Saturday, August 30, 2014

3M Syrian Refugees Register in Foreign Nations; Another 6.5M Displaced in Syria Due to Civil War

Three million Syrian refugees will have registered in neighboring countries as of today (August 30, 2014) -- an exodus that began with Syria's civil war in March 2011 and shows no sign of abating -- the United Nations said, according to the News Daily website.

The record figure is one million refugees more than a year ago, while a further 6.5 million are displaced within Syria, meaning that "almost half of all Syrians have now been forced to abandon their homes and flee for their lives," it said.

"The Syrian crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them," Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement.

The vast majority remain in neighboring countries, with the highest concentrations in Lebanon (1.14 million), Turkey (815,000), and Jordan (608,000), the UNHCR said. Some 215,000 refugees are in Iraq with the rest in Egypt and other nations.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Body of US Yeshiva Student Found in Jerusalem; Police to Determine If He Fell or Was Murdered

Police in Israel said today (August 29, 2014) that a body found yesterday is that of missing American yeshiva student Aaron Sofer, according to the Euro News website.

A formal identification will take place following the discovery near a forest in Jerusalem.

The 23-year-old from Lakewood, New Jersey disappeared a week ago after going hiking with a friend. The two became separated and Sofer never emerged from the forest.

"What we have confirmed is that the body that was found was of the missing student. Obviously, there's an investigation taking place at this moment in time to see what the background of the incident was. If the student fell and went missing or if it's a murder case," said Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld.

Putin to West: Don't Mess with a Nuclear Russia; Claims Taking Over Crimea Saved It from Rioting

President Vladimir Putin said today (August 29, 2014) Russia's armed forces -- backed by its nuclear arsenal -- were ready to meet any aggression, declaring at a pro-Kremlin youth camp that foreign states should understand: "It's best not to mess with us," the Reuters website reports.

Putin told the assembly on the banks of a lake near Moscow that the Russian takeover of Crimea was essential to save a largely Russian-speaking population from Ukrainian government violence.

Ukraine and Western governments accuse Russia of sending troops and armor into Ukraine to back the separatists in a conflict that has already killed over 2,000 people. Russia denies the charge.

"Russia is far from being involved in any large-scale conflicts," he said at the camp on the banks of Lake Seliger. "We don't want that and don't plan on it. But naturally, we should always be ready to repel any aggression towards Russia."

Boko Haram Says Part of Nigeria an Islamic State; Controls Three Towns,Continues to Gain Territory

Boko Haram militants claim that they are turning Nigeria into an Islamic caliphate. The Muslim extremist organization is in control of three Nigerian towns, and continues to gain power and influence in the region, the Christian Headlines website reports today (August 29, 2014).

In video, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is seen announcing, "Thanks be to Allah who gave victory to our brethren in Gwoza and made it part of the Islamic caliphate... By the grace of Allah we will not leave the town. We have come to stay."

The militants conquered Gwoza on August 6, destroying homes and killing many residents. Some survivors fled to surrounding mountains, as well as bordering nation Cameroon.

Officials fear that Boko Haram is working with Islamic State terrorists, who have taken control of large regions of Syria and Iraq, and have given Christians in their seized land one of three choices: Convert to Islam, pay a non-Islam tax, or be killed.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Orth. Jews Forced to Leave Guatemalan Village; Threatened with Lynching If They Didn't Leave

A community of 230 Orthodox Jews from several countries today (August 28, 2014)  began leaving the Guatemalan Indian village where they have lived for six years after claims and counterclaims of discrimination and threats, the AFP (Agence-France Presse) website reports.

The exit from San Juan La Laguna -- located on the banks of Lake Atitlan and 125 miles from the capital Guatemala City -- follows a meeting yesterday in which Jewish and indigenous representatives failed to reach an agreement.

"We are a people of peace and in order to avoid an incident we've already begun to leave the village," Misael Santos, a representative from the Jewish community, told AFP.

They had received threats, Santos said. "We have a right to be there, but they threatened us with lynching if we don't leave the village," he added.

Federal Judge:Polygamy No Longer Illegal in Utah; Mormon Church Ended Polygamy, Some Kept It

A federal judge in Salt Lake City, Utah -- Clark Waddoups -- issued a final ruling in the so-called "Sister Wives" case, which is known for the TLC show that prompted it. "Sister Wives" stars the polygamous Brown family, who sued in 2011 because officials where they lived threatened to come after them, the Buzzfeed website reports today (August 28, 2014).

Not only did the judge decide that the law against polygamy was unconstitutional, he also agreed that the family's rights had been violated and said they "are entitled to an award of attorney's fees, costs, and expenses incurred in this action."

In effect, this means that polygamy in Utah is no longer illegal.

Utah's reputation for polygamy dates back to its founders -- Mormon pioneers -- whose faith included "plural marriage." The Mormon Church banned polygamy in the late 1800s, but some members of the church refused to accept the policy change and gradually broke away to form their own groups that supported polygamy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tsarnaevs' Sister Accused of Bomb Threat in NYC; Tells Her Boyfriend's Ex She Can Put Bomb on Her

Another member of the Tsarnaev family was arrested today (August 27, 2014), and the charges revolve around a bomb threat, the Newser website reports.

Ailiania Tsarnaeva -- sister of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar -- allegedly called up her boyfriend's ex in Harlem and made the threat, reports the New York Post.

The New York Police Department says she used the phrase, "I know people who can put a bomb on you."

Tsarnaeva is 23 or 24 and lives in North Bergen, New Jersey with her live-in boyfriend, who is in the midst of a nasty custody fight with his ex over their three children.

UN Report: Syrian Govt., IS Commit War Crimes; Nations Must Launch Cases Against Them at ICC

The Syrian government and Islamic State (IS) insurgents are both committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, UN investigators said, and world powers must launch cases at the International Criminal Court (ICC) based on evidence against them, The Guardian website reports today (August 27, 2014).

