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Why Israel is ‘Deeply Interested’ in Continuation of Syrian War

Sputnik – March 23, 2017

Israel is likely to try to retain the existing status quo in Syria since it has benefited from the ongoing conflict in the war-torn neighboring nation, political analyst Sergei Balmasov asserted, saying that Tel Aviv’s combat missions are not aimed at President Bashar al-Assad, but are rather meant to prevent the crisis from being resolved.

“Israel is deeply interested in the ongoing standoff between the Sunnis and the Shia. Tel Aviv wants them to continue killing each other. Nothing presents a threat to Israel as long as this war is ongoing. The Israeli Air Force launches airstrikes against Shia militias in Syria, tipping the balance. This evens out the chances and the war drags on,” he told RT.

Balmasov, an expert at the Middle East Institute at the Russian International Affairs Council, also suggested that Israel could use a border incident to move its forces into southern Syria.

“One could not rule out that Israel does not deploy its troops to the southern buffer zone which borders the Golan Heights to create a territorial entity on the basis of Druze settlements using some kind of an incident as a pretext,” he said. … continue

SIGAR Report Notes US Failures in Afghanistan

By Salman Rafi Sheikh – New Eastern Outlook – 23.03.2017

A report of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), especially prepared for the US Congress and the Trump administration, finds what should be called a magnanimous failure of the US in achieving any of its major objectives in Afghanistan even after spending almost 16 years in the country. Ironic though it may sound, this report, along with its list of grave threats that the US needs to tackle, endorses the war as, what Trump himself has called, totally “disastrous” for the US. While the actual intention behind the preparation of this report seems to be to impress upon the president and the Congress to sanction more funds, commit more US troops and continue the rehabilitation programme (read: Trump has vowed to end the programme), it ends up enlisting the US’ multiple failures in Afghanistan, ranging from eliminating the Taliban completely to restoring even a semblance of peace and establishing a strong security force in the war torn country. Hence, the question: will commitment of more resources (funds and troops) to Afghanistan make any difference, especially when the proposed increase is nothing compared to what the US had committed and continued to utilize for years after it invaded Afghanistan in 2001? … continue

American civil war is good for world peace

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 22, 2017

… To my mind, this is about the appropriate time to begin pondering about a world sans America. That is to say, an international system where America has taken “time out”. Is it a good thing to happen? Well, it is already having some salutary effect on the international climate. The global tensions have noticeably eased. If it was commonplace during the Obama era to discuss a potential war between Russia and the US, including a nuclear war, no one wastes breath over such things anymore.

A good case can be made that if the American civil war continues to be fought as savagely by the country’s elites as it has been so far, and if the fratricidal strife continues for another 4 or 8 years — ideally, through the entire Trump presidency — it will be a great boon for the world community. Never again will Americans be able to be preachy that the world cannot do without them. And the ruling elites in countries such as India will also get accustomed to a life without America. … Read full article

It’s Time to End America’s Longest War

By Thomas Knapp | CounterPunch | March 23, 2017

In the latest round of saber-rattling between the US and North Korean governments, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid down the well-worn line. “All options,” he said during a visit to South Korea, “are on the table.”

If he’s serious, here’s an option that never seems to get much discussion lately:

US president Donald Trump should send Tillerson to tell Yun Byung-se, his counterpart in Seoul, that the US is withdrawing its troops from the Korean peninsula by a specific date, and that after that date the US will cease to guarantee, or accept responsibility for, the South’s security. … continue

Russia Ready to Discuss Nuclear Arsenal Reduction – Lavrov

Sputnik – 23.03.2017

MOSCOW – Russia is ready to discuss the possibility of reducing nuclear arsenals, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a Russian Armed Forces General Staff Military Academy lecture Thursday.

“We are ready to discuss the possibility of further reducing nuclear capabilities, but only taking into account all the factors and not just the number of strategic offensive weapons,” Lavrov said.

Meanwhile, he added that Russia is ready for dialogue with the United States on the reduction of strategic nuclear weapons and believes that more countries need to be involved in the process. … continue

Russia Warns Norway over Missile Defense Plans

By Alex GORKA | Strategic Culture Foundation | 23.03.2017

Russia has warned Norway over consequences of joining NATO ballistic missile defense (BMD) plans. According to Russian ambassador to Oslo, Moscow will retaliate. Norway’s possible accession to NATO’s missile shield «will be a new factor that will be considered in our strategic planning as the emergence of an additional problem in the Arctic region», Teimuraz Ramishvili told the Norwegian state media network NRK.

In 2017, Norway may become a part of BMD. The Norwegian government has appointed an expert group to consider a possible Norwegian contribution to the missile shield. A detailed report on the issue is currently being prepared by experts from the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment and the US Missile Defense Agency to be submitted the year.

Norway has no interceptors on its soil but there are other ways to contribute into the anti-missile plans. Denmark does not host missiles but it committed itself to the bloc’s BMD in 2014, working to equip its frigates with advanced radar systems capable of detecting and tracking ballistic missiles. The missile defense program continues to be implemented despite the fact that after the nuclear agreement with Iran in 2015, there is no rationale for it. … continue

Over 100 NATO military vehicles arrive in Estonia as part of ‘biggest deployment since Cold War’

RT | March 23, 2017

Scores of tanks, self-propelled artillery guns and other military hardware have started to arrive in Estonia from the UK and Germany, in what the UK defense minister has called the largest deployment in Eastern Europe since the Cold War.

The first of hundreds of UK military vehicles have arrived in Estonia on Wednesday, delivered by a ferry from ports in Britain and Germany, the UK Ministry of Defence reported.

The heavy military equipment – Challenger 2 tanks, Terrier, Titan and Trojan armored battlefield engineer vehicles as well as Warrior infantry fighting vehicles – will be moved from an Estonian port to a military base in Tapa, the ministry statement said.

The delivery is aimed to support a British battle group in the eastern European country, it added, emphasizing that it’s “one of the largest ever NATO deployments” to the region.

“This is the start of one of the biggest deployment in Eastern Europe since the Cold War,” UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said, adding that by the end of April there will be “800 British troops, with armor, with tanks” in Estonia, close to Russia’s borders.

