Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Red Alert

"First we heard a thud, then the explosion, and then a shock wave that knocked my colleague off her feet. We ran down the road and found a bus completely destroyed. It was horrible to look at.
"The soldiers were excellent. They did everything properly and calmly. I helped one woman. No one knows why they target Volgograd. We're peaceful people here, and all nationalities live together peacefully.
"Everyone helped -- Russians, Azerbaijainis, Mordovans, We're all afraid."
Fatima Samukhvalova, Dzerzhinsk district market vendor

Reuters  A bomb on a bus in Volgograd, Russia, on Monday killed at least 15 people. It was the second fatal blast in the city in two days. 

Little wonder everyone is fearful. What appears ordinary, a usual winter day in a busy metropolis, with people going about their business in a routine manner suddenly is infused with the horror of unpredictable violence leaving mayhem and carnage in its wake. People are killed, maimed for life, and those indirectly affected have inherited a different kind of trauma, one that will never give them peace throughout their lives.

The knowledge that a hatred so intense, so beyond human recall, has irretrievably taken life, altered life, transfixed and transformed a society. Trust replaced by suspicion and social disequilibrium. When something of this magnitude occurs, the normal exchange between people will never again be as relaxed and naturally casual. A lingering suspicion may enter the public square to change the culture from an open acceptance to one of alert caution.

Volgograd struck twice within a matter of days by an ideology of violent achievement, so dedicated to destruction of peace and social harmony that the willing martyrs' own death to be used as a tool in the deaths of many becomes a source of vengeance, solace for a twisted soul. On Monday, fourteen innocent people killed, another 28 injured, three of them critically.  On Sunday, an explosive detonated at Volgograd's train station killed 17, inuring over 40.

Surely much satisfaction given to those whose idea of life's purpose is to sow terror in the hearts and souls of one's perceived enemies. And putting the Kremlin on notice that the entire country cannot be protected from such assaults accounts for Volgograd's being targeted despite its distance from Sochi was the message delivered. And to warn the world awaiting the Olympic Games' opening that they are in danger should they attend the Games.
"The attack demonstrates the militants' capability to strike at soft targets such as transport infrastructure outside of their usual area of operations in the North Caucasus. Although the very strict security measures which will be in place at the Sochi Games will make it difficult to undertake a successful attack against the main Olympic venues, public transport infrastructure in Sochi and the surrounding Krasnodar territory will face an elevated risk of attack."
Matthew Clements, analyst, Jane's

The intention of creating an Islamic state in the North Caucasus region and the Russian counter-intention not to allow this to happen challenges two indomitable ideologies in direct confrontation with one another. The Russian-Chechnya wars and the separatist jihadists messages delivered in the slaughter at a Moscow theatre, the hospital hostages in Budyonnovsk, and the seizure and slaughter at the Beslan school served as more than ample evidence that Islamist terrorists would stop at nothing to achieve their goal.

With the world focused on the Winter Games at Sochi, the opportunity presents itself for the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Doku Umarov, to reveal just how powerful the separatist movement is in the minds of his followers. He invokes in them the spirit to contribute to their cause by sacrificing their lives and through their martyrdom achieving the goal of hastening the eventuality of the long-awaited Caliphate.

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Reality versus Fiction? or Reality and Fiction

"The biggest issue is that some see Britain as a soft touch. They assume people will want to come here because they'll get an easy ride here."
Victoria Honeyman, University of Leeds politics lecturer
Britain has a very well developed social security safety network. In fact, those on welfare and living in assisted housing very often live with more financial ease than the working poor. But that is Britain's system, one the government is doubtless proud of maintaining, despite the criticisms that often come their way. After all, even those people who do migrate to Britain because they wish to take advantage of its generosity could go elsewhere, to the Scandinavian countries, for example, for similar generous treatment.

How to nudge people off the public teat when they are capable of extending themselves to find remunerative work to enable them to live independently of welfare is another matter altogether. Why should they when they feel they are entitled to any and all social welfare as a result of having had the intelligence of cupidity-sans-labour by making such an entitled selection? Where former grand estates have been turned over to large, and burgeoning families whose birth-rates far exceed that of other Brits.

"We're importing a crime wave from Romania and Bulgaria", blasted a British headline. They were quoting a Conservative Member of Parliament who informed that august body (the British Parliament) that most pickpockets trawling the streets of the country were from Romania. This is typical tabloid fare, and it appears to be working very well. No one actually has an idea how many Romanians and Bulgarians will end up filtering through to Britain, but the generous welfare state is certainly seen as a draw.

Both countries joined the EU in 2007, resulting in over 100,000 migrants already working in Britain under work restrictions limiting jobs access and state benefits. But those restrictions are set to be lifted in two days' time -- January 1 -- granting migrants from both countries similar rights as other EU nations, enabling them to live and work freely across Europe's wide swath of EU membership. And since Britain, although it chafes at certain infringements on its sovereignty as a EU member, is a member it must abide by its general rules.

In 2004 when Poland and other former countries aligned with communism under the USSR joined the EU it was estimated that several thousand would make their way to Britain. A swell of a whopping one million Poles made that transition. But since that time there has been an acknowledgement that the country's economy was aided by their working presence. That fact hasn't worked to ameliorate fears of a pending invasion of Bulgarians and Romanians.

Countries of Eastern Europe are known to be relatively impoverished. The most sadly impoverished demographic that of the Roma. And those same tabloid items accuse the Roma living in Britain currently of a wide range of social ills, including eating cats and conducting an illegal baby market. That, opposed to the statement by the Center for Economics and Business Research that migration is one factor to aid Britain eclipse Germany to become the most robust economy by 2030 in Europe.

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Hamas rejects terror label of Egypt Islamists

Reuters , Tuesday 31 Dec 2013
Ahram online
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi meets with Gaza-based Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Cairo to discuss Palestinian reconciliation, 17 June. (Photo: AP)
The Palestinian group Hamas condemned on Tuesday Egypt's designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group last week, reaffirming its solidarity with the ousted movement despite a crippling blockade imposed by Cairo.

Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas Gaza government, also snubbed calls by some rival Palestinian factions to sever its connections with the Brotherhood.

"We reject such a classification for the Muslim Brotherhood group. No one, regardless of its influence, can push Hamas or any of the Palestinian resistance factions to abandon their ideology, abandon their history," Haniyeh told reporters.

Egyptian prosecutors and officials say the Muslim Brotherhood has links with domestic Islamist militants who have stepped up attacks on security forces across the country.

They also accuse the group of plotting violence along with Islamist groups from neighbouring countries, Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah.

Hamas, founded in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been seen as a major loser from the July 3rd ouster and arrest of elected Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who belonged to the Brotherhood.

