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Trump threatens to cut Palestinian aid in Davos

Al Jazeera - Fri, 26 Jan 2018 - 4:29am
Claiming that the Palestinians had 'disrespected' the US, Donald Trump is threatening more aid cuts to Palestine.

Australian Open: Simona Halep & Caroline Wozniacki battle for first Grand Slam

BBC News - Fri, 26 Jan 2018 - 4:19am
Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki meet in Saturday's Australian Open final with both women hoping to finally win a first Grand Slam title.

In blow to Trump, Syrian Kurds call on al-Assad to Save them from Turkey

Informed Comment - Fri, 26 Jan 2018 - 2:38am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The hopes of the Trump administration to use the Syrian Kurds as a wedge against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus may be rapidly fading.

The liberal Lebanese newspaper Elbalad [The Country] reports that the Autonomous Administration of the Kurdish-majority Afrin region of northern Syria, which is under attack from Turkey, has called on the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus to defend the country’s borders from the “brutal Turkish aggression,” affirming that Afrin is an inseparable part of Syria. The Kurds, organized by the Democratic Union Party and its paramilitary the People’s Protection Units (YPG) said that the Turkish invasion, launched last Saturday, aims at grabbing another piece of Syrian territory through the occupation of the district of Afrin.

The Kurds called on the Syrian state to undertake its responsibilities of sovereignty with regard to Afrin and to safeguard the borders of the country from the attacks of the Turkish occupier, something it has not done so far despite the announcement by Damascus that it would send troops to man the frontier.

The communique said that the People’s Protection Units had spent the last six years fulfilling their national duty to safeguard the district against the attacks of terrorist groups and preserving of the integrity of Syrian territory and its national institutions.

The some 2 million Syrian Kurds in the north and northeast of the country have been a wild card for decades. They were discriminated against by the Arab nationalist Baath Party, the tattered remnants of which still huddle around al-Assad in Damascus, on the grounds that Kurds are not Arabs and so not full citizens of the Syrian Arab Republic unless they are willing to learn Arabic and give up their ethnic identity. The Baath Party is as racist as the KKK. In fact, in the 1960s, the Arab nationalist government in Damascus just removed citizenship from 100,000 Kurds, who later grew into a million.

When the attempted revolution broke out in 2011, Bashar al-Assad went up to Hasaka in the northeast and offered to restore citizenship to the Kurds if they would back his government instead of rebelling. The Kurds showed little interest in the offer. For them, the outbreak of revolution was a chance to stake their claim to a federal Kurdish ethnic province, which they call Rojava. Some hope that eventually it will become independent but at least they say they are willing to live under Syrian government rule. But, they insist, Syria has to be reformulated as a federal state with strong states’ rights instead of remaining a French-style unitary state.

The ambiguity of the Kurdish position, in seeking more autonomy from Damascus but declining to join in attempts to overthrow the government, is underlined by Kurdish relations with the Arab rebels. The latter moved toward Muslim fundamentalism, sometimes of an extreme sort, which turns out to have a latent element of virulent Arab racism. So the Arab rebels, especially the al-Qaeda affiliate and ISIL, attacked the Kurds. And the Kurds often made common cause with the Syrian Arab Army of al-Assad against them.

So what the YPG in Afrin is attempting to do is to revive that alliance with Damascus. It is alleging that the Arab rebels Turkey sent in to Afrin as guerrilla fighters against the Kurds are al-Qaeda, and depicting the Turkish invasion as a foreign occupation. In other words, the Kurds are ironically working the keyword political vocabulary of Arab nationalism, for which foreign colonial occupation is the supreme evil and the occupied are virtually saints.

This rhetoric is aimed not only at garnering support from Damascus but also from the wider Arab world. It has already succeeded to some extent. Egypt has come out to condemn the Turkish incursion, as an affront to the Arab nation.

Unfortunately for Afrin’s Kurds, neither Damascus nor Cairo is likely to intervene in any practical way. And the US, which is allied with the YPG in Manbij, Kobane and Jazira, has relinquished Afrin as a sphere of influence, leaving the 500,000 Kurds there to their fate at the hands of Turkey.

