Saturday, December 31, 2016

Terrorist Gunman Kills 35 at Istanbul Nightclub; Dressed as Santa Claus at a New Year's Eve Party

A terrorist dressed in a Santa Claus costume opened fire at a nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey during New Year's celebrations tonight (December 31, 2016), killing at least 35 people and wounding 40 others, the NY Post website reports.

Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said the attacker -- armed with a long-barreled weapon -- killed a policeman and a civilian outside the club before entering and firing on people partying inside.

"Unfortunately, [he] rained bullets in a very cruel and merciless way on innocent people who were there to celebrate New Year's and have fun," Sahin told reporters.

Several of the more than 500 people in the club jumped into the cold waters of the Strait of Bosporus to escape being shot.

Fighting Resumes in Syria Despite New Ceasefire; Rebels Accuse Russian,Govt. Forces of Air Strikes

Fighting has continued in certain areas around Damascus -- the capital of Syria -- despite a ceasefire agreement that was signed two days ago, according to The Daily Beast website.

At least two civilians and five militants have been killed in the fighting over the Eastern Ghouta and Barada Valley regions, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today.

Another group has accused Russian and Syrian forces of carrying out air strikes in the Barada Valley despite the ceasefire, threatening the region's main source of water.

Although the Syrian government denied the allegations, rebel forces have warned that they will not respect the ceasefire if the violations continue.

Twin Blasts Kill at Least 18 in a Baghdad Market; IS Suspected of Baghdad's Worst Attack Since Oct.

Two bombs exploded in a busy market area in central Baghdad today (December 31, 2016), killing at least 18 people and wounding dozens, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports.

The blasts ripped through shops in the Al-Sinek area, wounding 38 or more people.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the deadliest attack to hit the capital since mid-October, but the Islamic State (IS) group has claimed nearly all such bombings.

Baghdad has been on high alert since the start of an offensive on October 17 in Iraq's largest military operation in years -- an attempt to retake the northern IS stronghold of Mosul,  Iraq's second largest city.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Kosovo Decides to Tear Up Wall Built by Serbs; Serbs Built Wall to Destabilize Kosovo's Status

The parliament of Kosovo has voted to demolish a concrete wall, deemed to have been built as an act of defiance by the small Serb community in the northern city of Mitrovica, the Euro News website reports today (December 30, 2016).

The ethnic minority Serbs began constructing the wall earlier this month, calling it a technical support barrier against a landslide.

The government, however, was not convinced. Kosovo -- a predominantly Muslim nation -- declared its independence and separated from the primarily Greek Orthodox Christian nation of Serbia in 2008.

Edita Tahiri, minister of dialogue with Serbia, said: "This wall was intended to destabilize the situation in Kosovo, and we will not let Serbia's intentions come to fruition."

Vandals Desecrate 2 Menorahs in Brooklyn Parks; ADL Head: Shameful Reminder of Anti-Semitism

Two menorahs have been vandalized on Brooklyn playgrounds during Hanukkah, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (December 30, 2016).

One in the Prospect Heights neighborhood was twisted and knocked off its base.

In adjoining Park Slope, another menorah had a branch torn off and its wiring ripped out and cut.

Evan Bernstein, the Anti-Defamation League's New York Regional Director, said, "It [the menorah] is an enduring symbol of Judaism, and its desecration is a shameful reminder that anti-Semitism still exists in our communities."

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Norway's Main Church, State to "Divorce" Jan.1; Lutheran Church to Be Independent Legal Entity

Norway's Lutheran Church and the state of Norway are to divorce on January 1, 2017 after nearly 500 years together, the Christian Today website reports today (December 29, 2016).

The change recreates the Lutheran Church -- Norway's largest church --  as an independent legal entity.

The churchgoing rate in Norway is one of the lowest in the world at only around five percent.

Churches in Norway are funded by the state, according to the number of members they have. In November, the Catholic Church in Norway was fined for fraud and ordered to reimburse money it had claimed for using names of immigrants from Catholic countries without their permission.

Syrian Govt.,Rebels Sign a Nationwide Ceasefire; May Be Prelude to Ending Syrian 6-Yr. Civil War

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced today (December 29, 2016) that Syria's government and opposition groups have agreed to a nationwide ceasefire and are ready to hold peace talks, raising hopes of an imminent peaceful settlement of a six-year war that has left a half million people dead and 11 million displaced, according to the Vice News website.

Syria's military and the Turkish foreign ministry also confirmed today that the agreement -- brokered by Russia, Turkey, and Iran -- was designed to pursue a political solution to Syria's war.

The deal -- which excludes jihadi groups such as IS (Islamic State) -- will go into effect tonight at midnight.

If the ceasefire holds, peace talks between Syria's government and the opposition will be held in mid-January in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Saudi Man Opposing Male Guardian Law Jailed; Guilty of Inciting to End Guardianship of Women

A Saudi Arabian man has been sentenced to a year in jail for his activism against the kingdom's law that requires all women to have a male guardian, the Clarion Project website reports today (December 28, 2016).

The man -- who who was also fined 30,000 riyals ($8,000) -- was convicted of "inciting to end guardianship of women."

Authorities arrested the man while he was putting up posters in mosques calling for an end to the law. (A woman's guardian in most predominantly Islamic countries is usually her father and then, after marriage, her husband. However, if she is a widow, her "guardian" may be her son.)

The male guardianship law requires a woman to receive permission of her guardian to travel, marry, get an education and, in many cases, accept employment and have access to healthcare. The law also requires that a woman who has finished a prison term obtain the permission of her male guardian to leave, meaning that many women end up languishing in prison because their guardians refuse to sign for their release.

Kerry Blasts Israel for Its Settlement Expansion; Says Israel's One-State Choice Won't Allow Peace

In the harshest scolding ever of Israel by a U.S. official since it became a nation in 1948, Secretary of State John Kerry took direct aim at Israel in a major speech today (December 28, 2016), criticizing its Jewish settlement expansion and demanding "mutual respect" from the key U.S. ally, according to the Washington Examiner website.