Syrian government forces have dropped barrel bombs on civilian areas -- including some believed to contain the chemical agent chlorine in eight incidents in April -- and have committed other war crimes that should be prosecuted, they said in a 45-page report issued in Geneva today.

The report also said that IS forces in northern Syria were waging a campaign to instil fear, including amputations, public execution-style killings, and whippings.

"In areas of Syria under IS control, particularly in the north and northeast of the country, Fridays are regularly marked by executions, amputations, and lashings in public squares," the independent commission of inquiry on the human rights in Syria said.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ukrainians Seize 10 Russian Soldiers in Ukraine; Film Has Russians Fighting Alongside Separatists

Ukraine announced today (August 26, 2014) that it had captured 10 Russian soldiers in the eastern Donetsk region, while Russia claimed that they crossed the border "by accident," the Fox News website reports.

Ukraine said it captured the soldiers in the area of Amvrosiivka, near the Russian border. The region has been torn apart by fighting between government troops and pro-Russian separatists who declared independence in the region in April.

The announcement came as the presidents of Russia and Ukraine sat down for talks today, meeting face-to-face for the first time since June. Russia's Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's Petro Poroshenko were joined by the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan and three senior officials from the European Union in the Belarusian capital of Minsk.

Footage of five of the Russian captives was posted on Facebook and showed the men dressed in camouflage fatigues. Ukraine's Defense Minister seized on the capture -- the first such event claimed by authorities -- as proof that Russian soldiers are fighting in Ukraine alongside Ukrainian separatists.

Obama OKs Flights Over Syria to Survey IS Mil.; Meant to Serve as Prelude for Attacks on Syria

President Obama has authorized U.S. flights over Syria to survey powerful groups of Islamist militants, The Daily Beast website reports today (August 26, 2014).

The mission -- which includes both manned and unmanned (drone) aircraft -- is expected to serve as a precursor to military intervention and airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

Syrian officials have demanded coordination of U.S. military action against IS, but Obama does not plan to alert Bashar al-Assad's government of any intervention in Syria.

In describing the hostility that exists between Obama and Assad, Ben Rhodes -- Deputy National Security Adviser -- said, "It is not the case that the enemy of my enemy is my friend!"

Monday, August 25, 2014

Holocaust Survivors,Heirs Decry Attacks on Gaza; Liken Israel's Genocide of Palestine to Nazi Acts

A group of Jewish holocaust survivors and their descendants have published a letter in the New York Times -- with hundreds of their signatures -- unequivocally condemning the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza, the Tikkun website reports today (August 25, 2014).

The group writes: "As Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors of the Nazi genocide, we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine. We further condemn the United States for providing Israel with the funding to carry out the attack, and Western states more generally for using their diplomatic muscle to protect Israel from condemnation. Genocide begins with the silence of the world.

"We are alarmed by the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society, which has reached a fever-pitch. In Israel, politicians and pundits in The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post have called openly for genocide of Palestinians and right-wing Israelis are adopting Neo-Nazi insignia.

"Furthermore, we are disgusted and outraged by Elie Wiesel's abuse of our history in these [NY Times] pages to promote blatant falsehoods used to justify the unjustifiable: Israel's wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of nearly 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children. Nothing can justify bombing UN shelters, homes, hospitals, and universities. Nothing can justify depriving people of electricity and water.

"We must raise our collective voices and use our collective power to bring about an end to all forms of racism, including the ongoing genocide of Palestinian people. We call for an immediate end to the siege against and blockade of Gaza. We call for the full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. 'Never again' must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!"

Syria "Warns" US Not to Attack IS Mil.on Its Soil; US May Also Attack Syria to Help Rid It of Assad

Syria warned the Obama administration today (August 25, 2014) not to extend its air war against the Islamic State (IS) into Syria, as the militant Muslims celebrated another key victory over Syrian government forces in the north of the country, according to the Washington Post website.

The warning came a day after IS militants overran a major air base in north-central Syria, putting the Islamic State in full control of Raqqah province, where American photojournalist James Foley was held for much of his captivity and where his beheading last week is believed to have occurred.

The capture of Tabqa airfield yesterday by the Islamic State militants was the latest in a string of recent military successes for the extremist fighters, who have been consolidating their hold across northern Syria even as U.S. airstrikes launched earlier this month temper the group's expansion in northern Iraq.

U.S. officials have not ruled out pressing the airstrikes into Syria, telling reporters last week that the U.S. will not be restricted by "geographical boundaries" when confronting the militants. The Syrian government wants the U.S. to co-operate with it in carrying out any military action in Syria -- something the U.S. will not do, since it is helping more-moderate rebels to overthrow dictatorial Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war that has been taking place in Syria for over three years.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

IS Mil. Seize Syrian Air Base from Govt. Forces; Over 500 Killed,Syria Loses Last Area Foothold

Islamic State (IS) militants stormed an air base in northeast Syria today (August 24, 2014), capturing it from government forces after days of fighting that cost more than 500 lives, the Reuters website reports.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 346 Islam State fighters were killed and more than 170 members of government forces had died since August 19 in the fight over Tabqa base, making it one of the deadliest confrontations between the two groups since the start of Syria's civil war more than three years ago.

The Observatory -- which monitors violence in Syria through sources on the ground -- said fighting raged inside the air base today. It was the Syrian army's last foothold in an area otherwise controlled by Islamic State, which has seized large areas of Syria and Iraq in recent months. 

In nearby Raqqa city -- an IS stronghold -- there was celebratory gunfire and several mosques announced through their loudspeakers that the base had fallen to the Islamists and cheered "God is greatest," a witness told Reuters. IS fighters displayed the severed heads of several Syrian army soldiers in the city square, the witness said.

