Wednesday, May 31, 2017

IS Fighters Seal Off Mosul Mosque in Last Stand; Close Streets by Mosque, Use Civilians as Shields

Islamic State (IS) militants have closed the streets around Mosul's Grand al-Nuri Mosque, residents said, in preparation for a final showdown in the battle over their last major stronghold in Iraq, the Reuters website reports today (May 31, 2017).

Dozens of fighters were seen by residents taking up positions in the past 48 hours around the medieval mosque.

Islamic State's black flag has been flying from the mosque since the militants captured Mosul -- Iraq's second largest city -- in July 2014.

The Iraqi troops' offensive to capture Mosul -- now in its eighth month -- has taken much more time than expected, as Islamic State is fighting in the middle of civilians and using them as human shields.

At Least 80 Killed,300 Wounded in Kabul Attack; Explosive-Filled Water Truck Hits Afghan Capital

A car bomb exploded during morning rush hour today (May 31, 2017) in Kabul's diplomatic district, killing at least 80 people and injuring more than 300 others, according to the UPI website.

Police said the blast -- described as "one of the biggest" to hit Afghanistan's capital -- occurred in Zanbaq Square, close to many government offices and foreign embassies.

"It was a car bomb near the German Embassy, but there are several other important compounds and offices near there too," said Kabul police spokesman Basir Mujahid.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, which police said came from a water tanker truck packed with explosives.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Many US Synagogues End Annual Binding Dues; Congregants Pay by Ability,Synagogues Thriving

According to a new study by the UJA-Federation of New York, the number of non-Orthodox synagogues nationwide that have eliminated fixed annual dues has more than doubled in the past two years, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (May 30, 2017).

Instead of charging a set membership fee, these synagogues are telling congregants to pay what they want -- and they're succeeding.

The nearly 60 Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist synagogues that have stopped charging mandatory dues are just a minor percentage of the country's 1,500 or so Conservative and Reform synagogues.

On average, the synagogues reported increases in both membership and total revenue since they switched to the voluntary model. They join nearly 1,000 Chabad centers in North America that have always worked on the voluntary model.

IS Car Bombs Kill at Least 26 People in Baghdad; 1st Was Near Ice Cream Parlor, 2nd by Govt. Ctr.

The Islamic State (IS) says it was behind a car bomb attack outside a packed ice cream parlor in Baghdad early today (May 30, 2017) that killed at least 16 people, according to the Euro News website.

Some 75 more men, women, and children were injured in the blast, just after midnight.

A suicide bomber in a vehicle is believed to have caused the attack in the mainly Shi'ite Karrada district of Baghdad.

A few hours later, a second car bomb killed at least 10 people and wounded dozens more near a government office area in the Karkh district.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Exclusive: Trump to End Obama's Cuba Policies; Will State More Rigid Policies toward Cuba Soon

The Daily Caller website reports exclusively today (May 29, 2017) that President Donald Trump will soon announce a rollback of former President Barack Obama's policies toward Cuba.

The Daily Caller revealed that the policy change is due to behind-the-scenes efforts of Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, and Republican Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

Former President Obama enacted several Cuban policy changes, including opening travel to the communist nation, re-establishing diplomatic relations, and loosening restrictions on doing business with Cuba.

The Daily Caller reports that Trump will announce the policy changes soon in a June speech in Miami, where many Cuban Americans have settled and are strongly opposed to Cuba's communist dictatorship, which began in 1960.

UN Mediator:Cyprus "Very Close" to Unity Deal; Says Cyprus Closest to Unity Since Its 1974 Split

A United Nations official said today (May 29, 2017) that Cyprus remains "very, very close" to an agreement to reunite the ethnically-divided island despite a breakdown in talks last week, according to the ABC News website.

Espen Barth Eide, the U.N.'s special adviser on Cyprus, called off mediation efforts on May 26, following a disagreement between Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci on how the talks should proceed.

The two leaders also differ on the future of around 35,000 Turkish troops on the island.

But Eide said in Athens today that the talks until now had brought the prospect of federal reunification closer than ever since the island's Greek-Turkish division occurred in 1974.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Mattis: IS Strategy Has Shifted to "Annihilation;" US Will Now Kill IS Troops to Prevent Relocating

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis revealed today (May 28, 2017) that the U.S. has now shifted its military strategy against ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) from "attrition tactics" to "annihilation," according to the Newsmax website.

In an interview today on CBS News' "Face The Nation," Mattis said "our strategy right now is to accelerate the campaign against ISIS."

"We have already shifted from attrition tactics where we shove them from one position to another in Iraq and Syria, to annihilation tactics where we surround them [and destroy them]."

"Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa -- we are not going to allow them to do so," he added. "We are going to stop them there and take apart the caliphate."

Israelis Rally to End Occupation of Arab Land; Israel Seized W.Bank,E.Jerusalem in 1967 War

Thousands of Israelis rallied yesterday in Tel Aviv in support of a Palestinian state ahead of the 50th anniversary of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports today (May 28, 2017).

Banners bearing the slogan "Two States, One Hope" featured in the demonstration organized by supporters of a Palestinian state, including the Israeli NGO Peace Now.

NGO head Avi Buskila said the rally was a protest against "the lack of hope being offered by a government perpetuating occupation, violence and racism."

In 1967, Israel seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six-Day War with neighboring Arab states.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Greek, Turkish Cypriots Link Arms for Unity; Both Sides Seek to Reunify the Divided Island

Dozens of Greek and Turkish Cypriots today (May 27, 2017) linked arms across a United Nations-controlled buffer zone cutting across ethnically divided Cyprus' capital of Nicosia to voice their support for a reunification agreement, according to the Washington Post website.

