Family of Palestinian assailant deported to the occupied West Bank

21-year-old Palestinian Fouad Abu Rajab Tamimi.

21-year-old Palestinian Fouad Abu Rajab Tamimi

Israel denied residency and transferred to the occupied West Bank five family members of Fouad Abu Rajab, 21, a Palestinian killed by the IOF after shooting and injuring two Israeli officers, according to the Israeli Public Security Ministry and Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer.

According to the Jpost, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, immediately following the shootings, instructed the Israeli police to investigate the legal status of Fouad’s family.

“My instructions to the [Israeli] police were clear: Whoever is here [Jerusalem] illegally will be deported. We will continue to fight terrorism on all fronts with full force and those who support, finance or help terrorism will pay a high price,” said Erdan.

The investigation concluded that the family had filed for residency status in Jerusalem but it had not yet been approved.

Rajab’s father and sister and Rajab himself did not have any legal resident status and were therefore considered to be living illegally in the occupied east Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiya.

Following the decision, Israeli police transported the family members – all of whom lived in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of al-Issawiya – to Qalandiya military checkpoint, according to Addameer.

The five family members were identified as Abu Rajab’s mother, his two sisters Reem and Rose, aged 19 and 16, and his two brothers Mahmoud and Muhammad, aged 15 and 14.

Tamimi was shot dead by the Israeli occupation forces on March 8 after allegedly firing gunshots at Israeli soldiers near Salah al-Din Street in occupied East al-Quds, injuring two Israeli officers.

Israel has in the past revoked Jerusalem residency from family members of Palestinian assailants.

The residency status of 107 Palestinian residents in occupied East Jerusalem was revoked in 2014, adding to the 14,309 Palestinians who have lost residency since 1967 despite being from the area.

On Wednesday a bill was formally submitted to the Israeli Knesset by Israeli Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) to deport the family members of Palestinian assailants who were killed by the IOF since October last year to the Gaza Strip.

(Source / 11.03.2016)

Will there be peace in Yemen?

People walk at the site of a Saudi-led airstrike in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, Sept. 21, 2015

Saudi Arabia appears to be looking for a way to end the nearly year-old war in Yemen. Riyadh seems to recognize it needs to find a compromise with the Shiite Houthi rebels, but the road to a lasting peace will be very difficult.

After quiet mediation by Oman, Saudi Arabia agreed to a visit to Riyadh by two senior Houthi representatives this week, according to press reports. Mohammad Abdul Salem, a Houthi spokesman, is leading the delegation.

The talks come as the war seems to be de-escalating. Airstrikes by the Royal Saudi Air Force seem much less frequent and clashes along the Yemeni-Saudi border less intense. A limited prisoner swap has taken place. The Houthis say they are still confronting “the Saudi-American aggression,” but the fighting seems to be slowed. There is no broad cease-fire but there are fewer provocations, at least for the moment.

A lull is desperately needed. The Saudi border provinces along the North Yemen frontier have suffered badly from Houthi mortar and rocket fire. The rebels have taken the war across the border into the kingdom.

The United Nations estimates that 2.4 million Yemenis have been forcibly displaced from their homes. A half million internally displaced people are from the city of Taez, which has been under siege by the Houthis for months. Another quarter million have lost homes in Sanaa due to the bombing there. The Houthi stronghold at Saada has lost another quarter million. Food, water and medicine are in short supply, and things are only getting worse.

The gap between the two sides is wide. No mention has been made about the future of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his family. They have been crucial allies for the Houthis, providing sophisticated weapons like Scud missiles. The conventional wisdom has long held that Saleh needs to go into exile for any peace deal to work, but he has not shown any interest in such an outcome.

Another question is whether Saleh’s successor President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi will be reinstalled in Sanaa, the original objective of Operation Decisive Storm a year ago. Hadi has tenuous control of Aden, where assassinations and bombings are frequent. He has little popular support, however, and has proven to be a weak leader.

Some kind of national unity government may be a solution, but the devil will be in the details. A prolonged pause in the fighting may be a more realistic next step, but it would be much better to have it enshrined in a formal truce agreement than just a vague understanding. A cease-fire would be essential to getting the blockade lifted and relief supplies into the country.

The Saudi interest in talks with the Houthis and de-escalating the war is a step in the right direction. It coincides with an increase in the visibility of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. The crown prince spent much of January and February out of the kingdom, in Algeria at his father’s residence. The prince met with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Feb. 5 in Algiers.