Israeli Airstrikes Level Seven-Story Bldg. in Gaza; Now Destroy Office Bldgs. Harboring Hamas Mil.

Israeli airstrikes leveled a seven-floor building and severely damaged a two-story shopping center in the Gaza Strip today (August 24, 2014), signaling a new escalation in seven weeks of fighting with Hamas, the New York Post website reports.

The strikes in the southern town of Rafah came just hours after Israel bombed an apartment tower in Gaza City, collapsing the 12-story building with 44 apartments. Around 30 people were wounded in the strikes, but no one was killed.

The targeting of large buildings is part of a new military tactic being used by Israel. The Army is now warning Gaza residents in automated phone calls that it will target buildings harboring "terrorist infrastructure" and that they should stay away from them.

A senior military official confirmed that Israel has a policy of striking at buildings containing Hamas operational centers or those from which military activities are launched. The official said each strike required prior approval from military lawyers and is carried out after the local population is warned.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Head of UGCC Says Ukraine Faces Difficult Times; Slams Russian Orth. Church's Accusation of Chaos

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) has said his country faces an extremely difficult situation and strongly rejects Russian Orthodox Church accusations that his church is responsible for military action taken by Russia in Eastern Ukraine recently, the Zenit website reports today (August 23, 2014).

In an August 22 letter addressed to religious and political leaders and all people of goodwill, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halych, also described the religious discrimination to which churches and religious communities have been exposed in Russian-annexed Crimea and in the eastern war zone.

"Ukraine needs the effective support of the global Christian community and support of all people of goodwill," he writes. "In a media context rife with propaganda we ask you to evaluate information critically."

He continues "We need your prayer, your discernment, your good words and effective deeds. Silence and inaction will lead to further tragedy."

Over 191,000 Killed in Syria's Ongoing Civil War; UN Has Not Referred Syrian War Crimes to ICC

The United Nations has released a new analysis, stating that over 191,000 men, women, and children have died in Syria as a result of fighting between March 2011 and April 2014. The exact number the UN reported was 191,369; however, the organization warned the actual death toll could be even higher due to unreported deaths, the Christian Headlines website reports today (August 23, 2014).

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, "The killers, destroyers and torturers in Syria have been empowered and emboldened by the international paralysis."

"There are serious allegations that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed time and time again with total impunity, yet the Security Council has failed to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) where it clearly belongs."

Pillay added, "I deeply regret that, given the onset of so many other armed conflicts in this period of global destabilization, the fighting in Syria and its dreadful impact on millions of civilians has dropped off the international radar."

Friday, August 22, 2014

NATO Says Russian Convoy Invading Ukraine; Russia's Aggression Also Includes Artillery Fire

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine hit dangerous new heights today (August 22, 2014), as Russia sent an enormous "aid" convoy into rebel-held Ukrainian territory without the permission of the Kiev government -- a move that a top Ukrainian security official described as a "direct invasion." The maneuver came amid reports from NATO that Ukrainian troops were coming under Russian artillery fire from inside their borders, the Washington Post website reports.

"Russian artillery support -- both cross-border and from within Ukraine -- is being employed against the Ukrainian armed forces," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement accusing Moscow of a "blatant breach of Russia's international commitments" that would intensify a crisis he said it had helped to create and fuel.

"The disregard of international humanitarian principles raises further questions about whether the true purpose of the aid convoy is to support civilians or to resupply armed separatists," Rasmussen said. It was the strongest denunciation of Russia's role in Ukraine that NATO has issued and the first time the alliance has accused Russian forces of firing artillery at the Ukrainian army from within Ukraine.

The charges coincide with Russia's decision to move a convoy of more than 200 trucks into Ukraine today without either Ukrainian government permission or the participation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Romanian Orthodox Church Sees Cal. Persecution; Govt.: Too Many Churches Already in Sacramento

The Holy Resurrection Romanian Orthodox Church struggled to find a place of worship in California. After finding a place in the Rio Linda area of Sacramento, church members discovered their biggest stumbling block is city government, the One News Now website reports today (August 22, 2014).

Brad Dacus -- founder of Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) -- says one reason Sacramento gave for refusing permission was the location was near a bar, so the location might not be compatible with the neighborhood.

"Another reason given was that they said there were too many churches already," says Dacus, whose law firm is representing the church. "You know, it's not the business of government to dictate how many churches we need."

The law firm reported in a press release that PJI attorney Kevin Snider spoke on the church's behalf at a planning commission meeting, where a 5-0 vote approved the church's plans.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hagel: IS Militants' Threat Surpasses Al Qaeda's; "They Are Beyond Terrorist Group, A Mil. Prowess"

The sophistication, wealth, and military might of Islamic State (IS) militants represents a major threat to the United States that surpasses that once posed by al Qaeda, U.S. military leaders said today (August 21, 2014), according to the Reuters website.

"They are an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it's in Iraq or anywhere else," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon today.

Hagel's assessment of Islamic State -- which gained strength during Syria's civil war and swept into Iraq this summer -- sounded a note of alarm after the group posted a video this week showing one of its fighters beheading an American hostage.

Asked if the hardline Sunni Muslim organization posed a threat to the United States comparable to that of the attacks of September 11, 2001, Hagel said it was "as sophisticated and well-funded as any group we have seen." He added, "They are beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of ...military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything we've seen."

Pres. of Indonesia Blasts IS for Its Barbaric Acts; Urges World Leaders Unite to Destroy Extremism

The president of Indonesia -- the world's most populous Islamic country with some 225 million Muslims -- today (August 21, 2014) called the actions of Islamic State (IS) militants "embarrassing" to the religion and urged leaders of the world to unite in tackling extremism, according to the AFP (Agence-France Presse) website.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the scale of the slaughter wrought by the extremists in overrunning large swaths of Iraq and Syria and the level of violence being used was appalling.