Beating drums, blowing whistles, and singing traditional Cypriot folk songs, the demonstrators said real peace lies in the hands of ordinary people from both sides of the divide as the Mediterranean island's reunification talks appear to be faltering.

Protesters said today's event was to remind politicians not to let ordinary people down. Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops seized control of the northern third of the island, which only Turkey recognizes.

Yesterday, a U.N. envoy called off mediation efforts with the island's Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci after failing to find "common ground" on convening a final summit for an overall reunification agreement.

Egypt Jets Eliminate IS Terrorist Camps in Libya; Respond to IS Bus Attack on Christians Yesterday

Egypt's air force launched strikes on suspected terrorist camps in Libya today (May 27, 2017) in retaliation for the deadly bus attack by Islamic State (IS) terrorists on Christians traveling to an Egyptian Christian monastery, according to the UPI website.

"The [air force] attack resulted in the complete destruction of the targets which included training and concentration areas of elements that participated in the planning and execution of the attack," an army statement said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced on national TV that he had directed six strikes in the Libyan port city of Derna, along its western border.

"Egypt will never hesitate to strike terror camps anywhere... if it plans attacking Egypt whether inside or outside the country," Sisi said.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Ramadan Holy Month of Muslim Fasting Begins; Trump Accents Terrorism in Honoring Ramadan

President Donald Trump today (May 26, 2017) released a statement in honor of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, with a message that focused on terrorism, according to the Huffington Post website.

"On behalf of the American people, I would like to wish all Muslims a joyful Ramadan," the president wrote.

He continued: "America will always stand with our partners against terrorism and the ideology that fuels it. During this month of Ramadan, let us be resolved to spare no measure so that we may ensure that future generations will be free of this scourge and able to worship and commune in peace."

Trump's statement diverged from Ramadan greetings released in previous years by President Barack Obama, who spoke about celebrating and honoring the contributions of Muslims to American society.

Gunmen Kill 26 on Two Buses, Truck in Egypt; Open Fire on Christians Heading to Monastery

Gunmen attacked two buses and a truck taking a group of Coptic Orthodox Christians to a monastery in southern Egypt today (May 26, 2017), killing at least 26 people and wounding 25 others, according to the Euro News website.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said the unidentified gunmen had arrived in three four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Masked men stopped the two buses and truck and opened fire on a road leading to the monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor in Minya province, about 140 miles south of Cairo.

Security forces launched a hunt for the attackers, setting up dozens of checkpoints and patrols on the desert road.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Trump's Travel Order Going to Supreme Court; "Is Well within His Pres.Right to Keep US Safe"

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said today (May 25, 2017) that he will ask the Supreme Court to review an appeals court ruling that blocks President Donald Trump's executive order limiting travel to the U.S. from six predominantly Muslim countries, according to the VOA News website.

Sessions issued a statement saying, "President Trump's executive order is well within his lawful authority to keep the nation safe."

"The Department of Justice strongly disagrees with the decision of the divided court, which blocks the president's efforts to strengthen this country's national security..." the attorney general said.

Sessions was responding to a ruling earlier today by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, in which it declined to reinstate the three-month ban on most travelers from the six nations.

Pollard Loses Appeal to Abate Parole Conditions; Betrayed US by Selling Classified Papers to Israel

A federal appeals court has rejected convicted spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard's request to lift restrictive parole conditions, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (May 25, 2017).

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan issued the judgment yesterday, a week after hearing arguments.

The parole terms issued upon Pollard's release from a federal prison in November 2015 -- after he served 30 years of a life sentence -- require him to stay in his New York home from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.; to submit any computer he uses for inspection; and to wear a GPS-monitoring device at all times. The device means that Pollard -- who is an Orthodox Jew -- is forced to violate Shabbat observance, his lawyer argued.

Pollard, 62, also must remain in the U.S. for five years, despite his desire to move to Israel. Pollard betrayed the U.S. by selling hundreds of classified documents to Israeli officials in 1984 and 1985.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Duterte Declares Martial Law in S. Philippines; Due to Clashes between National Troops and IS

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law yesterday across the southern third of the Philippine Islands, after deadly clashes between security forces and militants linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in a major city, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports today (May 24, 2017).

The announcement, made by his spokesman at a press conference in Moscow where Duterte was on an official visit, fulfills a warning by the president that he would enforce military rule to quell security threats by ISIS.

Duterte placed all of the southern region of Mindanao -- which makes up about one-third of the country and is home to 20 million people -- under martial law, spokesman Ernesto Abella said in the nationally televised briefing.

The announcement of martial law came after security forces battled dozens of ISIS-linked gunmen in Marawi, a city of about 200,000 people in Mindanao. While the Philippines boasts of being the only predominantly Christian nation in all of Asia, about 20 percent of the population on the island of Mindanao is Muslim.

Pope and Trump Meet in Private at the Vatican; Vow to Fight for Life,Peace,Freedom of Worship

President Donald Trump and Pope Francis met today (May 24, 2017) at the Vatican where they spoke for 30 minutes in private, and vowed to fight together for life, peace, and freedom of worship, according to the Christian Post website.

"Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world," Trump posted on Twitter following the meeting.

Trump and the pope also spoke on the "promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue," along with the need to protect Christian communities in the Middle East, which are suffering severely due to radical Islamic terrorists.

During their meeting, the pope presented Trump with a split medallion held together by an olive tree, symbolizing peace.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Conn. Imam Confined for Fraud to Be Deported; Found Guilty of Defrauding Immigration Papers

A Connecticut imam has been detained by U.S. immigration agents and faces deportation to Pakistan, the Fox News website reports today (May 23, 2017).