NATO has justified the arrival of the vehicles, which follow a deployment of over a hundred British military personnel to Estonia, by boosting security in the region against hypothetical “Russian aggression.”

American, French and German troops have already arrived to Estonia within NATO’s international battalions, Interfax reported, citing the local Postimees newspaper. By the end of next month, some 1,650 international troops are expected to be present at the Tapa and Amari military bases, with the latter to host NATO’s air forces from Germany.

The buildup is part of a large NATO mission to deploy four multinational battalions in the Baltics, agreed by the military alliance last year. Moscow has repeatedly criticized the move, saying NATO’s eastward expansion on the Russian border with the expected 4,000 troops plus tanks, armored vehicles, air support and high-tech intelligence centers in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland will only undermine the security balance on the continent.

Air Forces of 6 NATO States Participating in Exercises in Bulgaria

Sputnik – 23.03.2017

The air forces of six NATO countries are carrying out various exercises aimed at the improvement of the tactical training of the military and transport aviation in Bulgaria, which will conclude on April 7, country’s Defense Ministry said in a statement Thursday.

According to the statement, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Italy, France, Belgium and the Netherlands are participating in the exercises.

The flight exercises are expected to start on Monday and end on April 6, the statement continued, and will be followed by a ceremony to mark the completion of the training.

The exercise participants plan to conduct various maneuvers during this period, of which include flying at low and very low altitudes.

The alliance agreed to carry out the military exercises in Bulgaria in 2017 at last year’s NATO Summit in Warsaw.

Hong Kong: Anglo-America’s Struggling Foothold in China

By Joseph Thomas – New Eastern Outlook – March 22, 2017

Prominent American propagandist Howard French recently published a lengthy editorial in the Guardian titled, “Is it too late to save Hong Kong from Beijing’s authoritarian grasp?,” in which he attempts to buttress an otherwise categorically false narrative surrounding an alleged indigenous struggle for democracy and independence within Hong Kong.

French attempts to hold China accountable for backtracking on an agreement made with Britain over the return of its own territory taken from it by force in 1841. He also attempts to portray Beijing’s crackdown on US-UK subversion in Hong Kong as “authoritarian,” never making mention of the extensive funding and meddling both the United States and the United Kingdom are engaged in within Chinese territory.

The article documents only one side of the so-called “independence” movement in Hong Kong, sidestepping any critical analysis of the colonial background of the ongoing political crisis or the neo-colonial aspects that shape current events even now.

The lengthy piece was paid for by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a Washington D.C.-based front that collaborates with the New York Times, PBS, NPR, Time Magazine and other mainstays of US propaganda. These are the same media outlets that helped sell the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as US-led attacks on Libya and US meddling in Syria beginning in 2011. By supporting French’s work, they now help sell to the public a narrative that undermines Chinese sovereignty an ocean away from American shores. … continue

Importing Democracy: US Breeds Activism in Belarus

Sputnik – 22.03.2017

Recently, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a tender for its Community Connections project in Belarus. The main goal of the project is to use professional exchanges to establish connections between the people of Belarus and their US colleagues, in order to promote free market and democratic values.

USAID reported that under the program Belarusian activists would visit the US for a three-week-long training to share experience, including communications with American experts and activists.

Washington has already implemented several programs via USAID, aimed at promoting democratic values in Belarus. For example, Washington unveiled $9 million to support the development of democracy and fair governance in Belarus in 2017, compared to $8.3 million in 2016 and $7 million in 2015.

In December 2016, the State Department announced a grant of $520,000 for non-profit organizations to train independent journalists in Belarus.

Moreover, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) provided financial support to election observers in 2014, as well as to Belarusian human rights organizations and activists. In 2016, NEED unveiled over $2 million to support civic society and independent media in Belarus. … Full article

California Lawmakers Looking To Make Bad Law Worse By Banning ‘False’ Political Speech

By Tim Cushing | TechDirt | March 20, 2017

There’s something to be said for an informed electorate, although it really shouldn’t be elected officials advocating for it. They’d benefit least from people knowing more about sausage and the making thereof. And legislators definitely shouldn’t be robbing the First Amendment to pay for better information, as a few California lawmakers are attempting to do.

A new bill, pointed out by the EFF’s Dave Maass, seems to be a response of sorts to “fake news” and other political detritus of this highly-partisan system. Ostensibly, the bill is aimed at keeping voters from being misled on issues that affect them. The problem is, this bill would allow the government to determine what is or isn’t misleading and apply to a citizen’s social media posts, blog, etc.

California’s existing “political cyberfraud” law (yes, really) already contains wording that forbids cybersquatting, misleading redirects, and otherwise tricking internet users who are seeking information on ballot measures. The existing law is more concerned with acts along the lines of false impersonation and deliberate fraud. The amendment, however, isn’t. It adds a couple of new aspects, both making the bad law worse. … continue

US-Led Coalition Bombs School in Raqqa, Mainstream Media Diverts Attention

Sputnik – 22.03.2017

More than 30 Syrian civilians were killed when the US-led coalition bombed a school in the town of al-Mansour in the Raqqa province, Turkish Anadolu news agency reported.

Earlier in the day, an informed source cited by the SANA news agency also said that the US-led coalition raid struck a school south of the town of Mansour, nearly 19 miles west of Raqqa. Unverified reports estimated up to 33 people may have been killed in the strike. The school was being used as a shelter for refugees.

The refugees were peaceful citizens who had fled the fighting from the cities of Aleppo, Raqqa and Palmyra and had come to al-Mansour for safety. … Full article

Land Rights Activist Shot Dead in Brazilian Hospital

teleSUR | March 22, 2017

Waldomiro Costa Pereira, an activist with the Landless Workers Movement, MST, was killed Monday when gunmen stormed a hospital in Parauapebas in northeastern Brazil’s Para state, activists said in a statement.

Five armed men burst into a small town hospital in the Brazilian Amazon, surrounded security guards and shot dead the prominent land rights activist, in the latest deadly attack on land campaigners.

The motive for Pereira’s murder was unclear, the MST said, but the activist had been recovering in the hospital from a previous assassination attempt.