Turkey maintains that Afrin has been a base for terrorist attacks into Turkey and that the YPG is an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which both the US and Turkey deem a terrorist group. The US, which used the YPG to defeat ISIL in Syria, does not agree with Ankara on this issue. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis still hopes to use the American position in Eastern Syria to ease al-Assad out of power, but his unwillingness to defend the Syrian Kurds from Turkey is driving the former into the arms of Damascus.


Bonus video:

France 24 English: “Syria: Turkish offensive on Afrin forces US to perform diplomatic balancing act between allies”

Victory in Russia Election Assured, Putin Seeks High Turnout

World News (NY Times) - Fri, 26 Jan 2018 - 2:01am
In his bid for another term, the Russian president is seeking the legitimacy of a contested vote without real democracy. It is a hard sell.

Human Rights Win in Iran: Thousands of Death Sentences for Drugs Dropped

Informed Comment - Fri, 26 Jan 2018 - 1:44am

Centre for Human Rights in Iran | Trans. & Ed. Global Voices Online

An estimated 4,000 prisoners currently on death row in Iran for drug-related crimes could have their death sentences revoked, following a judicial order based on the country’s newly amended drug trafficking law.

The order, issued by Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani on January 9, 2018, suspends death sentences for drug-related crimes pending sentence reviews and requires judges to rescind death sentences that do not meet the new conditions set by Parliament for the death penalty.

On October 14, 2017, the Guardian Council, which vets laws for conformity with Islamic principles, approved an amendment to the Law Against Drug Trafficking after it was passed in Parliament despite efforts by security agencies to halt the bill.

The development comes after years of domestic and international human rights campaigning. Iran has one of the highest per-capita execution rates in the world. More than 500 people were executed in 2017, the vast majority for low-level drug-trafficking crimes, including for carrying small amounts of illegal drugs.

An estimated 5,000 people were on death row in Iran prior to the judicial order for drug-related crimes, the vast majority first-time offenders under the age of 30. Data compiled by the Centre for Human Rights in Iran shows that in the 12 months prior to the passage of the amended law in October 2017, at least 270 prisoners were executed for drug crimes that are no longer punishable by death.

A former member of Parliament in Tehran, Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoeini, told the Centre for Human Rights in Iran that he helped set up meetings between United Nations human rights officials and Iran’s drug enforcement officials in Geneva two years ago:

I see this as a good omen. It has come a bit late but it will still save the lives of many human beings. I’m happy to see these efforts have led to constructive decisions by Parliament and the judiciary to reduce executions. I hope the amendment to the drug law will become a benchmark for future judicial reform to strengthen justice, freedom, peace and progress in Iran.

Under the revised law, the death penalty can only be issued in drug-related convictions involving:

  • armed drug-trafficking;
  • playing a lead role in organizing and financing drug-trafficking, including with the use of child-trafficking;
  • previous death sentences, life sentences, or sentences of more than 15 years;
  • and possession or transportation of more than 50 kilos of opium and other “traditional drugs,” two kilos of heroin, or three kilos of methamphetamine.

Yahya Kamalipou, the deputy chairman of Iran’s parliamentary committee for legal and judicial affairs, said on October 30, 2017:

By our estimation, 4,000 of the 5,000 prisoners convicted of drug charges will be saved from execution. I was a judge and prosecutor for 20 years so I’m well aware of the situation facing these prisoners and their families.

Ninety percent of the prisoners on death row for drug crimes were just unfortunate mules carrying drugs to pay for their daughter’s dowry or an operation for their mother.


[This] is an edited version of an article that first appeared on the Centre for Human Rights in Iran website.

Via Global Voices Online

Written byCenter for Human Rights in Iran


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Press TV: “Iran reduces use of death penalty for drug trafficking offenders”

Palestinians: If Jerusalem is Off the Table, Peace is Off the Table

Informed Comment - Fri, 26 Jan 2018 - 1:21am

IMEMC News & Agencies International | – –

Palestinian officials denounced, on Thursday, renewed statements by US President Donald Trump that Jerusalem is off the negotiating table and threats to cut all US aid to the Palestinians if they do not return to the negotiating table with Israel, saying that, if Jerusalem is off the negotiating table, then peace and the US are off the table, as well.

