Friday, December 15, 2017

U.S. F-22s Intercept Russian Fighter Jets, Fire Warning Flares, Hamas Will Reverse Trump's Jerusalem Move, Leader Tells Gaza Rally

US F-22s intercept Russian fighter jets, fire warning flares

Two U.S. F-22 Raptors intercepted and fired warning flares at two Russian Su-25s over the tightly congested air space in Syria along the Euphrates River on Wednesday.

The Russian fighters had crossed an agreed upon deconfliction line that runs parallel with the Euphrates River. The U.S. and its Syrian partner forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, operate on the eastern side of the Euphrates, and it’s a region Russia and its Syrian regime allies are supposed to steer clear from.

“On December 13, two Russian Su-25s flew into coordinated Coalition airspace on the east side of the Euphrates River near Abu Kamal, Syria, and were promptly intercepted by two F-22A Raptors providing air cover for partner ground forces conducting operations to defeat ISIS,” said Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

The F-22s conducted maneuvers and fired warning flares and chaff to convince the pair of Russian fighters to leave the deconflicted airspace, he said.
“At one point, one Su-25 flew close enough to an F-22A that it had to aggressively maneuver to avoid a midair collision,” Pickart said. “During the incident, a Russian Su-35 also flew across the river and was shadowed closely by one of the F-22As.”

The incident lasted nearly 40 minutes and the Russian aircraft eventually flew back to the west side of the river.

The battle for control of southern Syria and the Middle Euphrates Valley has been contentious this year, and today’s provocations by Russian fighters and their allies are not the first such incident.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians including hundreds of gunmen rallied in Gaza on Thursday to mark the 30th anniversary of Hamas's founding and its chief vowed to reverse U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Earlier in the day, Israel shut its border crossings with Gaza in response to daily rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled enclave since Trump's announcement on Dec. 6, which stirred anger across the Arab and Muslim world and concern among Washington's European allies as well as Russia.
"We will knock down Trump's decision. No superpower is capable of offering Jerusalem to Israel, there is no Israel that it should have a capital named Jerusalem. Our souls, our blood, our sons and our homes are a sacrifice for Jerusalem," Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told the rally in Gaza City.
With gunmen from other Palestinian militant groups showing support for Hamas, Haniyeh added, "We are marching towards Jerusalem, sacrificing millions of martyrs along the way," and the crowd repeated his chants.
Israeli aircraft struck three Hamas facilities before dawn after the latest rocket salvo, Israel's military said. It said it targeted training camps and weapons storage compounds. Hamas usually evacuates such facilities when border tensions rise.
Two of the rockets fired by militants were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system and a third exploded in an open area of southern Israel. There were no reports of casualties on either side of the frontier.
The military said in a statement that "due to the security events and in accordance with security assessments", Kerem Shalom crossing - the main passage point for goods entering Gaza - and the Erez pedestrian crossing would be shut as of Thursday. It did not say how long the closure would last.
Around 15 rockets have been fired into southern Israel since Trump's announcement. None of the projectiles has caused serious injury or damage.
The attacks have drawn Israeli air strikes that have killed two Hamas gunmen. Two other Palestinians have been killed in confrontations with Israeli troops during stone-throwing protests along the border.s
In Istanbul on Wednesday, a summit of more than 50 Muslim countries condemned Trump's move and urged the world to respond by recognizing East Jerusalem, captured by Israel along with the West Bank in a 1967 war, as the capital of Palestine. Palestinians want East Jerusalem for the capital of a future state they seek in Israeli-occupied territory.

Trump's declaration has been applauded by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a recognition of political reality and Jews' biblical links to Jerusalem, a city that is also holy to Muslims and Christians.

Just in time for Christmas, the Deep State wants to give America the gift that keeps on giving: never-ending mass surveillance.
If this power-hungry cabal gets its way, the government’s power to spy on its citizens will soon be all-encompassing and permanent.
As it now stands, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—the legal basis for two of the National Security Agency’s largest mass surveillance programs, “PRISM” and “Upstream”—is set to expire at the end of 2017.