Kerry slammed the Israeli government for displacing Palestinian families and depriving them of "basic freedom and dignity," while expressing serious concern about current Israeli leaders' opposition to a two-state solution.

Responding to accusations that the U.S. snubbed Israel last week by allowing a UN Security Council resolution to pass that demanded Israel halt its settlement program, Kerry said the settlements were destroying the possibility of separate countries living side by side in peace.

He added, "If the choice is one state... Israel can either be Jewish or democratic. It cannot be both, and won't ever really be at peace."

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Czech Pres.Traces Europe Terror to Migrant Wave; Says Taking Muslims on Czech Land Breeds Terror

The Czech president has linked recent attacks in Europe to the ongoing influx of migrants escaping war-torn, poverty-stricken countries, the Prague Monitor website reports today (December 27, 2016).

Milos Zeman told Czechs in his annual Christmas speech yesterday that "today almost no one doubts the connection between the migration wave and terrorist attacks."

In order to prevent terrorist attacks on Czech soil, Zeman said that the Czech Republic shouldn't take in migrants on a "so-called volunteer basis," alluding to the European Union's efforts to distribute migrants across the continent.

Zeman says he has nothing against helping migrants "on their territory or on neighboring territories" -- or helping Italy and Greece -- but "placing Muslim, hardly compatible migrants on our territory would mean creating a breeding ground for potential terrorist attacks."

More Single Than Married Americans for 1st Time; Few Millenials Attending Church, Getting Married

For the first time in U.S. history, singles outnumber those who are married, and millenials are setting two new trends: fewer are getting married and fewer are attending church, the Christian Headlines website reports today (December 27, 2016).

These new trends suggest millenials are hesitant to commit to marriage due mainly to the pain many have experienced seeing their parents or other adults go through a divorce.

Many millenials also have rejected church. A majority of 72 percent of millenials do not attend church.

In contrast, 51 percent of older generation Americans attend church.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Donald Trump Says UN Now Just a Social Club; He May Remove US from Money-Draining Org.

Implying that he may take action to withdraw the U.S. from the United Nations after he becomes President on January 20, 2017 because it has become just a "social club," Donald Trump today (December 26, 2016) wrote a Twitter tweet, vowing "Things will be different," when he is President, according to the Washington Examiner website.

"The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So Sad!" Trump wrote.

Trump's message comes following a UN Security Council abstention by the U.S. last week that allowed the UN to pass a resolution condemning Israel's settlements in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem.

Trump also tweeted "Things will be different after January 20" [with respect to the United Nations]. The UN has been criticized by politicians and peace analysts in recent years for its failure to achieve peace on numerous occasions, and many believe the time has come to abolish the ineffective international  organization and its multi-billion dollar annual cost.

IS Kills at Least 30 Civilians Fleeing from Syria; Turkey Kills 88 Civilians in Airstrikes, Loses 36

At least 30 civilians were killed and several others wounded by the Islamic State (IS) yesterday after trying to flee the Syrian town of al-Bab, The Daily Beast website reports today (December 26, 2016).

Turkey's state-run news agency said the civilians were targeted by the militants with mines and explosives as they tried to exit the besieged town.

The operation to liberate the town of al-Bab from IS -- called the Euphrates Shield by the Turkish military -- has heated up during the past few weeks.

Turkey -- which has killed 88 civilians in airstrikes as part of the operation -- has lost 36 soldiers while battling IS in the area.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Iraqis Ousted by IS Return Home for Xmas Mass; 300 Attend Assyrian Orthodox Church in Bartella

In defiance of Islamic State (IS) and other extremists, 300 displaced Iraqi Christians returned to their hometown of Bartella in northern Iraq to celebrate mass on Christmas Eve, the Daily Caller website reports today (December 25, 2016).

Bartella has been shelled and burned during fights between Iraqi government forces and IS, but that didn't stop the Christians from proclaiming that "Christ is the light of the world."

Assyrian priest Yacoub Saady said at the end of the mass, "We, the Christians are the oldest component of this country. We are staying put and no power can force us to leave."

After the Iraqi military retook Bartella, volunteers came in droves to clean up the Assyrian Orthodox Church of Mart Shmoni. Wiring still hangs from the church's ceiling and icons remain missing.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Pope's Xmas Message Observes Children's Plight; "Suffer the Squalid Mangers That Devour Dignity"

Pope Francis tonight (December 24, 2016) urged Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus by thinking about the plight of today's children, bemoaning how some must escape bombs or flee in migrant boats, and how others are prevented from even being born at all, the Yahoo News website reports.

Francis celebrated a somber Christmas Eve Mass in a packed St. Peter's Basilica, processing to the altar behind cardinals draped in golden vestments as the Sistine Chapel sang "Gloria" and the church bells rang out across Rome.

In his homily, Francis urged his flock to reflect on how children today aren't always allowed to lie peacefully in a cot, loved by their parents as Jesus was, but rather "suffer the squalid mangers that devour dignity."

"Let us allow ourselves to be challenged by the children who are not allowed to be born, by those who cry because no one satiates their hunger, by those who do have not toys in their hands, but rather weapons," he added.

PM Netanyahu:Israel Is Reevaluating Its UN Ties; Calls Resolution Disgraceful Anti-Israel UN Move

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said tonight (December 24, 2016) that Israel is "reevaluating its ties with the United Nations," according to the Jewish Press website.

He also said the Jewish State would "overcome" the anti-Israel condemnation, Resolution 2334 (2016), passed unanimously yesterday by the UN Security Council with the assistance of the U.S.

An angry Netanyahu asserted that "Yesterday, the Obama administration carried out a disgraceful anti-Israeli underhanded move at the UN."

