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Afghan, Pakistani, Indian officials launch Turkmen natural gas pipeline

Press TV – February 23, 2018

The Afghan president and Pakistani prime minister have inaugurated a 1,814 kilometer gas pipeline that will carry Turkmenistan’s natural gas to Afghanistan as well as Pakistan and India after its construction officially began on the Afghan-Turkmen border.

The pipeline project, which is known by the acronym TAPI, was launched on Friday as workers welded the first link crossing the border with Afghanistan’s western province of Herat in a ceremony observed on video bridge by Afghan and Turkmen presidents, Pakistan’s premier and India’s foreign minister, AP reported. […]

Interestingly, the TAPI project enjoys the support of Washington – which has persistently opposed another pipeline project taking Iranian natural gas to Pakistan and India – as well as the Taliban terrorist group, which has even pledged to “guarantee the pipeline’s security,” according to the report.

“We are ready to protect TAPI. It is good and important and vital for the economy of Afghanistan,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, speaking to AP in a telephone interview, further noting that the pipeline had been under consideration during the Taliban rule that ended in 2001 with the military invasion of the country by US-led forces. – Full article

‘Russiagate’ Is Revealing Alarming Truths About America’s Political-Media Elites

Its allegations and practices suggest disdain for American institutions, principles, best interests, and indeed for the American people.

Introduction by Paul Craig Roberts | February 23, 2018

Professor Stephen Cohen points out that by continuing to hype the disproven Russiagate theory, the Democrats and presstitutes have (1) endangered the institution of the US presidency, (2) threatened US national security by accusing Russia of “an act of war,” (3) demeaned American voters, (4) discredited the US media as a source of honest information, (5) turned the Democratic Party into a party that seeks power by promoting conspiracy theories, and (6) revealed American elites to be people shorn of integrity and personal honor. … continue

US warns Iraq of ‘consequences’ if it buys Russian S-400 missile systems

Press TV – February 23, 2018

The United States has warned Iraq, among a number of other countries, of the consequences of extending military cooperation with Russia, and striking deals to purchase advanced weaponry, particularly the S-400 surface-to-air missile defense systems.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Neuert said on Thursday that Washington has contacted many countries, including Iraq, to explain the significance of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), and possible consequences that would arise in the wake of defense agreements with Moscow.

On August 2, 2017, US President Donald Trump signed into law the CAATSA that imposed sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia.

Neuert said she did not know whether Iraq and Russia have finalized an accord on the S-400 missile systems.

The remarks came only a few days after Saudi Arabia’s Arabic-language al-Watan newspaper reported that Baghdad is planning to buy Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system from Moscow.

There are also reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has tasked a team of advisers from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and National Security Council to negotiate the purchase of the missile systems with Russian officials.

Earlier this month, Chairman of the Defense Committee of the Russian Federation Council, Colonel General Viktor Bondarev, named Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Egypt as the potential buyers of the defense systems.

Hey US State Dept, Here’s What Sputnik, RT Are Doing to End the War in Syria

Sputnik | February 23, 2018

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert has accused Sputnik and RT of bearing “unique responsibility” for the bloodshed in Syria and blamed the Russian media for not doing enough to stop the fighting. Here’s what Sputnik has to say about this claim. … continue

Syria slams Western silence on fatal terrorist attacks against Damascus civilians

Press TV – February 23, 2018

Syria’s UN envoy has denounced the US and Europe for their silence on the carnage of civilians in Damascus by the terror groups operating in Eastern Ghouta, saying it is “unacceptable” to endanger the lives of eight million in the capital in order to protect a few thousand terrorists in its suburbs.

Bashar al-Ja’afari was speaking at a United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria on Thursday.

After losing most of the Syrian territories under their control, foreign-backed militant groups, including the notorious al-Nusra Front, are now largely concentrated in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, an area they have been using to launch deadly mortar attacks on the capital. … continue

Syria’s East Ghouta battleground distorted by MSM propaganda

RT | February 23, 2018

The information battle on the E. Ghouta front is turning into Aleppo 2.0, with Western media, often relying on dubious sources, describing – in unison – the Syrian regime atrocities while nearly glorifying terrorists’ resistance.

Over the last few days, mainstream media have simultaneously turned their attention to the ongoing anti-terrorist operation in Eastern Ghouta, a militant-controlled suburb of Damascus, which is seeing a new wave of clashes between Syrian government forces and Islamist factions.

While the army aims to clear the area of such terrorist units as Jaysh al-Islam, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly known as al-Nusra Front), Ahrar al-Sham and Failaq al-Rahman, Western media, often relying on militant-embedded sources, continue to paint an ominous picture, in which the government troops are deliberately slaughtering civilians.

“Right now we see very concerted Western media attempt to paint the Syrian government as the bad guy, the evil, and giving breathing space for the terrorists who are having the last bastion,” Kaveh Afrasiabi, a former adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiation team, explained to RT. “The Syrian government has the legitimate security concerns because of the daily shelling of its capital city by the rebels.”

“A naive viewer might imagine that Assad was just bombing civilians for the hell of it because the jihadi fighters are totally absent from the picture. And the pictures are literally provided by the jihadists themselves,” Peter Ford, former UK ambassador to Syria and Bahrain, told RT, referring to the controversial White Helmets, who have long been hailed by the mainstream western media as heroes. However, the UK-backed NGO has been plagued by allegations of having close ties with terrorist groups. … continue

Painting an Israeli Attack on Syria as Israeli ‘Retaliation’

By Gregory Shupak | FAIR | February 21, 2018

Israel claimed that it intercepted an Iranian drone in Israeli airspace on Saturday, February 10; Iran denied that it had a drone there. Israel then bombed a Syrian airbase, saying it was the command-and-control center from which Iran had launched the drone. The Syrian government shot down an Israeli jet that had bombed the base, and Israel subsequently launched more airstrikes against Syria.

Reuters (2/13/18) described the latter airstrikes as Israel having “retaliated” for the downing of its aircraft. Vice (2/13/18) too characterized them as “retaliatory”; the Los Angeles Times (2/11/18) did the same three times. These word choices wrongly imply that Israel was acting defensively, when it was Israel who fired the first shots in the weekend’s exchanges: These outlets were saying that Israel was “retaliating” against Syria for defending itself against an ongoing Israeli attack.

“Retaliation” is an exculpatory term. To say that a party is “retaliating” is to say that their actions are an understandable response to another party’s provocation. … continue

‘Mother Jones’ Senior Reporter Asks Medium To Silence Antiwar Leftists

By Caitlin Johnstone | February 23, 2018

When news first broke that Medium, one of my primary blogging platforms, had closed the accounts of Trump-supporting pundits Mike Cernovich, Jack Posobiec and Laura Loomer, I tweeted the following in response:

“The only people cheering for this are leftists who haven’t been paying attention and centrists who have. This ongoing trend of marginalizing online dissent is already impacting the far left, and will do so more and more. The #MAGA crowd are the canaries in the coal mine, lefties.”

Hours later, right on cue, prominent Mother Jones Senior Reporter Shane Bauer was singing the praises of Medium’s recent account suspensions, and tagged Medium’s Twitter account saying they need to take it further and include left-wing writers like myself due to my repeated criticisms of the pro-regime change Syria narrative.