"It is shocking. It is becoming out of control," he said, a day after IS released a video showing a masked militant beheading U.S. reporter James Foley, provoking worldwide revulsion.

He added, "Indonesia is not an Islamic State. We respect all religions." He urged international leaders to work together to combat radicalization.

Rebels Hang Palestinian Flag on NY City Bridge; Seen as Anti-Semitic Incident for Gaza Brutality

Pro-Palestinian protesters in New York yesterday hung a massive Palestinian flag emblazoned with the words "Boycott, Divest, Sanctions" from the Manhattan Bridge, as protesters marched across the nearby Brooklyn Bridge during a demonstration against Israeli military action in Gaza, the Times of Israel website reports today (August 21, 2014).

The flag was unfurled during a protest that organizers said was meant to "connect the struggle of the Palestinian population to those of oppressed communities throughout the U.S.," referring to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by local police.

Police removed the flag and said they were investigating the incident. However, New York City Councilman David Greenfield blasted the police department for not taking measures to prevent the incident.

Yesterday's protest in New York was the latest of many worldwide against Israel's military action in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. Tens of thousands have taken part in other demonstrations across the U.S., the United Kingdom, Turkey, Germany, France, Italy, and elsewhere, many of which have taken on tones of anti-Semitism.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Islam Cleric Held in Kuwait for Funding Radicals; Prominent Sunni Cleric Was on a US Sanctions List

Kuwait detained a prominent Sunni Muslim cleric at the Gulf state's airport today (August 20, 2014) after the United States included him on a sanctions list on suspicion that he is funneling money to militants in Iraq and Syria, the Reuters website reports.

Hajjaj al-Ajmi was detained at the airport on his arrival from Qatar, whose leadership supports Islamist groups such as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and gives refuge to prominent figures from Hamas and the Taliban, but does not back the militant Islamists operating in Iraq and Syria.

Kiwait has been one of the biggest humanitarian donors to Syrian refugees through the United Nations, but it has also struggled to control unofficial fund-raising for opposition groups in Syria by private individuals.

The Kuwaiti government -- an ally of the United States -- has stepped up its monitoring of individuals and charities suspected of collecting donations for militants linked to al Qaeda in Syria and in Iraq.

Fla. County Commission Bans Atheist Invocations; Defines Invocation as a Prayer of Faith Community

The county commission in Brevard County, Florida voted unanimously today (August 20, 2014) to prohibit atheists from offering invocations at public meetings, the Raw Story website reports.

The commissioners voted to send a letter to David Williamson -- founder of the Central Florida Freethought Community -- indicating that his group doesn't qualify to deliver the invocation because it is defined as "an opening prayer, presented by members of our faith community." Williamson said he plans to take legal action against the county commission.

"The prayer is delivered during the ceremonial portion of the county's meeting, and typically invokes guidance for the County Commission from the highest spiritual authority, a higher authority which a substantial body of Brevard constituents believe to exist," the letter reads. "The invocation is also meant to lend gravity to the occasion, to reflect values long part of the county's heritage, and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens in Brevard County."

County resident Joseph Richardson noted during the meeting that if a government activity requires the exclusion of "atheists, humanists, or any segment of your population, no matter how small, from full participation in government activities -- if any government activity requires such an exclusion, then that activity is patently unfair, unequal, unconstitutional, and should no longer be a part of the government."   

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Three Relatives of Pope Killed in an Auto Accident; Nephew Hurt, His Wife, Two Kids Die in Argentina

Pope Francis was deeply grieved, the Vatican's official broadcasting service said today (August 19, 2014), after the deaths of three relatives killed when their car slammed into the back of a truck on a highway in Argentina's central Cordoba province, according to the Newsmax World website.

A nephew of the pope, Emanuel Bergoglio, who was driving the car, was in serious condition following the accident just after midnight yesterday morning. The nephew's wife, 35, and two children, aged 2 years and 8 months died.

The pope asks all those who share his pain to join him in prayer, said a statement on the website of Radio Vaticana.

The driver of the grains truck, Raul Pombo, said he felt the impact and found Bergoglio's vehicle wedged under the rear of his vehicle.

Ukraine Pres. Meets Ukrainian Orth. Church Head; Orthodox Primate Seeks "Love of God's Children"

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko met with Metropolitan Onufry (Berezovsky) who had been elected Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on August 13, the Orthodox Church Info blog reports today (August 19, 2014).

Poroshenko congratulated Metropolitan Onufry on his election as Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

"We pray that the Church withstand and bring peace, mercy and Christian values to our land. The state and I as its President offer you firm support in your God's work. My eyes and my heart, as well as my doors will always be open for you," the President said.

Metropolitan Onufry thanked the head of the state for the congratulations and emphasized that the primary responsibility of the Church today is reconciliation among people. "We accept everyone with love, because we all are God's children, and that is the main mission of the Church," the hierarch said.

During the past few weeks, Ukraine's independence has been threatened by Russian aggression, as Russia has been trying to take control of its western neighbor. However, Ukraine is well prepared to counter Russian aggression, and will receive any assistance it may need in doing so from NATO, the United States, and the European Union.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pope in S. Korea Extends an Olive Branch to China; Urges Communist Country Has Dialog with Vatican

Pope Francis yesterday extended an olive branch to China, urging the Communist Party-ruled nation -- which has fraught relations with the Vatican for the past 65 years -- to pursue a formal dialog to benefit both sides, the Reuters website reports today (August 18, 2014).

On the fourth and next-to-last day of his trip to South Korea, Francis flew by helicopter to Haemi, southwest of Seoul, to address bishops from Asian countries and celebrate Mass closing a gathering of Asian Catholic youth.