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Hafiz Abdul Hannan, the leader of the Masjid Al-Islam mosque in New Haven, Conn. since 2013, was taken into custody at his home on May 19.

He was previously convicted of committing fraud in immigration documents and will remain in custody pending his removal from the U.S., said Shawn Neudauer, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman.

Hannan previously served as an Islamic chaplain for the Middlesex House of Correction in Billerica, Massachusetts. He was also the leader of the Islamic Society of Greater Lowell in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.

Trump, Abbas Call for Israeli-Arab Peace Talks; Trump "Truly Hopeful" for End of Decades Rift

President Donald Trump called for a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian relations after he met today (May 23, 2017) in Bethlehem with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to the UPI website.

Abbas announced he is ready to be Trump's partner in securing peace in the Middle East through establishment of a Palestinian state on land captured by Israel in 1967.

Trump said he was "truly hopeful" for an end to the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and added that goodwill from his visit would turn into peace talks.

"Peace is a choice we must make each day, and the United States is here to make that dream possible..." Trump asserted.

Monday, May 22, 2017

At Least 19 Killed in Terrorist Explosion in UK; 50 Concert Goers Injured in Manchester Arena

A deadly explosion at an Ariana Grande concert in England's Manchester Arena tonight (May 22, 2017) killed at least 19 people and sent thousands of terrified concert-goers running for the exits in what police are calling a terrorist attack, according to the USA Today website.

At least 50 others were injured in the attack. Grande was not injured. The Islamic State (IS) terror group is believed responsible for the explosion, based on its delighted online postings.

Witness Kiera Dawber tearfully said that there was a "massive, massive explosion" followed by a chaotic scene of screams, shouts, shoes, and handbags strewn about, and about 20 bodies on the floor of a hallway. "You could see straight off that they were just dead," Dawber said.

Eyewitnesses told local TV stations that the Grande concert was just wrapping up at about 10:35 p.m. local time, when at least one thunderous explosion could be heard. Manchester Arena holds 21,000 people.

Egypt Charges IS Suspects in Church Bombings; Involved in Suicide Bomb Attacks on 3 Churches

Public prosecutors in Egypt have referred 48 Islamic State (IS) terrorist suspects to military tribunal on suspicion of involvement in carrying out three separate suicide bombing attacks against Coptic Orthodox Christian churches, the Clarion Project website reports today (May 22, 2017).

The bombings were an attack against the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church in Cairo on December 11, 2016 and against churches in Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday 2017.

Of the 48 suspects, 31 are in police custody, leaving 17 as yet unaccounted for, according to the "Middle East Eye."

The suspects are accused of setting up IS cells in Cairo and the southern province of Qena.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

German, Afghan Die in Kabul, Finn Is Abducted; 20 Afghan Policemen Killed in Province of Zabul

A German aid worker and an Afghan guard were killed and a Finnish woman kidnapped as gunmen stormed an international guest house in Kabul last night, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports today (May 21, 2017).

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack on the guest house run by Swedish charity Operation Mercy in the heart of the Afghan capital.

In further attacks roiling Afghanistan, 20 policemen were killed early today when Taliban fighters stormed their outposts in the southern province of Zabul, as the Islamic terrorists escalate their annual spring offensive.

The interior ministry confirmed the brazen Kabul attack, the latest in a series of recent assaults on aid workers in Afghanistan.

Trump:Terrorism Is Battle between Good, Evil; Tells Arabs Decent People of All Rel.Guard Life

Donald Trump said today (May 21, 2017) the struggle against violent extremism was a "battle between good and evil" as he urged countries in the Middle East to combat radicalization, according to the Independent (British) website.

In Saudi Arabia's grand King Abdulaziz Conference Center, leaders of 50 Arab and Islamic nations listened to Trump's first official speech to leaders abroad since his inauguration.

"This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations," Trump told the Middle East leaders.

"This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil."

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Russian Orth. Patriarch Rips Ukraine Rel. Plan; Law Ends Rel. Protection of an Aggressor State

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has asked Pope Francis and other religious leaders to exert their influence against a proposal to amend Ukrainian laws to withdraw protection from religious bodies that are under the influence of an "aggressor state," the Catholic Culture website reports today (May 20, 2017).

Because Ukraine currently defines Russia as an aggressor state, Kirill said, the proposal would "threaten the constitutional rights of millions of Ukrainian believers," who are affiliated with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church subject to the jurisdiction of the Moscow patriarchate.

He warned that the measure, if passed, could lead to "a wave of violence and new seizures of churches" in Ukraine.

Most Ukrainians are Orthodox Christians, with about 31 percent belonging to the Kiev Patriarchate, 26 percent belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate, and 2 percent being members of the Ukrainian Autocephalous (self-governing) Orthodox Church.

Some Canadian Churches Being Hit via Taxes; Montreal Taxing Rooms Not Used for Worship

Although churches in Montreal, Canada have traditionally been exempt from paying taxes, the Montreal Council has decided that only rooms that are used for worship are exempt, according to the Christian Today website.

This means other spaces in a church are liable for tax -- even if they are being used for good works in the community, such as food banks.

Also, if a church building closes down for worship, it is immediately liable to be taxed.

In criticizing the church tax, Montreal Councilor Peter McQueen said: "If we don't do something, you're going to see churches closed, churches possibly torn down, heaven forbid, certainly converted away from community use."

Friday, May 19, 2017

Car Bombings in Baghdad Kill 11, Wound 20; First Attack Hits Police Area, 2nd Busy Street

Two car bombings in southwestern Baghdad tonight killed 11 people -- including four police officers -- and wounded at least 20 more, the Newsmax website reports today (May 19, 2017).

