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Saturday, March 25, 2017

N. Korea appears all set for nuke test: officials

SEOUL, March 24 (Yonhap) -- North Korea seems to have finished preparing for another nuclear test, waiting for leader Kim Jong-un's final decision, South Korean defense officials warned Friday.

"It's assessed that North Korea is capable of conducting a nuclear test within hours after Kim Jong-un's order," an official said on the condition of anonymity. "We are keeping close tabs on its nuclear-related facilities with combined assets with the U.S."

   The warning came in response to foreign news reports that a nuclear provocation, which would be North Korea's sixth, appears imminent.

Quoting U.S. officials with the "most recent intelligence" from the peninsula, Fox News said the reclusive nation is in the final stages of gearing up for the test.

"The test could come as early as the end of the month," one official was cited as saying.

 U.S. officials, Fox added, have detected evidence that North Korea has finished digging new tunnels around its nuclear site in Punggye-ri. But there have been no indications yet of busy activity of vehicles and equipment there.

The South Korean military official also said no unusual signs have been detected yet in the vicinity of the area where the North has carried out five nuclear tests, including two, last year.

Speaking at a National Assembly session last week, South Korea's defense minister said the North seems all set to explode a nuclear bomb for a test at any time.
A senior Hamas terrorist was shot dead by gunmen in Gaza on Friday.
The Gaza interior ministry identified the terrorist as Mazen Faqha, who was released along with more than 1,000 other terrorists in exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in October of 2011.
Iyad al-Bozum, an interior ministry spokesman in Hamas-ruled Gaza, said that gunmen opened fire on Faqha in the Tell al-Hama neighborhood, according to AFP.

"An investigation has been launched," he said, without providing further details.

Faqha was a senior Hamas official in Judea and Samaria but was transferred to Gaza after his release.
Faqha, according to the Hebrew-language Walla! news website, was behind many terrorist attacks against Israelis and was a senior member of the group’s so-called “military wing”.

He was originally sentenced in 2003 to nine life terms after being convicted of sending a terrorist to carry out a suicide bombing attack. The terrorist blew himself up on an Egged bus near the city of Tzfat, murdering nine people.

While it remains unclear who was behind his death, Hamas accused "agents of the occupation in the Gaza Strip" of being behind the shooting, according to Walla!.

The Islamic Jihad terrorist group blamed Israel for Faqha’s death and issued threats against the Jewish state.

"We warn Israel, a return to the assassination policy will change the confrontation and the response from the resistance in the Gaza Strip will be a difficult one," the group said.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Iranian President to meet Putin

The Kremlin confirmed on Thursday that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will visit Moscow in the coming week and meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The visit will focus mainly on economics and trade, with the two leaders expected to sign 11 new trade agreements in various fields.

Among other things, Iran will try to sign an agreement to export large quantities of oil to Russia, and a document that will detail the continued development of bilateral relations between Moscow and Tehran.

Trade relations between Iran and Russia experienced a 60 percent increase in 2016 amounting to about $2 billion, following the lifting of the sanctions over Iran as part of the nuclear deal it signed with world powers.

The two leaders are also expected to discuss the situation in the Middle East, especially Syria. Russia and Iran support Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, and Israel has recently expressed concern that Iran is deepening its hold on Syria, possibly in cooperation with Russia. READ MORE

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Famed pastor was slated for award — then seminary got heat over his objection to gay ordinations

Well-known pastor and author, the Rev. Tim Keller, was supposed to get an award from Princeton Theological Seminary — that is, until the school got backlash over Keller’s objection to the ordination of gays and women.

So seminary President Craig Barnes said Wednesday that Keller won’t be getting the Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness award after all, the Washington Times reported, as doing so may “imply an endorsement” of his positions.

Barnes’ letter added that “many regard awarding the Kuyper Prize as an affirmation of Reverend Keller’s belief that women and LGBTQ+ persons should not be ordained.”

Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and is considered among the most prominent and highly regarded Christian leaders in the country, if not the world.

But that didn’t sway the Rev. Traci Smith, a Princeton seminary grad who is the pastor at Northwood Presbyterian Church in San Antonio. She took issue with Keller’s views — as well as her alma mater for intending to give him an award.

Smith wrote in a blog that Keller is “arguably the most influential pastor” of the Presbyterian Church in America, which is “very clear in its assertion that women should not be ordained to ministry. He [and the denomination he serves] is also very clear in its exclusion of LGBT people.”