"Not only does the resolution not promote peace -- it pushes it further away," he added.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Obama Lets UN to Condemn Israeli Settlements; OKs Negative Change in US Policy Before Leaving

Marking a critical negative reversal in U.S. policy toward Israel just a few weeks before leaving office, President Obama today (December 23, 2016) allowed a resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction in disputed Palestinian territory to pass through the United Nations Security Council, according to the Washington Examiner website.

The U.S. did not go so far as to vote for the resolution, but allowed it to pass by abstaining from the vote after decades of vetoing such proposals.

Obama has grown more critical of the settlements in the past year and upset with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he views as building the settlements as a deliberate effort to prevent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

House Speaker Paul Ryan called Obama's decision "absolutely shameful," and looked toward the future Trump administration to "reverse the damage done" to the U.S.-Israeli relationship by Obama.

Pope: Opposing Vatican Reform Inspired by Devil; Tells Hierarchs Reform Needed to Update Church

In his annual Christmas address yesterday to the Vatican hierarchs, Pope Francis warned that those engaged in "malicious resistance" to the reform of the Roman Curia are inspired by the devil, the Religion News website reports today (December 23, 2016).

Francis urged the prelates who work with him to undergo "permanent conversion and purification" to modernize the church and serve it better.

The 80-year-old pontiff warned his audience that the administrative reforms he has begun would be far-reaching and required profound change among those who run the Vatican Curia.

A few months ago, Pope Francis' authority to reform the church was questioned by four traditional cardinals -- headed by U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke -- who asserted that Catholic doctrine forbids a pope from allowing remarried divorced Catholics to receive communion.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

ISIS Video Shows Turkish Troops Burned Alive; Captured 2 Turks in Syria,Ripped Pres.Erdogan

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) released a video today (December 22, 2016) showing two captured Turkish soldiers being burned alive, the Telegraph (British) website reports.

The video -- showing two uniformed men being hauled from a cage before being bound and torched -- was posted on jihadist websites.

The 19-minute footage was purportedly shot in the ISIS-declared "Aleppo Province" in northern Syria, where Turkish troops and tanks have been entering neighboring Syria to fight against ISIS in recent months.

Speaking in Turkish, the killer of the two men verbally attacks Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and calls for "destruction to be sowed" in Turkey.

Syrian Army Recaptures War-Torn City of Aleppo; Marks Its Biggest Victory in Syrian 6-Yr. Civil War

The war-torn city of Aleppo has been recaptured, the Syrian army said today (December 22, 2016), marking its biggest victory in the country's six-year civil war, the VOA (Voice of America) News website reports.

President Bashar al-Assad's government has full control of Aleppo -- the country's most populous city before the war -- for the first time since 2012.

The rebel forces agreed to withdraw from Aleppo after a month-long army offensive drove them from 90 percent of their original territory.

But the U.S. remained wary of the victory, citing reports of increased violence in other parts of the country as well as the future of those evacuated from Aleppo.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

UN Praises Mass Murderer Castro with Tribute; Cuban Refugees in Miami Delighted at His Death

The United Nations, its leaders, and several UN agencies have been showering praise on one of the world's most brutal mass murderers in recent weeks, The New American website reports today (December 21, 2016).

The late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and his Stalinist regime murdered tens of thousands of innocent people and imprisoned hundreds of thousands as they enslaved and destroyed what was once among the most prosperous nations in the world.

Following several earlier "tributes" to "honor" the mass murderer, yet another "tribute" was held yesterday (December 20) at the General Assembly Hall. The UN's failure to live by its original goal of promoting peace by supporting all democratic peace-loving nations conveys that the time has come for the UN to be abolished. Hopefully, President-elect Trump will soon withdraw the United States from this money-draining useless organization.

The late butcher of Cuban people and liberty died on November 25 at the age of 90, setting off massive celebrations among his victims in what has become "little Cuba," otherwise known as Miami, Florida.

Swastikas, Hate Notes Painted in Nassau County; NYC Suburbs of Merrick, Mineola Are Worst Hit

Several incidents of red spray-painted swastikas and other hate messages have been found in neighborhoods on Long Island, New York, The Jewish Week website reports today (December 21, 2016).

The incidents occurred this week mainly in the towns of Merrick and Mineola in Nassau County, about 30 miles outside New York City.

Among the incidents, a sidewalk outside a private home was vandalized with several red swastikas and "Make America White Again," and swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti were painted on a wall outside a 7-Eleven store in Merrick.

New York City police have reported a 400 percent increase in such incidents since the November 8 presidential election.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Poland Officially Recognizes Jesus as Its King; Christ Asked to Rule All Aspects of Polish Life

In the presence of Polish President Andrzei Duda and other top officials from both church and state, Jesus Christ was officially recognized recently as the King of Poland in a Catholic ceremony, The New American website reports today (December 20, 2016).

The ceremony was held last month at the Church of Divine Mercy in Krakow and then repeated at churches across Poland, marking the 1050th anniversary of the nation's Christianity. The congregation also renounced the devil and all his evil work.

Since Jesus has already been recognized by Christians as King of kings, the Polish ceremony enthroning Christ recognized that sovereignty, with the formalities being described by officials and celebrants, as a sign of the willing submission of Poland and its people to the rule of Christ.

Throughout the mass, Christ was asked to rule over every aspect of Polish life.

RA Removes Rabbi for Conducting Intermarriages; Rabbi: Policy Is Outdated Due to Trend of History

Conservative Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom has been expelled from the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the movement's rabbis' association, for performing interfaith weddings, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (December 20, 2016).

Rosenbloom told JTA the council offered to retain his membership in exchange for a promise not to perform any more intermarriages. He declined the offer.

"It is a futile policy," Rosenbloom said, "a policy that will eventually be overturned because the trend of history is against it. I have no bitterness..."