Officials say the first attack targeted a police checkpoint. Moments later, the second blast hit a nearby street crowded with civilians.

No group immediately claimed responsibility, but the attacks bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State (IS) group, which has claimed similar bombings in the past.

The bombings come as Iraqi forces are slowly moving in on the last neighborhoods held by the Islamic State group in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city.

US May Keep Some 20K Troops in Post-IS Iraq; Will Assure Iraqi Forces Ensure Security in Iraq

The former head of the Pentagon's policy shop said yesterday that the U.S. may need to keep as many as 20,000 troops and other military personnel in Iraq -- even after the Islamic State is driven out -- to stabilize the country, the Washington Times website reports today (May 19, 2017).

A postwar force of between 4,000 and 8,000 American troops "is probably sufficient" to help local security forces ensure security in Iraq as ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] faces defeat in its final stronghold in Mosul, Eric Edelman, the Pentagon's top policy official during the George W. Bush administration said.

The U.S. forces would likely be deployed as advisers -- not combat troops -- to support Iraq's police and military forces, he said.

"We are dealing with an ISIS that is severely, severely weakened" after nearly two years of constant war against U.S.-backed Iraq and Kurdish forces," said Edelman, who is now a senior fellow at a Washington, D.C. defense think tank.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

US Complains to Turkey Over Embassy Cruelty; McCain: Throw Turkish Ambassador Out of US

The U.S. today (May 18, 2017) made a complaint to Turkey after violence erupted yesterday between peaceful protesters outside the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C. and Turkish security personnel armed with guns, according to the BBC website.

Two people were arrested and 11 were injured during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to the U.S.

U.S. Senator John McCain -- furious by the savage brutality shown by the Turkish security personnel -- today called for the Turkish ambassador to be expelled. "We should throw their ambassador the hell out of the United States of America," McCain said.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce sent letters to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging them to take action over the unnecessary brutal attacks by the Turkish security personnel (on supporters of Kurdish troops fighting the Islamic State terror group in Syria).

Thousands Strike In Greece against Pay Cuts; Parliament May Cut Pensions to Allow Loans

Hundreds of Greek pensioners braved torrential rain in Athens today (May 18, 2017) to express their anger at the latest planned cuts to their incomes, according to the Euro News website.

More demonstrators were expected, with parliament due to vote on a new austerity package -- part of an agreement with international creditors in order to secure the next bailout installment.

Yesterday saw a general strike as thousands of Greeks walked off their jobs and marched through the center of Athens.

Parliament is expected to vote in favor of the plan which would lower pensions and raise taxes by nearly five billion euros. In return, seven billion euros of loans would be released to Greece.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Erdogan's Bodyguards Hit Kurd Backers in DC; Turkish Pres. Opposed to Arming Kurd Troops

The city of Washington today (May 17, 2017) condemned a "brutal attack of peaceful protesters" after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's bodyguards attacked pro-Kurdish demonstrators, according to the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website.

Two people were arrested and 11 were injured -- including a police officer -- amid demonstrations yesterday as Erdogan held meetings in the U.S. capital after visiting President Donald Trump. Erdogan told Trump that he is adamantly opposed to the U.S. arms that are being sent to Kurdish troops in Syria to fight the Islamic State (IS).

Witnesses told AFP that members of Erdogan's security detail pushed past Washington police outside the Turkish ambassador's residence and attacked a group of Kurdish supporters.

Video footage shows a group of men in suits punching and kicking the protesters -- including a woman lying on the ground -- as police try to contain the clash.

IS Terrorists Attack Afghan TV/Radio Offices; Kill 1, Wound 16, Increasing Afghan Terrorism

Islamic State (IS) suicide bombers today (May 17, 2017) attacked Afghanistan's national radio and television station in Jalalabad, according to the UPI website.

Three militants stormed the compound housing Radio Television Afghanistan in the eastern Afghan city, and two of the suicide bombers blew themselves up.

A TV employee died and 16 were injured in the attack, a local hospital director confirmed.

IS and Taliban militants have been increasing deadly terrorist activities in Jalalabad -- which is near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan -- as well as other Afghan regions in recent months.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Former Chief Rabbi of Israel Convicted of Fraud; Stole Millions of Govt. Shekels for Civil Servants

A former chief rabbi of Israel was convicted of fraud yesterday for his part in a bonus-scam that swindled hundreds of millions of shekels from the government in civil servants' wages, the Times of Israel website reports today (May 16, 2017).

The Jerusalem District Court found Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron guilty of fraud offenses including fraud in aggravated circumstances, falsifying documents, and breach of trust. His court sentencing will occur at a later date.

He is the second former chief rabbi to be convicted of fraud this year after former Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger pleaded guilty to fraud, theft, conspiracy, breach of trust, money laundering, tax offenses, and accepting bribes involving some NIS 10 million ($2.6 million) under a plea bargain.

Metzger is currently serving a 3.5-year prison sentence at Ma'asiyahu Prison in the central Israeli town of Ramle.

UN Slams North Korea's Ballistic Missile Testing; Says It Violates UN Resolutions,Threatens Peace

The United Nations Security Council has condemned North Korea's ballistic missile testing in recent months as a "threat to peace," the Euro News website reports today (May 16, 2017).

The secretive communist regime launched a medium-range rocket on May 14, which was deemed by some to have been a sinister message to South Korea after its new president took office.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary General, said: "This action is in violation of Security Council resolutions and a threat to peace and security in the region."

He added: "The secretary general calls on DPRK to ensure full compliance with its international obligations and return to the path of denuclearization."