She said that Princeton seminary “shouldn’t be awarding fancy prizes to someone who believes half the student body [or is it more than half?] has no business leading churches. It’s offensive and … it hurts my feelings.”

Princeton seminary is aligned with the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination, which has long supported the ordination of woman and has allowed the ordination of those in same-sex relationships since 2011.

Keller will still deliver a lecture at the seminary on British theologian Lesslie Newbigin and the mission of the church, the Times reported.

Exclusive: North Korea has no fear of U.S. sanctions move, will pursue nuclear arms - envoy

North Korea has nothing to fear from any U.S. move to broaden sanctions aimed at cutting it off from the global financial system and will pursue "acceleration" of its nuclear and missile programs, a North Korean envoy told Reuters on Tuesday.

This includes developing a "pre-emptive first strike capability" and an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), said Choe Myong Nam, deputy ambassador at the North Korean mission to the United Nations in Geneva.

Reuters, quoting a senior U.S. official in Washington, reported on Monday that the Trump administration is considering sweeping sanctions as part of a broad review of measures to counter North Korea's nuclear and missile threat.

"I think this is stemming from the visit by the Secretary of State (Rex Tillerson) to Japan, South Korea and China...We of course are not afraid of any act like that," Choe told Reuters.

"Even prohibition of the international transactions system, the global financial system, this kind of thing is part of their system that will not frighten us or make any difference."

He called existing sanctions "heinous and inhumane".

North Korea has been under sanctions for "half a century" but the communist state survives by placing an emphasis on juche or "self-sufficiency", he said. His country wants a forum set up to examine the "legality and legitimacy of the sanctions regime". READ MORE
U.S. Navy commanders on Wednesday accused Iran of jeopardizing international navigation by "harassing" warships passing through the Strait of Hormuz, warning future incidents could result in miscalculation and lead to an armed clash, Reuters reported.

The commanders spoke after the U.S. aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush confronted what one of the officers described as two sets of Iranian Navy fast-attack boats that had approached a U.S.-led, five-vessel flotilla as it entered the Strait on Tuesday.

It was the first time a U.S. carrier entered the narrow waterway, where up to 30 percent of global oil exports pass annually, since President Donald Trump took office in January.

Tuesday's incident, in which the George H.W. Bush sent helicopter gunships to hover over the Iranian speedboats, ended without a shot being fired, the officials told Reuters.

The incident follows recent tensions in the Gulf between the United States and Iran.

In January, a U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots at Iranian boats near the Strait of Hormuz, after five Iranian vessels approached the USS Mahan and two other American ships that were entering the strait.

In September, the Navy said that Iran had threatened two American maritime patrol aircraft flying over the Strait of Hormuz.

A week prior to that incident, a U.S. Navy patrol ship was forced to change course after a fast attack craft from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps came within 91 meters of it in the central Persian Gulf. READ MORE

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

2,000 reservists train for war in Gaza with surprise drill

Some 2,000 reserve soldiers were called up this week to simulate war in the Gaza Strip, as part of the military’s largest planned exercise of 2017, the army said.
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The surprise drill began on Sunday. It was conducted by the Sinai Division, the Southern Command’s reserve division. The exercise included four reserve brigades — two infantry and two armored brigades.
The soldiers simulated war in Gaza, including a ground invasion into the Hamas-run coastal enclave.
IDF Chief Gadi Eisenkot visited the exercise in order to “assess the preparedness of the division for emergency,” the army said. READ MORE

Pope Francis: The Virgin Mary Was No ‘Couch Potato’

Catholics throughout the world, Pope Francis proposed the Virgin Mary as a model of active Christian discipleship, noting that she was no passive “couch potato.”
The Vatican released the video message on Tuesday in preparation for the next World Youth Day, to be held in Panama in 2019.

The Virgin Mary, Francis said, “encourages us with her faith,” when she acknowledged that the “Mighty One has done great things for me.” She also “knew how to give thanks to God who looked upon her littleness,” he said, and “recognised the great things that God was accomplishing in her life.”

