TBR News February 10, 2018

Feb 10 2018

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. February 10, 2018:” The growing public perception of President Trump does not bode well for Republicans in the coming mid-term elections. Those who say his connections with Russia did not exist or are invented are either knowing liars or grossly self-deluded and they do not hold a majority among the Amereican voters. Trump has enraged his European former allies, disrupted the functioning government and brought his entire persona into serious question. One had hoped that he would have brought a breath of fresh air into governance but instead the vapors are redolent of an open sewer.”

Table of Contents

  • ‘This is Nuts’: Liberals Launch ‘Largest Mobilization in History’ in Defense of Russiagate Probe
  • David Sorensen becomes second Trump aide to quit over abuse claims
  • The German Woman at the Center of the Manafort Case
  • Israeli warplane crashes amid cross-border escalation with Syria
  • Risking Israeli dispute, Lebanon signs deal with 3 oil firms
  • Israel launches ‘large-scale’ attack in Syria after fighter jet crashes
  • Turkish helicopter shot down by Kurdish militia in Syria’s Afrin: Erdogan
  • Israel’s Settlements Have No Legal Validity, Constitute Flagrant Violation of International Law, Security Council Reaffirms
  • Investors brace for more swings as U.S. inflation specter rises


‘This is Nuts’: Liberals Launch ‘Largest Mobilization in History’ in Defense of Russiagate Probe

Hundreds of thousands have pledged to take to the streets if Special Counsel Robert Mueller is removed, reflecting misplaced priorities and some fundamental misunderstandings

February 9, 2018

by Coleen Rowley and Nat Parry

Consortium News

With Democrats and self-styled #Resistance activists placing their hopes for taking down Donald Trump’s presidency in the investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, online groups such as MoveOn and Avaaz are launching campaigns to come to the Special Counsel’s defense in the event of him being removed by the president.

In an action alert to supporters on Wednesday, Avaaz announced plans to hold some 600 events around the country to defend Mueller in case Trump tries to fire him. “This is nuts,” Avaaz writes. “Trump is clearly gearing up to fire the independent official investigating Russia’s influence over the election — if he does, he’ll have delivered a death blow to one of the fundamental pillars of our democracy.”

Avaaz claims that hundreds of thousands of supporters have signed up for actions protesting Mueller’s possible removal, and that more than 25 national organizations support the protests. The group calls it potentially “the largest national mobilization in history.”

Considering all of the threats to democracy posed by unconstitutional overreach, unfair elections, corruption, and voter suppression – not to mention environmental challenges, economic inequality, an out-of-control U.S. foreign policy, numerous foreign conflicts that the U.S. is engaged in, and the ever-present threat of nuclear war – it is telling that the liberal establishment is mobilizing on this particular issue.

Social psychologists have long talked about how emotional manipulation can work effectively to snooker a large percentage of the population, to get them, at least temporarily, to believe the exact opposite of the facts. These techniques are known in the intelligence community as “perception management,” and have been refined since the 1980s “to keep the American people compliant and confused,” as the late Robert Parry has reported. We saw this in action last decade, when after months of disinformation, about 70% of Americans came to falsely believe that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 when the truth was the opposite – Saddam was actually an enemy of the Al Qaeda perpetrators.

Such emotional manipulation is the likely explanation for the fact that so many people are now gearing up to defend someone like Mueller, while largely ignoring other important topics of far greater consequence. With no demonstrations being organized to stop a possible war with North Korea – or an escalation in Syria – hundreds of thousands of Americans are apparently all too eager to go to the mat in defense of an investigation into the president’s possible “collusion” with Russia in its alleged meddling in election 2016.

Setting aside for the moment the merits of the Russiagate narrative, who really is this Robert Mueller that amnesiac liberals clamor to hold up as the champion of the people and defender of democracy? Co-author Coleen Rowley, who as an FBI whistleblower exposed numerous internal problems at the FBI in the early 2000s, didn’t have to be privy to his inner circle to recall just a few of his actions after 9/11 that so shocked the public conscience as to repeatedly generate moral disapproval even on the part of mainstream media. Rowley was only able to scratch the surface in listing some of the more widely reported wrongdoing that should still shock liberal consciences.

Although Mueller and his “joined at the hip” cohort James Comey are now hailed for their impeccable character by much of Washington, the truth is, as top law enforcement officials of the George W. Bush administration (Mueller as FBI Director and Comey as Deputy Attorney General), both presided over post-9/11 cover-ups and secret abuses of the Constitution, enabled Bush-Cheney fabrications used to launch wrongful wars, and exhibited stunning levels of incompetence.

Ironically, recent declassifications of House Intelligence Committee’s and Senate Judiciary Committee Leaders letters (here and here) reveal strong parallels between the way the public so quickly forgot Mueller’s spotty track record with the way the FBI and (the Obama administration’s) Department of Justice rushed, during the summer of 2016, to put a former fellow spy, Christopher Steele up on a pedestal. Steele was declared to be a “reliable source” without apparently vetting or corroborating any of the “opposition research” allegations that he had been hired (and paid $160,000) to quickly produce for the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

There are typically at least two major prongs of establishing the “reliability” of any given source in an affidavit, the first – and the one mostly pointed to – being the source’s track record for having furnished accurate and reliable information in the past. Even if it is conceded that Steele would have initially satisfied this part of the test for determining probable cause, based on his having reportedly furnished some important information to FBI agents investigating the FIFA soccer fraud years before, his track record for truthfulness would go right up in smoke only a month or so later, when it was discovered that he had lied to the FBI about his having previously leaked the investigation to the media.  (Moreover, this lie had led the FBI to mislead the FISA court in its first application to surveil Carter Page.)

The second main factor in establishing the reliability of any source’s information would be even more key in this case.  It’s the basis of the particular informant’s knowledge, i.e. was the informant an eye witness or merely reporting double-triple hearsay or just regurgitating the “word on the street?”

If the actual basis of the information is uncertain, the next step for law enforcement would normally be to seek facts that either corroborate or refute the source’s information. It’s been reported that FBI agents did inquire into the basis for Steele’s allegations, but it is not known what Steele told the FBI – other than indications that his info came from secondary sources making it, at best, second- or third-hand. What if anything did the FBI do to establish the reliability of the indirect sources that Steele claimed to be getting his info from? Before vouching for his credibility, did the FBI even consider polygraphing Steele after he (falsely) denied having leaked his info since the FBI was aware of significant similarities of a news article to the info he had supplied them?

Obviously, more questions than answers exist at the present time. But even if the FBI was duped by Steele – whether as the result of their naivete in trusting a fellow former spy, their own sloppiness or recklessness, or political bias – it should be hoped by everyone that the Department of Justice Inspector General can get to the bottom of how the FISA court was ultimately misled.