Monday, May 15, 2017

Iraqi Forces on Verge of Defeating IS in Mosul; Area Controlled by IS Is Now Just 9% of Mosul

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces pushed deeper into the last pocket of Mosul controlled by Islamic State (IS) militants yesterday, as the battle for the city approaches an end after seven months of Herculean urban combat, the Reuters website reports today (May 15, 2017).

The IS militants have now been dislodged from all but a handful of districts in the western half of Mosul including the Old City, where IS is expected to make its last stand, taking advantage of narrow streets and its dense population.

Brigadier General Yahya Rasoul said the area controlled by Islamic State was no more than 9 percent of west Mosul, which is bisected by the Tigris River.

"It's a very small area," he told Reuters. "God willing, this is the final phase."

US:Syria Burns Prisoner Bodies in Crematorium; Intel Shows Some 50 Prisoners a Day Are Burned

The Trump administration today (May 15, 2017) accused the Syrian government of carrying out mass killings of thousands of prisoners and burning the bodies in a large crematorium outside the capital, according to the ABC News website.

The State Department said it believed that about 50 detainees a day are being hanged at Saydnaya military prison, about 45 minutes from Damascus. Many of the bodies, it said, are then burned in the crematorium.

"We believe that the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Saydnaya prison," said Stuart Jones, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East.

The department released satellite photographs showing what it said is a building in the prison complex that has been modified to support the crematorium.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Pope Won't Try to Relax Trump's Migrant Views; Will Work for Peace When Two Meet This Month

Pope Francis says he won't try to convince U.S. President Donald Trump to soften his policies on immigration and the environment when they meet this month, but wants instead to find common ground and work for peace, the Independent (British) website reports today (May 14, 2017).

Speaking to reporters while flying home yesterday from a trip to Portugal, Francis said he would say what he thinks sincerely to Trump and listen respectfully to what Trump has to say.

Speculation has swirled about what Trump and Francis will discuss during their May 24 audience, given Francis has already said anyone (in referring to Trump) who wants to build walls to keep out migrants is "not Christian."

Trump -- who made building a wall along the border with Mexico a signature campaign promise -- responded by saying it was "disgraceful" that the pope would question his faith.

Exclusive: Abbas Ready to Sign Israel Peace Deal; PA Pres.Is More Compliant on Previous Demands

The Jerusalem Post website reveals exclusively today (May 14, 2017) that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has voiced "unprecedented" readiness to reach a peace deal with Israel.

Sources told the Jerusalem Post that Abbas made this clear to President Donald Trump during their meeting at the White House last week.

President Trump plans to use his trip to Israel on May 22 to receive assurances from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he, too, is committed to a peace agreement.

Since meeting with Trump last week, Abbas has changed his rigid rhetoric, issuing a number of statements meant to reflect flexibility on previous demands, in order to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Pope:Vatican Has 2K Cases of Clergy Sex Abuse; Sees Slow Pace in Handling Abuse, Adding Staff

Pope Francis acknowledged today (May 13, 2017) that the Vatican has a 2,000-case backlog in processing clerical sex abuse cases and says criticism of the slow pace was justified, according to the ABC News website.

Francis was making his first comments about the criticism leveled at the Vatican's handling of sex abuse cases by Marie Collins, an Irish sex abuse victim who resigned from Francis' sex abuse advisory commission in March.

Collins quit because of what she said was the "unacceptable" level of resistance within the Vatican to implementing the group's proposals to better care for victims and protect children from priests who rape and molest them.

Speaking to reporters while flying home today from a trip to Portugal, Francis called Collins "a great woman" and said she was "a bit right" to complain about the slow pace in processing abuse cases. He also said that more staff are being added to speed up the process and that the Vatican is "on the right path."

Christians Leaving Mideast in Record Numbers; Driven Out by IS Terrorism,Laws Favoring Islam

Christians are leaving the Middle East in record numbers, driven out by terrorism by the Islamic State (IS) and laws in countries the U.S. considers allies, the Newsmax website reports today (May 13, 2017).

By 2025, Christians are expected to comprise a mere 3 percent of the population in the Middle East, whereas they represented 13.6 percent a century ago.

Islam is the primary religion in the Middle East. Laws in some countries discriminate against Christians, denying them the right to government jobs or even to rebuild churches.

"The disappearance of such minorities sets the stage for more radical groups to dominate in society," said Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Saudi King Grants Women a Few More Rights; Women Can Attend College,Open a Bank Acct.

Saudi Arabian King Salman's recent decision to grant women more rights -- which has been discouraged for decades in this most conservative of all Islamic nations -- won praise in some quarters and grumbles of discontent in others, the VOA News website reports today (May 12, 2017).

The royal decree permits women to make a certain number of decisions without the permission of a male guardian.

Legal adviser Hassa al Duleimi told state TV the decision was based on a complaint over equality of the sexes in obtaining services from the government.

She said Saudi women will now be able to obtain various government services, including the right to enroll in a university, the right to open a bank account, and the right to leave prison after finishing a sentence without the agreement of a male guardian. However, requesting a passport, traveling abroad, or getting married will still require a woman to have the permission of a male family member.

Canada Antisemitic Incidents Set Record in 2016; Rose to 1728 Incidents in 2016 from 1277 in 2015

An annual audit revealed today (May 12, 2017) that the number of antisemitic incidents in Canada set a record in 2016, rising by 26 percent over the previous year, according to the Jerusalem Post website.

B'nai Brith recorded 1,728 incidents nationwide last year, according to its annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, compared to 1,277 incidents in 2015.

The previous record was 1,627 in 2014. Quebec was the only province where incidents fell -- to 249 in 2016 from 265 the prior year.

