for the Israeli occupation army, and AIPAC. He also praised the Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla’s Mavi Marmara in 2010. Indeed, even Matisyahu’s lyricist Ephraim Rosenstein is himself a settler in an illegal Israeli colony, who campaigns for the far-right legal organization Honenu that defends Israeli soldiers and settlers who attack Palestinians.

In response to the campaign by BDS Valencia, US and Spanish Zionist and anti-Palestinian organizations claimed that Matisyahu was being targeted for boycott because of his Jewish religion rather than for his fervent support for colonialism that is incompatible with the festival’s expressed values of human rights and peace.

Right-wing lawyer Abel Isaac de Bedoya has filed a criminal complaint against the nine activists for “threat and coercion” and “hate crimes” for public, political social media postts calling for the cancellation of Matisyahu’s perofrmance.

It is clear that the suit, with its bogus claims against BDS activists in Spain, is yet another chapter in the “lawfare” attempts and campaigns being conducted by anti-Palestinian Zionist organizations internationally with the support of the Israeli state. From the prosecutions of BDS activists in France, to the harassment of demonstration organizers in Belgium, to the campaigns to shut down progressive organizations’ bank accounts in Germany, to the anti-BDS laws and resolutions being pushed across the US and Canada, this is a transparent attempt to crush the growing popular movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people through the machinery of the state.

It should be noted that these campaigns against grassroots Palestine activists come hand in hand with the creation of lists of forbidden “foreign terrorist organizations” including Palestinian political parties and resistance organizations and the surveillance, suppression and targeting of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities in an attempt to criminalize community involvement in the Palestinian liberation struggle. They also come hand in hand with the massive use of imprisonment in Palestine as a key weapon of settler colonialism as it attempts to suppress and eliminate Palestinian resistance.

It is our responsibility not only to resist criminalization, repression and intimidation against Palestinian and Palestine solidarity activists and organizations, but also to escalate our campaigns in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners struggling for freedom and the Palestinian people fighting for liberation, including the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and the international isolation of the racist, settler-colonial Israeli state. Samidoun proudly joins over 1200 individuals and organizations who have joined the call to support these targeted activists. We urge all supporters of Palestine to sign on to the solidarity statement in support of the Spanish activists and join the campaign to defend their rights and defend Palestine.

(Source / 16.02.2017)