Thursday, October 15, 2015

Obama: U.S. to delay troop withdrawal from Afghanistan - YouTube

Obama: U.S. to delay troop withdrawal from Afghanistan - YouTube

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Published on Oct 15, 2015
President Obama announced that the U.S. will halt troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

News Roundup and Notes: October 15, 2015

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IRAQ and SYRIA 
The Syrian military launched an offensive against rebel-held towns north of the city of Homs today, backed by Russian air support, Syrian state TV and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. [Reuters]
Iran is ramping up its role in the Syrian conflict, deploying hundreds of troops from its elite forces to support the army of Bashar al-Assad and sending celebrated Revolutionary Guards commander Gen Qassem Suleimani to an area where an anti-rebel offensive is sooner expected. [The Guardian’s Ian Black and Saeed Kamali]  Nancy A. Youssef discusses the planned offensive against rebels in Aleppo by Russian, Syrian and Iranian forces, at The Daily Beast. 
Russia is using its intervention in Syria to showcase its improved military capabilities, in all three weaponry, tactics and strategy, report Steven Lee Myers and Eric Schmitt, providing details of Moscow’s advancement away from what was perceived as a “decaying, insignificant force.” [New York Times]
Defense Secretary Ash Carter gave a strong warning to Russia yesterday, describing its airstrikes in Syria as a “misguided strategy” that will “inflame and prolong” the civil war there and vowing that the US would take “all necessary steps” to counter Moscow. [Politico’s Leigh Munsil]
There is a difference of opinion in the Obama administration over how to tackle Russia’s intervention in Syria, some officials concerned that Obama’s reluctance to act signals American weakness and indecision, reports Michael Crowley. [Politico]
Turkey has expressed concern to the US over reports that America delivered military aid to Syrian Kurds, summoning the US ambassador to register its complaint. [Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham]
US-led airstrikes continue. The US and partner military forces carried out two strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria on Oct 13. Separately, coalition forces conducted a further 16 airstrikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
The Islamic State’s far-reaching oil operation is forcing even the group’s enemies to trade with it. TheFinancial Times provides the details.
ISIS and associated extremists groups are the world’s principal persecutors of religious minorities, according to a new State Department report on international religious freedom. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz]
Recent political tensions and violence in Iraqi Kurdistan are a cause of concern, the UN envoy for Iraq discussing the issues with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) yesterday. [UN News Centre
Turkey accused Kurdish separatists of playing a role in the terrorist attack in Ankara, even as the Islamic State remained the prime suspect in the twin suicide bombings. [Wall Street Journal’s Emre Peker]
A Russian jet approached a US aircraft this weekend in an effort to identify it, that country’s military said yesterday, as the two countries came together to discuss further deconfliction efforts. [Wall Street Journal’s James Marson]
Russia said that ISIS was behind an attempted attack on a mosque in a town in Siberia in 2014. [Reuters]
EU leaders will meet with Turkey to discuss measures to ameliorate the refugee crisis facing the region. [BBC]
A British national who fled ISIS with her five children after travelling to Syria to join her jihadist husband has told of her experiences. [The Guardian’s Ben Quinn]
Putin’s strategy in Syria is “old school,” according to Sohrab Ahmari, suggesting that behind his “decisiveness is a vision of the Middle East in which Russia and its clients in the Iranian-Shi’ite sphere edge out the US and its traditional Arab allies.” [Wall Street Journal]
“I got Syria so wrong.” Frederic Hof explains why at Politico Magazine.
AFGHANISTAN 
President Obama will announce the halt of the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan today, instead maintaining a force of thousands in the country through to the end of his term in 2017. [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg]  The BBC has updates as this breaking story develops. 
Pressure mounted on the White House to slow the withdrawal, a new report from a bipartisan group of foreign policy experts, including Madeleine Albright, saying that cutting troops levels would “foreclose future options for the president.” [Politico’s Nahal Toosi] 
An independent investigation into the US bombing of the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz is awaiting the approval of the US and Afghan governments, the group said yesterday. [New York Times’ Milan Schreuer]
The Taliban is targeting other provincial centers in the wake of its pullout from the northern city of Kunduz. Sudarsan Raghavan provides the details. [Washington Post]