Reasons for the increase, the audit reported, included university campus anti-Zionism and anti-Israel sentiment found in some Arabic-language newspapers.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Illegal Border Crossers Decline in Trump's Term; 42K Crossers Nabbed in 1st 3 Mos.,133K Yr. Ago

Statistics released by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) on May 9 indicate that the flow of illegal immigration across the southwestern border of the U.S. declined dramatically since Donald Trump took office in January, The New American website reports today (May 11, 2017).

During the first three full months of Trump's administration, 42,000 illegal border crossers were taken into custody, compared to nearly 133,000 apprehensions during the same period a year ago.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesman David Lapan credited tougher surveillance and enforcement by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (a DHS agency) for the decline in border crossers.

Despite the decrease in illegals apprehended, Lapan said DHS still wants to add as many as 5,000 more immigration enforcement staff, saying, "We still have shortages" in border enforcement personnel.

Poster of Pope, Trump Kissing Appears in Rome; Trump Shown as Devil,2 Meet at Vatican May 24

A poster showing Pope Francis and a devilish, gun-toting Donald Trump kissing appeared in Rome today (May 11, 2017), less than two weeks before their first meeting, according to the ABC News website.

The caption "The Good Forgives the Evil" is written in English and Italian in tiny letters along Francis' belt. The anonymous poster was signed by "TV Boy Official."

In the life-sized image, the white-robed, halo-clad Francis embraces Trump, who has red horns, a red cape, and a gun in a holster. Francis is scheduled to meet with Trump on May 24 at the Vatican.

Pope Francis has previously been the focus of anonymous street art and sarcastic humor in Rome. For example, earlier this year, scores of posters ridiculing Francis' liberal policies toward traditional Catholic doctrine -- such as allowing remarried divorced Catholics to receive Holy Communion --  were posted throughout Rome.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

US Forbids Laptops in Cabins of Europe Flights; Fears Terrorists May Convert Laptops to Bombs

The Department of Homeland Security plans to announce tomorrow that it is banning laptops in the cabins of all flights from Europe to the U.S., The Daily Beast website reports today (May 10, 2017).

Initially, a ban on laptops and tablets was applied only to U.S.-bound flights from 10 airports in North Africa and the Middle East.

The ban was based on U.S. fears that terrorists have found a way to convert laptops into bombs capable of bringing down an airplane.

It is unclear if the European ban will also apply to tablets.

More US Afghan Troops Worries Some Solons; Increase Necessary to Break Terrorist Impasse

An expected significant increase in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is bringing praise from critics of the drawdown of forces in the region, but renewed concerns from Democrats unsure of the president's strategy for the war, the Military Times website reports today (May 10, 2017).

The news comes three months after Gen. John Nicholson Jr., commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, told lawmakers that he needed additional forces to expand advising and training of Afghan troops and break the "stalemate" with terrorist groups still operating in the region.

About 8,500 U.S. troops and another 5,000 troops from foreign allies are still stationed in Afghanistan, even though official combat mission there ended in 2014.

The new plan would authorize the Pentagon to set its own troop numbers for Afghanistan, instead of following White House recommendations.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Trump OKs Arms for Syrian Kurds to Fight IS; Turkey Is Infuriated,Views Kurds as Terrorists

The Pentagon said today (May 9, 2017) that President Donald Trump has approved a plan to send arms to Kurdish troops in Syria to fight ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and advance toward its capital city of Raqqa, according to The Daily Beast website.

"The fight for Raqqa will be long and difficult, but will ultimately be yet another defeat for ISIS, and another step toward eliminating ISIS threat to peace and security in the region and the world," a Pentagon statement reads.

The decision was made over strong objections from Turkey, which views the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) as part of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which both Turkey and the U.S. label a terrorist group. Moreover, there are many Kurds in Turkey who have fought with Turks for decades, as they have been attempting to establish their own independent Kurdish state in Turkey.

"We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally," the Pentagon statement said.

Russia Celebrates 72nd Anniv.of Defeating Nazis; Putin: No Force Can or Will Ever Conquer Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin -- in a Victory Day speech in Moscow today (May 9, 2017) commemorating the defeat of Germany in World War II -- said no force could conquer Russia and called on nations to cooperate with Russia in fighting terrorism, according to the UPI website.

His address in Red Square came as Russia celebrated the 72nd anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

"The Soviet Union faced the most powerful assaults by the Nazis, but there is no force, and there will be no force, that could conquer our people," Putin said. He also called on nations of the world to cooperate with Russia to defeat the radical Islamic terrorism that is now pervading society.

Victory Day honors Russians on the battlefield and on the home front who sacrificed for the war effort. Some 27 million Russian soldiers and civilians were killed in World War II, as Nazi troops tried to conquer Russia. The defeat of the Nazis is still viewed with immense national pride.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Abbas Refuses to Stop Salaries to PA Terrorists; Claims Payments Meant for "Freedom Fighters"

Fearing a sharp decline in Arab terror attacks against Israelis, Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has rejected the demands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump, and many other government leaders to stop the payments of salaries to imprisoned terrorists' families, the Jewish Press website reports today (May 8, 2017).

"The President [Abbas] emphasized his absolute refusal of the Israeli demands to stop the allowances of the families of the prisoners and martyrs, and emphasized his absolute support for them [that is, for the payments]," according to Amad, an independent Palestinian news website.

The are two major Palestinian defenses of the payments. The first is that the prisoners are not terrorists, but "freedom fighters" and therefore are rightfully being rewarded.

The second claim is that the payments are actually "social welfare for the families," and therefore not a reward for terror.