As they prepare for the “largest mobilization in history” in defense of Mueller and his probe into Russiagate, liberals have tried to sweep all this under the rug as a “nothing burger.” Yet, how can liberals, who in the past have pointed to so many abusive past practices by the FBI, ignore the reality that these sorts of abuses of the FISA process more than likely take place on a daily basis – with the FISA court earning a well-deserved reputation as little more than a rubberstamp?

Other, more run-of-the-mill FISA applications – if they were to be scrutinized as thoroughly as the Carter Page one – would reveal similar sloppiness and lack of factual verification of source information used to secure surveillance orders, especially after FISA surveillances skyrocketed after 9/11 in the “war on terror.” Rather than dismissing the Nunes Memo as a nothing burger, liberals might be better served by taking a closer look at this FISA process which could easily be turned against them instead of Trump.

It must be recognized that FBI agents who go before the secret FISA court and who are virtually assured that whatever they present will be kept secret in perpetuity, have very little reason to be careful in verifying what they present as factual. FISA court judges are responsible for knowing the law but have no way of ascertaining the “facts” presented to them.

Unlike a criminal surveillance authorized by a federal district court, no FBI affidavit justifying the surveillance will ever end up under the microscope of defense attorneys and defendants to be pored over to ensure every asserted detail was correct and if not, to challenge any incorrect factual assertions in pre-trial motions to suppress evidence.

It is therefore shocking to watch how this political manipulation seems to make people who claim to care about the rule of law now want to bury this case of surveillance targeting Carter Page based on the ostensibly specious Steele dossier. This is the one case unique in coming to light among tens of thousands of FISA surveillances cloaked forever in secrecy, given that the FISA system lacks the checks on abusive authority that inherently exist in the criminal justice process, and so the Page case is instructive to learn how the sausage really gets made.

Neither the liberal adulation of Mueller nor the unquestioned credibility accorded Steele by the FBI seem warranted by the facts. It is fair for Americans to ask whether Mueller’s investigation would have ever happened if not for his FBI successor James Comey having signed off on the investigation triggered by the Steele dossier, which was paid for by the Clinton campaign to dig up dirt on her opponent.

In any event, please spare us the solicitations of these political NGOs’ “national mobilization” to protect Mueller. There are at least a million attorneys in this country who do not suffer from the significant conflicts of interest that Robert Mueller has with key witnesses like his close, long-term colleague James Comey and other public officials involved in the investigation.

And, at the end of the day, there are far more important issues to be concerned about than the “integrity” of the Mueller investigation – one being the need to fix FISA court abuses and restoring constitutional rights.


David Sorensen becomes second Trump aide to quit over abuse claims

February 10, 2018

BBC News

A speechwriter has become the second White House aide this week to resign amid allegations of domestic abuse.

David Sorensen denies his former wife’s allegations he was violent and emotionally abusive.

His departure comes just days after another Trump official, Rob Porter, quit over allegations of abuse from two ex-wives, something he denies.

Questions have been raised over how long it took the White House to act on the accusations facing Mr Porter.

What are the latest allegations?

Mr Sorensen’s ex-wife Jessica Corbett told the Washington Post that he was physically abusive to her while they were married.

She said that on separate occasions her former husband ran a car over her foot, threw her against a wall and extinguished a cigarette on her hand.

In response, Mr Sorensen released a statement in which he said he had “never committed violence of any kind against any woman in my entire life” and that instead it was he who had been physically abused.

He said he was considering legal action, but said he quit because he “didn’t want the White House to have to deal with this distraction”.

White House officials said they learned of the accusations by Mr Sorensen’s wife late on Thursday.

“We immediately confronted the staffer, he denied the allegations and he resigned today,” deputy press secretary Raj Shah said.

What happened with Mr Porter?

Allegations of domestic abuse against Mr Porter involving two ex-wives surfaced on Tuesday.

It is alleged that the former White House staff secretary gave one ex-wife a black eye while another filed a restraining order. He denies the allegations.

On Friday, Mr Trump paid tribute to Mr Porter, who quit his White House position on Wednesday

Speaking in the Oval Office Mr Trump said: “We found out about it recently and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well and it’s a tough time for him.”

But Mr Trump did not refer to Mr Porter’s accusers.

His comments sparked criticism from Democrats, with former Vice-President Joe Biden saying Mr Trump had downplayed the allegations against Mr Porter.

“That’s like saying: ‘That axe murderer out there, he’s a great painter'”, Mr Biden said.

What’s the fallout been?

The case has put pressure on Mr Trump’s Chief-of-Staff John Kelly, who has denied reports he offered to resign over his handling of the accusations.

After initially praising Mr Porter as a man of “integrity”, Mr Kelly later released a statement saying he was shocked by the claims and stressed domestic violence was unacceptable.

US media report that Mr Kelly and other White House officials were aware for several months of the domestic abuse accusations because they were holding up Mr Porter’s security clearance application.

Mr Shah said that Mr Trump was not aware of any security issues before Tuesday and was “disheartened” and “saddened” by the accusations.

White House communications director Hope Hicks’ handling of the controversy has also reportedly displeased Mr Trump.

The 29-year-old aide has recently been in a relationship with Mr Porter, a Harvard graduate and former Oxford Rhodes Scholar.

Mr Trump was reportedly not consulted when Ms Hicks helped draft an initial statement defending Mr Porter.

Who knew what and when?

According to CBS News, Mr Porter approached White House Counsel Don McGahn in January 2017 to inform him his ex-wives might say unflattering things about him to background check investigators.

In June 2017, Mr Porter’s preliminary file was sent from the FBI to the White House security office, containing the abuse allegations.

In November, Mr McGahn received a call from an ex-girlfriend of Mr Porter alleging physical violence by the aide.

Mr McGahn told the White House chief of staff there was an issue with Mr Porter’s security clearance, although he was vague, reports CBS.

Mr Porter told Mr Kelly his ex-wives were saying false things about him.

A White House spokesman said on Thursday that Mr Kelly did not realise the extent of the claims until a photo of one of Mr Porter’s former wives, Colbie Holderness, suffering a black eye, emerged on Wednesday.



The German Woman at the Center of the Manafort Case

A German national appears prominently in the investigation into the possible Russian contacts made by Donald Trump’s associates. Did she serve as the strawman for illegal lobbying in the United States?

February 8, 2018

by Rafael Buschmann,Jürgen Dahlkamp, Gunther Latsch and Jörg Schmitt


Ina Kirsch is sitting at a table at Berlin’s Café Einstein. She has chosen to sit in a corner on the second floor because there usually isn’t much going on there. The expression she wears on her face reflects what she had said earlier on the phone: that she doesn’t want this meeting. It’s a “Let’s get this over with” kind of face.

Kirsch, who is almost 50, wears a turtleneck sweater, a jacket, pants and loafers, all in black. She seems to want to be invisible, or at least inconspicuous. As presumably anyone would want to be who has been pulled into the machinery of a global scandal, into the American investigation into the Russian contacts of Donald Trump’s team.

FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed an indictment in Washington in October against the president’s former campaign manager. The 31 pages of the “United States of America vs. Paul J. Manafort, Jr.” reveal that the German woman played a central role in what has become the primary focus of the investigation: whether Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, secretly, and therefore illegally, did lobbying work in the United States on behalf of the Ukrainian government before he joined Trump’s team.

This also means Kirsch played a supporting role in the much larger drama — the battle over the White House — because the indictment is just one part of the bigger picture. It is intended to create pressure for Manafort to testify about other events. At issue is the question of whether the Trump team may have colluded with the Russian government during the election — something that could cost the president his job.

The special counsel believes the German was Manafort’s strawman in his well-camouflaged lobbying work in the U.S. Kirsch allegedly helped Manafort clean up the Ukrainian regime’s image up until 2014 — a dirty job that supposedly made Manafort millions. Although Kirsch’s name does not appear explicitly in the indictment, every reference in the document to the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine is also directed at her. Since 2011, Kirsch has headed the Brussels-based center, an allegedly independent organization with the noble pursuit of tying Ukraine more closely with the West.

But suspicions arose early on that the center was being used as a cover for corrupt President Viktor Yanukovych and his party. And as Special Counsel Mueller sees it, Manafort was also hiding behind the group’s façade and working for Yanukovych. Kirsch, it appears, may have been a willing accomplice.

But is that inaccurate? Has Kirsch, as she claims, been wrongly depicted in Mueller’s indictment? Kirsch orders a latte, which she sips unenthusiastically. The only reason she came, she says, is to make it clear to the reporters that there is no reason for them to write about her, because she never worked for Manafort. Kirsch claims she never received instructions or assignments from him. And she also says she was never a mouthpiece for the Ukrainian government. “That is totally untrue,” she says, before adding, “One is always smarter in hindsight.” So, is it possible that Kirsch was merely naïve and that she had been taken advantage of unwittingly?

Kirsch speaks fluent Russian. She was born in Khabarovsk, far in Russia’s east, only a few millimeters from China on a map. Her mother worked for a newspaper there and her father was famous in East Germany (GDR). Rainer Kirsch, the lyricist and novelist, was kicked out of the Socialist Unity Party, East Germany’s Communist Party, and refused to collaborate with the Stasi secret police. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he served for 10 months as the last president of the East German Writer’s Union.

His daughter Ina grew up in the GDR. She defected to the West in 1987 by staying in London during a trip there. She wasn’t even 20 years old at the time. After the fall of the Wall, she joined the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). She went to Moscow for two years to work for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a think tank closely aligned with the party, before moving to Brussels take a job with the Social Democrats in the European Parliament.

A Difficult Partner

As an EU staffer with the Social Democrats, she worked on an agreement in 2014 with the Party of Regions, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s party. He would prove to be a difficult partner — a money-grubber who had boxed his way to the top and collected rare cars, exotic animals and horded exorbitant amounts of money. At the same time, he was so vain that he also wanted to be admired as a politician, as hungry for prestige as he had been.

For quite some time, it had been unclear whether Yanukovych would ally himself with the Russians or with the West in his pursuit of this goal. In any case, the West fought to gain him as an ally. Martin Schulz, the head of the Social Democrats’ party group in the European Parliament at the time agreed to a contract with Yanukovych’s party, promising regular meetings and “support.”

The key step, which Kirsch also worked on, was the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement. The aim of the treaty had been to pull Ukraine into the Western sphere once and for all. The final outcome, of course, is now part of history: After a long back and forth, Yanukovych refused to sign it, ultimately triggering the Maidan revolution and his own fall from power.

That couldn’t have been foreseen in 2011, the year that Kirsch left her staff position with the SPD party group in the European Parliament and founded the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, the mysterious entity that former FBI head Mueller considers to have been a strawman for the regime. What seems to confirm this suspicion is the fact that the impetus for the group came from a man close to Yanukovych, later Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara. He was among the group’s founders, and Kirsch took over operations. Officially, the center wasn’t supposed to have anything to do with Ukraine’s ruling clique. Kirsch says that no money or instructions were given.

A ‘Mouthpiece’ for Yanukovych?

According to Special Counsel Mueller, though, that isn’t true. In his eyes, the group served solely as a “mouthpiece” for Yanukovych and his party and had been under the “ultimate direction” of the Ukrainian government. He also alleges that the main person pulling the strings was Manafort, who used the group to polish his clients’ image in the United States.

The lobbyist and later Trump adviser had already been working since the 1980s with corrupt dictators who paid him large sums to wash the blood from their hands. His clients included Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Seko in what was then Zaire, and now he was peddling Yanukovych as a serious politician in the battle against rival Yulia Tymoshenko.

According to the indictment, Manafort used the center as a cover. In the U.S., if you want to do lobbying work for foreign governments, you are required by law to register that activity and disclose the names of the clients and the payments made. But it appears that Manafort didn’t want to do that. The indictment also alleges that Manafort and his partner earned $75 million for their work. It appears they tried to hide the money from the U.S. tax authorities, because it ended up in offshore companies in Cyprus and in the Caribbean. Page after page of the indictment provides a detailed listing of the gigantic sums of money that flowed from those companies to antiques dealers, luxury boutiques and car dealerships in the U.S., providing Manafort with his opulent lifestyle.

As Mueller outlines in the indictment, the relationship between Manafort and the center worked like this: Manafort stayed in the background, but he was in charge. Kirsch, meanwhile, signed contracts with Podesta and Mercury, two of Washington’s most expensive PR firms. The contracts stated that the fees would be paid by Kirsch’s organization, but Mueller’s investigators also believe that to have been a cover. They allege that the money was actually paid by the Manafort companies, and the numbers also appear to back that claim. The organization allegedly only had around 10,000 euros a year in revenues, but the indictment states that Podesta and Mercury were paid over $2 million.

At first, Kirsch seems to have difficulty explaining things. Her voice is cold and controlled, her look suspicious, and she butts in every time a question is posed that isn’t to her liking. She’s trying to maintain control over a story that has long since gotten out of her hands. She says she’s required to adhere to the non-disclosure clauses in the contracts with Podesta and Mercury, but they actually already expired over a year ago.

Who’s Right: Kirsch or Mueller?

Later, after the meeting in Berlin, she uses three densely written pages to share her version of the events with DER SPIEGEL. She tells the story of a woman who had a burning desire, and even spent her own money, to give Ukraine a better future, in the West, in the EU. And the story of people like Manafort, whom Kirsch describes as a “gold digger.” She claims he was merely using Ukraine. If her story is true, then Mueller is wrong. But is it?

Kirsch admits having met with Manafort three times. She says there was resistance in the U.S. to attempts to draw Ukraine closer to the West. This led the center to decide in 2012 to do a bit of lobbying work there. She claims that Manafort gave her the tip to hire Podesta and Mercury for those efforts. That’s why she signed contracts with the firms to carry out small assignments in the U.S., like distributing the center’s English-language newsletter.