“PRISM” lets the NSA access emails, video chats, instant messages, and other content sent via Facebook, Google, Apple and others. “Upstream” lets the NSA worm its way into the internet backbone—the cables and switches owned by private corporations like AT&T that make the internet into a global network—and scan traffic for the communications of tens of thousands of individuals labeled “targets.”

Just as the USA Patriot Act was perverted from its original intent to fight terrorism abroad and was used instead to covertly crackdown on the American people (allowing government agencies to secretly track Americans’ financial activities, monitor their communications, and carry out wide-ranging surveillance on them), Section 702 has been used as an end-run around the Constitution to allow the government to collect the actual content of Americans’ emails, phone calls, text messages and other electronic communication without a warrant.

Under Section 702, the government collects and analyzes over 250 million internet communications every year. There are estimates that at least half of these contain information about U.S. residents, many of whom have done nothing wrong. This information is then shared with law enforcement and “routinely used for purposes unrelated to national security.”

Mind you, this is about far more than the metadata collection that Edward Snowden warned us about, which was bad enough. Section 702 gives the government access to the very content of your conversations (phone calls, text messages, video chats), your photographs, your emails. As Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., warned, “This is not just who you send it to, but what’s in it.”

Whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency is listening in and tracking you. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the complicity of the corporate sector, which buys and sells us from cradle to grave, until we have no more data left to mine. These corporate trackers monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cybersphere and share the data with the government.
Just about every branch of the government—from the Postal Service to the Treasury Department and every agency in between—now has its own surveillance sector, authorized to collect data and spy on the American people. Then there are the fusion and counterterrorism centers that gather all of the data from the smaller government spies—the police, public health officials, transportation, etc.—and make it accessible for all those in power.
These government snoops are constantly combing through and harvesting vast quantities of our communications, then storing it in massive databases for years. Once this information—collected illegally and without any probable cause—is ingested into NSA servers, other government agencies can often search through the databases to make criminal cases against Americans that have nothing to do with terrorism or anything national security-related. One Justice Department lawyer called the database the “FBI’s ‘Google.’”

Madagascar isn’t getting this epidemic of the pneumonic plague under control as everyone had hoped. In fact, the opposite seems to be true.
When I wrote about the plague less than two weeks ago, I cited a source that said there were 200 infections and 33 deaths. As of today, those numbers have increased dramatically to more than 1300 infections and 124 deaths. And according to many infectious disease experts, the outbreak has not yet reached its peak. It’s urgent that we stay up-to-date on this epidemic so that we can be prepared if it goes worldwide.
Normally, Madagascar has about 400 cases of plague per year. But this year, it’s worse because it is the pneumonic plague. It gets into the victim’s lungs and is passed through the air from coughing. It’s the most deadly form of a horrific disease, often killing the victim within 24 hours.
Madagascar is a highly populated island with more than 25 million people, and this outbreak has hit the capital city, with more than a million people crammed into an urban environment. There are no real travel restrictions, so flights are going in and out of the international airport, and cargo is still being shipped. Even worse, the funeral customs in Madagascar have people parading corpses down the street and literally dancing around them.
Nine countries and overseas territories have been identified as priority countries in the African region for plague preparedness and readiness by virtue of having trade and travel links to Madagascar.

WHO is prepositioning equipment and supplies, including personal protective equipment, antibiotics and other equipment required to safely identify plague cases, in Comoros, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, and Tanzania.

