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The Magog Invasion

 

 Introduction:

 

The ancient people called Magog are commonly believed to have been the ancestors of the Russian nation. The prophet Ezekiel spoke of an invasion of Israel by Russia, which has not yet been fulfilled. What could cause Russia to come against the tiny nation of Israel -- which has no oil and no real strategic value? This question has puzzled Bible scholars for centuries. However, recent developments in the Middle East have for the first time in history lent credence to this long-awaited prophecy.


[READ THE FULL INTRODUCTION]

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Iran confirms it is holding 4 journalists

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:34:56 PMGo to full article
WASHINGTON (AP) — Iran confirmed on Friday that it has detained four journalists, including a reporter for The Washington Post and two freelance photographers, but did not disclose details about why they were being held.
 

Israeli team's soccer match in Austria moved on security grounds

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:04:05 PMGo to full article
A soccer match to be played in Austria on Saturday by Maccabi Haifa and Paderborn has been moved to a new venue due to security concerns after a violent anti-Israel protest disrupted the Israeli team's last game in the Alpine republic. The match will now take place in the town of Leogang in Salzburg province, where Maccabi Haifa's training camp is located, after the town of Kirchbichl, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) away, refused to host the game for security reasons. Protesters against Israel's military offensive in Gaza invaded the pitch and attacked Maccabi Haifa players at a friendly game against Lille on Wednesday in the Austrian town of Bischofshofen, causing play to be abandoned. Hannes Empl, head of the SLFC organization that hosts soccer training camps in the Salzburg region, said on Friday the players were slightly tense but ready for the match to go ahead as normal.
 

Israel rallies behind army in Gaza war

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎03:25:51 PMGo to full article
By Crispian Balmer KFAR AZAR Israel (Reuters) - When 20-year-old Israeli soldier Daniel Pomerantz died in a Hamas ambush in the Gaza Strip, his small village near Tel Aviv decided they finally needed a cemetery to bury their dead. "When a war ends, we always hope it will be the last one," said Sara Mozes, who was born in a refugee camps in Germany after the Holocaust horrors of World War Two and moved to Israel as a baby in 1948, the year the country was founded. Pomerantz was one of 33 soldiers who have died so far in the offensive launched by Israel on July 8 in an effort to halt repeated rocket fire by Hamas Islamists, who are battling to end an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip.
 

Oil price slips below $102 a barrel

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:35:32 PMGo to full article
The price of oil slipped below $102 a barrel on Friday, falling for a second day after spiking on lower U.S. inventories and tensions in Ukraine and the Middle East.
 

German business confidence drops for 3rd month

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎12:21:09 PMGo to full article
BERLIN (AP) — German business confidence fell for a third consecutive month amid ongoing concerns about the economic impact of the crises in Ukraine and the Middle East, though consumer confidence in Europe's largest economy remained robust, surveys showed Friday.
 

Iran detains four journalists, three of them Iranian-American, says CPJ

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎12:53:21 AMGo to full article
The Washington Post's Jason Rezaian is shown in this Washington Post photoBy Parisa Hafezi ANKARA (Reuters) - The Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday called on the Iranian government to immediately release four detained journalists, three of whom it said had U.S.-Iranian nationality. Two of the detainees are Jason Rezaian, the Tehran correspondent for the Washington Post, and his wife Yeganeh Salehi, a correspondent for the United Arab Emirates-based newspaper the Nation, the CPJ said in a statement. "We call on Iranian authorities to immediately explain why Jason Rezaian, Yeganeh Salehi, and two other journalists have been detained, and we call for their immediate release," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour.
 
 

Peres steps down as Israeli president, sees peace 'one day'

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:54:54 PMGo to full article
By Allyn Fisher-Ilan JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's elder statesman Shimon Peres bowed out of active political life on Thursday with an ardent defense of the war in Gaza against Hamas militants and a defiant prediction that peace will "one day" come to the Middle East. At a ceremony overshadowed by the 17-day Gaza conflict in which nearly 800 people have died, Peres, 90, relinquished his largely ceremonial post as Israeli president to Reuven Rivlin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party. In his farewell speech, Peres invoked the biblical prophets he said had taught Israel to see "social justice and world peace as guiding principles" and he urged the Jewish state to "practise equality for all its citizens".
 

Beaten Sudan editor out of hospital

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:30:15 PMGo to full article
Osman Mirghani, chief editor of the Al-Tayar daily, lies on his bed after he was severely beaten by armed men who raided the offices of the Sudanese newspaper earlier this week, on July 24, 2014 in Khartoum's twin city of OmdurmanWith his arm in a sling and a deep gash on the bridge of his nose, a Sudanese newspaper editor has left hospital five days after an unusual physical attack. Several men stormed the offices of the Al-Tayar daily on Saturday evening, seized reporters' equipment and severed computer connections before turning on chief editor Osman Mirghani. "I can recognise them," because only one attacker had covered his face during the beating, Mirghani said at his home on Thursday. It was a rare assault on a journalist in Sudan, although reporters regularly complain of censorship by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).
 
 

Israel swears in new president amid Gaza war

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:07:35 PMGo to full article
Outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres (R) hugs Newly sworn-in President Reuven Rivlin during a ceremony at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Thursday, July 24, 2014. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres ended his term as president of Israel on Thursday — a man who symbolizes hopes for peace capping a seven-decade public career amid the brutal reality of war. Peres handed the ceremonial but high-profile presidency over to Reuven Rivlin, a legislator from the hawkish Likud Party. (AP Photo/Ronen Zvulun, Pool)JERUSALEM (AP) — Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres ended his term as president of Israel on Thursday — a man who symbolizes hopes for peace capping a seven-decade public career amid the brutal reality of war. Peres handed the ceremonial but high-profile presidency over to Reuven Rivlin, a legislator from the hawkish Likud Party.
 
 

Kerry to decide soon if parties are willing to agree Gaza ceasefire

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:41:39 PMGo to full article
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will not stay in the Middle East indefinitely trying to broker a ceasefire to halt the Gaza conflict and will decide soon whether the parties are willing to come to an agreement, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday. "But he isn’t here for an indefinite amount of time and in the near future he will determine whether there is a willingness to come to an agreement on a ceasefire." (Reporting by Arshad Mohammed;
 

Turkey's Erdogan says Israel should face trial over Gaza assault

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:34:22 PMGo to full article
By Daren Butler and Ece Toksabay ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday Turkey would push for Israel to be tried at an international criminal court if it kept up its assault on Gaza and he accused the Jewish state of "spitting blood". Turkey, a member of the U.S.-led NATO military alliance, was once Israel's closest regional ally but has become one of its most vitriolic critics, with Erdogan last weekend accusing it of "surpassing Hitler in barbarism" with its Gaza offensive. "If Israel continues with this attitude, it will definitely be tried at international courts," Erdogan, who is campaigning for a presidential election on Aug. 10, told a rally of supporters in the southern port city of Mersin.
 

French warplanes search Mali desert for crashed Air Algerie plane

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:00:34 PMGo to full article
Burkina Faso - Algeria mapBy Hamid Ould Ahmed ALGIERS (Reuters) - An Air Algerie flight with 110 passengers onboard, nearly half of them French citizens, crashed on Thursday after the jet disappeared over northern Mali en route from Burkina Faso to Algiers, an Algerian official said. There were few clear indications of what might have happened to flight AH5017, or whether there were casualties, but Burkina Faso's transport minister said the crew asked to adjust their route at 9.38 p.m. EDT because of a storm in the area. "I can confirm that it has crashed," the Algerian official told Reuters, declining to be identified or give any details about what had happened to the aircraft on its way north. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the Air Algerie flight was still missing, but had probably crashed.
 
 

US lifts ban on flights to Tel Aviv airport

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:48:58 PMGo to full article
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Aviation Administration lifted its ban Wednesday on U.S. flights in and out of Israel, which the agency had imposed out of concern for the risk of planes being hit by Hamas rockets.
 

US Marines probe corporal who vanished in Iraq

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:45:36 PMGo to full article
CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina (AP) — U.S. Marine Corps officers have launched a formal investigation into whether a Lebanese-American Marine deserted his unit in Iraq or months later after returning to the United States, a military spokesman said Thursday.
 

U.S. Jewish group wants its award back from Turkey's Erdogan

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:18:42 PMGo to full article
An association of Jewish Americans said Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has become the world's "most virulent anti-Israeli leader" and demanded he return an award it gave him a decade ago, partly for his efforts to broker peace between Israel and Palestinians. The New York-based American Jewish Congress awarded Erdogan its "Profile of Courage" award in 2004 for what it said was his stance on fighting terrorism and working towards a peace. "Now, we want it back," the association's president, Jack Rosen, said in an open letter to Erdogan dated July 23 and made public on Thursday. He cited the Turkish leader's comments last weekend that Israel had "surpassed Hitler in barbarism" through its attacks on Gaza.
 

FAA lifts ban on US flights to Tel Aviv airport

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:47:18 PMGo to full article
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Aviation Administration has lifted its ban on U.S. flights in and out of Israel.
 

Marines investigate corporal who vanished in Iraq

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:39:15 PMGo to full article
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) — Marine Corps officers have launched a formal investigation into whether a Lebanese-American Marine deserted his unit in Iraq or months later after returning to the United States, a military spokesman said Thursday.
 

Militants order female genital mutilation in Iraq: U.N.

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:39:56 PMGo to full article
This Tuesday, July 22, 2014 photo shows a motorist passing by a flag of the Islamic State group in central Rawah, 175 miles (281 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, nearly six weeks since a Sunni militant blitz led by the Islamic State extremist group seized large swaths of northern and western Iraq. (AP Photo)The United Nations, expressing deep concern, said on Thursday that militant group Islamic State had ordered all girls and women in and around Iraq's northern city of Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation. One document posted on Twitter suggested it may be a year old and have been issued by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, the group's previous name. Such a "fatwa" issued by the Sunni Muslim fighters would potentially affect 4 million women and girls, U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Jacqueline Badcock told reporters in Geneva by videolink from Arbil. There was no immediate comment from Islamic State which has led an offensive through northern and western Iraq.
 
 

Oil drifts down despite China manufacturing bounce

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:56:20 PMGo to full article
The price of oil fell below $103 a barrel Thursday, giving back part of its gains from the day before, despite improvements in Chinese manufacturing.
 

Iraq prison convoy ambush kills 60 as UN chief visits

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎01:03:15 PMGo to full article
An Iraqi soldier stands guard at a checkpoint in the Iraqi town of Taji, north of Baghdad, on June 13, 2014An onslaught on a convoy transferring inmates north of Baghdad left dozens dead Thursday, as visiting UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Iraq's survival hinged on a more inclusive government. Explosions from the attack were heard in some neighbourhoods of Baghdad, where UN chief Ban Ki-moon landed Thursday on an unscheduled stop in his Middle East tour.
 
 

French Jews living in fear, minister says

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:57:18 AMGo to full article
Many members of France's Jewish community are living in fear after pro-Palestinian protests in recent weeks were marred by violence and use of anti-Semitic language, the country's foreign minister said on Thursday. France has both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe and flare-ups in the Middle East have often in the past added to tensions between the two communities. "Jews in France should not be afraid but many of them are afraid," Laurent Fabius told France Inter radio after one listener called in to share her experiences of hearing anti-Semitic comments in public. France's Jewish population has grown by nearly half since World War Two to total some 550,000 Jews according to the community's umbrella group CRIF.
 

Top Asian News at 7:00 a.m. GMT

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:02:30 AMGo to full article
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Stormy weather on the trailing edge of Typhoon Matmo was the likely cause of a plane crash on a Taiwanese island that killed 48 people, the airline said Thursday. The ATR-72 operated by Taiwan's TransAsia Airways was carrying 58 passengers and crew when it crashed while landing in the Penghu island chain in the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China late Wednesday. The plane was flying from the city of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.
 

Top Asian News at 6:30 a.m. GMT

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:32:27 AMGo to full article
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — An airline said Thursday it suspected typhoon weather caused one of its planes to crash land on a small Taiwanese island, killing 48 people. The ATR-72 operated by Taiwan's TransAsia Airways was carrying 58 passengers and crew when it crashed into houses on the Penghu island chain in the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China late Wednesday, authorities said. The plane was on a flight from the city of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.
 

Top Asian News at 5:30 a.m. GMT

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:32:28 AMGo to full article
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — An airline said Thursday it suspected typhoon weather caused one of its planes to crash land on a small Taiwanese island, killing 48 people. The ATR-72 operated by Taiwan's TransAsia Airways was carrying 58 passengers and crew when it crashed into houses on the Penghu island chain in the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China late Wednesday, authorities said. The plane was on a flight from the city of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.
 

Philippines deports Australian Islamic preacher

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:25:36 AMGo to full article
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine authorities said Thursday they deported an Australian Islamic preacher suspected of links to terrorists based on YouTube videos allegedly showing him advocating jihad and urging local Muslims to support militants in the Middle East.
 

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:48:09 AMGo to full article
A International Red Cross employee runs for cover after an Israeli strike during a two-hour temporary ceasefire in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood, Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Israeli troops battled Hamas militants on Wednesday near a southern Gaza Strip town as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reported progress in efforts to broker a truce in a war that has so far killed more than 650 Palestinians and at least 30 Israelis. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The United States announced signs of progress in cease-fire talks Wednesday, but prospects for a quick end to the fighting were dim as Palestinian families fled fierce battles in southern Gaza and the death toll rose to more than 700 Palestinians and 34 Israelis.
 
 

Baghdad in political, diplomatic push amid battlefield stalemate

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎01:32:40 AMGo to full article
Iraqi lawmakers attend their first parliamentary session in Baghdad, on July 1, 2014Iraq was closer to breaking months of political limbo Thursday after a deal on the post of president paved the way for the formation of a new government. The breakthrough came hours before a meeting in Baghdad between UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose government has complained it was not receiving adequate foreign support to battle jihadist-led insurgents.
 
 

Iraq MPs stall presidential vote as violence rages

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:56:24 PMGo to full article
Iraqi lawmakers attend their first parliamentary session in Baghdad, on July 1, 2014Iraqi lawmakers on Wednesday postponed choosing a new president for their ailing country while air strikes, suicide car bombs and summary executions yielded their daily grim crop of bodies. In a sign of deepening crisis in Iraq, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is expected to visit Baghdad on Thursday and is likely to address the political infighting that has paralysed a country sorely in need of strong leadership. A government air raid on the jihadist-held town of Sharqat northwest of Baghdad killed at least three women and a child, a senior army official told AFP. Also in Sharqat, IS gunmen killed a woman former candidate for parliament and wounded a women's rights activist, tribal and military sources said.
 
 

Thousands attend tense pro-Gaza march in Paris

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:25:37 PMGo to full article
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators hold a banner and shout slogans, in Paris, France, Wednesday, July 23, 2014 during a demonstration to protest against the Israeli army's shelling in the Gaza strip. Protesters marched through Paris against the Israel-Gaza war under the watch of hundreds of police in an authorized demonstration days after two banned protests degenerated into urban violence.(AP Photo/Francois Mori )PARIS (AP) — Days after two banned pro-Gaza protests degenerated into violence, several thousands of demonstrators marched Wednesday through Paris under the eye of hundreds of riot police, this time in a legal protest.
 
 

Iraq postpones vote for president, delaying power-sharing deal

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:10:54 PMGo to full article
Salim al-Jabouri, new speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, and deputy speakers address a news conference in BaghdadBy Isra' al-Rubei'i and Maggie Fick BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's parliament, which had been due to elect the country's president on Wednesday, postponed the vote by a day, delaying the formation of a power-sharing government urgently needed to confront a Sunni Muslim insurgency. The advance by Sunni Islamist militants who seized swathes of northern Iraq last month has put the OPEC oil producer's survival in jeopardy. Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that is leading the insurgency, claimed responsibility for an overnight suicide bombing in a Shi'ite district of Baghdad that killed 33 people, one of the deadliest recent attacks in the capital. The bloodshed highlighted the need for Iraq's politicians to form a united front against the militants, who want to march on the capital.
 
 

Gaza church opens doors to war refugees

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:13:09 PMGo to full article
Displaced Palestinian women walk in the courtyard of a Greek Orthodox church where they are taking shelter in Gaza City, on July 23, 2014For the first time in years, Gaza City's Greek Orthodox church is packed to overflowing, having offered refuge to hundreds of Palestinians who fled their homes under Israeli bombardment. Around 600 people, mostly women and children, are sheltering in the church compound in the old sector of Gaza City, after escaping the inferno of neighbouring areas like Shejaiya. "A big number of women and kids, babies, they don't have homes," Archbishop Alexios told AFP. The eastern district of Gaza City was pummelled by Israeli shelling, in one of the deadliest days of the more than two-week conflict between Israel and Hamas militants who control the coastal strip.
 
 

Iraq MPs stall presidential vote as violence rages

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:04:30 PMGo to full article
Iraqi lawmakers attend their first parliamentary session in Baghdad, on July 1, 2014Iraqi lawmakers on Wednesday postponed choosing a new president for their ailing country while air strikes, suicide car bombs and summary executions yielded their daily grim crop of bodies. A government air raid on the jihadist-held town of Sharqat nearly 300 kilometres (180 miles) northwest of Baghdad killed at least three women and a child, a senior army official told AFP. Police and medical sources in the town said another four people were killed in the strike, which destroyed the municipality building and a house in an area believed to shelter Islamic State (IS) fighters. Civilians have been paying a heavy price for the government's aerial campaigns against the group, which conquered large swathes of Iraq's west and north in a devastating offensive last month.
 
 

Germany promises change as arms sales draw scrutiny

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎01:55:30 PMGo to full article
File photo of German Chancellor Merkel looking at Heckler & Koch MP7 submachine gun during a visit to the German army's Camp Marmal in Mazar-e-SharifBy Alexandra Hudson and Sabine Siebold BERLIN (Reuters) - For lawmaker Jan van Aken, little symbolizes more potently all that he finds indefensible about Germany's arms exports than the German and French-made anti-tank missile that he was shown in northern Syria. From its serial number, he believes the 1970s MILAN rocket was sold legitimately by France to then Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad. After decades in a depot, it fell into the hands of al Qaeda-linked militants in the uprising against Assad's son Bashar. ...
 
 

Oil stays above $102 amid Gaza peace efforts

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎01:47:55 PMGo to full article
A arrivals flight board displays various canceled and delayed flights in Ben Gurion International airport a day after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration imposed a 24-hour restriction on flights after a Hamas rocket landed Tuesday within a mile of the airport, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, July 23, 2014. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Israel's main airport Wednesday despite a Federal Aviation Administration ban in an apparent sign of his determination to achieve a cease-fire agreement in the warring Gaza Strip despite little evidence of progress in ongoing negotiations. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)The price of oil inched further above $102 a barrel Wednesday amid a new push for a cease-fire between Israel and Palestine and after Europe imposed additional sanctions on Russia that fell short of a heavy hit.
 
 

Syria says hopes new peace mediator will be fair

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎01:33:34 PMGo to full article
Italy's Deputy Foreign Minister de Mistura speaks during a news conference at the Italian embassy in New DelhiSyria urged a newly appointed international mediator to be "objective and honest" as he seeks an end to the country's civil war, Syrian state television reported on Wednesday. It was Damascus's first reaction to the appointment of Staffan de Mistura by United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon two weeks ago, shortly after President Bashar al-Assad was re-elected in a June 3 poll. A U.N. official for 30 years, he replaces Lakhdar Brahimi, who stepped down in May, frustrated by global deadlock over how to resolve the more than three-year conflict. Citing a letter sent to the United Nations by the foreign ministry, it said Syria had also called on Mistura to have "respect for the choices of the Syrian people".
 
 

Oil falls to near $102 amid Gaza peace efforts

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎11:35:58 AMGo to full article
The price of oil retreated to near $102 per barrel on Wednesday amid a new push for a cease-fire between Israel and Palestine and after Europe imposed additional sanctions on Russia that fell short of a heavy hit.
 

Worldwide FGM ban sought at 'Girl Summit'

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:54:06 AMGo to full article
Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai speaks at the 'Girl Summit 2014' at Walworth Academy, on July 22, 2014 in LondonPrime Minister David Cameron called on Tuesday for a worldwide ban on female genital mutilation and child marriage as he launched the first UN-backed "Girl Summit" on issues that affect millions around the globe. Cameron announced that parents in Britain would face prosecution for failing to prevent their daughters from being subjected to FGM, while setting out steps to tackle both practices in developing nations. "Our aim is to outlaw FGM and child marriage everywhere for everyone," Cameron told the summit in London, to applause from an audience of experts and campaigners from around the world. FGM, which affects tens of millions of women, particularly in the Horn of Africa, ranges from removal of the clitoris to the mutilation and removal of other female genitalia.
 
 

Obama tells fundraiser Russia is financing Ukraine rebels

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:35:54 AMGo to full article
U.S. President Barack Obama accused Russia on Tuesday of financing Ukraine rebels and said challenges overseas were causing anxiety among Americans at home. Obama made his remarks during a fundraiser for Democrats in Seattle. The president been criticized for proceeding with a series of fundraisers outside Washington despite the crises in Ukraine and the Middle East. While high-dollar donors sipped wine and ate finger food, Obama noted conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Israel and Gaza had created a sense of anxiety.
 

UN chief believes Gaza fighting will end soon

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:15:19 AMGo to full article
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, left, shakes hands with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah upon his arrival in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. The two men were set to hold a joint news conference regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. secretary-general said Tuesday it is his "hope and belief" that his emergency mission to the Middle East will lead to an end to the fighting between Hamas and Israel "in the very near future."
 
 

Airlines ban flights to Israel after rocket strike

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎01:36:52 AMGo to full article
Israeli police officers secure a destroyed house that was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinians militants from Gaza, in Yahud, a Tel Aviv suburb near the airport, central Israel, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. As a result, Delta Air Lines and U.S. Airlines decided to cancel their scheduled flights to Israel.(AP Photo/Dan Balilty)JERUSALEM (AP) — A Hamas rocket exploded Tuesday near Israel's main airport, prompting a ban on flights from the U.S. and many from Europe and Canada as aviation authorities responded to the shock of seeing a civilian jetliner shot down over Ukraine.
 
 

U.N. Security Council considers Gaza ceasefire resolution

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎12:20:00 AMGo to full article
By Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Jordan circulated to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday a draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Hamas-dominated coastal enclave. It welcomes an Egyptian-led bid to end fighting between Israel and Hamas militants and "condemns all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism," according to a draft obtained by Reuters. A similar resolution was adopted by the 15-member Security Council in 2009, with 14 votes in favor. The United States, a close ally of Israel, abstained because Washington first wanted to see the outcome of Egyptian mediation efforts at the time.
 

Queen's Gold Cup winner fails drug test

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎11:15:10 PMGo to full article
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II with her horse, Estimate, pictured in the winner's enclosure after it won the Gold Cup on the third day of Royal Ascot in Berkshire, west of London, on June 20, 2013A horse owned by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II which won one of England's most prestigious races has failed a drugs test, Buckingham Palace announced Tuesday. Estimate, which lifted the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in 2013 and came second in this year's edition, has tested positive for morphine, a banned substance. A statement issued by the Queen's racing advisor said initial indications were the positive test had resulted from the "consumption of a contaminated feed product". The Queen, renowned for a love and knowledge of horse racing which dates back to the 88-year-old monarch's childhood, cheered on Estimate, saddled by top trainer Michael Stoute, when the now five-year-old filly won at Ascot last year.
 
 

Germany, France, Italy condemn anti-Semitism in anti-Israel protests

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:49:54 PMGo to full article
The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Italy on Tuesday condemned anti-Semitism that has marred protests against Israel's conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. On Sunday, French media showed the burnt-out front of a kosher grocery shop in the Parisian suburb of Sarcelles, which is home to a large Jewish community, and clashes between pro-Palestinian marchers and riot police outside two synagogues. "Anti-Semitic incitement and hostility against Jews, attacks on people of Jewish faith and synagogues have no place in our societies," the three foreign ministers said in a joint statement issued in Brussels. France's Laurent Fabius, Italy's Federica Mogherini and Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: "Nothing, including the dramatic military confrontation in Gaza, justifies such actions here in Europe." About 600 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting in Gaza.
 

Kerry urges Hamas to accept truce as Gaza war rages

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:32:41 PMGo to full article
A picture taken from the southern Israeli Gaza border shows smoke billowing from the coastal Palestinian enclave during shelling by the Israeli army on July 22, 2014US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday placed the onus on Hamas to end the conflict raging in Gaza as he worked with Egypt to fine-tune a ceasefire proposal. The top US diplomat was locked in negotiations in Cairo, where he met twice within 24 hours with both Egypt's foreign minister and the Palestinian Authority's intelligence chief to try to end the violence that has killed more than 600 Palestinians and 29 Israelis. Kerry said a ceasefire proposed by Egypt should serve as a "framework" to end two weeks of bloodshed. Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza and Israel, has brokered truces in past conflicts but has had less sway over Hamas after blacklisting the militant movement earlier this year.
 
 

Israel pounds Gaza despite international peace efforts

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:30:49 PMGo to full article
Israeli police officers detain a protester suspected of throwing stones during a protest by Israeli Arabs in the northern city of Nazareth, against Israel's offensive in the Gaza StripBy Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top U.S. and United Nations diplomats pursued talks on halting the fighting that has claimed more than 600 lives. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held discussions in neighbouring Egypt, while U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv and planned to see the Palestinian prime minister in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned U.S. carriers from flying to or from Ben-Gurion International Airport, after a rocket fired from Gaza struck near the airport's fringes, injuring two people. Israel's flagship carrier El Al continued flights as usual.
 
 

Palestinians seek U.N. inquiry into Israel assault on Gaza

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:30:03 PMGo to full article
Palestinians asked the United Nations on Tuesday to investigate into "all violations" of human rights and humanitarian law that they say have been committed by Israel during its military offensive in Gaza. The draft resolution is to be debated by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday at an emergency session also requested by Egypt and Pakistan. The Palestinian observer mission to the United Nations seeks to have the 47-member forum "urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry ... to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014 ..." Israel began air strikes against the Gaza Strip on July 8 and launched a ground offensive on Thursday to halt rocket fire out of the territory.
 

Freida Pinto speaks at girls' rights summit in UK

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:21:53 PMGo to full article
Indian actress Freida Pinto, smiles, during the Girl Summit 2014, at the Walworth Academy, in London, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. “Slumdog Millionaire” actress Freida Pinto has joined forces with girls’ rights campaigners calling for an end to the practice of female genital mutilation. The actress, who is an ambassador for an international children’s development organization, addressed a London summit Tuesday calling for more progress to abolish the practice and end child marriages. (AP Photo, PA, Oli Scarff) UNITED KINGDOM OUTLONDON (AP) — Actress Freida Pinto of "Slumdog Millionaire" fame has joined forces with girls' rights campaigners in calling for an end to the practice of female genital mutilation.
 
 

U.S. FAA has not given notice about flights over Gaza: White House

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:53 PMGo to full article
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has not issued any notices regarding flights over the Gaza region in the Middle East despite the current conflict, the White House said on Tuesday. "As it relates to the airspace in Gaza ... the FAA has not issued any notices related to the ongoing violence in that region of the world," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
 

UN in Syria vaccination drive against polio

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:47:32 PMGo to full article
A Syrian child is given a polio vaccination at a clinic in Damascus on November 20, 2013The United Nations called for help Tuesday to vaccinate 765,000 young Syrian children against polio in a bid to prevent a resurgence of the crippling disease across the restive Middle East. "Inside Syria, 765,000 children under the age of five live in hard-to-reach areas where conflict and restriction make it extremely difficult to reach them with humanitarian assistance including regular access to vaccines," UN agencies said. The UN agencies said polio had struck again in Syria after a 14-year absence because the civil war had disrupted what had been routine childhood immunisations, with millions fleeing their homes. Polio vaccination coverage in Syria has declined from an average of 99 percent to 52 percent, they said.
 
 

Germany, France, Italy condemn anti-Semitism in anti-Israel protests

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:26:55 PMGo to full article
The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Italy on Tuesday condemned anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia that have marred rallies against Israel's role in its conflict with Hamas in which about 600 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died. After 10 days of bombardment, Israel on Thursday also launched a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip to halt rocket fire out of the territory. On Sunday, French media showed the burnt-out front of a kosher grocery shop in the Parisian suburb of Sarcelles, which is home to a large Jewish community, and clashes between pro-Palestinian marchers and riot police outside two synagogues. "Anti-Semitic incitement and hostility against Jews, attacks on people of Jewish faith and synagogues have no place in our societies," the three foreign ministers said in a joint statement issued in Brussels.