“This is good,” Bauer tweeted, “but If @Medium is serious about cracking down on conspiracy theorists, it needs to go beyond the alt-right and reign in the garbage published on Syria by people like @caitoz.”

See how quickly that happened? Bauer wasn’t the first to call on Medium to silence leftist writers like me for our skepticism of an empire with an extensive history of using lies, false flags and propaganda to manufacture support for regime change interventionism against noncompliant nations, and he will not be the last. … Full article

Magazine retracts story about ‘alt-right bots’ and Sen. Franken

RT | February 23, 2018

A once-respected news magazine has been forced to retract a story claiming that ‘alt-right bots’ and ‘Russian spies’ were behind a campaign last year to unseat Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota).

It was a natural ‘bombshell’ story: “Alt-right” botnets and even Russians themselves had targeted the Minnesota Democrat after a radio broadcaster – described as a “Hooters pinup girl and lad-mag model” – accused him of groping her on a comedy tour years ago. “Franken was framed!” exclaimed the #Resistance Twitter, calling for the senator’s reinstatement, following a story published on Monday by Newsweek.

According to the piece, accusations by broadcaster Leanne Tweeden were unreasonably amplified by a pair of fake news websites based in Japan and created before she came forward, while a “swarm of related Twitter bots” made the accusations go viral in tandem with “prominent real, live members of the far right” such as Mike Cernovich. This supposedly drowned out testimonies by female Democrat staffers defending Franken.

The story even claimed that a “Russian intelligence operation” had joined in, citing the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD), another shady outfit that sees Russian bots and Putin puppets everywhere. Newsweek’s story was quickly seized-upon by Clinton supporters such as Richard Painter, head of the activist group CREW, and progressive news blog RawStory. …

There was a tiny problem with the story, though. It was not true. …

According to the retraction, Newsweek was “unable to independently verify” Unhack the Vote’s claims. That’s all fine and good, but isn’t fact-checking something that ought to be done before publication, not days later? …

As for Franken, it was Senate Democrats who pressured him to resign, which he did in December 2017. … Full article

YouTube Has Informed Me That It Will Soon Delete The Richie Allen Show Channel

By Richie Allen | February 22, 2018

YouTube operates a three strikes and you are out policy. Content creators are told that if they violate community standards three times, their channel and all its content will be deleted. Two weeks ago The Richie Allen Show received a strike. Incredibly, I was informed that I had violated the bullying and harassment guidelines. The video in question was of an interview I conducted with Wolfgang Halbig over two years ago about The Sandy Hook school shooting. There was nothing harassing about it, there was certainly no bullying. I repeatedly challenged Wolfgang in the interview and pressed him for evidence to support his theory. Nevertheless that was strike one. YouTube said that as punishment, I couldn’t live stream for three months. I don’t live stream anyway. But of course I was worried. I had been warned repeatedly, by commercial presenters and producers and former colleagues of mine, that the show would be targeted.

Strike two came this morning. … continue

Warning over Russian warships carries propaganda plug for UK Royal Navy

RT | February 23, 2018

Military resources are being ploughed into an operation to track Russian boats through the English Channel. At least that’s what the Royal Navy told Britain.

Hidden deep in the powerful press release about how the Navy is tracking boats from Moscow’s war chest, however, was a different kind of message. … continue

North Korea Calls US-Japan Missile Drills Provocation Against Intra-Korean Dialogue

Sputnik – 22.02.2018

MOSCOW – North Korea’s committee on Korean reconciliation condemned on Thursday an upcoming joint US-Japan missile defense drill as an attempt to reignite regional tensions and obstruct the ongoing thaw between Pyongyang and Seoul. … continue

Activist: Time to ‘Formally End the Korean War’ After 65 Years of Armistice

Sputnik – 23.02.2018

The brief respite on the Korean Peninsula seems fated to end with the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang after North Korean leaders canceled a planned secret meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence. Washington is also expected to soon resume postponed military exercises alongside South Korea, exercises that North Korea has labeled provocative.

​Brian Becker and John Kiriakou of Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear were joined by Christine Ahn, a co-founder of the Korea Policy Institute, a think tank that advises American politicians to foster diplomacy and friendship with both Koreas, as well as the International Coordinator of Women Cross DMZ, an organization of peace activists.

“I feel like we’re in a funhouse with a lot of smoke and mirrors and doublespeak and confusion, especially coming from the Trump administration,” said Ahn. “This spin coming from the White House that it’s North Korea that canceled the secret meeting, but [the US] were also noting that they were just going to reiterate their hardline stance — which they publicly did in Tokyo as [Pence] was meeting with [Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe.”

“As for the military exercises — I have heard different things. I have heard that South Korea has now been in conversation that they will consider stalling the military exercises, and we have the US jumping the gun and saying that the exercises are going to resume. We are in a critical window and it is urgent now for the US peace movement to raise our voices and to say we must support the inter-Korean peace process that is underway.”

“We must urge our government to halt the military exercises, to listen to the people of Korea — both North and South — that want the inter-Korean reconciliation to continue. Clearly resuming these military exercises, that include provocative decapitation strikes and regime-change exercises, would intrude on inter-Korean dialogue,” she went on to say. … continue

My First Day as CIA Director

By Ray McGovern | Consortium News | February 22, 2018

Former CIA analyst and founder of Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Sanity Ray McGovern, in this tongue-in-cheek article, outlines steps he would take on Day One as CIA Director to get to the bottom of Russiagate. – Read article

Bahrain bans members of dissolved parties from running in elections

MEMO | February 22, 2018

Bahrain has amended its law to prevent members and leaders of dissolved political parties from running in parliamentary elections, Al-Watan News reported yesterday.

“The parliament has to prevent everyone who intends to harm or obstruct the constitutional or parliamentary work by leaving his post or as a result of being ousted over the aforementioned reasons from running for elections,” parliamentarians agreed.

MPs, who supported this amendment, claimed that this keeps up with the democratic process and protects the flow of political work, stressing that it was not aimed against anyone or any certain side.

Fury in Qatar as Israeli Handball Teams Arrive to Compete in Tournament

Sputnik – 22.02.2018

Many Qataris have set forth their opposition to the Israeli teams’ presence at a youth handball tournament in Doha, with some tweeting that it was “recognition of an occupier.”

Qatar has already been deemed an “outcast” in the Gulf and hosting Israel’s boys’ and girl’s teams at the 2018 Handball World School Championship has added to criticism towards Doha.

According to AFP, users claiming to be Qataris took to Twitter to express their outrage over the country’s attempts to improve relations with Tel Aviv.

“I ask all parents to withdraw their children and prevent them from participating in this normalization of relations,” one user wrote in Arabic. … Full article

Hamas: Abbas’s speech did not rise up to the desired level

Palestine Information Center – February 22, 2018

GAZA – Palestinian resistance group Hamas criticized Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas following his speech at the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

In a press release, Hamas underlined that the political plan presented by Abbas in his speech does not reflect the national position which calls for an end to the Oslo Accords and which opposes a resumption of negotiations with Israel.

“Abbas’s speech did not rise up to the desired level, nor did it reflect the national consensus, which wants to terminate the Oslo agreements and rejects negotiations with the occupiers,” Hamas said.