Rosenbloom, 72, is the retired rabbi of Congregation Adath Jeshurun, a 158-year-old synagogue near Philadelphia.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Nine Die in Berlin Christmas Market Truck Attack; May Be Terror Attack Like The One in Nice in July

At least nine people are dead and about 50 are injured in a suspected terror attack in Berlin when a Schwarzmuller rental truck plowed into a Christmas Market tonight (December 19, 2016), according to The Daily Beast website.

Police arrested one suspect in the attack. A second occupant of the truck's cab is dead.

Today's attack occurred in Charlottenburg, a leafy, affluent area of the German capital known as the Times Square of Berlin.

Police have not specified a motive for the incident, but it is similar to a terrorist attack in Nice, France on July 14 -- France's Independence Day -- in which an Islamic State (IS) terrorist drove a truck into a crowd of people, killing 86. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for today's attack.

Pope Sees Colombian Pres.,Opponent at Vatican; Pres.:"We Need Your Help" to End 52-Year War

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and opposition leader Alvaro Uribe met Pope Francis at the Vatican on December 16, as the government looked to build consensus for a peace deal with Marxist rebels, the Religion News website reports today (December 19, 2016).

On his third visit to the Vatican, Santos appealed to Francis for support in ending a 52-year war which has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.

"We need your help," said Santos, who signed a modified peace deal in November after a previous pact was rejected in a national vote.

Francis -- an Argentine who helped broker diplomatic efforts in Cuba and Venezuela -- then received right-wing Senator and former President Uribe, who has been one of the harshest critics of the new peace deal.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Pope Praises Mary and Joseph in Today's Angelus; Says Mary Conceived Jesus as Work of Holy Spirit

Thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square for the Angelus with Pope Francis today (December 18, 2016), and heard him say the day's Gospel "shows us two people, who more than any other, have been involved in this mystery of love: the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph," according to the Independent Catholic News website.

"Mary is presented in the light of the prophecy that says: 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.' The Evangelist Matthew recognizes what had happened in Mary, that she conceived Jesus as a work of the Holy Spirit..."

"Mary is, therefore, a model to watch and a support we can rely on, in our search for God, in our closeness to God. In this, let God come close to us and our commitment to build a civilization of love."

"The other protagonist of today's Gospel is St. Joseph... He fully trusts God who approaches him and, following His invitation, does not repudiate his bride, but takes with him and marries Mary."

Six Buses Assigned to Syrian Evacuation Torched; Evacuating Wounded, Sick from Aleppo Is Halted

An evacuation deal involving trapped civilians and fighters in a war-ravaged east Aleppo and two Syrian villages was thrown into doubt today (December 18, 2016) when assailants torched six buses assigned to the operation, according to the Yahoo News website.

The buses were to take part in the evacuation of over 2,000 wounded and sick Syrians from Foua and Kfarya -- two rebel-besieged villages that have remained loyal to the government in an area under opposition control in the northwest Idlib province.

Evacuations from Aleppo had been halted amid mutual recriminations two days ago.

The suspension of the evacuations had thrown an Aleppo deal brokered by Russia and Turkey last week into disarray.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Gunmen Kill Five Afghan Female Airport Workers; Taliban Refutes Women Working Outside Homes

Taliban gunmen are suspected of shooting dead five female airport workers and their driver in southern Afghanistan today (December 17, 2016), because the radical Islamic group is opposed to women working outside the home, according to the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website.

The women were in a van going to the airport in the southern Kandahar province when at least three gunmen on motorcycles opened fire at them, provincial spokesman Samim Kheplwak told AFP.

"All the women and their driver aboard the van were killed. The attackers fled the area and we have launched an investigation," he said.

Kandahar International Airport Director Ahmadullah Faizi said the women were employees of a private company who would provide luggage and body search services for female passengers.

Car Bomb Kills 13,Wounds 56 in Turkey Terror; Erdogan Blames Attack on Kurdish Separatists

A car bomb today (December 17, 2016) killed 13 soldiers and wounded 56 when it ripped through a bus carrying off-duty military personnel in the central Turkish city of Kayser -- an attack Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan blamed on Kurdish militants -- according to the Reuters website.

The blast near a university campus comes a week after deadly twin bombings targeted police in Istanbul.

Militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have waged a three-decade violent insurgency -- in an effort to obtain an independent state in Turkey -- that has seen some of the worst fighting during the past year.

"The style and goals of the attacks clearly show the aim of the separatist terrorist organization is to trip up Turkey, cut its strength and have it focus its energy and forces elsewhere," Erdogan said in a statement.

Friday, December 16, 2016

IS Burns Thousands of Iraqi Christians' Homes; Final Deathblow before Leaving, Iraqis in Ruins

Islamic State (IS) militants have dealt a final blow to Iraq's displaced Christian population by burning thousands of homes before surrendering the occupied territories, the Christian Today website reports today (December 16, 2016).

As more than two years of its occupation comes to an end, IS forces have systematically set fire to homes in the Nineveh Plain before leaving.

Many Iraqi Christians had long hoped for an eventual return home, but even with IS forces gone, the destruction has dealt a blow to their dreams.

"This is it. Everything is gone," said one man who had lived in a home destroyed in Bartella, a recently liberated Iraqi Christian town. He added, "Why should we stay in this country any longer?"

ADL Blasts Hitler-Mustache Image of Netanyahu; Posted at Israeli College, Mars Holocaust Memory

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) yesterday condemned a student work hung at Shenkar College of Art in Israel that depicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a Hitler mustache, the Times of Israel website reports today (December 16, 2016).

The poster of Netanyahu -- doctored to make him look like Hitler -- was briefly exhibited at the art college in Tel Aviv, due to a controversy over free speech and incitement.

The work features a black-and-white photo of the prime minister with the Hebrew word for "incitement" placed under his nose in a way that appears similar to Adolf Hitler's iconic mustache.