 

 
Military Space News, Nuclear Weapons, Missile Defence

 

 

 

 

AF satellites to contribute to space neighborhood watch

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:20:57 PMGo to full article
Washington DC (SPX) Jul 24, 2014
The Air Force plans to launch two operational satellites and one experimental satellite into near-geosynchronous Earth orbit July 23. According to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, "these operational and experimental systems will enhance the nation's ability to monitor and assess events regarding our military and commercial systems. In essence, they will create a space neighborhood w
 

China conducts land-based missile interception test

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:20:57 PMGo to full article
Beijing (XNA) Jul 25, 2014
China has announced the success of a missile interception test conducted from land. The test, conducted within its territory late on Wednesday, "achieved the preset goal", according to a statement posted on the website of the Ministry of National Defense. Military authorities provided no other information about the operation. China has already successfully completed two mid-course la
 

Lockheed Martin Selected For USAF Satellite Hosted Payload Initiative

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:20:57 PMGo to full article
Washington DC (SPX) Jul 24, 2014
Lockheed Martin has been competitively selected for the U.S. Air Force's Hosted Payload Solutions (HoPS) initiative, which is aimed at integrating some government payloads - electronics and sensors packages designed for specific missions - on commercial satellites. Hosted payloads share satellite launch, propulsion, power and other services, as well as some of their costs. With this select
 

Nano-sized Chip Sniffs Out Explosives Far Better than Trained Dogs

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:20:57 PMGo to full article
Tel Aviv, Israel (SPX) Jul 24, 2014
Security forces worldwide rely on sophisticated equipment, trained personnel, and detection dogs to safeguard airports and other public areas against terrorist attacks. A revolutionary new electronic chip with nano-sized chemical sensors is about to make their job much easier. The groundbreaking nanotechnology-inspired sensor, devised by Prof. Fernando Patolsky of Tel Aviv University's Sch
 

USAF will provide assured access to space

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:20:57 PMGo to full article
Washington DC (SPX) Jul 24, 2014
Gen. William L. Shelton, Air Force Space Command commander, stressed the importance of maintaining assured access to space to the Senate Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation during a hearing on the options for assuring domestic access to space, July 16. "Space assets have been a key element of warfighting for over 30 years, providing a uniq
 

Russia delivering weapons to Iraq: report

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:20:57 PMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) July 24, 2014
Russia has begun supplying military helicopters and fighters jets to Iraq, a report said Thursday, as Iraq's defence minister visited Moscow to press for equipment to thwart a jihadist offensive. "A number of contracts with Iraq have entered into force and are being fulfilled," the Interfax news agency quoted a source in Russia's defence export establishment as saying. Deliveries of Mi-3
 

Russia firing across border on Ukraine troops: US

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:20:57 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 24, 2014
The United States on Thursday said it had evidence Russian forces are firing artillery from inside Russia on Ukrainian troops, in what officials called a "clear escalation" of the conflict. Moscow is also planning to "deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers" to the pro-Russian separatist forces in Ukraine, US deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. The ev
 

Missile guidance system passes risk reduction test

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:20:57 PMGo to full article
Orlando, Fla. (UPI) Jul 24, 2013
The dual-mode guidance section for Lockheed Martin's Joint Air-to-Ground missile was successfully demonstrated in a second internally funded flight test. In the test at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., a rail-mounted JAGM missile's semi-active laser acquired its target and then engaged its millimeter wave radar for precision target destruction. "This second flight test success demonst
 

US Republicans seek more say in Iran nuclear deal

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:20:57 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 24, 2014
US Republican lawmakers on Wednesday called for greater say in any deal reached between the West and Iran over the Islamic republic's controversial nuclear program. With negotiations to end Iran's years-long nuclear standoff with the United States and other Western powers recently extended for an additional four months, until November, five senators introduced legislation that would compel P
 

Naval ships from US, India and Japan to start war games

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:20:57 PMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) July 24, 2014
The United States, India and Japan are set to kick off week-long war games in the Pacific, beefing up naval ties as they warily eye an increasingly assertive China and its military buildup. Warships from the three countries are to begin the joint exercises on Friday, after an official opening ceremony at the Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan on Thursday. Known as the Malabar Exercise,
 

Ukraine 'disappointed' by French refusal to halt Russia warship sale

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:20:57 PMGo to full article
Kiev (AFP) July 24, 2014
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Thursday he was "very disappointed" by France's decision to go ahead with a deal to sell two warships to Russia, despite international condemnation of Moscow's role in the east Ukraine conflict. "It's not a question of money, industry or jobs. It's a question of values," Poroshenko said during a meeting with European parliament deputies. Russi
 

MEADS International touts its air defense system capabilities

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:20:57 PMGo to full article
Orlando, Fla. (UPI) Jul 24, 2013
The Medium Extended Air Defense System designed to replace the Patriot system reportedly achieved "outstanding" results in a recent comprehensive system demonstration. MEADS International - a consortium composed of MBDA in Italy and Germany, and Lockheed Martin in the United States - said the testing by German and Italian military personnel took place over two weeks in Italy under rep
 

KC-46A tankers to feature BAE sub-systems

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:20:57 PMGo to full article
Arlington, Va. (UPI) Jul 24, 2013
When Boeing's KC-46A tanker becomes operational with the U.S. Air Force in 2018 it will do so with flight deck and flight control sub-systems from BAE Systems. The company, touting its supplier role for the program, said it is supplying Boeing with flap/slat controls and yaw damper controls. On the flight deck, the aircraft will feature BAE's instrument control panels and modules
 

Astronauts to Test Free-Flying "Housekeeper" Robots

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:20:57 PMGo to full article
Washington DC (SPX) Jul 23, 2014
Inspired by science fiction, three bowling ball-size free-flying Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) have been flying inside the International Space Station since 2006. These satellites provide a test bed for development and research, each having its own power, propulsion, computer, navigation equipment, and physical and electrical connections for hard
 

NASA's Next Giant Leap

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:20:57 PMGo to full article
Washington DC (SPX) Jul 23, 2014
The first humans who will step foot on Mars are walking the Earth today. It was 45 years ago that Neil Armstrong took the small step onto the surface of the moon that changed the course of history. The years that followed saw a Space Age of scientific, technological and human research, on which we have built the modern era. We stand on a new horizon, poised to take the next giant leap-deep
 

Chinese president wields economic might on LatAm tour

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:50:37 PMGo to full article
Havana (AFP) July 23, 2014
Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up a nine-day Latin American tour in Cuba on Wednesday, heading home with dozens of deals underlining Beijing's growing interest - and influence - in the region. Xi kicked off his trip at a summit of the BRICS emerging powers in Brazil, then traveled to Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba - three countries that have often been among the most outspoken critic
 

US still mulling Iraq request for militant drone strikes

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:50:37 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 23, 2014
Washington is still weighing Iraq's request to launch air strikes against Islamic militants, but is working to boost the Iraqi army as it battles the extremists, a top US diplomat said Wednesday. After spending billions of dollars on building up and training the Iraq military, the United States was shocked when the Iraqi army melted away in face of a sweeping offensive in June by the jihadis
 

China anti-terror advice: "fight back" or "run away"

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:50:37 PMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) July 23, 2014
Chinese citizens confronted by knife-wielding attackers should "quickly run away", authorities have advised in an updated anti-terrorism handbook. But those made of sterner stuff, it suggests in a section entitled "Do one's best to fight back", can "get together with others" and "make use of anything handy, handbags, clothes and umbrellas". The 45-page "Citizens' Anti-Terror Handbook" is
 

The Great War Redux

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:50:37 PMGo to full article
Washington DC (UPI) Jul 23, 2014
July 28 marks the centenary of the start of World War I - also known as the "Great War" and tragically and wrongly described by President Woodrow Wilson as the "war to end all wars." That war was neither great nor the end of war. About eight million soldiers on all sides were killed and at least an equal number of civilians perished - many through disease and starvation. Last week, Lo
 

France and Britain trade hypocrisy claims over MH17 sanctions

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:50:37 PMGo to full article
London (AFP) July 23, 2014
Britain and France are trading accusations of hypocrisy over sanctions against Russia in a row that reveals deeper European divisions on how to react to the MH17 disaster, analysts said Wednesday. The "Entente Cordiale" entered one of its less cordial phases this week, with Britain slamming France's 1.2 billion euro ($1.6 billion) warship deal with Moscow, and Paris saying London remains a h
 

Israel strikes kill dozens in Gaza as toll tops 670

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:50:37 PMGo to full article
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) July 23, 2014
An Israeli air strike on the northern Gaza Strip killed five people on Wednesday evening, medics said, as Israel's army announced two more soldiers had died in fighting. Earlier, Israeli tank fire killed five people, including two children, in southern Gaza, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said, as Wednesday's body count reached at least 47 Palestinians. A series of other st
 

New collaboration between Australian military, universities

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:50:37 PMGo to full article
Canberra, Australia (UPI) Jul 23, 2013
Australia's military announced a new partnership program to enhance research collaboration with universities in the country. The Defense Science Partnerships program is led by the Defense Science and Technology Organization, or DSTO, and complements DSTO's Industry Alliance program for industry collaboration. "This program provides a uniform model for universities to engage with
 

New Raytheon radar for Navy passes key design reviews

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:50:37 PMGo to full article
Tewksbury, Mass. (UPI) Jul 23, 2013
The U.S. Navy's next-generation air and ballistic missile defense radar from Raytheon has successfully completed critical design reviews. The hardware Preliminary Design Review and the Integrated Baseline Review of the Air and Missile Defense Radar, or AMDR, were "key milestones" of the Navy's acquisition plan and underscored the maturity of the radar's design, Raytheon said. "Th
 

Kurds agree on Fuad Masum for Iraq president: official

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:50:37 PMGo to full article
Baghdad (AFP) July 23, 2014
Veteran Iraqi politician Fuad Masum was almost guaranteed to become Iraq's next president after the main Kurdish blocs in parliament agreed on his candidacy Thursday. According to an unofficial power-sharing agreement, the position of federal president goes to a Kurd and Masum edged his rival Barham Saleh during a vote Kurdish MPs held behind closed doors in a Baghdad hotel, officials told A
 

UN urged to take stand against Iraq IS 'atrocities'

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:50:37 PMGo to full article
United Nations, United States (AFP) July 23, 2014
Accusing the Islamic State in Iraq of murder, hostage-takings and kidnappings, the UN envoy in Iraq on Wednesday called on the Security Council to firmly demand an end to atrocities. Nickolay Mladenov told the 15-member Council that it was time to take a stand to end to the violence, enforce sanctions to isolate the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIL, and bring perpetrators of war crimes
 

Army developing pocket-sized ISR system for soldiers

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:50:37 PMGo to full article
Natick, Mass. (UPI) Jul 23, 2013
A pocket-sized sensor system to give dismounted soldiers enhanced situational awareness is being developed by the U.S. Army. The Cargo Pocket Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance program is being conducted by the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. "While larger systems have been used to provide over-the-hill ISR capabilities on the battlefield f
 

Space surveillance satellites being sent into orbit

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:50:37 PMGo to full article
Washington (UPI) Jul 23, 2013
Three U.S. Air Force satellites were being launched into space on Wednesday to provide a "space neighborhood watch" capability. Two of the spacecraft will be operational satellites of the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, or GSSAP, and will provide the U.S. Strategic Command with space situational awareness data allowing for more accurate tracking and identification of
 

Dynamics Aviation continues CEASAR program support

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:50:37 PMGo to full article
Bridgewater, Va. (UPI) Jul 21, 2013
The U.S. Army has tapped Dynamic Aviation to provide support for an electronics program for intercepting and jamming enemy communications in Afghanistan. The program is called the Communications Electronic Attack with Surveillance And Reconnaissance, or CEASAR, used aboard Beechcraft King Air 200 aircraft. Dynamic Aviation, which specializes in aviation special mission systems, s
 

France receives upgraded AWACS plane

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:50:37 PMGo to full article
Seattle (UPI) Jul 23, 2013
The French Air Force has received the first of four airborne warning and control system aircraft from Boeing following a mid-life upgrade, the company reports. The upgrade was the largest set of modifications ever performed on AWACS aircraft for France. "The focus, commitment and hard work among Boeing, Air France Industries and French and U.S. government teams were key in achiev
 

BAE Systems supplying latest missile warning system to Army

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:50:37 PMGo to full article
Nashua, N.H. (UPI) Jul 23, 2013
BAE Systems has received a series of contracts from the U.S. Army for the supply of third-generation missile warning systems. BAE's updated Common Missile Warning System aids aircraft crew to not only locate and protect against infrared-guided missiles but also includes hostile fire indication capability to detect and evade small arms fire. "These latest contracts build on nearly
 

US Air Force to launch new surveillance satellites

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:58:12 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 23, 2014
The US Air Force will launch new satellites Wednesday to track those of other countries and counter possible threats to American spacecraft, officials said. Two satellites are due to be sent into high-altitude orbits for the first time as part of a program that until a few months ago was strictly secret and classified. The satellites will be launched from Delta IV rockets from Cape Canav
 

The X-Gen Men at 1600 and Number 10

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:58:12 PMGo to full article
Washington DC (UPI) Jul 22, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron have a great deal in common. They come from the same generation born in 1961 and 1966 respectively. They both shared the best education available. Obama attended the elite Punaho Private School in Honolulu, receiving his undergraduate degree from Columbia University and an LL.D. from Harvard Law School. Cameron atten
 

IBM's Watson advises US soldiers on life after service

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:58:12 PMGo to full article
San Francisco (AFP) July 23, 2014
IBM's Watson supercomputer is putting its real-world smarts to work helping US soldiers transition back to civilian lives. Virtual intelligence created by IBM and proven in a victorious run on trivia television game show "Jeopardy" has been woven into a Watson Engagement Advisor application to counsel members of the military and their families how to smartly manage shifting to life after sti
 

This time for the PLA: Chinese army shows off dancing robots

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:58:12 PMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) July 22, 2014
To the sound of Shakira's Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) robots demonstrated their dance steps, screaming recruits drilled with bayonets and tanks rolled as China's military offered a rare moment of openness Tuesday. The exposition, held at the Armoured Forces Engineering Academy in Beijing, was touted by senior People's Liberation Army (PLA) officials as an opportunity to burnish civilian
 

Saab buys ThyssenKrupp's Swedish submarine shipyard

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:58:12 PMGo to full article
Stockholm (AFP) July 22, 2014
Swedish defence and aeronautics group Saab said Tuesday it had completed the acquisition of a submarine shipyard in Sweden owned by German heavy industry giant ThyssenKrupp. Saab paid 340 million kronor (36.8 million euros, $49.6 million) for the ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems subsidiary, which the Swedish company said would come from existing funds. "The impact of the transaction on Saab's
 

Rising civilian deaths fuel outrage in Pakistan offensive

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:58:12 PMGo to full article
Bannu, Pakistan (AFP) July 22, 2014
When Pakistani air force jets rained down missiles on a village in the country's violence-wracked northwest last week, it was described as yet another victory over Taliban insurgents in an ongoing military offensive. Now a new account has emerged of the killing of dozens of women and children in the air strikes, sparking anger over rising civilian casualties and fears that a new generation o
 

USAF orders ground approach radar for Saudi Arabia

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:58:12 PMGo to full article
Van Nuys, Calif. (UPI) Jul 22, 2013
Saudi Arabia's National Guard is receiving a precision ground approach radar to support its aviation mission from Exelis of the United States. The contract for the air traffic management capability was issued by the U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., and is worth $9 million. "This award deepens our important relationship with Saudi Arabia
 

MH17 crash puts Russia's support of rebels under scrutiny

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:58:12 PMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) July 22, 2014
The downing of the MH17 flight over rebel territory in Ukraine has put Moscow's support of the separatists under more scrutiny than ever amid allegations the plane was blasted out of the sky with a Russian-supplied missile system. The US, whose relations with Moscow have dropped to a post-Cold War low over the Ukraine crisis, has led the charge. "It's pretty clear that this is a system t
 

Iraq PM seeks Sunni tribal help in battling insurgency

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:58:12 PMGo to full article
Baghdad (AFP) July 22, 2014
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met several Sunni tribal leaders on Tuesday in a renewed bid to gain their support in battling a raging jihadist-led Sunni insurgency. Maliki, a Shiite, has had a troubled relationship with Iraq's Sunni tribes, who in 2006 began helping the government fight Al-Qaeda-linked Sunni militants, but who now accuse him of sectarian discrimination. The Iraqi p
 

Transfer of French warships to Russia 'inappropriate': US

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:58:12 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 22, 2014
The delivery of French Mistral-class warships to Russia would be "completely inappropriate" given the West's misgivings about Moscow's role in Ukraine, the United States said Tuesday. "We don't think anyone should be providing arms to Russia," deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters, adding US officials had voiced their concern over the deal in recent days to French For
 

EU to prepare defence sanctions against Russia: Austria FM

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:58:12 PMGo to full article
Brussels (AFP) July 22, 2014
The European Commission will shortly begin work on defence sector sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said. The "EU commission will be tasked to prepare targeted sanctions in the sectors of key technology and military," he said. Other EU sources confirmed his comments, which came as a regular meeting of EU foreign ministers tried to
 

Britain still exporting arms to Russia: MPs

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:58:12 PMGo to full article
London (AFP) July 23, 2014
Britain is still exporting arms and military equipment to Russia, according to a parliamentary report released Wednesday just hours after Prime Minister David Cameron rapped France for selling weapons to Moscow. Cameron has urged the EU to ban military sales to Russia - accused of equipping and training separatists in eastern Ukraine - and said Monday Britain had already halted such arms e
 

Evidence mounts of MH17 missile strike, but proof elusive

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:58:12 PMGo to full article
The Hague (AFP) July 22, 2014
With evidence mounting that a surface-to-air missile brought down flight MH17 in Ukraine, experts warned Tuesday that proof remains a long way off and only satellite images can identify who pushed the button. Recently published photographs show a piece of fuselage from the Malaysian Airlines plane peppered with "a fairly dense but also widespread shrapnel pattern" typical for the blast from
 

Lithuania to replace M113 armored personnel carriers

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:58:12 PMGo to full article
Vilnius, Lithuania (UPI) Jul 22, 2013
Lithuania has begun the first phase of a modernization program for its land forces, which will include replacement of M113 armored personnel carriers. In the first phase, two mechanized infantry battalions will be outfitted with up-to-date combat vehicles by the year 2020. The Ministry of National Defense said it issued requests for proposals for the vehicles last week from nine
 

DARPA picks SSL for space hardware integration

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:58:12 PMGo to full article
Palo Alto, Calif. (UPI) Jul 22, 2013
The U.S. military has chosen Space Systems/Loral to integrate space flight hardware for small science and technology missions. The award, for which no dollar value was disclosed, was issued by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. SSL said its work for DARPA will support the completion of the design and integration of the first Payload Orbital Delivery system accomm
 

Iran complying with nuclear deal: UN watchdog

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:54:21 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 21, 2014
Iran has eliminated all its most sensitive nuclear material in line with an interim deal struck with world powers, a new UN atomic agency report showed Monday. Days after a deadline to reach a lasting nuclear deal was pushed back four months, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran was continuing to comply with its international commitments, in a report seen by AFP. Unde
 

Insurgent threat shatters Iraq Christians' uneasy peace

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:54:21 PMGo to full article
Qaraqosh, Iraq (AFP) July 21, 2014
Christians in the Iraqi city of Mosul were wrong-footed by its new jihadist masters, who initially left them in relative peace but later forced them to flee for their lives. The turnaround in the attitude of Islamic State insurgents who overran Mosul last month could indicate the group is now confident enough of its hold on Iraq's second city to impose its extreme rules. Analysts say th
 

Israel mourns, but undeterred by soldier deaths

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:54:21 PMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) July 21, 2014
With 18 soldiers killed in Gaza, the highest military casualty toll in eight years, Israel is in mourning, but has vowed to pursue its mission against Hamas militants. Thirteen of them were killed on Sunday alone, making it the bloodiest single day for the army since the 2006 war in Lebanon, with the press branding it "a "dark day". The Israeli death toll has shot up since late Thursday
 

Britain's Cameron urges military sanctions against Russia

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:54:21 PMGo to full article
London (AFP) July 21, 2014
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday urged the EU to hit Russia with tougher sanctions over the downing of flight MH17, calling for a ban on military sales and criticising France's deal to build two warships for Moscow. He called for wider measures targeting whole sectors of the Russian economy if President Vladimir Putin does not press Ukraine's pro-Kremlin separatists to allow ac
 

N. Korea defends missile tests, warns 'gangster' US

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:54:21 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 21, 2014
North Korea's top military body Monday defended its recent missile tests as a legitimate exercise in self-defence, and said South Korean and US charges of provocation were malicious and hypocritical. The North has conducted half-a-dozen missile, rocket and heavy artillery tests over the past month, earning a verbal slap on the wrist from the UN Security Council. The launches included a n
 

Malaysia Flight 17 and the decline of the West

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:54:21 PMGo to full article
Washington DC (UPI) Jul 21, 2014
The downing of Malaysia Flight 17 casts new light on just how inept and decadent the United States and Europe have become. Faced with Russia's annexation of Crimea and attempts to repeat in Eastern Ukraine, the best Western Europe and the United States have mustered are strong words and token sanctions on top Russian officials and several companies. That's hardly enough to deter Russian
 

AC-235 gunships for Jordan feature missiles, rockets and cannons

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:54:21 PMGo to full article
Arlington, Va. (UPI) Jul 21, 2013
A baseline configuration of gunships for Jordan has been announced by the King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau and ATK of the United States. The AC-235 aircraft from Airbus - delivered recently - and a C-295 recently ordered feature a variety of weaponry for maximum mission flexibility. Both will feature integrated fire-control systems, air-to-ground AGM-114M/K miss
 

Turkey stops airing spy drama after jihadist threat: reports

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:54:21 PMGo to full article
Istanbul (AFP) July 21, 2014
Turkey's state television channel stopped broadcasting an ambitious TV drama series about the country's spy agency following warnings from police about a possible jihadist threat, local media reported on Monday. TRT stopped airing the "Kizilelma" ("The Red Apple") just three weeks after Turkish national police urged the company to take measures against the threats the drama could pose by dr
 

Xi seeks energy deals in Venezuela

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:54:21 PMGo to full article
Caracas (AFP) July 20, 2014
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived Sunday in Venezuela, the third leg of a Latin American tour aimed at bolstering trade with the region and sealing energy deals. The Chinese leader's charm offensive, which has already taken him to Brazil and Argentina and will next bring him to Cuba, seeks to secure new bilateral trade deals, particularly for coveted raw materials. Venezuelan Presiden
 

IT security company issues heads-up to small enterprises

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:54:21 PMGo to full article
London (UPI) Jul 21, 2013
The danger of Cyber-crime isn't only a concern for large businesses but is also a costly danger to small British enterprises, a new analysis reports. Kaspersky Lab, a vendor of computer security products, recently surveyed 250 small enterprises of 10 employees or less in the country and found that two-thirds have internet-connected laptops and half allow IT-enabled mobile and remote wor
 

AM General touts Humvee replacement offering

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:54:21 PMGo to full article
South Bend, Ind. (UPI) Jul 20, 2013
AM General's offered replacement vehicle for the U.S. military's Humvee successfully completed month of off-road government testing, the company says. The testing of the Blast Resistant Vehicle - Offroad (cq) was part of the engineering, manufacturing and development phase of the Army's Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program, in which 22 prototype vehicles from each contender is being eva
 

NASA Turns Over New Air Traffic Management Tool To FAA

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:54:21 PMGo to full article
Washington DC (SPX) Jul 16, 2014
A new NASA-developed computer software tool designed to aid air traffic controllers was presented to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) during a ceremony Monday at the agency's headquarters in Washington. The Terminal Sequencing and Spacing (TSS) technology will enable air traffic controllers to better manage the spacing between aircraft as they fly more efficient approaches into ai
 

UAE to create space agency, send unmanned probe to Mars

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:54:21 PMGo to full article
Abu Dhabi (AFP) July 16, 2014
Oil-rich United Arab Emirates announced Wednesday it will create a space agency with the aim of sending the first Arab unmanned probe to Mars by 2021. "The UAE has entered the space race with a project to send an unmanned probe to Mars by 2021 in the Arab world's first mission to another planet," said an Emirati government statement. It added that a UAE Space Agency is to be created to d
 

'Doomsday sputnik': Russia said to launch new missile-attack warning satellite

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:54:20 PMGo to full article
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Jul 22, 2014
After years of delay, Russia plans to deploy this year the first satellite of its new constellation replacing the space component of the early warning system, Russian media reported. It will also double as an emergency communication satellite. The satellite was developed for the military, so naturally little is known about it. Identified by disambiguation 'product 14F142', it is expected t
 

China says spy ship operations 'in line with international law'

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:54:20 PMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) July 21, 2014
Beijing has defended its dispatch of a spy ship to international waters off Hawaii, near where Chinese vessels are taking part in a US-led naval exercise for the first time, reports said Monday. The defence ministry said the vessel's activities are in line with international law, reported the Global Times, which is close to the ruling Communist party. Reports in the US quoted the US Navy
 

Report: drone market to remain strong

 
‎21 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:23 PMGo to full article
Farnborough, England (UPI) Jul 18, 2013
A new study on the unmanned aerial vehicle market forecasts increased spending on the systems and increased civil sector use of the aircraft. The Teal Group, an aerospace and defense market analysis firm, said it estimates UAV spending will nearly double over the next decade - from $5.7 billion annually to $9.9 billion annually. It also predicts changes in usage. "The UAV
 

Russian-made missile key suspect in MH17 crash

 
‎21 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:23 PMGo to full article
London (AFP) July 18, 2014
A Russian-made surface-to-air missile is the most likely cause of the suspected downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, analysts said on Friday, as claim and counter-claim swirled over who launched the weapon. The truck-mounted "Buk" missile is capable of soaring to the height of a civilian airliner like Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, unlike lighter and more widely available shoulder-
 

India clears defence procurement worth $3.5 bn: report

 
‎21 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:23 PMGo to full article
New Delhi (AFP) July 19, 2014
India's new Hindu nationalist government cleared Saturday proposals worth nearly $3.5 billion to modernise the nation's ageing Soviet-era military hardware and boost its domestic defence industry, a report said. The move underscored the desire of the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to move quickly to update the country's military as India looks to defend itself against an incr
 

Iran nuclear talks end as deadline extended by four months

 
‎21 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:23 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 19, 2014
Marathon talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna ended Saturday after negotiators gave themselves four more months to try and bridge major gaps and strike a historic nuclear deal. New rounds of talks were expected in the coming weeks, with the date and place yet to be decided, diplomats said. "While we have made tangible progress on some of the issues and have worked together on a
 

North Korea blasts UN over missile condemnation

 
‎21 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:23 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 19, 2014
North Korea hit back at the UN Security Council Saturday over its recent censure of Pyongyang for launching several rounds of short-range ballistic missiles. In a statement carried on North Korean official media the foreign ministry described the UN criticism as "absolutely intolerable" and defended the missile launches as a response to "madcap war manoevres" by the United States. North
 

Storm Shadow missiles set for integration of RAF Typhoons

 
‎21 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:23 PMGo to full article
London (UPI) Jul 18, 2013
New Typhoon fighters to be flown by Britain's Royal Air Force will carry Storm Shadow missiles following an agreement between a NATO agency and Eurofighter. The Storm Shadow, made by MBDA, is a long-range air-to-surface weapon for use against targets such as bridges, airfields, harbors. The missiles were previously been deployed on Eurofighter's Tornado GR4 aircraft during operat
 

Christians flee jihadist ultimatum in Iraq's Mosul

 
‎21 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:23 PMGo to full article
Mosul, Iraq (AFP) July 19, 2014
Hundreds of Christian families fled their homes in Mosul Saturday as a jihadist ultimatum threatening their community's centuries-old presence in the northern Iraqi city expired. President Jalal Talabani flew home after 18 months abroad for medical treatment but restricted access at the airport in his Kurdish fiefdom of Sulaimaniyah offered no clue as to his health. There was little hope
 

Russia slams US for implicating rebels in jet crash

 
‎21 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:23 PMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) July 19, 2014
Russia on Saturday launched a blistering attack against Washington after US President Barack Obama said that a missile fired from territory controlled by Moscow-backed rebels downed the Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine. In his most extensive comments on the tragedy that killed 298 people aboard MH17 flight en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Obama said on Friday that "evidence ind
 

After extension, hope remains for Iran nuclear talks

 
‎21 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:23 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 19, 2014
If Iran and world powers couldn't clinch a nuclear deal after five hard months of bargaining, what hope is there that yet more time will help? Quite a lot actually, experts told AFP. Even though Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany remain far apart on key issues, some progress has been made, the analysts said. "The chances are better than ever
 

Royal Air Force's Tornado aircraft getting new RF jamming pods

 
‎21 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:23 PMGo to full article
London (UPI) Jul 17, 2013
A radio frequency jamming pod for use by Tornado GR Mk4 aircraft is to be designed, developed and delivered by Selex ES to Britain's Royal Air Force. Selex ES' Common Jamming Pod will sustain the aircraft's RF self-protection capability through the aircraft's operational life, the company said. "The program is based on the fast-track re-work of existing Skyshadow-2 pods to meet c
 

Airbus supplying more aircraft to Egyptian Air Force

 
‎21 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:23 PMGo to full article
Madrid (UPI) Jul 17, 2013
The Egyptian Air Force is increasing its fleet of Airbus C295 transports to 20 aircraft through an order for additional planes. Airbus Defense and Space said its new contract from Egypt is for eight aircraft but it did not provide a monetary value for the deal. Delivery of the C295s, which are manufactured in Spain, will begin next year. "We greatly appreciate the Egyptian
 

SIGAR questions supply of C-130s to Afghanistan

 
‎21 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:23 PMGo to full article
Arlington, Va. (UPI) Jul 18, 2013
A Congressionally created oversight body is urging the temporary suspension of U.S. plans to deliver two C-130H Hercules transport planes to the Afghan Air Force. U.S. Cargo planes already delivered to the Afghan Air Force are under-utilized, the U.S. Air Force had previously cautioned against the plan, and withholding the planes would save U.S. taxpayers money - as much as $45.5 milli
 

Basque group ETA claims new step towards disarming

 
‎21 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:23 PMGo to full article
Madrid (AFP) July 19, 2014
Basque separatist group ETA said it has dismantled the "logistical and operational structures" of its armed campaign in a step towards full disarmament, in a declaration published Sunday. The move is the latest tortuous step towards a potential end to western Europe's last major armed secessionist movement, once feared but now weakened by the arrests of many of its leaders. In the declar
 

Israel to expand Gaza ground offensive: army

 
‎21 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:23 PMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) July 20, 2014
Israel's army said Sunday it was expanding its ground offensive against the Gaza Strip, as the bloodiest conflict since 2009 entered its 13th day with a death toll of over 360. "This evening, the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge expands, as additional forces join the effort to combat terror in the Gaza Strip and establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and s
 