Abbas is working to create a new mechanism for the failed peace process despite Israel’s violations and crimes against Palestinian women and children and the dangerous bias of the United States in favor of Israel on Jerusalem and the refugees and the encouragement it gives Israel to commit crimes and liquidate the Palestinian cause, the statement reads.

In this context, Hamas demanded an end to Abbas’s unilateral decision-making, and instead of following the path of a political process, to accelerate the unification of the ranks within the Palestinian arena and reach an agreement on a national strategy that focuses on the path of resistance.

Settlers Attack Palestinians near Jenin

IMEMC News & Agencies – February 22, 2018

Israeli settlers attacked, on Wednesday, Palestinian vehicles near the town of Silat al-Zohor, to the south of West Bank city Jenin, and shouted anti-Arab slogans.

Witnesses confirmed that settlers deployed near the settlement of “Homesh”, and attacked the vehicles of citizens and threw stones, amid racial chants.

They pointed out, according to Al Ray, that the settlers’ aggression continued until late last night.

Settlers frequently return to the location of the evacuated settlement between the towns of Barqa and Silat al-Zohor and attacked Palestinian vehicles, farmers and shepherds.

Settlers slay sheep, assault farmer in Nablus

Palestine Information Center – February 22, 2018

NABLUS – Extremist settlers on Wednesday slaughtered some ten sheep and assaulted their owner in Eainabous town to the south of Nablus city in the northern West Bank.

The Palestinian official of settlement in the northern West Bank, Ghassan Daghlas, said that a group of 15 settlers of Yitzhar nearby illegal settlement attacked a Palestinian farmer, Thafer Rayyan, while herding in the northern skirts of the town and assaulted him violently.

Palestinians Kept Indoors as Jewish Settlers Storm West Bank Village

IMEMC News & Agencies – February 22, 2018

The Israeli army forced Palestinians, in the village Kufl Haris, near Salfit, in the north of the West Bank, to stay indoors on Wednesday night, to make it possible for Jewish extremists to storm the village and perform rituals there, according to residents.

They told WAFA that the army raided the village, shut down all roads and ordered Palestinians to stay off the streets as groups of fanatic settlers went around the village performing rituals at sites they claim were holy to them.

Declaring sites in Palestinian areas as holy to Jews is usually a prelude for takeover of the area and the construction of a settlement.

Israeli military opens fire at Palestinian farmers in blockaded Gaza

Palestine Information Center – February 22, 2018

KHAN YOUNIS – Israeli occupation forces at daybreak Thursday fired live ammunition at a crowd of Palestinian farmers gathering on their lands east of Khan Younis province, to the south of the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Israeli soldiers deployed at watchtowers built on Palestinian borderlands in al-Qarara, Absan al-Kabira, and Khuza’a, east of Khan Younis, opened live fire at Palestinian farmers, forcing them to leave their lands for fear of being killed in the attack.

The Israeli military repeatedly attacks Palestinian farmers working on their lands near the border fence. Such assaults are a flagrant violation of international law, which prohibits aggression against unarmed civilians.

Palestinian Journalist Syndicate condemns Israeli detention of reporter during protest

Ma’an – February 22, 2018

BETHLEHEM – The Palestinian Journalist Syndicate (PJS) released a statement on Thursday condemning Israel’s detention of Palestinian journalist Muhammad Alwan, who was detained on Wednesday while covering a protest outside the Ofer military prison in the central occupied West Bank district of Ramallah.

Alwan has been charged with obstructing the work of a soldier as well as attacking a soldier, and was remanded into custody for 96 hours.

According to official Palestinian Authority (PA)-owned Wafa news agency, witnesses and other journalists present at the protest have denied the charges brought against him, and have provided video recording that refute Israel’s claims.

Wafa highlighted that, contrary to Israel’s charges against Alwan, video shows forces violently suppressing the protest — which was held in solidarity with imprisoned activist Munther Amira — and targeting journalists by attempting to prevent them from filming the events. … Full article

Israel kills Palestinian hours after arresting him

MEMO | February 22, 2018

Israeli occupation authorities this morning killed a Palestinian man hours after arresting him, according to Palestinian human rights sources.

The Palestinian Prisoners’ Club said occupation forces informed the family of 33-year-old Yassin Omar Al-Saradih from Jericho that he had died following his arrest.

The director of Prisoners’ Club in Jericho said occupation stormed the city and raided Al-Saradih’s house, assaulting him during his arrest.

Al-Saradih “was not suffering from diseases, and the occupation soldiers arrested him while he was in a good health condition.”

He died after he was tortured at the hands of occupation forces, the official said, holding the occupation for responsible for the “murder… as a result of torture”.

The family reported that Yassin had been beaten during his arrest.

Occupation authorities announced today that 11 “wanted” Palestinians had been arrested from the occupied West Bank for resisting the occupation.

US Violates Iranian Nuclear Deal Almost Every Day – Tehran

Sputnik – February 22, 2018

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said Thursday that the US violated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) almost every day, while Trump’s public statements contribute to this.

“It is a fact that the United States is not implementing the JCPOA [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], it is a fact that it violates it almost daily,” he told the BBC.

According to him, Trump’s statements regarding the deal being “bad,” or seeking to change it are a violation of the agreement.

“This violates the letter, not the spirit of the agreement,” the deputy minister added.

Speaking further, the senior Iranian official said that Iran would withdraw from the agreement if there would be no economic benefits for the country and major banks wouldn’t work with Iran. … continue

Crimes of compassion, Iraq’s long war and Canada’s bloody hands

By Matthew Behrens | Rabble | February 22, 2018

Canadians should prepare themselves for an onslaught of feel-good propaganda in the coming weeks as the world marks the 15th anniversary of one of the most horrific war crimes of the 21st century, the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq by forces including the U.S., U.K., and Canada.

It will be disheartening to watch as liberal commentators from the Toronto Star and CBC engage in the most dishonest kind of smug, self-satisfied flag saluting, praising then-Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien for allegedly “declining” to sign on to the war. Yet the notion that Canada somehow decided not to be part of the Shock and Awe invasion of Iraq is a complete falsehood, and is well-documented elsewhere .

Lost within any of this self-congratulatory coverage will be the people of Iraq themselves, for whom 2018 marks 38 years of almost non-stop warfare and repression, during which they have endured hardships that are incomprehensible to most of us. The blood of the Iraqi people — millions of them killed, maimed, poisoned, irradiated, traumatized — is on the hands of many Canadian corporate, military, and political leaders who profited from weapons sales and political brinksmanship.

And while every Canadian government from Pierre Trudeau through to Justin Trudeau is in part responsible for this misery, no one has been held to account for aiding and abetting the crimes against humanity that have marked decades of aerial bombardment, the use of chemical and radioactive weapons (resulting in a massive spike in previously unseen birth defects), and an economic sanctions regime described by former UN inspectors as a “genocide.” … continue

Time to Admit the Afghan War is ‘Nonsense’

Consortium News | February 22, 2018

Officially, the U.S. military objective in Afghanistan is to force the Taliban to the negotiating table, but just last month President Trump said that talks with the Taliban are off the table, indicating an incoherent policy, as Jonathan Marshall notes. – Read article

‘Russian bots’ outcry: Is Twitter cracking down on people who ‘challenge the status quo’?