In his address to some 70 bishops from 35 Asian countries, Francis said the Church was committed to dialog with everyone and added: "In this spirit of openness to others, I earnestly hope that those countries of your continent with whom the Holy See does not enjoy a full relationship, may not hesitate to further a dialog for the benefit of all."

This was a clear reference to China, a nation with which the Vatican has had no formal relations since shortly after the Communist Party took power in 1949. Today, the Catholic Church in China is divided into two communities: an "official" Church known as the "Patriotic Association" answerable to the Communist Party, and an underground Church that swears allegiance only to the pope in Rome.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews Support Israel Draft Dodger; Yeshiva Student Nabbed for Ignoring Draft Notice

At least six protesters were arrested and a police officer was wounded in demonstrations protesting the arrest of a yeshiva student for ignoring a draft notice, the Times of Israel website reports today (August 18, 2014).

The demonstrations took place yesterday in Jerusalem and other cities with large haredi Orthodox populations. The hundreds of protesters blocked busy intersections during the demonstrations.

The yeshiva student has been arrested several times -- the first time last March -- for ignoring his call-up notice. He is being held in a military prison and reportedly has begun a hunger strike.

The student is affiliated with the Jerusalem Faction, a non-Hasidic haredi faction led by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, who has ordered his students to ignore draft notices. The Tai Law -- which allowed haredi men to defer army service indefinitely -- was invalidated by the Israeli Supreme Court in February 2012, as many Reform and Conservative Jews felt it was unfair for them to be drafted, while ultra-Orthodox Jews were not drafted.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ukraine Pres.:Forces Ruin Russian Mil. Vehicles; Says Vehicles Entered Ukraine, Russia Denies It

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said yesterday that Ukrainian forces had attacked and destroyed a column of tanks and other Russian military vehicles on Ukrainian territory, a step that, if confirmed, would represent a significant escalation of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, the Washington Post website reports today (August 16, 2014).

Poroshenko told British Prime Minister David Cameron that "the majority" of a column of Russian military vehicles "had been destroyed by the Ukrainian artillery at night," his office said in a statement. The announcement came as NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said yesterday that the defense alliance had seen an "incursion" into Ukraine the previous night.

The Kremlin denied yesterday that there had been a border incursion, and a Russian defense ministry spokesman said that no Russian vehicles had been destroyed because none had been inside Ukraine.

However, journalists with Britain's Guardian and Telegraph newspapers said they saw the Russian military vehicles cross the border into Ukraine.

Russia's denial of this incident reminds us of a wise saying: Denial is not a river in Egypt!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Language of Jesus Being Destroyed by IS Radicals; Aramaic Christians Flee N. Iraq to Avoid Murder

Aramaic -- the language used by Jesus -- may soon be destroyed due to the recent establishment of the Islamic State (IS) in northern Iraq, the Newser website reports today (August 15, 2014).

Aramaic had a strong foothold in northern Iraq among Assyrian Christians, until about 200,000 of them fled the area earlier this month when Islamic militants invaded Nineveh plain and vowed to kill all Christians who did not convert to Islam.

Aramaic was once a nearly universal language spoken from Egypt to India. It thrived in the Babylonian and First Persian Empires, resisted Alexander the Great's imposition of Greek in the fourth century BC, and was spoken by Jesus when He said on the cross, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?")

Now, we may witness the deliberate extinction of the Aramaic language as a result of Aramaic-speaking Christians being dispersed by murderous Islamic radicals in the newly-established Islamic State.

Christian Rock Star Vicky Beeching Is a Lesbian; Now 35, Says She's Attracted to Females Since 12

Vicky Beeching, 35 -- one of the biggest names in Christian music in the United States and the United Kingdom -- revealed yesterday that she is a lesbian and proclaimed "I feel certain God loves me just the way I am," the Christian Post website reports today (August 15, 2014).

"It's taken all my courage, and all these years, for me to finally do this interview," she noted in a post on her Facebook page that includes a link to an interview published in "The Independent" yesterday.

"I am gay," Beeching revealed in the interview that has sparked an international discussion online. She said that she is attracted to females, and it has been that way since she was 12 years old.

"What Jesus taught was a radical message of welcome and inclusion and love. I feel certain God loves me just the way I am, and I have a huge sense of calling to communicate that to young people. When I think of myself at 13, sobbing into the carpet, I just want to help anyone in that situation to not have to go through what I did, to show that instead, you can be yourself -- a person of integrity," the rock star who is also a theologian and media commentator noted.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Pope Francis Arrives in S. Korea for a 5-Day Visit; Calls on Korean Bishops to Guard Hope of Gospel

Pope Francis arrived at Seoul airport today (August 14, 2014) for his five-day visit to South Korea. He was met by a delegation at the airport led by President Park Geun-hye, the Independent Catholic News website reports.

After the welcoming ceremony he left in a black Kia Soul -- one of South Korea's smallest cars. Pope Francis climbed into the back seat, opened the window, and waved at the crowds.

The images of the smiling Pope in his little car were picked up quickly by the news media.

After a private Mass at the Papal Nuncio's residence, Pope Francis visited President Park Geun-hye before a meeting with the Korean Bishops, during which he advised them to be guardians of memory and guardians of hope. The Korean martyrs, he said, "brought forth an abundant harvest of grace in this land." He called on the bishops to guard the hope of the Gospel by "keeping alive the flame of holiness, fraternal charity and missionary zeal within the church's communion."

Cuba OKs Building 1st Cath. Church Since 1959; Critics Say It's a PR Scam to Help Raul Castro

The Republic of Cuba will allow a Catholic church to be built in the communist nation -- the first time since 1959 that Communist Cuba has allowed a church to be built -- the Christian Headlines website reports today (August 14, 2014).