She claims she didn’t have any idea that the PR firms were also carrying out additional work for Manafort under the exact same service contracts. “The scope of services we had agreed on was much smaller than the work that Podesta and Mercury apparently did in coordination with Paul Manafort.” The PR firms “should have come to me to discuss this, but they didn’t,” she says. Kirsch claims never to have received a bill from Podesta or Mercury, nor any reports on the work that had been done. She says she honestly isn’t aware of all the things that were potentially done in her name.

A Money Trail

But that’s a bit strange. How were Podesta and Mercury paid? Who did she think was paying if she never received a bill from Podesta and Mercury? She says her center in Brussels had sponsors and that instead of making payments to the organization itself, they sent money directly to the PR agencies. But what sponsors? European companies. Which companies? She claims she’s not allowed to tell.

But now she has a problem — and not only because the suspicion remains that the money came from the Yanukovych regime. Mueller might also take interest in the fact that Kirsch didn’t just have contracts with Podesta or Mercury, but also signed one with an offshore company in Cyprus — a copy of which is now in Ukraine. The company was called Marziola and it served as a kind of piggy bank: It was meant to collect the money from the organization’s sponsors and send it onwards to America. Mueller’s indictment reveals the person he believes to be behind Marziola: Paul Manafort.

And Kirsch argues she didn’t notice this? She never checked to see who was involved in Marziola? No, she claims, she only found out Marziola belonged to Manafort when she read the indictment. She says she no longer has anything to do with Manafort. “The abuse of our efforts for personal interests of individuals is a great disappointment,” she says.

Neither Manafort, nor the lobbyists with Podesta and Mercury answered requests from DER SPIEGEL for responses. Manafort has since filed a suit against Mueller claiming that the U.S. authorities had already been aware of the company structures in Cyprus and the Caribbean for years.

After four hours in the café, Ina Kirsch gets up. She has said enough and believes that any word about her is one too many. She asks that her place of residence not be published and that nothing be written about her husband. “What does my husband have to do with this?” Perhaps the fact that he also had tight connections to people close to Yanukovych? Kirsch is now just hoping that she won’t get a phone call from Mueller’s team and that the attention currently being paid to her will wash over quickly. She’d like to have all this behind her — as fast and quietly as possible, without any more meetings or any more questions.




Israeli warplane crashes amid cross-border escalation with Syria

An Israeli jet has been downed by Syrian anti-air fire after Israel intercepted an Iranian drone launched from Syria. The incident is one of the most serious involving Israel, Iran and Syria amid the Syrian civil war

February 10, 2018


Israel planes on Saturday carried out attacks on “Iranian targets” in Syria after intercepting a drone, with one F16 fighter downed by heavy anti-aircraft counter fire, a military spokesman said.

Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus wrote on Twitter that the plane had crashed in Israel but that the pilots were safe, saying that the incident occurred as Israeli forces attacked the “Iranian control systems in Israel” responsible for the launch of the drone.

Israeli police said the F16 crashed in the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel. The pilots were taken to hospital for treatment, according to the military, with one seriously wounded and the other lightly.

In a separate statement, the military said that a “combat helicopter successfully intercepted an Iranian UAV that was launched from Syria and infiltrated Israel.”

It said it had carried out “large-scale” attacks on at least a dozen Iranian targets in Syria in response to the drone’s intrusion into Israeli airspace.

But the Syrian military denied that the drone had violated Israeli airspace, saying the aircraft was on a mission gathering intelligence on “Islamic State” militants within Syria.

Mutual blame game

The Syrian state news agency SANA quoted an unidentified military source as saying Syrian forces had responded with anti-aircraft fire to an Israel act of “aggression” against a military base and that more than one Israeli plane had been hit.

The Israeli military insists that only one plane was affected.

Israel’s targeting of an Iranian site in Syria marks an escalation in military action involving the three countries and is one of the most serious incidents of its type since the Syrian civil conflict began eight years ago.

Iran and its Lebanese militia ally, Hezbollah, are both major players in Syria’s multi-faceted civil war, while Israel has experienced spillover violence from the fighting; shooting down several drones that have tried to infiltrate its territory among other things.

Israel has of late been warning of increased Iranian involvement along its border in Syria and Lebanon, fearing that Iran could use Syrian territory as a base for attacks.

Israeli missiles also this week targeted a Syrian military research center near Damascus.


Risking Israeli dispute, Lebanon signs deal with 3 oil firms

February 9, 2018

by Andrea Ross


BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon signed Friday a deal with an international consortium to start exploratory offshore drilling for oil and gas amid tensions with Israel. Beirut hopes that oil and gas will help boost its struggling economy.

Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil warned Israel not to try to hinder the drilling on the Lebanese side saying that Beirut can also stop offshore development on the Israeli side.

Lebanon and Israel are technically at war and both countries have fought several wars over the past decades.

Israel has in recent days escalated its threats against Lebanon over its invitation for offshore gas exploration bids on the countries’ maritime border claiming that Lebanon will be drilling in areas owned by Israel. Lebanese officials deny the Israeli statements, saying the area where the country plans to drill belongs to Lebanon.

The signing ceremony was held Friday afternoon in Beirut and was attended by President Michel Aoun and officials from the three oil companies — Italy’s Eni, France’s Total and Russia’s Novatek.

“We have achieved a big dream and Lebanon has entered a new era today,” Aoun said at the ceremony.

Lebanon has a debt of $80 billion or 145 percent of its gross domestic product making it one of the world’s highest.

The agreement came two months after Lebanon’s government approved the licenses for the international consortium to move forward with offshore oil and gas development. The three companies have bid for two of Lebanon’s 10 offshore blocks, to determine whether oil and gas reserves exist.

Lebanon’s Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil said the country will start exploratory offshore drilling for oil and gas next year.

A major find in Lebanon’s southernmost waters could raise the possibility of a dispute with Israel, which is developing a number of offshore gas deposits, with one large field, Tamar, already producing gas, and the larger Leviathan field set to go online next year.

There are over 800 square kilometers (300 square miles) of waters claimed by the two countries. The dispute is over parts of Lebanon’s block 9 that is on the border with Israel.

“Israel cannot stop the activities on the Lebanese side because Lebanon can then stop the activities on the Israeli sides,” Bassil told The Associated Press when asked if the drilling will cause more tensions with Israel.

He added that the oil companies declared that there is no reason “that they should not speed the process and they should start right away.”

Earlier this week, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman described Lebanon’s exploration tender as “very provocative” and suggested that Lebanon had put out invitations for bids from international groups for a gas field “which is by all accounts ours.”

His comments drew sharp condemnation from the militant Hezbollah group and Lebanese officials, including Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Western ally, who described Lieberman’s comments as a “blatant provocation that Lebanon rejects.”

Stephane Michel, president of Total Middle East and North Africa, said there will be no delay in drilling. He added that they will be working 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of the border in block 9.

Chairman of the board of the Lebanese Petroleum Administration Walid Nasr said it will take five to six years for Lebanon to become an oil producing country “but the important thing is to start. Everything has a starting point and today was the starting point.”