RT | February 22, 2018

It seems that ‘the bots’ (especially the ‘Russian bots’) narrative is being used as a kind of defensive mechanism, journalist and human rights activist Mike Raddie told RT amid reports of a massive account purge on Twitter. … continue

When Will Congress Investigate All Interference in Elections?

By Philip M. GIRALDI | Strategic Culture Foundation | 22.02.2018

… Mueller’s indictment specifically claimed that the Russians created false US personas while also stealing actual identities. But the Russians are being accused of involvement in activity that Israel engages in openly. It has interfered in US elections, to include promoting Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in 2012, and has a powerful and well-funded lobby in AIPAC that intervenes aggressively in American foreign and domestic policy. And the Israeli government’s propaganda arm uses its hasbara to use false internet identities to confuse and deflect critical stories. They do so routinely and do not even try to hide what they are doing. Part of their agenda is to smear critics and elect politicians favorable to them. … Read full article

Sweden Eyes Massive $22Bln Budget Hike to Create ‘Formidable’ Defense

Sputnik – 22.02.2018

A drastic increase in military spending would give Sweden a military with a sufficient deterrence capacity, a government investigation has found. A decline in the military’s capacity would, by contrast, become “inevitable” after 2020, unless “large material investments” are made. Among others, Stridsfordon 9040 tanks will be over 30 years old after 2020.

As a sort of future guide for Swedish politicians, the investigation has assessed and ranked a large number of defense projects considered relevant. Implementing all of them would set the Swedish state coffers back a whopping extra SEK 180 ($22 billion) by 2030, without even counting increased staff expenditures, the Dagens Nyheter daily pointed out.

According to government investigator Ingemar Wahlberg, however, this would provide the Swedish defense with higher endurance, flexibility, impact power and better survival opportunities.

“Only then will we be able to talk about a defense force that’s robust and dangerous,” Wahlberg said, presenting the survey lobbying for a radical 40-percent budget hike.

The Armed Forces’ ambition is to be able to resist an attack against a highly qualified opponent for three months without relying on help from other countries. According to Wahlberg, the proposed changes would make the Swedish defense “very warlike” and would cost a tentative attacker a lot of money. […]

According to Liberal party defense policy spokesman Allan Widman, the investigation doesn’t leave Swedish politicians any other choice but to go all out. … Full article

Russia opposes Western bid to ‘condemn’ Iran at UN over Yemen

Press TV – February 22, 2018

Russia has voiced opposition to a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution, drafted by Western powers, on renewing anti-Yemen sanctions, which also seeks a “condemnation” of Iran for allegations of violating an arms embargo on the war-torn Arabian Peninsula state.

During a Wednesday meeting of the Security Council, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said that instead of targeting Iran, the UN’s proposed measure should focus on the issue of sanctions against Yemen.

“We do not like condemnations at all, no, in general,” AFP quoted Nebenzia as saying. “It is a resolution about the extension of the working group, not about Iran. So we should concentrate on extending the working group first,” he added.

Nebenzia was referring to the working group of independent experts who oversee the implementation of sanctions against Yemen.

Last week, Britain circulated a draft resolution that would renew sanctions on Yemen for another year and also “condemns” Iran for allegedly breaching the 2015 arms embargo on the country by “failing to take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer” of short-range ballistic missiles, UAVs and other military equipment to Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement.

The Houthi movement has been defending Yemen against a bloody Saudi-led military campaign, which was launched in 2015 with the help of the US and the UK to reinstall the country’s former Riyadh-friendly government.

The draft resolution, backed by France and the US, calls for unspecified measures in response to the UN report about Iran’s alleged role in Yemen, stressing that the UNSC will take “additional measures to address these violations,” and that “any activity related to the use of ballistic missiles in Yemen” is a criteria for sanctions.

The UNSC is expected to vote on the draft resolution next week. … continue

Overthrowing Syrian govt is aim of West’s proposed UNSC resolution – Lavrov

RT | February 22, 2018

The real goal of the West-brokered UN Security Council resolution on Syria is to put the blame on Damascus for everything and provide cover for militants, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said.

The authors of the resolution on humanitarian issues in Syria, which is to be discussed at the UNSC meeting on Thursday evening, want to “shift the focus” from the peace process “to blaming the Syrian government in order to promote ‘plan B,’ namely overthrowing the regime in violation of resolution 2257,” Lavrov said at a news conference in Belgrade.

If the US continues to ignore Russia’s position, Moscow will have no other choice than to infer that the authors of the initiative “again want to put the blame on Damascus and provide cover for militant groups,” the minister added.

Russia is also preparing a resolution on humanitarian issues in Syria, amid concerns over the escalating violence in the country. Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, has seen a new wave of clashes between Syrian government forces and both rebel and Islamist factions operating in the area.

Together with Iran and Turkey, Russia is tasked with enforcing the ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta, one of the de-escalation zones established as a result of the Astana talks in May 2017. The Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria earlier suggested the militants leaving the area, but the proposal was rejected, according to Lavrov.

“The Al-Nusra Front [currently known as Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham] and those who interact with it have firmly rejected the proposal and continue to shell the city from their positions, using the civilian population of Eastern Ghouta as a human shield,” the diplomat stressed.

US-Led Coalition Strikes Kill 12 Civilians in East Syria – Reports

Sputnik – February 22, 2108

Air strikes conducted by the US-led coalition against an eastern Syrian city have killed a dozen of civilians, state media reported late on Wednesday.

The air raid on the small city of Hajin in the Deir ez Zor province led to 12 casualties, according to the SANA news agency. The city is located on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, controlled by US-backed militants.

Earlier, the Syrian state news agency SANA reported that the US-led coalition, which is acting in Syria without UN approval or coordination with the Syrian government, conducted airstrikes in al-Bahra village in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor, which resulted in the killing of 16 civilians. … continue

Russia, Pakistan edge closer in new cold war conditions

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 22, 2018

Afghanistan, no doubt, was what brought Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif to Moscow on a ‘working visit’ on February 20. This was Asif’s second meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the past 5-month period. They last met in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA session in September.

The Russian Ministry took pains to highlight Asif’s visit. A ‘working visit’ cuts out protocol frills and gets straight to transacting business. Yet, Moscow made an exception and issued a glowing ‘curtain-raiser’ to hail Asif’s arrival. There must have been strong reasons to do so. The regional backdrop is indeed tumultuous. The new Cold War is slouching toward the Hindu Kush and Central Asian steppes and Pakistan’s geography is regaining the criticality in strategic terms reminiscent of the 1980s. … continue

Thousands of Americans jailed for debts chased by private collectors

RT | February 21, 2018

An estimated 77 million Americans have a debt that has been transferred to a private collection agency. Thousands have ended up in jail over debts as small as $28, with African-Americans and Hispanics the most affected.

The findings come from a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) spanning 26 states and Puerto Rico, published on Wednesday. The practice violates many US state and federal laws, which prohibit the jailing of debtors.

In one case cited in the report, a disabled woman who wears a prosthetic leg was shackled by her waist and feet by two armed US marshals before being put in jail overnight.