“This is yet another murder of workers in the state of Para,” the MST said in a statement. “Impunity has become commonplace as has the action of criminal militia groups,” the group said, adding that Pereira was a longtime activist in the “struggle for agrarian reform.” … continue

Australia finds no funds diverted in World Vision probe, further debunking Israeli claims against al-Halabi

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network – March 22, 2017

In yet another blow to the propaganda-driven case against Palestinian aid worker Mohammed al-Halabi, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reported on Tuesday, 21 March that “an internal review into World Vision funding in Gaza has uncovered nothing to suggest any diversion of government aid funding to Hamas.”

Al-Halabi was seized by Israeli occupation forces at the Beit Hanoun/Erez crossing and in August 2016, Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, went on a propaganda offensive, claiming that Halabi had redirected World Vision funds to the Palestinian resistance organization, Hamas. Israeli occupation officials declared that he had diverted $43 million in charitable funds to the Palestinian resistance, including a video from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accusing Palestinians of not caring about their people. The amounts cited dwarfed the actual budget to which al-Halabi had access, by all accounts. These seemingly impossible claims were made after nearly a month of interrogation, during which Halabi was subjected to torture and inhumane treatment.

The claims against Halabi were accompanied by similarly touted claims against civil engineer Waheed Bursh, a contractor with the UN Development Program, also accused of redirecting resources to the Palestinian resistance – in his case, rubble from the Israeli bombing of Gaza. However, despite the large-scale publicity surrounding Borsh’s arrest, he was released seven months later, indicating that no serious charges were ever made. He was cited as a “witness” againat al-Halabi, and later confirmed that he completely denied any allegations against the aid worker.

“The news DFAT found no evidence of the misuse of World Vison funds comes as Mr Halabi’s trial continues in Israel. He has rejected a plea deal offered by Israeli authorities and has pleaded not guilty, claiming he is innocent of all charges,” reported the Australian Brodcasting Corporation. The plea agreement he rejected would have seen him imprisoned for three years, a short sentence which again indicates a lack of serious charges or evidence in the case.

Indeed, rather than presenting any evidence to back up the widely-publicized public claims against World Vision and Halabi, Israeli occupation officials have instead submitted additional, lesser charges against Halabi that have no relation to diverting funds or his work with World Vision; two such charges are those of “passing information to the enemy” and of “aiding and abetting the enemy in a time of war,” with the enemy in question being Palestinians in Gaza. Al-Halabi is, himself, of course, a Palestinian living under occupation and siege in Gaza. … continue

PA arrests Palestinian journalists in the West Bank

MEMO | March 22, 2017

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is carrying out an “unprecedented” and “illegal” campaign against Palestinian journalists in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian news website Arabs48.com reported on Tuesday.

As part of the campaign, the news site said that the PA’s intelligence services summoned journalist Sameh Manasreh from Tulkarm on Sunday after he had taken part in the funeral of Palestinian activist Basel Al-Araj, who was killed by Israeli forces earlier this month.

Manasreh was locked in the headquarters of the intelligence services for a couple of hours and released in the evening. He was asked to report to the same agency the next day.

The PA also arrested another journalist, Luay Shalaldeh, and investigated him for four days. After he was released, he said that he was investigated for taking part in public activities.

On Monday, the intelligence services also summoned Qutaiba Qasim from Bethlehem and questioned him for several hours. He was released and asked to return the next day.

The Palestinian Journalists Association (PJA) condemned the security campaign yesterday that it says targeted Palestinian journalists, with the aim of undermining their right to freely collect and impart information.

“The continuous hunting and arrests of Palestinian journalists and threats against them is a violation of their rights,” a statement by the PJA said, noting that the PA threatens and arrests any journalists who report narratives about incidents which is different than its own narrative. … Full article

15-year-old Palestinian killed, 2 injured by Israeli shelling in Rafah

Ma’an – March 22, 2017

GAZA CITY – An 15-year-old Palestinian was killed and two other Palestinians were injured by Israeli shelling in eastern Rafah city in the southern Gaza Strip before dawn on Wednesday.

Locals told Ma’an that Israeli drones were also flying overhead as the sound of gunshots and explosions were heard.

Spokesperson for Gaza’s Ministry of Health Ashraf al-Qidra said in a statement that Youssef Shaaban Abu Athra, 15, was killed while two others sustained multiple injuries from shrapnel as a result of the artillery fire. He was initially reported to be 18-years-old.

The two injured were taken to the Abu Youssef Najjar Hospital in Rafah for treatment. Their identities and their medical conditions remained unknown.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that Israel forces had “detected three suspects” near Israel’s military border fence in southern Gaza, and that Israeli forces responded by “firing with a tank toward the suspect,” adding that “one hit was confirmed.”

However the spokesperson did not explicitly acknowledge that someone had been killed or elaborate on what had been suspicious about their behavior. … Full article

30 more administrative detention orders issued to imprison Palestinians without charge or trial

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network – March 22, 2017

Israeli occupation forces issued another 30 administrative detention orders for the imprisonment without charge or trial of Palestinians between 13 and 20 March, 2017.

Palestinian lawyer Mahmoud Halabi reported that the orders included 12 new orders and 18 renewals of existing administrative detention orders. One of the detention orders renewed here was that of Mohammed Harb, 23, from Jenin, one of the comrades of slain Palestinian youth leader Basil al-Araj, who was assassinated by Israeli occupation forces on 6 March. Harb was among five young Palestinians imprisoned with al-Araj in Palestinian Authority prisons for five months; he was seized by Israeli occupation forces soon following his release. Seif al-Idrissi, Mohammed al-Salameen and Haitham Siyaj are also held in administrative detention without charge or trial.

There are currently nearly 600 Palestinians imprisoned without charge or trial under administrative detention, out of nearly 7,000 total Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. … Full article

Israeli occupation most malignant in the world, says UN rapporteur

MEMO | March 22, 2017

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, has described the Israeli occupation as “the most malignant” in the world. The Canadian official added that perpetuating an alien rule over almost five million people, against their fervent wishes, inevitably requires the repression of rights, the erosion of the rule of law, the abrogation of international commitments and the imposition of deeply discriminatory practices.