Pakistan Christians Must Attend Quran Praying; Hospital Workers Who Don't Attend Aren't Paid

Christian workers at a Pakistani hospital are being forced to attend morning readings of the Quran, and one worker was even physically abused for refusing to attend, the Christian Headlines website reports today (May 8, 2017).

Christians on the staff at Mian Mir Hospital in Lahore, Pakistan were told they had to attend Quran readings, and when one Christian paramedic refused, he was reportedly slapped by Dr. Muhammad Safraz, the hospital's superintendent.

Those who refuse to attend the Quran meetings are marked absent from work and end up not being paid.

A Muslim paramedic condemned the discrimination: "I don't know why the administration is forcing our Christian brothers to do this. This is totally unacceptable."

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cyprus Pres.Criticizes UN Envoy for Bias,Haste; Feels His Statements Hinder Reunifying Cyprus

The president of Cyprus today (May 7, 2017) criticized a UN envoy for perceived bias and undue haste amid troubled talks aimed at reunifying the ethnically divided Mediterranean island, according to the Washington Post website.

President Nicos Anastasiades, a Greek Cypriot, said that he's "distraught" that UN envoy Espen Barth Eide appears to be adopting the positions of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots. He said Eide should grasp that "statements or threats" will produce results contrary to the goal of reunifying Cyprus as a federation.

"The less said, especially on his (Eide's) part, the better," Anastasiades told reporters, adding that the UN envoy is too much "in a hurry."

The Cypriot president said he did not want to pick a fight "but I've repeatedly brought to his attention that he should be careful with whichever statements are made because they create distrust."

Study:40% of Germans Soiled with Antisemitism; "Antisemitism Is a Problem of the Entire Society"

A recent German government study revealed that nearly 33 million Germans -- 40% of the population of 82 million -- are infected with contemporary antisemitism, the Jerusalem Post website reports today (May 7, 2017).

The study -- which was published on April 24 -- details in a section titled "Agreement to Israel-related antisemitism" that 40 % of Germans who were polled showed approval for the following statement: "Based on Israel's policies, I can understand people having something against the Jews."

The report found that the proportion of Germans who agreed with the antisemitic statement increased from 28% in 2014 to 40% in 2016.

Petra Pau -- a Left Party deputy in Germany's legislature -- said, "Antisemitism is a problem of the entire society." She added that Israel-related antisemitism has become "respectable."

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Iraqi Forces Push Further into Northern Mosul; New Push Will Speed Up Defeat of Islamic State

Iraqi forces pushed further into Mosul from the north today (May 6, 2017) on the second day of a new push to speed up the nearly seven-month attempt to dislodge the Islamic State (IS), according to the Reuters website.

IS troops tried to block the Iraqi troops' northerly advance into their Iraqi capital with suicide car bombs and sniper fire.

Iraqi troops killed some 30 IS militants and destroyed five car bombs before they could be used against them.

U.S. air support proved vital for spotting suicide car bombs and for avoiding targets where civilians were trapped.

Atheists File Lawsuit on New Rel. Liberty Order; Claim It Favors Rel. Groups over Secular Groups

An atheist organization has filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump and the Internal Revenue Service over the president's new "religious liberty" executive order, arguing that it's unconstitutional government support of religious organizations, the Huffington Post website reports today (May 6, 2017).

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) -- headquartered in Wisconsin -- filed the lawsuit on May 4 in U.S. District Court, the Western District of Wisconsin.

The FFRF action maintains that the president's order would selectively benefit churches and religious organizations by allowing them to endorse political candidates without risking their tax-exempt status.

The lawsuit contends Trump's order violates its equal protection and free speech rights under the Constitution, and favors church groups over secular groups, which is a violation of the First Amendment.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Belgian PM:EU Must End Allowing Turkey's Bid; Turkey Has Ripped European Values for Months

Belgium's prime minister said today (May 5, 2017) the time has come for the European Union (EU) to make a final decision about Turkey's "dead end" bid for membership, asserting that after months of provocations from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, "masochism must have its limits," the AP website reports.

"Here and now, I have impression that the membership process is not the right framework to have a successful dialogue with Turkey," Charles Michel said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Austria is also seeking to end Turkey's membership bid, and a growing group of countries say they've realized acting as if Turkey is still a constructive partner would amount to a charade.

"Let's be frank -- for several months now there is an acceleration in the process of the Turkish government turning its back on European values," Michel said.

Russia Prohibits US Aircraft over Most of Syria; No Immediate Comment by Trump,US Military

A senior Russian diplomat said today (May 5, 2017) that United States and allied aircraft will be banned from flying over much of Syria in a deal between Iran, Russia, and Turkey, according to the NY Times website.

The diplomat, Aleksandr Lavrentiev, also suggested that Russian and Turkish warplanes would be prohibited from flying in four designated "de-escalation zones," where Syrian government and rebel forces are supposed to stop fighting each other.

But Lavrentiev sketched out a broader geographical no-fly zone for American and coalition military planes. He said they would be allowed to fly only in eastern Syria over Islamic State (IS) controlled areas, apparently excluding the entire western region of the country.

There was no immediate comment from the American military or from the Trump administration on the Russian order.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Exclusive:Refugees Plummet in US under Trump; He Aims to Thwart Them to Avoid Terror Attacks

The USA Today website reports exclusively today (May 4, 2017) that its research shows the number of refugees arriving in the U.S. has dropped sharply in 2017 because of President Trump's threats to bar their entry, even though his order for a total 120-day ban has been rejected twice by federal courts.

The U.S. accepted 2,070 refugees in March, the lowest monthly total since 2013, according to State Department data. April ended with 3,316 refugees admitted, the second-lowest total since 2013. Trump is determined to block as many refugees as he can, fearing that terrorists may pretend to be refugees, and cause deadly terror attacks after they arrive in the U.S., as they did in France and other countries.