“They had a warrant for my arrest and I asked them for what, he didn’t say what it was for. He said, ‘He’ll tell you later,’” said Tracie Mozie of Dickinson, Texas.

Law enforcement officials had entered Mozie’s bedroom to arrest her over a $1,500 federal student loan she took out in 1986 to pay for truck-driving school. The loan had mushroomed to $13,000 with interest and fees. Monzie was unable to pay because she is unemployed and lives on disability benefits.

The ACLU examined more than 1,000 cases in which civil court judges issued arrest warrants for debtors. In some instances the amounts were as small as $28. … continue

Russiaphobia Is Out of Control

By Paul Craig Roberts | Institute For Political Economy | February 21, 2018

As has been made perfectly clear, Robert Mueller’s “indictment” of 13 Russians and 3 companies is just another hoax.

All Mueller has found is a bait-click commercial marketing scheme that had nothing to do with election interference.

Why is Mueller comfortable bringing a transparently false indictment?

The answer is, as Glenn Greenwald makes clear, that Mueller knows there are large numbers of warmongering politicians and media whores who will seize on the fake indictment as proof that Russia has “committed an act of war equivalent to Pearl Harbor and 9/11.” The fact that what Mueller has indicted is only a bait-click marketing scheme will never be mentioned by politicians and presstitutes shouting the military/security complex’s slogan that “Russia must be punished.”

Greenwald supplies the names of some of these reckless and irresponsible people who are willing to bring on war with their rants: politicians Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Jeanne Shaheen, Jerry Nadler, Marco Rubio—indeed almost all of Congress—Clinton aides such as Philippe Reines and John Podesta, and the legions of presstitutes such as Karen Tumulty, David Frum, Chuck Todd, Tom Friedman—indeed, the entirety of the print and TV media with the exceptions of Tucker Carlson and Pat Buchanan. … continue

Top Democrats demand $300mn to protect the midterms from Russia intervention

Press TV – February 21, 2018

US Democratic leaders have called for more than $300 million in new funding to protect upcoming midterm elections from Russian interference.

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi demanded a budget boost Wednesday, claiming that the amount is necessary to safeguard November’s elections.

The extra money should go to the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Election Assistance Commission, they said in a letter to the Republicans. … continue

US to Deploy Lethal Drones to Korean Peninsula After Olympic Games – Report

Sputnik – 21.02.2018

Recent reports by South Korean news media claim that the US will deploy attack drones to the Korean Peninsula in the next few months.

Twelve attack drones that can target North Korean leaders and military targets will be deployed in March or April, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported this week.

According to the report, a hangar has already been constructed for the Gray Eagle drones. In addition, support facilities and personnel have reportedly already arrived at the US air base at Kunsan on the west coast.

The General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle is an unmanned aircraft system developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for the US Army. The Gray Eagle, which has an 18-yard wingspan, can conduct various missions including attack, reconnaissance, surveillance and infiltration. Its 248-mile range gives it enough reach to cover most of North Korean territory. … Full article

Saudi warplanes pound Yemen’s Sa’ada, kill at least 15 people

Press TV – February 21, 2018

Saudi fighter jets have bombed Yemen’s northern province of Sa’ada, leaving at least 15 people dead and several others wounded.

Residents reported that the Saudi airstrike hit two cars transporting passengers and a truck on a main road south of the Sa’ada provincial capital on Wednesday.

They added that the blasts caused damage to the main road linking the capital Sana’a and Sa’ada. … Full article

Is Sweden complicit in Saudi war on Yemen?

Press TV – February 21, 2018

Last year, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström told a conference that the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Yemen was one that “has far too long been neglected and forgotten by the global community” and what Yemeni people were going through was “difficult to imagine.”

It is such statements that, besides leading various international peace efforts to help resolve major conflicts across the globe, including Saudi Arabia’s deadly war on Yemen, have helped Sweden establish the image of a peace-loving country that cares for others.

However, a steady rise in the Scandinavian country’s weapons business over the past years, including its major dealings with repressive Arab regimes in the Persian Gulf region, has cast doubt on Stockholm’s true intentions.

In fact the rise has been so fast that according to official data by the US government, Sweden is now the world’s third largest weapons producer per capita, closely following Russia and Switzerland while overtaking France, Britain and the US.

At the heart of Sweden’s weapons industry is Saab, a company that sold over $2.7 billion worth of weapons in 2016 alone, making its way into the world’s top 30 arms producing companies according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). … continue

The Palestinian People Are Not Fooled any More

By Rima Najjar | Palestine Chronicle | February 21, 2018

As a Palestinian, I am skeptical about Mahmoud Abbas’s address, billed by the press as “Abbas delivers rare address at UNSC meeting, which calls for two states.

Whereas I believe that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement’s goals can be achieved through more than one political accommodation, including a two-state scenario in historic Palestine as a solution to its violent partition in 1948, I am skeptical about the ability or will of the international order to achieve this end without compromising Palestinian fundamental human rights.

Read my answer to ‘Why is it so difficult to reform the United Nations Security Council?’ here.

Abbas is addressing a world order impotent to stand up to Israel – one that is also committed to Israel’s Jewish national identity and to advancing its national security. They are the very same players who have, without question, deceived the Palestinian people throughout the long decades of Oslo. … continue

The Egypt-Israel gas deal is scandalous and shameless

Dr Amira Abo el-Fetouh | MEMO | February 21, 2018

After Al-Sisi opened the very large Zohr gas field about two weeks ago the newspapers celebrated and announced the news that Egypt will achieve gas self-sufficiency this year by means of the Zohr, North Alexandria, Nawras, and Atoll gas fields. The Egyptian citizens lived this dream until they awoke to a nightmare where Netanyahu is announcing that Israel is celebrating after signing a historical agreement with Egypt that stipulates Egypt will import gas from Israel for 10 years. The imported gas agreement is worth $15 billion and these billions will be added to the Israeli treasury in order to be spent on education, health services, and welfare for Israeli citizens.

Of course it was no coincidence that Netanyahu announced this great news to the Israeli people on the anniversary of President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, as such an agreement poses a new victory for Israel, no less significant than its victory in 1967 and the signing of the peace treaty. In my opinion, they are crowning their victories with this latest victory, as a result of which they control energy in Egypt and the key to the energy tap is placed in their hands. They can turn it off whenever they please. Whoever controls the energy can suffocate the states that live under its mercy and can control the decisions of these states.

This is a major crime committed against Egypt as a state and against its people. This gas is actually Egyptian gas that was seized by Israel either without the ruling government’s knowledge or in collusion with it. … continue

Israel to expel Palestinian villagers in April, makes way for new Jewish town

MEMO | February 21, 2018

Israeli authorities will expel the residents of Umm Al-Hiran, a Bedouin Palestinian village in the Negev, in a matter of weeks, as plans proceed to build a new Jewish town in its place.

Yair Maayan, head of the government authority for Bedouin “resettlement” in the Negev, told the Jerusalem Post that Umm Al-Hiran’s residents – all Israeli citizens – will be forced out in April.

“The Israel Lands Authority has issued eviction notices”, Maayan said yesterday, adding that the plan was to force the villagers to live in Hura, a government-approved Bedouin town.