Lynk accused Israel of humiliating the Palestinians and intensifying the crackdown on human rights activists. He presented his report to the UN Commission on Human Rights and Human Rights Council during its latest session on Israel. Israeli and US diplomats boycotted the session dedicated to several UN reports criticising Israeli settlements, the blockade of Gaza and the excessive use of force against Palestinians.

The report also criticised the Palestinian authorities for their violations, including unlawful killings and detentions. It comes after the resignation of the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Rima Khalaf, after her report accusing Israel of being an apartheid state was rejected by the international body under pressure from Israel and the US. … continue

Israeli forces detain Palestinian, confiscate vehicles in northern Jordan Valley

Ma’an – March 22, 2017

TUBAS – Israeli forces on Wednesday morning detained a young Palestinian man in the village of Ibziq in the northern Jordan Valley region of the occupied West Bank and confiscated a tractor and a private vehicle in the area.

Muataz Bisharat, an official who monitors settlement activity in the Jordan Valley, told Ma’an that Israeli forces, escorted by several Israeli Civil Administration jeeps, detained Mahmoud Muhammad al-Hroub, 23, and confiscated a tractor belonging to his father and a vehicle belonging to Hayil Turkman.

The confiscated vehicles were taken to the Nahal military site in the al-Maleh area of the Jordan valley, Bisharat said. … continue

Palestinian legislator Mohammed al-Tal seized by Israeli forces; Samira Halaiqa indicted by military court

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network – March 22, 2017

The number of imprisoned Palestinian Legislative Council members climbed to 11 on Tuesday, 21 March after a pre-dawn raid by Israeli occupation forces seized PLC member Mohammed al-Tal from al-Khalil, along with 19 more Palestinians. Al-Tal has previously spent 11 years in Israeli prisons, half of those in administrative detention without charge or trial.

Also on Tuesday, 21 March, an Israeli occupation military court at Ofer submitted an indictment against PLC member Samira Halaiqa, 53, from al-Khalil, accusing her of participating in political and social activities and engaging in “incitement” for making political posts on Facebook. Halaiqa was seized on 9 March by occupation forces who invaded her home. She, along with her husband Mohammed Halaiqa, had previously been imprisoned for one year in 2006 under administrative detention, following her election to the PLC.

Both Halaiqa and al-Tal are part of the Change and Reform bloc, the PLC bloc associated with Hamas. … Full article

Israel plans to annex territorial waters in dispute with Lebanon

MEMO | March 22, 2017

The Israeli government is planning to annex a large area of territorial waters also claimed by Lebanon, which has issued bids for gas and oil investment, Ynet News revealed on Tuesday. The area in question is believed to be rich in natural resources and has been disputed between Israel and Lebanon for years, with the US and UN failing to settle the argument.

Ynet News said that the bill is “aimed to claim Israel’s sovereignty over the area, mainly for the purpose of harvesting natural recourses like oil and gas.” However, it did not say when the proposed bill will be presented to the Knesset (parliament). According to the Israeli news website, the area is a rough triangle of around 800 square kilometres.

International maritime law seeks to resolve such disputes by dividing the territorial waters between disputed countries by mutual agreement based on the “mid-point” between the two countries. The Israelis claim that Lebanon has broken the status quo by advertising for tenders to search for natural resources.

The bill, added the website, is a means by which the Israeli government wants to define the maritime border with Lebanon. The triangle, it noted, is regarded by Tel Aviv as Israeli territory.

Netanyahu to Putin: Israeli airstrikes in Syria will continue

RT | March 22, 2017

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he has told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Israeli forces will continue airstrikes in Syria if they deem it necessary.

“If there is feasibility from an intelligence and military standpoint – we attack and so it will continue,” Netanyahu said during a visit to China, adding that he had informed Putin of Israel’s intentions.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Israeli PM also dismissed reports that Russia was insisting that Israel cease its military operations on Syrian territory.

On Monday, Syrian President Bashar Assad told visiting Russian MPs that he is counting on Russia to prevent further Israeli attacks on Syrian soil and to help Damascus avoid a full-blown conflict with Tel Aviv.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador to Moscow, Gary Koren, to demand explanations for the airstrikes Israel conducted near the Syrian city of Palmyra on Friday morning. Israeli warplanes hit several targets near Palmyra, allegedly destroying advanced arms provided to the Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah.

Syria’s air defense force fired anti-aircraft missiles at the Israeli planes as they were returning to base. Syrian media reported that one plane was downed, while Israel denied any losses. … Full article

Global Laundromat update: “Bank did bank things with famous person”

OffGuardian | March 22, 2107

… Today’s article is simply a readjustment of all same talking points mentioned several times each yesterday, only chopped up into a different order. Like that episode of the Simpsons where Marge keeps chopping up one Chanel suit into a variety of different outfits.

You can tell they are desperate to get people clicking, because they’ve tried to tie it into an actual talking point: Donald Trump’s “Russia connections”. The entirety of this “new information” is contained within the headline:

Bank that lent $300m to Trump linked to Russian money laundering scam

That’s it. That’s not a teaser for more information. That’s not a summary of a complex plot. That is literally all the information. … Read full article

Facebook expands roll-out of fact-checker in ‘fake news’ crackdown

RT | March 22, 2017

Facebook has expanded the roll-out of its fact-checker tool to combat ‘fake news’ as more users report the appearance of the ‘disputed’ message alert. The pop-up lets users know when a story’s accuracy is questionable before they share it.

Users in regions including the US have reported seeing the warning, advising them that “before you share this content, you might want to know that the fact-checking sites, Snopes.com and Associated Press disputed its accuracy.”

The alert then allows the user to share the story or cancel.

The tool is not yet in operation in all regions, with the UK, Ireland and Australia among countries so far known not to be seeing the alert when tested against a story known in some regions of the US to display the alert. … continue

Ukraine Asks US for ‘Major Non-NATO Ally’ Status

Sputnik – 22.03.2017

KIEV – Ukraine’s parliament passed a resolution on Wednesday, asking the United States to grant it the status of a major non-NATO ally.