Since returning to the kingdom, bin Nayef has attended a summit of Arab interior ministers in Tunis and held high-profile talks in Paris with President Francois Hollande. He was awarded the Legion d’Honneur for his part in fighting al-Qaeda by the French. He also agreed that Saudi Arabia would receive $4 billion in arms originally planned for Lebanon but suspended during Riyadh’s quarrel with Beirut over Hezbollah. This was good news to the French arms industry.

The crown prince is said to be more cautious and risk averse than the king’s favorite son, Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is visiting Riyadh this week. Another skeptic of the Yemen war, Sharif rebuffed Saudi requests to join the war a year ago. His visit this week is said to be intended to reboot the Saudi-Pakistan relationship. He will argue for cooling temperatures between Riyadh and Tehran.

There are plenty of spoilers eager to block any move toward ratcheting down the war. Both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have the capacity to cause mayhem. AQAP has never been stronger. There are doubtless some on both sides in Riyadh and Sanaa who are not eager to stop the violence. Iran has enjoyed watching Saudi Arabia get bogged down in Yemen, and some in Tehran doubtless want the kingdom’s quagmire to deepen.

The United States has every reason to want to end this war. It distracts resources from the fight with IS in Syria and Iraq, and fuels sectarian tensions and the proxy regional conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It embitters a generation of Yemenis to hate the Americans for arming the Saudi bombing campaign. The chances of a settlement in Yemen are still slim, but Washington should put some muscle behind the effort.

(Source / 11.03.2016)

Shahin: Palestinian anger rises in Israeli jails

AL-KHALIL, (PIC)– Ex-prisoner and head of Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies (PPCS), Osama Shahin, confirmed that Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails face quite harsh conditions which led them to escalate their protest measures against the Israeli prison authority. Shahin said that there is an overload of prisoners in the jails, especially over the past few months. For example, Ofer Prison has 144 prisoners in each section, although the maximum capacity of each section is 120 prisoners. Shahin pointed out that since October 2015 the number of minor prisoners has significantly increased, especially after the wide arrest campaigns that targeted Palestinian youngsters. Moreover, there are almost 700 administrative prisoners in the Israeli prisons. Concerning the daily treatment, Shahin affirmed that a number of prisoners face deteriorating medical conditions, that are met with negligence from the Israel prison authority. In addition, some Palestinian prisoners are held captive in solitary confinement without the basic human rights. This negligence and deprivation have led the Palestinian prisoners to escalate their protest, starting on 6 March. The first step is refusing the meals provided to them, and if the Israeli occupation authorities disregard the prisoners’ demands until 17 April, the prisoners will take unexpected steps. The Palestinian prisoners’ message, as Shahin stated, is to the Palestinians in general to support the prisoners’ issues, especially the prisoners on hunger strike. They also demand the Palestinian Authority in particular to take official measures to support and protect the Palestinian prisoners.

(Source / 11.03.2016)