World ADL Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Greenblatt and Carole Nuriel, head of the organization in Israel, said in a statement that "the use of Nazi imagery to demonize the Israeli PM denigrates the memory of the Shoar [Holocaust] and its victims. Such Holocaust analogies inflame rather than inform and cross the lines of legitimate discourse..."

Thursday, December 15, 2016

US Defense Chief Vows Anti-IS Fight to Allies; Tells Coalition US to Keep Fighting Terrorists

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter today (December 15, 2016) reassured coalition partners that the United States would remain a key player in the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, the VOA (Voice of America) News website reports.

"I can't give assurances. I can't speak for the next administration. However, I do have confidence in the future of the coalition campaign," Carter told his counterparts from 14 coalition nations meeting in London.

"I'm confident that, based on the results we're seeing and the strength of our coalition, the United States and its military will continue to be with you as a leading partner in this campaign," he added.

Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. has had a force of some 5,000 troops in Iraq, relying on small teams of special operations forces and advisers who assist local fighters. Trump has criticized that as an insufficient and slow-moving response to the threat posed by IS -- one that has allowed the militants to become entrenched in Iraq and Syria for several years -- and has stated that he will take much stronger aggressive action against IS.

Rescuers Evacuate Aleppo Civilians from Fighters; Leave Syrian City by Bus Despite Govt. Sniper Fire

Rescuers today (December 15, 2016) began to evacuate the last civilians trapped by fighting in eastern Aleppo, and deadly sniper fire struck even before the buses left, but unlike yesterday -- when the sniper fire aborted the departure -- the evacuation is proceeding, according to the Newser website.

Under a new deal brokered by Russia and Turkey, civilians and anti-government rebels in the last sliver of eastern Aleppo that was still under rebel control were to board ambulances and buses for the trip out.

But as people were beginning to do so, government snipers opened fire, killing one and injuring about six more, a rescue service spokesman said.

The evacuation will mark a huge win for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's six-year civil war, allowing him to reclaim the city of Aleppo.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Priest Refuses to Back Traditional Nativity Scene; Says He Fears Upsetting Muslims,Other Religions

A priest in Italy has refused to set up a traditional nativity scene out of fear of upsetting Muslims, the Christian Today website reports today (December 14, 2016).

Father Sante Braggie -- saying he wanted to show respect towards other religions -- refused to sanction the nativity scene, going against the tradition established by his predecessor, Father Oreste Mori.

Father Mori said he could not believe his successor's decision and condemned it as "renouncing our culture and traditions" and as an "unpardonable" weakness.

The row has finally been resolved by local volunteers agreeing to set up the nativity scene.

Saudi Woman Nabbed for Failing to Wear Hijab; Posted Photo on Twitter, Some Call for Her Death

A Saudi activist -- who posted a picture of herself outside without a hijab -- has been arrested, the Clarion Project website reports today (December 14, 2016).

Malak al-Shehri, 21, posted a picture of herself on Twitter this week without her government-mandated abaya (long cloak), instead wearing a jacket and a mid-calf length dress. The picture was taken in downtown Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.

Conservative twitter users demanded her arrest and punishment, with some going so far as to call for her death.

Saudi Arabia -- the most religious of all Islamic countries -- enforces strict modesty dress codes on women and a host of other restrictions routinely decried by activists as discrimination against women. In fact, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world in which women are not allowed to drive motor vehicles.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Pope Sends a Letter to Assad for Peace in Syria; Calls for End of Syria's Deadly 6-Year Civil War

Pope Francis is moving beyond prayer in stepped-up efforts to find peace for Syrians caught in the crossfire in a lingering civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people in six years of relentless fighting, The Daily Beast website reports today (December 13, 2016).

The pontiff -- who will turn 80 this weekend -- penned a letter to Bashar al-Assad that was hand-delivered to the Syrian leader in Damascus yesterday by Mario Zenari, the Vatican's cardinal and apostolic nuncio (ambassador) to Syria, calling for "an end to the violence and the peaceful resolution of hostilities."

According to the Holy See press office, the Vatican has been increasing diplomatic pressure on Assad with an eye to becoming an integral negotiator in eventual peace talks.

In another effort to resolve an international stalemate, Pope Francis served as the key negotiator that led to the renewal of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations last year, after a non-diplomatic hiatus of more than 50 years.

EU Signs Agreement with Cuba to Normalize Ties; After Death of Fidel Castro, Human Rights Denier

The EU (European Union) and Cuba yesterday signed a deal to normalize ties that had been blocked for decades by human rights concerns under communist dictator Fidel Castro -- who died last month -- the France 24 website reports today (December 13, 2016).

Cuba had been the only Latin American country that did not have a "dialogue and cooperation" deal with the EU, covering issues such as trade, human rights, and migration.

But EU ministers last week agreed to drop a policy in place since 1996 which stated that Cuba first had to improve its human rights standards before getting closer links with the bloc.

The new agreement was signed by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parilla, European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, and representatives from 28 EU member states at a Brussels ceremony capping years of difficult negotiations.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Egypt Pres. Names the Bomber of Coptic Church; Four Others Nabbed,Police Seek 2 More Suspects

The deadly attack on a Coptic Orthodox Christian cathedral complex in Cairo yesterday was staged by a suicide bomber, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi said today (December 12, 2016), according to the Orthodox Church Info Blog.

"The terrorist attack on the church was carried out by 22-year-old Mahmoud Mostafa Shafiq. The terrorist was wearing a suicide vest," Sisi said at a funeral ceremony in Cairo.

The president added that four people -- three men and a woman -- had been detained in connection with yesterday's attack, which left at least 20 churchgoers dead and almost 50 injured. Police are searching for two more suspects.

St. Mark's Cathedral serves as the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope. Copts are the largest ethnic and religious minority in predominantly Islamic Egypt, making up about 10 percent of the population.