The church will be built in Santiago de Cuba and will be funded privately, partly by a parish in Tampa, Florida.

"Catholics have been hearing Mass in the street since Hurricane Sandy destroyed their previous church, a termite-eaten wooden structure with a leaking roof," said Katherine Backler of The Tablet website. "Part of the new church will be built from the steel beams of the stage on which Pope Benedict XVI said Mass when he visited Havana in 2012," she added.

But critics are saying that the permit to build the new church is "a public relations scam" to help Cuban President Raul Castro's image by giving the impression that the Cuban government is becoming less totalitarian.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Swastika Cut on Car at Murdered Rabbi's Service; NY Orth. Rabbi Killed in Fla. Visiting Daughter

A mourner attending a memorial service in North Miami Beach, Florida for murdered rabbi Joseph Raksin had his car defaced with anti-Semitic symbols, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (August 13, 2014).

A swastika and Iron Cross were etched on August 10 on a BMW owned by the mourner. The Miami-Dade Police Department is investigating the vandalism.

The service at the Bais Menachem Chabad synagogue was held a day after Raksin was shot and killed while he was on his way to Sabbath morning services there. Raksin, 60, of Brooklyn, N.Y. was in south Florida visiting his daughter and her family.

On August 12, hundreds gathered in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn for the funeral procession for Raksin, a father of six who was a leader in the Orthodox community. Members of Raksin's family have said they believe the murder was a Jewish hate crime.

Pope Francis Calls on UN to Take Action in Iraq; Says UN Must End Humanitarian Tragedy There

The Holy See's Press Office released today (August 13, 2014) a letter from Pope Francis to the General Secretary of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, with an urgent appeal to the international community to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway in Northern Iraq, the CCCB (Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops) website reports.

In his letter, Pope Francis condemns the violence and encourages "all the competent organs of the United Nations, in particular those responsible for security, peace, humanitarian law and assistance to refugees, to continue their efforts in accordance with the Preamble and relevant Articles of the United Nations Charter."

The day before (August 12, 2014)the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue issued a statement condemning the "dramatic plight of Christians, Yezidis and other religious communities and ethnic minorities in Iraq," and while also insisting "religious leaders must not fail to stress that the support, funding and arming of terrorism is morally reprehensible."

The pope placed before the UN general secretary "the tears, the suffering, and heartfelt cries of despair of Christians and other religious minorities of the beloved land of Iraq," and renewed his "urgent appeal to the international community to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Archaeologists Find Largest Tomb Ever in Greece; Built in Macedonia During Alexander the Great Era

A team of archaeologists may have discovered a new tomb in Greece that is the burial site of a high profile individual during the reign of Alexander the Great, the Time website reports today (August 12, 2014).

The tomb -- which dates to 300 BC and sits under a burial mound near the ancient city of Amphipolis in Greece's northern Macedonia region -- appears to be the largest ever discovered in the country. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called the find "clearly extremely significant."

"It is certain that we stand before an especially significant finding. The land of Macedonia continues to move and surprise us, revealing its unique treasures, which combine to form the unique mosaic of Greek history of which all Greeks are very proud," Samaras said.

The possibility that the tomb is Alexander's has been ruled out, as he is believed to have died in Babylon and been transported to Egypt for burial in 323 BC. Archaeologists hope to know definitively who was buried there by the end of this month.

Ukraine Blocks 280 Russian "Aid" Trucks' Entry; Views Trucks as "Trojan Horse" Filled with Troops

A convoy of 280 Russian trucks reportedly packed with aid headed for eastern Ukraine today (August 12, 2014), but Ukraine said it would not let the trucks enter its nation, because the mission is not being coordinated by the international Red Cross and could be a covert military operation, the Newser website reports.

A Red Cross spokesman said he had "no information about the content" of the trucks and did not know where they were headed.

That has raised fears in Ukraine and the West, where leaders have voiced concerns that Russia could use the initiative as a pretext for sending troops into separatist-held Ukrainian territory. Recent Russian military activity -- including firing artillery rounds at a Ukrainian military base -- confirms that Russia is trying to take control of Ukraine.

Today's situation brings back memories of the large wooden Trojan Horse that the ancient Greeks gave to Troy as a gift upon "surrendering" in the Trojan War; however, the wooden horse was filled with hidden Greek soldiers who later exited the horse, resulting in the Greek conquest of Troy.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Rome Posters Call for Boycotting All Jewish Shops; Due to Gaza Massacre,Lack of Palestine Homeland

Italy's Jewish leadership called a new wave of anti-Jewish signposting in Rome -- which lists over 40 Jewish businesses to boycott -- as "an alarm bell that cannot be ignored," the Times of Israel website reports today (August 11, 2014).

Renzo Gattegna -- the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities -- issued the warning after fliers urging a boycott of Jewish-owned stores in the capital were discovered plastered on walls in several districts of Rome on August 9.

"We are witnessing with concern the solidifying of the extremist underworld in the name of a common anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hatred, whose most violent mode of expressions, still partially latent, risks forming a danger to the entire national collective," Gattegna said.

The fliers said that "boycotting any type of Jewish product or business is fundamental to stop the massacre in Palestine," claiming that "every shop, factory and business under Jewish ownership sends a percentage of its profits to Israel to furnish weapons and continue to kill those who have a right to live in their own homeland."

NC Woman Finds Swastika Burned on Sandwich; Loses Appetite at McDonald's, Gets Money Back

A woman in Morehead City, North Carolina was shocked to discover a swastika burned onto the bun of a chicken sandwich she ordered from McDonald's, the Raw Story website reports today (August 11, 2014).