Yousri al-Masri … sick prisoner in Israeli jails

Suffers from cancer and lost ability to speak

GAZA, (PIC)– Captive Yousri al-Masri was arrested in 2003, he was a college freshman then, and was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment on the charge of resisting the Israeli occupation. Five years ago, he was diagnosed with lymph cancer. His condition deteriorated to the extent that he speaks with difficulty now. Captive Masri suffers from health problems in the liver, bone marrow, lymph nodes and eyes. He is one of the most suffering prisoners afflicted with cancer, but the Israeli occupation authority refuses to release him or provide him the necessary treatment. His family, relatives and friends are intensely worried about him because whenever they get news from prison about his health condition, they are always unpleasant.  In his last phone call with his mother, Yousri asked his mother to pray for him as he is suffering from deteriorating health problems; therefore, he is waiting for martyrdom at any moment after the Israeli prison authority refused to provide him with treatment. Since last summer, Yousri’s brothers have been trying to conceal from their mother any new information from the prison; because this information often carries more pain and anxiety about a living martyr whose life is at a stake. A living martyr Many of his relatives and people who know him visit his mother regularly to check on him, especially after reports of his deteriorating health condition in an unprecedented way. His mother’s replies to inquiries about him always asked for prayers for his recovery and freedom. She told a PIC reporter that, Yousri recently lost the ability to speak because of his enlarged glands, in addition, the pains in his intestines, liver and eyes have greatly increased. Captive Masri’s mother told the story of his transfer a few days before by the Israeli Prison Service for 12 hours in the “Bosta”, an Israeli prison vehicle in which the detainees are transported shackled to iron chairs for long hours, from Negev prison to Nafha prison, and detaining him for long hours before admitting him into the prison cell. She met in the past months the First Deputy Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council Dr. Ahmed Bahar and leaders of Hamas. She briefed them on the serious developments of her son’s condition, telling them that she even wishes that he was a martyr in the war dubbed Al-Asf Al-Makul by Hamas. The mother held the IOA responsible for his life, for refusing to provide him the necessary treatment. His brother, Yasser, who participated in many protests and delivered statements about his sick brother, believes that Yousri and a lot of other sick prisoners are being deliberately left without proper treatment. He added to a PIC reporter that his brother, “was recently transferred from Eshel prison to Negev prison via Bosta, and was not given his medication nor his last chemotherapy dose. He is suffering severely from illnesses and emaciation. Mom visited him two and a half months ago and found that he speaks with difficulty.” Friends of prison There have been reports in the recent months about the possibility of releasing captive Yousri Masri, as he was listed in a proposed list of seriously ill prisoners to be released, but the IOA backtracked on its promises. Jalal Saqr, ex-prisoner and a representative of Waed Society for prisoners and ex-prisoners, confirmed that the IOA controls the list of sick prisoners with serious illnesses, and has deleted several prisoners’ names from the list.  He told the PIC reporter, “We, as ex-prisoners, along with Waed Society stand by prisoner Yousri and his family, and we are trying to activate the media and human rights groups and incite the Palestinian resistance on making sick prisoners among its priorities for any future deals.” Ex-prisoner Fuad Abu Oumren, who came to visit captive Yousri’s mother in solidarity with his critical health condition, told a PIC reporter, that he was imprisoned with Yousri in one section, and witnessed his condition and his illness but it was relatively better then. Fuad said: “But Yousri always enjoyed high spirits”.

(Source / 11.03.2016)

Israeli court to release Tamimi under conditions and a $1,000 fine

The Ofer Israeli military court near Ramallah on Thursday morning, 10 March 2016, has agreed to release activist Manal Tamimi (43) after two days of detention, on a fine of 4,000 shekels (approx $1,000), and other restrictions.

Restrictions include that Manal does not publish any Facebook posts or photos about one of the Israeli border guards named Yousef Nasser Eddin, who complained that she shared a video of him violently attacking Palestinian paramedics and journalists during clashes near Beit El checkpoint, north of Ramallah, back in October 2015.

Manal was also conditioned not to direct any “virtual threats” against any of the Israeli officers.

On Wednesday, the court decided to extend Manal’s arrest until Friday 11 March 2016.

On 8 March 2016, International Women’s Day, Manal was kidnapped from her home in Al-Nabi Saleh village near Ramallah, after IOF stormed the home at 1:30 AM.

Manal, prominent activist against the wall and settlements, and mother of six, was part of Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, which presents community-based resistance rooted in a belief in the power of nonviolent struggle, taking various forms, such as strikes, protests, and legal campaigns, as well as supporting the call to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

Manal and her family have maintained a high-profile in nonviolent popular resistance. However, she was unable to participate in Nabi Saleh’s weekly demonstration during the past three weeks, because she developed a bad allergy towards teargas which was fired intensely towards activists.

She was shot and injured in her legs twice before, in 2013 and 2015.

(Source / 11.03.2016)

Why some Shiites are refusing to join fight against Islamic State

Shiite paramilitaries riding military vehicles travel toward Ramadi to fight against Islamic State militants, west of Samarra, Iraq, May 27, 2015

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Shiites have started speaking up about their fighters being sent to the battlefields in Salahuddin, Anbar and Fallujah, where the Islamic State (IS) and its allies, the Sunni tribes, are present, given the sectarian discourse in Sunni areas — such as Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul — toward Shiite fighters. As a result, the Shiites are not sending their youth to fight IS.

Haidar al-Khafaji, a Shiite from Babil, told Al-Monitor, “My son Mohammad, age 20, died on July 12, 2014, during the battle to liberate Tikrit — where many IS supporters live.”