The resolution, addressing US Congress, was backed by 232 lawmakers and cleared the parliament after previously failing to attain the required 226 votes.

“In line with the spirit of the Bucharest Memorandum [on Security Assurances] and the developing strategic partnership between our states we ask the US to consider a defense agreement with Ukraine and grant it the status of a major non-NATO ally,” the resolution said. … Full article

A Breach in the Anti-Putin Groupthink

Consortium News | March 21, 2107

The mainstream U.S. media has virtually banned any commentary that doesn’t treat Russian President Putin as the devil, but a surprising breach in the groupthink has occurred in Foreign Affairs magazine, reports Gilbert Doctorow. – Read article

Trump opens the Russia file, finally

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 21, 2017

The first half of April will witness the first major forays by the United States into the foreign policy arena under President Donald Trump. The summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping is slated for April 6-7 at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. On April 12, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be visiting Moscow.

There is much heartburn already in Washington and in some European capitals that Trump administration is showing preference for big powers and is ‘ignoring old allies’. The lamentation is factually baseless. There have been a string of visits by leaders of allied powers to meet with Trump in the White House – Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Shinzo Abe and so on.

Interestingly, however, Tillerson showed disinterest in attending the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on April 5-6 and is instructing his deputy Tom Shannon to represent the US, pleading he will be preoccupied with Xi’s visit to Florida. The Reuters reported that NATO offered to re-schedule the Brussels meeting to suit Tillerson’s convenience, but that Washington ‘rebuffed’ the offer.

If so, it is a big statement on the Trump administration’s foreign-policy priorities. … continue

‘Russiagate’ and the House Intelligence Committee

By Alexander Mercouris | The Duran | March 21, 2017

FBI Director Comey’s and NSA Director Rogers’s public testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on Monday 20th March 2017 cast some interesting light on the ‘Russiagate’ allegations, though these were not the ones the media has sought to emphasise.

Firstly, almost from the moment the House Intelligence Committee began its session, the establishment media as one chose to highlight Comey’s public confirmation that the FBI is investigating Russia’s alleged interference in the US election, and that this involves investigating allegations of collusion between some of President Trump’s associates and the Russians, as if this was a major revelation.

Suffice to say that this was the headline story in all the British newspapers on Monday and on the BBC, as well as in the Washington Post. The confirmation was called a ‘bombshell’, or at least a ‘setback’ for the President.

It should be said clearly that it was nothing of the sort. … continue

British police accused of hiring Indian hackers to spy on journalists & campaigners

RT | March 22, 2017

The Metropolitan Police is under investigation after complaints it uses hackers in India to illegally crack into the email accounts of journalists and environmental activists.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is looking into the allegations after receiving an anonymous letter from a person claiming to have been working in the intelligence unit responsible for the hacks.

The letter was originally sent to Green Party peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb.

“For a number of years the unit had been illegally accessing the email accounts of activists,” the letter read.

“This has largely been accomplished because of the contact that one of the officers had developed with counterparts in India who in turn were using hackers to obtain email passwords.” […]

The allegations come as the IPCC investigates the national domestic extremism and disorder intelligence unit for the possible destruction of several documents in May 2014. Just last month, the watchdog revealed that it had found evidence of the mass shredding of files. This was despite instructions advising that documents should be kept intact to serve as evidence in an inquiry into the undercover policing of political groups.

This week’s whistleblower stated that the destruction of the documents had “been happening for some time and on a far greater scale than the IPCC seems to be aware of.”

“The main reason for destroying these documents is that they reveal that officers were engaged in illegal activities to obtain intelligence on protest groups,” they added. … Full article

“There is no American Deep State… it just looks like there is”

By Kit | OffGuardian | March 21, 2017

Last week the New Yorker, and yesterday Salon magazine, published editorials arguing against the very existence of an “American Deep State”. The arguments presented are very… interesting. Both are, perhaps, classic cases of protesting too much. … continue

Israel precipitates new tensions in Syria

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 20, 2017

The Israeli air attacks on Friday near Palmyra in Syria targeting what Tel Aviv claims to be a convoy ferrying weapons for Hezbollah in Lebanon – and what Damascus alleges was a calculated act directed against the positions of the government forces fighting the Islamic State active in the region – cannot be regarded as a ‘stand-alone’ event.

On the face of it, the Israeli claim lacks credibility since Palmyra is twice removed from the Syrian-Lebanon border in terms of geographical proximity. Possibly, the Syrian government has a point that the Israelis were deliberately targeting its forces. This explains why the Russian Foreign Ministry called in the Israeli ambassador in Moscow on the same day and sought explanation.

Evidently, some ‘ground rule’ as per the unwritten Russian-Israeli understanding over Syrian frontlines has been breached and Moscow took note. In previous instances when Israel attacked Hezbollah – even assassinating its top commanders fighting on Syrian frontlines – Moscow had looked away. But this time around, it promptly signalled displeasure. It stands to reason that Israel crossed some ‘red line’. … continue

Syrian army says downs Israeli drone near Golan

Press TV – March 21, 2017

The Syrian army has reportedly downed an Israeli reconnaissance drone in the Golan Heights shortly after it violated the Syrian airspace.

The Syrian army said the drone, a Skylark, was downed near the southeastern province of Quneitra in the Syrian Golan Heights. The Israeli military has confirmed the downing of the drone and the Lebanese Resistance Movement Hezbollah posted pictures of the downed drone on social media pages.

The “sky rider,” as it’s known in Hebrew, is a miniature surveillance drone that can be launched by one or two people, depending on the model, and once airborne, provides a live video feed to the base on the ground.

The Israeli military said the circumstances of the incident were being investigated, but that there was no immediate proof that classified data could be retrieved from the device. … Full article

Out in the Open: Jewish Power Rears Ugly Head in Censoring of UN Report

By Richard Edmondson | Fig Trees and Vineyards | March 20, 2017

Recent developments at the United Nations–(with regard to the censoring of a report on Israeli apartheid and the resignation of a high-ranking UN official who had been ordered to repudiate it)–should be viewed in the context of remarks made earlier this month by Alan Dershowitz.