UK Backs Antisemitism Definition to Stem Bias; Will Help to Diminish Hate Crimes against Jews

The British government is to formally adopt a definition of what constitutes antisemitism, which includes over-sweeping condemnation of Israel, with Prime Minister Theresa May saying the measure will help efforts to combat hate crime against Jews, The Guardian website reports today (December 12, 2016).

A Downing Street statement said the intention of such a definition was to "ensure that culprits will not be able to get away with being antisemitic because the term is ill-defined, or because different organizations or bodies have different interpretations of it."

The definition reads: "Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."

More detailed guidance says it could be considered antisemitic to accuse Jews of being more loyal to Israel or their religion than to their own nations, or to say the existence of Israel is intrinsically racist.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

ISIS Recaptures Palmyra from Syrian Govt.Troops; Outwits Syrians and Russians for Focus on Aleppo

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants today (December 11, 2016) recaptured Palmyra, taking the ancient central Syrian city from government troops in a major advance after a year of setbacks in Syria and neighboring Iraq, the CBS News website reports.

In retaking Palmyra, the extremist group appeared to be taking advantage of the Syrian and Russian preoccupation with Aleppo, timing the attack to coincide with a massive government offensive to capture the last remaining opposition-held neighborhoods in the northern Syrian city.

Palmyra -- with its towering 2,000-year-old ruins -- holds mostly symbolic meaning in the wider Syrian civil war, although its location in central Syria gives it some strategic significance as well.

ISIS militants re-entered the city yesterday for the first time since they were expelled by Syrian and Russian forces nine months ago.

Bombing at Cairo, Egypt Chapel Kills 25 at Mass; Another 49 Wounded at Coptic Orthodox Church

A bombing today (December 11, 2016) at a chapel adjacent to Egypt's main Coptic Christian cathedral killed 25 people and wounded another 49 during Sunday Mass, according to the Catholic News website.

Egypt's official MENA news agency said an assailant lobbed a bomb into a chapel adjacent to St. Mark's Cathedral, seat of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church and home to the office of its spiritual leader, Pope Tawadros II, who cut short a visit to Greece to return to Cairo after the blast.

Witnesses said the explosion may have been caused by an explosive device planted inside the chapel. A senior Church leader, Bishop Moussa, said at the cathedral that there were reports that a woman posing as a worshiper left a bag in the chapel's women's section before slipping out.

The blast took place as a Sunday Mass in the chapel was about to end and coincided with a national holiday in Egypt marking the birth of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Most of the victims are believed to be women and children.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Two Blasts in Istanbul Kill 29 People,Wound 166; Came after Soccer Game, Police Nab 10 Suspects

Turkey's Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said tonight (December 10, 2016) that two blasts after an Istanbul soccer match killed 29 people and wounded 166 others, according to the Chicago Tribune website.

The twin Saturday night bombings inflicted high casualties among police, killing 27 officers, as well as two civilians.

In an address early Sunday, the minister said 10 people had been arrested in connection with the attacks.

Police cordoned off the area as smoke rose from behind the newly-built Vodafone Arena Stadium, known colloquially as Besiktas Stadium after the local team. Witnesses also heard gunfire after the explosions. The second blast was believed to be a car bomb.

DoD Head: US to Send 200 More Troops to Syria; Will Help Kurdish and Arab Fighters Retake Raqa

U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said today (December 10, 2016) that Washington will send another 200 troops to Syria to help an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters seize the Islamic State (IS) group bastion of Raqa, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports.

They will join 300 U.S. special forces troops already deployed in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance in the drive on the jihadist stronghold it launched on November 5.

The operation coincides with a vast U.S.-backed offensive to retake Iraq's second largest city of Mosul from jihadists, forming a twin-pronged campaign intended to deliver a knockout blow to the Islamic "caliphate" they declared across Iraq and Syria in 2014.

The cities of Raqa and Mosul are the last major urban centers under Islamic State control, after the jihadists suffered a string of territorial losses in both countries over the past year.

Friday, December 9, 2016

US Warplanes Destroy 168 IS Oil Trucks in Syria; Largest Airstrike in IS War Weakens Its Revenue

In an effort to weaken the revenue of the Islamic State (IS) group, U.S. warplanes destroyed a fleet of 168 oil tankers in Syria in the largest strike in the two-year-old air campaign against the terrorist group, the USA Today website reports today (December 9, 2016).

More than 20 aircraft were used to destroy the tanker trucks, which were gathered near the city of Palmyra in central Syria. The oil in the trucks was worth about $2 million, according to a statement.

The airstrike -- which was launched yesterday -- is part of an operation to reduce revenues from the Islamic State. The IS gets 25 percent of its revenue from oil, the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, a private research group, estimates.

"When ISIL has access to large sums of money, they use it to conduct violent terror attacks against anyone who doesn't share their barbaric ideology," Col. John Dorrian, a military spokesman, said in a statement.

New Slovakia Law Bans Islam as Recognized Rel.; Also Blocks Islam from Receiving State Subsidies

The predominantly Christian country of Slovakia has passed a law that effectively bans Islam as an officially recognized religion, which also blocks Islam from receiving any state subsidies for its schools, the CNS News website reports today (December 9, 2016).

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said in May that "Islam has no place" in Slovakia.

Prior to the law being passed on November 30, Slovak National Party Chairman Andrej Danko said, "Islamization starts with a kebab and it's already under way in Bratislava -- let's realize what we can face in 5 to 10 years."

"We must do everything we can so that no mosque is built in the future," Danko said.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

US Official:50K IS Troops Killed in Iraq and Syria; Backs US General's August Estimate of 45K Killed

A senior military official for the first time says the U.S.-led coalition has killed 50,000 Islamic State (IS)  militants in the last two years in Iraq and Syria, the Newsmax website reports today (December 8, 2016).

The official said it was a conservative estimate, but it's a bit more than what others have estimated before.

