In Syria, Raqqa's Civilians Foresee Last Days of ISIS - Erika Solomon and Ahmad Mhidi (Financial Times-UK)
The "state" part of the Islamic State that has ruled in Raqqa for more than three years is evaporating.
As shelling echoes from the distance, ISIS fighters remain in the city, but administrative officials are fleeing with their families to safer territory, according to Raqqa residents. Most are relocating to the province of Deir Ezzor, near the Iraqi border.
One ISIS fighter reported ammunition shortages, fighters fleeing and a notable absence of the foreign fighters who once led them.
It is estimated that 2,000 fighters are still in Raqqa, mostly from local tribes that pledged fealty to the group.
PA Slashes Salaries for Gaza Employees Who Haven't Gone to Work in a Decade - Fares Akram and Mohammed Daraghmeh (AP-Washington Post)
The Palestinian Authority on Wednesday said it was slashing by one-third the salaries of 50,000 former policemen, teachers and civil servants in Gaza who have been sitting idle since Hamas took over the territory in 2007.
The PA employees have provided a large slice of the purchasing power that maintains Gaza's economy.
A New Iraqi Military, Forged in War - Seth J. Frantzman (Jerusalem Post)
In the battle for Mosul, the Iraqi Army has deployed its best units, including the 9th Armored Division, the Special Operations Forces and the Federal Police, a mechanized infantry unit.
Street-by-street they have fought to dislodge what remains of the "caliphate."
There are fewer than 1,000 ISIS fighters left, but these are the hard core - many of them foreign fighters, such as Chechen snipers.
Iraqi officers say the battle for Mosul is difficult because ISIS cannot retreat here and has to fight to the last man.
Lt.-Col. John Hawbaker - commander of a combat team of the 82nd Airborne Division, which is advising and assisting the Iraqi forces - served in Iraq during the surge of 2005-2006. He says, "The Federal Police are extremely professional and disciplined and capable."
ISIS provided the existential threat for Baghdad that has led to the creation of an increasingly professional Iraqi army.
Video: IDF Naval Commandos Train with U.S. Navy Seals - Yoav Zitun (Ynet News)
Last week, the Israeli Navy's commando unit conducted a joint drill with U.S. Navy Seals.
Israel Appoints Female Muslim Arab Diplomat - Dov Lieber (Times of Israel)
The Israel Foreign Ministry on Wednesday appointed Rasha Atamny, 31, as first secretary at the Israeli Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, making her Israel's first female Muslim Arab diplomat.
Israel's first female Arab diplomat, Christian-Arab Rania Jubran, the daughter of Supreme Court Justice Salim Jubran, worked for the ministry from 2006 to 2009.
Israel also has several male Muslim and Christian Arab diplomats.
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- Blaming Assad, Trump Says Syria Attack "Cannot Be Tolerated"
Decrying an "affront to humanity," President Donald Trump declared Wednesday that the chemical weapons attack in Syria on Tuesday "cannot be tolerated." Trump stood by his charge that Assad's forces were responsible. A U.S. official said an American review of radar assessments showed Syrian aircraft flying in the area at the time of the attack. (AP-Chicago Sun-Times)
See also Israeli Defense Minister Blames Assad for Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack - Yossi Yehoshua and Yuval Karni
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Yediot Ahronot on Thursday, "The two murderous chemical weapons attacks on civilians in the Idlib region in Syria and on the local hospital were carried out by direct and premeditated order of Syrian President Bashar Assad, with Syrian planes. I say this with 100% certainty. The cruelest thing is that those who were evacuated from the area of the bombing to the hospital were attacked a second time with chemical weapons as Syrian army planes bombed the hospital."
"The reaction of the international community is zero. It simply does not exist. It brings me back to the conclusion that the State of Israel must rely only on itself. Assad tried in the past to obtain nuclear weapons through North Korea." (Ynet News)
- President Trump Meets with King Abdullah of Jordan
At a joint press conference at the White House on Wednesday with King Abdullah II of Jordan,
President Trump said, "In King Abdullah, America is blessed with a thoughtful and determined partner. He is a man who has spent years commanding his country's special forces. He really knows what being a soldier is...and he knows how to fight. The King has been a leader in calling for a plan to defeat ISIS once and for all....We will destroy ISIS and we will protect civilization. We have no choice....King Abdullah and I also discussed measures to combat the evil ideology that inspires ISIS and plagues our planet."
"Finally, we discussed to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East....I'm working very, very hard on trying to finally create peace between the Palestinians and Israel, and...I hope to be successful." (White House)
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- Palestinian Kills Israeli Soldier in West Bank Car-Ramming Attack - Tovah Lazaroff
An Israeli soldier, Sgt. Elchai Taharlev, 20, was killed and another wounded in a car-ramming attack at a bus stop at the Ofra junction in the West Bank on Thursday. The Palestinian driver was arrested. Nachum Bienenfeld, a volunteer emergency medical technician with United Hatzalah, said, "The Palestinian vehicle had come up on the sidewalk and rammed into a group of soldiers who were standing near the bus stop." (Jerusalem Post)
- Report: New PA Textbooks More Radical than Previous Editions - Lidar Grave-Lazi
The latest Palestinian Authority elementary school textbooks are even more radical and show a deterioration in messages of tolerance and peace compared with previous editions, according to a new report by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education. They teach pupils to become expendable martyrs and reject negotiations, while demonizing and denying the existence of the State of Israel.