"The statements from this administration about refugees are shocking to me," said Kay Bellor of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which resettled 13,000 refugees in 26 states in 2016. "It is language I've never heard used with refugees, who have always enjoyed bipartisan support because they're the best part of what the U.S. does."

Refugees can be described as a special class of migrants who seek asylum because war, persecution, or natural disasters have forced them to flee their home countries. Worldwide, there are more refugees than at any time since World War II as a result of so many regional conflicts currently occurring, according to the United Nations.

Trump Relaxes Pol. Activity of Rel. Institutions; Says New Executive Order Protects Rel. Liberty

White House officials said President Donald Trump will sign an executive order today (May 4, 2017) to ease the enforcement of rules prohibiting tax-exempt religious institutions from politics, according to the UPI website.

Trump is expected to sign the order to mark the National Day of Prayer at the White House.

His order will give the IRS discrimination on whether to enforce the Johnson Amendment, a U.S. tax code provision implemented in 1954 that prohibits most non-profit institutions -- including churches and universities -- from participating in any political activity that would support or oppose a person.

Trump said this new executive order will "protect and vigorously promote religious liberty" for tax-exempt institutions.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Abp.of Canterbury: Mideast Is Christians' Home; Must Stay in Mideast Despite War,IS Extremism

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby today (May 3, 2017) appealed for more help for Christians to stay in the Middle East in spite of war and growing Islamist fanaticism, according to the Christian Today website.

Archbishop Welby made the appeal while meeting with Iraqi refugees in Jordan -- where many Iraqi and Syrian Christians have fled -- on the first leg of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

He said, "Christians are the past in the Middle East, they are the present, and they must be the future."

The Middle East is home to the oldest Christian communities in the world, but large numbers have fled the region in recent years to escape war and Islamist inhumane practices.

Russia Provides Huge Mosaic to Serbian Church; Gives St.Sava Temple in Belgrade 40-Ton Mosaic

An enormous Russian mosaic started arriving at the largest Orthodox Church in the Balkans today (May 3, 2017), in what Serbia's leaders hailed as a sign of "eternal" friendship between the two Slavic Orthodox nations, according to the ABC News website.

The first part of the 40-ton mosaic -- personally approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin -- arrived in 66 sections at the Saint Sava temple in Belgrade, one of the largest Christian Orthodox churches in the world.

One section, featuring the head of Jesus, was put on display for people attending a service. When completed by the end of the year, the mosaic will cover some 13,230 square feet of the inside of the church.

At a ceremony inside the sprawling church today, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said the mosaic "will once again show our unity and togetherness with the Russian people and the Russian state."

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

IS Suicide Squad Kills 30 People at Syrian Camp; IS Faces Much Pressure,About to Lose Its Capital

More than 30 Kurdish fighters and civilians were killed and 30 more wounded in Syria today (May 2, 2017), after an Islamic State (IS) suicide squad attacked a camp for displaced persons, according to the Euro News website.

The makeshift refuge for Syrians and Iraqis is in Rajm al-Salibi, close to Syria's northeastern border with Iraq.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims five suicide bombers detonated themselves outside and inside the camp.

The Islamic State is coming under increased pressure from Syrian rebels, Kurds, and Arabs backed by U.S. air power, and a coalition offensive on the Islamic State's Syrian capital, Raqqa, is expected soon.

UN Condemns Israel Sovereignty in Jerusalem; Votes for Israel to Rescind Actions to Alter City

UNESCO -- the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization -- voted to condemn Israel's sovereignty in Jerusalem today (May 2, 2017) by passing a resolution called "Occupied Palestine" by a vote of 22-10, with 26 countries abstaining or absent, according to the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website.

The resolution calls for Israel to rescind any "legislative and administrative measures and actions" it has taken to "alter the character and status" of Jerusalem.

Submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan, the resolution also criticizes Israel's construction in eastern Jerusalem's Old City and "deplores" the Jewish state's "continuous" closure of the Gaza Strip.

The vote was taken on Israel's Independence Day and follows a highly controversial UNESCO resolution passed last October that ignored Jewish ties to the Western Wall and Temple Mount sites. Today, Israel celebrated its 69th birthday since it became an independent country in 1948.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Florist Often Stole Flowers from NJ Cemetery; Caught on Camera,Said She Tried to "Tidy Up"

A florist caught on camera stealing flowers from a New Jersey cemetery told police she was just trying to "tidy up," the Newser website reports today (May 1, 2017).

Lynda Wingate -- a 59-year-old former police dispatcher -- was arrested after police investigating months of reports of flowers being stolen at the First Reformed Church Cemetery in Pompton Plains set up a surveillance camera.

Officers in neighborhood Riverdale identified the woman captured on film as the former dispatcher, who now owns Lyncrafts and Floral Designs.

Pequannock Police Captain Christopher Depuyt says he's not buying her claim to have been "tidying up" near the graves of people she knew. She is expected to be tried for larceny before a New Jersey court.

Pope:N. Korean Crisis May Lead to Nuclear War; Warns "Let's Stop and Find Diplomatic Solution"

In the current dispute between the U.S. and a defiant North Korea, Pope Francis has warned it is an issue that has reached a boiling point and threatens us all with nuclear destruction, the Euro News website reports today (May 1, 2017).

The pontiff said he believed a third country -- such as Norway -- should try to mediate the crisis amid growing tensions.

The pope asserted: "A widened war would destroy not half of humanity but a large part of humanity. It would be terrible."

He added, "Let's stop and find a diplomatic solution [to the North Korean crisis]."