Due to the increased risk of further spread and the severe nature of the disease, the overall risk at the national level is considered very high. The risk of regional spread is moderate due to the occurrence of frequent travel by air and sea to neighbouring Indian Ocean islands and other southern and east African countries, and the observation of a limited number of cases in travellers. (source)

Health officials are increasingly concerned about the continuous uptick of Legionnaires’ disease cases, which have risen steadily since 2000.
While the waterborne bacterial disease is relatively rare ― with 6,238 cases nationwide so far this year ― there has been a 13.6 percent increase in cases since this time last year. That’s nearly double the increase of 7.8 percent from 2015 to 2016 in the same time period. 
The disease is not contagious. It’s contracted when people breathe in water droplets contaminated with Legionella pneumophilia bacteria. 
“A person acquires Legionnaires’ disease from mist,”Julien Martinez, assistant press secretary at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, told HuffPost in October. “Most cases of Legionnaires’ disease can be traced to plumbing systems where conditions are favorable for Legionella growth, such as cooling towers, whirlpool spas, hot tubs, humidifiers, hot water tanks and evaporative condensers of large air-conditioning systems.”
For most people, Legionnaires’ disease is treatable with antibiotics, but it can cause severe respiratory illnesses or pneumonia and is fatal for about 1 out of every 10 people who contract it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Experts point to a handful of factors when looking at the upward trend. The nation’s aging population, which is more susceptible to the disease, and deteriorating infrastructure are top of the list. And the increased awareness of the disease and improved detection are contributing to the rise in identified cases, Dr. Chris Edens, an epidemiologist on CDC’s Legionella team, told HuffPost.
Edens also pointed to the rise in temperatures nationwide ― with longer summers meaning more usage of cooling towers ― as another potential factor in the increase.

While cases are up nationally, New York City and state are seeing a particularly steep jump ― with a 78 percent increase and 34 percent rise, respectively, according to the CDC. The city had seen more cases this year that it did in 2015, when it faced the “worst outbreak in its history,” Tonya Winders, CEO and president of Allergy & Asthma Network, part of the Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease, told HuffPost in a statement.

New York is not alone: A high-profile outbreak at Disneyland in Californiacaptured major media attention last month. The rise of cases in Connecticut ― which has seen cases nearly double ― and Ohio and Florida ― which have seen an increase of over 100 cases each ― is also cause for concern. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Islamic Leaders Urge Recognition Of East Jerusalem, As 'Palestine's Capital'

Islamic leaders urge recognition of East Jerusalem as 'Palestine's capital'

 Islamic leaders on Wednesday urged the world to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and said the United States no longer had any role to play in the peace process.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan convened in Istanbul an emergency summit of the world’s main pan-Islamic body, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), seeking a coordinated response to the recognition by US President Donald Trump of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
With the Islamic world itself mired in division, the summit fell well short of agreeing on any concrete sanctions against Israel or the United States.
But its final statement declared “East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine” and invited “all countries to recognize the State of Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital.”

They declared Trump’s decision “null and void legally” and “a deliberate undermining of all peace efforts” that would give impetus to “extremism and terrorism.”
They also said Trump’s move was “an announcement of the US administration’s withdrawal from its role as sponsor of peace” in the Middle East, echoing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the most sensitive issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel sees the entire city as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector, which the international community regards as annexed by Israel, as the capital of their future state

In an address last Wednesday from the White House, Trump said that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue. He described his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.
Trump, whose declaration was hailed by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum, stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.
Erdogan — who regards himself a champion of the Palestinian cause — denounced Israel as a state defined by “occupation” and “terror,” in a new diatribe against the Israeli leadership.
“With this decision, Israel was rewarded for all the terrorist activities it has carried out. It is Trump who bestowed this award even,” said Erdogan, who holds the rotating chairmanship of the OIC.
He said all countries who “value international law and fairness” should recognize “occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine,” saying Islamic countries would “never give up” on this demand.
Using unusually strong language, Abbas warned that there could be “no peace or stability” in the Middle East until Jerusalem is recognized as the capital of a Palestinian state.
Moreover, he said that with Trump’s move the United States had withdrawn itself from a traditional role as the mediator in the search for Mideast peace.
“We do not accept any role of the United States in the political process from now on. Because it is completely biased towards Israel,” he said.
Abbas slammed the recognition by Trump of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as a “gift” to the “Zionist movement” as if he “were giving away an American city,” adding that Washington no longer had any role to play in the Middle East peace process.