Since then, tension has grown between Hamas and the army-backed Cairo government, and curbs on trade to Gaza mounted.

"We seek to reaffirm that we do not intervene in Egyptian internal affairs. Egypt cannot do without us and we cannot do with Egypt. These historical, geographic and security links can never be severed," Haniyeh added.

Cairo has stepped up a campaign against Hamas near its Gaza border by closing almost 1,200 smuggling tunnels that used to provide an economic life-line for the territory, home to 1.8 million people.

Neighbouring Israel has also maintained a tight blockade of the enclave since Hamas took over in a brief, bloody civil war in 2007 after winning parliamentary polls the previous year.

Hamas has refused to renounce its armed struggle against Israel and is itself designated a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

But Haniyeh said Hamas maintained nearly daily contacts with Egyptian authorities over the movement of people through their joint border, as well as a November 2012 ceasefire with Israel.

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Exclusive: US “framework” calls for 80,000 Israeli West Bank evacuations to the big settlement blocs

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 31, 2013, 9:34 AM (IDT)
John Kerry after Geneva accord with Iran
John Kerry after Geneva accord with Iran
The State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in Washington Tuesday, Dec. 31, that Secretary John Kerry would discuss with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas a “proposed framework” to serve as “a guideline for addressing all core issues” in the decades-long dispute. 
“Some people say this would be an interim agreement. No, that’s not the case,” she said. The core issues she listed were “borders between Israel and a future Palestine, security arrangements, the fate of Palestinian refugees and conflicting claims to the holy city of Jerusalem.”

Kerry leaves for Israel and Ramallah on New Year’s Day to continue his shuttle, after Monday night, Dec. 30, Israel released from jail 26 Palestinian terrorists serving life sentences for murder.

debkafile reported earlier that the US Secretary does not expect Israeli and Palestinian leaders to approve the proposed framework – only to contribute their comments. We also reported that Abbas had indicated to the Secretary that that Palestinians were preparing to reject his proposals by demanding their referral to the various pan-Arab forums.

DEBKA Weekly No. 616 of Dec. 20 was first to divulge the nine points of the unpublished draft Kerry planned to present to Israeli and Palestinian leaders this week. Since then, certain amendments were introduced - especially in relation to Israel’s military presence in the Jordan Valley and Judea and Samaria.  The document continues to be molded by Kerry’s ongoing back-and-forth communications with the two parties.

Nevertheless, the nine points disclosed hereunder stand as the basic guidelines of the proposed US framework:

Israel hands over 92.8 pc of West Bank to Palestinians

1. Nearly all its content draws on the proposal Ehud Olmert, then Prime Minister, submitted to Abbas on Aug. 31, 2008, which he never accepted; nor was it approved by any Israeli authority.

2. Territory:  Israel will annex 6.8% of the West Bank including the four main settlement blocs of Gush Etzion with Efrata; Maale Adummim; Givat Zeev; and Ariel, as well as all of the “settlements” of East Jerusalem and Har Homa - in exchange for the equivalent of 5.5% of Israeli territory.

3. The Safe Passage:  The territorial link between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would cut through southern Israel and remain under Israeli sovereignty and Palestinian control.

Our sources add that out of all other options, the American sponsors of the accord prefer to build an express railway line from Gaza to Hebron, without stops, which would be paid for by Washington. Abbas has already informed John Kerry that he wants the train to go all the way to Ramallah.

There will be a special road connecting Bethlehem with Ramallah that bypasses East Jerusalem. This is mostly likely the same route currently planned to go around Maaleh Adummim.

Since the safe passage will cross through Israeli, accounting for 1% of its territory, this area will be deducted from the land Israel concedes, leaving 4.54% for the land swap with the Palestinians.

4. Jerusalem:  East Jerusalem will be divided territorially along the lines of the Clinton Parameters with the exception of the “Holy Basin,” which comprises 0.04% of the West Bank.

Sovereignty over this ancient heart of Jerusalem, with its unique and historic concentration of Jewish, Christian and Muslim shrines, will pass to an international commission comprised of the US, Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

5. Refugees:  This issue will be addressed according to guidelines proposed by President Bill Clinton at Camp David in the year 2000 - and rejected by Yasser Arafat.

An International Foundation will be established to resettle the bulk of the Palestinian refugees in Canada and Australia, except for a small portion to be accepted in Israel in the framework of family reunification.

6. Security:  The Olmert package made no mention of security. However the Kerry draft deals extensively with this issue and Israel’s concerns. It calls for the evacuation of all 10,000 Jewish settlers from the Jordan Valley leaving behind a chain of posts along the Jordan River. Security corridors cutting through the West Bank will maintain their land and operational links with Israel.

Border crossings will be set up between Palestine and Jordan with an Israeli security presence. The security section of the draft assigns the use of West Bank and Gaza airspace by Israel and the Palestinians. There will be no Israeli military presence inside the Palestinian state.

7. Taxes: The present arrangement for Israel to collect customs levies and distribute the revenues to the Palestinians will continue. (debkafile: That is about the only clause which the Palestinians accept.) Israel will carry out security checks on goods bound for Palestinian that are unloaded at Haifa and Ashdod ports, and levy customs at rates fixed by the Palestinians to be disbursed in the Palestinian state.

8. Settlements:  Eighty percent of all Jewish settlers on the West Bank will be confined to the major settlement blocs as defined in 2. The remaining 20% amounting, according to American calculations to 80,000 people, will have to decide on their own whether they prefer to stay where they are under Palestinian rule or move to Israel.

debkafile’s sources report that Secretary Kerry advised the Israeli Prime Minister bluntly that he need not promise to force settlers to leave their homes - as the Sharon government did when he executed the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Netanyahu replied that it was unacceptable for Israel to abandon the settlers to their fate. He therefore proposed that instead of forcing them to cross back into Israel, they would be absorbed in the larger settlement blocs remaining under Israeli sovereignty.

9. Timelines:  Different timetables are proposed in the US framework for implementing different sections: The Palestinian leader says he is willing to give Israel three years as a transition period for relocating settlers.

When he submitted the paper to the Israeli and Palestinian leaders earlier this month, the Secretary of State told them that he saw no point in the two negotiating teams holding meetings consumed by interminable debates on one point or another. He therefore asked both parties to henceforth send him their comments in writing.

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Over 130,000 killed in Syria since uprising: NGO

Al Aribaya -- 31 December 2013
Members of Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra man a checkpoint on the border crossing between Syria and Jordan. (Reuters) 
More than 130,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the conflict in Syria nearly three years ago, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday.

In a new tally, the group said 130,433 people have been killed since the conflict began in March 2011, including 46,266 civilians.

They include more than 7,000 children and more than 4,600 women, the Britain-based watchdog said.