Speaking at an anti-BDS conference in Los Angeles, the former Harvard Law School professor and now CNN contributor offered the following advice to his fellow Jews… continue

Text of Resignation Letter by ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf

Jadaliyya | March 18, 2017

The following is the resignation letter by ESWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf in response to the formal request by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that ESCWA withdraw the publication of a scholarly report (below) that found Israel guilty of apartheid. … continue

Israeli Colonist Rams Elderly Palestinian Woman with His Car near Nablus

IMEMC News – March 21, 2017

On Monday evening, an Israeli driver hit and severely injured an elderly Palestinian woman in Sawiya village, south of Nablus, in the northern part of the West Bank.

The victim was identified as Hilwe Abu Ras, 70, who was walking along the side of the road when she was hit.

The colonizer did not stop, but drove away toward the Israeli military roadblock Za’tara.

Local medics were called to the scene, and took the victim to the an-Najah Hospital in Nablus. Doctors there described her condition as moderate-to-severe, but stable.

Israeli police made no effort to apprehend the perpetrator. Palestinians who hit Israelis with their cars, whether on purpose or accidentally, are often shot on the spot and killed immediately by Israeli troops, with no opportunity for a trial.

This is just the latest in a serious of ramming attacks against Palestinians by Israelis over the last two weeks.

On Sunday, Israeli colonists attacked Khaled al-’Oweiwi in Suwwana neighborhood in Jerusalem. al-’Oweiwi was stopped at a red light when three Israeli colonists driving motorcycles attacked his vehicle with weapons. He crossed the red light and crashed into a bus.

Last Tuesday, Fadi ‘Aabed, 41, suffered fractures in his nose and cuts and bruises in his face and head, when Israeli colonizers attacked him in east Jerusalem. He works as a taxi driver, and several Israeli colonists came to his taxi and asked for a ride. Seeing he was Palestinian, the men attacked him – one of the attackers beat him with a wine bottle. ‘Aabed reported that he drive a little ways and saw another cab driver, who he asked to call the police. One of his attackers was caught, and the other

On March 11th, Malek Saber, 15, was attacked by four Israeli colonizers when he was walking in the al-Masharef mountain area in Jerusalem. He suffered injuries to his head and chest. … Full article

2 More Palestinians Prosecuted over Facebook Posts

IMEMC News & Agencies – March 21, 2017

Amid a fierce Israeli crackdown on Palestinian freedom of expression, occupation authorities have prosecuted two Palestinians over Facebook posts, according to Days of Palestine.

Israeli authorities issued a list of charges, including “Facebook incitement” against Palestinian journalist Mohamed Batroukh, from Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem-based human rights group, Wadi al-Hilweh Information Centre, said that this is a “clear and flagrant violation” of rights to impart information and free speech.

Batroukh was kidnapped by Israeli forces during a night raid on March 7, Safa news agency said.

Meanwhile, an Israeli judge sentenced Walid Rajabi to 10 months of actual imprisonment and a suspended probation sentence of seven months for three years, on charges of incitement on Facebook.

Tens of Palestinians had been kidnapped, charged and sentenced by the Israeli occupation over expressing their opinions on social media during the last six months.

UAE arrests prominent human rights activist

Press TV – March 21, 2017

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates have arrested an award-winning human rights activist pending an investigation for allegedly publishing “false information” and “sowing sedition and sectarianism” online, state media said.

Cybercrime prosecutors ordered the arrest of Ahmed Mansoor on Sunday “over documented electronic proof,” the official WAM news agency reported late Monday.

Mansoor was accused of using social media platforms to “publish false information and rumors, and spread tendentious ideas that would sow sedition, sectarianism and hatred and harm national unity and social peace, as well as harming the state’s reputation and inciting disobedience,” said WAM.

The [Persian] Gulf Center for Human Rights said his arrest may be linked to posts on his Twitter account calling for the release of Emirati human rights activist Osama al-Najjar. … Full article

UN rejects Saudi call to oversee Houthi-controlled Yemeni port

Press TV – March 21, 2017

The United Nations has rejected a call by Saudi Arabia and its allies to supervise a Houthi-held Yemeni port, where tens of refugees were killed last week in an aerial attack blamed on Riyadh.

The Saudi call came after more than 40 people lost their lives and dozens of others were injured in an apparent Saudi airstrike that hit a boat carrying Somali refugees near Bab al-Mandeb Strait on Friday.

Riyadh and its allies have denied being behind the air raid despite witness accounts citing an Apache helicopter – which is only used by Saudi Arabia in the war on Yemen – to have attacked the vessel.

Reacting to the call on Monday, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said the warring sides in Yemen are responsible for protecting civilian infrastructure and civilians, adding, “These are not obligations they can shift to others.” … Full article

Channel 4’s ‘Case Against Assad’: some questions to keep in mind

By Tim Hayward | March 21, 2017

Channel 4 this week is to present a renewed ‘case against Assad’. Having examined a number of previous such cases advanced via the Western media and NGOs, I have learned to look carefully at whether they claim more than they prove, or are even actively misleading. So I shall be watching the programme with some questions in mind.

Although what follows is very much a note to myself – a reminder to stay critical even as I prepare to be moved emotionally by harrowing human stories – I am posting it here because I do think that if a prosecutor’s case is being made in the court of public opinion, we, the viewing jury, should endeavour – in the spirit of recognizing the right of due process – to imagine together what a counsel for the defence might have asked, given a chance. And it is not just procedures at stake. Those hoping to precipitate regime change leave uncertain what would follow, except that any new regime would be more accommodating to the Western and Gulf states that are backing the Islamist fighters. Those fighters have controlled the areas they have captured by abducting, enslaving, raping, trafficking, beheading people at will, preventing children going to school or the sick receiving treatment, restricting access to food, restricting freedom of movement, and generally disregarding human rights and laws of war. To wish their rule on the Syrian people would, in my opinion, be evil. At the very least, contemplation of it should serve to inject some balance into the assessment of the government’s actions against insurgency and of how best to prevent crimes against humanity.