Umm Al-Hiran is to be demolished in order for a new town, Hiran, to be built in its place, “which is to be populated mostly by religious Jews”. The Israeli state plan has been backed by the Supreme Court.

The Bedouin Palestinian residents of Umm al-Hiran are facing their third expulsion, having been expelled from their lands in 1948 and again in 1956.

Local activist Raed Abu al-Kaeean told the Jerusalem Post “that police have informed residents that they must leave by April 1 ‘or be evicted by force’”.

Report: No food, blankets for Palestinian prisoners in Israel prison

MEMO | February 21, 2018

Palestinian prisoners held in Israel’s Etzion Prison have been given only one very small meal and one blanket each during the cold winter months, a report by the PLO’s Committee of Prisoners and Freed Prisoners revealed yesterday.

According to the Committee, the meal consists of a small cup of yogurt and a small piece of bread every day, noting that this policy started three days before the report was published.

Detainees also only have one blanket which is insufficient protection from the winter temperatures, it added. Mattresses and blankets are often wet because rainwater leaks into the cells, many are rotting.

Prisoners also said they were assaulted and tortured during their arrest and interrogation. Occupation forces searched their homes and used police dogs to scare members of their families during their arrest, the report added.

It highlighted the case of 39-year-old Mohamed Abrash who underwent a partial foot amputation, and who a doctor had notified would need further surgery. The Palestinians from the Al-Am’ary Refugee Camp in Ramallah has lost his sight and hearing while in Israeli custody.

Palestinian MP suffers brutal torture in Israeli jail, Hamas says

Press TV – February 21, 2018

The Palestinian Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, has roundly criticized the Tel Aviv regime for subjecting a lawmaker affiliated to the group to various forms of torture as he is being kept in Israeli jails without trial or charge.

Hamas, in a statement released on Wednesday, announced that 50-year-old Palestinian Legislative Council member Abdel Nasser Abdel-Jawad has been behind bars at the high security Kishon (al-Jalameh) prison in northern West Bank for the past 50 days.

The statement added that the legislator has been “subjected to severe torture, pressure and threats since his arrest.”

Hamas noted that an Israeli military court has extended Abdel-Jawad’s detention several times “without allowing him to meet his lawyer.” … Full article

Bahrain sentences top rights activist Rajab to 5 years in prison – lawyer

RT | February 21, 2018

Prominent Bahraini rights activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to five years in prison on Wednesday, for critical comments he made on Twitter about the government, Reuters reports, citing his lawyer and activists.

Rajab, a leading figure in pro-democracy protests in 2011, is already serving a prison sentence for making “false or malicious” statements about authorities.

The charges arose from a January 2015 interview cited by the prosecution, in which he was alleged to have said that Bahrain was holding political prisoners who were subject to torture.

Saudi court hands down death sentence to Shia political dissident

Press TV – February 21, 2018

A court in Saudi Arabia has handed down a death penalty to a Shia anti-regime activist as the Riyadh regime presses ahead with its brutal clampdown against members of the religious community.

On Wednesday, the Specialized Criminal Court in the capital Riyadh found the defendant, whose identity was not immediately available, guilty of “joining a terror group called Tarot Battalion to destabilize the kingdom’s internal security, targeting security personnel, carrying out acts of sabotage and chaos, obstructing roads, and involvement in divisive activities.” … continue

‘Nonsense’ — Corbyn slams Daily Mail and Sun over spy allegations

RT | February 20, 2018

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has attacked the Sun and the Daily Mail for publishing “nonsense” articles suggesting that he was a spy for the communist Czechoslovakian government.

Corbyn’s response came after being asked by a Daily Mail reporter: “Mr Corbyn, you say you want these business leaders to put their trust in you to run the country; how can they do that when serious questions remain about your past?

“And will you give permission for your Stasi file to be released to help clear things up?”

Corbyn, visibly irritated, struck back, replying: “Thanks for your question. I’m very sorry that the Daily Mail has reduced itself to reproducing some nonsense that was written in the Sun beforehand.”

The Sun published claims by a former Czech agent – Jan Sarkocy — that Corbyn was an asset named ‘Agent Cobb’ during the Cold War. … Full article

Confirmed US Meddling in Thailand’s Upcoming Elections

By Joseph Thomas – New Eastern Outlook – 21.02.2018

… The US accuses Russia of political interference based on activities of the Internet Research Agency a recent FBI indictment insinuated was linked to the Russian government. While no actual evidence has surfaced linking the organisation to the Kremlin, the US not only possesses its own organisations for the purpose of political interference, they are openly funded by and linked directly to the US government.

In Thailand, the United States government through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is funding media organisations like Prachatai which promote daily protests and demands for immediate elections.

Shinawatra also controls his own media organisations inside of Thailand. This includes VoiceTV supposedly founded by his son, Panthongthae Shinawatra, but clearly serving his father’s political agenda.

Supposed rights advocates like Fortify Rights (page 20, .pdf)iLaw, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Cross Cultural Foundation, Thai Netizen Network and Isaan Record are also all funded by the US government via NED and have not only contributed toward attempts to manufacture dissent, but have also led small protests in the streets themselves.Full article

Moscow: US Threats With New Sanctions Seek to Escalate Tensions Before Election

Sputnik – 21.02.2018

The US Department of State stated that it did not rule out potentially introducing sanctions against the 13 Russian individuals charged last week for alleged election meddling.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated that US threats to impose new sanctions on Moscow were aiming to escalate tensions ahead of the presidential election, which is scheduled for March 2018.

“Paradoxically, the Americans are taking steps that are aimed at intervening in our internal affairs, intensifying tension in bilateral relations ahead of presidential elections, but they continue to groundlessly, unprovenly blame us for allegedly interfering in their electoral processes,” Ryabkov on Wednesday to journalists in Moscow.

“Every day we hear threats and all kinds of insinuations, attempts to blame Russia and Russian citizens for some activity that does not suit the American side. It is clear that all this continues to have a negative impact on the relations between the two countries.”

Moscow doesn’t rule out responding to sanctions against Russians, mentioned in the “Mueller report,” he added.

According to him, Moscow sees “a purposeful line for the complication of military-technical cooperation, we already refer to specific figures of allegedly broken contracts under US pressure and as a result of the policy of blackmail and intimidation being carried out by Washington.” … Full article

US, S. Korean militaries to conduct joint drills despite detente with Pyongyang

RT | February 20, 2018

The US and South Korea will go ahead with military drills off the Korean peninsula despite the “Peace Olympics” and the recent thaw in North-South relations, the South’s defense ministry said in a report to the National Assembly.

In the run-up to the Olympic Games in PyeongChang, Seoul was able to convince Washington to delay the start of their annual winter/springtime joint military exercises until after the games. The temporary halt to the annual Foal Eagle/Key Resolve US-South Korea joint military exercises allowed North and South Korea to develop a dialogue that the South hopes will ease the mounting tension in the region.

On Tuesday, a day after Pyongyang warned against the resumption of the military drills, South Korea’s defense ministry announced that the allies will still hold the Key Resolve and Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises. … continue

Russian Center for Syrian Reconciliation Comes Under Massive Fire

Sputnik – 20.02.2018

Sputnik has received reports that the Russian Center for Syrian Reconciliation, a peace monitoring and humanitarian organization jointly run by Russia and Turkey, came under attack on Tuesday. No Russian casualties were reported from the incident, but Syrian civilians have been reported dead and injured.