IRAN 
Iran’s 12-member Guardian Council has approved the nuclear accord with six powers, the final step for Iran to start carrying out the agreement, reports Thomas Erdbrink. [New York Times] 
Tehran has stepped up what had been “very limited cooperation” with an investigation by the IAEA into its past nuclear work, in response to pressure from Western nations. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman] 
Iran has violated UN Security Council resolutions pertaining to their ballistic missile activities, US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power said at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit in Washington yesterday. [Politico’s Nick Gass]
Iran has a large underground missile base, a facility it revealed on state TV, which officials said could be used if “enemies make a mistake.” [AFP]
Unilateral sanctions by the US against Iran will not succeed in altering Tehran’s behavior, opines Saam Borhani, arguing that Iran’s engagement with the nuclear accord only arose due to international pressure. [The Guardian]
China wants closer military relations with Iran, a senior admiral said after a meeting with Iran’s defense minister in Tehran today. [Reuters]
ISRAEL and PALESTINE 
Israel deployed troops into cities across the country to assist the police to quell the ongoing wave of violence. [Wall Street Journal’s Rory Jones and Amir Mizroch]  The security services are still viewing the situation as one of ongoing security however, rather than an “all-out battle,” reports Amos Harel. [Haaretz] 
Comments from the State Department that Israel may be using excessive force to quell Palestinian stabbing attacks has been met with strong criticism today from senior Israeli lawmakers. [Reuters] 
The White House is making renewed efforts to ease tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, the Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry hoping to find ways to restart some of the negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz and Carol E. Lee] 
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio intends to visit with Palestinians during his visit to Israel, breaking from the “well-worn political script.” [New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum]
“The intifada will be Instagrammed.” Jay Michaelson comments on how mobile recording technology takes the control away from Palestinian and Israeli leaders, losing their hold on the “narrative – and of their own extremists.” [The Daily Beast]
UKRAINE and RUSSIA 
The Wall Street Journal editorial board opines that failing to punish Russian President Vladimir Putinfor his involvement in the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 “gives him a veto over use of other air space.” 
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump doesn’t think Russia is responsible for the downing of MH17, despite evidence, reports Tal Kopan and Jim Sciutto. [CNN]
NATO may be about to expand again, Montenegro requesting to join the bloc. [Washington Post’s Adam Taylor]
OTHER DEVELOPMENTS 
A suicide attack hit the office of a government-party politician in central Pakistan yesterday, killing at least seven people and wounding another four, officials said. [New York Times’ Waqar Gillani]
A Houthi ballistic missile attack today targeting a military base in Saudi Arabia was in retaliation for attacks by the Saudi-led coalition, a source in the Yemeni rebel group said. [Reuters] 
The US will deploy as many as 300 troops as well as surveillances drones to Cameroon to assist in their campaign against Boko Haram and assist in counterinsurgency efforts, officials said yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes and Gordon Lubold]
Muslim Americans have won the right to sue the NYPD for its surveillance on them following a decision from the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals. [Al Jazeera]
Hillary Clinton said NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden “stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands,” during the first Democratic presidential debate. Dan Froomkin considers what she meant. [The Intercept]
The House Benghazi committee will hear testimony from former Clinton aide Huma Adebin tomorrow. [NBC News]  And Rep Richard Hanna said he agrees with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy that the committee was in part designed to damage Clinton politically. [The Hill’s Jonathan Easley]
A new office has been created by the Justice Department to coordinate investigations in domestic terrorism, an official said yesterday. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]
A bill known as the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) could allow the government to spy on individuals using library computers. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]
The immunity of a Hungarian leader suspected of spying on behalf of Russia has been lifted by the European Parliament. The decision will allow prosecutors to investigate the allegations. [AP]
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Buena Vista Social Club At Carnegie Hall Full Album - YouTube