Charleigh Matice told TV Channel WCTI 12 that when she opened her chicken sandwich to apply mayonnaise, she found the Nazi symbol drawn in  butter on the underside of the bun: "Is this a joke?" she asked. "Does somebody really think this is funny? Many people died because of that symbol and it's not something that should be taken lightly. It's not something that should be thrown around."

Matice immediately brought the bun to the attention of the McDonald's manager , who offered to replace it.

"I really didn't have an appetite at that point, so I said, 'I'd rather have my money back.'" However, she still felt that the situation needed to be addressed, so she went with the story to WCTI 12, which then spent "a few days" verifying that it actually occurred.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Hundreds of Iraqi Women Kidnapped by IS Thugs; Used by Terrorists to Satisfy "Animalistic Urges"

Hundreds of women from the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq have been taken captive by Sunni militants with "vicious plans," an Iraqi official said yesterday, further underscoring the plight of Iraq's minorities at the hands of the Islamic State (IS) radicals, the Huffington Post website reports today (August 9, 2014).

Kamil Amin, the spokesman for Iraq's Human Rights Ministry, said hundreds of Yazidi women below the age of 35 are being held in schools in Iraq's second largest city, Mosul.

"We think that the terrorists by now consider them slaves and they have vicious plans for them," Amin said. "We think that these women are going to be used in demeaning ways by those terrorists to satisfy their animalistic urges in a way that contradicts all the human and Islamic values."

The U.S. has confirmed that the Islamic State terrorists have kidnapped and imprisoned Yazidi women so that they can be sold or married off to extremist fighters, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information came from classified intelligence reports.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Penn. Bridal Shop Won't Sell Gowns to Lesbians; Claims Servicing Lesbians Violates Rel. Beliefs

Two women -- who hoped to buy gowns to wear at their wedding -- were turned away from a bridal shop in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, prompting a torrent of criticism for the store online and by word-of-mouth, the Raw Story website reports today (August 8, 2014).

The brides-to-be were informed that the W.W. Bridal Boutique "does not service same-sex couples" because to do so would be a violation of their "religious beliefs."

One of the women -- who wish to remain anonymous -- posted on Facebook that she called the store to schedule a fitting for herself and her partner. She was told, "Unfortunately, she would not be able to schedule an appointment for us because they currently do not service same-sex couples -- it's just not something they do."

The bridal shop's Facebook page has been deluged with angry criticism from people who believe that businesses shouldn't be allowed to pick and choose who they serve based on sexual orientation. Pennsylvania has no laws relating to discrimination against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Netanyahu Asks US Pols to Block ICC Charges; ICC May Charge Israel with War Crimes in Gaza

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked U.S. lawmakers this week to help Israel avoid war crimes charges stemming from its firing on civilians during the recent Gaza conflict, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (August 8, 2014).

Netanyahu asked a delegation of visiting U.S. legislators to help keep Israel out of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Rep. Steven Israel (D-N.Y.) told the New York Post in an interview from Israel on August 6, the newspaper reported.

The Palestinians and other world leaders have charged that Israel committed war crimes by firing on civilian areas of Gaza -- including a United Nations-run school -- during its military operation.

Netanyahu "wants the U.S. to use all the tools that we have at our disposal to, number one, make sure the world knows that war crimes were not committed by Israel; they were committed by Hamas. And that Israel should not be held to a double standard," Rep. Israel told the Post.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Obama OKs US Air Strikes on IS Militants in Iraq; Will Help Iraq Prevent Genocide of Its Civilians

President Barack Obama said that he has authorized U.S. forces to conduct air strikes against Sunni extremist militants in Iraq, and that the military has already dropped food there to help religious minorities, the Yahoo News website reports today (August 7, 2014).

"We can act, carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide," Obama said, referring to a religious minority group besieged by fighters from the so-called Islamic State (IS).

"I therefore authorized targeted air strikes if necessary to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege and protect the civilians trapped there," Obama said tonight.

A senior defense official confirmed the mission had dropped "critical meals and water for thousands of Iraqi citizens."

IS Terrorists Capture the City of Arsal in Lebanon; Lebanese Prime Minister Won't Bargain with IS

Since Monday of this week (August 4), Lebanese forces and radical members of the new Islamic State (IS) have been fighting in northern Lebanon. IS has managed to capture the Lebanese city of Arsal, the Breaking Israel News website reports today (August 7, 2014).

The Syrian terror group set up checkpoints throughout the city, which has some 40,000 residents and about 120,000 Syrian refugees.

The conflict erupted when the Lebanese army arrested Abu Ahmad al-Jumaa, a former commander in the Free Syrian Army who later defected and declared allegiance with IS. Army officials said that Jumaa was in the process of planning and carrying out an attack against an army outpost.

IS insurgents announced that they would completely withdraw from Arsal if the government releases Jumaa. Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Slama refused their request, saying: "There is no political solution with extremist groups who are manipulating the Arab communities under religious obscurantism and strange titles, seeking to transfer their sick acts into Lebanon."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hagel: Russian Invasion of Ukraine "a Reality;" 20K Russian Troops Massed at Ukraine's Border

Russia's troop buildup on the Ukrainian border increases the threat of an invasion by President Vladimir Putin's army, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today (August 6, 2014), according to the Washington Times website.

"I think it's a reality, of course it is," said Hagel, who is in Stuttgart, Germany for meetings with his military leaders in Europe, including the top commander, Aire Force Gen. Philip Breedlove.

U.S. and NATO officials say there are now about 20,000 Russian troops massed just east of Ukraine's border.

The U.S. also says Russia continues to train and equip separatists battling Ukraine's government.

Last month, a U.S. spy satellite took photos of troops in Russia firing artillery rounds at a military base in Ukraine, illustrating Russia's effort to take control of its neighbor country.