“Residential areas, hotels in Damascus, as well as the Russian Center for Syrian reconciliation came under massive shelling by illegal armed groups operating in East Ghouta area today, causing significant infrastructural damage and casualties among the civilian population,” the center said in a statement.

“There are no casualties among the Russian military personnel,” the statement added.

The center was founded with the stated aim of speeding peace negotiations between the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and opposition groups. All parties in the Syrian Civil War besides Islamist terrorist groups such as Daesh and the Al-Nusra Front have consented to the center’s creation, including the US and its Syrian and Kurdish allies.

The center is hosted at Khmeimim Air Base in Latakia Governorate — around 200 miles north of Damascus. In December 2017, the base was targeted by a mortar attack which reportedly killed two Russian military personnel. A week later, in January 2018, the base was the target of an unsuccessful drone attack.

Israel Arming at Least Seven Syrian Rebel Groups

Sunni Islamist groups find themselves on Israel’s good side

By Jason Ditz | Anti-war | February 19, 2018

Israel’s mounting interest in Syria’s War, and in particular in picking fights with the Assad government, Iran, and any other Shi’ite factions in the country, have included reports by analysts of a growing amount of Israeli arms and ammunition flowing across the border for rebels.

Officially, Israel isn’t a big fan on Sunni Islamist organizations. Such groups are the bulk of the rebellion on the Golan frontier, and that’s made them groups Israel has a very serious interest in seeing survive and thrive on the border.

Analysts say Israel is directly arming at least seven groups in the area. … Full article

Israel proposes bill to revoke residency status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem

MEMO | February 20, 2018

The Israeli Ministerial Committee for Legislation has approved a proposed bill that makes it possible to revoke the residency status of persons in occupied East Jerusalem and Golan Heights if they are convicted of engaging in anti-Israel activities, Haaretz reported.

The revocation of residency will make it possible for Israeli authorities to expel residents who are involved in the resistance against the occupation or who breach their loyalty to the State of Israel.

Israel classifies Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and Druze in the Golan Heights as “residents” and not citizens. … continue

Israel may pay settlers millions to leave illegal outpost

MEMO | February 20, 2018

The Israeli government is preparing to give 20 million shekels ($5.68 million) in compensation to settlers who have been living in an illegal outpost on private Palestinian land, reports Haaretz.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking the approval of his coalition partners, ahead of the impending evacuation of 15 Israeli settler families from Netiv Haavot settlement outpost.

One of the buildings in Netiv HaAvot was demolished in November 2017. The Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the state to demolish the other 15 houses in March, but, according to Haaretz, “the state is expected to request that the supreme court delay the outpost’s evacuation”.

Government ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked “visited the outpost on Sunday and promised the residents they would try to postpone their eviction by three months, until construction starts on alterative homes nearby, for ‘humanitarian’ reasons”, the paper added. … continue

Israelis who kill Palestinians receive government stipends

MEMO | February 20, 2018

The PLO’s Committee for Prisoners and Freed Prisoners revealed on Monday that the Israeli authorities pay stipends to Jewish settlers indicted of crimes against Palestinians, Quds Press has reported. Israel has complained frequently about payments to the families of Palestinian prisoners by the Palestinian Authority, claiming that they “encourage terrorism”.

As an example of the Israeli payments, the rights group mentioned the case of Israeli settler Yoram Skolnik, who shot dead Musa Abu Sabha while he was lying with his face on the ground and his hands tied behind his back in March 1993. The killing took place near the illegal settlement of Susia in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, and the killer has been receiving a monthly salary in addition to his national insurance payments.

Furthermore, Skolnik also received financial assistance from the government to start a business after he was released from prison, the Committee pointed out. It noted that the Israeli authorities reduced his sentence from life to just eight years.

Israel’s official and popular support for criminals and appeals for their release from prison are part of the “rising racism, fascism and encouragement of extremism against the Palestinians,” the Committee claimed. Ninety-nine per cent of Israeli Jews who were imprisoned after killing Palestinians were released and received legal and social support, as well as full protection by successive Israeli governments, it added.

Argentina: Fernandez Brands ‘Iranian Pact’ Allegations ‘Arbitrary,’ Demands Immediate Trial

teleSUR | February 20, 2018

Argentine senator and former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has requested a public trial be held “immediately” to “expose the arbitrariness of the accusation (against her) to the whole society.” Fernandez is being prosecuted for an alleged cover-up of Iranian officials and citizens accused of perpetrating a terror attack in 1994.

In July 1994 the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), a Jewish community center, was attacked with a car bomb killing 85 people and injuring 300 more.

In a legal recourse sent Monday to judge Claudio Bonadio by Fernandez’s lawyers, Alejandro Rua and Graciana Peñafort, they demand the investigation be elevated to a public trial.

Judge Bonadio prosecuted the former head of state and other former government officials, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Hector Timerman, for concealment and treason.

The treason charge was dropped in a second instance hearing, but the National Chamber of Criminal and Correctional Appeals confirmed the prosecution of the defendants for concealment arguing they covered up Iranians accused of the AMIA attack through a Memorandum of Understanding with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government.

The memorandum, which would have created a Truth Commission to investigate the case, was never applied because it wasn’t ratified by the Iranian parliament. … continue

Venezuela’s Maduro: International Observers Will Accompany 2018 Presidential Elections

Maduro also ordered the government’s consulate in Miami to be reopened so Venezuelans living abroad could register on the electoral roll

By Paul Dobson | Venezuelanalysis | February 19, 2018

Merida – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro urged opposition parties to participate in upcoming presidential elections this past Thursday in an international press conference held in Caracas.

“Let the person who receives most votes win,” he told national and international journalists.

“I want the opposition to sign up their candidates. There are ample electoral guarantees given… let’s compete in the streets, head to head,” the head of state added.

To date, opposition parties have not named a candidate for the upcoming elections.

“I am fulfilling the agreement of the Dominican Republic, which the opposition didn’t want to sign, but I gave my word [that I would sign it],” he affirmed, making reference to “more than 400 calls for dialogue” with the opposition.

The Agreement of the Dominican Republic between Maduro’s government and representatives from the opposition agreed on a date for the upcoming elections and on electoral guarantees, including the presence of international observers to safeguard transparency and fairness. Following an alleged phone call with US Secretary of Stae Rex Tillerson moments before signing, opposition representatives refused to sign the document despite months of negotiations and pressure from the mediators for them ratify the accord.

“In Venezuela, there will be presidential elections and the people will come out to vote in their millions and millions because what is important in elections is the people,” Maduro assured journalists. “Rain, thunder, or lightning, we are going to have elections.”

His comments come in response to statements by US Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who has publicly called for a coup d’état in Venezuela to avoid the upcoming elections. … Full article

WSJ’s Epic Distortion of Colombian and Venezuelan Refugees

By Joe Emersberger | FAIR | February 18, 2018

A Wall Street Journal article by Juan Forero (2/13/18) ran with the headline “Venezuela’s Misery Fuels Migration on Epic Scale.” The subhead stated, “Residents Flee Crumbling Economy in Numbers That Echo Syrians to Europe, Rohingya to Bangladesh.”