The official wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly, so he spoke on condition of anonymity.

His estimate appears to be in agreement with one given by Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, who said in August that about 45,000 Islamic State combatants have been killed in Iraq and Syria.

Vatican Asserts Homosexuals Must Not Be Priests; Issues New Text:"The Gift of the Priestly Vocation"

In new guidelines on the priesthood, the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy has reiterated that men with "deeply rooted homosexual tendencies" should not be admitted into seminaries and, therefore, should not become priests, the Catholic News website reports today (December 8, 2016).

That position was initially stated by the Congregation for Catholic Education in 2005, but it was re-stated in a document released yesterday.

The new document also deals with other matters, including the value of indigenous and immigrant vocations and the importance of inoculating future priests against infection by "clericalism."

The new text -- titled "The Gift of the Priestly Vocation" -- was dated Thursday, December 8, feast of the Immaculate Conception, and a public holiday in Italy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

IS Troops in Mosul Hospital Strike Iraqi Forces; Use Machine Guns,Coalition Bombs IS Building

The U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State (IS) extremists in Iraq intentionally struck a hospital in Mosul today (December 7, 2016) to protect Iraqi forces from IS fighters inside the building, according to the VOA (Voice of America) News website.

The coalition said Iraqi forces requested "immediate support" after receiving heavy machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenade fire from IS forces in a building at the Al Salem hospital complex.

It is unclear how many casualties resulted from the IS strike.

Islamic State had been using the hospital as a command and control headquarters, according to the coalition. The airstrike was targeted to the location where IS fighters were firing on Iraqi forces.

Pope Francis Notes Spreading Fake News Is a Sin; Compares It to People Fascinated with Excrement

Pope Francis said today (December 7, 2016) that media that focus on scandals and spread fake news to smear politicians risk becoming like people who have a morbid fascination with excrement, according to the NY Post website.

Francis told the Belgian Catholic weekly Tertio that spreading disinformation was "probably the greatest damage that the media can do" and using communications for this rather than to educate the public amounted to a sin.

Using precise psychological terms, he said scandal-mongering media risked falling prey to coprophilia, or arousal from excrement, and consumers of these media risked coprophagia, or eating excrement.

The Argentine-born pontiff excused himself for using such terms in order to get his point across.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

German Chancellor Merkel Calls for a Burqa Ban; Hardens Her View Due to Anti-Migrant Sentiment

German Chancellor Angela Merkel today (December 6, 2016) proposed a partial ban on the face veil, hardening her party's once-progressive view on immigration in the face of rising anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe, according to the Vice News website.

Speaking at the Christian Democratic Party conference, Merkel suggested that the burqa and the niqab -- head coverings traditionally worn by Muslim women -- are "inappropriate" and insisted that German law "takes precedence over codes of honor, tribal or family rules -- that has to be spelled out clearly."

While some of her closest colleagues in the party have previously suggested a ban on face coverings -- purportedly for security reasons -- this is the first time Merkel has made such a strong statement publicly.

Merkel has often been criticized for her handling of Europe's refugee crisis, after she opened German borders to allow over a million people -- most of them fleeing war in the Middle East and Africa -- to live in Germany in 2015.

NYPD Sees a Rise in Post-Election Hate Crimes; Jews Targeted Most with 24 of the 43 Incidents

The New York Police Department said it has seen a dramatic rise in hate crimes following the election of Donald Trump, with the majority of incidents directed at Jews, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (December 6, 2016).

There has been a 115 percent increase in bias crimes in New York City following election day, with Jews being targeted in 24 of the 43 incidents during that nearly month-long period. The anti-Semitic incidents represented a threefold increase from November 2015.

In total, hate crimes have increased 35 percent from 2015, the NYPD's chief of detectives, Robert Boyce, said.

"We had a huge spike right after election day; it's somewhat slowed a little bit," Boyce said. "We're seeing across the board an increase right now."

Monday, December 5, 2016

About 5K Women in Nigeria Have AIDS for Life; Most Were Raped by Boko Haram Islamic Group

At least 5,000 people across 27 refugee camps in the northern Nigerian state of Borno have the auto-immune virus HIV (AIDS). Most of these are women who were rescued from or escaped Boko Haram captivity and were raped by the Islamic jihadist militia, the Clarion Project website reports today (December 5, 2016).

"We have heard of many supporting non-governmental organizations in Borno but none of them has approached us to offer assistance to the IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] with the virus," Hassan Mustapha, the Coordinator of HIV/AIDS told the media.

Boko Haram is a jihadist group that has waged a campaign of terror -- mainly against Christians --  across northern Nigeria since 2009. They pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) in March 2015 and are now the Islamic State in West Africa.

Boko Haram was responsible for over 6,000 deaths in 2015, more than any other terrorist group in the world.

Kerry Blames Bibi for Israeli-Palestinian Failure; Says Const. Settlements Done to End Peace Talks

Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Israel yesterday during a speech before the Brookings Institution's Saban Forum, claiming that support for settlement construction stems from a desire to subvert Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Times of Israel website reports today (December 5, 2016).

Kerry refrained from committing to veto any UN resolution intended to establish a Palestinian state, only promising a veto "if it is a biased, unfair resolution calculated to delegitimize Israel."

Kerry -- who will end his tenure as secretary of state in January -- warned the audience that "you can fight about where we are in this process, but I'll tell you this: There is no status quo. It is getting worse. It is moving in the wrong direction."

In his lengthy appearance, Kerry accused Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu's government of suffering from a lack of leadership, and explicitly cited Education Minister Naftali Bennett's recent comments lauding the demise of the two-state solution as "profoundly disturbing." Kerry emphasized that he was certain that the settlement construction was intended to serve as an obstacle to peace.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Christian Cemetery Desecrated in the Holy Land; Offensive Arabic Graffiti Found on Graves,Walls

The Christian cemetery of the village of Kfar Yassif in Galilee, northern Israel, was desecrated on December 1, the Independent Catholic News website reports today (December 4, 2016).