Importantly, the Pope noted, Mary did not sit by idly but “set off to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was old and needed her to be close by.”
“Mary did not stay at home because she was not a young couch potato who looks for comfort and safety where nobody can bother them,” Francis said. “She was moved by faith because faith is at the heart of Our Mother’s entire life story.” READ MORE

Israel plans mass evacuation if war erupts again

JERUSALEM (AP) — If Islamic militants in Gaza or Lebanon go to war with Israel, they could find their usual targets empty.
Israel is drawing up contingency plans to evacuate up to a quarter-million civilians from border communities to protect them from attacks from Hamas, Hezbollah or other Islamic militant groups.
The mass evacuations would be the biggest in Israel's history, part of a bigger plan where the army works with municipalities to keep civilians safe.
All sides have been preparing in case a new round of warfare breaks out, although Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group sworn to Israel's destruction, currently is tied down in Syria's civil war fighting in support of President Bashar Assad. It also comes amid an uptick in tensions between Israel, Syria and Hezbollah.

Each side has warned that a new conflict would be worse than previous ones. Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets on Israeli communities in the 2006 war, while Israel bombarded militant targets in southern Lebanon. The month of fighting killed an estimated 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, as well as 44 Israeli civilians and 121 Israeli soldiers.

In 2014, 50 days of fighting between Israel and Gaza's Islamic militant Hamas rulers killed an estimated 2,100 Palestinians, six Israeli civilians and 66 Israeli soldiers. There was widespread devastation in Gaza and thousands of rockets and mortars fired by Hamas and other Islamic militants at Israeli towns and cities.

Israel says Hezbollah and Hamas have rebuilt larger arsenals capable of hitting the entire country. Elements of the evacuation plan, codenamed "Safe Distance," were disclosed by a senior Israeli officer in an interview to The Associated Press. READ MORE

Former Mossad chief: Clock ticking

"In recent years, Iran has become a dominant force in the struggle against Daesh (ISIS). The coalition of Assad, Russia, and Hezbollah has placed Iran on the side of the good guys. Also in Iraq, Iranian forces and pro-Iranian Shiite militias are fighting on the same side with American forces. Iranian influence is becoming a tangible threat to the moderate Shiite states. For the first time, a rare situation of conjoining interests has been created between Israel and the moderate countries," explained Pardo.

Pardo endorsed the classic economic-based vision of Israel's destiny when he asked participants of the Netanya College conference, "Will we have the presence of mind to integrate for the first time in the region? It is important to remember that youth doesn't last forever and opportunity doesn't always return. One morning we will wake up and see Iran neighboring the Gulf states, and then it will be too late. Unfortunately, clandestine ties under the radar are temporary, the key to integrating into the region lies in economic ties, movement between countries and companies, and all this will not happen unless the Palestinian issue is resolved.

"I looked at my seven-year-old granddaughter on the weekend and asked myself what the State of Israel will look like in a decade or two. What kind of state are we leaving to the coming generations? Day to day my worries grow, as one who served in the security system close to 40 years. Are our deeds in the spirit of the Zionist vision?" READ MORE

North Korea unfazed by sanctions threat

North Korea will continue the "acceleration" of its nuclear and missile programs despite the United States’ threats to impose sanctions on it, a North Korean official told Reuters on Tuesday.
Choe Myong Nam, deputy ambassador at the North Korean mission to the United Nations in Geneva, told the news agency that North Korea has nothing to fear from any U.S. move to broaden sanctions aimed at cutting it off from the global financial system.

The country is developing a "pre-emptive first strike capability" and an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), he added.

Choe was responding to a report on Monday which said that the Trump administration is considering imposing sanctions aimed at cutting North Korea off from the global financial system, part of a multi-pronged approach of increased economic and diplomatic pressure on the isolated country.

"I think this is stemming from the visit by the Secretary of State (Rex Tillerson) to Japan, South Korea and China...We of course are not afraid of any act like that," Choe told Reuters.

"Even prohibition of the international transactions system, the global financial system, this kind of thing is part of their system that will not frighten us or make any difference," he added, calling the existing sanctions on North Korea "heinous and inhumane". READ MORE

North Korean missile test fails

The launch, from the eastern area of Wonsan, may have failed, the Japanese agency said. The type of missiles involved was unknown.

Reuters quoted a U.S. Pacific Command spokesman who said the American military had detected “a failed North Korean missile launch attempt”.

The missile “appears to have exploded within seconds of launch,” the spokesman added.
South Korea's defense ministry said it was trying to confirm the report of the missile launches, according to Reuters.

The failed missile launch came days after North Korea tested a powerful new rocket engine, a test hailed by its leader Kim Jong Un as a "new birth" for the nation's rocket industry.