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Published on May 18, 2014

Police: Brothers were beaten in church to make them confess

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NEW HARTFORD, N.Y. (AP) -- Two teenage brothers were brutally beaten in church - one fatally - in an effort by their parents, sister and other members to get them to confess their sins, police said Wednesday in a case involving what neighbors described as an insular congregation that didn't let its children out to play....

FBI Head: Homegrown Terrorist Recruitment 24-Hour Threat - ABC News

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FBI Head: Homegrown Terrorist Recruitment 24-Hour Threat
ABC News
Comey says hundreds of people are consuming social media efforts to either draw them overseas to join the extremists or stay and kill at home. He says there are ongoing investigations in all 50 states as the FBI tries to identify and stop those most ...

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Сирия: вместе или врозь? 

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From: SvobodaRadio
Duration: 53:56

В чем причины новой волны насилия и терактов в Израиле? Что принесло в регион российское военное вмешательство в Сирии? Возможен ли Ближний Восток без войн и террора? – эти и другие вопросы обсудят израильский журналист Эла Котлер, сирийский активист Махмуд Хамза, российский политолог Александр Шумилин.
Ведущий – Владимир Кара-Мурза – старший.

US defense chief: we will deter Russia's 'malign and destabilizing influence'

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Ash Carter says US will not cooperate as long as Russia pursues a ‘misguided strategy’ in Syria but Moscow says it has been rebuffed in calls for consultation
The US defense chief has vowed to take “all necessary steps” against a resurgent Russia which is challenging a frustrated Washington in eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Ash Carter, the US defense secretary, said the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, had wrapped his country in a “shroud of isolation” which only a drastic change in policy could reverse.
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Trump: Russia 'probably' behind downing of MH17 - The Hill

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The Hill

Trump: Russia 'probably' behind downing of MH17
The Hill
Dutch officials confirmed on Tuesday that the jet was downed by a Russian-made missile, which Trump said makes him believe Russia was behind the attack on the commercial airplane. Malaysia Air Flight 17 was shot down over a disputed area of Ukraine ...
Russia Requests UN Open New MH17 ProbeVoice of America
Russia appeals to U.N. aviation body to open new MH17 probeThe Seattle Times
[Analysis] MH17: EU and Russia in 'mirror image' worldsEUobserver
Toronto Star
all 3,201 news articles »

Is the Middle Volga About to Become a Second North Caucasus?

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For the last several years, numerous Russian politicians, commentators and activists have repeatedly suggested that the ethnic and religious situation in Russia’s Middle Volga region—which includes the republics of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Chuvashia, Mordvinia, Mari El and Udmurtia—is rapidly deteriorating. And they have argued that as a result, the region, long one of the most quiescent of the Russia’s non-Russian portions, is on its way to becoming a second North Caucasus.
An article this week by Rais Suleymanov, who has been the source of many such stories and who is widely viewed by Muslims and Tatars as a provocateur, is typical. He suggests that the Taliban and the Islamic State are now recruiting actively in the Middle Volga and setting the region’s indigenous Muslim population against the Russians with explosive consequences for both. And he urges, as he has before, that Moscow must take harsh measures not only against the population of the Middle Volga but also against the leaders of the republics there who, he says, are protecting the radicals or even promoting their growth (APN, October 8).
The Middle Volga’s overall population numbers more than 25 million. The region sits astride all the communications and transportation links between European Russia and Siberia, and it is the location of much of the country’s oil and natural gas reserves. Therefore, given Moscow’s current ideological concerns and taking into account the Middle Volga’s size as well as geographic and economic importance, it is not surprising that articles like Suleymanov’s inevitably attract so much attention in Russia. Were things to go in the direction he suggests, that development would represent a far greater challenge to Moscow than even the North Caucasus has demonstrated. And considering the fears of what that might mean, many have extrapolated from any ethnic or religious problems there to predict an apocalypse, certain that they will have an audience for such suggestions and that they will not be held to the same standards of evidence that might be required from others about other parts of the Russian Federation.
But such projections almost certainly are overblown or at least misdirected, given the reasons why so many Russians and others accept them. Specifically, these projections are alarmist precisely because the region is so central and therefore the object of tight control by Moscow. Moreover, the Middle Volga has for centuries been deliberately Russified and is located far from the Russian Federation’s external borders. For all these reasons, it is extremely unlikely that the region’s security situation is nearly as dire as Suleymanov and those who think as he does now suggest. Igor Barinov, the head of the new Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs, argued last week that the situation in Tatarstan, the largest and most politically important or the Middle Volga republics, is “one of the best in Russia” and that the authorities there have things well in hand (Nazaccent.ru, October 9).
At a meeting in Bolgar, on October 8, Barinov argued that “in Tatarstan, there is one of the best regional programs for strengthening the unity of the Russian nation and the ethno-cultural development of the peoples of Russia.” He also suggested that other regions in the Russian Federation should learn from Kazan’s actions. To that end, the Russian nationalities official signed a cooperation accord with Tatarstan’s President Rustam Minnikhanov.
While in Tatarstan, Barinov also took part in a Tatar conference entitled, “Muslim Theological Thought: National, Regional and Civilizational Dimensions.” He spoke approvingly about the opening of the Bulgar Islamic Academy and stressed that the measures Tatarstan’s Muslims were taking must be directed at responding to any radical or extremist ideology. He noted that there had been 50 extremist crimes in Tatarstan in 2014, but that 87.8 percent of the republic’s population said that inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations were good—a view that never finds expression in the works of those like Suleymanov.
It is clear that the Middle Volga does pose a challenge to Moscow and perhaps an increasing one. But it comes from an entirely different direction than what those like Suleymanov suggest. It is not so much ethnic or religious radicalism that is at issue, as has been the case in the North Caucasus since Moscow launched its wars against Chechnya. Instead, it is the demand of the leaders of the republics of the Middle Volga—especially those of Tatarstan—for greater autonomy and control. Those demands receive less attention than do the claims of radicals, but they are often more effective.
Tatarstan, despite having had to give up many of the attributes of sovereignty over the last decade, is the only republic in the Russian Federation that still has a “president,” a status that Vladimir Putin himself has recognized as being an issue for the people of Tatarstan to decide. That is real power, as is the fact that Tatarstan controls a larger share of its resources than do most other non-Russian republics; and its officials often rise to positions of power in Moscow itself. Given the hyper-centralization of Putin’s Russia, that kind of power is a far more real threat to Moscow than the supposed Islamic State and Taliban hordes in the region that do not, in fact, exist.
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Avar Clans Gradually Take Over Governmental Posts in Dagestan