He said, “It is no use for the Shiites to participate in the upcoming Mosul battle because the citizens hate them, and taking part in these battles will not end this enmity.”

Hostility between the Sunnis and Shiites increased when the Baathist regime — made up of Sunnis, most notably Saddam Hussein — ruled the country; Shiite leaders and clerics were assassinated and removed from high-level positions.

Shiites feel that their sacrifices are not being appreciated, which Islamic researcher and author Ali al-Momen explained in an article on May 25, 2015, when he wrote that “Shiite fighters take all the lies, insults and accusations from the owners of the land.”

Abu Ali al-Mahawili, from al-Mahawil district in Babil province, south of Baghdad, shares these thoughts. Mahawili is the father of a young man who died during the Ramadi battle on Dec. 26, 2015. While speaking to Al-Monitor, he pointed to the pictures on a thick wooden board in the city square of about a dozen fighters of the Popular Mobilization Units who had died in the clashes in Salahuddin and Ramadi.

Mahawili said, “They sacrificed their lives in these mostly Sunni regions, but their sacrifices were not appreciated.”

In response to whether national feelings are running cold and sectarian feelings are flaring up, social researcher Ali al-Husseini from Babil told Al-Monitor, “Yes, many Iraqis no longer have national zeal, and they are no longer driven by slogans that pushed them to liberate regions in the past. Many have even joined IS.”

Husseini’s statements are reflected in the rejection of the Popular Mobilization Units to fight in Fallujah against IS on April 23, 2015, under the pretext that the government had not been supporting them.

However, Saeed al-Sharifi, a fighter with the Popular Mobilization Units from Babil, told Al-Monitor, “I am a volunteer in the Hezbollah Brigades, but I abandoned their ranks because I feel a sense of ingratitude on the part of some Sunnis toward us, who view us as militias. The sectarian insults are among the reasons that are de-motivating Shiite men from fighting to liberate Mosul and Fallujah.”

The Ninevah provincial council unanimously voted on March 1 on the refusal of the participation of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units in the liberation of Mosul.

This refusal triggered controversy and opposing views. Shiite fighter Issam al-Asadi, who volunteered with the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units in July 2014 and then retreated, told Al-Monitor, “We are fighting for people who hate us. So I stepped back.” He was referring to the citizens of the Sunni regions.

Yet Abbas Makki, a Shiite fighter hailing from Babil, told Al-Monitor, “The fight against IS in all of Iraq’s territory is a religious and national duty,” referring to the righteous jihad fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in June 2014, which requires that volunteers join the fighting against IS.

The Shiite’s disappointment with the Sunnis who do not appreciate the sacrifices on their behalf was expressed by Samir Abu Sajjad, a blogger, on Dec. 29, 2015. He addressed the residents of Ramadi and Salahuddin, saying, “You need to respect the martyrs’ sacrifices.”

Shiite journalist Walid Taei supports the idea of not involving Shiite youth in the fighting in Sunni areas. He told Al-Monitor, “The Shiite sacrifices will be in vain for Iraq’s Sunnis, who curse the martyrs and consider them a sectarian militia.”

However, former Iraqi Environment Minister Qutaiba al-Jubouri denied in a statement that Sunnis are ungrateful for the sacrifices of the Popular Mobilization Units. In a press statement on March 9, 2015, Jubouri praised the “sacrifices of the security forces and Popular Mobilization Units to return Salahuddin to Iraq and the participation of the people of the south in the liberation of the province from IS.”

Al-Monitor learned about other positive stances toward the Popular Mobilization Units.

In a statement on March 2, 2015, the tribal council of elders in the Salahuddin governorate voiced support for the Sunni tribesmen who joined the ranks of the Popular Mobilization Units.

Talib al-Dulaimi, a Sunni who moved from Ramadi to Baghdad, told Al-Monitor, “These claims are false. The fact is that I have volunteered with dozens of Sunni youths in the Popular Mobilization Units and that both Sunnis and Shiites are citizens of this homeland. The sectarian stances of some Sunnis or Shiites do not apply to everyone.”

Jassem al-Moussawi, a political author and analyst from Baghdad, denied to Al-Monitor that some Shiites tend to oppose any participation in the liberation of Sunni areas, and described it as “a propaganda designed to counter the Popular Mobilization Units’ participation in the liberation of the Iraqi territory. This is because the majority of the Shiites consider the war against terrorism as a holy war, and in the eyes of the Shiites the battle for Fallujah is of strategic security importance since it is located near Baghdad.”