Earlier this month, North Korea fired four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan's northwest coast.
Wednesday’s reported test came merely hours after a North Korean official made clear his country would continue the "acceleration" of its nuclear and missile programs despite the United States’ threats to impose sanctions on it.

Iran prepared to resume nuclear activities

Iran is prepared to resume its nuclear activities if the United States continues its “lack of commitment” to the nuclear deal between Iran and the West, the country’s Foreign Minister declared on Tuesday.

“If the U.S. creates a situation that continuation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) would damage Tehran’s national interest, then Iran is completely ready to come back to the situation it had prior to the JCPOA and even more powerfully than before,” the minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told reporters, according to the IRNA news agency.

Zarif claimed that over the past few months, “we have succeeded in making operational the most advanced centrifuges that were just an idea at the time of approving the JCPOA.”

He reiterated, however, that Iran is still committed to the nuclear deal.

The comments come amid tensions between Iran and the United States over President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to tear up the nuclear deal if elected.

Iranian officials have downplayed Trump’s threats to annul the nuclear deal, insisting he cannot do so even if he wishes.

Zarif has said in the past that Trump would be “surprised” by his country if he annuls the deal, though he did not explain what he meant by that. READ MORE

West accepts Syrian refugees, only pro-Caliphate elements remain

Nonie Darwish - Egyptian-American human rights activist and Director of "Former Muslims United" – says that the West is giving a dangerously peaceful message to Islam, one that threatens "U.S. citizens, Western freedoms and democracy."

Writing for the Washington-based Gatestone Institute, Darwish says that the West's conciliatory approach to the Muslim Brotherhood and extremist Islam, including the near-blanket acceptance of Muslim refugees, gives the following message to moderate Muslims:

"There is nothing that [you] or anyone else should fear from the possible infiltration of radical Islam! Look at us, Western governments! We are bringing in refugees who cannot be vetted even if they are ISIS infiltrators. Although the Muslim Brotherhood is illegal and considered a terrorist organization in several Muslim countries, we in the West do not mind them at all… See how we are courageous, self-confident and free of 'Islamophobia!'"

Darwish's father was an Egyptian colonel who founded the fedayeen terrorist groups in Egypt that murdered many Israelis in the early 1950's. Though her father was ultimately assassinated by Israel, Darwish does not blame Israel.

"They killed my father because the fedayeen were killing Israelis. They killed my father because when I was growing up, we had to recite poetry pledging jihad against Israel," she said. READ MORE

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Russia: U.S. Missile Defense ‘Poses Deep Risk’ to Security of Asia

“The U.S. global ballistic missile defense poses a deep risk to the security of the region,” declared Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday after meeting with Japanese officials in Tokyo.

The Associated Press describes Lavrov’s visit as the first “two-plus-two” meetings of foreign and defense ministers between Japan and Tokyo since Russia annexed Crimea. Japan has participated in sanctions against Russia for that action.

Trump Administration Boycotts Anti-Israel Discussion at UN Human Rights Council

GENEVA (AP) — The State Department says the United States is boycotting a session at the U.N. Human Rights Council that focuses on Palestine and other Arab occupied territories, saying it is biased against Israel.

Toner also said the United States would vote against every resolution that might be put forward under the agenda item.
Earlier, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel, Michael Lynk, decried how “illegal settlement enterprise has moved at an alarming pace” this year.

'Iran remains central threat to Israel'

Mossad Director-General Yossi Cohen referred Tuesday morning to Israel's situation regarding Iran and said that "as long as the present administration exists, with or without a nuclear agreement, Iran will continue to be the central threat to Israel."

"The US was and is a superpower, the new buzzword is hybrid strategy. The idea is to work concurrently utilizing a variety of measures at different levels," added Cohen.

At the conference at the Netanya Academic College in memory of former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, Cohen also referred to other regions around Israel and said that "the security establishment needs to focus on the enemies in our region and learn them in depth in order to overcome them when required, and it will be required.

"The Middle East is our home ground and therefore we need to be acquainted with the entire region. We need to create treaties, identify mutual interests with partners and even with enemies at a certain level," concluded Cohen.

Earlier, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot addressed the conference and said that Israel’s military was working to secure the nation’s northern border, but warned that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon had become Israel’s greatest security challenge. READ MORE

Monday, March 20, 2017

Israeli-Russian clash over Hizballah’s Golan grab

The Israeli drone that targeted the Syrian militiaman Yasser Sayad outside the Golan town of Quneitra Sunday, March 19, reinforced the message first carried by the Israeli Arrow 2 which shot down a Syrian SA-5 anti-air missile Friday. The Israeli ambassador was called twice to the Russian foreign ministry.

