Wednesday, June 1, 2016

ISIS Faces Major Assaults On Two Fronts, NATO Ready To Respond To 'Assertive' Russia, Twitter Users Revolt Against 'Orwellian' EU

Islamic State faces major assaults on two fronts in Iraq, Syria

Islamic State insurgents faced major assaults on two fronts in both Iraq and Syria on Wednesday in what could prove to be some of the biggest operations to roll back their caliphate since they proclaimed it in 2014.
In Syria, U.S.-backed militia with thousands of Arab and Kurdish fighters were reported to have captured villages near the strategically-important Turkish border after launching a major operation to cut off Islamic State's last access route to the outside world.
In Iraq, Prime Minister Haider Abadi ordered his troops to slow an advance at the gates of Falluja, Islamic State's closest redoubt to the capital Baghdad, to limit harm to civilians, two days after the army poured into rural areas on the city's outskirts.
Both operations are unfolding with the support of a U.S.-led coalition that has been targeting the ultra-hardline Sunni Muslim militants, who proclaimed a caliphate to rule over all Muslims from territory in the two neighboring countries.
The Syrian operation includes American special forces operating in advisory roles on the ground. In Iraq, the U.S.-led coalition has provided air support to government forces who are also assisted by Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia.
While there is no indication that the two advances were deliberately timed to coincide, they show how a variety of enemies of Islamic State have been mobilizing in recent months in what Washington and other world powers hope will be a decisive year of battle to destroy the group's pseudo-state.
The Syrian operation, which began on Tuesday after weeks of preparations, aims to drive Islamic State from the last stretch of the frontier with Turkey it controls.
"It's significant in that it's their last remaining funnel" to Europe, a U.S. military official told Reuters. Islamic State has used the border for years to receive material and recruits from the outside world, and, more recently, to send militants back to Europe to carry out attacks.
An 80-km stretch of terrain north of the town of Manbij is the only part of the Turkish frontier still accessible to the militants after advances by Kurdish fighters and President Bashar al-Assad's government elsewhere.
The assault is being carried out by an alliance known as the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), which is composed of a powerful Kurdish militia called the YPG, and Arab combatants that have allied themselves with it.

Falluja has been a bastion of the Sunni Muslim insurgency against both the Shi'ite-led Baghdad government and U.S. troops, who fought the biggest battles of their 2003-2011 occupation there. Islamic State fighters, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, raised their flag in the city in 2014 before sweeping through Iraq's north and west.
Abadi first announced plans to assault Falluja 10 days ago. But with 50,000 civilians still believed trapped inside the city, the United Nations has warned that militants are holding hundreds of families in the center as human shields.

Russian airstrikes have severely damaged oil facilities controlled by the terrorist group Daesh, also known as IS/Islamic State, in Syria's al-Hasakah Province, according to the Russian military.

"The Su-34 struck an oil refinery, situated on territory controlled by Daesh near the village of Ras al-Ain, in al-Hasakah province," reads a bulletin posted to the website of the Russian Ministry of Defense.

The strikes caused a large fire to break out in the factory.

On Tuesday, Russian Su-34s destroyed a series of oil production facilities near Raqqa, the terrorist groups self-proclaimed capital and an alleged waypoint for illegal oil making its way into Turkey.

NATO confirmed its intention to rotate groups of troops through Central and Eastern Europe to ward off fears about Russia, its secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said in Warsaw on Tuesday, while stressing the alliance doesn’t want a “new Cold War” with Moscow.

Stoltenberg was in the Polish capital to make preparations for the July NATO summit, which will tackle the issue of how to allocate alliance forces to better protect new member countries worried about the security threat posed by Russia.

“We see a more assertive Russia, intimidating its neighbors and changing borders by force,” Stoltenberg said at a joint press conference with Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz.

The Polish minister confirmed that Poland and the Baltic states would host four rotating battalions and that he talked with Stoltenberg about permanently stationing weapons stores in Poland, “which is crucially important for us and strengthens our sense of security.”