For what it’s worth, then, here are some questions I shall keep in mind… continue

The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required

By Eric Sommer | CounterPunch | March 21, 2017

A series of harsh accusations against Russia was voiced by members of the U.S. Congressional Intelligence committee during a widely-reported hearing a few days ago. All of the accusations assumed – as proven fact – that Russia had manipulated the U.S. presidential election to subvert American democracy.

Adam Schiff, the ranking Democratic party member of the committee, led off with statements such as “a foreign adversarial power intervened in an effort to weaken our democracy and to influence the outcome for one candidate and against the other.” He voiced no doubt as to whether this was true, but rather asked,“whether the Russians had the help of US citizens, including people associated with the Trump campaign.”

Remarkably, neither Schiff’s diatribe nor any of the other accusations was accompanied by evidence of any kind, accept for quotes from a previously discredited 25 page report.

It should not require legal training to note that serious allegations against the President of the United States, and against an important foreign leader, require evidence. Common sense should be sufficient.

However, Adam Schiff, the lead speaker in the anti-Russian diatribes in the hearing, is a trained lawyer and former government prosecutor. Presumably he, and other trained lawyers on the Congressional committee are especially able, due to their vocational backgrounds, and law school training, to detect gaps in evidence or the complete absence of evidence. … continue

“Global Laundromat” has the Guardian in a Spin

By Kit | OffGuardian | March 21, 2017

The latest “breaking” story from the Guardian and Luke Harding is hitting the headlines. Almost exactly 1 year after the explosive anti-climax that was “The Panama Papers”, Harding and the coterie of NGOs for which he acts as de-facto spokesperson have a big announcement to make: Banks launder money, and some of it is Russian.

We are nearing the anniversary of the release of the Panama Papers, a “big story” involving years of work, hundreds of leaked documents, a team of exceptional journalists (and Luke Harding) and a dramatic reveal: “Sometimes, very rich people use legal loopholes to avoid paying their taxes.”

The list of implicated parties included heads of state, celebrities, athletes, David Cameron’s dad and a cellist that knows Vladimir Putin. We all remember who the Guardian decided to focus on, and we all know why.

Today the same crack-team (and Luke Harding) are releasing the long-awaited sequel to their original hit. “The global Laundromat”, it’s called. It’s a product of a years-long investigation into money laundering in ex-Soviet states, using British shell companies. I can’t comment on the truth of these allegations, because we don’t get to see the evidence, we are simply told that it’s true “according to letters The Guardian has seen”, and “reports shown to the Guardian ”… and other variations on that theme.

They may well be true. Big business and billionaires take part in shady and/or illegal business practices all the time. Just as was the case in the Panama Papers, they tell us something we all already know to be true, and then act like it was a surprise.

There’s a lot to like here. The simultaneous publication of four different articles on the subject, all practically identical. The implication that it is “breaking news”, when their prize factoid is three years old, and the scheme itself hasn’t operated since 2014. The fact that Luke Harding has to publicly declare the US government’s involvement, to stop people like us from pointing it out and making them look silly (like last time). The persistent use of the old Harding trick of simply dotting your story with plenty of “could haves” and “speculations suggests”. It’s all good stuff.

Where it becomes hilariously cack-handed in their agenda-pushing is in trying to force tenuous links to the Kremlin and, of course, Vladimir Putin in particular. … continue

Meet the Neocons’ Newest American Hero: Ben Sasse

By Wayne MADSEN | Strategic Culture Foundation | 21.03.2017

With Senator John McCain in his last term in the U.S. Congress and Senator Lindsey Graham in potential political trouble in South Carolina in 2020, the neo-conservatives have their high hopes set on freshman Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Sasse is the new face among cheerleaders in the U.S. Senate advocating further sanctions on Russia, a full investigation of alleged links between the Donald Trump presidential campaign and Russia, and full-throttle support for NATO and numerous free trade agreements. … continue

Neocons as a Figment of Imagination

Criticizing their thuggery is anti-Semitism?

By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review • March 21, 2017

We have a president who is belligerent towards Iran, who is sending “boots on the ground” to fight ISIS, who loves Israel passionately and who is increasing already bloated defense budgets. If one were a neoconservative, what is there not to like, yet neocons in the media and ensconced comfortably in their multitude of think tanks hate Donald Trump. I suspect it comes down to three reasons. First, it is because Trump knows who was sticking the knife in his back during his campaign in 2016 and he has neither forgiven nor hired them. Nor does he pay any attention to their bleating, denying them the status that they think they deserve because of their self-promoted foreign policy brilliance.

And second, Trump persists in his desire to “do business” with Russia. The predominantly Jewish neocons always imagine the thunder of hooves of approaching Cossacks preparing to engage in pogroms whenever they hear the word Russia. And this is particularly true of Vladimir Putin’s regime, which is Holy Russia revived. When not musing over how it is always 1938 and one is in Munich, neocons are nearly as unsettled when they think it is 1905 in Odessa.

The third reason, linked to number two, is that having a plausible and dangerous enemy like Russia on tap keeps the cash flowing from defense industries to the foundations and think tanks that the neocons nest in when they are not running the Pentagon and National Security Council. Follow the money. So it is all about self-interest combined with tribal memory: money, status and a visceral hatred of Russia. … continue

Trump v. Televised Congressional Hysteria

By Stephen Lendman | March 21, 2017

Americans are ill-governed and ill-served by officials at all levels of government – federal, state and local.

On Monday, clear evidence showed it. Disgraceful witch-hunt McCarthyism was on display for viewers tuning in to see.

Hysterical House Select Committee on Intelligence members disgraced themselves during tediously long testimony by FBI Director James Comey and NSA head Michael Rogers.

Committee members obsessed over nonexistent Trump ties to Russia, his charges about Obama wiretapping him, nonexistent Moscow US election hacking, Putin bashing, and security leaks. … continue

John McAfee: ‘I Can Promise You It Wasn’t Russia Who Hacked the DNC’

Sputnik – 21.03.2017

The Kremlin has been accused of launching large-scale cyberwar ostensibly aimed at undermining democracy in the United States, with high-profile hacks on the Democratic Party cited as evidence, but technology pioneer and founder of McAfee securities John McAfee told Radio Sputnik that Russia is not behind these high-profile cyberattacks.