Blasphemous and obscene graffiti -- written in Arabic -- was found on several graves and funerary plaques as well as on the outer walls of the cemetery.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem -- in communion with all the churches of the Holy Land -- has strongly condemned this act of vandalism and asked the police to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice as soon as possible.

The Patriarchate shares the sadness of the families of the deceased of Kfar Yassif and has expressed to them his closeness and solidarity.

DoD Head: US to Remain in Iraq after IS Defeat; Must Do So to Prevent IS from Seizing New Land

U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday that the American military -- along with its international partners -- will need to remain in Iraq even after the expected defeat of the Islamic State (IS) group, the Times of Israel website reports today (December 4, 2016).

Carter said the U.S. and its coalition partners must not stop after completing the current campaign to expel IS from Mosul. He added the militants are on a path to lasting defeat.

"We'll need to continue to counter foreign fighters trying to escape and ISIL's attempts to relocate or reinvent itself. To do so, not only the United States but our coalition must endure and remain engaged militarily," he said.

Carter did not say how long this continued U.S. military presence might be necessary or how many troops would be required. At any rate, those decisions are likely to fall to the Trump administration after it takes office in January.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Syrian Army Advances, Now Rules Half of Aleppo; Some 310 Civilians Killed in Aleppo in Past Month

Syria's army advanced deeper into east Aleppo today (December 3, 2016), so that it now controls more than one-half of the former rebel stronghold, according to the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website.

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled eastern neighborhoods of the battered northern city since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime began its latest offensive in mid-November.

Around 310 civilians have been killed in the government's assault on east Aleppo since November 15, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The fighting has prompted more than 50,000 people to leave east Aleppo for territory controlled by either the government or Kurdish forces.

Ethel Rosenberg's Sons Seek Obama Acquittal; Executed in 1953 for Passing Secrets to Russia

The two sons of convicted spy Ethel Rosenberg were at the White House on December 1 -- more than 50 years after pleading unsuccessfully to spare her life -- in a last-ditch appeal to President Barack Obama to exonerate her amid new evidence, the Chicago Tribune website reports today (December 3, 2016).

Rosenberg was executed in 1953 along with her husband, Julius, after being convicted of conspiring to pass secrets about the atomic bomb to Soviet Russia. But court records made public last year through a judge's order cast doubt on the conventional narrative of a Cold War espionage case that captivated the country.

"This is our mother we're talking about," Robert Meeropol, one of Rosenberg's two sons, said as he stood outside the White House gates. "Since we can't bring her back to life, there could be nothing more satisfying to us than to have the government acknowledge that this shouldn't have happened, that this was wrong."

The new documents revealed that Ethel Rosenberg's brother, David Greenglass, whose damning trial testimony against her and her husband helped secure the couple's conviction, had never implicated his sister in an earlier appearance before a grand jury.

Friday, December 2, 2016

IS Preparing to Set Up New "State" in Philippines; Terror Analyst:IS to Soon Control Land on Island

The Islamic State (IS) may be losing ground in Syria and Iraq, but it is making inroads across southern Philippines, the Clarion Project website reports today (December 2, 2016).

Despite taking heavy losses in a battle with the Philippines military recently, an IS-affiliate has raised its flag over municipal buildings in a southern city in the Southeast Asian country.

This led one expert to forecast Islamic State will announce a new province on one of Philippines' largest islands.

Senior analyst at IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center Otso Iho believes it is only a matter of time before IS controls swaths of southern Philippines with its base on Mindanao, the country's second-largest island with a population of 20 million.

Israeli Minister Says Half of Fires Were Arson; Police Arrested 35 People on Suspicion of Arson

Israel's public security minister said 40 to 50 percent of the fires that raged across Israel over the past week were caused by arson, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (December 2, 2016).

Addressing the Knesset on November 30, Gilad Erdan said he came to those numbers based on "the estimates of professionals" and "findings on the ground."

"When you see two Molotov cocktails with flammable materials, and you see that the fire started from there, you understand that this is arson, and there were a number of cases like this," Erdan said.

The Israeli police said on November 29 it was too early to know how many of the hundreds of fires were the result of arson and terrorism. At that time, police had arrested at least 35 people on suspicion of arson or incitement to arson.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Turkey to Send 3K Refugees to Greece Each Day; Greek Intel: Turkey May Break EU Refugee Deal

Greek intelligence officials claim that the Turkish government has a secret plan to allow 3,000 refugees to sail to Greece every day, the Independent (British) website reports today (December 1, 2016).

The Greek officials said thousands of dinghies and motorboats have massed along the Turkish coast as the refugee deal agreed between Ankara and Brussels in March appears ready to collapse. Last week, the EU parliament voted to stop accession talks of Turkey joining the EU (European Union), as a result of Turkey's loss of human rights.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to open the borders if the EU continued to block talks on Turkey's accession to the EU.

According to the Greek newspaper "Proto Thema," Turkey has given up on hope of the EU living up to its side of the deal and could start allowing the refugees to flee to Greece and several Greek islands "within a matter of weeks."

Ted Cruz to US Senate:Castro Is Burning in Hell; Cuban Native Likens Castro to Hitler and Stalin

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tore into Fidel Castro from the Senate floor yesterday, suggesting the former Cuban atheist dictator is in hell, The Hill website reports today (December 1, 2016).

"He has departed for warmer climates," the Texas Republican said. "This brutal dictator is dead."

Cruz -- one of the Senate's three Cuban-American senators -- compared Castro to Nazi Germany's Adolf Hitler and Soviet Russia's Joseph Stalin.

"They also tortured and assassinated opponents," Cruz said. "They built concentration and extermination camps and eradicated all liberties, committing the worst crimes against humanity."