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Dagestan’s clans have experienced significant shifts after the republic’s political leadership changed in 2013, when Moscow dispatched Ramazan Abdulatipov to rule the territory. The politics in the republic have remained quite fluid despite the removal of many political heavyweights. “Dagestan is one of the few regions of Russia where political competition has survived,” wrote Dagestani analyst Musa Musaev. “Instead of political parties, however, the powerful informal ethnic and political groups compete with each other. Such groups share no ideological views or professional interests, just family ties, common origin and sub-regional identity.” These clans are often politically organized within certain parties. Several clans often share the same party affiliation. For example, all powerful clans have to have their “share” of representation in the ruling United Russia party, in order to compete for government resources (Riaderbent.ru, October 8).
With the rise of Ramazan Abdulatipov, an ethnic Avar, to power in Dagestan, ethnic Dargins became marginalized in the republic. Avars are the single largest ethnic group in the republic, comprising about a third of the population. The Dargins are the second largest ethnic group, with approximately 17 percent of the republic’s population. One of Dagestan’s most powerful and longest-lasting politicians, Said Amirov, who was mayor of Makhachkala and an ethnic Dargin, was arrested, flown out of the republic and sentenced to a lengthy prison term. The Dargins have dominated political life in the republic for most of the years since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The main beneficiaries of this “Dargin rule,” however, were not the Dargins as such, but very specific groups of Dargins from Levashi district in the mountains of Dagestan. Dargins who originated from the Levashi district villages of Mekegi, Jangamakhi, Tsudakhar and Kupa formed a tight elite group that ruled the republic for years. Now, clans from the Avar-populated Charoda, Tlyarata, and Khunzakh districts have the upper hand in Dagestan and are steadily taking over lucrative government positions. The takeover is happening despite the system of ethnic quotas in the republic, under which certain government positions are informally reserved for specific ethnic groups. In a recent example of this takeover, an Avar from Charoda district, Bilal Jabkharov, was appointed Dagestan’s finance minister, a position reserved for ethnic Dargins. Three Avar clans and two Dargin clans are currently competing for the position of Makhachkala mayor, which has control over substantial resources (Riaderbent.ru, October 8).
Changes are also taking place within the Avar elites. Two Avar districts, Gunib and Khunzakh, accounted for most of the members of Dagestan’s elite for decades after the Russian Empire’s conquest of the region in the 19th century. Gunib was at the center of the Dagestani resistance to the Russian conquest and the tsar’s government willingly co-opted local nobility in order to control the area. Khunzakh, the cradle of the Avar literary language, was an alternative Avar center. The most famous Dagestani poet, Rasul Gamzatov, came from Khunzakh. The Russian government supported Khunzakh to balance out the influence of Gunib, which was considered somewhat more rebellious. Interestingly, Khunzakh and Gunib enjoyed the status of Dagestan’s most favored districts throughout the Soviet era until the 1980s, when the Dargin clans started to take over. Only with Ramzan Abdulatipov’s arrival did the situation start to change, with the other Avar districts starting to catch up with the old Avar elites (Onkavkaz.com, October 6).
The shifts in Dagestan’s political elites have come with shifts in the financial sector. The best known Moscow-based Avar billionaire, Ziyaudin Magomedov, has predictably increased his presence in the republic. Magomedov hails from Khunzakh district and belongs to the republic’s old Avar elites. Magomedov’s investment group, Summa, started to receive large government contracts for infrastructure projects in Dagestan. Analysts discerned political ambitions in Magomedov’s activities after he engaged in flashy public actions, such as a meeting with Dagestan’s creative youth last September. On September 25, his 47th birthday, Magomedov erected a tent and spoke about innovations in Dagestan that would increase the republic’s competitiveness. Ramazan Abdulatipov appears to have given Magomedov’s action his blessing, as he was present at the meeting (Riaderbent.ru, October 8).
By contrast, the Moscow-based ethnically Lezgin billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, who is much wealthier than Magomedov, has relatively little presence in Dagestan. Kerimov’s son, 20-year-old Said, has made an ambitious offer to become the sole owner of Polyus Gold, Russia’s largest gold mining company, which is also one of the largest in the world. The current capitalization of the company is estimated at $8.7 billion (Onkavkaz.com, October 9).
The shifts within the Avar clans have not destabilized the republic. However, the non-Avar elites appear to be sidelined, and signs have emerged that Lezgins in southern Dagestan are increasingly unhappy with what they regard as essentially Avar rule of Dagestan, while the Dargins are also starting to gather forces to challenge the republic’s new status quo.
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Obama Admin Accuses Israel of Terrorism As More Jews Murdered 