The group, which relies on a network of sources on the ground in Syria, said 52,290 pro-government fighters had been killed, among them more than 32,000 regular troops and 262 reinforcements from the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.

On the rebel side, the group counted 29,083 deaths, including 6,913 fighters from jihadist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The Observatory said it had also recorded the deaths of 2,794 unidentified individuals.

Syria's bloody conflict began in March 2011, with peaceful anti-government demonstrations.

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad cracked down on the protests, and the opposition took up arms.

The conflict has spiraled into an increasingly bloody civil war, with human rights groups accusing both sides of suspected war crimes.

Last Update: Tuesday, 31 December 2013 KSA 17:15 - GMT 14:15

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Volgograd blasts: Putin vows to 'annihilate terrorists'

BBC News online -- 31 December 2013
A relative grieves over the coffin of a victim of the Volgograd attacks, 31 December The funerals have begun in Volgograd following two suicide attacks on Sunday and Monday
Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to fight "terrorists until their complete annihilation", in his first comment on two suicide attacks in the southern city of Volgograd.
The attacks, on Sunday and Monday, claimed a total of 34 lives.

Thousands of police are patrolling public transport and checking traffic in the city following the attacks, which injured some 60 people.

The first victim has been buried - a policeman killed at the train station.
No group has said it carried out the attacks, which Russian investigators believe are connected. They are similar to previous indiscriminate attacks by Islamist militants operating from the North Caucasus.


Volgograd's streets are buzzing with special buses that carry police and military patrols. Soldiers are in full battle gear with helmets and bulletproof vests.
At the entrance to a large shopping mall police asked everyone to open their bags and unbutton coats. Everyone was treated with respect and people, mostly sales assistants queuing to get inside, were very patient.
However, one could immediately see many issues here. How long will the queue be when the shopping mall opens to the public? Is not such a gathering of people in a single place a security problem?
Some residents say new security measures, however chaotic, bring some relief. Others are quite sceptical. They doubt that policemen and soldiers will be able to find a bomber in the crowd. But almost everyone I spoke to said they wished these measures had been introduced in October, after the first bomb attack on a bus.
Volgograd, a city of one million known as Stalingrad during World War II, commemorated the 70th anniversary of the battle of the same name this year, in an outpouring of Russian patriotic fervour.

The bombing of the railway station on Sunday and the attack on a trolleybus on Monday came days before the New Year holiday - one of Russia's biggest celebrations - and just over a month before the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

In a New Year address in the eastern city of Khabarovsk, Mr Putin said: "We bow our heads in front of the victims of the terrible acts of terror.
"We will fiercely and consistently continue the fight against terrorists until their complete annihilation."

More than 5,000 officers were deployed on Tuesday morning, regional security spokesman Andrei Pilipchuk said.
Extra reserves and the "maximum number of police and interior ministry soldiers possible" were being brought in, he said.

As many as 600 police officers from the city were recently transferred to Sochi, 688km (428 miles) to the south-west, to help with preparation for the Games which begin on 7 February, Reuters news agency reports.

Events for New Year's Eve, such as children's parties, have been cancelled in the city, while residents have been asked not to set off fireworks.
A policewoman speaks to a neighbourhood watch volunteer in Volgograd, 31 December Here, a policewoman speaks to a neighbourhood watch volunteer in Volgograd on Tuesday. 
The death toll rose overnight as a person wounded in Sunday's attack on the station died of their injuries, bringing the total fatalities in that attack to 18.
Another person injured in Monday's attack on a trolleybus also died, bringing that toll to 16.


The Motherland Calls
  • Struck by suspected suicide bombers three times in two months
  • Formerly known as Stalingrad, it was the scene of the bloodiest battle in World War II and has a deep symbolism for Russia
  • One of the biggest cities near the troubled North Caucasus region
  • A main transport hub between Moscow and Southern Russia
The first victim to be buried on New Year's Eve was transport policeman Dmitry Makovkin, 29, killed at a metal detector in the station, where the suicide bomber set off the device.

Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral. His commander hailed Mr Makovkin as a hero who possibly prevented greater loss of life by preventing attackers from entering the station.
A second victim was being buried on Tuesday and funerals are due to continue through the holiday period.

Investigators believe a male suicide attacker bombed the trolleybus and are studying fragments of his body in an effort to identify him. Police sources say the attack on the station may also have been the work of a male bomber.

Identical shrapnel was used in the bombs, according to Vladimir Markin, spokesman for Russia's Investigative Committee.

Analysts say the prime suspect for the attack is likely to be Doku Umarov, a fugitive Islamist militant leader from Chechnya.

He has orchestrated previous bomb attacks on Russian civilian targets, and vowed in July that his fighters would use "any means possible" to keep Mr Putin from staging the Sochi Games.


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Monday, December 30, 2013

Repeating The Past

"We condemn the assassination of former minister Mohammed Chatah and condemn acts of violence and murder, but [hope] they don't lead to more war and devastation damaging our homeland."
Nijib Mikati, [caretaker] Lebanese Prime Minister

"The criminal is the same, he who is thirsty for the blood of Syrians is the same one spilling Lebanese blood ... from Beirut to Tripoli ... in all of Lebanon, the criminal is the same, he and his Lebanese allies, as in Daraa, Aleppo, Damascus and all of Syria."
Fouad Siniora, Lebanese opposition group March 14, former Lebanese prime minister

Lebanon is very well aware of its history. That old adage of those not recognizing history repeating it, is a well-founded one, but not always apt. George Santana may have coined a hugely repeated warning in "those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it", but failure to take into account human nature, tribal antipathies, and religious and sectarian blight may see history repeat itself while those involved remain fully cognizant of the horrors of the recent past.

Those horrors saw Lebanese Christians, Shiites, Sunnis and Druze, and Palestinian refugees all at war with one another, committing horrendous atrocities against one another, and against the intruding UN, US, Israeli and Syrian militaries, there ostensibly to aid Lebanese to refrain from slaughtering one another, and all failing in their self-appointed missions.

During that time of unmitigated chaos in a horrific spiral into ongoing conflict, Iran's Revolutionary Guard guided Hezbollah into creation as Martyrs for Allah. The new martyrdom-inspired militia surprised all with its vehement violence. Mounting well-planned and meticulously-executed mass bombings that shocked its targets, targets that had no idea what or who had hit them.

And it is that Iranian-inspired jihadist mission that has succeeded in driving the rift within Lebanon more deeply, widely and brutally than the inhibiting memory of past massacres that Lebanese inflicted on one another that remains to this day, and which is propelling Lebanon into another wider schism with a cataclysmic upheaval in the offing.