Gunmen kill 21 Egyptian soldiers in checkpoint attack

 
‎21 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:23 PMGo to full article
Cairo (AFP) July 19, 2014
Egypt's military said militants firing machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked a border checkpoint Saturday, killing 21 soldiers in one of the biggest assaults on security forces in years. The attack in a desert area 630 kilometres (390 miles) west of Cairo also left four soldiers wounded, the military said in a statement, blaming "terrorists". It said a rocket propelled gren
 

US Refusal to Host GLONASS Base a Form of Competition with Russia

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Jul 18, 2014
The refusal by the United States to place base stations for Russia's GLONASS satellite navigation system on its territory is a form of competition, explained by Washington's fear of losing market monopoly enjoyed by its own GPS system, Ilya Rogachev, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's department of new challenges and threats, told RIA Novosti. "The refusal [by the US] is based on t
 

Enertec Systems 2001 Ltd receives new Israeli order

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Montvale, N.J. (UPI) Jul 17, 2013
Enertec Systems 2001 Ltd is supplying a computer-based test, diagnosis and simulation system to an Israeli company for support of a missile defense system. The system, like the customer who placed the order, were not identified. The missile system is to be marketed worldwide by the customer and a U.S. defense contractor. "Our momentum in the aerospace segment continues to deliver
 

China to join military exercise with US, Australia

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 17, 2014
China's military will take part in an infantry exercise for the first time with Australian and US forces in October, the Pentagon said on Thursday. The joint exercise will take place in northern Australia and marks another step forward in efforts by Washington and Canberra to bolster relations with China's People's Liberation Army, officials said. "This is a small-scale exercise," Pentag
 

Russian GLONASS to Boost Yield Capacity by 50 percent

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Fortaleza, Brazil (RIA Novosti) Jul 18, 2014
Deployment of GLONASS satellite navigation systems to the BRICS states is very promising, the technologies allow to boost yield capacity up to 50 percent, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the plenary session of the BRICS summit Tuesday. "The joint implementation of the Russian global navigation systems GLONASS looks very promising in a whole range of spheres: transportation, nation
 

US asks Israel to do more to protect civilians

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 17, 2014
The United States urged Israel on Thursday to do more to protect civilians caught in the crossfire between the Jewish state and Hamas, after Israeli air strikes killed four children in Gaza. "We ask (Israel) to redouble their efforts moving forward to prevent civilian casualties, given the events of the last couple of days," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. "We beli
 

Japan, Britain to launch joint missile research

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) July 17, 2014
Japan said Thursday it would join forces with Britain to jointly develop missile technology for fighter jets, while also moving to export Japanese-made parts for US surface-to-air missiles. The decision comes several months after Japan lifted a self-imposed ban on weapons exports, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks to expand Japan's diplomatic and military presence on the global stage. T
 

New UV laser capabilities being developed for Army

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
San Diego (UPI) Jul 17, 2013
Next-generation ultraviolet laser capabilities are to be developed for military use by Daylight Defense LLC under a U.S. Army contract. The value of the award was not disclosed, but Daylight Defense said it was granted under the U.S. Army Small Business Innovation Research program. "We are grateful that the U.S. government has entrusted Daylight to develop a next-generation capab
 

UN Council condemns N.Korea over missile launches

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
United Nations, United States (AFP) July 17, 2014
The UN Security Council on Thursday condemned North Korea for recently launching several rounds of short-range ballistic missiles. "The members of the Security Council condemn these launches as violations of Security Council resolutions," said Eugene Richard Gasana, the Rwandan chair of the 15-member council. North Korea on Sunday fired two missiles in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) that f
 

Mobile air traffic control communications system makes debut

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Basildon, England (UPI) Jul 17, 2013
A new mobile air traffic control communications system has been introduced by Selex ES. The Aerodrome Flight Information System, or AFIS, is on a mobile cart and can be transported on a C-130J aircraft or by ground vehicles for deployment. The company said the system is comprised of four radios for marine and aeronautical communications in the VHF and UHF spectrums, a UHF-band TE
 

China offers $20 billion fund for LatAm projects

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Brasilia, Brazil (AFP) July 17, 2014
Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed Thursday to create a $20 billion fund to finance infrastructure projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. The fund was announced at the end of a summit hosted by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff that marked the launch of the China-Latin America-Caribbean Forum. "They proposed to do it immediately so that it can be ready next year. This money is
 

45th Space Wing launches 6 second-generation ORBCOMM satellites

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Cape Canaveral AFB FL (SPX) Jul 18, 2014
The 45th Space Wing supported Space Exploration Technologies' (SpaceX) successful launch of their Falcon 9 rocket carrying six second-generation ORBCOMM communications satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 here at 11 a.m. EDT July 14. The rocket flew in the Falcon 9 v1.1 configuration with upgraded Merlin 1D engines, stretched fuel tanks, and a payload fairing. A combined team of m
 

US raises rights with China in counterterror talks

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 17, 2014
The United States said Thursday it raised concerns with China about human rights in the Xinjiang region after activists voiced outrage over a meeting between the two powers on counterterrorism. US and Chinese officials met Tuesday in Washington on counterterrorism cooperation, amid Beijing's widening crackdown on Uighur activists in the far western Xinjiang region following a string of deadl
 

Turkish patrol planes to have Raytheon's torpedo capability

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
London (UPI) Jul 17, 2013
Integration of torpedoes onto maritime patrol aircraft for Turkey will be conducted by Raytheon under a contract from Alenia Aermacchi. The 31-month engineering support services award is worth $5.7 million. Raytheon said its services will specifically involve supporting Alenia Aermacchi's test, integration and qualification for the external carriage and tactical employment of Ra
 

Sri Lanka announces probe into military's alleged rights abuses

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Colombo (AFP) July 17, 2014
Sri Lanka announced Thursday an investigation into its military over allegations of rights abuses, following intense international pressure for a war-crimes probe into the island's decades-long ethnic conflict. President Mahinda Rajapakse said a current government-appointed Commission of Inquiry (COI) would be expanded to probe the military and Tamil rebels over abuses allegedly committed du
 

14 Tunisian troops killed in deadliest attack on army

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Tunis (AFP) July 17, 2014
Suspected jihadists killed 14 Tunisian soldiers near the Algerian border, officials said Thursday, in the worst such attack in the army's history as it presses a crackdown on radical Islamists. The attack took place in the Mount Chaambi region on Wednesday evening as the soldiers were breaking their day-long Ramadan fast. The defence ministry said 40 to 60 "terrorists", a term used to re
 

Sanctions on Russian launchers confers advantage to others

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Jul 16, 2014
Even though Russia's rocket industry is forced to operate under Western sanctions, thought these punitive measures can eventually do the industry more good than harm, Russia's deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, Interfax-AVN reports on Saturday. "Russia's space rocket industry and other innovative sectors are working under sanctions today," Rogozin stated at the Khrunichev space center
 

Obama, seeing Iran progress, hints at more time

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 16, 2014
US President Barack Obama signaled Wednesday that talks with Iran on its nuclear program may need to extend beyond a weekend deadline, saying negotiations have shown a "credible way forward." Obama said he was consulting with Congress - where there is strong criticism of his quest for a diplomatic deal with Iran - as negotiators meet in Vienna ahead of Sunday's expiration of a temporary de
 

US drone strike kills 18 in NW Pakistan

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Bannu, Pakistan (AFP) July 16, 2014
A US drone strike on Wednesday killed least 18 people in a suspected militant compound in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt, as the country's military wages a major offensive against insurgent hideouts. The attack came in North Waziristan, where for the past month the Pakistani military has been fighting to wipe out longstanding bases of Taliban and other militants. "A US drone fired t
 

S. Korea-US naval drill begins in face of North's anger

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 16, 2014
South Korea and the United States on Wednesday launched a five-day joint naval exercise in the face of angry North Korean protests and warnings backed by missile tests. Two separate drills began simultaneously in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) and off the southern port of Mokpo, South Korean military officials said. The drill off Mokpo was led by the USS George Washington aircraft carrier,
 

Drones take flight into a world of possibilities

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Montreal (AFP) July 17, 2014
Like a well-trained dog, the HEXO+ follows you faithfully wherever you go. But it doesn't walk besides you - it's airborne. Developed by a French start-up, Squadrone System, the six-rotor HEXO+ - which handily totes a GoPro video camera - is billed as the first autonomous small drone for the mass market. It's also a prime example of the many ways in which automation will take to the
 

Hyperspec Sensors Target Vegetation Fluorescence

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Fitchburg MA (SPX) Jul 16, 2014
Headwall is announcing the availability of a new hyperspectral imager targeting very high resolution spectral measurements of 0.1 nm over specific spectral ranges which yield indicators of vegetative fluorescence to measure plant health. The ability of the new High Resolution Hyperspec instrument to analyze chlorophyll fluorescence emissions at extremely high resolution and high throughput
 

Patriot getting enhanced radar capabilities

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
London (UPI) Jul 16, 2013
Raytheon is enhancing the Patriot air defense system for the U.S. Army and two allied countries through the supply of radar digital processor kits. The kits provide improved target detection and identification, a 40 percent improvement in overall radar reliability and decreased need for spare batteries for the system. "These RDP upgrades are yet another example of how we continue
 

Typhoon fighter program a boon for British companies

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
London (UPI) Jul 16, 2013
The Eurofighter Typhoon consortium is touting the benefits of the plane's production to supply chain companies in Britain. According to data disclosed, the Typhoon program spent more than $1.1 billion with British supply chain companies last year. Nearly $368 million made its way to the East Midlands region, where supplier Selex is located, while an equal amount was spent in the
 

Fear grips Israel-hit Gaza hospital

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Shejaiya, Palestinian Territories (AFP) July 16, 2014
At Al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital near Gaza City, a handful of doctors and nurses hover over paralysed patients, wondering how to protect them from more air strikes as threatened by Israel. The patients lie mostly inert in beds lined up in the hospital's reception, where staff moved them after an Israeli rocket crashed into the fourth floor. The staff have appealed to international agen
 

Mali govt, rebels begin tough peace talks in Algiers

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Algiers (AFP) July 17, 2014
The Bamako government and armed groups from northern Mali launched tough talks in Algiers on Wednesday for an elusive peace deal, with parts of the country still mired in conflict. The closed-door negotiations were to take place in the presence of six rebel groups, but they refused to meet simultaneously, according to an Algerian official. Instead, the three groups that signed the "Algie

 

 

Nuclear Weapons, Proliferation and Policy Doctrine

 

US Republicans seek more say in Iran nuclear deal

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:00:38 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 24, 2014 - US Republican lawmakers on Wednesday called for greater say in any deal reached between the West and Iran over the Islamic republic's controversial nuclear program.

With negotiations to end Iran's years-long nuclear standoff with the United States and other Western powers recently extended for an additional four months, until November, five senators introduced legislation that would compel President Barack Obama to bring any final deal before Congress for its approval.

Many lawmakers have been dubious about the talks that began in late January and were supposed to have reached a deal by July 20.

The West believes Tehran is seeking to build an atomic bomb, but Iran insists its efforts are purely for civilian use.

"Any final agreement of a matter of this consequence should be reviewed by this body, should come before Congress, and should have the ability of Congress to provide oversight over it," Senator Marco Rubio told the chamber.

Failure to let US lawmakers vote on any final nuclear agreement would leave the United States vulnerable to "a terrible deal" that could put Americans in danger, Rubio said.

The legislation would prevent a further extension of negotiations, reimpose any eased sanctions if Iran showed it was cheating on its commitments under any future agreement, and block the deal's implementation if a veto-proof majority of Congress disapproves of it.

Fellow sponsor Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a key architect of US sanctions on Iran that helped bring Tehran to the table, said he backed the negotiations and hopes they will ultimately bear fruit.

"But if and when they reach an agreement, let's bring all the details out in the open," Corker said.

"Let's examine the agreement in its entirety and let's determine that it's in our national security interest."

Senator Lindsey Graham said stopping Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon "is the most important foreign policy decision in generations."

"Congress played a fundamental role in enacting sanctions against Iran and should have a say whether this agreement is strong enough to lift sanctions."

A large majority of members of the House of Representatives voiced similar demands earlier this month, signing a letter to Obama saying that "any permanent sanctions relief demands congressional approval."

 

 

Iran's Rouhani says nuclear talks 'only way' forward

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:00:38 PMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) July 22, 2014 - More negotiations are the only solution to Iran's decade-long nuclear standoff with the West, President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday.

Rouhani's remarks were his first on the four-month extension until November of talks with world powers agreed in Vienna last week after the two sides said progress made so far was still short of a final breakthrough.

"Negotiations are the only way that is before us and we are hopeful of success in these negotiations," Rouhani was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the US -- plus Germany, want to render Iran incapable of developing an atomic weapons capability.

In exchange, Iran wants painful sanctions choking its economy lifted, with negotiators insisting they also seek to preserve what Tehran calls its right to a civilian atomic programme.

On Sunday, influential Iranian MP Aladin Borujerdi also welcomed the four-month extension, saying it showed all sides "have the will to reach a comprehensive agreement."

The main sticking point in the negotiations is believed to be Iran's insistence on developing a uranium enrichment capacity that is far higher than what the West regards as acceptable.

Such capacity, Iran contends, would guarantee fuel for its sole nuclear power plant in Bushehr after the current supply contract with Russia expires in 2021.

The process of enriching uranium can produce fuel for reactors but also the core of a nuclear bomb if purified to higher levels. Iran has always denied that it is pursuing an atomic bomb.

The final say on Iran's nuclear activities and its negotiating decisions rests with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in the Islamic republic.

On Monday, the UN atomic agency said Iran had eliminated all of its most sensitive nuclear material in line with an interim deal struck with the West last November and implemented in January.

As of July 20, Tehran had cut half its stock of 20-percent enriched uranium down to five-percent purity, while the rest was converted into uranium oxide, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.

Iran had also refrained from enriching above the five-percent level at any of its nuclear facilities, the IAEA report said, a finding that could lower international fears that Tehran still sought to build a bomb.

 

 

Iran complying with nuclear deal: UN watchdog

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:00:38 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 21, 2014 - Iran has eliminated all its most sensitive nuclear material in line with an interim deal struck with world powers, a new UN atomic agency report showed Monday.

Days after a deadline to reach a lasting nuclear deal was pushed back four months, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran was continuing to comply with its international commitments, in a report seen by AFP.

Under a Geneva agreement with world powers reached in November, the Islamic republic vowed to freeze certain nuclear activities for six months in return for some relief from hard-hitting sanctions.

As of the July 20 deadline, Tehran had indeed cut half of its stock of 20-percent enriched uranium down to five-percent purity, while the rest has been converted into uranium oxide, the IAEA said.

Tehran has also refrained from enriching above the five-percent level at any of its nuclear facilities, the report said.

This was a significant step towards alleviating international fears that Tehran may be seeking to build a bomb, as the West has long believed and Iran has long denied.

Last week, Washington acknowledged that Iran's "track record over the last six months... has been surprisingly favourable."

Since January, Tehran has consistently stuck to its obligations as laid out under the November interim deal.

While uranium must be enriched to 90 percent to make a bomb, enriching to 20-percent purity levels is just a short step from producing weapons-grade material.

Five-percent enriched uranium, on the other hand, is commonly used in nuclear power reactors.

Iran has always insisted its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful purposes, and that its enriched uranium was meant as fuel for its nuclear power plant in Bushehr and for others to come.

- Preventing 'breakout' -

The IAEA report came after Iran and the so-called P5+1 -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany -- agreed to give themselves until November 24 to reach a lasting nuclear agreement.

The initial deadline had been July 20, but after a sixth round of marathon talks in Vienna, lead negotiator and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said early Saturday that "significant gaps on some core issues" remained, although there had been "tangible progress".

The six powers want Iran to dramatically reduce its nuclear programme for a lengthy period of time and agree to more intrusive UN inspections.

This would expand the time needed for Tehran to develop a nuclear weapon, while giving the world ample warning of any such "breakout" push.

A senior Western diplomat said Saturday that the main text "is there, all aspects are addressed, we don't expect any surprise," adding that "the gaps are not unbridgeable."

"But we need to solve the core issues," the diplomat added.

The head of Iran's parliamentary foreign affairs committee, Aladin Borujerdi, on Monday welcomed the new deadline, noting that: "The message of this extension... is that the negotiating sides have the will to reach a comprehensive agreement."

Talks were due to resume in the coming weeks, but at which level, where and when had yet to be decided, diplomats said in Vienna.

The European Union meanwhile announced on Monday that it would extend by four months the suspension of a series of sanctions against Iran, following the decision to continue the negotiations.

Brussels had already suspended these sanctions while Iran was negotiating a nuclear deal with the world powers. The suspension means Tehran can continue to export crude oil.

 

 

N. Korea defends missile tests, warns 'gangster' US

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:00:38 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 21, 2014 - North Korea's top military body Monday defended its recent missile tests as a legitimate exercise in self-defence, and said South Korean and US charges of provocation were malicious and hypocritical.

The North has conducted half-a-dozen missile, rocket and heavy artillery tests over the past month, earning a verbal slap on the wrist from the UN Security Council.

The launches included a number of ballistic missile tests, which North Korea is banned from conducting under existing UN resolutions.

The National Defence Commission (NDC) said condemnation of the tests was absurd given the large-scale military drills the South Korean and US forces conduct every year south of the border.

The military allies carried out a joint naval exercise last week, and a separate two-day "search and rescue" maritime drill kicked off Monday with Japan also participating.

The response of Seoul and Washington was akin to a burglar rudely criticising the owner of the house he is trying to rob, an NDC spokesman said in a statement carried on the North's official KCNA news agency.

"The real provocations and threats made to the Korean peninsula are the whole gamut of political and military moves being pushed forward by the US," the spokesman said, citing the annual joint drills in South Korea.

"The more desperately the US and South Korean authorities resort to gangster-like hostile acts, the more deadly retaliatory actions they will face," the spokesman said, warning that any North Korean response would come "like a bolt from the blue".

Pyongyang has been playing hawk and dove in recent weeks, mixing its tests with peace gestures that have been largely dismissed by Seoul.

The two Koreas are currently trying to sort out logistics for the North's participation in the Asian Games, which begin in September in the South Korean city of Incheon.

Talks last week broke down with the North accusing the South of duplicity and arrogance, and threatening to boycott the event.

Despite the failure of the talks, North Korean state media on Sunday quoted leader Kim Jung-Un voicing "great expectations" for the North's athletes at the Asiad.

 

 

North Korea blasts UN over missile condemnation

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:00:38 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 19, 2014 - North Korea hit back at the UN Security Council Saturday over its recent censure of Pyongyang for launching several rounds of short-range ballistic missiles.

In a statement carried on North Korean official media the foreign ministry described the UN criticism as "absolutely intolerable" and defended the missile launches as a response to "madcap war manoevres" by the United States.

North Korea regularly fires off missiles and rockets, but the frequency of the recent tests -- six in less than three weeks -- is unusual.

UN resolutions bar North Korea from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology.

On Thursday the UN Security Council officially condemned North Korea for the launches, and urged it to "fully comply" with UN restrictions.

But Pyongyang has shown little appetite for backing down over the launches.

"All the military measures taken by the Korean People's Army including tactical rocket firing are an exercise of the right to self-defence" to protect the country from US aggression and nuclear threats, the foreign ministry said, according to the report.

The statement added that the reclusive state was determined to "bolster up its muscle" to protect itself.

"No matter how fair-minded and just one may be, one is bound to fall victim to big powers if one is weak, and it is possible to protect genuine peace only when one builds its muscle strong enough to deter any force from provoking one," it said.

North Korea often conducts tests and drills as a show of displeasure, and the latest missile launches on Sunday were fired after Pyongyang denounced an upcoming South Korean-US naval exercise.

Previous tests had preceded Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Seoul, and were seen by some analysts as a show of pique at his decision to make Seoul rather than Pyongyang his first stop on the peninsula.

In between the recent launches, Pyongyang has also made several peace overtures to Seoul, including a proposal for both sides to halt all provocative military activity.

The South dismissed the offer as "nonsensical" in the light of the North's nuclear weapons programme and reiterated that the annual joint military drills with the US are non-negotiable.

 

 

Iran nuclear talks end as deadline extended by four months

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:00:38 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 19, 2014 - Marathon talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna ended Saturday after negotiators gave themselves four more months to try and bridge major gaps and strike a historic nuclear deal.

New rounds of talks were expected in the coming weeks, with the date and place yet to be decided, diplomats said.

"While we have made tangible progress on some of the issues and have worked together on a text (for a deal)... there are still significant gaps on some core issues," lead negotiator and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told journalists in the early hours of Saturday.

The talks will now continue until November 24, she added.

Under the terms of the extension, the United States said it would unblock some $2.8 billion (2.1 billion euros) in frozen funds, in return for Iran converting a quarter of its 20-percent enriched uranium stocks -- which can be used to make a bomb -- into fuel.

American officials spoke of resuming talks, perhaps at expert level, in August, with the UN general assembly in September also expected to provide a stage for the next phase of negotiations.

In a statement repeated in Farsi by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Ashton said the parties would "reconvene in the coming weeks... with the clear determination to reach agreement... at the earliest possible moment".

Last November, Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany agreed an interim deal under which the Islamic republic froze certain nuclear activities for six months in return for some sanctions relief.

The deadline for a lasting deal was July 20, with the sides having the option of extending.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who also tried to broker a breakthrough in Vienna earlier this week, said Friday that the extension was "warranted by the progress we've made."

"To turn our back prematurely on diplomatic efforts when significant progress has been made would deny ourselves the ability to achieve our objectives peacefully," Kerry said.

"A lot of work has been done and we've agreed... that we would like to try and complete this process and to take this extra time in order to do that," Ashton also said in a statement Saturday.

"We are determined to make sure that the agreement is a very good one."

- Extending breakout -

The final deal would ease fears that despite its denials Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons after a decade of atomic expansion.

But it is highly ambitious and fiendishly complex.

The six powers want Iran to dramatically reduce its nuclear programme for a lengthy period of time and agree to more intrusive UN inspections.

This would expand the time needed for Tehran to develop a nuclear weapon, while giving the world ample warning of any such "breakout" push.

The two sides are believed to have narrowed their positions in recent weeks on a few issues such as the Arak reactor, which could give Iran weapons-grade plutonium, and enhanced inspections.

But they remain far apart on the key issue of Iran's capacities to enrich uranium, a process which can produce fuel for reactors but also the core of a nuclear bomb.

- Unlocking of funds -

The terms of the extension call for Iran to turn medium-enriched uranium into reactor fuel, which will make it "very difficult for Iran to use this material for a weapon in a breakout scenario," Kerry said.

Although Washington will unblock some of Iran's funds, "the vast majority of its frozen oil revenues will remain inaccessible," he added.

Over the past six months, Iranian oil sales have brought in a further $25 billion, on top of the about $100 billion already frozen in accounts around the world, according to US officials.

But both the US and Iran face tough domestic pressure.

US lawmakers, widely supportive of Iran's arch enemy Israel, have threatened to ramp up sanctions without a sufficiently rigorous agreement.

Iran's negotiators in turn face pressure from hardliners, who view the United States as the ultimate enemy and oppose any agreement seen as a concession.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, on a visit to Cairo, said Saturday he hoped that with the new deadline, Iran will "at last make the necessary choices that we expect to reach a complete, credible and lasting agreement."

His German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for Iran to "show it is ready to dispel all doubts" about its nuclear intentions.

The next few months "could be the last and best chance for a long time to end this nuclear argument peacefully," he warned.

The Iranian exiled opposition in Paris meanwhile slammed the extension as "providing time to the mullahs for further deception."

 

 

After extension, hope remains for Iran nuclear talks

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:00:38 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 19, 2014 - If Iran and world powers couldn't clinch a nuclear deal after five hard months of bargaining, what hope is there that yet more time will help?

Quite a lot actually, experts told AFP.

Even though Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany remain far apart on key issues, some progress has been made, the analysts said.

"The chances are better than ever that there will be a final deal," said Richard Dalton, Britain's former ambassador in Tehran, now at the Chatham House think-tank.

"But hard work on the politics of it has to be done in Washington and Tehran," Dalton told AFP.

On Friday the parties announced an extension until November 24 of their July 20 deadline to reach a deal, prolonging and augmenting the terms of an interim accord struck last November.

This came after a 17-day, sixth and final round of negotiations in Vienna that saw US Secretary of State John Kerry jet in but fail to secure a breakthrough.

The mooted deal is aimed at dispelling fears that Iran might develop nuclear weapons, after a decade of rising tensions, Iranian nuclear expansion and bellicose rhetoric.

Iran, which denies wanting the bomb in the first place, in return wants the lifting of painful UN and Western sanctions strangling its economy.

- Two steps forward -

But the hoped-for agreement is both extremely ambitious and fiendishly complex.

Iran appears to have given ground on two things: the future of the Arak reactor, which could provide Iran with weapons-grade plutonium, and more stringent UN inspections.

Tehran has proposed changing the design of Arak so that much less plutonium can be extracted from the reactor's spent fuel rods.

More UN oversight of Iran's nuclear facilities would give the world added confidence that Iran is not secretly building a nuclear weapon.

But two problematic issues remain.

The first is how, and at what pace, to ease sanctions. Some are UN Security Council ones, others EU and still others US, making lifting them tricky.

The major sticking point however is uranium enrichment, a process which makes uranium suitable for peaceful purposes but also, when highly purified, for a nuclear weapon.

Iran wants to expand drastically its enrichment programme.

It says its needs to enrich for Bushehr, its only current nuclear power plant, once a deal with Moscow to supply fuel for Russian-built plant expires in 2021.

Iran also says it needs to make fuel for more nuclear power plants that it plans to build around the country.

But with years until the Russian contract expires, and any new facilities years if not decades away, the powers say Iran has no need for enrichment on a major scale.

They fear Iran's covert aim is to enrich uranium to weapons-grade, so the powers want cuts in Iran's capacities, and for a "double digit" number of years, a senior US official said this month.

- 'Innovative proposal' -

In an attempt to break the deadlock on this issue, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif aired in the New York Times this week what he called an "innovative proposal".

It includes Iran agreeing to freeze its enrichment capacities at current levels, and for between three and seven years.

For Siavush Randjbar-Daemi, an Iranian lecturer at Manchester University, Zarif "cannot go back home and say he has agreed a freeze on all aspects related to enrichment."

While Zarif's proposal still remains unacceptable to the West, analysts said that it constitutes an opening gambit which could form the basis for serious negotiations.

Farideh Farhi, Iranian specialist at University of Hawaii, called the idea a "frame for what a final deal might look like."

Mark Fitzpatrick at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the proposals fell short of what is needed but that it was "noteworthy and positive that Iran is exploring various options".

"The key question is whether the supreme leader would allow the cut-backs to the enrichment programme that would be necessary for a deal," Fitzpatrick told AFP.

"He seems to have said that maintaining current capabilities is a redline. If so, I don't see how a final deal can be possible."

 

 

UN Council condemns N.Korea over missile launches

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:00:38 PMGo to full article
United Nations, United States (AFP) July 17, 2014 - The UN Security Council on Thursday condemned North Korea for recently launching several rounds of short-range ballistic missiles.

"The members of the Security Council condemn these launches as violations of Security Council resolutions," said Eugene Richard Gasana, the Rwandan chair of the 15-member council.

North Korea on Sunday fired two missiles in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) that followed similar launches over the past two weeks, despite UN resolutions barring Pyongyang from carrying out such tests.

"The members of the Security Council noted that the DPRK has launched three rounds of Scud short-range ballistic missiles in late June and early July," Gasana told reporters.

The council urged North Korea to "fully comply" with UN demands to stop the launches, said Gasana, but he did not specify whether it would consider further steps.

Already under crippling sanctions since 2006, Pyongyang was hit by fresh UN punitive measures in March 2013 over its third nuclear test.

 

 

Obama, seeing Iran progress, hints at more time

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:00:38 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 16, 2014 - US President Barack Obama signaled Wednesday that talks with Iran on its nuclear program may need to extend beyond a weekend deadline, saying negotiations have shown a "credible way forward."

Obama said he was consulting with Congress -- where there is strong criticism of his quest for a diplomatic deal with Iran -- as negotiators meet in Vienna ahead of Sunday's expiration of a temporary deal.

"It's clear to me that we have made real progress in several areas and that we have a credible way forward. But as we approach a deadline under the interim deal, there are still significant gaps between the international community and Iran and we have more work to do," Obama told reporters.

"So over the next few days, we'll continue consulting with Congress and our team will continue discussions with Iran and our partners as we determine whether additional time is necessary to extend our negotiations."

- Iran has 'met its commitments' -

Iran has "met its commitments" under the interim agreement, including halting progress of its nuclear program and allowing more inspections, Obama said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest earlier appeared to prepare the political ground for an extension of talks, saying that many people had been "pretty skeptical" about Iran but found "legitimate discussion and constructive engagement."

"It is clear that their track record over the last six months, I think many people would acknowledge, has been surprisingly favorable," Earnest said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has led criticism of the nuclear deal, accusing Iran of insincerity and not ruling out an attack.

US lawmakers, who are widely supportive of Israel, have threatened to ramp up sanctions without a rigorous agreement.

Senator Robert Menendez, a member of Obama's Democratic Party who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called for an accord that dismantles Iran's nuclear program in a way that is verifiable for 20 to 30 years.

"The fact is Iran's nuclear aspirations have been a long and deliberate process. They did not materialize overnight, and they will not end simply with a good word and a handshake We need verification," Menendez said Tuesday.

"In my view, through its history, through its actions, through its false words and deeds for decades, Iran has forgone the ability for us to shake on a deal that freezes their program."