"Despite assurances from the PA Education Ministry, these new books are actually more radical than we have previously seen," IMPACT-se CEO Marcus Sheff said.
"There is clear evidence of a strategy of radicalization of young Palestinians, devised and implemented by the ministry, which includes a commitment to an Arab Palestine encompassing the entirety of Israel."
IMPACT-se analyzes schoolbooks for compliance with UNESCO-defined standards on peace and tolerance. Its report concluded that the PA curriculum does not meet the UNESCO standards. (Jerusalem Post)
- Palestinians Attack Proposed Curriculum Changes for UN Elementary Schools in Gaza
Hamas recently attacked UNRWA for its intention to introduce changes in the curriculum of the lower grades of elementary schools that it operates in Gaza, triggering several "popular" protests. The Palestinian Ministry of Education in Ramallah also objected to any change in the Palestinian curriculum.
What were some of the proposed changes? Removal of maps of Palestine from textbooks and no mention of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. No mention of cities in Israel which were "occupied" by Israel in 1948, such as Tiberias and Safed. Coeducational education such as showing boys and girls together dancing a folk dance. No glorification of Palestinian prisoners: a play about Palestinian townsmen welcoming released prisoners was replaced with "a fairy tale about people welcoming a prince." Removing the topic of "rebuilding a home which Israel destroyed." (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)
- America Must Send a Strong Message to Syria that Using Chemical Weapons in War Is Not Acceptable - Dennis Ross
The Syrian regime has carried out an air attack using Sarin gas in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, part of a wave of aerial bombardments that Assad's air forces have been conducting across Idlib province in northwestern Syria. There can be no doubt that Syria did not destroy or ship out all of its chemical weapons - notwithstanding its commitment to do so as part of the 2013 deal the U.S. and Russia negotiated.
If Russia chooses to deny that the Assad regime was responsible for this attack, then no cooperation with the Russians in Syria is possible. It will show that agreements with the Russians, at least on Syria, are purely situational; so long as they serve Russian interests, they will be observed and they will be abandoned when they do not. The writer is counselor at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and served in senior positions in four U.S. administrations.
(New York Daily News)
- Israel Deserves a Seat on the Security Council - Danny Danon
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in December Israel's intent to compete for a seat on the UN Security Council.
Israel has set the ambitious goal of obtaining one of the three non-permanent seats on the council allotted to the Western Europe and Others (WEOG) regional grouping in 2019. To do so we must convince two-thirds of General Assembly members.
It is time for Israel to take its place as a leader in the world's premiere international organization. Our country is qualified, well equipped and well prepared for this important role. Israel's willingness, and unique expertise, in humanitarian missions around the world is unparalleled.
Our sought-after technology has been used for everything from securing the Pope's visit to Africa, to helping to relieve terrible droughts. Whether it's extracting survivors from a devastating earthquake in Turkey or treating the wounded from a typhoon in the Philippines, Israel is always first on site to help our fellow nations.
By electing Israel to serve on the Security Council, the members of the UN will make a strong statement finally accepting the Jewish state as a full and equal member. More importantly, the international community will gain a leader committed to tirelessly furthering the noble goals upon which the parliament of nations was founded almost 72 years ago.
The writer is Israel's ambassador to the UN.
The Trump Administration Settles In on Settlements - Elliott Abrams (Council on Foreign Relations)
- The Trump administration is steadily defining its policy regarding Israeli settlement activity. What has emerged is a sensible, flexible, and realistic policy.
- There is no written agreement and that's a good thing. There are understandings. That means there can be no accusations that "you're violating what you signed."
- The Trump administration understands that Jerusalem is Israel's capital and does not view construction there as "settlement activity."
- There will be no new settlements built except the one being created for the people evicted from Amona, a settlement deemed illegal by the Israeli Supreme Court. Netanyahu apparently persuaded the administration that he had made that commitment last year, before the Trump presidency, and needed to keep it.
- New construction in settlements in the West Bank will be in already built-up areas, or if that's impossible, as close to them as possible.
- There will be some restraint in the pace of settlement expansion.
- Apparently Netanyahu agreed not to permit new "outposts" to be built without government permission.
- There will be no annexation of land in the West Bank.
- The goals are to limit the physical expansion of settlements so that the Israeli footprint in the West Bank does not become larger and larger; to keep most population growth in the larger blocs that will remain with Israel in any final status agreement; and to prevent this issue from occupying center stage and being a constant irritant to the two governments.
The writer is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the CFR.
See also West Bank Construction Can Help Solve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict - Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
See also Netanyahu's New Settlements Policy: Advantages and Limitations - David Makovsky (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
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