The more determined, better trained and armed Hezbollah with its vast superiority in all the indices reflecting the success of a military campaign, to the Lebanese military capabilities threatens the final imbalance. Lebanon is in a very hard place indeed; incapable of disarming the most powerful non-state militia in the country, and now anticipating what appears inevitable; a final clash between the political religion-driven sects.

With Hezbollah's Iran-encited entry into the Syrian civil war, another civil war is being introduced to Lebanon. The wounds of the civil war that ended in the 1990s are still raw, chafing and barely scabbed over in the past with living ghosts surrounding the entire country, and now it is being threatened by divisions within itself to plunge the country once again into raw and bloody conflict.

The wave of bombings that have struck Lebanon over the past months reflect the tensions rising over the civil war in Syria. Hezbollah arming itself on the border with Israel, again. The bomb blast that took place on Friday taking the life of Mohammed Chatah, once senior aide to both Saad Hariri and his father Rafik Hariri, and which occurred close to where the truck bomb blasted that killed the senior Hariri, wounding over 70 people and killed five.

This is Shiite Hezbollah giving its pay-back to the verbal and political assaults from a Sunni politician. The earlier blasts struck areas of the country held by Hezbollah and its Shia supporters. And now, Saudi Arabia has entered the fray in the most conspicuous manner possible, rushing to the aid of the Sunni Lebanese, offering the caretaker government $3-billion to purchase arms from France for the ill-equipped Lebanese military.

The proxy war between the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Saudi Arabia; Wahhabist Islam countering Shia Islam is being joined. And the complexities of the situation abound; where the United States has defied its own best interests by being pressed in the darkest of dark places by unfortunate decision-making, mental lassitude, inadequate intelligence and confounding realities to work alongside Russia, shoring up Iran's fortunes and that of its satellite, Syria.

Desperately seeking the lesser of two sinister threats; the attempted annihilation of Sunni Islamist terrorists linked to al-Qaeda, determined to mount its dread aspirations into the reality of a Caliphate, as opposed to attempting to stifle the equally threatening and certainly compellingly sinister aspirations of Shia Islam's most controversial and aggressive expression in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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Political turmoil costs Turkey $100 billion: Govt spokesman

AFP , Monday 30 Dec 2013

File Photo: Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc addresses the media in Ankara May 31, 2010 (Photo: Reuters)
The political turmoil in Turkey sparked by a high-profile corruption and bribery probe has cost the country's economy $100 billion, the deputy prime minister said on Monday.

"We are talking about damage of over $100 billion," Bulent Arinc, also government spokesman, said in televised remarks after the first cabinet meeting since a reshuffle last week.

The political crisis engulfing Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cost the economy $100 billion, a top official said Monday, as financial markets rebounded after days in freefall.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said a sweeping corruption probe that has shaken the core of Erdogan's adminstration was a "plot aimed at tarnishing Turkey's prestige at home and abroad", a frequent government refrain since the scandal erupted.

"We are talking about damage of over $100 billion," Arinc said after Turkey's first cabinet meeting since a major reshuffle last week forced by the resignation of three ministers over the probe.

Turkey had been seen as a model of democracy in the Muslim world and an emerging economic power but the crisis sent its currency and shares plunging.
However, the battered financial markets bounced back Monday.

The lira rallied to 2.1239 against the dollar after hitting a record low of 2.17 last week as Erdogan faced mass protests and growing calls to resign.

The Istanbul stock exchange surged 6.42 percent.

Erdogan, struggling to keep his grip on power after 11 years as the country's almost unassailable strongman, has vowed he would survive what he has branded a "dirty" plot to try to topple him.
A string of public figures including high-profile businessmen and the sons of three ministers were rounded up on December 17 over allegations of bribery for construction projects as well as illicit money transfers to sanctions-hit Iran.

Local media reports have also suggested his son Bilal may face investigation.
It is the worst crisis since June when Erdogan faced a month of mass street demonstrations against what critics said was his increasingly authoritarian rule and attempts to impose his Islamic values on society.

Erdogan named 10 new ministers -- almost half the cabinet -- after his interior, economy and environment ministers stepped down last week following the detention of their sons.

The turmoil has exposed rifts within his own Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a power struggle with an influential US-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen.

It has also sullied the reputation of his party which took office in 2002 with a pledge to root out corruption and which takes its name from AK -- meaning "clean" and "pure" in Turkish.

The government has suggested that Gulen loyalists, who wield considerable influence in the police and judiciary, were forcing the corruption inquiry to undermine Erdogan in the runup to the March elections.

"This operation is an assassination attempt ahead of elections," new Interior Minister Efkan Ala was quoted as saying by pro-government Sabah daily.
"This is almost a coup to topple the government."

Gulen, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999 after being accused of plotting to form an Islamic state, has denied involvement in the corruption probe.

Neither Gulen nor his Hizmet (Service) movement has "any hostility" towards the government, according to the Journalists and Writers Foundation, a non-profit group of which Gulen is honorary president.

It voiced "deep concerns" over what it said were the authoritarian tendencies of the AKP, and rejected allegations that Gulen's movement was acting on behalf of foreign powers to establish a parallel state as "ugly slander".

"It is obvious that in Turkey any government involved in corruption... has lost trust and credibility," it said in a statement.

Erdogan's government has ordered the sacking of dozens of police chiefs linked to Gulen or who oversaw sweeping raids on December 17 that saw the detention of dozens of people including the ministers' sons and high-profile businessmen.

Among those charged with bribery is Suleyman Aslan, the chief executive of Turkey's state-owned Halkbank, which is accused of being involved in illegal gold sales to Iran in return for energy imports.

"It is the first time in the history of the Turkish republic that a prime minister is defending thieves. How can someone who defends thieves be prime minister," said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the opposition Republican People's Party.

Anti-government demonstrators have taken to brandishing shoeboxes at anti-government protests after $4.5 million in cash was found stashed in boxes in Aslan's home.

Turkey's once powerful military, the self-declared guardian of the secular state which has launched three coups, has said it would not get involved in the latest crisis.

Since taking office, the Islamic-rooted government has reined in the military with a series of court cases against top army brass.

An AKP lawmaker suggested at the weekend that the government could change the law to pave the way for retrials of hundreds of convicted army officers but Arinc said Monday such a move was not on the agenda.

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South Sudan: White Army advances, Uganda troops deepen conflict

Amid differing reports about the intentions of an ethnic militia known as the White Army, Uganda dispatched troops to South Sudan and Uganda's president warned a rebel leader to back down.

By Mike EckelCorrespondent / December 30, 2013
A United Nations compound in South Sudan's capital, Juba, has become home to thousands of people displaced by the recent fighting. Some 25,000 people live in two hastily arranged camps for the internally displaced in Juba, in addition to nearly 40,000 living in camps elsewhere in the country, two weeks after violence broke out.    Ben Curtis / AP

Confusion deepened in South Sudan, as ethnic fighting escalated and the army warned of a mobilizing fighting force called the “White Army” that is allied with one of the main protagonists in the two-week-old conflict.