- Hardliners on both sides -

Iran's negotiators in turn face pressure from hardliners, who view the United States as the ultimate enemy and oppose any agreement seen as a concession.

Obama was speaking after he met with Secretary of State John Kerry, who reported progress after he joined the talks in Vienna to speak with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Zarif, a member of President Hassan Rouhani's reform-minded administration, is looking for a historic agreement that would relieve Western sanctions that have severely impacted the Islamic republic's economy and perhaps start to repair Iran's fraught relationship with the United States.

Iran insists it is not seeking the atomic bomb but has stayed firm on its right to peaceful use of nuclear energy in the talks with six powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

Under an interim agreement reached in November, Iran froze its uranium enrichment in return for about $7 billion in sanctions relief.

Tehran and Washington have pursued exhaustive talks on the nuclear deal -- itself a dramatic turnaround in relations for two countries that had virtually no official communication since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, which toppled the Western-oriented shah.

 

 

S. Korea-US naval drill begins in face of North's anger

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:00:38 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 16, 2014 - South Korea and the United States on Wednesday launched a five-day joint naval exercise in the face of angry North Korean protests and warnings backed by missile tests.

Two separate drills began simultaneously in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) and off the southern port of Mokpo, South Korean military officials said.

The drill off Mokpo was led by the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, which will also take part in a search and rescue exercise next week with South Korean and Japanese maritime forces.

The presence of the carrier has been especially galling for Pyongyang, which denounced it as a "reckless" act of provocation and a modern-day example of "gunboat diplomacy".

The joint exercise follows an unusually extended series of artillery, rocket and missile tests by North Korea, which fired 100 shells into the East Sea on Monday.

There have also been several short-range ballistic missile tests by the North in recent weeks, including the firing of two Scud missiles on Sunday.

South Korea and the United States hold a series of army and navy drills every year that are habitually condemned by Pyongyang as rehearsals for invasion.

Seoul and Washington insist they are defensive in nature.

The recent North Korean missile tests have coincided with various peace overtures to Seoul, including a proposal to halt all provocative military activity.

Officials from both sides are due to hold rare talks on Thursday to discuss North Korea's participation in the upcoming Asian Games in the South Korean port city of Incheon.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has accused Pyongyang of adopting a "two-faced attitude" by proposing a lowering of tensions while continuing its missile launches.

In a meeting Wednesday with Defence Minister Han Min-Koo and top military commanders, Park called for swift retaliation for any provocation by the North.

"If there is any provocation, I expect you to retaliate strongly in the initial stages," she said, adding the Korean peninsula faces a serious situation due to the North's "unpredictable" attitude.

"The gravity of the situation does not allow for the least bit of carelessness in maintaining our defence posture," Park said.

 

Russia's Angara rocket not to be used as ICBM

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Jul 16, 2014 - Russia's new Angara launch vehicle will not be used as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) First Deputy Head Alexander Ivanov said on Monday, July 14, reports ITAR-TASS. "This will not be done. This is a space vehicle only. Because of its characteristics, it cannot be used as an intercontinental ballistic missile," he said when asked whether Angara can be used for this purpose in the future.

The lightweight Angara-1.2PP rocket successfully blasted off from the northern Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk Region on July 9. Twenty-one minutes after the liftoff the test weight reached the designated area at the Kura range in Kamchatka, 5,700 km from the launch site.

A heavy version of the rocket is scheduled to go on its first flight in December from Plesetsk. In the future, the rocket will be launched from the Vostochny spaceport in the Far Eastern Amur Region.

Angara was initially scheduled to lift off from Plesetsk on June 27 but its launch was automatically cancelled and postponed for one day, but never took place. The rocket was not supposed to carry any payload. Its second stage with a test weight was to land at the Kura range in Kamchatka, 5,700 kilometres from the cosmodrome.

Angara is one of the priorities in the development of the Plesetsk spaceport. In November 2013, a full-scale mock-up of the rocket was for the first time put up on the launch pad. It was a fully operational rocket but intended for ground testing only, not for launching.

Work to create the ground infrastructure for the new rocket and prepare an Angara launch is part of the federal program for the development of Russia's cosmodromes in 2006-2015.

A super-heavy lift launch vehicle will be able to carry a payload of 80 tones to low-earth orbits. In the future, its capacity can be increased to 160 tones and more.

Angara will allow Russia to launch all kinds of spacecraft to any orbit. Now Russia can launch heavy satellites only aboard Proton rockets from Baikonur, which it leases from Kazakhstan for about 115 million US dollars a year.

According to Khrunichev, a big advantage of the new rocket carrier is that "it is a universal space rocket system" capable of taking three types of rockets into space: light with a payload of up to 3.5 tones, medium with a payload of up to 14.6 tones, and heavy with a payload of up to 24.5 tones.

Medium lift and heavy lift launch vehicles can take payloads to the geostationary orbit as well.

The vehicle uses a unique engineering solution: the carrier can be assembled of the same modules. Their maximum number is five in a heavy version, three in a medium version, and one in a light version. They can all be launched form the same pad, not like now at Baikonur where each carrier requires its own launching pad.

The Angara class of rockets comprises four types of vehicles, with payload capacities ranging between 3.7 tones (light class, intended for low orbits) and 28.5 tones.

Angara rockets will not use aggressive and toxic heptyl-based fuel, which will make them much more environmentally friendly.

Russia launched four space rockets from three spaceports within a week, a source in the rocket and space industry told Interfax-AVN.

"The busy launch schedule of the past few days demonstrates that things are far from being too bad in the rocket and space industry," he noted.

A Rokot LV put into orbit three satellites from the Plesetsk spaceport on July 3.

A Soyuz-2.1b LV carrying the Meteor-M2 weather satellite and several micro-satellites blasted off from Baikonur on July 8.

A test launch of the brand new Angara LV was performed from Plesetsk on July 9.

A Soyuz-ST rocket was launched from the Kourou space center in French Guiana, South America, early on Friday morning to position British O3b satellites in orbit.

Source: Voice of Russia

 

 

S. Korea warns North over missile tests

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 15, 2014 - South Korea on Tuesday warned North korea it was playing a dangerous game with a series of missile, rocket and artillery tests that appear to be inching ever closer to their joint border.

In the latest incident on Monday, the North fired 100 shells into the sea from multiple rocket launchers in a live-fire drill close to the eastern maritime boundary.

"Some civilian tourists at the east coast even saw the water splash after the shells fell in the sea, which is very threatening to our country," said ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok.

North Korea regularly fires off missiles and rockets, but the frequency of the recent tests -- six in less than three weeks -- is unusual.

They have included artillery shells, short-range rockets and Scud missiles with a range of 500 kilometres (310 miles) -- all fired into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) from various locations.

Most have been personally monitored on-site by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

Kim Min-Seok stressed that a stray missile or shell risked triggering a serious confrontation.

"Our stance is clear," he told a press briefing.

"We will retaliate without hesitation if the North sends any of its missiles or shells to the south of the border."

UN resolutions bar North Korea from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology, but the response to the recent tests has so far been limited to verbal protests from Seoul, Tokyo and Washington.

Analysts see numerous possible motives behind the tests: pique over Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent visit to South Korea, anger over joint South Korean-US military drills, and a general effort at some attention-seeking muscle flexing.

While guiding Monday's live-fire exercise, Kim Jong-Un was quoted by the North's official KCNA news agency as saying hostile forces were becoming more blatant in their moves to "isolate and stifle" North Korea.

Later the same day, US President Barack Obama and Xi Jinping had a telephone call during which they discussed the need to ensure North Korea complies with demands to dismantle its nuclear program.

The North Korean tests have coincided with various peace overtures to Seoul, including a proposal to halt all provocative military activity.

Officials from both sides are due to hold rare talks on Thursday to discuss North Korea's participation in the upcoming Asian Games in the South Korean port city of Incheon.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has accused Pyongyang of adopting a "two-faced attitude" by proposing a lowering of tensions while continuing its missile tests.

 

 

US, Iran lay ground for nuclear talks extension

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 15, 2014 - US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart laid the groundwork Tuesday for an extension of a Sunday deadline to strike a historic nuclear deal after intense talks in Vienna.

A Western diplomat went as far as to say that it was now "highly probable" Iran and world powers would agree to such a move, and that the extension would be months not weeks.

"As it's highly improbable that we will finalise in Vienna before the weekend, it is highly probable that there will be a wish to continue to negotiate in the coming months," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

After a decade of rising tensions, the mooted accord between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany is aimed at easing concerns that Iran might develop nuclear weapons and silencing talk of war.

Kerry said he would return to Washington to discuss with President Barack Obama "the prospects for a comprehensive agreement, as well as a path forward if we do not achieve one by the 20th of July, including the question of whether or not more time is warranted".

He told a news conference after two days of talks with Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif that there had been "tangible progress on key issues, and we had extensive conversations in which we moved on certain things", although "very real gaps" persisted between the two sides.

Zarif, in a separate news conference, said that although he still hopes a deal would be possible by Sunday, he believed enough progress has been made to justify a continuation.

"As we stand now, we have made enough headway to be able to tell our political bosses that this is a process worth continuing," Zarif said. "This is my recommendation. I am sure Secretary Kerry will make the same recommendation."

An interim accord struck in November between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany expires on July 20.

Extending the deadline has always been a possibility in order to keep the parties talking, but Washington in particular has stressed it will not agree to such a move without key concessions from Iran first.

- Intense domestic pressure -

Iran denies seeking the atomic bomb and wants the lifting of crippling UN and Western sanctions.

The six powers want Iran to dramatically reduce in scope its nuclear programme for a lengthy period of time and agree to more intrusive UN inspections.

This would greatly expand the time needed for the Islamic republic to develop a nuclear weapon, should it choose to do so, while giving the world ample warning of any such "breakout" push.

Iran on the other hand has stated it wants to expand its nuclear facilities, insisting they are for purely peaceful purposes and that it has the perfect right to nuclear activities under international treaties.

Both sides are also under intense pressure from hardliners at home -- midterm US elections are due in November -- and both are wary of giving too much away after several months of talks.

- 'Innovative proposal' -

The key sticking point is uranium enrichment.

This activity can produce fuel for the country's sole nuclear plant or, if further enriched, the material for an atomic bomb.

Zarif however outlined a possible compromise in an interview with the New York Times published on Tuesday.

This "innovative proposal" would see Iran essentially freeze its enrichment capacities at current levels for between three and seven years.

But Kerry stuck to his guns on Tuesday, saying that nothing short of a reduction in Iran's enrichment capacities was acceptable.

"We have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 (centrifuge enrichment machines) that are currently part of their programme is too many," Kerry said.

The Western diplomat said that Iran's position on enrichment has in fact shifted "very, very, very little" during the recent months of talks.

"An extension appears inevitable at this stage. The parties are neither prepared to sign the dotted line nor to walk away," Ali Vaez, International Crisis Group analyst, told AFP.

 

 

North Korea fires 100 artillery shells into sea

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 14, 2014 - North Korea fired 100 artillery shells into the sea Monday in a live-fire drill near the eastern maritime border with South Korea that followed a recent series of missile tests.

The drill began shortly before midday (0300 GMT) using land artillery units based at the eastern tip of the Demilitarised Zone that bisects the Korean peninsula, the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

It lasted for 30 minutes and about 100 shells, some with a range of around 50 kilometres (30 miles), fell into waters north of the eastern sea boundary, a JCS spokesman said.

None of the shells crossed into South Korean waters.

South Korean border troops were already on heightened alert after a series of short-range ballistic missile tests by the North in recent weeks, including the firing of two Scud missiles into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) on Sunday.

UN resolutions bar North Korea from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology.

"Today's exercise was seen as a show of force towards our side," a South Korean defence ministry spokesman told AFP.

North Korea often conducts tests and drills as a show of displeasure, and Sunday's missiles were fired after it denounced an upcoming South Korean-US naval exercise.

The annual drill, from July 16-21, involves the US aircraft carrier George Washington, which arrived in the southern port of Busan on Friday.

Previous tests had preceded Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Seoul. They were seen by some analysts as a show of pique at his decision to visit the South rather than the North.

In between the recent launches, Pyongyang has also made several peace overtures to Seoul, including a proposal for both sides to halt all provocative military activity.

The South dismissed the offer as "nonsensical" in the light of the North's nuclear weapons programme and reiterated that the annual joint military drills with the US are non-negotiable.

"The North is showing a two-faced attitude," South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said in a meeting with her advisers on Monday.

Park noted that Pyongyang had kept up the missile tests even while setting up talks with the South on sending athletes to the upcoming Asian Games in the South Korean port city of Incheon.

The talks will be held Thursday at the border truce village of Panmunjom.

"We have to establish a solid defence posture that can resolutely respond to any provocations by the North," Park's office quoted her as saying.

There is no dispute over the eastern maritime boundary, unlike its western counterpart in the Yellow Sea, which Pyongyang refuses to recognise because it was unilaterally drawn by US-led United Nations forces after the 1950-53 Korean War.

Each side complains of frequent incursions by the other across the western border and there were naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.

In November 2010 North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong island, killing four South Koreans and briefly triggering concerns of a full-scale conflict.

 

 

Days before deadline, Kerry in 'very tough' Iran talks

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 14, 2014 - Iranian nuclear talks were hanging in the balance six days before a deadline to get a historic deal, after intensive talks on Monday described by US Secretary of State John Kerry as "very tough".

"We are in the middle of talks about nuclear proliferation and reining in Iran's programme, it is a really tough negotiation I will tell you," Kerry said during a second day of high-stakes discussions in Vienna.

He said later: "We are working, we are working very hard. Serious discussions. (It was a) good meeting."

Kerry was due to give a news conference on Tuesday morning, a US official said, and it was unclear whether he would hold any more discussions with Zarif.

Egyptian state media reported that Kerry would leave Vienna on Tuesday to visit the country in an effort to broker a truce in Gaza.

The mooted nuclear accord would kill off for good fears that Iran might develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian programme after a decade of rising tensions and threats of war.

Iran denies seeking the atomic bomb and wants the lifting of crippling UN and Western sanctions.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany have been negotiating almost non-stop for months, after sealing an interim accord in November under which Iran froze its uranium enrichment in return for about $7 billion in sanctions relief.

But the talks to nail down a full treaty have met major sticking points, particularly on how much of Iran's nuclear programme to dismantle.

Both sides are also under intense domestic pressure.

Zarif will have to come up with a deal that satisfies Iran's hardline Islamic leaders, while Kerry is under pressure from Congress ahead of November mid-term elections not to concede too much.

- No breakthrough Sunday -

Kerry, along with the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Britain and the deputy foreign minister of China jetted into the Austrian capital on Sunday seeking to inject some momentum.

But the three European ministers left with no apparent breakthrough.

"It is now up to Iran to decide to take the path of cooperation... I hope that the days left will be enough to create some reflection in Tehran," Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier said before leaving Vienna.

"The ball is in Iran's court."

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was "very important for Iran to be more realistic".

Hague said there had been no "decisive breakthrough" on Sunday and a "huge gap" remained on the key issue of uranium enrichment.

This activity can produce fuel for the country's sole nuclear plant or, if further enriched, the material for an atomic bomb.

The six powers want Iran to reduce dramatically the scope of its enrichment programme, while Tehran wants to expand it.

Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear armed state and which together with Washington has refused to rule out military action, is opposed to any enrichment by Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Sunday that any deal leaving Iran with the capability to pursue enrichment activity would be "catastrophic".

Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi was Sunday publicly sticking by Iran's position on enrichment which he called "clear and rational".

"As the supreme guide said, the enrichment programme has been planned with the real needs of the country in mind, meaning our need to ensure reactor fuel."

If no agreement is reached by next Sunday when the six-month interim accord runs out, all sides can agree to extend the talks for a further six months.

Washington however insists it will only consider such a move if Iran makes serious concessions first.

"We have a few days left and our efforts are to narrow the gaps and get an agreement by then," Michael Mann, spokesman for lead negotiator and EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton, said Monday.

"We're still aiming for July 20. We still have some time."

 

 

Ministers fail to broker Iran talks breakthrough

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 13, 2014 - Western foreign ministers appeared Sunday to have failed in their mission to inject momentum into talks with Iran in Vienna, seven days before the deadline to strike a momentous nuclear deal.

The talks were set to continue, however, with US Secretary of State John Kerry remaining in the Austrian capital for further discussions on Monday.

The sought-after accord is aimed at killing off once and for all worries that Iran might develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian programme, and silence talk of war.

Iran denies seeking the bomb and wants the lifting of all UN and Western sanctions, which have caused it major economic problems.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany have been negotiating almost constantly for months, but the talks have come up against major problems -- as expected.

Kerry and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany arrived Sunday in Vienna seeking to press Iran to make key concessions.

The three European ministers left late Sunday however saying no breakthrough had been made, although Kerry remained for likely further discussions with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday.

Zarif told reporters that "some important headway" had been made but that it "didn't solve any problems".

Russia and China sent only lower-ranking officials, with Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Li Baodong urging both sides "to show flexibility".

Kerry said on arrival that "very significant gaps" remained, while Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi said that on all the important issues, no narrowing of positions was evident.

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who like the others held one-on-one talks with Zarif, was the most downbeat, warning that "the ball is in Iran's court".

"It is now up to Iran to decide to take the path of cooperation ... I hope that the days left will be enough to create some reflection in Tehran," he said.

Britain's William Hague said that no "decisive breakthrough" was achieved and that there remained a "huge gap" on the key issue of uranium enrichment -- an activity that can produce fuel for the country's sole nuclear plant or, if further enriched, the matter for an atomic bomb.

The six powers want Iran to reduce dramatically the scope of its enrichment programme, while Tehran wants to expand it.

- Israeli pressure -

Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear weapons state and which together with Washington has refused to rule out military action, is opposed to any enrichment by Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Sunday that any nuclear deal leaving Iran with the capability to pursue this activity would be "catastrophic".

"It would be a disaster for the United States and for everyone else," he told Fox News, adding that "a bad deal is actually worse than no deal".

Araqchi said: "Concerning enrichment, our position is clear and rational. As the supreme guide said, the enrichment programme has been planned with the real needs of the country in mind, meaning our need to ensure reactor fuel."

On Saturday, Araqchi said Iran was ready to walk away from the talks if the world powers pushed on with "excessive" demands.

- Extension -

If no agreement is reached by next Sunday when a six-month interim accord with Iran runs out, both sides can decide to extend the pact for longer and keep talking.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that if a deal was not struck, "we either extend, a so-called rollover, or we will have to say that unfortunately there is no perspective for a deal".

But such an extension is possible only if both sides agree, and the United States in particular is opposed to such a move unless Tehran first offers major concessions.

Hague said Sunday that such a move "will only be discussed if no progress can be made. It is still too early."

 

 

N. Korea fires two more missiles into sea

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 13, 2014 - North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the sea Sunday, Seoul's military said, in an apparent show of anger at an upcoming joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States.

The North fired the two ballistic missiles into the East Sea (Sea of Japan) at 1:20 and 1:30 am local time, the South's defence ministry spokesman told AFP.

"Their range appeared to be around 500 kilometres (311 miles)," he said, adding Seoul's military had stepped up monitoring for additional launches.

The move -- the latest in a series of similar launches in recent weeks -- came a day after Pyongyang condemned an upcoming Seoul-Washington naval joint exercise.

The annual drill, from July 16-21, involves the US aircraft carrier George Washington, which arrived in the southern port of Busan on Friday.

The North bristled Saturday at the nuclear-powered carrier visiting the port, calling it a "reckless" act of provocation.

"The US should properly understand that the more persistently it resorts to reckless nuclear blackmail and threat, the further (the North) will bolster up its cutting-edge nuclear force for self-defence," said the North's top military body, the National Defence Commission.

The North has habitually slammed joint military exercises south of the border and often responded with missile test-launches.

UN resolutions bar it from conducting any ballistic missile tests. Sunday's launch -- the fifth in just over two weeks -- took place in a sensitive area near the heavily-fortified border with the South, the defence ministry spokesman said without elaborating.

Yonhap news agency said the missiles were launched only about 20 kilometres north of the Demilitarised Zone that has divided the peninsula since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice.

The North appears to have moved them from a military base about 50-60 kilometres away by using mobile launchers, Yonhap said, citing an unnamed Seoul army official.

- Kim wants to look 'bold' -

The launch area may fall within the range of South Korean artillery, said Kim Jung-Bong, a political science professor at Hanzhong University, adding the move was aimed at portraying the North's leader Kim Jong-Un as a "bold leader with guts".

"The North appears to be stepping up its threats by showing that it can fire missiles at any time and any place it wants," said Kim.

The North has often fired short-range missiles or rockets into the sea to express anger at perceived provocations.

Previous tests had preceded Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Seoul, and were seen by some analysts as a show of pique at his decision to make Seoul rather than Pyongyang his first stop on the peninsula.

Japan protested to North Korea over Sunday's launch via its embassy in Beijing, Japan's Kyodo News and Jiji Press said.

But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters the launch would not affect ongoing talks to try to solve the issue of Japanese abductees in the North, according to Jiji.

In between the recent launches, Pyongyang has also made several peace overtures to Seoul, including a proposal for both sides to halt all provocative military activity.

The South dismissed the offer as "nonsensical" in the light of the North's nuclear weapons programme and reiterated that the annual joint military drills with the US are non-negotiable.

But it accepted another offer by Pyongyang to send a delegation of cheerleaders to support North Korean athletes during the September 19-October 4 Asian Games at Incheon in the South.

 

 

Iran warns could walk away from nuclear talks

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 12, 2014 - Iran's chief negotiator in nuclear talks in Vienna warned Saturday that Tehran is ready to walk away if "excessive" Western demands cause a failure, a day before foreign ministers try to inject momentum.

Eight days before a deadline for a deal, Abbas Araqchi said however that he hoped that the attendance from Sunday of foreign ministers including US Secretary of State John Kerry would help overcome "deep differences" that remain.

"If we see that the excessive demands (of Western powers) persisting and that a deal is impossible, this is not a drama, we will continue with our nuclear programme," Araqchi said.

"The presence of ministers will have a positive influence," he told Iran state television from the Austrian capital. "There are questions that ministers need to take decisions on."

Iran's talks with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany are aimed at a grand bargain reducing in scope Iran's nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.

Such a deal is meant to quash for good concerns about the Islamic republic getting the bomb after more than a decade of failed diplomacy, threats of war and atomic expansion by Iran.

Iran denies wanting nuclear weapons. The deadline for an accord is July 20, when an interim accord struck by foreign ministers expires, although this can be put back if both sides agree.

Kerry was expected late Saturday or early Sunday in Vienna where he will be joined by his British, French and German counterparts William Hague, Laurent Fabius and Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Hague said on Saturday that the Western ministers would also discuss how to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza. Kerry and Steinmeier were also to talk about a US-German spat over spying.

Skipping the meeting however is Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and it remains unclear who will represent China.

- Critical choices -

Kerry "will gauge the extent of Iran's willingness to commit to credible and verifiable steps that would back up its public statements about the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme," the State Department said.

He will "assess Iran's willingness to make a set of critical choices at the negotiating table" and then "make recommendations" to US President Barack Obama on the next steps.

Some progress has been made in drafting the actual deal, with Araqchi saying that both sides saw eye to eye on "60-65 percent" of issues.

But he added that there were still "deep differences" on the "fundamental issues".

The main problem area is uranium enrichment, a process which can produce nuclear fuel -- Iran's stated aim -- but also in highly purified form the core of an atomic weapon.

On Tuesday Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, gave a speech indicating that Tehran intends to greatly increase its enrichment capacities to fuel a future fleet of nuclear power stations.

The six powers want a sharp reduction, however.

This, coupled with increased surveillance, would extend the so-called "breakout time" -- the time Iran would need to make enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon, if it choose to do so.

"We have made some progress but on some key issues, Iran has not moved from their ... unworkable and inadequate positions", a senior US official said Saturday.

"There is no question that we have heard about Iran's aspirations for its nuclear programme in very specific terms and very specific numbers, and that remains far from a significant reduction in their current programme."

Iran sees 'no benefit' in nuclear weapon: FM
Washington (AFP) July 12, 2014 - Iran's top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif says Tehran has no interest in building an atomic bomb, despite Western powers' claims otherwise.

Zarif's comments, in a television interview due to be broadcast Sunday, when Iran engages in talks with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany aimed at a grand bargain reducing in scope the Islamic republic's nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.

"I will commit to everything and anything that would provide credible assurances for the international community that Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons, because we are not," Zarif told NBC's "Meet the Press" from Vienna, where the talks are taking place.

"We don't see any benefit in Iran developing a nuclear weapon."

Zarif rejected "calculations" suggesting the Shiite country would seek to develop nuclear weapons to guard itself against its Shiite neighbors.

"We need to go out of our way in order to convince our neighbors that we want to live in peace and tranquility with them," he said.

"The politics of geography -- the fact that we're bigger, the fact that we're stronger, that we're more populous, the fact that we have a better technology, the fact that our human resources is by far more developed than most of our neighbors -- all of these provide us with inherent areas of strength that we don't need to augment with other capabilities."

Calling the principle of nuclear deterrence "simply mad," the foreign minister insisted that Pakistan was not considered stronger than Iran simply because it has nuclear weapons.

"The fact that everybody in the international community believes that mutual assured destruction -- that is the way the United States, Russia and others, seek peace and security through having the possibility of destroying each other 100 times over is simply mad," he added.

"I do not believe that you need to inculcate this mentality that nuclear weapons makes anybody safe. Have they made Pakistan safe? Have they made Israel safe? Have they made the United States safe? Have they made Russia safe? All these countries are susceptible," Zarif said.

"Now you have proof that nuclear weapons or no amount of military power makes you safe. So we need to live in a different paradigm. And that's what we are calling for."

 

'No decision' on ministers attending Iran talks: EU

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 09, 2014 - EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, leading ongoing nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna, is considering asking foreign ministers to attend but no decision has been made, her spokesman said Wednesday.

Ashton "is thinking about when to engage ministers as we move forward but no decisions have been made as yet. It would be an opportunity for them to take stock of where we are in the process," spokesman Michael Mann told AFP.

On Tuesday Iranian news agency IRNA reported that foreign ministers from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Ashton is the chief negotiator -- would arrive in Vienna later this week.

It quoted an unnamed diplomat as saying that they would travel to the Austrian capital "probably" on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but that this "does not mean we have reached an agreement".

The talks, which began last week, are aimed at reaching a potentially historic accord under which Iran would reduce in scope its nuclear programme in order to kill off once and for all concerns that Tehran will one day get the bomb.

The deadline to reach an accord is July 20 when an interim accord struck in Geneva expires, although this can, if both sides agree, be extended by up to six months.

Foreign ministers including US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's Sergei Lavrov twice descended on Geneva in November to broker the interim deal, and their presence in Vienna at some stage is widely expected.

A senior US official said after the last round on June 20 that foreign ministers "may well" travel to Vienna.

She said this would happen when both sides have "reached the narrowing of the gaps to the place where very tough political decisions need to be made and need to be made at the level of a minister."

 

 

S. Korea condemns North missile test as 'serious provocation'

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 10, 2014 - South Korea on Thursday condemned a series of missile launches by nuclear-armed North Korea as a "serious provocation" that threatened stability on the peninsula.

The South's defence ministry expressed particular concern over the launch Wednesday of two short-range ballistic missiles from a front-line base near the western section of the heavily guarded border.

"We see the recent series of North Korean missile launches as a serious provocation toward South Korea and the international community as it endangers stability on the Korean peninsula and violates UN resolutions," ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said.

UN resolutions bar the North from conducting any ballistic missile tests.

Wednesday's test was "unusual", the spokesman said, because the missiles were fired from a sensitive location close to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which has bisected the peninsula since the 1950-53 Korean war ended in a fragile armistice.

"It appeared to be aimed at delivering a message... that South Korea could be the target of surprise attacks by North Korean ballistic missiles anytime and from any place," Kim said.

The test was personally monitored by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who was quoted by the official KCNA news agency as urging all missile units to maintain heightened combat readiness.

Wednesday's launch was the fourth in less than two weeks.

Previous tests had preceded Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to South Korea, and were seen by some analysts as a show of pique at his decision to visit Seoul before Pyongyang.

China is North Korea's sole major ally, but while Xi has met four times with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye he has yet to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

As Xi arrived in Seoul on July 3, Pyongyang announced its intention to continue the tests, despite protests from Seoul and Tokyo.

One of the previous launches was hailed by the North's state media as that of a new "cutting-edge" guided missile marking a "breakthrough" in the country's military capabilities.

North Korea is not known to have a tactical guided missile capability, but analysis of a recent propaganda film suggested it may have acquired a variant of a Russian cruise missile, the KH-35.

In between the launches, the North has extended a number of apparent olive branches to the South, including a proposal for both sides to halt all provocative military activity.

Seoul dismissed the offers as "nonsensical" in the light of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.

 

 

Iran's supreme leader reveals demands in nuclear talks

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) July 08, 2014 - Iran's supreme leader revealed Tuesday his country's demands for a massive long-term increase in its nuclear enrichment capability, laying bare huge gaps between Tehran and world powers negotiating a deal.

The comments, published on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's website, represent a dramatic intervention in the talks currently taking place in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany, for a nuclear accord.

His remarks relate to the enrichment process of producing fuel from centrifuges for nuclear power stations, which the West and Israel says, in highly extended form, could be used to develop an atomic bomb.

Iran currently has about 19,000 centrifuges -- of which only 10,000 are working -- but says more powerful machines will be needed to develop enough nuclear energy in the future.

Khamenei said the required enrichment capability would be 19 times higher than the West currently wants to allow under a comprehensive agreement.

Uranium enrichment and centrifuge numbers are the most sensitive topic in the negotiations, which aim to conclude a deal by July 20.