Update: Massive Inferno Keeps Growing - Strong Winds Expected Friday

'This fire is a beast': Massive inferno keeps growing despite all-out battle

More than a week after the Thomas fire ignited in Ventura County, destroying hundreds of homes and displacing thousands as it grew into a massive inferno, firefighters are now in a race to protect the pristine coastal communities of neighboring Santa Barbara County before a shift in powerful winds forecast for this weekend.
Across the mountain ridges above Santa Barbara, Summerland and Montecito, firefighters Wednesday were building containment lines, clearing brush, digging breaks and setting small backfires to burn fuel, all in an effort to create barriers to stop the forward march of the fire.
Conditions so far this week have been favorable, allowing firefighters to attack the flames on the southwestern flank of the blaze as it moves west toward the Santa Ynez Mountains.
But the National Weather Service was forecasting sundowner winds blowing southeast at up to 35 mph Friday night, followed by Santa Ana winds Saturday that, at up to 45 mph, could steer the fire toward the southwest.
“When the wind starts pushing it, we can throw everything we have at it and it’s not going to do any good,” Mark Brown, an operations section chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told Santa Barbara residents Wednesday night.
The stakes are high. If the fire moves into Santa Barbara and Montecito, nearly a quarter million residents and 62,000 structures worth $46 billion would be at risk.
As firefighters well know, sundowner winds are notoriously unpredictable. The winds occur when hot air from the Santa Ynez Valley rises and swiftly pours over the mountain passes toward the Pacific Ocean, as if a person pressed a thumb over the end of a hose.
“It creates very erratic wind conditions, which are very difficult to predict and very difficult to fight fire in,” said Capt. Brendan Ripley, a fire behavior analyst with the Ventura County Fire Department. “It moves fire in different directions. It changes throughout the day.”

If crews can’t finish the containment line across a roughly six-mile stretch in the mountains fast enough to stop the fire’s march west, firefighters may have to burn the fuel themselves — a risky proposition and a scary sight for residents.
“It’s a proactive approach to fight the fire on our terms instead of on Mother Nature’s terms,” Brown said. “It’s well-coordinated if we do it. We’ve had numerous subject-matter experts put the plan together. It’s been vetted at all levels. All the local authorities have looked at it and approved it.”
Fire officials stressed that this plan would be used only if the weekend wind events occur as predicted and if crews can’t make a stand and fight the fire directly. The controlled blaze would burn up to 4,000 acres and be started when winds are favorable for firefighters.
About 600 fire engines are jammed into the narrow, winding roads in the Santa Barbara County foothills. Trucks are spraying retardant on grassy hillsides and firefighters are wrapping small, indefensible buildings in protective metallic sheeting that looks like tinfoil to reduce the chances they ignite.
As smoke cleared and visibility improved, a conga line of low-flying helicopters started arriving at a county park in Santa Barbara off Highway 154 to pick up fire retardant. Officials said 33 helicopters and eight airplanes were dropping water and retardant on the blaze.

As of Wednesday night, the Thomas fire had burned more than 238,000 acres and was 30% contained. It has destroyed more than 900 homes in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties since it began Dec. 4 near Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula. In its first day, the fire spread southwest, toward Ventura, and northwest, eventually hugging Ojai before pushing to the Central Coast.
With containment lines now protecting Ventura and Santa Paula, firefighters there have been on a “seek and destroy” mission for any lingering hot spots that could threaten avocado groves, fire officials said Wednesday.
“This fire is a beast and you’re gonna kill it,” Martin Johnson, Santa Barbara County fire division chief, told fire crews at a morning briefing. “I have no doubt."
Authorities said it will probably take months for fire officials to determine the cause of the Thomas fire.