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As Palestinians assailants continue to murder Jews across Israel, the Obama administration on Wednesday accused the Jewish state of committing acts of “terrorism,” drawing outrage from many observers.
As the number of Israelis murdered during a streak of Palestinian terrorism continues to rise, the Obama administration sought to equate the sides and told reporters that, in its view, Israel is guilty of terrorism.
“Individuals on both sides of this divide are—have proven capable of, and in our view, are guilty of acts of terrorism,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby told reporters following questions about the spike in violence.
Kirby also said the administration has obtained “credible reports” of Israelis using excessive force as it deals with a rash of terrorist murders carried out by Palestinians seeking to cause havoc and spark an intifada.
“We’re always concerned about credible reports of excessive use of force against civilians, and we routinely raise our concerns about that.”
At least three Israelis have been killed and another 20 wounded as a result of attacks by Palestinian terrorists in recent days.
The violence has prompted pushback from the Obama administration, much of it aimed at Israeli itself.
Secretary of State John Kerry, for instance, said he sympathized with Palestinian “frustration” in astatement that accused Israel of boosting the construction of so-called “settlements,” or Jewish homes in historically Jewish areas of the country.
“There’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years,” Kerry said. “Now you have this violence because there’s a frustration that is growing, and a frustration among Israelis who don’t see any movement.”
Settlement growth has not actually increased in Israel, according to former White House national security adviser Elliott Abrams, who recently criticized Kerry for promoting false views of the Jewish state amid the sharp rise in terrorism.
Other insiders who work closely with the Israeli government called the administration’s push to equate Palestinian terrorism with Israeli policing measures a “disgrace.”
“The administration’s position is a disgrace,” said one senior official with a prominent pro-Israel organization. “Our democratic Israeli allies are on the front lines in an actual war against terrorists stabbing Jews in the street, and the White House is making up stories about Israeli malfeasance and blaming terror victims.”
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill struck a different tone from the Obama administration when discussing the spike in violence.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) blamed the Palestinian government for glorifying terrorism and urging its citizens to strike out at Jewish people.
Palestinian religious figures and other prominent individuals have taken to social media and televisionoutlets in recent days to celebrate the rash of stabbings and demand that more take place.
“These attacks have been incubated by the continued incitement and glorification of violence by the Palestinian leadership, most recently by President Mahmoud Abbas during his address at the United Nations General Assembly,” Cruz said in a statement.
“He still has yet to categorically condemn these attacks. It is long past time for the United States and the international community to hold the Palestinians accountable for their incitement and support for terrorism, including through the financial payment to Palestinian terrorists who are jailed in Israel for committing acts of terrorism.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.) said the violence proves the Palestinians are not a viable partner for peace.
“I condemn the recent violence and murders against Israeli citizens but it reaffirms once again how Israel’s supposed partner for peace, the Palestinian Authority, has been engaged in a vicious campaign of incitement to violence,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Ted Deutch (D., Fla.) has authored a House resolution expressing concern over the rise in anti-Semitic violence and calling on the Palestinian Authority to cease its incitement.
“In order to help restore some peace and stability within the region, the Obama administration needs to do more to support Israel,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) praised Israeli leaders for showing resilience and “restraint” amid the terror attacks.
“It is critical that the Obama administration and Congress press Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who regrettably used his speech before the United Nations General Assembly to worsen tensions, to act decisively to end the growing wave of Palestinian violence and return to bilateral peace negotiations with Israel,” Kirk said.
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