But with less than two weeks until that deadline, the supreme leader's remarks exposed a gulf that still exists between Iran and the leading nations, who are seeking to curb Iran's nuclear activities.

Referring to the machine used in uranium enrichment, Khamenei, who has the final word on all matters of state, said: "Their aim is that we accept a capacity of 10,000 separative work units, which is equivalent to 10,000 centrifuges of the older type that we already have.

"Our officials say we need 190,000 (SWU). Perhaps not today, but in two to five years that is the country's absolute need."

- Differences with Russia -

An Iranian diplomat, quoted anonymously by the official IRNA news agency, said foreign ministers from the P5+1 countries would travel to Vienna this week, probably on Friday, to help clinch an accord.

But France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, on Tuesday indicated divergences have emerged between Russia and the Western powers involved in the negotiations to secure an agreement, without specifying what they were.

"Whereas until now the P5+1 had a very homogeneous attitude, in the past days representatives in the negotiations have put forward a certain number of different approaches between part of the 5+1 and our Russian partners," he said.

Fabius said that, while negotiations on the accord had begun, "none of the main issues" have so far been resolved.

Any nuclear deal would involve a framework and years of monitoring, but Khamenei's open declarations throw into doubt the room for compromise.

According to American media reports, the United States may accept Iran having 2,000-4,000 low-powered, first generation centrifuges.

France's Fabius said last month Iran could retain "several hundred centrifuges" but he disclosed that the Iranians were asking for "hundreds of thousands".

The accord being sought by the P5+1 aims to finally end talk of possible US or Israeli military action against Iran. The Islamic republic has always denied seeking an atomic bomb.

In exchange for an agreement, Iran wants punishing Western sanctions to be lifted.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, a leader of Iran's negotiating team, welcomed the supreme leader's comments and tweeted that he and his colleagues "would not give up any of our nuclear rights."

With Sunni Arab insurgents overrunning large parts of Iraq, and Syria in chaos from civil war, a nuclear deal could help Tehran and the West normalise ties at a particularly explosive time.

- 'Unique opportunity' -

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has described the talks as a "unique opportunity to make history", saying success would allow both sides to address "common challenges" like Iraq.

The talks have been aiming to secure an agreement by July 20, when an interim deal struck in November expires.

The six powers want Iran to drastically reduce its nuclear activities to render any drive for a weapons capability all but impossible.

The deadline could potentially be extended by up to six months, and many analysts believe this is already being negotiated.

But US President Barack Obama, facing midterm elections in November, is wary of doing anything that could be construed by his Republican opponents as giving Iran more time to get closer to having the bomb.

This is the longstanding accusation of Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state.

 

 

Architect of N. Korea nuclear weapons programme dies

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 09, 2014 - North Korea announced Wednesday the death of retired General Jon Pyong-Ho, a chief architect of Pyongyang's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes and an individually named target of international sanctions.

Jon, who retired from public life in 2011, died of a heart attack on Tuesday, the official KCNA news agency reported. He was 88.

He will be given a state funeral, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un leading the funeral committee, said KCNA, which noted that Jon had "devoted all his life to the defence industry".

A close adviser of former leader Kim Jong-Il, Jon was credited with directly managing North Korea's first nuclear test in October 2006.

According to the NK Leadership Watch website, Jon supervised the development of medium-range ballistic missiles in the 1990s, and offered the designs to Pakistan in exchange for detailed information on gas centrifuge technology and uranium enrichment.

In 2008 and 2009 Jon supervised the North's second major long-range missile test and its second nuclear test.

According to US intelligence reports, he was a key figure in the North's international weapons trade that involved shipping components for long-range missiles, nuclear reactors and conventional arms to countries including Iran, Syria and Myanmar.

Over the years, he was individually named in sanctions imposed on North Korea by the United Nations, United States and European Union.

In its tribute, KCNA noted Jon's "special contribution" to turning North Korea into a "satellite producer and launcher and a nuclear weapons state".

The announcement of his death coincided with the North test firing two short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

 

 

N. Korea makes fresh call for improved ties with South

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 07, 2014 - North Korea issued another call Monday for a lowering of military tensions with South Korea, even as leader Kim Jong-Un oversaw firing drills on an island near the sensitive maritime border.

A government statement carried by the official KCNA news agency said it was time to end "reckless hostility and confrontation" and called on Seoul to scrap its annual joint military drills with the United States.

Last week the North's top military body had called for both sides to halt all hostile military activities -- a suggestion Seoul dismissed as "nonsensical" in the light of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.

The latest offer is also likely to receive short shrift, as South Korea has repeatedly made it clear that the annual joint drills are non-negotiable.

North Korea makes periodic peace proposals which are mostly seen as rhetorical devices for international consumption.

The latest statement came as Kim continued a tour of front-line islands with a visit to an islet in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) where, according to KCNA, he watched a firing drill.

On Saturday, Kim had monitored an apparently large-scale army, navy and air force exercise involving a mock assault on a South Korean island.

 

 

Nuclear team 'will defend Iran's rights': Khamenei

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) July 07, 2014 - Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday the country's nuclear negotiating team at talks in Vienna will defend "the rights of the nation" in negotiations with world powers.

"We trust the negotiating team and are sure they will not allow anyone to harm the nation's nuclear rights," said Khamenei who has the final say on major issues, his official website said.

He was speaking after receiving the country's leaders to break the Ramadan fast.

Ultra-conservative groups in Iran regularly criticise the country's nuclear talks team, saying it has ceded too much to the so-called P5+1 group of the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany.

A decisive final round of negotiations on the Islamic republic's controversial nuclear programme began on Thursday in the Austrian capital ahead of a July 20 deadline.

The aim is to reach an agreement guaranteeing the peaceful nature of Iran's programme, after a decade of international tensions.

The accord being sought by both Iran and the P5+1 would finally ease fears of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and silence talk of war.

In exchange, punishing economic sanctions against Tehran would be lifted.

"The future needs of the country must be taken into account in the talks," Khamenei said.

Iran seeks to continue enriching uranium at an industrial level to produce fuel for nuclear power plants.

It currently has one nuclear power station, but is currently negotiating with Russia to build at least another four.

The United States and Israel accuse Iran of seeking to acquire atomic weapons, using civilian nuclear power as a cover, but Tehran has always denied this.

Khamenei also said that the great powers will eventually give in on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

 

 

Russia sees 'political will' for Iran nuclear accord: official

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) July 04, 2014 - Russia signaled Friday that a deal could be clinched in Iran nuclear negotiations, as there is "political will" and a sense of urgency among participants for an accord before a July 20 deadline.

"One feels political will of the participants, and a certain fear that we may not be quick enough -- that is a good sign in this situation. There is not much time left. But there are chances," Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told Kommersant newspaper.

The most recent round of the negotiations is "different from the previous in that there is some static energy being accumulated that will have to be freed and turn into kinetic energy," he added.

The so-called P5+1 talks are now in the decisive final stretch as Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council seek to reach an accord before a July 20 deadline to ease fears of Tehran obtaining nuclear weapons. In exchange, punishing sanctions on Iran would be lifted.

Ryabkov said that Moscow's current standoff with the West over the crisis in Ukraine will not hurt talks over Iran's nuclear programme.

"In my opinion, there is no grounds for worrying that the situation surrounding Ukraine will be the bomb set under the talks over Iran's nuclear programme, that it will prevent them from proceeding effectively," he said.

 

 

Xi's South Korea visit reflects a region in flux

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 04, 2014 - China's president on Friday wrapped up a state visit to South Korea that was heavier on symbolism than substance, but also exposed the slowly but steadily shifting bedrock of historical, Cold War alliances in East Asia.

Xi Jinping's trip had been seen as a pointed snub to North Korea -- his decision to visit Seoul before Pyongyang a sign of Beijing's growing frustration with its wayward, unpredictable nuclear-armed ally.

Mao Zedong once declared China and North Korea to be as close as "lips and teeth" -- a bond forged in the 1950-53 Korean War against the South and US-led UN forces.

But Beijing's patience with the North's relentless nuclear brinkmanship has worn thin and Xi's visit was a clear reflection of the common ground it now shares with the South -- economically and, to a growing extent, diplomatically.

If South Korea hoped this might all translate into a joint, strongly-worded warning to the North over its nuclear programme, it was disappointed.

The statement that emerged from Xi's summit with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye on Thursday didn't even reference "North Korea" directly, calling instead for the "denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula" -- a formulation long-favoured by Beijing.

Rather than North Korea, Xi ended up expressing common cause with South Korea over an older regional rival -- Japan.

In a speech at Seoul National University on Friday, he recalled the "barbarous wars of aggression" Japan had waged against China and Korea and the suffering inflicted by occupation and colonial rule.

Such rhetoric plays well in the South where relations with Japan are at their lowest ebb for years, mired in disputes related to Japan's 1910-45 rule over the Korean peninsula.

The rift is a source of increasing anxiety for the United States, whose strategic "pivot" to Asia is on a more fragile footing with its two main military allies in the region barely on speaking terms.

For China, however, it's an opportunity, according to Lee Shang-Hyun, a senior researcher on security and international relations at the Sejong Institute think-tank in Seoul.

- Exploiting rifts -

"A prolonged rift between Japan and South Korea will obviously help China extend its influence over the Korean peninsula, and its diplomatic goal of driving a wedge into the trilateral alliance involving Seoul, Tokyo and Washington," Lee said.

"There won't be any fundamental change in the diplomatic landscape in the short term, but the situation is more fluid than it was, with countries like Japan and South Korea seeking to maximise their own interests as China and the US compete for influence in the region," he said.

And Japan showed this week that it had some cards to shuffle in any new geopolitical deck.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a highly contentious shift in Japan's pacifist military policy, asserting its right to go into battle in defence of its allies -- a move viewed with deep suspicion in Beijing and Seoul.

And two days later, even as Xi arrived in Seoul, Japan announced the unilateral lifting of selected sanctions on North Korea as the result of progress in talks with Pyongyang over its Cold War kidnapping of Japanese nationals.

North Korea and Japan are unlikely partners -- anti-Japanese sentiment in the North is almost as high as it is in the South -- but Pyongyang, like Beijing, is always happy to shake the Tokyo-Seoul-Washington alliance.

In the end, a lot of messages were sent around the region and beyond this week, reflecting the more nuanced and complex geopolitical landscape being laid over the old certainties and alliances of the Cold War.

There was one nod to diplomatic tradition though, as China announced it was marking Xi's visit to South Korea with the gift of two panda bears.

But even gifts are subject to changing fortunes.

After China made a similar present of two pandas in 1994, South Korea was forced to return them four years later when the Asian financial crisis struck and it was unable to afford their costly upkeep.

 

 

Final push in 'historic' Iran nuclear talks

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 03, 2014 - Iran nuclear talks enter the decisive, dangerous endgame Thursday with a marathon final round of hardball negotiations potentially going all the way to the July 20 finish line.

The deal being sought by Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany would finally ease fears of Tehran getting nuclear weapons -- and silence talk of war for good.

With insurgents overrunning large parts of Iraq and Syria in chaos after years of civil war, this could help Tehran and the West normalise relations at an explosive time in the Middle East.

But failure could return both sides to the path of confrontation and even war, with neither Israel nor Washington ruling out military action.

"In this troubled world, the chance does not often arise to reach an agreement peacefully that will meet the essential and publicly expressed needs of all sides, make the world safer, ease regional tensions and enable greater prosperity," US Secretary of State John Kerry said this week.

"We have such an opportunity, and a historic breakthrough is possible. It's a matter of political will and proving intentions, not of capacity. It's a matter of choices. Let us all choose wisely," Kerry wrote in the Washington Post.

"In the next three weeks, we have a unique opportunity to make history," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a video message released ahead of the talks.

"To forge a comprehensive agreement over Iran's nuclear energy programme and to end an unnecessary crisis that has distracted us from addressing together our common challenges, such as the horrifying events of the past few weeks in Iraq."

After five rounds of talks in Vienna seeking to secure a deal by July 20 -- when an interim deal struck in November expires -- the differences appear considerable, however.

The last meeting from June 16-20 saw both sides begin drafting the accord, but haggling over language concerning the thorniest problems was put off until later.

The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany want Iran to reduce drastically in scope its nuclear activities in order to render any Iranian drive to assemble a weapon all but impossible.

This would include in particular Iran slashing its capacities to enrich uranium, a process producing nuclear fuel but also at high purities the core of a nuclear weapon.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said last month Iran has to slash the number of centrifuge enrichment machines to several hundred from almost 20,000 at present.

But Iran rejects this, saying it even needs to expand the number of centrifuges to fuel a fleet of nuclear power plants -- facilities that it is however years if not decades away from having.

Demands that Iran's programme be "radically curbed" rest on a "gross misrepresentation of the steps, time and dangers of a dash for the bomb", Zarif said.

Writing in French daily Le Monde, Zarif said Iran "will not abandon or make a mockery of our technological advances or our scientists."

- Final whistle or extra time? -

In theory, the July 20 deadline could be extended by up to six months, and many analysts believe that such a move is already being discussed.

But US President Barack Obama, facing midterm elections in November and Republican accusations of weakness, is wary of doing anything that could be construed as simply giving Iran more time to get closer to having the bomb.

This is the long-standing accusation of Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state.

But Kelsey Davenport from the Arms Control Association believes that Washington should not shy away from pushing back the deadline if necessary and if Iran is "negotiating in good faith".

"The alternative to no deal is far worse for the international community -- a constrained, unlimited Iranian nuclear programme," she told AFP.

Iran says 'chance to make history' with nuclear deal
Tehran (AFP) July 02, 2014 - Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday his country and world powers have a "unique opportunity to make history" by agreeing on a nuclear deal, as talks enter a crucial final round.

Mohammad Javad Zarif was speaking as the five permanent members of the United Nations, plus Germany, prepare to sit down with Iran in Vienna Thursday in a bid to reach a historic deal by a July 20 deadline.

The world powers want Iran to scale down its nuclear activities in order to ease long-held fears that Tehran might develop atomic weapons.

Iran, subject to damaging UN and Western sanctions, insists its nuclear programme is purely peaceful and even wants to expand key parts of it.

Speaking a video uploaded on YouTube, Zarif said forging a deal would "end an unnecessary crisis that has distracted us from addressing together our common challenges, such as the horrifying events of past few weeks in Iraq."

He claimed an agreement could have been reached in 2005 when he had been nuclear negotiator, but that the administration of then US president George W. Bush "torpedoed the deal".

They then opted for pressure and sanctions. For eight years."

But he said sanctions "didn't bring the Iranian people to kneel in submission. And it will not now nor in the future."

"We are trying to reach a deal," he added. "Not a good deal or a bad deal, but a doable and lasting deal."

A sixth round of talks starts officially on Thursday. It could potentially last until July 20 when an interim deal from November expires, although this could be extended by up to six months.

Without elaborating, Zarif said "we are willing to take concrete measures to guarantee that our nuclear programme will always remain peaceful.

"We still have time to put an end to the myth that Iran is seeking to build a bomb."

Western powers and Israel have long suspected Iran of using its civil nuclear energy programme as a cover for developing weapons capability, which Tehran has consistently denied.

 

 

Clock ticking on Iran nuclear talks: Kerry

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 01, 2014 - Time is running short to reach a nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, and negotiations will not be extended merely as a foot-dragging ploy, top US diplomat John Kerry warned Tuesday.

On the eve of the most intensive round of talks yet, Kerry called on Iran to make the right choices and prove to the world its claims that its nuclear energy program is peaceful by closing what he called "substantial gaps" in the negotiations.

"We have worked closely with Iran to design a pathway for a program that meets all of the requirements for peaceful, civilian purposes," Kerry wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post.

"There remains a discrepancy, however, between Iran's professed intent with respect to its nuclear program and the actual content of that program to date."

Western nations have long accused Tehran of seeking to develop an atomic bomb -- something the leaders of the Islamic republic have vehemently denied.

Talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group to strike a deal disabling any Iranian nuclear military program will resume on Wednesday in Vienna and are set to last until July 20 -- the deadline for reaching a full treaty.

Under an interim six-month deal struck in Geneva in November, cash-strapped Iran agreed to halt uranium enrichment and eliminate its stockpiles in return for limited sanctions relief.

The pact also contains a provision for a one-time six-month extension of the talks, if all sides agree. The P5+1 group includes the five permanent members of the UN -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- plus Germany.

"Our negotiators will be working constantly in Vienna between now and July 20," Kerry vowed.

"There may be pressure to put more time on the clock. But no extension is possible unless all sides agree, and the United States and our partners will not consent to an extension merely to drag out negotiations," he warned.

- Substantial gaps -

"Now Iran must choose," he said, adding that "time is running short."

"What will Iran choose? Despite many months of discussion, we don't know yet. We do know that substantial gaps still exist between what Iran's negotiators say they are willing to do and what they must do to achieve a comprehensive agreement."

The last round of talks in June were reportedly strained, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has lashed out at world powers for making "excessive demands" on his country.

But Kerry countered that they had "proposed a series of reasonable, verifiable and easily achievable measures that would ensure Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon," and in return the Islamic republic "would be granted phased relief from nuclear-related sanctions."

"The world is simply asking Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear activities are what it claims them to be," Kerry added.

He acknowledged that Iranian negotiators had been "serious" so far throughout the talks, and that Iran had met obligations by working to eliminate its stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium, not installing additional centrifuges and allowing international inspections.

He argued there were not often chances to "make the world safer, ease regional tensions and enable greater prosperity."

"We have such an opportunity, and a historic breakthrough is possible. It's a matter of political will and proving intentions, not of capacity. It's a matter of choices. Let us all choose wisely."

 

 

China, S. Korea summit pushes North over nuclear weapons

 
‎08 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:04:33 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 03, 2014 - China and South Korea issued a joint call for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula at a summit in Seoul Thursday that was seen as a pointed snub of nuclear-armed North Korea by chief ally Beijing.

In a joint statement after their talks, the Chinese and South Korean presidents, Xi Jinping and Park Geun-Hye, reaffirmed their "firm opposition" to the development of nuclear weapons on the peninsula, but seemed divided on how best to persuade the North to give up its bombs.

While Park told reporters that the two sides had agreed to use "all means" possible to bring denuclearisation about, Xi stressed that "dialogue and negotiation" were the best way forward.

"There was certainly a difference in perspectives, but that has always been there," said Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

"South Korea might have liked Xi to say something more direct towards the North, but that was wishful thinking," Yang said.

If the joint statement marked no departure from established Chinese and South Korean policy towards North Korea, the fact that it was released at a summit in Seoul carried significant symbolic weight.

It was Xi's first trip as head of state to the perennially volatile Korean peninsula, and his second summit with Park, who visited China last year.

- A calculated rebuff -

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is still waiting for an invitation to Beijing and Xi's decision to visit Seoul before Pyongyang was seen as a calculated rebuff that spoke to the strained relationship between Pyongyang and its historic and most important ally.

"No previous Chinese leader has put South Korea before and above the North like this," said Aidan Foster-Carter, a Korea expert at Britain's Leeds University.

In what some saw as a display of pique at Xi's visit, North Korea had conducted a series of rocket and missile launches over the past week and pledged further tests in the future.

Seoul had been hoping that Thursday's joint statement would include a strongly-worded warning to Pyongyang, but analysts had forecast that Beijing was unlikely to up the rhetorical ante by any significant degree.

It made no mention of North Korea's nuclear tests, although in her comments afterwards Park said both sides had reaffirmed their "resolute opposition" to any further testing.

The statement did stress the importance of finding a way to get the long-stalled six-party talks on North Korea up and running again.

Beijing has pushed for a resumption of the six-party process -- involving the two Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

But Seoul and Washington insist that Pyongyang must first make a tangible commitment to abandoning its nuclear weapons programme.

As the North's diplomatic protector and chief economic benefactor, China has repeatedly been pressured by the international community to use its leverage to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

- China wary of N. Korea collapse -

But while Beijing has become increasingly frustrated with the North's missile and nuclear tests, it remains wary of penalising the isolated state too heavily.

It is especially anxious to avoid any regime collapse that would result in a unified Korea with a US troop presence on its border.

Washington has played up Xi's two-day visit as evidence of Pyongyang's deepening diplomatic isolation.

"The symbolism of a visit by a Chinese leader to Seoul against the backdrop of tensions between North Korea and its neighbours... is pretty striking," US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel told AFP.

But Pyongyang scored a diplomatic victory of its own Thursday, as Japan announced it was revoking some of its unilateral sanctions on North Korea after progress in talks on the Cold War kidnapping of Japanese nationals.

Japan and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic ties, and the announcement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a significant step forward for a relationship that has been testy for decades.

The wider background to Xi's trip includes China's response to the US "pivot to Asia" and the battle between the two major powers for regional influence.

China is currently South Korea's largest export market and two-way trade stood at around $275 billion last year, but analysts say Beijing wants to move beyond economic ties and promote political and security links.

This leaves Seoul with a difficult balancing act, given its historic military alliance with the United States.

There are currently around 29,000 US troops stationed in South Korea, which is also protected by the US nuclear umbrella.

 

 

China's Xi visits South Korea in snub to North

 
‎08 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:04:33 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 03, 2014 - China's president flew to Seoul Thursday for a state visit focused on nuclear developments in North Korea, which has spent the past week playing hawk and dove with threats, missile tests and peace offers.

It will be Xi Jinping's first trip as head of state to the perennially volatile Korean peninsula, and his second summit with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye who visited China last year.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is still waiting for an invitation to Beijing -- a perceived snub that speaks to the strained relationship between Pyongyang and its historic and most important ally.

"No previous Chinese leader has put South Korea before and above the North like this," said Aidan Foster-Carter a Korea expert at Leeds University.

In what some saw as a display of pique at Xi's visit, North Korea conducted a series of rocket and missile launches into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) over the past week, triggering protests from Seoul and Tokyo.

The North has been in particularly mercurial rhetorical form of late, one day threatening a "devastating strike" against the South and the next proposing a suspension of all hostile military activities.

South Korea on Tuesday rejected the peace offer as "nonsensical" and suggested that Pyongyang show its sincerity by dumping its nuclear weapons.

Xi and Park will hold their summit after Thursday's official welcoming ceremony, and the two leaders are then expected to sign a joint communique.

- Strong line on North Korea? -

Seoul will be hoping for a strong statement on North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, but analysts said Beijing was unlikely to up the rhetorical ante by any significant degree.

"That would go against China's traditional diplomatic pattern," said Kim Joon-Hyung, professor of politics at Handong Global University.

"Xi will probably keep to the general line of urging the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, rather than criticising the North directly," Kim added.

As the North's diplomatic protector and chief economic benefactor, China has repeatedly been pressured by the international community to use its leverage to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

But while Beijing has become increasingly frustrated with the North's missile and nuclear tests, it remains wary of penalising the isolated state too heavily.

It is especially anxious to avoid any regime collapse that would result in a unified Korea with a US troop presence on its border.

Washington has played up Xi's visit as evidence of Pyongyang's deepening diplomatic isolation.

"The symbolism of a visit by a Chinese leader to Seoul against the backdrop of tensions between North Korea and its neighbours ... is pretty striking," US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel told AFP.

The wider background to Xi's trip includes China's response to the US "pivot to Asia" and the battle between the two major powers for regional influence.

China is currently South Korea's largest export market and two-way trade stood at around $275 billion last year, but analysts say Beijing wants to move beyond economic ties and promote political and security links.

This leaves Seoul with a difficult balancing act, given its historic military alliance with the United States.

There are currently around 29,000 US troops stationed in South Korea, which is also protected by the US nuclear umbrella.

So how far would South Korea be willing to go in developing its ties with China beyond the economic sphere?

"Partly it depends who holds power in Seoul," Foster-Carter wrote on the NK News website.

"Conservatives like Park will ensure the US alliance is not weakened, especially while North Korea continues to snarl.

"But South Korean presidents change every five years. If liberals return to power in 2018, the left's neutralist and Yankee-bashing tendencies might come to the fore," he said.

The military ambitions of the other main US ally in the region, Japan, is also likely to figure in Thursday's summit talks, with both China and South Korea concerned by the recent change to its pacifist constitution.

Xi's visit to Seoul 'important milestone,' says US
Washington (AFP) July 02, 2014 - A visit to South Korea this week by Chinese President Xi Jinping marks "an important milestone" in warming ties and is in stark contrast with Beijing's "chilly" relations with Pyongyang, a US diplomat said Wednesday.

Xi is due to visit Seoul on Thursday for talks with his South Korean counterpart Park Geun-Hye on a closely watched state visit which will include discussions on North Korea's nuclear program.

Beijing however, despite being the North's traditional ally, has not had a summit with Pyongyang since the December 2011 death of its then-leader Kim Jong-Il.

"Clearly the net effect of a visit by the Chinese president to the Republic of Korea, that showcases the dramatic warming of relations and the broadening of practical cooperation, stands in pretty stark contrast to the chilly relationship between Beijing and Pyongyang," Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel told AFP in an interview.

Beijing and Washington are seeking "to persuade North Korea that its only viable option is to take steps to come into compliance with its international obligations," Russel said.

Six-party talks with Pyongyang on reining in its nuclear program have been stalled since 2009, and the North has carried out a series of rocket launches denounced by the United States as provocative.

On Wednesday North Korea fired two short-range rockets off its east coast, marking the third such test by the North in the past week -- all three involving firing into the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

North Korea is set to be the focus of some "in-depth discussions" when top Chinese and US leaders meet in Beijing next week for annual strategic and economic talks.

Both China and the United States want to achieve de-nuclearization "through negotiations and we have been refining an approach that would ensure that North Korea comes to the table with convincing evidence that it's prepared to truly negotiate."

"No one wants to go back to the merry-go-round of talks for talks' sake," Russel said.

Washington has long been pushing Beijing to use its sway with Pyongyang to bring it back to the negotiating table, and has increased sanctions against the isolated communist-run state.

"The symbolism of a visit by a Chinese leader to Seoul against the backdrop of tensions between North Korea and its neighbors... is pretty striking," Russel said.

"The Chinese have increasingly moved in the direction that denuclearization is more than just a slogan, it is an objective that needs to be implemented, and implemented on a credible and rapid timeline."

 

 

Seoul warns Japan against going it alone on N. Korea

 
‎08 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:04:33 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 03, 2014 - South Korea warned Japan on Thursday against undermining efforts to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, after Tokyo announced the lifting of selected sanctions on Pyongyang.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said a number of unilateral sanctions would be revoked after progress in talks with the North over its Cold War kidnapping of Japanese nationals.

In a statement, the South Korean foreign ministry said it recognised the "humanitarian" nature of Japan's concern over the kidnapping issue.

But it also stressed that any discussions between Japan and North Korea on pending issues, including the lifting of sanctions, had to be done in a "transparent" fashion.

"And any measures taken by the Japanese government should not hurt international coordination among South Korea, the United States and Japan over North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes," it added.

The United States and its two main military allies in Asia have generally kept up a united front on the North Korean nuclear issue.

But a deepening rift between Seoul and Tokyo -- related to disputes dating back to World War II and Japan's colonial rule over the Korean peninsula -- has made the alliance look increasingly fragile.

South Korean officials say Pyongyang is using the kidnapping issue to exploit that fragility and push Tokyo towards a more independent North Korea strategy.

N. Korea vows further tactical guided-missile tests
Seoul (AFP) July 03, 2014 - North Korea vowed Thursday to push ahead with further strategic guided-missile tests, defying international calls to curb its weapons programme as the Chinese president arrived in Seoul for a visit seen as a snub to Pyongyang.

"(North Korea) will continue to hold drills of launching high-precision tactical guided missiles," said a spokesman for the Korean People's Army (KPA) Strategic Force, calling the tests a "legitimate exercise" of sovereignty.

North Korea has conducted a series of missile tests in the past week -- seen by some a display of pique with Chinese President Xi Jinping's two-day state visit to Seoul.

China is North Korea's sole major ally, but while Xi has met four times with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye -- including two summits -- he has yet to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

The United States criticised the recent missile launches as "problematic" and "destabilising", while Seoul and Tokyo also lodged protests.

The first in the series of tests last Thursday was hailed by the North's state media as that of a new "cutting-edge" guided missile which marked a "breakthrough" in the North's military capabilities.

The South said the second test on Sunday was of two short-range Scud missiles with a range of about 500 kilometres.

On Wednesday the North fired two rockets with a range of around 180 kilometres (110 miles).

The South said there were a number of possible motives for the multiple tests, ranging from a display for domestic consumption, to a show of strength for the international community or a warning to Seoul.

 

 

N. Korea vows further tactical guided-missile tests

 
‎08 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:04:33 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 03, 2014 - North Korea vowed Thursday to push ahead with further strategic guided-missile tests, defying international calls to curb its weapons programme as the Chinese president arrived in Seoul for a visit seen as a snub to Pyongyang.

"(North Korea) will continue to hold drills of launching high-precision tactical guided missiles," said a spokesman for the Korean People's Army (KPA) Strategic Force, calling the tests a "legitimate exercise" of sovereignty.

North Korea has conducted a series of missile tests in the past week -- seen by some a display of pique with Chinese President Xi Jinping's two-day state visit to Seoul.

China is North Korea's sole major ally, but while Xi has met four times with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye -- including two summits -- he has yet to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

The United States criticised the recent missile launches as "problematic" and "destabilising", while Seoul and Tokyo also lodged protests.

The first in the series of tests last Thursday was hailed by the North's state media as that of a new "cutting-edge" guided missile which marked a "breakthrough" in the North's military capabilities.

The South said the second test on Sunday was of two short-range Scud missiles with a range of about 500 kilometres.

On Wednesday the North fired two rockets with a range of around 180 kilometres (110 miles).

The South said there were a number of possible motives for the multiple tests, ranging from a display for domestic consumption, to a show of strength for the international community or a warning to Seoul.