Reuters on Monday quoted an army spokesman Philip Aguer as saying that thousands of militia fighters were near the flashpoint town of Bor, north of the capital, Juba. The agency also cited Information Minister Michael Makuei as saying civilians had fled the town, crossed the White Nile River and headed for the swamps to flee the advancing militia.

CNN, meanwhile, quoted another government official as saying that she had been negotiating with leaders of the White Army, trying to persuade the force to stop its advance. The militia gets its name from the white ash taken from burnt cow dung used to cover faces and bodies.

The conflict broke out around Dec. 15 amid reports of a coup pitting allies of President Salva Kiir against Riek Machar, whom Kiir sacked as vice president in July. Kiir is an ethnic Dinka, while Machar comes from the Nuer tribe, where the White Army draws its fighters.

With thousands of civilians fleeing and more than 1,000 people killed, the unrest has raised fears of an all-out ethnic civil war in South Sudan, which only gained its independence from Sudan in 2011. Since then, stability has been tenuous; the country is largely dependent on foreign aid, despite substantial oil reserves in northern regions. Sudan, meanwhile, has chafed at the loss of oil fields; it also relies on pipelines crossing South Sudan to export its own oil.

Bor was the site of a massacre of Dinkas by Nuer militias in 1991.

A spokesman for the UN Mission in South Sudan called the White Army a “volatile and unpredictable ingredient” to the country’s predicament. “They are a wildcard whose intervention in the theater of conflict outside Bor could ratchet up the conflict even further,” Joe Contreras was quoted as saying by the BBC.

The confusion and chaos is worrisome for other countries in East Africa, many of whom face their own political and economic problems. Uganda deployed an unknown number of troops at the Juba airport in order to “facilitate evacuation” of civilians, Ugandan military spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.

African and other international leaders have struggled to bring Nuer and Machar to the negotiating table to broker a ceasefire. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, a trade bloc made up of eight East African nations, set a Tuesday deadline for direct talks between the two, but Marchar has made demands including the release of his arrested political allies before committing to a truce, AFP reported.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, meanwhile, suggested that Uganda troops might directly intervene in the fight, which could prompt other nations to do the same.

"We gave Riek Machar four days to respond (to the ceasefire offer) and if he doesn't we shall have to go for him, all of us," Reuters quoted Museveni as telling reporters in Juba. "That is what we agreed in Nairobi."

The conflict has its true roots in the inability or unwillingness of South Sudan’s leadership to build unity for the new nation among its ethnic groups, argued Abdul Mohammed, an African Union official involved with Sudan and South Sudan, and Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts’ University’s Fletcher School in an op-ed on Washington Post:
“Stopping the shooting is the immediate priority. But the mediators should not be content with patching together a ruling coalition and returning to business as usual in advance of scheduled elections in 2015. A power-sharing formula could become just another division of the spoils, and elections could become another exercise in ethnic division….
The elites inherited vast natural wealth and boundless international good will following the historic referendum, but they squandered both. They lapsed into a culture of corruption, conspicuous personal consumption and tribalistic political machinations. They have not been serious about democratization, institution-building or even the most basic service delivery, which they have preferred to outsource to foreign relief agencies.”

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Egypt urges Arab states to brand Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group

Al Aribaya -- 30 December 2013
Cairo University students supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and deposed President Mohammad Mursi shout slogans at the university's campus in Cairo, Dec. 29, 2013.(Reuters)
Egypt urged Arab League members Monday to enforce a counter terrorism treaty that would block funding and support for the Muslim Brotherhood after Cairo designated it as “terrorist” group.
Cairo also wants the League’s members to hand over wanted Islamists linked to the Brotherhood to which deposed president Mohammad Mursi belongs.

Egypt’s military-installed government listed the Brotherhood as a terrorist group last week, after officials accused the movement of a suicide bombing that killed 15 people in a police station on Tuesday.

The Brotherhood, the largest Islamist movement in the region, has a presence in most Arab countries. It condemned the bombing, which was claimed by Al-Qaeda-inspired militants based in the restive Sinai peninsula.

Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said Arab League members that signed the 1998 counter terrorism treaty, should enforce it against the Brotherhood.

The treaty coordinates anti-terrorism measures between signatories.
“The signatories are responsible for implementing the treaty,” Abdelatty told AFP, adding the members would have to stop financing the group and hand over Brotherhood fugitives to Egypt.
An Arab League official said 18 of the Arab League’s 22 members had ratified the treaty.
The Arab League said it has notified its members of Egypt’s designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.

Mursi and dozens of Brotherhood leaders face trials on various charges, including colluding with militants to carry out attacks in Egypt.

Some of the group’s leaders have fled the country, and its media operation is now based in the United Kingdom.

The movement had won every election in Egypt after the 2011 overthrow of strongman Hosni Mubarak.

It successfully fielded Mursi in the country’s first free presidential election in 2012, but he lasted only a year in power before the military toppled him amid massive street protests demanding his resignation.

Since then more than 1,000 people, most of them Islamists, have been killed and thousands imprisoned in a crackdown on his supporters.

Last Update: Monday, 30 December 2013 KSA 18:32 - GMT 15:32

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US and Iran’s First Joint Military Venture: Fighting al Qaeda in Iraq

DEBKAfile Video December 29, 2013, 7:26 PM (IDT)
With the Geneva Nuclear Accord still far from implementation a month after it was signed in Geneva, the United States and Iran are moving into stage two of their rapprochement: They are now fighting together to crush Al Qaeda terror in Iraq, debkafile’s exclusive military sources report. 
Iraq is two weeks into a major offensive for cutting al Qaeda down - the first major military challenge the jihadists have faced in the past six years. Three armies are fighting alongside Iraq: the United States, Iran’s Al Qods Brigades officers and Syria.
Their mission is to foil Al Qaeda’s drive to spread its first independent state in the Middle East across the Iraqi-Syrian frontier. Its Iraqi and Syrian branches - ISIS and the Nusra Front - have declared a holy war to this end under their commanders Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and Abu Mohammed al-Golani.

The Anbar province of Western Iraq is the scene of the fiercest combat close to Iraq’s borders with Syria and Jordan.