Ghayath Abdel Hamid, from Baghdad, who preferred not to disclose his sectarian affiliation, told Al-Monitor, “It is untrue that the Shiites prevented their sons from fighting IS under the pretext of the growing death toll.”

Islamic researcher and author Taleb Rammahi told Al-Monitor about the background of some of the negative stances. He said, “There are Sunni organizations, such as al-Qaeda and IS, that went too far in shedding Shiite blood. This was behind the Shiites’ conviction that the armed confrontation is the only choice they have.”

The stances are subject to the sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shiites, regardless of whether or not they go in line with the reality. Rather, the reality has become subject to sectarian interpretations, depending on the sect that the person embraces.

In this regard, Sunnis and Shiites who embrace a national and cross-sectarian feeling have struggled so that a rational unified position prevails, which would preserve national unity and reduce human losses within the ranks of both the Sunnis and Shiites.

This unified stance of a national front fighting against terrorism goes beyond all differences. This is reflected today in calls to let go of sectarian quotas in parliament and in the government. Among these calls is the conference on communal reconciliation and social cohesion, held in Baghdad on Feb. 28, and sponsored by the United Nations Development Program, to find a cross-sectarian political bloc to rise up to this challenge.

(Source / 11.03.2016)

21-year-old injured Palestinian girl suffering in Israeli jail

RAMALLAH, (PIC)– A human rights group raised Thursday alarm bells over the medical neglect which an injured female Palestinian detainee has been subjected to in an Israeli lock-up. According to the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS), 21-year-old Yasmin Al-Zaro, from al-Khalil, has been suffering from excruciating pains as a result of a wound inflicted by Israeli bullet fire in February. Yasmin was shot by the Israeli occupation soldiers after she allegedly attempted to carry out an anti-occupation stabbing. PPS said the detainee was hit with four bullets in her hand, feet, and stomach. She received treatment at an Israeli hospital for a few days only and she was transferred to the HaSahron jail before she fully recovered. PPS lawyer quoted prisoner al-Zaro as stating that she was later transferred to hospital for some few more days following a sudden health deterioration, but she is still suffering from severe pains. The detainee’s father, Rashad, said the family has received no updates on his daughter’s health status except that she is being held in the HaSharon jail without proper treatment. “The Israeli occupation authorities prevented us from visiting our daughter Yasmin and keeping tabs on her health condition,” the father added. Prisoner al-Zaro was shot and injured by the occupation troops on February 14, 2016 near Muslims’ the Ibrahimi Mosque under the pretext that she attempted to stab an occupation soldier.

(Source / 11.03.2016)

Rockets fired from Gaza Strip hit southern Israel: Israeli army

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Israeli security reported that rockets launched from the Gaza Strip fell near the Israeli city of Sderot on Friday evening.Israeli army spokesman Peter Lerner reported on social media that sirens were sounding in towns in the Negev desert.At least three rockets landed near Sderot. The Israeli army said the rockets caused no injuries or material damage.Israeli authorities hold Gaza’s de facto leaders Hamas responsible for all attacks against Israeli targets coming from the Gaza Strip.However, Hamas has not claimed responsibility for any rocket attacks since Israel’s devastating war in Gaza in 2014, and the movement has attempted to clamp down on armed activity by smaller political groups in the territory.

(Source / 11.03.2016)

Israeli Soldiers Attack The Weekly Nonviolent Protest In Bil’in

Israeli soldiers assaulted, on Friday, the weekly nonviolent protest against the Annexation Wall and colonies, in Bil’in village, near the central West Bank city of Ramallah, and fired dozens of gas bombs, causing many to suffer the effects of tear gas inhalation.


Dozens of locals, Israeli and international peace activists marched from the center of the village, heading toward the village’s orchards and the Annexation Wall while chanting for the liberation of Palestine by ending the brutal and illegal Israeli occupation.

The Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements in Bil’in said the soldiers fired dozens of rubber-coated metal bullets and gas bombs on the nonviolent protesters, in addition to firing gas bombs that detonate twice, and can hit targets as far as 1000 meters.