Hungarian Govt. Criticized for WW II Monument; Protesters Say It Eases Hungary's Holocaust Role

A monument marking the 70th anniversary of the Nazi occupation of Hungary is drawing protests in Budapest, the Euro News website reports today (August 6, 2014).

Protesters say the monument is designed to downplay Hungary's role in the Holocaust.

Forums and concerts are being held as Jewish and civil rights groups hope Hungary's new government will destroy it.

Yesterday, some 100 police secured the site as a punk protest band performed.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Palestinian Leaders,Hamas Expected to Join ICC; Would Let Them Charge Israel with War Crimes

Palestinian leaders are poised to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) with the aim of putting Israel in the dock on war crimes charges, The Guardian website reports today (August 5, 2014).

"Israel has left us with no other option," Riad Malki -- the Palestinian foreign minister -- told reporters after meeting ICC officials in The Hague to discuss the implications of signing the Rome Statute.

It would make the Palestinian state a member of the court with the authority to call for an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Palestinian Authority has asked Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) to sign the accession document before it is formally presented, and officials say they expect both organizations to agree.

Atheist Will Give Secular Invocation in S. Dakota; Freethinkers Head Joins Sioux Falls City Council

An atheist is scheduled to give a secular invocation for the beginning of a council meeting in a South Dakota city, the Christian Post website reports today (August 5, 2014).

Amanda Novotny -- president of the Siouxland Freethinkers -- will give the invocation tonight (August 5) at the Sioux Falls City Council meeting.

Novotny said that the inspiration for doing the invocation came from the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that a city council can allow for prayers -- including sectarian prayers -- or invocations at its public meetings.

Afghan Soldier Kills US General, Wounds 15; Casualties Include Americans, Shooter Killed

A gunman believed to be an Afghan soldier opened fire at a training facility in Kabul and killed an American general, the CNN website reports today (August 5, 2014).

Rear Admiral John Kirby -- spokesman for the Pentagon -- said that in addition to the general's slaying, up to 15 coalition troops were wounded today by the gunman. The casualties include other Americans.

Kirby said that the shooter was wearing an Afghan military uniform and is believed to have served for some time in a unit of the Afghan armed forces. The shooter was shot dead by Afghan soldiers.

The general has been identified as Army Maj. Gen. Harold Greene -- the highest-ranking U.S. service member killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Islamic Militants Seize 3 More Towns in N. Iraq; Civilians Flee Homes in "Humanitarian Tragedy"

Islamic militants -- who recently established the Islamic State (IS) in land it seized in Iraq and Syria -- made additional gains in northern Iraq yesterday, capturing three more towns and taking control of Iraq's largest and most important dam, the Newser website reports today (August 4, 2014).

The Islamic militants have been destroying Shiite shrines and executing resisters in the captured towns, and some 200,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes in what the United Nations calls a "humanitarian tragedy."

The militants also were able to take control of the Mosul dam on the Tigris River -- Iraq's largest hydroelectric facility -- after a 24-hour battle.

Control of the dam gives the IS militants the ability to cause a major flood not only in Mosul, but also in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq almost 300 miles south.

Syria's Civil War Is Now Stretching into Lebanon; At Least 13 Lebanese Troops Killed by Syrian Raid

A fire fight broke out between Lebanese troops and Syrian Islamists yesterday near the town of Arsal, which has become home to thousands of Syrian refugees, the Euro News website reports today (August 4, 2014).

A Lebanese army commander said at least 13 of his soldiers had died and more were missing in what was the biggest incursion by Syrian gunmen into Lebanon since Syria's civil war began more than three years ago.

In the Syrian capital, there has been no letup in the government's shelling of the suburbs. Moreover,  Syrian rebels have footage from a field hospital in the city of Hama showing victims of a purported chlorine gas attack by the government.

More than 170,000 people have been killed in Syria's civil war since it began in March 2011, as rebels continue to fight to overthrow President Bashar-al Assad.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

US Rips Israeli UN School "Disgraceful Shelling;" Insists Lives at UN Facilities Must Be Protected

"The United States is appalled by today's disgraceful shelling outside a UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) school in Rafah sheltering 3,000 displaced persons, in which 10 more Palestinian civilians were tragically killed," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, said in a statement today (August 3, 2014), according to the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website.

At least 10 Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded in the attack in Rafah, in southern Gaza, at the school run by the UNRWA for Palestinian refugees. Palestinian and United Nations officials blamed the attack on the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces).

The State Department statement was the harshest condemnation of Israeli actions in Gaza.

"UN facilities, especially those sheltering civilians, must be protected, and must not be used as bases from which to launch attacks," Psaki said. "The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians."

Pope Begins Promoting Christian Unity, Aide Says; Sees Catholic-Orthodox Unity as Mandate of Christ

Enzo Bianchi -- appointed on July 22 as consultor of the Pontificial Council for Promoting Christian Unity -- said the Pope could allow a council of bishops, including Greek Orthodox bishops, to assist in governing the Church, the Catholic News website reports today (August 3, 2014).

Reform of the Synod of Bishops and the growth of synodality within the Catholic Church would greatly enhance the opportunity for union between Rome and the Orthodox churches by making the papacy less "monarchical" and the Catholic Church less centralized.

Bianchi -- Prior of the Bose monastery in northeast Italy -- said: "I believe that the pope wants to achieve unity by reforming the papacy."

Pope Francis feels that union with the Orthodox Churches in particular is "an urgent goal," Bianchi emphasized. "I believe that the Pope has one particular concern, that unity should not be achieved in the spirituality of unity but rather is a command by Christ which we must carry out," he told the Italian daily "La Stampa."

Reform would involve a new balance between collegiality and primacy, Bianchi explained. "The Orthodox have synodality, but not primacy. We Catholics have primacy but a lack of synodality."