Trump defended, in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, his decision to recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel, and said that hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid are not going to the Palestinians “unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, told reporters in Ramallah that the US “policy of threats, starvation and capitulation will not work with the Palestinian people.”

“The issue of Jerusalem is a sacred one. It is the key to war and peace in the region. It is not for sale with all the money in the world and the threat of cutting aid to UNRWA is totally unacceptable,” he said, according to WAFA.

Abu Rudeineh was referring to the US decision, earlier this month, to cut $65 million from the US annual contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees to punish the Palestinians for refusing to accept the US and Israeli conditions for negotiations that include taking Jerusalem off the negotiating table.

Abu Rudeineh reiterated the Palestinian commitment to peace based on United Nations General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, as well as the decisions of the Arab summits and the Arab Peace Initiative that support the two-state solution for establishing an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“Unless the US administration retracts its decision regarding the occupied city of Jerusalem, it will have no role in the peace process. If Jerusalem is off the table, then the US will be off the table as well,” he stressed.

Chief Palestinian negotiator and secretary general of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Saeb Erekat, echoed Abu Rudeineh’s words.

“President Trump’s statement only reaffirms that the US has disqualified itself from playing a role in achieving peace. His comments on Jerusalem should serve as a wakeup call for Arab leaders and decision makers, as well as to the rest of the world,” he said in a statement.

“Jerusalem is not off the negotiations table; rather the US is outside the international consensus. Those who say that Jerusalem is off the table are saying that peace is off the table. The holy city is in the hearts of each and every Palestinian, Arab, Christian and Muslim, and there will be no peace without East Jerusalem being the sovereign capital of the State of Palestine.”

Erekat added, “Today’s message is clear: President Trump is blackmailing and punishing the Palestinian people for fighting and believing in their freedom and human rights per international law and UN resolutions. President Trump could buy many things with his money, but he won’t be able to buy the dignity of our nation.”

“This is not a game for the people of Palestine. It is about our very existence that continues to be denied by Israel with full US support. As the US Administration insists to continue promoting international anarchy and rewarding violations of international law, we will continue to use all available political, diplomatic and legal venues in order to achieve the long overdue rights of the Palestinian people, most importantly our right to self-determination.”



Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

TRT World: “Future of Jerusalem: Trump threatens Palestinians at Davos Summit”

Plummeting Tourism to US, costing $10 bn., blamed on Trump Slump

Informed Comment - Fri, 26 Jan 2018 - 1:16am

TeleSur | – –

Some in the travel industry attribute the decline to something they call the “Trump slump.”

Travel to the United States has declined. While some in the [$244 bn.] tourist industry are asking why, others are pointing their fingers squarely at U.S. President Donald Trump.

The U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office reported that in the first seven months of 2017, the number of international visitors to the United States dropped by four percent. Also, the decline was representative across all regions. African and Middle Eastern countries have seen some of the most significant decreases, according to the BBC.

Some have attributed to the decline to something they call the “Trump slump,” especially considering that global tourism is on the rise.

“When people travel, they’re looking for a pleasant emotional experience,” said Vincent Wolfington, former chair of the World Travel and Tourism Council. He added that the “perception is it’s probably too much trouble at this point in time to visit the U.S.”

With 77.5 million people visiting the United States in 2015, the country had reached its peak in terms of international travel. However, in 2016, the percentage of travelers fell by two percent. The decline accelerated to four percent during the first seven months of 2017, according to data provided by the National Travel and Tourism.

Wolfington said the decline in travel to the United States is a reflection of what happened following the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, when former U.S. President George W. Bush emphasized border security, as well as launched the unpopular invasion of Iraq.

“Non-U.S. citizens got the impression they were not welcome in the U.S. Today, we’re facing the same situation.”

The president of the U.S. Travel Association, who described the the decline as “troubling,” concluded that “our guiding principle is that we can have strong national security and still welcome legitimate international visitors.”

Via TeleSur


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

WBGH from last month: “The U.S. Tourism ‘Trump Slump’”

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