Israel launches ‘large-scale’ attack in Syria after fighter jet crashes

Military spokesman says four Iranian targets near Damascus were destroyed in retaliation

September 10, 2018

by Olover Holmes

The Guardian

Israel has launched what it described as a large-scale air raid in Syria after one of its F-16 fighters crashed while under Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

Twelve sites, including four “Iranian targets” near the Syrian capital, Damascus, were destroyed in the raid, according to an Israeli military spokesman, Jonathan Conricus. It was not immediately clear whether there were any casualties.

The Israeli F-16 was shot at as it returned on Saturday morning from a raid to destroy Iranian facilities accused of launching a drone into Israel.

Both pilots managed to eject and landed in Israel. One was badly injured. It was not clear if the jet was hit or if the pilots abandoned the plane.

Syrian state news claimed its air defences had struck at least two jets. The Israeli military denied more than one plane had been hit.

Saturday’s violence was one of the most severe incidents involving Israel, Iran and Syria during Syria’s seven-year-old civil war. It is believed to be the first time Israel has lost a jet in the conflict.

The jet was part of a mission deep into Syrian territory to destroy what Conricus said was an Iranian drone control facility near the desert city of Palmyra. The drone that entered Israeli airspace was shot down and retrieved, he said.

“The Syrians and Iranians, from our point of view, are playing with fire,” Conricus said. “The event is still ongoing; it is by no means behind us.”

Iran condemned Israel for intercepting one of its drones. “Reports of downing an Iranian drone flying over Israel and also Iran’s involvement in attacking an Israeli jet are so ridiculous,” state TV quoted Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying. He said Iran provided only “military advice” to Syria.

Syrian state media said air defences opened fire on the jets in response to an Israeli act of aggression against a military base on Saturday.

“The Israeli enemy entity at dawn today conducted a new aggression against one of the military bases in the central region. Our air defences confronted it and hit more than one plane,” the unidentified military source said.

Conricus said Iran was “responsible for this severe violation of Israeli sovereignty”.

“IDF (Israel Defence Forces) has targeted the Iranian control systems in Syria that sent the [unmanned aircraft] into Israeli airspace. Massive Syrian anti-air fire, one F16 crashed in Israel, pilots safe,” Conricus tweeted.

Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig Gen Ronen Manelis, said Israel held Iran directly responsible for the incident.

“This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” he said. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”

Rocket alert sirens sounded in the Israeli-held Golan Heights and in northern Israel during confrontations, while flights to Israel’s international airport near Tel Aviv were briefly suspended.

On Tuesday the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, paid a rare visit to the Israel-Syria front and warned Israel’s enemies not to test its resolve. He did not mention by name Iran or its Lebanese militia ally, Hezbollah, both main players in Syria’s civil war.

Netanyahu has been cautioning against any attempt by Iran to deepen its military foothold in Syria or construct missile factories in neighbouring Lebanon.


Turkish helicopter shot down by Kurdish militia in Syria’s Afrin: Erdogan

February 10, 2018


ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Turkish army helicopter was shot down by Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters near the north Syrian town of Afrin, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday and the Turkish military said two soldiers on board the aircraft died.

YPG sources separately confirmed the downing of the helicopter.

“One of our helicopters was downed just recently,” Erdogan said speaking to members of his AK Party (AKP) in Istanbul. “These things will happen, we are in a war… We might lose a helicopter, but they’ll pay the price for this.”

The Turkish military in a statement did not specify a reason for why the helicopter fell. It said two soldiers on board died and technical crews were investigating the crash.

The downed helicopter was the first officially confirmed loss of a Turkish aircraft over Syria since the start of the country’s long-running civil war.

The Turkish military in other statements said a total of five soldiers were killed and nine wounded on Saturday in clashes with mainly Kurdish forces near Afrin. It said it had killed 26 militants.

Ankara launched an air and ground offensive last month against Kurdish fighters in Syria’s Afrin region on its border, opening a new front in the multi-sided Syrian war.

Separately, the Turkish military in a statement said on Friday that the construction of a fifth military post near Syria’s northwestern region of Idlib had begun.

Under the deal reached with Tehran and Moscow to try to reduce fighting between pro-government forces and mainly Islamist insurgents in the northwest Syria, Turkey agreed to set up 12 observation posts in Idlib and neighboring provinces.

But the “de-escalation” in violence they were supposed to monitor has collapsed. In December, the Syrian army alongside Iranian-backed militias and heavy Russian air power launched a major offensive to take territory in Idlib province.

Idlib is one of the last main strongholds of rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, who have been driven from most of their bastions in Syria since Russia joined the war on the side of Assad’s government in 2015. Turkey has long been one of the main allies of the anti-Assad rebels.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul and Lisa Barrington in Beirut; Editing by Stephen Powell


Israel’s Settlements Have No Legal Validity, Constitute Flagrant Violation of International Law, Security Council Reaffirms

UN Report

14 Delegations in Favour of Resolution 2334 (2016) as United States Abstains

The Security Council reaffirmed this afternoon that Israel’s establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders.

Adopting resolution 2334 (2016) by 14 votes, with the United States abstaining, the Council reiterated its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.  It underlined that it would not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the two sides through negotiations.

The Council called for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation and destruction.  It further called for the strengthening of ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, including through existing security coordination, and to clearly condemn all acts of terrorism.  The Council called on both sides to observe calm and restraint, and to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric in order to de-escalate the situation on the ground and rebuild trust and confidence.

Also by the text, the Council called on all parties to continue to exert collective efforts to launch credible negotiations on all final-status issues in the Middle East peace process, and within the time frame specified by the Middle East Quartet (European Union, Russian Federation, United Nations, United States) in its statement of 21 September 2010.  It called upon all States to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.

Explaining her delegation’s abstention, the representative of the United States said it had been a long-standing position of her country that settlements undermined Israel’s security and eroded prospects for peace and stability.  She emphasized, however, that her vote today had not been straightforward.  Explaining that Israel had been treated differently from other States for as long as it had been a member of the United Nations, she noted that during the course of 2016, 18 resolutions adopted in the General Assembly and others in the Human Rights Council had all condemned Israel.  It was because of that bias that the United States had not voted in favour of the resolution, she said, emphasizing that her delegation would not have let the resolution pass had it not addressed terrorism and incitement to violence.

Malaysia’s representative said effective Council action must be taken without further delay to reverse dangerous trends on the ground that were threatening any possibility of a two-State solution.  Settlement activity constituted the single biggest threat to peace, and had led to settler violence, home demolitions and denial of development.  Decades of human rights violations had frustrated those with nothing to lose, leading to acts of violence, she said, adding that the resolution could give hope to the people of Palestine and Israel, the majority of whom still wanted peace and a two-State solution.