Speaking later at Warsaw University, the NATO chief said: “Our military planners have put forward proposals for several battalions in different countries in the region. We are now discussing the exact numbers and the exact locations. And we will take those decisions at the summit in Warsaw. This enhanced forward presence, combined with the ability to deploy NATO forces quickly, will send a clear message. An attack on Poland — or any other ally — will trigger a response from the entire alliance.”

Stoltenberg said NATO isn’t looking for a confrontation with Russia. “We don’t want a new Cold War,” he said. “Our aim is a more positive and a more cooperative relationship with Russia. At the very least, we must work towards a relationship that is more predictable.”

NATO has already enlarged its quick reaction force and added eight new small headquarters in the east of the alliance, he said.

Twitter users are expressing their support for people’s right to use so-called “hate speech” on social media, after the European Union (EU) announced they are working with Facebook and others to censor unwanted online speech within 24 hours.

Yesterday, it was reported that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have “signed up” to a new European Union (EU) “Code of Conduct”, pledging to censor and “criminalise” perceived “illegal online hate speech” as well as “promoting independent counter-narratives” that the EU favours.
Members of the European Parliament were swift to tell Breitbart London that it was “Orwellian,” digital freedom groups pulled out of discussions with the EU, and by the end of the day Index on Censorship, the National Secular Society, the Open Rights Group, and the U.S.-based Free Press all slammed the “Code of Conduct”.
Now, everyday users of the platform Twitter are having their say under the trending hashtag #IStandWithHateSpeech.

The definition of “hate speech” given in the EU document is: “all conduct publicly inciting to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin”.
The arguments against it given on Twitter can be roughly divided between those who did not trust the EU to not politicise their definition of “hate speech”, and those who believe that in a free society even the most ugly, offensive speech should be protected –  free speech fundamentalism.
The late Ronald Dworkin, a free speech fundamentalist, philosopher, defender of the 1st Amendment and critic of “hate speech” laws, argued in the wake of the Danish cartoon controversy that people’s right to grossly offend in a multicultural society should always be defended, otherwise the democratic legitimacy of the government was forfeited. He wrote:

“Freedom of speech is not just a special and distinctive emblem of Western culture that might be generously abridged or qualified as a measure of respect for other cultures that reject it, the way a crescent or menorah might be added to a Christian religious display.
“Free speech is a condition of legitimate government. Laws and policies are not legitimate unless they have been adopted through a democratic process, and a process is not democratic if government has prevented anyone from expressing his convictions about what those laws and policies should be.
“Ridicule is a distinct kind of expression; its substance cannot be repackaged in a less offensive rhetorical form without expressing something very different from what was intended. That is why cartoons and other forms of ridicule have for centuries, even when illegal, been among the most important weapons of both noble and wicked political movements.
“… If we expect bigots to accept the verdict of the majority once the majority has spoken, then we must permit them to express their bigotry in the process whose verdict we ask them to respect.
“Whatever multiculturalism means– whatever it means to call for increased “respect” for all citizens and groups – these virtues would be self-defeating if they were thought to justify official censorship.”

 The number of Syrian refugees admitted into the United States jumped to 1,037 during May – an increase of 130 percent over the previous month – but the proportion of Christians among them remains miniscule: two Christians (0.19 percent) compared to 1,035 Muslims.
May’s figure of 1,037 Syrian refugees brings the total number since the beginning of 2016 to 2,099 – compared to 2,192 for the whole of 2015, according to State Department Refugee Processing Center data.
Earlier years since the Syrian civil war began saw much smaller numbers arriving – 20 in 2011 (dated from mid-March); 41 in 2012; 45 in 2013; and 249 in 2014.

Of the 2,099 Syrian refugees admitted so far this year, six (0.28 percent) are Christians, 2,043 (97.3 percent) are Sunni Muslims. The remaining 50 are 17 (0.8 percent) Shi’a, 30 (1.4 percent) other Muslims and 10 (0.47 percent) Yazidis.

Similar proportions are seen in the number of Syrian refugees having arrived in the U.S. since the start of fiscal year 2016: 2,773 in total, comprising 12 (0.4 percent) Christians, 2,703 (97.4 percent) Sunnis, 17 (0.6 percent) Shi’a, 30 (1.1 percent) other Muslims and 10 (0.3 percent) Yazidis.

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