The Committee stated that this is the same type of gas bomb that killed Bassem Abu Rahma, on April 17 2009, and led to dozens of injuries over the years, in addition to causing a very serious injury to American peace activist Tristan Anderson, who was suffered quadriplegia after the bomb struck his head, on March 13, 2009.

|Also Read: Jawaher Abu Rahma (Bassem’s sister – killed by the Israeli army on January 1 2011)|

The Committee urged local, regional and international human rights groups to intervene and stop the Israeli military escalation against the Palestinian people.

The attack against the protesters took place when the locals, Israeli and international peace activists marched from the center of the village while military vehicles drove to the village’s southern entrance.

The protesters carried Palestinian flags and pictures of American peace activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer, on March 16 2003, while trying to prevent the army from demolishing a Palestinian home in Rafah, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.

Abdullah Abu Rahma, the coordinator of the Popular Committee, denounced the Israeli invasion into the Palestine News agency, and the military order shutting it down, in addition to the excessive damage caused by the soldiers who violently searched it.

Abu Rahma said that such violations aim at silencing Palestinian media agencies and journalists, in an attempt to stop them from exposing Israel’s crimes and violations.

He also strongly denounced the Israeli crimes, and violations, targeting the Palestinian people, their homes, lands and property, and the attacks against nonviolent international solidarity activists.

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(Source / 11.03.2016)

Despite Previous Failures, US To Restart Training And Arming Syrian Rebels

“We’re trying to avoid is the problem that we had the last time, where we didn’t know what their allegiances are.”

Islamic State group militants hold up their flag as they patrol in a commandeered American in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo)

ISIS militants hold up their flag as they patrol in a commandeered American Humvee in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s choice to be the next U.S. commander for the Middle East sought to assure lawmakers a revised effort to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels for the fight against the Islamic State group won’t repeat the same mistakes that doomed a similar program last year.

Testifying Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army Gen. Joseph Votel described the new approach as a “thickening effort” as opposed to the raising of a large, decisive force.

“I do think it is helpful to have people who have been trained by us, who have the techniques, who have the communications capability and the resources to link back into our firepower,” Votel said. The trained fighters, Votel added, will present the Islamic State with added “dilemmas.”

If confirmed, Votel would take over leadership of U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in Iraq, Syria and 18 other countries. He would succeed Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, who is retiring.

Austin told the committee Tuesday that he’s already requested permission from the Obama administration for the retooled Syrian train and equip effort. Austin emphasized that the new program will focus on training smaller numbers of fighters for shorter periods.

During a wide-ranging confirmation hearing, Votel said he does not have all the people and equipment required to eliminate the Islamic State. He said he anticipates needing “additional resources” to retake the group’s strongholds in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, although he didn’t specify what he has in mind.

The only U.S. ground forces in Syria are a contingent of roughly 50 special operations troops who deployed last year to work with local Syrian fighters trying to break the Islamic State’s grip on Raqqa, the group’s self-declared capital. A separate U.S. commando force is in Iraq dedicated to capturing and killing the group’s leaders and gathering intelligence that can be used to conduct follow-on raids and strikes.

Votel pledged to push for the “right resources for our people to have to accomplish the missions that we are asking them to do.”

Skeptical lawmakers questioned Votel about how potential rebel recruits in Syria would be vetted and whether they would be constrained from attacking Syrian President Bashar Assad troops. The general said that individual fighters would not be vetted prior to the training, but the leaders of those fighters would be. The Islamic State would be their target.

“We’re trying to avoid is the problem that we had the last time, where we didn’t know what their allegiances are,” Votel said. “Certainly our mission is (the Islamic State) and so it is our intent that they help with the (Islamic State) mission.”

Votel acknowledged that approach might limit the pool of recruits.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said it’s unrealistic to limit Syrian fighters after Assad’s forces have repeatedly attacked civilians with barrel bombs, a crude weapon used to inflict mass casualties.

The Islamic State “isn’t barrel bombing the men, women and children,” McCain said. “Bashar Assad is.”

The Obama administration last year scrapped a beleaguered $500 million train and equip program for Syria after Austin told Congress that only four or five trained fighters were battling the militants — significantly short of the U.S. goal to train 5,000. About 50 new fighters had been captured, wounded or fled in their first encounter with extremist militants.

Votel, 57, is a former commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment and a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He headed the secretive Joint Special Operations Command before taking over U.S. Special Operations Command in 2014.

Army Lt. Gen. Tony Thomas has been nominated to replace Votel at Special Operations Command.

(Source / 11.03.2016)