Israel’s representative said those who had voted “yes” to the resolution had voted “no” to negotiations, to progress and to a chance for better lives for both Israelis and Palestinians, and to the possibility of peace.  The resolution would continue to provide excuses for the Palestinians to avoid recognizing Israel’s right to exist, he said, adding that the Council had voted to condemn the State of Israel and the Jewish people for building homes in the land of Israel, and to deny “our eternal rights” in Jerusalem.  “We will continue to be a democratic State based on the rule of law and full civil and human rights for all our citizens,” he declared.  “And we will continue to be a Jewish State proudly reclaiming the land of our forefathers.”

The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine said the Council’s action, while long-overdue, was timely, necessary and important.  The resolution required vigilant follow-up if it was to be meaningful and salvage a two-State solution from relegation to history’s archives.  Israel’s illegal settlements and its wall had undermined the contiguity of Palestinian land and isolated East Jerusalem.  To claims of bias, he said the only bias was against law, reason and the vision of two States as the most viable solution.

Egypt’s representative said the text expressed the painful reality of illegitimate settlements and confiscation of Palestinian land.  Noting that his delegation had been compelled to withdraw its own draft resolution, he emphasized that it was unacceptable for some Council members to have warned Egypt, recalling that his country had been the first to make peace with Israel.

Also this afternoon, Council President Román Oyarzun Marchesi (Spain) expressed appreciation for the contributions of Council members whose term would expire at the end of 2016 — Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain and Venezuela.

Also speaking today were representatives of New Zealand, Venezuela, France, China, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Russian Federation, Japan, Angola and Senegal.

The meeting began at 2:07 p.m. and ended at 3:50 p.m.

Action on Draft Resolution

RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia), noting that he was a sponsor of the draft, recalled numerous calls over the years for urgent Council action to end illegal settlement construction, and said that a recent attempt to legalize settlements on Palestinian-owned land added to the urgency.  Effective Council action must be taken without further delay to reverse dangerous trends on the ground that threatened any possibility of a two-State solution.  While Malaysia would have preferred a more transparent and normal process of submitting the text to the Council, the present situation was unique, he emphasized, appealing to fellow Council members not to lose the opportunity to advance the peace.  The time to show that a two-State solution was not an empty slogan was now, he added.

GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) also noted his delegation’s sponsorship of the draft, expressed frustration that no draft on the Middle East had been adopted in the past eight years.  He surveyed the draft’s drafting and negotiation history, saying what was needed was a text that moved the peace process forward by building on the broad consensus that settlements were a major obstacle and that all violence must end.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), a third sponsor, said today’s action could be historic.  The decision to table the draft was important due to the ongoing expansion of settlements and in order to safeguard the Palestinian people and salvage the peace process.  The draft resolution reaffirmed the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to live within secure borders, on the basis of the 1967 lines.  At the same time, it addressed the settlement problem and condemned violence.  There was wide consensus among Member States, the Secretary-General, other members of the Middle East Quartet and other stakeholders, he noted, urging adoption of the text.

The Council then adopted the draft resolution by 14 votes in favour with 1 abstention (United States).


AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said the text adopted today expressed the painful reality of illegitimate settlements and confiscation of Palestinian land.  The settlement question was one component of the final-status issues — that of borders.  Noting that his country, had been compelled to withdraw its own draft, he stressed that it was unacceptable for some Council members to have warned Egypt.  Recalling that Egypt had been the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, he said it believed in peace based on a two-State solution and the land-for-peace initiative.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said the immediate adoption of a freeze on settlements could create confidence, adding that further settlement activities were not necessary for Israel’s security.  President Ronald Reagan had said that in 1982, she recalled, noting that his words underscored her country’s commitment to a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and highlighted its position that settlements undermined Israel’s security and eroded prospects for peace and stability.

She said that while her vote today was in line with her country’s bipartisan tradition, the vote itself had not been straightforward.  Explaining that Israel had been treated differently from other States for as long as it had been a member of the United Nations, she pointed out that in the course of 2016, 18 resolutions had been adopted in the General Assembly and others in the Human Rights Council, all condemning Israel.  Because of that bias, and some factors not included in the resolution, the United States had not voted in favour of the resolution, she said, explaining that her delegation would not have let it pass had it not addressed acts of terrorism and incitement to violence.

The issue of settlements was now putting a two-State solution at risk too, she continued.  The number of settlers had increased dramatically, and legislation now before the Knesset would legalize most of their outposts.  Emphasizing that one must make a choice between settlements and separation, she said her delegation had not supported the resolution because it was focused too narrowly on settlements.

She went on to stress that Palestinian leaders must recognize that incitement for violence eroded prospects for peace.  There had been hundreds of attacks, but rather than being condemned, the attackers were upheld as heroes.  Israel faced threats in a difficult neighbourhood, and the United States would not waver in its commitment to its security, she said, underlining that a two-State solution was the only path to peace for the people of Israel and Palestine.  It was up to them to choose that path.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) described the resolution’s adoption as an important and historic event, noting that it marked the first time that the Council had clearly stated the obvious:  settlement activities undermined a two-State solution.  Israel’s settlement building had accelerated, fuelling tension on the ground, and it was now part of a deliberate policy aiming to create facts on the ground in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.  Acts of violence, incitement and terrorism also undermined the chances for a two-State solution, he said, pointing out that the resolution strongly reiterated its condemnation of all acts of terrorism and called on the Palestinian Authority to discourage them.  The resolution was also meant to create the conditions for a resumption of negotiations.  Emphasizing that peace could only be based on a two-State solution, he said France would organize an international conference in Paris to re-launch the negotiation process.  Today’s resolution and the Paris conference were both aimed at reiterating support for a two-State solution, he added.

RAFAEL DARIO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), welcoming the resolution’s adoption, said it allowed the Council to emerge from inaction and work for the resumption of negotiations towards a two-State solution.  Of course that was just one step towards that goal, but it was necessary because it seriously affected both the Palestinian people and the prospects for peace, he said.  Israel must now end all illegal practices of the occupation, including its blockade on the Gaza Strip and all settlement activity.  Reiterating condemnation of all terrorism as well as all violations of the human rights of Palestinians, he said he was pleased that, as his country ended its term, the Council had finally acted on the settlement issue.

WU HAITAO (China), welcoming the adoption, said the resolution reflected the common aspiration of the international community.  He urged Israel to implement the resolution and called upon both sides to re-establish mutual trust so that a just and lasting solution could be reached in the form of two secure States coexisting peacefully.  China would continue to support efforts to achieve that goal, he pledged.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the adoption reaffirmed the belief that a two-State solution was the only way to a just and lasting peace.  In that context, it was critical to end all terrorism and incitement, he emphasized, adding that it was also necessary to end the expansion of settlements.  The United Kingdom rejected all efforts to de-legitimize Israel, and it was as a friend of that country that it supported the resolution text, since it was in the best interests of both sides and renewed efforts for a peaceful two-State solution.  He stressed, however, that he did not anticipate an easy road to that goal.

LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay) said the resolution represented a critical effort to address negative trends in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.  Hopefully it would be a call for action towards the resumption of negotiations on a peaceful, negotiated two-State solution.  Uruguay would continue to support that goal, he pledged, noting that both Israelis and Palestinians deserved it, exhausted as they were by many decades of conflict.

VITALY I. CHURKIN (Russian Federation), explaining that he had been puzzled by the process around the resolution and by the haste with which it had been “pushed” to the vote, agreed  with other speakers that settlement activities undermined the chances for a two-State solution, as did acts of terror and incitement to violence.  Emphasizing that his country had been involved in the peace process for a long time, he said the work of the Middle East Quartet (European Union, Russian Federation, United Nations, United States) remained important and effective.  Its July report was still relevant, and implementation of its recommendations would help to return the process to the political track, he added.

KORO BESSHO (Japan) said he was deeply concerned about the current stagnation in the peace process.  Noting that settlement activities were in violation of international law and had been eroding the viability of a two-State solution, he emphasized the importance of the parties committing themselves to the resolution.  Peace in the Middle East could only be realized through negotiations, he said, stressing that Japan would not recognize any unilateral change by either party that might pre-judge the final resolution of the conflict.

RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia) said that after decades of paralysis the Council had finally taken effective action to reverse the negative trends threatening peace and a two-State solution.  Thanking Council members who had voted in favour of the resolution, he said he was encouraged by the restraint demonstrated by some permanent members.  Settlement activity constituted the single biggest threat to peace and a two-State solution, and had led to settler violence, home demolitions, as well as the denial of development.  Decades of violations of human rights violations had frustrated those with nothing to lose, which had led to acts of violence, he said.  The resolution could give hope to the people of Palestine and Israel, the majority of whom still wanted peace under a two-State solution.  The adoption was also a victory for people in Israel who still believed in living side by side in peace with the Palestinians and other Arab people.  While emphasizing the need to reflect on the collective failures of the past 50 years, he also cautioned that today’s resolution only addressed the symptoms and not the root causes of the conflict.

ISMAEL ABRAÃO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola), welcomed the resolution’s adoption, saying that the problem of settlements had continued for far too long.  It was disappointing that Israel disputed its illegality.  Urging both sides to refrain from unilateral actions that could hinder a two-State solution, he said that such a solution would require unity on the Council, among Palestinians and among Israelis.  Angola hoped today’s action was a first step in the right direction.

GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) said he was very pleased that during the last meeting of 2016, the Council had been able to take a positive step to save a two-State solution.  Settlements were a threat to that goal, but so were violence and terrorism, he said, adding that they also created false expectations on the part of Israelis and resentments on the part of Palestinians.  Today’s resolution confirmed principles that had long been accepted in the United Nations, he said, adding that, while more could have been done, the text was achievable “right now”.

GORGUI CISS (Senegal), welcoming the adoption, affirmed that the settlements were illegal under international law.  They encouraged violence against both Israelis and Palestinians, and harmed the aspirations of both to a peaceful future.  Renewing condemnations of all acts of terrorism and violence while expressing support for initiatives that could move the peace process forward, he called for the coordination of all such initiatives.

OMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain), Council President for December, said he had voted in favour of the resolution because it would help to save the prospects for a two-State solution, which must be negotiated between the two sides.  However, the Council must fulfil its responsibilities and act on the basis of consensus and a balanced text that could move the process forward.  Spain had always affirmed the illegality of the settlements and condemned incitement to violence, he recalled, noting that today’s resolution was consistent with both positions.  Welcoming the Council’s breaking of its silence on the issue, he pledged that his country would continue to make whatever contribution possible to advance peace in the Middle East.

DANNY DANON (Israel) described today as a bad day for his country and the peak of hypocrisy.  The Council had wasted time to condemn Israel for building homes in the Jewish people’s historic homeland.  Those who had voted yes had voted no to negotiations, to progress and to a chance for better lives for both Israelis and Palestinians, he said, adding that they had voted no to the possibility of peace.  The resolution would continue to provide excuses for the Palestinians to avoid recognizing Israel’s right to exist, he said.  There had been a disproportionate number of resolutions condemning Israel and today’s text would be added to that shameful list.

He went on to call upon the Council to turn a new page and end the bias against Israel.  Today it had voted to condemn the State of Israel and to condemn the Jewish people for building homes in the Land of Israel.  Asking every voting member who had given them the right to issue such a decree, denying “our eternal rights in Jerusalem”, he expressed full confidence in the justice of Israel’s cause and the righteousness of its path.  “We will continue to be a democratic State based on the rule of law and full civil and human rights for all our citizens,” he emphasized.  “And we will continue to be a Jewish State proudly reclaiming the land of our forefathers.”RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, said that the Council’s action, while long overdue, was timely, necessary and important.  Over the years, the delegation of the State of Palestine had made countless appeals for the Council to uphold its Charter duties, insisting on the need to confront Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and its relentless colonization of their land under a half-century of foreign occupation.  Those appeals had been calls for the Council to contribute to the cause of peace — for Palestine, Israel, the Middle East and the world, he said.

The resolution would require vigilant follow-up if it was to be meaningful and if it would salvage the two-State solution from relegation to history’s archives, he said.  Urgent efforts would be needed to reverse the dangerous, negative trends on the ground and to advance collective efforts to end the occupation that had begun in 1967.  For five decades, the occupation had persisted with full force, its illegal settlements and wall having undermined the contiguity of Palestinian lands and isolated East Jerusalem.  In response to claims of bias, he said the only bias taking place was bias against law, reason and the vision of two States as the most viable solution.

Urging the Security Council to stand firm by its decision, he expressed hope that the global call for an end to Israel’s settlement activities and violations would compel its compliance with the law, de-escalate tensions and bring an end to violence.  That would be vital for salvaging the prospects for peace and should be led by responsible Council action, including follow-up to the reports requested of the Secretary-General in relation to implementation of today’s resolution.  Recognizing the efforts of Arab States in the context of the Arab Peace Initiative, as well as those of France, the Quartet, Egypt and the Russian Federation, he called for intensified international and regional efforts to end Israel’s occupation and build a just and lasting peace in an independent, sovereign and contiguous State of Palestine, side by side with Israel and within secure and recognized borders.