 

New technique calls nuclear blind-man's-bluff

 
‎26 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:57:02 PMGo to full article
Paris (AFP) June 25, 2014 - Scientists in the United States claim to have devised a novel technique to test the viability of nuclear warheads, a tool that could be useful for disarmament inspectors.

The method uses a neutron scanner to confirm whether a nuclear warhead is what its owners say it is, without divulging any classified secrets about the device -- a major obstacle in weapons verification, they said on Wednesday.

The technique, currently in the early stages of testing, should be able to test whether rogue states or groups claiming to have a nuclear bomb are telling the truth.

It could also be a useful tool in the programme to dismantle US and Russian nuclear warheads under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), they said.

"The goal is to prove with as high confidence as required that an object is a true nuclear warhead while learning nothing about the materials and design of the warhead itself," said Robert Goldston, a professor of astrophysics at Princeton University, New Jersey.

Weapons inspectors already have an array of diagnostic instruments on hand, but using them can be a problem in itself.

Gamma-ray spectroscopy, for instance, can reveal whether there is sufficient plutonium 239 to make a bomb, but measuring this would reveal warhead-design information that could help weapons proliferation.

Other procedures are likely to require opening up the warhead to verify it -- a process that is long, complex and laden with suspicions that this is an attempt to spy on or tamper with secret material.

To get around this, Goldston's team conceived of an approach called "zero knowledge," inspired in part by software designed to check computer passwords safely.

It entails aiming a high energy beam of neutrons through the warhead, rather like an X-ray.

The tally of neutrons detected on the other side of the warhead thus provides a signature of the contents.

This signature has to match a signature provided by the host to be confirmed as a bomb.

Because the host preloads his own signature into the detectors, the inspector requires no access to secret data or material, hence "zero knowledge" of what lies in the box.

The idea, reported in the science journal Nature, is still in its infancy and problems have to be ironed out, the scientists admit.

But it has secured funding of $3.5 million (2.57 million euros) from the US National Nuclear Security Administration to take it further at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

The researchers are using a harmless dummy made of polystyrene and tungsten, about the same size and weight as a warhead, to test the neutron scan.

 

 

Army closes in on killer S. Korean conscript

 
‎26 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:57:02 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) June 23, 2014 - South Korean troops closed in Monday on a cornered fugitive conscript whose parents urged him to surrender after he killed five fellow soldiers in a shooting spree on the border with North Korea.

Thousands of soldiers backed by special forces units and army helicopters were surrounding the 22-year-old sergeant after a night-long standoff in a small forested area south of the heavily militarised frontier.

"We are closing in on him and he was close enough to be able to pick up a cell phone we threw," defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok told a briefing.

Kim said the sergeant, identified by his family name Lim, had spoken to his father who had urged his son to give himself up.

An army officer who requested anonymity told Yonhap news agency that Lim had been in tears when he asked troops to hand the phone over to his father. "He talked to his parents for several minutes, and they pleaded with him to surrender," the officer was quoted as saying.

Lim, who had not eaten for two days, was also thrown some bread and water.

Armed with a K-2 assault rifle and a stash of ammunition, Lim went on the run Saturday night after killing five fellow soldiers at a frontline border outpost.

He traded fire with his pursuers late Sunday before digging in for the night in a section of forest outside a village some 10 kilometres (six miles) away.

Kim said there were further sporadic exchanges of fire during the night, and Lim was still considered extremely dangerous.

"We don't plan to immediately move to capture him because we don't want to trigger any extreme behaviour," he said.

"We are encouraging him to surrender," he added.

Seven others were wounded in Lim's shooting spree on Saturday, during which he detonated a grenade and fired multiple rounds.

Lim was due to be discharged in the next few months after completing his compulsory military service.

The motive behind the shooting was unclear, but army sources said he had difficulty adapting to the military, and psychological evaluators had advised senior officers to pay him special attention.

The incident triggered a massive military manhunt involving more than 4,000 soldiers, including special forces backed by army helicopters.

After a night on the run, Lim was finally cornered near Myungpa-ri village in eastern Gangwon province.

In the initial exchanges of fire one platoon leader was wounded in the arm, and Kim said another soldier was wounded Monday by friendly fire.

Around 500 residents, most of them elderly, were evacuated from their homes to a school building as a precaution.

- Bullying in the barracks -

Lim's deadly shooting spree occurred at a guard post next to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) -- a buffer strip that runs the full length of the 250-kilometre (155-mile) inter-Korean frontier.

Because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war.

Many of the South Korean soldiers on border duty are young male recruits doing their mandatory two-year military service.

These young men make up a large part of the South's 691,000-strong troop presence, compared with 1.17 million in the North.

Most of the victims in Saturday's shooting were conscripts, aged from 19 to 23.

The defence ministry issued a "sincere apology" over the incident.

"We pray for the souls of the victims and express our deepest regret for the victims, the injured and their families," it said.

Bullying and cruelty in the barracks have long tarnished the armed forces, and been blamed for suicides and similar shooting incidents.

In July 2011, a 19-year-old marine conscript killed four colleagues in a shooting spree on Ganghwa island near the border.

In June 2005, eight soldiers were killed and two seriously wounded when a 22-year-old conscript threw a grenade and sprayed bullets over sleeping colleagues at a frontline guard post north of Seoul.

 

 

'Tough' Iran nuclear talks leave a mountain to climb

 
‎26 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:57:02 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) June 20, 2014 - Iran and six world powers left themselves with a lot to do by a July 20 deadline after a difficult fifth round of nuclear talks ended on Friday in Vienna.

The aim of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany is to secure a mammoth deal by next month to reduce in scope Iran's nuclear programme and ease fears the Islamic republic will get atomic weapons.

Iran denies seeking to make a bomb and wants punishing UN and Western sanctions lifted. Neither Israel nor the United States have ruled out military action to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

The parties had "begun the drafting process" and would start the next round of talks on July 2, said a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, chief negotiator for the six powers.

"We have worked extremely hard all week to develop elements we can bring together when we meet for the next round," said the spokesman, Michael Mann, after five days of discussions.

Officials on both sides said the drafting process had begun, but that haggling over language concerning the thorniest problems was being put off until later.

"We have not reached agreement on the main issues. In some cases, we can see light for agreement but in some others, there is none yet," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iran's media in the Austrian capital.

He said the draft document contained "more brackets than words", implying that many sections were far from finalised.

The senior US negotiator, Wendy Sherman, said that the talks had been "very tough but constructive" but that the draft document was still "heavily bracketed".

She added it was "still unclear whether Iran is really ready to take all the steps necessary to assure the world that its nuclear programme is and will remain exclusively peaceful."

"It has been another really tough round," said a diplomat from one of the "P5+1" powers late on Thursday, although he said this "doesn't surprise me or particularly dismay me".

Another diplomat said earlier this week that Iran was refusing to budge on most issues, calling this "worrying" and saying that there remained "major" differences on the key issue of uranium enrichment.

This process can make nuclear fuel for civilian purposes but also, when highly purified, for a nuclear weapon. It has been the main sticking point in negotiations with Iran for the past decade.

Western countries want Iran to slash the number of centrifuge enrichment machines in order to make it harder for Iran to process enough material for a bomb in a short period of time, if it chose to do so.

Other thorny issues include the duration of the mooted accord, the pace of any sanctions relief and a reactor being built at Arak that might give Iran weapons-grade plutonium.

- Extension -

The negotiations can be extended by up to six months beyond July 20, when an interim deal struck in November expires, but for now both sides were still aiming to get a deal by that date.

US President Barack Obama is particularly keen to ensure the deadline is met. He faces US midterm elections in November and hopes to silence accusations that the talks are merely giving Iran time to inch closer to the bomb.

This has been the long-standing accusation of Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state.

"We are absolutely focused on July 20 ... We are not interested in talking about a rollover," the P5+1 diplomat said, adding it would be a "long time" until such an extension is even discussed.

Mark Fitzpatrick, a former US State Department official now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said it was "not surprising" that difficult topics were being put off until later.

"If there is going to be a breakthrough on the key issues, it won't come until the last moment," Fitzpatrick told AFP.

 

 

Standoff with S. Korean soldier who killed five comrades

 
‎26 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:57:02 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) June 22, 2014 - South Korean troops traded fire in a standoff Sunday with a cornered conscript soldier who went on the run after shooting dead five members of his unit on the border with North Korea.

The 23-year-old army sergeant, surnamed Lim, had opened fire on fellow soldiers at a guard post on the eastern section of the heavily guarded frontier Saturday night.

The shooting spree left five dead and seven wounded -- and triggered a massive manhunt after Lee fled the scene armed with a K-2 assault rifle and a stash of ammunition.

A defence ministry spokesman said Lim, who apparently had a record of instability, had been tracked and cornered just before 2:30 pm (0530 GMT) Sunday near an elementary school around 10 kilometres (six miles) from the border.

"He shot at the pursuing troops and they returned fire," the spokesman said, adding that one officer had been wounded in the arm.

Local media reported that Lim's parents had been brought to the scene and had pleaded with their son to surrender.

As night fell, Lim was believed to be holed up in a small section of forest on a hill behind the school.

Some 500 residents of a nearby village, most of them elderly, were evacuated from their homes to another school building as a precaution.

"I've never known anything like this in my life," one 60-year-old villager told the Yonhap news agency.

"I stayed up all of last night. My children live far away and they're very worried about me," she said.

According to the military, Lim was due to be discharged in the next few months after completing his compulsory military service.

The conscript detonated a grenade immediately after finishing his six-hour guard duty at about 2:00 pm (0500 GMT) Saturday, then opened fire, Yonhap reported.

All those killed or wounded in the incident were members of the 22nd infantry division, in the eastern province of Gangwon.

Thousands of soldiers took part in the search for the fugitive, including special forces units, as army helicopters scanned the area from above.

- Shooter had trouble adapting -

Lim had difficulty adapting to the military, and past psychological evaluators had advised senior officers to pay him special attention, a defence ministry official who wished to remain anonymous told AFP.

This is not the first time the 22nd infantry has been involved in such an incident.

In 1984 a private belonging to the same division opened fire and threw a grenade at fellow soldiers in their barracks, killing 15.

The soldier, Cho Jun-Hee, then crossed the border to defect to the North, a move that Pyongyang's state media later confirmed.

The site of Saturday's shooting is just south of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) -- a buffer strip that runs the full length of the 250-kilometre (155-mile) frontier.

The four-kilometre-wide DMZ -- known as the world's last Cold War frontier -- features guard posts manned by the rival armies, barbed wire and roads bisecting minefields.

Because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war.

Many of the South Korean soldiers on border duty are young male recruits doing their mandatory two-year military service.

These young men make up a large part of the South's 691,000-strong troop presence, compared with 1.17 million in the North.

Most of the victims in Saturday's shooting were conscripts, aged from 19 to 23.

The defence ministry issued a "sincere apology" over the incident.

"We pray for the souls of the victims and express our deepest regret for the victims, the injured and their families," it said.

Bullying and cruelty in the barracks have long tarnished the armed forces, and been blamed for suicides and similar shooting incidents.

In July 2011 a 19-year-old marine conscript killed four colleagues in a shooting spree on Ganghwa island near the border.

In June 2005 eight soldiers were killed and two seriously wounded when a 22-year-old conscript threw a grenade and sprayed bullets over sleeping colleagues at a frontline guard post north of Seoul.

In both those cases the men were court-martialled and sentenced to death, although the penalty was not carried out.

The armed forces have in recent years taken steps to stamp out bullying, which they called part of a "distorted military culture".

 

 

Title agreed, but not much else, in Iran nuclear talks

 
‎26 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:57:02 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) June 19, 2014 - Racing against the clock, nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers appeared tough going Thursday with both sides warning of major differences as they tried to draft an accord.

The hoped-for agreement would see Iran scale back its nuclear programme, in order to ease fears Iran wants atomic weapons, and avert a conflict in the Middle East.

Iran, which has seen its relations with the West thaw somewhat since the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, wants painful UN and Western sanctions lifted. It denies wanting the bomb.

On a fourth day of talks in Vienna, Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany have started haggling over the wording of a deal, officials said.

But beyond agreeing a title for the accord, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that "fundamental differences" were dividing the two sides.

On Wednesday negotiations "slowly" began to draft the final agreement, "but there are still many differences" over the text, ISNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying from Vienna.

He added that the talks had been "very difficult".

A Western diplomat said that Iran was refusing to budge on most issues and that drafting language in the text on the "complex issues" had not begun.

"It is worrying that there is no evolution on the part of the Iranians on most subjects," the diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Differences between the two sides on uranium enrichment, the central issue not only in this fifth round of talks but for the past decade, remain "major," the envoy said.

Enrichment is front and centre of Western concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions, as the process can produce both fuel for nuclear power plants and, when highly purified, the core of an atomic bomb.

The West wants Iran to slash the number of centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium, from the current 20,000, but Tehran wants to install many more in order, it says, to fuel a future fleet of nuclear plants.

Other thorny issues include the duration of the mooted accord, the pace of any sanctions relief and a reactor being built at Arak that might give Iran plutonium, the alternative to highly-enriched uranium for a bomb.

"Bearing in mind the limited time that is left and the differences remaining, the progress is slow" in writing the draft, a senior Iranian diplomat at the talks told ISNA.

- No catastrophe -

Iran's top negotiator Abbas Araqchi told IRNA on Wednesday that choosing to push back the July 20 deadline -- when an interim deal struck in November expires -- "won't be a catastrophe".

But US President Barack Obama is not seen as keen, seeking ahead of November midterm US elections to silence accusations that the talks are merely giving Iran time to inch ever closer to the bomb.

Complicating the process is the shared interest of Washington and Shiite Iran in seeing a lightning onslaught by Sunni rebels in Iraq stopped in its tracks.

On Monday US and Iranian officials briefly discussed the crisis on the sidelines in Vienna, although Washington said this would not be repeated.

On Wednesday a senior aide to Rouhani, his chief of staff Mohammad Nahavandian, appeared to say that any US-Iranian cooperation in Iraq depended on progress in the nuclear talks.

"If that comes to a final resolution, then there might be opportunities for other issues to be discussed," Nahavandian said in Norway.

In Israel, assumed to have nuclear weapons itself and which has not ruled out bombing Iran, a minister on Thursday expressed fears that the crisis may prompt Washington to make concessions in Vienna.

But US State Department Jen Psaki spokeswoman said Wednesday that any discussion of Iraq would be "entirely separate" from the nuclear negotiations.

"Any effort to connect the two is a nonstarter for the United States," Psaki told reporters.

Tehran, world powers 'begin drafting nuclear deal'
Tehran (AFP) June 18, 2014 - Iran and world powers started drafting Wednesday a comprehensive nuclear agreement but still face many sticking points, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.

"Today we have slowly begun to draft the final agreement... but there are still many differences" over the text, ISNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying from Vienna.

"This does not mean we have reached an agreement," said Zarif, according to IRNA news agency.

"Fundamental disagreements" continue to divide Iran and the P5+1 powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany -- he said.

But Zarif said the two sides have agreed on a title for the text, which will be known as the "General Joint Plan of Action."

A new round of negotiations between Iranian diplomats and those of the six powers, which opened Monday in Vienna, had been "very difficult" so far.

The talks, which run through Friday, are aimed at clinching a comprehensive nuclear deal by a July 20 deadline set up by an interim agreement.

Iran's top negotiator Abbas Araqchi earlier told IRNA news agency that Iran hoped to settle all differences with the six powers by the target date.

The main sticking points are the timetable for a full lifting of crippling US and EU sanctions, and the scale to which Iran would be allowed to continue uranium enrichment, he said.

Enrichment is the sensitive process at the centre of Western concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions, as it can produce both fuel for nuclear power stations and, in highly extended form, the core of an atomic bomb.

The P5+1 want Iran -- which insists its nuclear drive is purely for civilian use -- to drastically reduce its uranium production capacity, and keep only a few hundred centrifuges active.

They want to ensure that Iran's nuclear activities are purely peaceful. In return, Iran wants the removal of international sanctions that have choked its economy.

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Wednesday Iran's economy remained in a "state of distress" despite limited sanctions relief.

"Iran sanctions are the toughest the world community has imposed on any country, and its economy is suffering a serious blow as a result -- an impact that is not being reversed," Lew said at a meeting in Jerusalem of the Joint Economic Development Group (JEDG).

- 'Still a long way to go' -

In the remarks to IRNA, Araqchi said "it won't be a catastrophe" if the July 20 target date is not met.

"We hope to start work on Wednesday on drafting the text of a final agreement, not the big issues but the general framework and the introduction," Araqchi said.

"There is a still a long way to go before we reach an agreement acceptable to all sides."

An interim deal struck last November led the six powers to release $7 billion from frozen funds in return for a slowdown in Iran's controversial uranium enrichment.

Iran began implementing the November deal in January.

Tehran said Wednesday that successful nuclear talks could lead to co-operation with the US over their shared interest in Iraq -- where Sunni militants have seized large swathes of territory in a lightning offensive.

President Hassan Rouhani's chief of staff Mohammad Nahavandian told reporters in Oslo that the nuclear talks were a "test for confidence building".

"If that comes to a final resolution, then there might be opportunities for other issues to be discussed."

 

 

Iran says could work with US in Iraq if nuclear talks succeed

 
‎26 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:57:02 PMGo to full article
Oslo (AFP) June 18, 2014 - A top Iranian official said on Wednesday that Tehran could consider working with the United States over the crisis in Iraq if talks on its nuclear programme are successful.

Asked about possible cooperation in Iraq, President Hassan Rouhani's chief of staff Mohammad Nahavandian told reporters in Oslo that the nuclear talks were a "test for confidence building".

"If that comes to a final resolution, then there might be opportunities for other issues to be discussed."

The rise of the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has made sweeping gains in northern Iraq in recent days, has raised speculation over cooperation between Washington and Tehran to help stop the insurgency.

And on Monday, US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns held a brief meeting with Iranian officials in Vienna on the sidelines of the nuclear talks.

Nahavandian said he was opposed to any foreign intervention in Iraq unless it was requested by the government, but also criticised US inaction.

"The outside world should just respond to what the government of Iraq wants (and) should not intervene in the management of the situation.

"With regards to the United States, we have not seen any serious action from them against this wave of terrorism inside Iraq."

Rouhani said Wednesday that Iran would do whatever it takes to protect revered Shiite Muslim holy sites in Iraq against the Sunni ISIL militants.

Meanwhile, Nahavandian said he believed a July 20 deadline for Iran and world powers to reach a deal on Tehran's nuclear drive could be met.

"There are many people around the world who look optimistically to the ongoing negotiations and I am not an exception to that rule," he said.

Tehran, world powers begin drafting nuclear deal: Iran FM
Tehran (AFP) June 18, 2014 - Iran and world powers started drafting Wednesday a comprehensive nuclear agreement but still face many sticking points, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.

"Today we have slowly begun to draft the final agreement... but there are still many differences" over the text, ISNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying from Vienna.

"This does not mean we have reached an agreement," said Zarif, according to IRNA news agency.

"Fundamental disagreements" continue to divide Iran and the P5+1 powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany -- he said.

But Zarif said the two sides have agreed on a title for the text, which will be known as the "General Joint Plan of Action."

A new round of negotiations between Iranian diplomats and those of the six powers that opened Monday in Vienna had been "very difficult" so far.

The talks, which run through Friday, are aimed at clinching a comprehensive nuclear deal by a July 20 deadline set up by an interim agreement.

Iran's top negotiator Abbas Araqchi earlier told IRNA news agency that Iran hoped to settle all differences with the six powers by the target date.

The main sticking points are the timetable for a full lifting of crippling US and EU sanctions, and the scale to which Iran would be allowed to continue uranium enrichment, he said.

Enrichment is the sensitive process at the centre of Western concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions, as it can produce both fuel for nuclear power stations and, in highly extended form, the core of an atomic bomb.

The P5+1 want Iran -- which insists its nuclear drive is purely for civilian use -- to drastically reduce its uranium production capacity, and keep only a few hundred centrifuges active.

They want to ensure that Iran's nuclear activities are purely peaceful. In return, Iran wants the removal of international sanctions that have choked its economy.

In the remarks to IRNA, Araqchi said "it won't be a catastrophe" if the July 20 target date is not met.

"We hope to start work on Wednesday on drafting the text of a final agreement, not the big issues but the general framework and the introduction," Araqchi said.

"There is a still a long way to go before we reach an agreement acceptable to all sides."

An interim deal struck last November led the six powers to release $7 billion from frozen funds in return for a slowdown in Iran's controversial uranium enrichment.

Iran began implementing the November deal in January.

 

 

UN monitor urges China to bring North Korea to heel

 
‎26 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:57:02 PMGo to full article
Geneva (AFP) June 18, 2014 - A UN monitor Wednesday urged China to bring ally North Korea to heel over its record of systemic human rights abuse, likening Beijing's clout to that of Washington with Israel.

"How are we going to persuade China that they are in a position to do this? They don't accept that they have any kind of influence on the North Koreans," Marzuki Darusman told reporters.

"This is the kind of denial that the United States has, that it has no hold on Israel. It's an analogy, but nevertheless, it's substantive," said Darusman, a former chief prosecutor of Indonesia.

He said it was also up to the entire international community to step up efforts to call Pyongyang to account.

"North Korea is isolated. But that saddles us all with the problem," he said.

Darusman has monitored North Korea since 2010 for the UN Human Rights Council, despite a refusal to cooperate by the closed Stalinist nation.

He is also part of a UN-mandated inquiry team that earlier this year issued a damning 400-page report detailing endemic abuses by North Korea.

It spotlighted rape, torture and enslavement, saying they could amount to crimes against humanity and comparing them to the actions of Nazi Germany.

The inquiry team has called for North Korea to be hauled before the International Criminal Court -- potentially to prosecute dictator Kim Jong-un and other regime figures.

"What is happening in North Korea cannot just be attributed to one single person at the top, although that single person at the very top is culpable," said Darusman.

But referral to the ICC requires approval by the UN Security Council, where China wields a veto.

- North Korea's "facade" -

Simply pointing the finger is no longer enough, Darusman said.

"It doesn't do justice to the enormity and range of issues that prevail there in the country," he said.

Barred from North Korea by Pyongyang, the UN monitors have interviewed defectors in South Korea and other countries, and used satellite imagery to build an idea of North Korea's network of concentration camps.

North Korea has dubbed the witnesses "human scum" and, in regular attacks at the UN Human Rights Council, charged that probes are part of a "vicious, hostile policy" piloted by Washington.

Darusman blasted that position.

"It's a convenient facade that the North Koreans are adopting, by continuing with their denials but at the same time seeming to engage by being present at the UN Human Rights Council sessions and responding to the findings by continuing with the theme that all the findings are fabricated," he said.

The United Nations plans to deploy a full-time North Korea human rights team that would be based in the South Korean capital Seoul.

Pyongyang has threatened that anyone involved will be "ruthlessly punished".

Darusman said there was no room for such rhetoric.

"We just need to go back to the basics. The country is part of the UN and therefore it's bound by the practices and norms of the United Nations," he said.

 

 
 

News About Wars On Planet Earth

 

 

IBM's Watson advises US soldiers on life after service

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:01:15 PMGo to full article
San Francisco (AFP) July 23, 2014 - IBM's Watson supercomputer is putting its real-world smarts to work helping US soldiers transition back to civilian lives.

Virtual intelligence created by IBM and proven in a victorious run on trivia television game show "Jeopardy" has been woven into a Watson Engagement Advisor application to counsel members of the military and their families how to smartly manage shifting to life after stints in the service.

USAA, which provides insurance, investment, retirement and other financial services to members of the US armed forces is fielding what was billed by IBM as the first commercial Watson application.

"Putting Watson into the hands of consumers is a critical milestone toward improving how we work and live," IBM Watson Group senior vice president Mike Rhodin said in a release Tuesday.

"We believe this new service can help men and women who served their country gain timely and relevant insights into the steps they need to successfully move to civilian life."

Watson analyzed thousands of documents regarding rules, requirements and rights related to soldiers leaving the military and can answer natural language questions on the topic, according to IBM.

Members of the military using a USAA application for mobile devices can "ask Watson" questions such as how best to write a resume or make the most of GI Bill benefits.

"Through this experience, we expect to learn how intelligent assistants like IBM Watson can help service members who may not know exactly where or how to start the daunting transition process," USAA executive vice president of member experience Shon Manasco said.

With Watson, IBM has set out to let people interact with computers in ways as natural as chatting with a brilliant friend.

Last month, IBM put a chef's hat on Watson supercomputer in an initiative launched with magazine Bon Appetit, seeking to use Big Data for gastronomy.

An app unveiled in test version called "Chef Watson with Bon Appetit" aims at helping cooks "draw on Watson's advanced cognitive capabilities to create entirely new recipes and gastronomic combinations that have previously never been conceived," IBM said.

The military is the latest proving ground for Watson, which has been working on fighting cancer and other medical applications after its "Jeopardy" run.

gc/rl

IBM

 

 

Syria chemicals being destroyed abroad: watchdog

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:01:15 PMGo to full article
The Hague (AFP) July 24, 2014 - Around 700 tonnes of Syria's chemical agents have been delivered to specialised destruction facilities in Britain, Finland and the US, the watchdog in charge of the mission said Thursday.

"All 1,300 metric tonnes of chemicals removed from Syria by the international maritime operation have been delivered to destruction facilities outside the country," the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a statement.

The remaining around 600 tonnes of Syria's declared chemical arsenal is currently being destroyed aboard a US military ship at a secret location at sea.

"Destruction activities are now underway in all locations," the OPCW said.

A plan has also finally been agreed for the destruction of Syria's 12 former chemical weapons production facilities, the OPCW said.

Seven of them will be "razed to the ground and five underground structures will be sealed permanently to make them inaccessible," the OPCW said.

There had been concern that Syria could re-use its fortified facilities if they were rendered inaccessible rather than destroyed, given the ongoing conflict.

Destruction of Syria's former chemical weapon production facilities will begin within 60 days, the OPCW said.

Syria signed up to an international UN-OPCW plan to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile after the outcry that followed chemical attacks by the Assad regime in the suburbs of Damascus on August 23 last year, that may have killed as many as 1,400 people.

 

 

Israel onslaught weakens Hamas, but demilitarisation far off

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:01:15 PMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) July 24, 2014 - As diplomatic efforts to end the Gaza bloodshed gain pace, Israel may have managed to weaken Hamas's firepower, but it is far from achieving a full demilitarisation of the Palestinian enclave, experts say.

After 17 days of an unrelenting offensive against Hamas in Gaza, Israel is facing a race against time to complete their stated mission of destroying the tunnels which allow Hamas fighters to reach Israeli territory.

Giora Eiland, a former national security advisor, told AFP it would "only be a matter of days" before the operation achieved its goal.

Thirty tunnels in the complex underground network have already been eradicated, the army announced on Wednesday, without specifying how many remained.

That is the Israeli intelligence services' "blindspot", the Haaretz newspaper said, querying, along with many Israeli citizens, why it took a war for the army to learn of the existence of the tunnels.

As for the army's second objective of destroying the stockpile of missiles under Hamas and Islamic Jihad control, Eiland says it was necessary "to pass a fine-toothed comb over Gaza to discover every cache".

According to military intelligence, of the estimated 9,000 missiles stockpiled before the conflict, more than a third have been wiped out by Israeli strikes and another third have been launched in the direction of Israel.

And of the remaining stocks, it is thought that the Palestinians have 150 medium- to long-range rockets left, enough to batter Israeli territory around Tel Aviv, "for several weeks", according to daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot.

But the final underlying reason for the onslaught, to attack the leadership of Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, would appear the most difficult to fulfil.

- Leading lights -

The army published its list of four "figures targeted by the attacks" on Wednesday, featuring leading lights in the Islamic Jihad movement.

There was, however, no confirmation they had been killed. Israel has arrested nearly 150 Palestinian militants in Gaza.

"Hamas will not give up until it no longer hears the sound of Israeli tank motors in the tunnels somewhere under Gaza city, where their leaders are hiding," claimed Ben Caspit, a commentator for the Maariv newspaper.

In so far as hopes for a ceasefire called for by the international community go, Israeli experts are united in seeking the expansion of the present military campaign.

Yediot Aharonot commentator Alex Fishman called on the army to "put their foot on the accelerator", starting by "relieving troops who have been on the ground for the past week", many of them traumatised by the deaths of 32 of their colleagues in the worst losses the army has suffered in eight years.

- Pockets of resistance -

Commentators are also united in being haunted by the spectre of so many deaths -- more than 777 Palestinians and 35 on the Israeli side -- at the last count - "for nothing".

Yuval Diskin, former head of the Israeli domestic intelligence unit Shin Bet, advised Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's government to order "taking control" of land in Gaza occupied by "certain pockets of resistance" as the only way to avoid "ending up with a status quo between Hamas and Israel which will have left so many victims without achieving significant progress".

While some analysts are looking towards "the morning after" the truce, others are resigned to a further cycle of violence between the two protagonists.

"Against the well-established strategy of a non-state enemy like Hamas, Israel should simply 'mow the grass' from time-to-time in order to reduce its opponents' capacity," suggested Efraim Inbar, in the pro-government Israel Hayom daily.

But if Israel wants to win the war, not simply this battle, it must make sure this round of violence is the last, Eiland suggested.

But for that to happen, he said, Israel should base its negotiations for a ceasefire agreement on demands for the "demilitarisation of Hamas, the only way to guarantee the long-term success of this operation".

 

 

13 rebels killed in Colombia fighting: minister

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:01:15 PMGo to full article
Bogota (AFP) July 23, 2014 - The Colombian army killed at least 13 leftist guerrillas early Wednesday in two separate engagements, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said.

Eight ELN guerrillas were killed in an operation in the eastern province of Arauca and at least five fighters from the FARC guerrilla group were killed in the central province of Meta, said Pinzon, labelling the rebels "terrorists."