Forero’s article quoted a UN official: “By world standards, Colombia is receiving migrants at a pace that now rivals what we saw in the Balkans, in Greece, in Italy in 2015, at the peak of [Europe’s] migrant emergency.” Further on, Forero says, “The influx prompted Colombian officials to travel to Turkey last year to study how authorities were dealing with Syrian war refugees.”

Two enormous problems with the way Forero and his editors have framed this article should immediately stand out… continue

More Gun Violence: Let’s Look Beyond Politics

By Ron Paul | February 20, 2108

Another terrible school shooting took place in Parkland, Florida last week and unfortunately many politicians and pundits have used the tragedy – as they often do – to push their own agenda. Many will use the tragedy to argue that Americans should be prohibited from owning guns. As if anti-gun laws would dissuade a disturbed or violent individual intent on causing harm. Those intent on mass murder don’t obey gun laws.

It’s unfortunate that while many are quick to demand that guns be taken away from peaceful Americans, they don’t seem to have much to say about guns when they’re in the hands of government authorities shooting innocent people. If we need any gun control, it is to get control of the guns in the hands of thousands of government employees who use them against innocent people with impunity. … continue

Tories Resurrect Ghost of Communism in Desperate Attack on Corbyn

Sputnik – February 20, 2108

Leader of Opposition and head of the UK Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn is facing numerous attacks from the Tories, who recalled their Cold War practices to discredit their left-wing opponent, branding him a communist spy.

The scandal was sparked by the allegations made by former Czechoslovak intelligence officer Jan Sarkocy, who claimed that Corbyn supplied sensitive information to the communist government.

The Conservatives were quick to jump on the bandwagon, calling on Corbyn to disclose a file that was opened on him by the East German intelligence agency, the Stasi, when he visited the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1980s. For instance, British Prime Minister Theresa May has publicly called on Corbyn to be “accountable for his actions in the past”. … continue

Bear scare! Why the US Democrats desperately need a Russian bogeyman

By Robert Bridge | RT | February 20, 2018

Even before Donald Trump set foot in the White House, loveless liberals were busy pushing the narrative that Russia meddled in the elections. But could this claim be – just maybe – a dastardly ploy to hide some unsavory truths?

Pass the popcorn, the theater of the political absurd known as ‘Russiagate’ continues playing to disappointed audiences without so much as an intermission. And with the latest episode featuring an indictment against 13 Russian nationals without rhyme or reason, perhaps it’s a good time to pause and reflect on the question the mainstream media conspicuously ignores: was the real meddlesome actor in the 2016 presidential election not the perennial bogeyman known as ‘Putin’s Russia’, but the Democratic Party itself?

Indeed, some highly questionable moves on the part of the Democrats before, during and after the elections go far in exonerating the Russian fall guy from any and all charges. You be the judge. … continue

Iran strongly rejects claims of delivery of missiles to Yemen

Press TV – February 20, 2018

Iran has once again rejected the allegations about the Islamic Republic’s provision of missiles to Yemeni forces, saying such claims are lies and a foolish scenario.

“Iran’s missile program is for defensive and deterrent [purposes] and claims about the dispatch of missiles to Yemen despite the all-out blockade on this country are lies and a foolish scenario designed to exonerate the aggressors,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi said on Tuesday.

He added that Britain and France have expressed their concern over Iran’s defensive missile program without providing any reason or wise justification. […]

Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani also said in December that the Islamic Republic is not providing military assistance to Yemen and all claims to this effect are false.

“We are not a country that would deny providing military assistance to anybody,” Larijani said. … Read full article

US-Russia rivalry surges in Syria

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 20, 2018

A major speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday at an international conference on the Middle East turned into the strongest Russian denunciation to date of the shift in the US policies under the Trump administration towards Syria, where the Pentagon now intends to keep a military presence indefinitely. (here and here)

The overall impression Lavrov conveyed is three-fold. One, in immediate terms, a spurt in fighting in Syria can be expected, as the US attempts to create new facts on the ground by using local proxies — Kurdish militia plus al-Qaeda affiliates and ISIS fighters — as well as to push back at Russia, Iran and the Syrian government.

Two, Russia concludes that the shift in the overall US strategy aims at balkanizing Syria. (Later on Monday, while speaking to the media in Moscow, Lavrov also drew attention to the presence of mercenaries and the Special Forces of France and Britain in northeastern Syria working in league with the US forces in implementing the American agenda to create zones of influence.)

Three, the conversation between Moscow and Washington regarding Syria is at a dead end. Lavrov specifically warned Washington that it is “playing with fire” in Syria, implying that the US strategy will run into resistance.

Two other features of the Moscow conference in Moscow are that, first, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif took part in it, and, second, the event also talked up a Russian mediatory role to calm down the tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. … continue

Rouhani Phones Erdogan, Highlights Necessity of Respecting Syria’s Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity

Al-Manar | February 20, 2018

Iran’s President Sheikh Hassan Rouhani reiterated the necessity of respecting Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, underlining the need to restore security and stability to it as soon as possible and provide appropriate conditions that will enable all Syrian displaced people to return home.

Rouhani’s remark came during a phone call with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday.

The Iranian President added that talks between the leaders and officials of Iran, Russia and Turkey in Astana and Sochi have been promising in terms of enhancing security and stability in Syria.

He stressed that this constructive track should be further reinforced through the continuous consultations among the heads of the three states.

Rouhani said that fighting terrorism, cleansing Syria of terrorist organizations and countering separatist attempts in the region are among the common objectives of Iran and Turkey, adding that “We should not allow terrorist groups to regain strength and return again to the region.”

He pointed out to the US-Zionist conspiracies against the countries of the region, noting that Iran and Turkey have common objectives regarding the regional and international issues.

The Iranian President called for consolidating cooperation in line with implementing the decisions reached in Astana.

US baits Turkey in hopes of ending Ankara’s Russian dalliance

Leaving aside the issue of the Kurds in Syria, Washington is experienced in leveraging Turkish predicaments – and appears optimistic about doing so again

By MK Bhadrakumar | Asia Times | February 20, 2018

… The big question is how the Russian-Iranian alliance will respond to a potential US-Turkey entente in northern Syria. … Read full article

Engine fire forces US F-16 to dump fuel tank over Japanese lake – reports

RT | February 20, 2018

An engine malfunction has forced a US F-16 pilot to drop his fighter jet’s external fuel tank over Lake Ogawara in Aomori Prefecture in order to safely return to Misawa Air Force Base in Japan, according to local media.

The engine of the F-16 fighter jet caught fire almost immediately after taking off from Misawa base in Aomori Prefecture at around 8:40 am on Tuesday morning, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera announced at a press conference after the Cabinet meeting, Reuters reports.

Prior to returning to the air base just three minutes after takeoff, the aircraft reportedly dumped one or two external auxiliary fuel tanks in Lake Ogawara, which is located near the base. According to a local fisherman who spoke with Kyodo news, there were four to five vessels in the vicinity of the 15-meter splash in Lake Ogawara, where one of the objects fell.

Japanese authorities contacted the US military to seek an explanation. The Misawa Defense Office said no injuries or damage have yet been confirmed in the wake of the incident, according to local media reports.