Abbas Says No Future U.S. Role In 'Peace Process', No 'Peace Or Stability' In Middle East Until Jerusalem Is Recognized As Capital Of Palestinian State

Abbas says no future US role in peace process, threatens to void past agreements

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday that Palestinians won’t accept any future role for the US in the peace process due to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and threatened to pull out of existing agreements with the Jewish state.
Abbas told an emergency meeting of Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul that there could be “no peace or stability” in the Middle East until Jerusalem is recognized as the capital of a Palestinian state.

Turkey is hosting the 57-member OIC in the wake of the US decision — a move widely criticized across the world but hailed by Israel. The summit is expected to forge a unified position of Arab and Muslim countries.
“Jerusalem is and will forever be the capital of the Palestinian state… There will be no peace, no stability without that,” Abbas proclaimed.
He slammed Trump’s declaration as a “crime” and a “gift” to the “Zionist movement” — as if he “were giving away an American city” — and asserted that Washington no longer had any role to play in the peace process.
Abbas said the Palestinians had been engaged with Washington in a new push to reach a peace agreement with Israel, the “deal of our times.” But “instead we got the slap of our times,” Abbas said. “The United States has chosen to lose its qualification as a mediator … We will no longer accept that it has a role in the political process.” He suggested the UN should take over as mediator.
Abbas noted that the international community had nearly unanimously opposed Trump’s decision, calling it a “provocation” to Muslims and Christians and saying measures were needed to protect the identity of the divided city.

“We will tell the Israelis that we are no longer committed to any agreement from Oslo until today,” he threatened, asserting that the Palestinian Authority intended to return to the United Nations to to gain full membership.

“If there is no Palestinian state along the June 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, there will not be peace in the region, in the territories or in the world,” he said. “They must choose.”

Addressing the gathering before Abbas, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the summit’s host, urged the world to recognize East Jerusalem as the “capital of Palestine.”

Hamas Rockets Are Onset Of Anti-Israel War Of Attrition Ordered By Iran's Gen. Soleimani

Hamas rockets are onset of anti-Israel war of attrition ordered by Iran’s Gen. Soleimani

The Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza Wednesday night, Dec. 13, were the 12th and 13th since US President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem decision on Dec.6.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the daily rocket assault from Gaza is turning into a war of attrition declared by three Palestinian extremist groups, Hamas, the Jihad Islami and the Popular Resistance Committees, on the orders of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Al Qods external terrorist arm, and supreme commander of Iranian forces in the region. 

Our sources reveal that the order was given Monday in a phone conversation Soleimani held with Marwan Issa, commander of the Hamas armed wing, the Ezz e-din al-Qassam. It was the first direct, phone conversation between a high-ranking Iranian general and the Hamas commander and it was deliberately overt. The Iranians wanted the Israeli and Egyptian intelligence agencies eavesdropping on incoming and outgoing phone calls to and from Gaza to hear Soleimani pledge full Iranian support for any military action conducted against Israel.

Tehran and the Lebanese Hizballah are eager to see Israel trapped in a rising spiral of military tension – and not just from its border with the Gaza Strip, but also at some point, emanating from new war fronts in Lebanon and Syria. 

At present, they are not looking for a comprehensive conflagration, but rather to subject Israel to a creeping war of attrition, like the couple of rockets which the Palestinians are firing night after night from the Gaza Strip. Like Chinese drip torture, this campaign is intended to torment Israel while gradually escalating. It doesn’t matter if they are inaccurate and fail to cause Israel casualties of damage. Indeed, one of the rockets fired Wednesday night exploded in an UNWRA school at Beit Hanoun inside the northern Gaza Strip, wrecking a schoolroom.

The threat by Israel generals Wednesday night of painful retaliation if the rocket fire continues is therefore ineffective. Hamas and the Jihad Islami are fully prepared for a major war escalation, in the certainty that Iran and Hizballah have their backs.