"A terrorist presence was detected in these areas trying to attack highways or infrastructure, so the armed forces acted," he told journalists.

He said the toll could rise as troops continue sweeping the two areas.

The army said in a statement that the operation in Arauca, which also involved the air force, navy and national police, targeted an ELN camp that was "responsible for attacks on civilians, roads and oil infrastructure in recent days."

Eight ELN fighters were captured in the operation, including several minors who have been handed over to child protection authorities, it said.

One wounded guerrilla was captured in Meta.

The defense minister is expected to travel to the Arauca region, which borders Venezuela, later Wednesday.

The latest fighting comes 10 days after another operation that killed 14 FARC guerrillas in the northwestern region of Antioquia.

The Colombian government and FARC have been holding talks in Cuba since November 2012 aimed at ending the 50-year-old conflict, but no ceasefire has been declared.

President Juan Manuel Santos won re-election last month after campaigning largely on his promise to bring the peace process to fruition.

Santos, who begins his new four-year term on August 7, has also opened preliminary talks with the ELN.

According to the government, FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) has between 7,000 and 8,000 fighters, while the ELN (National Liberation Army) has about 2,500.

The conflict in Colombia has killed more than 220,000 people and caused more than five million to flee their homes since the ELN and FARC were founded in the 1960s.

Besides the army and guerrillas, it has drawn in rightwing paramilitary groups and drug gangs.

 

 

Israel strikes kill dozens in Gaza as toll tops 670

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:01:15 PMGo to full article
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) July 23, 2014 - An Israeli air strike on the northern Gaza Strip killed five people on Wednesday evening, medics said, as Israel's army announced two more soldiers had died in fighting.

Earlier, Israeli tank fire killed five people, including two children, in southern Gaza, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said, as Wednesday's body count reached at least 47 Palestinians.

A series of other strikes and shellings throughout Gaza brought the total number killed from 16 days of conflict between Israel and Hamas to 678 Palestinians, according to figures from Qudra.

Another air strike on Wednesday killed a two-year-old girl, Qudra said.

Some 32 people in Israel -- two civilians, a foreign worker and 29 soldiers -- have been killed during the Jewish state's operation to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza militants and destroy Hamas tunnels.

Early on Wednesday, the military announced two soldiers had been killed in fighting the night before.

And a foreign worker, whose nationality was not immediately disclosed, died later Wednesday after being hit by a mortar round fired from Gaza, police said.

Rights groups have said that more than 80 percent of Palestinians killed have been civilians, with Gaza-based NGO the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights saying more than 90 were women and more than 160 children.

 

 

Israel's Operation Protective Edge enters its third week

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:01:15 PMGo to full article
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) July 22, 2014 - Here are the main developments since Israel launched a major offensive in Gaza aimed at halting rocket fire.

The cycle of violence is the fifth between Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas since 2005.

It began on June 12 with the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, prompting a major crackdown on Hamas, which triggered a surge in rocket fire from Gaza.

JULY, 2014

8: Israel launches Operation Protective Edge, with dozens of air strikes on Gaza in response to mounting rocket fire from Palestinian militants.

Hamas says "all Israelis" are potential targets.

9: Israel carries out strikes as rockets are fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

12: Fifty-six Palestinians killed as the UN Security Council urges an end to hostilities.

13: Israeli naval commandos make a lightning strike in northern Gaza to hit a rocket launcher site.

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas asks the UN to put the state of Palestine under "international protection".

15: Israel accepts an Egyptian ceasefire proposal. Hamas rejects it, demanding an end to the eight-year blockade of Gaza. Israel resumes raids after the truce fails to hold.

16: Israel intensifies its bombardment, killing at least 25 Palestinians, including eight children, four of whom were on a beach.

17: Israel launches a ground operation, its first since the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed.

Hamas says "Israel will pay a high price" for the assault.

Israel calls up another 18,000 reservists, taking the total to 65,000.

18: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says "a significant broadening" of the ground operation is possible, as air strikes alone cannot destroy Hamas's tunnel network.

20: The most deadly day of the offensive, with more than 140 Palestinians killed, including at least 70 in Shejaiya, east of Gaza City. On the Israeli side 13 soldiers from the Golani brigade are killed.

Palestinian and Arab League leaders accuse Israel of war crimes.

21: Fifty-five Palestinians, including 16 children, are killed by air strikes and tank shelling across the enclave which hit a hospital and a residential building.

22: Israeli strikes kill about 40, including at least 13 women and children, as Israel's army announces the death of two more soldiers. Israeli tank fire hits a UN school sheltering displaced Palestinians.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon visits the West Bank and Israel and tells both sides: "Stop fighting, start talking". US Secretary of State John Kerry, in Cairo, urges Hamas to accept a ceasefire.

A rocket fired from Gaza crashes just kilometres (miles) from Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, prompting several American and European airlines suspend links with Israel.

Since July 8, at least 620 Palestinians have been killed and more than 3,700 injured, mainly civilians, according to rescue workers. More than 100,000 Palestinians have been displaced, the UN says. On the Israeli side, 29 have died, among them two civilians hit by rocket fire, and 27 soldiers in the ground offensive.

 

 

Israel mourns, but undeterred by soldier deaths

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:01:15 PMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) July 21, 2014 - With 18 soldiers killed in Gaza, the highest military casualty toll in eight years, Israel is in mourning, but has vowed to pursue its mission against Hamas militants.

Thirteen of them were killed on Sunday alone, making it the bloodiest single day for the army since the 2006 war in Lebanon, with the press branding it "a "dark day".

The Israeli death toll has shot up since late Thursday when the Jewish state began the ground phase of a two-week operation to stamp out militant rocket fire and destroy Hamas tunnels in the besieged Palestinian territory.

Monday's newspapers were splashed with obituaries of the victims - all of whom belonged to the elite Golani Brigade - with President Shimon Peres expected to visit all of their families.

"My son was an extraordinary human being. He carried the mantle of his father, who was also in Golani," one grieving mother told public radio.

"13 heroic brothers" was the headline in the Israel HaYom freesheet, reflecting the nationwide sense that the fallen were all "family".

All Jewish Israelis must do military service, with men serving three years and women two.

Sunday's bloodshed raised to 20 the overall number of Israelis killed, two of whom were civilians hit by rocket fire.

Writing in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot, Sima Kadmon said the losses would hit the Israeli leadership hard.

"These are precisely the things that (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and (Defence Minister Moshe) Yaalon sought to avoid," she wrote.

But so far, despite a painful reminder of the cost of a military ground operation against Hamas in Gaza, there has been no noticeable drop in support for the campaign.

And the toll has been far, far higher on the Palestinian side, where more than 500 have been killed since Operation Protective Edge began on July 8, most of them civilians, a spokesman for Gaza's emergency services said.

- 'All options on table' -

Despite Sunday's blow, Netanyahu has vowed to push ahead.

"We have to be strong in difficult days like today, and even in days which may yet come," he said after the casualties were announced. "We are in a war over our home."

He said there was "very strong" world support for the offensive, the worst confrontation in more than five years.

"We are carrying out a complex, deep, intensive activity inside the Gaza Strip and there is world support for this ... very strong support within the international community for the activity that the IDF is doing," he said.

Netanyahu said Israel had won "international legitimacy" for its military operation after accepting an Egyptian truce proposal that was shunned by Hamas.

But as world efforts to broker a new ceasefire gathered steam, there seemed to be little appetite for a halt to the hostilities, with Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz refusing to rule out a further escalation.

"All options are on the table," he told public radio.

"I think fighting risks continuing for a long time. We might have no other choice than to expand operations, including (possibly) taking full control of the Gaza Strip," he said while visiting the war wounded.

And Communications Minister Gilad Erdan said it was "not the moment for talk of a ceasefire", ruling out any withdrawal before ensuring there were "long-term arrangements in place" that would ensure a demilitarisation of the enclave.

Writing in the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, defence correspondent Amos Harel said the soldiers' deaths would put increasing pressure on Netanyahu who would have to chose carefully which way he would go.

"The pressure on him and the government is mounting. There is enormous sensitivity in Israel to losing soldiers in combat. Paradoxically, it is greater than the sensitivity to the loss of civilian lives," he wrote.

"One should not envy Prime Minister Netanyahu and his cabinet who must now decide whether to expand the ground operation or whether to stick to the original plan of locating attack tunnels and destroying Hamas infrastructure, with the aim of quickly reaching a ceasefire."

US condemns attack on Egyptian soldiers
Washington (AFP) July 21, 2014 - The United States on Monday condemned a weekend attack on an Egyptian border checkpoint which left 21 soldiers dead, and vowed to keep up support for Egypt's security.

"We extend our condolences to the families of the victims, and hope for the quick and full recovery of the wounded," deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement on the attack, which took place near Egypt's desert frontier with restive Libya.

"A prosperous and dynamic Egypt requires an environment of security and stability, and the United States continues to support the Egyptian government's efforts to counter the threat of terrorism in Egypt as part of our commitment to the strategic partnership between our two countries."

The Egyptian military said militants firing machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked a border checkpoint on Saturday, killing 21 soldiers in one of the biggest assaults on security forces in years.

The attack in a desert area 630 kilometres (390 miles) west of Cairo also left four soldiers wounded, the military said in a statement, blaming "terrorists."

Militants have stepped up attacks on the security forces since Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was toppled in July 2013 as the army struggles to quell an Islamist insurgency that has killed scores of soldiers and police, mainly in the Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

Harf's statement came just after US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo on a delicate mission to broker a truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

 

 

Israel to expand Gaza ground offensive: army

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:01:15 PMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) July 20, 2014 - Israel's army said Sunday it was expanding its ground offensive against the Gaza Strip, as the bloodiest conflict since 2009 entered its 13th day with a death toll of over 360.

"This evening, the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge expands, as additional forces join the effort to combat terror in the Gaza Strip and establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security," the army said in a statement.

The army began the ground offensive late Thursday, after 10 days of aerial and naval bombardment of the besieged Palestinian territory, in a bid to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza militants.

Army Chief-of-Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz warned Friday that as Israel expanded the ground operation there would be "moments of hardship," alluding to the possibility of further Israeli casualties.

Shortly after the military's announcement, an army statement said two more soldiers had been killed late Saturday, naming them as Bar Rahav, 21, and Bnaya Rubel, 20.

Since the ground operation began, five Israeli soldiers have been killed, including two in a firefight with Hamas militants inside Israeli territory.

The operation has so far killed 357 Palestinians and seven Israelis.

Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said that 70 militants had been killed since the ground operation began.

The army says 190 rockets have hit Israel since the ground phase began, out of a total of 1,333 since July 8. Of those, 63 and 360 have been intercepted, respectively.

Toll in Gaza hits 343 on day 12 of Israel campaign
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) July 19, 2014 - The Gaza death toll hit 343 on Saturday as Israeli warplanes intensified their bombardment and troops pressed a ground assault on the 12th day of a major confrontation with Hamas.

And the overall Israeli death toll rose to five following violence in which two soldiers and a civilian were killed, the army and police said.

The last incident reported before midnight (2100 GMT) was a man killed by tank fire in the southern city of Khan Yunis, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

It brought the number of Palestinians killed on Saturday to 47.

Shortly beforehand, one man was killed in an air strike on the northern town of Jabaliya shortly after two were killed in a strike near Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, Qudra said.

And another two people were killed in Zeitun, east of Gaza City.

In southern Israel, two soldiers were killed when a group of Gaza militants got under the border fence and fired machineguns and an anti-tank missile at an army patrol.

Troops returned fire killing one of the militants in an attack claimed by Hamas.

Also in the south, an Israeli Bedouin man was killed and four family members wounded, two of them children, when a rocket hit their desert encampment not far from Israel's nuclear reactor in Dimona, police said.

Their deaths raised to five the number of Israelis killed since the conflict began on July 8, including a soldier who was reportedly killed by friendly fire.

Among those killed in Gaza were five members of the same family, including a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old, who died in a strike on a house in the northern town of Beit Hanun, Qudra said.

Earlier, Qudra also reported five bodies had been pulled from a home hit by an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis.

So far, more than 2,385 Palestinians have been wounded in the biggest confrontation in and around Gaza since Operation Cast Lead, a bloody 22-day offensive which ended in January 2009.

Israeli troops began a ground offensive in parts of Gaza late on Thursday, starting a new phase in the operation which it said was aimed at destroying tunnels used by the territory's dominant power, Islamist movement Hamas.

UN chief to fly to Mideast in Gaza peace push
United Nations, United States (AFP) July 18, 2014 - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will fly to the Middle East in an effort to broker and end to the violence in Gaza, an official told an emergency session of the Security Council on Friday.

Under secretary general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman said a two-state solution was the only way to break the "seemingly endless cycle" of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

"The secretary general is prepared to do his part. He will leave for the region tomorrow to express solidarity with the Israelis and Palestinians," Feltman told emergency talks at the Council.

The UN chief will "help" Israelis and Palestinians "in coordination with regional and international actors, end the violence and find a way forward," Feltman said.

Israel warned Friday it could broaden a Gaza ground assault aimed at smashing Hamas's network of cross-border tunnels, as intensifying tank fire raised the Palestinian death toll to 285.

Two Israelis have also been killed, one soldier and one civilian.

The United Nations has demanded an immediate ceasefire between Israel, conducting air strikes and ground incursions into Gaza, and Hamas, bombarding Israeli cities with rocket attacks.

"Unless we address the root causes of the current escalation this dreadful violence will occur again and again. We cannot return to the status quo," Feltman said.

"Once calm is restored it is imperative to immediately tackle the underlying causes," he added.

Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor and his Palestinian counterpart Riyad Mansour traded accusations of blame for the latest violence.

Prosor said the Jewish state was "forced to wage war against a terrorist group committed to our destruction."

For 10 days five million Israelis have had seconds to run to a bomb shelter as rockets have targeted the country's largest cities, he said.

"There is no country in the world that would tolerate such an assault on its citizens and Israel should not be expected to either," he said.

Prosor lashed out at international support for the Palestinian unity government, saying it provided cover for Hamas to weave incitement, violence and terror against Israelis.

Mansour, who read out the names of Palestinian dead and at one point appeared close to tears, accused Israel of inflicting "yet another disaster" on the densely-populated, narrow Gaza Strip.

If the council cannot protect Palestinians, they would "turn to the judicial bodies of the United Nations and the international system," he said, referring to the International Criminal Court.

"This savage Israeli aggression cannot be justified by any means. It is not 'self-defense' -- it is a vengeful military aggression intentionally planned and perpetrated," he said.

He said the overwhelmingly majority of casualties are Palestinian civilians, including 62 children, 24 women and 17 elderly, reading out the names of those killed in the last week.

He demanded that the council adopt a resolution condemning Israel's military operation, calling for an immediate ceasefire and the lifting of the Israeli blockade.

US ambassador Samantha Power said Hamas rocket attacks were unacceptable and that Israel had a right to defend its citizens, but called on all parties to protect civilians.

Chinese ambassador Liu Jieyi issued a stern rebuke to Israel, saying: "Whatever the excuse is, any action which causes heavy casualties among innocent civilians is unacceptable."

Beijing was ready to work to ease the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and towards peace in the Middle East, he said.

 

 

Gunmen kill 21 Egyptian soldiers in checkpoint attack

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:01:15 PMGo to full article
Cairo (AFP) July 19, 2014 - Egypt's military said militants firing machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked a border checkpoint Saturday, killing 21 soldiers in one of the biggest assaults on security forces in years.

The attack in a desert area 630 kilometres (390 miles) west of Cairo also left four soldiers wounded, the military said in a statement, blaming "terrorists".

It said a rocket propelled grenade fired by the militants set off an explosion in an ammunition depot at the El-Farafrah post, killing the soldiers.

Militants have stepped up attacks on the security forces since Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was toppled in July 2013 as the army struggles to quell an Islamist insurgency that has killed scores of soldiers and police, mainly in the Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

The military said two vehicles booby trapped to blow up were used in the attack, and bomb experts have defused the explosives.

State news agency MENA said three of the assailants were killed in the assault, the second at the same checkpoint in less than three months.

The attack followed repeated warnings by officials of a possible spillover of violence from across the border with Libya, where relentless bloodshed over the past few months has sparked fears of all-out civil war.

Libya has been awash with weapons and gripped by unrest since the NATO-backed uprising that toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, with rival militias who ousted him vying for control.

Egypt's porous western border with Libya stretches for more than 1,000 kilometres (620 miles).

- Rocket wounds soldier -

The presidency announced three days of national mourning after the attack, one of the biggest since more than a dozen soldiers were killed by gunmen in August 2012 in the town of Rafah that borders with Israel and Gaza

That assault, like Saturday's, occurred during the month of Ramadan when soldiers were eating the traditional iftar meal to break their fast.

Saturday's attack also comes just days after seven civilians and a soldier were killed in a series of rocket attacks in the restive Sinai.

A similar attack on Egyptian border guards in June killed six guards.

Most of the assaults that have surged since Morsi's ouster have been claimed by jihadists battling a bloody crackdown by the authorities on his supporters.

Aside from the Sinai, other areas including Cairo have been targeted, while bombings and assassinations have killed top police officers.

Since the army removed Morsi, a police crackdown on his supporters has left more than 1,400 people dead in street clashes, upwards of 15,000 jailed and some 200 sentenced to death.

Morsi himself and several senior leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood movement have been put on trial.

Egyptian officials accuse the Brotherhood of being behind attacks and designated it a "terrorist group" in December after a deadly car bombing on a police station north of Cairo killed more than a dozen people.

The Islamist movement has denied involvement and many of the attacks have been claimed by Sinai-based jihadist group Beit al-Maqdis (Partisans of Jerusalem).

Officials say groups such as Beit al-Maqdis are linked to the Brotherhood, and often accuse the Islamist movement of funding the jihadists.

On July 10, Egypt's security forces seized 20 Grad rockets being smuggled from the Gaza Strip through a tunnel by militants in northern Sinai.

They were seized two days after the latest conflict erupted between Israel and militants from Palestinian Hamas movement, an affiliate of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

On Thursday, Israel launched a ground operation in Gaza aimed at destroying the network of sophisticated cross-border tunnels.

A rocket probably fired from the Gaza Strip hit Egypt's Rafah border crossing on Saturday, wounding a soldier, a security official said.

Egypt usually keeps the crossing closed but has allowed in Palestinians from Gaza wounded in the ongoing conflict.

 

 

US asks Israel to do more to protect civilians

 
‎25 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:01:15 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 17, 2014 - The United States urged Israel on Thursday to do more to protect civilians caught in the crossfire between the Jewish state and Hamas, after Israeli air strikes killed four children in Gaza.

"We ask (Israel) to redouble their efforts moving forward to prevent civilian casualties, given the events of the last couple of days," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

"We believe that certainly there is more that can be done."

Psaki called images of the children's deaths "horrifying" and said that Secretary of State John Kerry has raised concerns directly with Israel.

"The tragic event makes clear that Israel must take every possible step to meet its standards for protecting civilians from being killed," Psaki said.

Footage of Wednesday's killings of four Palestinian children on a beach in Gaza by an Israeli strike was broadcast around the world.

Officials said that four more children were killed on Thursday, including at least three from the same family between ages seven and 10 in a Gaza City house.

Psaki reiterated that the United States has "strong concern" about Hamas and urged the militant group to stop firing rockets into Israel, the trigger for the military action.

New Gaza violence kills 4 children, hikes toll to 237
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) July 17, 2014 - Israeli air strikes in Gaza killed four children on Thursday, medics said, after a humanitarian lull in a 10-day conflict that has killed 237 Palestinians.

One strike hit the Sabra neighbourhood of central Gaza, killing three children -- Jihad, Waseem and Fulla -- from the Shuheiber family, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP.

Their deaths were the first to follow the end of a five-hour humanitarian ceasefire, which brought some respite for residents of the besieged Palestinian territory.

Another strike shortly afterwards in the southern city of Khan Yunis killed four-year-old girl Rahaf al-Jubur, and a 29-year-old man, Hamza al-Abadleh.

Before the ceasefire took effect at 10:00 (0700 GMT), Israeli tank fire killed three men in their twenties in the southern city of Rafah, Qudra said.

One Israeli has also been killed by rockets fired by Palestinian militants.

The Rafah deaths came after another seven Palestinians were killed overnight.

Two men were killed in Gaza City, another two in Deir al-Balah and a fifth in northern Beit Lahiya.

One man was also killed in southern Khan Yunis and another in Rafah, Qudra said.

In addition, 1,690 people had been injured during the conflict, Qudra said.

Israel and the Hamas movement announced Thursday they were observing a five-hour humanitarian truce requested by the United Nations.

According to figures provided by the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), more than 80 percent of those killed have been civilians.

The only Israeli fatality has been a civilian killed on Tuesday evening when a projectile exploded near the Erez crossing between Gaza and southern Israel, medics said.

At least four Israelis have been seriously wounded.

Since the latest violence began before dawn on July 8, at least 1,048 rockets fired from Gaza have struck Israel, and another 282 have been shot down by the Iron Dome air defence system, army figures show.

In its air war aimed at halting the rocket fire, Israel has struck more than 1,750 "terror targets" across the coastal enclave, the army said.

 

 

Fear grips Israel-hit Gaza hospital

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:37:12 PMGo to full article
Shejaiya, Palestinian Territories (AFP) July 16, 2014 - At Al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital near Gaza City, a handful of doctors and nurses hover over paralysed patients, wondering how to protect them from more air strikes as threatened by Israel.

The patients lie mostly inert in beds lined up in the hospital's reception, where staff moved them after an Israeli rocket crashed into the fourth floor.

The staff have appealed to international agencies for protection, and say the hospital is known to the Israeli army.

But it was hit again on Tuesday night.

Shortly afterwards, the Israeli army contacted the hospital three times, saying everyone should be evacuated by morning as the air force was planning to intensify its air strikes.

Director Basman Alashi explained that the 14 patients in the facility, many of them paralysed or in a coma, are in no position to be moved.

And even if they were, he said, there is no place to take them.

"There is no place safe in Gaza! If a hospital is not safe, where is?

"We cannot leave our patients, they are helpless. They cannot move, they cannot walk, they cannot eat, they cannot even scratch their heads by themselves," he said.

Even as he spoke, the sound of shelling rattled the hospital windows.

- 'Hospital shaking' -

More than 200 people have been killed in Gaza since the latest confrontation between Israel and Hamas militants erupted in the early hours of July 8.

After an Egyptian truce effort failed to get off the ground on Tuesday, there appears to be no end in sight.

Mercifully, said staff doctor Hassan Sarsur, many of the patients are unconscious and unaware of what is happening.

But for others, the situation is terrifying.

"Several of our female patients are paralysed but conscious, and during the night they were crying with fear and clutching our hands," Sarsur said.

Aya Abdeen, one of eight women in the facility, is paralysed from the waist down because of a tumour in her spinal cord.

"Yesterday, when they said that we have to evacuate and with all the shelling, of course I was afraid," she told AFP.

"There was shelling all around and the hospital was shaking. And I am as you see, I can't move," she said.

"We are sick people, in a hospital!"

Karam Shublaq suffered a gunshot wound to his spinal cord in 2006 and is also paralysed from the waist down.

He is being treated for pressure sores and is fitted with a colostomy bag.

"We wake up to shelling and we go to sleep to shelling," he said.

"We can't even move and they hit the fourth floor of the building several times, so they moved us down here."

To care for the patients, the staff are working 24-hour shifts, battling fatigue but also fear.

"We are human beings, of course we are scared," said Sarsur.

"We don't know what to do to protect the patients. We'd already evacuated the fourth floor and now we've evacuated all the floors except the reception."

Several patients have been sent back to their families, but others require medical care that relatives can't provide.

- Watching over brother -

Sixteen-year-old Nur Okasha has been sleeping at the hospital for a week to keep watch over his 13-year-old brother Mohammed who has been in a coma for several months after nearly drowning.

He lies motionless on the bed, his eyes half open as Nur flicks away flies.

"We wanted to take him home, but the tube in his trachea requires a suction machine, and we don't always have electricity at home," the teenager explained.

He keeps vigil at Mohammed's side, putting in his eyedrops and talking to him.

"I want to make him feel like someone is always here. I tell him that his friends miss him. I talk to him about anything except the war," he said.

Doctors at the hospital have reached out to international agencies in a bid to secure Israeli assurances that the facility won't be hit again.

And a group of foreign activists are staying at the hospital in the hope that their presence might deter further attacks.

"The Israelis told the (international) agencies that the hospital was not the target, only the area around it. But they have already hit us directly," Sarsur said.

"We are helpless, the war comes to us and there is nothing we can do to stop it."

 

 

Mali govt, rebels begin tough peace talks in Algiers

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:37:12 PMGo to full article
Algiers (AFP) July 17, 2014 - The Bamako government and armed groups from northern Mali launched tough talks in Algiers on Wednesday for an elusive peace deal, with parts of the country still mired in conflict.

The closed-door negotiations were to take place in the presence of six rebel groups, but they refused to meet simultaneously, according to an Algerian official.

Instead, the three groups that signed the "Algiers Declaration" in June, demanding inclusive peace negotiations, held a succession of brief meetings with the government delegation, with three other groups then holding talks.

Speaking beforehand, Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop, who heads the government negotiating team, said Bamako was prepared to go "as far as possible" within its "red lines" to strike a peace deal with the mainly Tuareg rebels and "forge an understanding between Malians."

"The government is ready to go as far as possible within the red lines that have been drawn," Diop said on Wednesday morning in Algiers.

Those red lines include "the unity of Mali and the republican form of the Malian state," he told AFP.

While separatist demands have officially been dropped by the rebel Tuareg groups attending the talks, they are demanding greater autonomy or a special status for northern Mali, known by the Tuareg as Azawad.

- Power-sharing consensus -

As Algerian officials have noted, the government would struggle to impose its terms, as the armed movements effectively control more than half of the vast Sahel country.

The parties needed to reach a power-sharing consensus between, "on the one hand, armed groups who want autonomy for northern Mali ... (and on the other) a government open to any idea except independence," an Algerian diplomat said on Tuesday.

After inflicting a "major defeat" on the Malian army in the Tuareg region of Kidal, the rebel movements now occupy nearly two-thirds of the country and come to Algiers "in a position of strength," the diplomat told journalists.

At least 50 soldiers were killed in the skirmishes in May between the army and a coalition of rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA).

Those attending Wednesday's talks included the MNLA, the HCUA and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA), the three groups that signed the Algiers Declaration.

The other rebel movements present were an MAA splinter faction (MAA-dissident), the Coordination for the People of Azawad (CPA) and a third group, the Coordination of Movements and Patriotic Resistance Fronts (CM-FPR).

Mali has excluded several Islamist groups linked to Al-Qaeda which occupied northern Mali for close to 10 months before being ousted by the French-led Serval military offensive launched in January 2013.

- Goodwill gesture -

A ceasefire obtained by Mauritanian leader and African Union (AU) chief Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has been in place since.

On Tuesday, the two sides exchanged 86 prisoners in Bamako, -- 45 Malian soldiers and police and 41 Tuareg militants -- in a goodwill gesture on the eve of the negotiations.

The Algiers meeting brings together Mali's various warring factions for the first time since an interim agreement in June 2013 paved the way for nationwide parliamentary and presidential polls following a military coup the previous year.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected in August, but peace talks have since stalled, and northern Mali has witnessed a spike in deadly violence by Islamist and separatist militants.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, has stressed the need for urgent action, with the security situation deteriorating and inter-communal violence in the north presenting a threat "more dangerous than anything else".

A French legionnaire was killed on Monday in what Paris described as a suicide car bomb attack near the northern town of Gao.

The talks began as French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian travelled to Bamako and signed a defence agreement with Mali, after Paris said on Sunday that it was winding up the Serval offensive after 18 months.

"This treaty will strengthen military cooperation between Mali and France in the fields of intelligence, training and information-sharing to ensure security on Malian territory and in the Sahel," Le Drian said in the Malian capital.

The French operation will be replaced by a wider counter-terrorism campaign, codenamed Barkhan, to be implemented in partnership with Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. Some 3,000 French soldiers are expected to take part, 1,000 of whom will stay in northern Mali.

 

 

Egypt truce failure gives Israel leeway in Gaza: analysts

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:37:12 PMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) July 16, 2014 - Israel's acceptance of a short-lived Egyptian truce which was rejected by Hamas, has set the scene for a much broader operation in Gaza, including a limited ground incursion, analysts say.

Although the ceasefire plan unveiled by Cairo did not lead to an end to the latest round of violence, Israel's agreement to hold its fire for six hours -- even as Hamas militants continued firing rockets over the border -- won it some room for manoeuvre.

"In the eyes of the world, Israel took a risk and gave a real chance to a ceasefire, while Hamas chose to continue fighting. This gave Israel renewed credit, including credit to expand the operation," wrote Yoav Limor in pro-government freesheet Israel Hayom.

After six hours of calm, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the military to resume its operations, saying Hamas's rejection of the ceasefire had granted Israel the "international legitimacy" to expand and intensify its military operations.

Shortly afterwards, he convened his security cabinet to discuss an operation against the network of tunnels used by militants to set up rocket launchers.

Ministers also discussed a limited ground incursion into the fringes of Gaza, which would not involve troops entering populated areas in the initial stage, army radio reported.

Commentators suggested there were three ways Israel could step up its campaign against militants in Gaza.

"There are three escalation scenarios -- stepping up the air strikes; a limited ground operation at the margins of the Gaza Strip against the exits of the tunnels; and a broad ground operation at the end of which Israel will control Gaza for six months, two years or 20 years," wrote Alon Pinkas in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot.

In recent weeks, there have been growing calls from cabinet hardliners, among them Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, for a full re-occupation of the territory from which Israel withdrew in 2005. Netanyahu has so far ignored them.