The full text of resolution 2334 (2016) reads as follows:

“The Security Council,

“Reaffirming its relevant resolutions, including resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 446 (1979), 452 (1979), 465 (1980), 476 1980), 478 (1980), 1397 (2002), 1515 (2003), and 1850 (2008),

“Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and reaffirming, inter alia, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force,

“Reaffirming the obligation of Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, and recalling the advisory opinion rendered on 9 July 2004 by the International Court of Justice,

“Condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions,

“Expressing grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-State solution based on the 1967 lines,

“Recalling the obligation under the Quartet Roadmap, endorsed by its resolution 1515 (2003), for a freeze by Israel of all settlement activity, including “natural growth”, and the dismantlement of all settlement outposts erected since March 2001,

“Recalling also the obligation under the Quartet roadmap for the Palestinian Authority Security Forces to maintain effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantling terrorist capabilities, including the confiscation of illegal weapons,

“Condemning all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction,

“Reiterating its vision of a region where two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders,

“Stressing that the status quo is not sustainable and that significant steps, consistent with the transition contemplated by prior agreements, are urgently needed in order to (i) stabilize the situation and to reverse negative trends on the ground, which are steadily eroding the two-State solution and entrenching a one-State reality, and (ii) to create the conditions for successful final status negotiations and for advancing the two-State solution through those negotiations and on the ground,

“1.   Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;

“2.   Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard;

“3.   Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations;

“4.   Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the ground that are imperilling the two-State solution;

“5.   Calls upon all States, bearing in mind paragraph 1 of this resolution, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967;

“6.   Calls for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation and destruction, calls for accountability in this regard, and calls for compliance with obligations under international law for the strengthening of ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, including through existing security coordination, and to clearly condemn all acts of terrorism;

“7.   Calls upon both parties to act on the basis of international law, including international humanitarian law, and their previous agreements and obligations, to observe calm and restraint, and to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric, with the aim, inter alia, of de-escalating the situation on the ground, rebuilding trust and confidence, demonstrating through policies and actions a genuine commitment to the two-State solution, and creating the conditions necessary for promoting peace;

“8.   Calls upon all parties to continue, in the interest of the promotion of peace and security, to exert collective efforts to launch credible negotiations on all final status issues in the Middle East peace process and within the time frame specified by the Quartet in its statement of 21 September 2010;

“9.   Urges in this regard the intensification and acceleration of international and regional diplomatic efforts and support aimed at achieving, without delay a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East on the basis of the relevant United Nations resolutions, the Madrid terms of reference, including the principle of land for peace, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet Roadmap and an end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967; and underscores in this regard the importance of the ongoing efforts to advance the Arab Peace Initiative, the initiative of France for the convening of an international peace conference, the recent efforts of the Quartet, as well as the efforts of Egypt and the Russian Federation;

“10.  Confirms its determination to support the parties throughout the negotiations and in the implementation of an agreement;

“11.  Reaffirms its determination to examine practical ways and means to secure the full implementation of its relevant resolutions;

“12.  Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council every three months on the implementation of the provisions of the present resolution;

“13.  Decides to remain seized of the matter.”

Investors brace for more swings as U.S. inflation specter rises

February 9, 2018

by Chuck Mikolajczak


NEW YORK (Reuters) – The inflation bogeyman has reared its ugly head and sent U.S. stock investors racing for the hills in recent days.

Next week, coming off one of the most volatile stretches in years, two important readings on U.S. inflation could help determine whether the stock market begins to settle or if another bout of volatility is in store.

If the January’s U.S. consumer price index due next Wednesday from the U.S. Labor Department, and the producer price index the next day, come in higher than the market anticipates, brace for more selling and gyrations for stocks.

U.S. consumer prices rose 2.1 percent year-on-year in December and is forecast to stay around that pace this month.

“If we get a hot CPI print it will insert additional uncertainty, but if we get a quiet, below-consensus print, you may see yields down and equities rally,” said Jason Ware, Chief Investment Officer & Chief Economist at Albion Financial Group in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The equity market has become highly sensitive to inflation this month. A selloff in U.S. stocks earlier this week was in large part sparked by the Feb. 2 monthly U.S. employment report which showed the largest year-on-year increase in average hourly earnings since June 2009.

Recent U.S. tax cuts that may spur economic growth, the prospect of more government borrowing to fund a widening fiscal deficit, and rising wages, have all pushed up benchmark U.S. Treasury yields to near four year highs.

“This is how we started, go back to Friday and this is exactly where we were,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley FBR in New York.

“The conversation about equity risk premium, interest rates and inflation, we are coming full circle.”

The jump in wage inflation pushed yields on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note US10YT=RR closer to the 3.0 percent mark last seen four years ago, denting the attractiveness of equities, and unnerving investors fearful inflation will force the U.S. Federal Reserve to raises short term interest rates at a faster pace than is currently priced into the market.

The current earnings yield for the S&P 500 index companies stands at 5.4 percent, below the 6.4 percent average of the past 20 years. As bond yields rise the spread between the two narrows, prompting asset allocation changes between equities and fixed income.

Investor concerns over inflation was reflected in Lipper funds data on Thursday, which showed U.S.-based inflation-protected bond funds attracted $859 million over the weekly period, the largest inflows since November 2016.

On Thursday, New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley said the central bank’s forecast of three rate hikes still seemed a “very reasonable projection” but added there was a potential for more, should the economy look stronger.

Traders are currently putting the chances of a 25 basis point hike by the Fed at its March meeting at 84.5 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Benchmark 10-year note yields US10YT=RR rose as high as 2.884 percent on Thursday, just below Monday’s four-year high of 2.885 percent. The notes ended down 6/32 in price to yield 2.853 percent.

While many analysts were predicting bond yields to rise this year as global economies improve, the suddenness of the move was a large factor in the recent stock market selloff.

The 10-day correlation between the S&P 500 index and yields on the 10-year note stands at a negative 0.79.

Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 index were on track on Thursday for their biggest two-week percentage declines since August 2011.

“The pace really does matter,” said Ron Temple, Head of US Equities and Co-Head of Multi Asset Investing at Lazard Asset Management in New York.

“If we see 3.0 percent next week that is going to spook people more – the equity market psyche is fragile at this point.”

The fragile investor psyche is likely to lead to continued volatility coming off a week that saw the Dow suffer its largest intraday index point decline in history on Monday, nearly 1,600 points. The Dow currently has an average intraday swing over the past 50 days of 265.76 points, the highest since March 2016.

While volatility has subsided a little from the heights touched earlier this week, it is far from an all clear, Nigol Koulajian, chief executive of Quest Partners, a New York-based systematic commodity trading advisor with $1.4 billion in assets under management, said.

Koulajian pointed to the fixed income market as the main catalyst right now for near-term moves in the stock market.

“Investors need to keep a very, very close eye on fixed income,” he said. “The catalyst needn’t be big. When the market is this levered, even tiny events can trigger a big avalanche.”

But analysts also caution yields are not at levels that should be alarming to investors, and in fact are at levels that signal a healthier global economy, and the performance of some stocks this week points to a belief the consumer is also getting healthier.

The average yield on the 10-year Treasury note over the past 30 years is 4.834 percent, still well above current levels.

“Fundamentals are still positive, there is strong economic growth and strong earnings growth – those will help stocks move higher over time,” said Kate Warne, investment strategist at Edward Jones in St. Louis.

“But it doesn’t do much for predicting short-term moves.”

(This version of the story corrects bond price code to text in paragraph 15.)

Additional reporting by Megan Davies, Saqib Iqbal Ahmed and April Joyner; Editing by Alden Bentley and Clive McKeef



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