To counter Al Qaeda’s superiority in speed and surprise, the US has sent the Iraqi army Hellfire surface-to-air missiles. They are already in use against al Qaeda camps on the Syrian border. Next, Washington is sending out small, long-endurance unmanned aerial ScanEagles. These drones are best suited to combat in Anbar’s deep wadis and the halophyte thickets lining the Euphrates River.
In this topsy-turvy scenario, Washington and Tehran share another surprising motive: to save the Assad regime in Damascus from Al Qaeda’s long arms.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted approvingly on Dec. 26: “Attitudes are changing in Western countries; they are becoming more realistic in their approach towards the Syrian crisis. The threat of terrorism in Syria, of jihadists coming to power, of creating a caliphate with extremist laws, these are the main problems.”

Since the Syrian chemical issue was addressed in September, Russian-Iranian-American collaboration is going strong. The joint US-Iranian war on al Qaeda is strengthening Tehran’s grip on Iraq as well as Syria. It gives Russian President Vladimir Putin hope for keeping al Qaeda away from the Winter Olympics at Sochi – an ever-present menace as a female suicide bomber, a Dagestan national, demonstrated Sunday, Dec. 29, by blowing up the railway station at the southern Russian city of Volgograd, killing up to a score of people.

The other incentive for US President Barack Obama is the hope of transposing his collaboration with Tehran and Moscow to improve US chances of a reasonable accommodation in the Afghanistan arena.

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

PLO President Mahmoud Abbas undoubtedly knows that the minute he signs a peace deal with Israel, the Palestinian terrorist organizations will assassinate him. The mismanagement by Europe, the UN and Abbas's own weakness have prepared the ground for a takeover by radical elements, and it will occur in the foreseeable future. If elections were held today in the West Bank, Hamas and other Salafist-Jihadi organizations would win.
Ashton, Kerry et al are trying to create another artificial state, "Palestine," which will quickly become another Islamist country, officially refusing as a matter of policy, to recognize the State of Israel and seeking to destroy it.
If the West were genuinely interested in Palestinians and peace in the Middle East, its top priority would be to campaign for their citizenship in the Arab world, a quest that would quickly clear their heads of the nonsense of the "return;" stop the tide of money flowing into UNRWA and end the fiction of the "Palestinian refugees."
The European and American attempts to impose an academic and economic boycott on Israel increase in direct proportion to the signs that the Palestinian-Israel peace process is sinking into the mud. Boycotts, however, will simply make the Israelis more obstinate and worsen the situation.

President Obama tried to reassure Israel recently by promising that the future final status agreement would not turn the West Bank into "a replica of Gaza." He was referring to the rockets the Palestinians began launching from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory as soon as Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, and stressed that in any peace agreement, the United States would not allow another Palestinian terrorist state, this one in the West Bank, to shell Israel.

The Israelis, who have already agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state bordering on Israel, justifiably demand that it be demilitarized and that Israel itself be responsible for security along the Jordan River. Their demand is based on past experience and meant to prevent rockets, mortar shells, explosives and arms in general from being smuggled into the West Bank. The Palestinians' outright rejection the West's demands might well raise suspicions in the objective observer. The Palestinians claim that Israel has a peace agreement with Jordan and therefore should have no fear that weapons will be smuggled into the West Bank. Such a claim is made only by those who conveniently forget about the thousands of rockets and other weapons used by Palestinian terrorists to attack Israel, and that have been smuggled into the Strip from Egypt, which also has a peace agreement with Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas not only refuses to recognize the State of Israel as the national homeland of the Jews, but, notably, he demands that Israel be forced to absorb Palestinians as part of the so-called "right of return," instead of demanding, more naturally, that they be absorbed into the future Palestinian state -- all the while demanding that there be no Jews in the Palestinian state.

What the Palestinians do not yet understand is that the West is losing both interest in and patience for the Palestinian cause. Millions of refugees, an unprecedented number since the 1930s, are massed at borders and seeking ports of entry all over the world. Today, millions of starving Syrian refugees -- having become burdens threatening the internal security and economy of countries such as Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and even Bulgaria -- are freezing in cardboard cartons and flimsy tents.

Millions of Africans crowd into leaky boats and then drown seeking the shores of Europe, where they hope to find a decent living, while others are interned and humiliated by the Italian authorities on the island of Lampedusa. No one seems to care that in the Arab countries, masses of Muslims die in terrorist attacks at the hands of other Muslims.

In the meantime, industriously ignoring these humanitarian catastrophes, the West closely focuses on what it likes to call "finding a solution for the Palestinian problem." This focus has nothing to do with concern for the Palestinian people; it is rather a symptom of the West's complete inability to cope with the world's genuine refugee problems.

Only few of the real Arab refugees from the 1948 War in Palestine remain, and would be at least 65 years old today if their families had left when the Arab leadership called on the Arabs to flee from Palestine. All those who fled were promised that once the Arab armies won the war and slaughtered or expelled the Jews, they would return to their homes and could loot and despoil Jewish property as they pleased. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs therefore abandoned their homes in 1948 and settled in the neighboring countries, eventually engendering millions of descendants who have built their lives in the host countries and need only to receive citizenship.

The United States and the Arab countries perpetuate the issue of the so-called "Palestinian refugees" with the aid they give to relief organizations, primarily UNRWA. They waste time, money and energy on the Palestinians, in both "Palestine" and other countries, and delay interminably the day when the descendants of the original refugees become citizens of the Arab countries in which they now live. It should be recalled that the Arabs who did not flee from Palestine in 1948, now live in Israel where they make up one-fifth of the population, hold equal rights to the Jews there, have their own political parties, members of Knesset, judges on the Supreme Court, senior diplomatic posts, serve in the army only if the so wish, and are welcomed in all leading professions, including professorships in university and as senior physicians in Israeli hospitals.

Perpetuating the status of "refugee" to five generations of their descendants means the Palestinians and the West continue to foster the false hope of the "right of return," making it increasingly difficult to offer these poor souls -- whose ancestors chose to chose to displace themselves - the right to a productive life, as all other refugees and their descendants enjoy in the countries to which they chose to go.

The Americans and Europeans cynically manipulate the Palestinians, to whom they are nothing more than insignificant pawns in the plot to prolong and escalate the Arab-Israeli conflict in order to justify their continued involvement in the Middle East; in reality, their motives are in no way humanitarian.

The lack of a solution for the Palestinian problem is a tragedy; the situation should sadden every Arab with a conscience. The Palestinian leadership and interested parties throughout the Arab-Muslim world delude the Palestinians into thinking that some day in the slight-of-hand foggy future they will return to "Palestine," that is, the territory of the State of Israel. They manipulate the Palestinians even as it is perfectly clear to the entire world that the Jews will never agree to absorb the millions of descendants of the 1948 Palestinians refugees who today live in the Arab countries: to do so would mean destroying Israel by flooding it with its enemies. If the West were genuinely interested in peace in the Middle East, its top priority would be to clarify the situation for the Palestinians and campaign for their citizenship in the Arab world. It is clear, therefore, that the ultimate goal of the West, and particularly Europe, is to destroy Israel by using the descendants of these Palestinians as weapons -- first of displacement, then extermination. One need only look at how Muslims are currently treating Christians, as well as other Muslims -- as there no longer any Jews to speak of; as the saying goes: "First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people" -- in countries as diverse as the Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq, Mauritania and Egypt.