- A limited ground operation? -

Early on Wednesday, the Israeli army dropped flyers over northeastern Gaza, urging 100,000 residents to leave the area ahead of an intensified air campaign.

So far, there has been no move to send in any of the 43,000 reserve troops who have been mobilised, or the armour massed along the border.

But in a move which could indicate a shift in thinking, the cabinet on Wednesday authorised the call-up of another 8,000 reservists, media reports said.

Experts say a ground operation would be the only way of reaching targets unattainable from the air, such as Hamas's network of underground bunkers and tunnels which are crucial for assembling the rockets Israel wants to eradicate.

"Hamas is largely inspired by the techniques used by Hezbollah, notably its underground infrastructure, which gives it the capacity to hold out for weeks," political commentator Daniel Nisman told AFP, referring to Lebanon's Shiite militia.

Former national security adviser Giora Eiland agreed that only a ground operation would succeed in inflicting "real destruction" on Hamas's underground network.

"I estimate that if there are no unexpected developments and if a ceasefire is not agreed at the last moment, within 48 hours there will be a limited ground operation," Eiland told Mako news website, estimating such an assault would last "weeks."

Nisman said Israel had so far been able to avoid putting boots on the ground thanks to the success of the Iron Dome air defence system, which has shot down more than 250 rockets over the past nine days, minimising casualties on the Israeli side.

So far one Israeli has been killed and four seriously wounded.

"The Iron Dome anti-missile system has worked well and allowed Israel to take its time and carry out air strikes which are perhaps less effective than using special military units, but which allow Israel to avoid a military operation in which it has a lot to lose," Nisman said.

Israel was hoping that an intensified air campaign would convince Hamas to back down, thereby avoiding the need to send troops in, commentators said.

"Israel would prefer to hold off on the ground option and to make do with intensifying the aerial bombardments, in the hope that Hamas will get the message and agree to a ceasefire soon," Limor wrote.

 

 

Children killed on beach as Israel resumes Gaza bombardment

 
‎24 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:37:12 PMGo to full article
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) July 16, 2014 - Israel intensified its bombardment of Gaza Wednesday, killing four children on a beach in an apparent naval salvo and launching deadly air strikes, as regional leaders sought to end the killing.

The punishing air campaign aimed at halting cross-border rocket fire by Hamas militants resumed after Egyptian-brokered truce efforts collapsed on Tuesday.

So far, Israel's campaign, now in its ninth day, has killed 220 Palestinians, with a Gaza-based human rights group saying over 80 percent of them were civilians.

In the same period, militants have fired more than 1,200 rockets at Israel, which on Tuesday claimed their first Israeli life.

Hamas said it had rejected the Egyptian truce efforts because it had not been included in the discussions.

The peace initiative continued on Wednesday, however, with a Hamas official meeting Egyptian leaders as Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas arrived in Cairo to join the diplomatic efforts.

In the latest violence, four children died and several were wounded in an apparent Israeli naval bombardment of a beach in Gaza City on Wednesday afternoon, medics said.

The first strike hit at around 1300 GMT, prompting terrified children and adults on the beach to scatter. A second and third struck as they ran, setting fire to huts on the beach.

The strikes appeared to be the result of shelling by the Israeli navy against an area with small shacks used by fishermen.

Several hours later an army spokeswoman said that the military was still checking into the reports.

Several children ran inside a hotel where AFP journalists saw at least three with shrapnel injuries.

They were evacuated by ambulances, which also picked up more injured people from the beach, including a man who had part of his leg torn off.

The four bodies were later taken to Abu Hasira mosque, near where the boys had died.

The boys, all from the Bakr family, were laid out, wrapped in the yellow flags of the Fatah party, in front of mourners.

The Israeli military dropped flyers and sent text messages warning 100,000 people in northeastern Gaza to evacuate their homes ahead of an air campaign targeting "terror sites and operatives" in Zeitun and Shejaiya, two flashpoint districts east of Gaza City.

An identical message was sent to Beit Lahiya in the north, echoing a similar army warning on Sunday, when more than 17,000 residents of the north fled for their lives, most seeking refuge in UN-run schools.

- Nowhere to run to -

But for patients at Al-Wafa hospital in Shejaiya, many of whom are paralysed or in a coma, the warning simply provoked even more fear.

"We cannot leave our patients, they are helpless," director Basman Alashi told AFP, saying most of them were completely incapacitated and in no position to be moved.

"There is no place safe in Gaza. If a hospital is not safe, where is?" he said as the sound of nearby shelling rattled the windows.

The Israeli warnings appeared to have had no immediate effect, with only limited numbers seen leaving. Children picked up many of the flyers and played with them, an AFP correspondent said.

"Where should we go?" asked Faisal Hassan, a father of five who lives in Zeitun.

Hamas dismissed the warning as a scare tactic, telling residents there was "no need to worry".

- Hamas in fresh Cairo talks -

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Tuesday to step up the military campaign after Hamas dismissed an Egyptian ceasefire proposal, firing scores of rockets over the border despite the army holding its fire for six hours.

"This would have been better resolved diplomatically... but Hamas leaves us no choice but to expand and intensify the campaign against it," he said.

On Wednesday, his security cabinet authorised the call-up of another 8,000 reservists, media reports said, joining 43,000 reserve troops who have already been mobilised.

Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior member of Abbas's Fatah movement, said a Hamas official was in Cairo Wednesday to hold talks with Egyptian officials.

Ahmad said he hoped the talks in Cairo would "crystallise a definite formula for an Egyptian initiative" or clarify its plan, which had proposed an end to hostilities from 0600 GMT on Tuesday.

In a joint news conference with Netanyahu in Jerusalem visiting Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said she hoped that Hamas would "revise its position and accept the proposal in the coming hours or days."

Abbas himself later arrived in Cairo to join the diplomatic efforts and was slated to travel to Ankara on Thursday in search of regional support for an immediate end to the fighting.

Also in Cairo, Middle East peace Quartet envoy Tony Blair met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, on his second visit to the Egyptian capital in a week.

Blair told a media conference Egypt's initiative was designed "to allow all the issues that are at the heart of this problem .. to be dealt with in a thorough and proper way."

 

 

Colombia rebels, government resume Havana peace talks

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:05:31 PMGo to full article
Havana (AFP) July 15, 2014 - Marxist FARC rebels and representatives from Colombia's government sat down together on Tuesday for the first time in more than a month, tying up loose ends as they embark on a new round of peace talks.

The meeting is the first between the two sides since the re-election last month of President Juan Manuel Santos, which gave a big push to the negotiations.

Officials told AFP that a few unresolved matters must be attended to before the two sides can take up the thorny issue of compensating victims of the half century long conflict.

"There are one or two meetings to wrap up unresolved things before starting on the issue of the victims," a source in the government's delegation told AFP.

"It is not exactly a new round of talks, rather a meeting of the parties to deal with some issues," said Andres Paris, a member of the delegation representing the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, at the negotiations in the Cuban capital.

Participants said one of the key issues under discussion dealt with establishing ground rules for allowing victims of the violence to sit in on the talks.

"We want to discuss the time, the procedure, and the date that this can begin taking place," said lead government negotiator, Humberto De la Calle.

The preliminary talks are to last just a couple of days, rather than the usual 11-day-long round, to allow the participants to "fine tune" the procedures with respect to the participation of victims.

Agreement between the two sides has been reached already on three agenda points: rural development; the rebels' reintegration into the political process; and illegal drugs.

In addition to the question of victims' compensation, there are two more issues to be taken up: the laying down of weapons by the FARC, and determining whether an eventual comprehensive peace agreement should be put to a national referendum, as the government insists.

Talks on ending Latin America's longest running armed conflict, which has raged since the FARC's founding in 1964, have been under way in Havana since November 2012.

A center-right leader, Santos had staked his presidency on a negotiated peace with the FARC, Latin America's oldest and largest insurgency, with about 8,000 men under arms.

 

 

Ex-POW Bergdahl reports for duty, and a desk job: US

 
‎22 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:05:31 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 14, 2014 - An American soldier who was held captive by Afghan insurgents for nearly five years returned to regular military duty Monday and will be taking a "desk job," the Pentagon said.

Following his release on May 31 in a swap with the Taliban, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl underwent medical exams and counseling at a military hospital in San Antonio, Texas, to prepare him for "reintegration" into the army.

"He will now return to regular duty within the command where he can contribute to the mission," the US Army said in a statement.

Bergdahl will be assigned to Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where he will be handling "administrative-type" work, the Pentagon said.

"Essentially he'll be working a desk job," spokesman Colonel Steven Warren told reporters.

Bergdahl remains the subject of a military investigation into the circumstances of his disappearance and capture, he said.

There has long been speculation that Bergdahl may have deserted his post, with some soldiers in his unit alleging he walked away alone.

The 28-year-old soldier has yet to speak to the media since his release and army officials acknowledged they provided him with advice on dealing with reporters, which they said was standard practice for former prisoners of war.

Bergdahl, the only American in uniform to be held by insurgents in the Afghanistan war, spent nearly five years in captivity at the hands of Taliban-linked Haqqani insurgents after he went missing from his post in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border in June 2009.

During his time at the Texas military hospital, counselors tried to help Bergdahl shift away from a prisoner's survival mentality, officials said.

Bergdahl was now free to move about as other soldiers without special restrictions and will be paid regular wages according to his rank, officials said.

"Sergeant Bergdahl is not restricted in any way. He's a normal soldier," Warren said.

- Swap sparked controversy -

President Barack Obama has come under intense criticism from some lawmakers over the swap that freed Bergdahl.

Republicans say the administration made a dangerous concession by agreeing to the transfer of five senior Taliban figures to Qatar from the US-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

They say the White House failed to consult with Congress before agreeing the deal and that the transfer of the Taliban detainees would put the United States at risk.

Lawmakers also have held hearings focused on the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl's disappearance.

Soldiers who deployed alongside Bergdahl have alleged he was frustrated during his deployment and planned to walk off the base.

Former army specialist Cody Full, who served in the same squad in Blackfoot Company as Bergdahl, told lawmakers last month that he was a conflicted soldier who carried out a "pre-meditated" plan.

"He didn't understand why we were doing more humanitarian aid drops, setting up clinics, and helping the populous instead of hunting the Taliban," Full told a House Foreign Affairs panel.

Bergdahl was a "good soldier" during training in California, but shortly after arriving in Afghanistan he started complaining about the way missions were conducted, Full said.

The Obama administration has defended its handling of the case, saying the government has an obligation to bring all US soldiers home and that an investigation will show if Bergdahl violated his orders or duties.

Some retired soldiers have alleged that several troops died in search efforts for Bergdahl, but the Pentagon has said there is no evidence to support that charge.

 

 

Colombian troops kill 14 FARC rebels: army official

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:28:25 PMGo to full article
Bogota (AFP) July 14, 2014 - Colombian troops killed 14 FARC guerrillas in fighting over the weekend, as the military pressed an offensive ahead of a resumption of peace talks in Havana.

The fighting was part of a "sustained and continuous operation" against the FARC in northwestern Colombia, General Juan Pablo Rodriguez, head of the armed forces, told reporters on Monday.

In a Twitter message, President Juan Manuel Santos congratulated the military on the success of its operation.

The spike in military activity comes with government and rebel negotiators poised to resume peace talks Tuesday after a pause of more than a month for national elections.

Despite his re-election on June 15 on a peace platform, Santos has vowed to keep the military pressure on the FARC until a comprehensive peace agreement is reached.

The FARC, Colombia's largest guerrilla group, has been holding peace talks with the government since November 2012, but there has been no ceasefire in Latin America's oldest armed conflict.

The weekend action "shows that the military forces and police are on the offensive," Rodriguez said.

 

 

In Gaza, war clouds Palestinian teen's dream of peace

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:28:25 PMGo to full article
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) July 13, 2014 - In 2012, Mohamed Abu Aisha took part in a US peace camp with Israelis, but now he wonders if some of them are flying the warplanes overhead in Gaza.

Standing in the Tuffah neighbourhood in eastern Gaza City, the 17-year-old stares at the devastation left by an Israeli strike in which 18 people were killed on Saturday night.

The target appears to have been a Hamas police chief, but the missile killed a significant number of his extended family, with two rockets slamming into the home of a cousin he was visiting shortly after Ramadan prayers.

"It is a disaster," says Abu Aisha, who lives two streets away.

"The blast was so big that our house shook. All the dust and debris came in through our windows -- we can't close them because otherwise they shatter when there are air strikes."

Abu Aisha just graduated from Gaza's American International School and is eager to show off his fluent English.

He honed his language skills during two months in the United States in 2012, when he took part in a peacemaker's programme with Israelis and others living in conflict zones, called Seeds of Peace.

"It's a programme that brings people living in conflict together and allows them to talk to each other," he says.

It was the first time he had talked at length to Israelis, and he formed cautious acquaintances with some, as he tried to explain things from the Palestinian point of view.

He stayed in touch with them, but recently discovered that some have begun their mandatory military service.

"These people are in the army, maybe some are in the airforce," he says.

"I look around and I wonder if the people I met are now the ones that are bombing us."

- A step too far -

Since the Israeli air strikes began on Tuesday, Abu Aisha has stopped contacting the Israelis he met.

And he sighs in frustration when he talks about those who are now in the military.

"I am disappointed in them. I expected and I hoped that they might refuse to enter the army, but now they are part of that criminal force," he says.

All around him is the detritus of the family killed in Saturday's strike, one of more than 1,300 Israeli raids that have killed 166 people in just six days.

The blast levelled the building and sheared the facade off a neighbouring structure, exposing a kitchen and a fridge with its door ripped off, full of food and drink.

A nearby UN school also bears scars from the strike -- all the windows blown out and a large hole blasted through its outside wall.

On the ground are children's notebooks, a woman's high-heeled shoe, a purple nightgown, even an x-ray.

On a nearby piece of land, 17 graves have been dug to receive some of those killed in the blast.

A photo of the family patriarch Majed al-Batsh lies on a yellow blanket covering some of his body parts, as well as parts belonging to other family members.

The dead are buried in chaos, with mourners crowding around the row of graves.

One body is lowered in, then removed, rotated, and lowered in again to ensure it is facing the right direction.

- 'I want to help' -

Standing near the remains of one of the rockets that hit the Batsh house, Abu Aisha says he is hoping to become a doctor.

He has finished high school and now hopes to travel to Turkey to study medicine.

"The level of medicine here and the medical knowledge is so low," he says.

"So I want to study it so I can help my country."

With the prospect of peace looking increasingly like a pipedream, Abu Aisha can imagine himself one day working in Gaza City's Shifa hospital, treating those hurt in future conflicts.

"I expect the coming decades will be full of wars here, so we will need people who can help people," he told AFP.

"That is what I want to do."

 

 

Israel, Hamas defy truce calls as deadly violence escalates

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:28:25 PMGo to full article
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) July 13, 2014 - The world has implored Israel and Hamas to end hostilities as the toll from Israeli air strikes rose to 162 and Gaza militants fired more rocket salvos, but both sides have rejected a truce.

Saturday was the bloodiest day since the conflict erupted on Tuesday, claiming 56 Palestinian lives including a two-year-old child and a 73-year-old woman.

Israel continued to build up troops along the Gaza border ahead of a possible ground invasion, warning Palestinians in northern Gaza to evacuate their homes.

With the rising Palestinian death toll, and with no Israelis killed, the UN Security Council unanimously urged Israel and Hamas to respect "international humanitarian laws" and stop the loss of life.

The 15-member council urged a return to "calm, and restitution of the November 2012 ceasefire", referring to Gaza's last deadly full-scale conflict.

The chief diplomats of Britain, France, Germany and the United States are due to discuss how to achieve a truce when they meet in Vienna on Sunday.

Israel's aerial campaign -- the largest and deadliest since 2012 -- saw strikes start early on Saturday, including one that hit a centre for the disabled, and another that killed two nephews of Gaza's former Hamas premier, Ismail Haniya.

Rockets fired from Gaza targeted Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with several intercepted over Israel's commercial capital and Jerusalem-bound projectiles hitting two southern West Bank cities.

Many have been intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system.

- Centre for disabled hit -

An attack on the northern Gaza Strip hit the centre for the disabled, killing two disabled women and wounding four, the centre's director said.

"They didn't understand what was happening and they were so frightened," Jamila Alaywa said of those inside the care home.

"They fired the rocket and it hit us without any warning."

Later on Saturday night, an Israeli strike hit the Tuffah district in eastern Gaza City, targeting a home and a mosque and killing nearly 20 people, medics said.

Among the wounded was police chief Tayseer al-Batsh, officials said.

In another strike in the evening, three people were killed in Rafah in south Gaza.

And around dawn on Sunday a 14-year-old Palestinian boy died when a Israeli air strike hit his home in Jabaliya.

Meanwhile four Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded during an operation targeting a rocket launch site in northern Gaza, the Israeli army said.

- Rockets fired at Tel Aviv -

Hamas Saturday unleashed a barrage of rocket fire after issuing a rare warning that it planned to fire at the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

Three rockets apparently targeting Jerusalem fell short, hitting Hebron and Bethlehem, the army and Palestinian security sources said, with no reports of casualties.

Of four fired at Tel Aviv, three were intercepted above the city and another hit open ground south of it, the army said.

Well over 500 projectiles have struck Israel during the conflict, and on Saturday evening two rockets fired from Lebanon hit uninhabited areas in northern Israel, the army said.

Israel responded with artillery fire.

Amid international efforts to mediate a truce, Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi's government was in touch with both sides, his spokesman said.

Sisi met Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair in Cairo on Saturday to discuss the crisis, and later warned any escalation would cause further loss of "innocent lives".

Washington has said it is willing to "leverage" its relationships in the region to bring about a ceasefire.

Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini plans to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories from July 14-17 and Egypt on July 18, her ministry said.

- Little sign of compromise -

However, there has been little sign that either side is interested in an immediate end to the hostilities, which appear to be ramping up.

The Israeli army said it was sending messages to residents of northern Gaza "urging them to leave their homes for their own safety."

"It's unsafe to be near Hamas," it said.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said Friday that "no international pressure will prevent us from striking, with all force, against the terrorist organisation which calls for our destruction."

Hamas's Haniya sounded a similar tone, saying: "(Israel) is the one that started this aggression and it must stop, because we are (simply) defending ourselves."

The latest conflict unfolded after last month's kidnap and murder of three young Israelis in the occupied West Bank and the brutal revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists.

Israel cracked down on Hamas, though the Islamist group declined to confirm or deny involvement in the abductions, and Gaza militants hit back with intensified rocket fire.

On Saturday night three Palestinian protesters were injured in clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank town of Hebron and east Jerusalem, Palestinian security sources said.

Israel says preparations are under way for a possible ground incursion, with tanks and artillery massed along the border and some 33,000 reservists mobilised out of 40,000 approved by the cabinet.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said he expected a political decision on a possible ground operation to be taken by Sunday.

 

 

Yemen president sacks two top army commanders

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:28:25 PMGo to full article
Sanaa (AFP) July 13, 2014 - Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi has sacked the military chiefs of two regions following sweeping advances by Shiite rebels and a surge in Al-Qaeda attacks, state media reported Sunday.

Major General Mohammed al-Makdishi, who headed the sixth military command based in the northern city of Amran overrun by Shiite Huthi rebels, was sacked Saturday, Saba news agency said.

Hadi appointed Brigadier Mohammed al-Hawry to the post.

The capture of Amran, just 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Sanaa, threatened a federalisation plan that was agreed in February following national talks as part of a political transition.

The rebels, also known as Ansarullah, have complained for years of marginalisation in the Sunni majority country, and say the transition plan would divide Yemen into rich and poor regions.

In February they advanced from their mountain strongholds in the remote north towards the capital, battling loyalist troops and pro-government tribesmen.

Huthi rebels said Saturday they agreed to pull out from the city after striking a deal with the defence ministry allowing troops back into Amran.

Hadi also sacked Brigadier-General Mohammed al-Somali, who headed the first military command in charge of the southeastern Hadramawt province, where Al-Qaeda militants are active.

He appointed Brigadier Abdurrahman al-Halili as a chief of the region that has seen a rise in Al-Qaeda attacks on security forces, including brazen attacks in Sayun.

In late June militants briefly seized Sayun airport in Hadramawt and targeted a military headquarters with a car bomb.

On May 24, militants had launched a massive pre-dawn assault, attacking police and army bases and public buildings in Sayun with suicide bombers, rocket-launchers and heavy machineguns.

The assault killed 15 soldiers and police. Twelve militants also died, three of them suicide bombers.

Sayun is the main town in the Hadramawt valley, a jihadist stronghold in the province's interior.

Hadramawt's rugged terrain provides hideouts for militants of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, considered by Washington as the jihadist network's most dangerous affiliate.

 

 

Gaza bloodshed spirals as world powers plead for truce

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:28:25 PMGo to full article
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) July 10, 2014 - Israeli warplanes kept up deadly raids on Gaza Thursday but failed to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets across the border, while international appeals mounted for a truce.

As the violence escalated, with over 30 Palestinians killed on Thursday alone, UN chief Ban Ki-moon appealed for an immediate ceasefire at an emergency meeting of the Security Council.

"It is now more urgent than ever to try to find common ground for a return to calm and a ceasefire understanding," he said as the Organisation of Islamic Conference lobbied the UN to condemn Israel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a similar plea in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urging an immediate end to the bloodshed and expressing concern over civilian casualties.

And US Secretary of State John Kerry warned the region was facing a "dangerous moment" after speaking to both Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

In a phone call with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, French President Francois Hollande condemned civilian tolls from Israeli rocket fire and called Palestinians and Israelis to urgently seek a lasting peace agreement.

But Israel appeared bent on dealing a fatal blow to the Islamist movement Hamas which controls Gaza, with Netanyahu reportedly saying talk of a ceasefire was "not even on the agenda".

Hamas also appeared to have no interest in letting up, striking deep inside Israel over the past 48 hours, with rockets crashing down near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and even as far away as Hadera, 116 kilometres (72 miles) to the north.

Sirens wailed across Jerusalem for the second time running and a series of loud explosions echoed across the city as the Iron Dome anti-missile system shot down two rockets fired from Gaza, the army said.

Another two crashed down in open areas in the occupied West Bank, one hitting near the Maaleh Adumim settlement and the other landing near Ofer, an Israeli military prison just west of Ramallah, witnesses and security officials told AFP.

Hamas militants said they fired "four M75 rockets at Jerusalem".

- Empty streets -

Since the start of the campaign in the early hours of Tuesday, at least 83 Palestinians have been killed and more than 500 injured, according to medical reports.

As the number of victims in Gaza rose, Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing, with hospitals in north Sinai placed on standby to receive the wounded, Egyptian state news agency MENA said.

There have been no Israeli deaths, although medics said one woman died on Thursday, a day after falling while running for cover.

"We are still facing a difficult, complex and complicated campaign," Netanyahu said after a security cabinet meeting.

The violence has emptied the streets from Gaza City to Tel Aviv, as both Israelis and Palestinians take shelter indoors for fear of being caught in the open when the next rocket or missile hits.

Israel has confirmed preparations are under way for a possible ground attack, with tanks seen massing along the border and Netanyahu facing mounting pressure from coalition hardliners to put boots back on the ground in the territory from which Israeli troops and settlers withdrew in 2005.

"If we can achieve our goals without a ground operation, we would prefer it this way," said Yossi Kuperwasser, director general of strategic affairs ministry.

- 860 sites bombed -

Since the start of the operation, the Israeli military's biggest offensive on Gaza since November 2012, its forces have hit over 860 "terror sites", 110 of them on Thursday.

In the same period, Gaza militants fired 490 rockets, of which more than 370 struck Israel, while another 87 rockets were intercepted, an army statement said. Of the total, over 120 struck Israel on Thursday, while another 24 were intercepted.

Neither side has shown any sign of backing down, and Israel has approved the call-up of 40,000 reservists.

Analysts said Hamas had a clear aim: to drag Israel into a ground war hoping to inflict heavy casualties on its troops who would likely come under fire from anti-tank missiles and explosive devices.

Militants would also be seeking to capture Israeli soldiers to use as leverage.

In a news conference, Hamas's armed wing the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades issued a veiled threat to kidnap soldiers.

"The ground war will be a chance to free Palestinian prisoners," a spokesman said, while warning fighting on the ground could last "for several weeks".

burs-jjm-jad/rmb

 

 

World Cup fans killed as Israel raid hits Gaza cafe

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:28:25 PMGo to full article
Khan Yunis, Palestinian Territories (AFP) July 10, 2014 - It was supposed to be an evening of entertainment in Gaza, watching the World Cup semi-final at a cafe, a welcome break from 48 hours of Israeli air strikes.

But the evening was cut brutally short when an Israeli raid flattened the Fun Time Beach cafe in the southern Gaza Strip in the early hours of Thursday, killing nine people and wounding 15.

All that is left of the popular seaside cafe -- where dozens broke their Ramadan fast on Wednesday night before settling down to watch Argentina play the Netherlands -- is a large crater and a few mounds of sand.

The cafe's multicoloured sign is still standing, somewhat crookedly, as colourful bunting and canvas windbreakers lay strewn on the floor, torn down by the force of the blast.

The Israeli missile scattered the dead and wounded across the beach, and made a hole so deep that seawater filled it up from underground after impact.

"It was a normal social occasion," said Wael Soboh, a local policeman who is employed by the Palestinian Authority.

"The boys ate their Ramadan iftar meal here, and then began watching the match. It is not a military area."

Eight people were killed immediately in the blast, medical sources said, all of them residents of the nearby city of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.

Bulldozers were earlier Thursday busy searching for a ninth man believed to buried underneath the soggy sand, as locals looked on in the searing midday heat.

"It's possible the missing guy was blown to pieces," said another local, Mohammed Astal.

Later, Gaza's emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said the body was found, raising the toll in the attack to nine.

- 'Israel won 9-0' -

Residents said three members of an extended family -- Ahmed, Suleiman and Mussa Astal -- were among the dead, with most of those killed in their 20s.

"There was a power cut in Khan Yunis, so a lot of people came here where there's a generator and a screen," said Mohammed al-Aqad, a resident who was at the cafe when the missile hit but was not injured.

The victims were all keen football fans, he said, as were some of the locals who were helping in the search for the missing man.

Asked who they were supporting in the World Cup, one enthusiastically replied: "Argentina, of course!"

"No, Germany," chipped in another, though he was wearing a red England shirt.

There were no goals in Wednesday's match, which eventually went to extra time and ended in penalties.

"And the result from this match here? The Jews won 9-0," Ahmed al-Aqad quipped macabrely.

Israel's operation against militants in Gaza - the deadliest violence since 2012 - entered its third day on Thursday, with the overall death toll rising to at least 78, among them women and children.

 

 

Israel pounds Gaza as Hamas flexes rocket reach

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:28:25 PMGo to full article
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories July 10, 2014 - Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip killed 14 people Thursday, medics said, on the third day of a widening military campaign, as the UN Security Council was set for an emergency meeting. The first strike hit a coffee shop in the city of Khan Yunis, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP, adding that six men were killed and at least 15 other people wounded. The second, in Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, on the home of Raed Shalat, killed him and wounded several others, Qudra said. Further strikes on two houses in Khan Yunis killed seven people - three women and four children, he said. Dozens of strikes were heard slamming into the besieged Palestinian territory in the early hours of Thursday, as Israel's Operation Protective Edge, the largest military campaign against Gaza since 2012, entered day three. On Wednesday, 29 Palestinians were killed, and Tuesday's toll stood at 21, bringing the total number of dead to 64. But Hamas kept up its rocket fire into Israel and sent thousands running to shelters across the country. The dead include at least 10 women and 18 children, according to an AFP count based on medical reports. The overall toll included six militants killed in raids into Israel Wednesday and Tuesday. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas accused Israel of committing "genocide" in Gaza but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of even tougher action to come. There have been no Israeli deaths so far, but Hamas showed its firepower as it launched waves of rockets across Israel that triggered sirens in cities as far from Gaza as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa. There were no confirmed hits in the northern port city itself but media reports spoke of rockets hitting either open ground or the sea in the surrounding region. Tanks were seen massed on the Gaza border as Netanyahu came under mounting pressure from hardliners within his governing coalition to put boots back on the ground in the territory from which Israel pulled all troops and settlers in 2005. President Shimon Peres warned that, "if the fire continues we do not rule out a ground incursion", his office quoted him as saying in an interview with CNN. This "may happen quite soon", said Peres. Israeli troops on Wednesday killed two Palestinians who came ashore on dunes close to the Gaza border, near the scene of a foiled assault on an army base the night before. Troops killed four under almost identical circumstances on Tuesday. The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on the crisis from 10:00 am (1400 GMT), with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon due to give the latest about the situation on the ground, followed by closed-door consultations between the Council's 15 member states. The meeting follows a request by Arab envoys. - Gaza is 'on a knife edge' - Ban called the new wave of violence "one of the most critical tests the region has faced in recent years". "Gaza is on a knife edge. The deteriorating situation is leading to a downward spiral which could quickly get beyond anyone's control," he said. "The risk of violence expanding further still is real. Gaza, and the region as a whole, cannot afford another full-blown war." Ban earlier spoke with world leaders including Netanyahu, Abbas and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as well as US Secretary of State John Kerry. He condemned the rocket attacks, saying: "Such attacks are unacceptable and must stop." He also urged Netanyahu to exercise maximum restraint and to respect international obligations to protect civilians. The European Union and the United States also called for restraint. In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia the executive committee of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation was to discuss the spiralling crisis Thursday. The escalation comes with Arab riots inside Israel over the burning to death of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists. The boy was murdered in apparent revenge for the kidnap on June 12 of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank, who were subsequently killed. Their abductions sparked a huge Israeli