Both hits were precise: Sayad was on his way to join the Hizballah forces who are trampling Syrian rebel villages on the Hermon slopes to clear their path to the Golan; and the Syrian SA-5 was intercepted microseconds before hitting the Israeli jets attacking a consignment of Hizballah weapons outside the Syria T4 base near Palmyra, where a Russian contingent is also housed.

After the air strike, Israel’s ambassador to Moscow Cary Koren was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry to hear a warning from Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov to stop interfering with Russian plans for Syrian.
Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Al Jaafari reflected the Assad regime's sense of empowerment when he said following the Israeli air strikes in northern Syria: “The Syrian response was appropriate and changed the rules of the game.” He claimed that Israel had been sternly warned by Moscow to stop such attacks and therefore its leaders “will think long before taking similar action in future.”

Nonetheless, two days later, the IDF was again in action, this time on the Syrian Golan. A-Sayad was killed outside Quneitra as testimony of Israel’s resolve to continue to wage warfare against the Iranian and Hizballah military presence in Syria and their aggressive push towards its borders.

And Sunday, Ambassador Koren was called to the foreign ministry in Moscow for a second dressing-down, this one, undoubtedly sterner than the first, seeing that Israel had escalated its face-off with Moscow on this issue and raised the stakes for a potential IDF clash with Russian forces in Syria, for better or for worse.

The government in Jerusalem has in fact drawn a strong line against Moscow’s policy of allowing hostile Hizballah and paramilitary Syrian forces, like to Golan Liberation Brigades, to gain control of territory directly adjacent to Israel - from the Hermon range through Qunetra and further west up to Daraa overlooking the Jordanian border as well. READ MORE

Hezbollah ratchets up murder machinery on global scale

The Saudi newspaper Ouchaz reported Thursday that South American security forces foiled a massive Hezbollah attack.

According to the report, forces raided a munitions storage facility in the suburb of La Paz, one of Bolivia's two capitals. The foiled plans included intended attacks on Bolivia, Peru, and Chile. The raid revealed mechanisms and material demonstrating the ability to produce a 2.5 ton bomb. A four-wheel-drive vehicle being prepared for deployment as a car bomb was also seized.

The report comes soon after the Kuwaiti daily Al Jarida cited the report of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander's aide, according to which responsibility for Iranian weapons and missile plants has been transferred to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

According to the report translated and distributed by MEMRI researchers, the factories Iran recently established in Lebanon are at a depth of over 50 meters and are protected from bombings. The missiles are manufactured in different wings of the factories and are finally assembled into one unit.

Al Jarida further brings an anonymous report that a few years ago, after Israel destroyed an Iranian weapons factory in Sudan which supplied weapons to Hezbollah, and bombed the arms supply that was intended for Hezbolla via Syria, the Revolutionary Guards began a project to build weapons factories in Lebanon. READ MORE

Report: Israel strikes in Syria

Syrian media reported Sunday night that Israel attacked Syrian military positions and Hezbollah targets in the Qalamoun Mountains, along the Syrian-Lebanese border.

Israel is not responding to the reports.

Earlier on Sunday, it was reported in Syria that an unmanned aerial vehicle operated by the Israeli Air Force opened fire on a car near Kuneitra, on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
According to the reports, the driver of the vehicle, who was not identified, was eliminated in the attack.

Israel did not comment on those reports either.
Meanwhile, Syria’s Ambassador to the UN, Bashar Al-Jaafari, on Sunday justified his country’s retaliation for Israel’s airstrikes overnight Thursday.

"The Syrian response was appropriate and changed the rules of the game. Israel will think long before taking similar action in the future," Jaafari told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar network.

The ambassador further claimed that Israel intervened in the war in Syria because of the Syrian army's progress in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group.

Israel on Thursday night attacked targets in Syria, in what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu later said was a shipment of weapons meant for Hezbollah.

Syria responded to the Israeli airstrikes by launching several anti-aircraft missiles towards the Israeli aircraft.

One missile was intercepted by Israel's Arrow air defense system, one of the first times the system has been used.

No Israeli soldiers were hurt, despite Syria’s claims that it downed one of the Israeli aircraft