“I can promise you it was not the Russians who hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The software used was way too old. The state hackers would not use an old version of software which was less functional than the updated versions,” he said. “One of the things that the CIA said and I’ve been saying for years is that it is virtually impossible to find attribution for any hack because a good hacker can hide their tracks plus make it look like someone else did it. This happens all the time.”

It is extremely likely that if a cyberattack appears to have originated in Russia or China for instance, it was in fact launched from a third country. In this case locations are placed specifically to hide the tracks of the true perpetrator, he explained. … continue

The Missing Logic of Russia-gate

Consortium News | March 20, 2017

Russia-bashing and innuendos about disloyal Americans were all the rage at Monday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing on alleged Russian “hacking” of the presidential election, but logic is often missing, says Robert Parry. – Read article

Assad on Israeli Threats: Defending Borders is ‘Our Right, Duty’

Sputnik – 20.03.2017

DAMASCUS – Syrian President Bashar Assad, commenting on a statement by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman about the intention to destroy Syria’s air defense systems in the event of attacks on Israeli aircraft, told Russian journalists that the protection of Syria’s borders is the right and duty of the Syrian authorities.

He added that he thought Russia could play an important role in that regard while being guided by international law.

“Defending our borders is our right, and it’s our duty, not only our right. If we don’t do it as officials when we can do it, we should be blamed by the Syrian people, we should be held accountable. So, we don’t have to ask ourselves that question, whether there were statements by Israeli officials or not. We don’t base our policy and decisions on their statements,” Assad told Russian journalists.

What Exactly Was Bin Laden’s Role in 911?

By Tim King | American Herald tribune | March 20, 2017

Osama bin Laden, it’s a name every American knows and loves to hate. After the horrific terrorist attacks on 11 September 2011, former US President George W Bush told his countrymen that this terrorist bin Laden orchestrated the 911 attacks in New York City, Washington DC and Shanksville, Pa. and people believed it. They envisioned his face with a target on it and blamed him for the deaths of thousands of Americans. Why shouldn’t they? No president would lie about something so serious, right?

The real truth may never be known, the Central Intelligence Agency will see to that. But here is what we do know… in the simplest terms: GW Bush told the nation almost immediately that bin Laden was responsible, but Osama bin Laden denied having any involvement in 9/11. Americans are widely familiar with the first part, but almost nobody knows the latter. … continue

Pristina Snaps Up 200 Billion Euros’ Worth of Serbian Property in Kosovo

Sputnik – 20.03.2017

The authorities of the self-proclaimed Kosovo republic have decided to confiscate up to 200 billion euros’ worth of real estate of the former Yugoslavia’s Serbia and Kosovo Province, adding pressure to an already strained relationship between Pristina and Belgrade.

The Kosovo cadastral agency has been instructed to immediately register all real estate, amounting to more than 2 million square meters of buildings, including a ski resort and a mining complex, but also land, as the property of Kosovo.

Meanwhile, according to the Serbian cadaster agency, Serbian immovable property in Kosovo amounts to 1 million square meters and Serbian-owned enterprises in the region are valued at about 200 billion euros. … continue

Israel prosecutes 2 Palestinians, including journalist for alleged ‘Facebook incitement’

Ma’an – March 20, 2017

BETHLEHEM – Israeli authorities prosecuted two Palestinians for alleged “Facebook incitement,” on Sunday, amid an ongoing crackdown by Israel on Palestinian freedom of expression and social media activity.

Israeli authorities issued a list of charges against Jerusalemite journalist Muhammad Batroukh, which included alleged incitement on Facebook, and extended his detention until Tuesday, Jerusalem-based organization Wadi Hilweh Information Center quoted lawyer Muhammed Mahmoud as saying.

Batroukh was detained on March 7, according to local Palestinian news site Safa.

Meanwhile, an Israeli judge sentenced Walid Rajabi to 10 months of actual imprisonment and a suspended probation sentence of seven months for three years on charges of incitement of Facebook.

Scores of Palestinians have been detained in recent months for expressing their opinions on the Israeli occupation, particularly through social media… continue

Palestinian student seized by occupation forces; PLC member’s detention extended as poet faces another hearing

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network – March 20, 2017

Palestinian student Istabraq Yahya Tamimi was seized by Israeli occupation forces in the pre-dawn hours on Monday, 20 March, after they invaded her student housing in Bir Zeit.

Tamimi is a member of the univeristy’s student council. She was among eight Palestinians arrested by Israeli occupation forces in the early hours of 20 March.

She joins approximately 60 Palestinian women prisoners held in Israeli jails, including 13 minor girls. Among them is Fatima Jibreen Taqatqa, 16, from Beit Fajjar near Bethlehem, who is currently held in the Shaare Tzedek hospital in serious condition. She was shot by Israeli occupation forces on Thursday, 16 March as she drove in her parents’ car, accused of attempting to run over a group of Israeli occupation soldiers by the road. Her detention was extended for eight days on Saturday 18 March in absentia; Fatima is held in the hospital. Fatima’s family urged international institutions to investigate the case and support their daughter. … continue

Israel’s New Travel Ban

By Alison Weir | Dissident Voice | March 20, 2017

Dear Israeli Government:

You’ve recently banned foreigners who support boycotts against Israel or Israeli settlements from being allowed to enter Israel – even Jewish foreigners, a first for the self-proclaimed Jewish state After all, your “Law of Return” has allowed (and encouraged) Jewish foreigners to freely immigrate to Israel, even as multitudes of Palestinians have been banned from returning to their homes.

People throughout the Western world have objected in outrage to your new law, particularly Jewish Westerners who have family and connections in Israel from whom they’ll be cut off in retaliation for their political positions.

Critics, even some who oppose boycotting Israel and who have had no problem with excluding Palestinians, have called out the law for diverse reasons: its quashing of free debate and political expression, its anti-democratic nature, how it will affect them and others personally.

I support these objections.

But I’m not trying to visit Israel.

I want to go to Bethlehem and Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron, Jenin and Tulkarem. … continue