International law does not allow refugee status to be inherited, but both the West and our Palestinian brothers continue to use the unjustified and incidentally illegal status of refugees as profitable political-economic merchandise. The corrupt agencies of the United Nations, particularly UNRWA, perpetuate and fatten themselves on the obscene amounts of money flowing into the "Palestinian problem," which for years has not been a humanitarian issue. The Palestinian problem is nowhere on the agenda of the Arab countries, which are caught up in the internal chaos created by the Arab "Spring," and instead has become a lucrative economic project for a whole series of racketeers, rob the millions of genuine refugees around the globe, many of who are also Arabs, of their rights.

The situation in Europe is complex and complicated. Thousands of immigrants knock on the gates of the West in search of employment and a better life, even though the West itself is on the brink of bankruptcy. To them, compared to the countries they are fleeing, the West still looks like Paradise. 

The Europeans have also muddied the definition of "refugees seeking political asylum" -- people who genuinely need protection from persecution. Those who go Westward in search of work cross many poor countries where they are not in danger yet claim, unjustly, that they are refugees fleeing for their lives. This confusion also makes it difficult for the West to solve the problem of millions of genuine refugees who clearly are in imminent danger.

The worst problem of all, however, is the cynical game of manipulating world public opinion played by the rival Palestinian leaders in their undying efforts to perpetuate the Palestinian issue, which has now become Big Business, to ensure it is never resolved. Not only is Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, not considered the legitimate leader of the West Bank and was never elected in a fair and honest election, only a manipulated one but the Palestinians dispersed among the various Arab countries, and especially the West Bank and Gaza, do not consider him as representing them - as well as opposing any political arrangement with Israel for fear it might interfere with the glittering hypnotic promises of their return to "Palestine."

Mahmoud Abbas undoubtedly knows that the instant he signs an agreement with Israel, the Palestinian terrorist organizations will assassinate him. No Palestinian will agree to an arrangement that would limit his return to the future Palestinian state, currently the territory of the State of Israel.

No Palestinian leader will recognize Israel and certainly not one of them will agree to the final, definite end of the conflict. Mahmoud Abbas' refusal to recognize Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, his refusal to waive "the refugees' right of return," his refusal to stop adding to his endless list of demands to end the conflict and his refusal to allow Israel to oversee the Jordan River are all proof that the Palestinians' plan to destroy the State of Israel has not been altered since its inception, even if perhaps its methodology has been tweaked from time to time.

The real tragedy is that nowhere on the Palestinian horizon is there a mechanism in place for a democratic way to end the conflict. Many Palestinians favor the violent, radical Salafist-jihadi agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, while others reject the Islamist agenda and its lifestyle. The conflict between the two has trapped and dead-ended the Palestinians.

The Gaza Strip has been under the control of Islamists for years, and they are gradually taking over towns and cities in the West Bank. It is this situation that prevents the fractured Palestinian leadership from reaching an internal reconciliation and constructing a model for united governance that could end the confrontation between the Jews and the Palestinians. It is clear that if elections were held today in the West Bank, Hamas and other Salafist-jihadi organizations would win. It would seem there is only one model around which Palestinians can unite: the desire to end not their conflict but rather the State of Israel. The Jews are fully aware of the Palestinian model and refuse to accept any arrangement that will endanger their security.

Thus, tragically, Palestinian politics are at the moment leading the Palestinian people noplace. It was recently made known that the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, who lob rockets into Israel and mine the security fence separating Israel from Gaza, are currently having logistical problems of electricity, concrete, fuel and food -- the result of flooding caused by recent severe rainstorms. Faced with insurmountable problems, the Hamas leaders turned, indirectly, to Israel for help.

For years Hamas has been guilty of the criminal neglect of the people who live under its rule, and now its leaders are calling for help, claiming that they are "besieged" -- by the Egyptians as well as the Israelis -- and that they are facing a "humanitarian crisis," and are prepared to accept aid from Israel, but only secretly!

Since the violent takeover of the Gaza Strip, Hamas has poured millions of tons of concrete into building tunnels the sole purpose of which is to provide easy access for terrorist operatives seeking to infiltrate into Israel. Hamas could have used the concrete to build houses, schools and hospitals, but instead diverted it to reinforcing terrorism. Hamas evidently far prefers to spend its billions on weapons it can use against Israel rather than on the agriculture, economy, health and welfare of the people who are dependent on it.

In the meantime, while the Palestinian Authority announced that it did not intend to pay the salaries of its Gazan employees, it was Israel that recently agreed to help Hamas out of its difficulties and provide it with fuel, concrete, medicine and food, despite the fact that throughout the years Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis with its rockets, bombs and suicide bombers and is still overtly planning to wipe Israel off the map. How lucky for the Palestinians that their enemies are the Jews. While the Palestinian and Islamic terrorist organizations plan their attacks on Israeli civilians, the government of the Israeli occupation, despite the apparent indifference of their leaders, regards the Palestinians themselves as human beings.

The rampant mismanagement by Europe, the UN's treatment of the Palestinians and Mahmoud Abbas's floundering and weakness as a policy-maker have prepared the ground for a general takeover of the Palestinian issue by radical Islamic elements, and it will occur in the foreseeable future. On the West Bank it is claimed that in the meantime, only Israeli intelligence, which props up Abbas, has prevented the Islamists from taking complete control.

It is shocking, but not surprising, that in such a complex situation people such as the EU's Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are trying to force Israel to give up assets critical to its security. They are exerting their pressure in the wrong direction: they should instead campaign for citizenship for the Palestinians in the Arab countries, a quest that would quickly clear their heads of the nonsense of the "return;" stop the tide of money flowing into UNRWA and end the fiction of the "Palestinian refugees."

As the Arab countries -- relatively new artificial creations temporarily pasted together with the lies of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, disintegrate into their original warring tribes and sects -- Ashton, Kerry, et al are nevertheless trying to create yet another artificial state, "Palestine," which will quickly become another Islamist country, officially refusing, as a matter of policy, to recognize the State of Israel and seeking to destroy it.

At his last meeting with Kerry, Abbas rejected the Israeli demand for security control along the Jordan River. Abbas and his supporters are planning to smuggle weapons into the West Bank from Jordan and to transfer them to the local Palestinian terrorists who will use them to attack Israel from the east -- exactly as Hamas began attacking from the south the instant the IDF withdrew from the Gaza Strip. Obama's recent assurances that the United States will not allow the West Bank to become "a replica of the Gaza Strip" are as valid as his assurances regarding other cardinal issues, such as Syria and Iran -- further "replicas of promises" never kept.

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Barrel bombs 'kill 517 in Aleppo since 15 December

BBC News online -- 29 December 2013
Footage earlier this month showed the apparent aftermath of barrel bombs
Barrels packed with explosives and dropped from Syrian aircraft have killed 517 people in the northern province of Aleppo since 15 December, activists say.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 151 were children and 46 women.
The city of Aleppo has been the focus of bitter fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels.

A Norwegian frigate is meanwhile preparing to collect chemical weapons from Syria for destruction.
The arms are due to be taken from the Syrian port of Latakia to Italy.

There, they will be loaded onto a US Navy ship and taken to international waters for destruction in a specially created titanium tank on board.

The global watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical arms stockpile, has called on Damascus to "intensify its efforts" to help the operation.

The OPCW said it was up to Syria to mitigate the risks involved in transporting the stockpile to the port.

Syria agreed to abandon its arsenal to avert possible US military action in response to a sarin nerve gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus in August.

Under a deal brokered by the US and Russia, the complete elimination of all chemical weapons material and equipment must be completed by the first half of 2014.

OPCW chief Ahmet Umzucu said in a statement that the international community was "poised and ready".

He said the UN, Russia, and other countries directly involved in the removal had agreed on how to escort the cargo vessels from Syria, after a two-day meeting in Moscow.

Equipment involved in the operation includes Russian armoured vehicles, US satellites and Chinese surveillance cameras to protect the hazardous cargo.

Syria's chemical weapons

  • Syria is believed to possess 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents including sarin and more potent nerve agent VX
  • US believes the arsenal can be "delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets"
  • Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention on 14 September; it signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in 1972 but never ratified it
Mr Umzucu said Syrian authorities now had to "consider all possible options" to ensure the chemicals' safe transport from 12 storage sites in Syria to the loading bay in Latakia.
The port lies 300km (185 miles) north of the capital Damascus.

The OPCW earlier said that it did not expect to meet the 31 December deadline for shipping out the "most critical" chemicals.

Shifting battle-lines and road closures caused by bad weather appeared to be the main causes of the delay.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based activist group with links to the opposition, condemned the continuing use of barrel bombs in Aleppo and urged outside intervention.

The organisation, which relies on secret networks to relay information from the ground, also described those who failed to criticise the raids as "complicit in the massacres that have been committed and continue to be committed by the Syrian regime".

While the most of those killed by barrel bombs over the past two weeks were civilians, 46 were rebels, according to the SOHR.

The devices have rarely been used on such a sustained scale, says the BBC's Arab Affairs Editor, Sebastian Usher.

Aleppo is devastated and divided, with fighting at a stalemate, but with a major peace conference due next month, the Syrian government is trying to wrest back control of as much territory as possible, our correspondent adds.

In the most recent attack, 25 civilians are reported to have been killed when explosives were dropped on a vegetable market in Aleppo on Saturday.

Graphic. Background image shows stockpiles of chemical weapons in the US (2001)

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'Suicide bomber' hits Russia's Volgograd train station

BBC News online -- 29 December 2013
Footage from a CCTV camera showed the moment of the blast
An attack on a train station in Russia's southern city of Volgograd has killed 15 people, officials say.
A female suicide bomber was thought to be responsible for the blast, Russia's top investigative agency said.

A suspected female suicide bomber killed at least six people when she attacked a bus in the city in October.

Moscow is concerned militant groups could be ramping up violence in the run up to the the 2014 winter Olympic Games in the city of Sochi in six weeks.


In June, Doku Umarov, one of the leaders of the Islamist insurgency in the Russian Caucasus republics, called on his supporters to use "maximum force" to disrupt the "satanic" winter Olympics in Sochi.
It is too early to say whether the attack in Volgograd was by one of his supporters.
But it shows that - despite the metal detectors at railway stations, airports and shopping centres in Russia - bombers are still able to kill and wreak havoc.
It also shows that the attacks will not have to be on Sochi itself to attract attention.
An Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus region has led to many attacks there in recent years. Insurgents have also attacked big Russian towns.

Volgograd lies about 900km (560 miles) south of Moscow, 650km north of the North Caucasus and 700km north-east of Sochi.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered law enforcement agencies to take "all necessary security measures" in the bomb's aftermath, said a Kremlin spokesman.

Mr Putin has ordered the most gravely injured victims to be flown to Moscow for treatment.
Security would be stepped up at train stations and airports, said a federal police spokesman.

Sunday's explosion rocked Volgograd-1 station at around 12:45 (08:45 GMT) at a time when millions of Russians are travelling to celebrate the New Year.

The bomb contained 10 kg (22 pounds) of TNT, was rigged with shrapnel and was detonated near the metal detectors at the station entrance, said a spokesman for the Investigative Committee.
Rescue workers outside bomb-hit Volgograd-1 train station, Russia, 29 December 2013 The blast blew out many windows and sent debris down the station steps
Volgograd-1 railway station, 29 December 2013 Formerly known as Stalingrad, Volgograd has a million residents and is described as a gateway to Russia
"When the suicide bomber saw a policeman near a metal detector, she became nervous and set off her explosive device," said the spokesman, Vladimir Markin.
He said the security presence had prevented a much higher death toll at the station, which was packed at the time of the blast as several trains were delayed.

Recent attacks inside Russia

  • 29 December 2013: Suspected female suicide bomber kills at least 14 in attack at Volgograd-1 train station
  • 27 December 2013: Car bomb kills three in the southern city of Pyatigorsk
  • 21 October 2013: Suspected female suicide bomber kills six in attack on bus in Volgograd
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the blast, which Mr Markin said injured 34 people - eight critically - including a nine-year-old girl whose mother was killed in the attack.

The Interfax news agency said the suspected bomber's head had been found at the site, which would allow her swift identification.

RIA Novosti news agency said security sources were naming the attacker as Oksana Aslanova. She has reportedly been married twice to militants and is also suspected of being a friend of Naida Asiyalova, the suicide bomber who targeted the Volgograd bus in October.

A nearby security camera facing the station caught the moment of the blast, showing a bright orange flash behind the station's main doors.

The explosion shattered windows and sent debris and plumes of smoke from the station entrance.
Russia map
Ambulances rushed the injured to hospital, while motionless bodies were laid out in the station forecourt.

The incident was being treated as an act of terrorism, Mr Markin said.

In July, Chechen insurgent leader Doku Umarov posted an online video urging militants to use "maximum force" to prevent the Games from going ahead.

On Friday, a car bomb killed three people in the southern Russian city of Pyatigorsk.

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