Friday, January 20, 2017

FBI, 5 other agencies investigating Kremlin aid in hacking, sources say

FBI, 5 other agencies investigating Kremlin aid in hacking, sources say

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The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump, two people familiar with the matter said.
The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, the sources said.
Investigators are examining how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win, the two sources said. One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said.
Trump addresses Russia accusations, business dealings in post-election press conference 5:01

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The informal, inter-agency working group began to explore possible Russian interference last spring, long before the FBI received information from a former British spy hired to develop politically damaging and unverified research about Trump, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the inquiry.
A key mission of the six-agency group has been to examine who financed the email hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta.
On Jan. 6, the director of national intelligence released a declassified report that concluded Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an influence campaign to “undermine faith in the U.S. democratic process,” damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects and bolster Trump’s. The campaign included the hacking of top Democrats’ emails and fake news distributed by Russian sources.
The president-elect, who will be inaugurated Friday, has said he believes Russia was involved with the hacking, and he has called allegations that he or his associates were involved a “political witch hunt” and a “complete and total fabrication.”
Trump has yet to say whether FBI Director James Comey will be retained. The rest of Trump’s newly appointed intelligence and law enforcement chiefs will inherit the investigation, whose outcome could create national and international fallout.
Trump's presidential transition team did not respond to a request for comment about the inquiry.
A key mission of the six-agency group has been to examine who financed the email hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The London-based transparency group WikiLeaks released the emails last summer and in October.
The working group is scrutinizing the activities of a few Americans who were affiliated with Trump’s campaign or his business empire and of multiple individuals from Russia and other former Soviet nations who had similar connections, the sources said.
U.S. intelligence agencies not only have been unanimous in blaming Russia for the hacking of Democrats’ computers but also have concluded that the leaking and dissemination of thousands of emails of top Democrats, some of which caused headaches for the Clinton campaign, were done to help Trump win.
Trump and Republican members of Congress have said they believe Russia meddled in the U.S. election but that those actions didn’t change the outcome. However, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she believes that Russia’s tactics did alter the election result.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has opened its own investigation into Russia’s involvement in the campaign. That panel will have subpoena power.
One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said.
FBI Director Comey refused at a recent Senate hearing to comment on whether the bureau was investigating Russia’s hacking campaign for possible criminal prosecutions. Spokespeople for the FBI, the Justice Department and the national intelligence director declined to comment.
The BBC reported last week that the joint inquiry was launched when the CIA learned last spring, through a Baltic ally, of a recording indicating the Russian government was planning to funnel funds aimed at influencing the U.S. election.
Another source of information was the former longtime British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, who was hired to gather opposition research about Trump for a Republican client and later a Democrat. Early last summer, Steele became alarmed about information he was receiving from a network of Russian sources describing a web of Trump’s business relationships with wealthy Russians and alleged political ties to the Kremlin, according to two people who know him. These sources also declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Steele’s reports also alleged that Russian consulates in New York, Washington and Miami were used to deliver “tens of thousands of dollars” to Kremlin-hired operatives using fictitious names as if they were legitimate Russian-American pensioners. That “ruse” was designed to give Russia “plausible deniability,” Steele’s reports suggested. However, Russia does not operate a consulate in Miami.
Steele, who had worked previously with the FBI and was well regarded, fed the bureau information in July and September suggesting collusion between Trump associates and Moscow in the hacking of Democratic computers, they said. Eventually, he met in Italy with an FBI official to share more information alleging that a top Trump campaign official had known about the hacking as early as last June, the sources said. About a month after the election, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona gave FBI Director Comey a copy of a 35-page compilation of Steele’s reports.
BuzzFeed posted the 35 pages of allegations online, acknowledging the report had obvious errors and had not been corroborated. Several news organizations, including McClatchy, had the document earlier but had resisted publishing any of the allegations because of the lack of verification.
Trump and Putin have branded Steele’s dossier as “fake news.” On Jan. 11, at his only news conference as president-elect, Trump dismissed it as “nonsense” and “crap.” On Tuesday, Putin accused soon-to-depart Obama administration officials of trying to undermine Trump’s “legitimacy,” suggesting that the White House had released Steele’s dossier. The Russian leader said those who had prepared the dossier were “worse than prostitutes.”
Steele’s information has been treated as unverified intelligence by the working group because most of it came from purported Kremlin leaks and virtually all of it is extremely difficult to corroborate, the people familiar with the investigation said.
The BBC reported that the FBI had obtained a warrant on Oct. 15 from the highly secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing investigators access to bank records and other documents about potential payments and money transfers related to Russia. One of McClatchy’s sources confirmed the report.
Susan Hennessey, a former attorney for the National Security Agency who is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said she had no knowledge as to whether a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant had been issued in the investigation of Russian influence. However, she said such warrants were issued only if investigators could establish “probable cause” that the target was a foreign power or its agent and that the surveillance was likely to produce foreign intelligence. She said the information in Steele’s dossier couldn’t have met that test.
“If, in fact, law enforcement has obtained a FISA warrant, that is an indication that additional evidence exists outside of the dossier,” she said.
One episode that Steele’s reports described from multiple sources referred to a late-summer meeting in Prague between Russian government representatives and Michael Cohen, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, the president-elect’s vast business operation. But the FBI has been unable to establish that Cohen was in Prague during that period, the two sources familiar with the working group said.
Cohen has denied ever traveling to the Czech Republic, although he told The Wall Street Journal that he did so in 2001.
For months, Trump has voiced positive sentiments toward Putin. In early January, he tweeted that “only ‘stupid’ people, or fools” would think it’s bad to have good relations with Russia.
“When I am President, Russia will respect us far more than they do now and both countries will, perhaps, work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the WORLD!” he tweeted last week.
During the campaign in July, he displayed ignorance that Russian-backed separatists had invaded Crimea in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and he called on Russia to hack away to uncover thousands of emails that Clinton had never made public after using a private server while secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.
At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last July, Trump’s campaign associates successfully changed the Republican Party’s platform to weaken a provision advocating more military support for the Ukrainian government in its fight to defend itself against the Russian-backed incursionin Crimea.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the standard for obtaining a FISA warrant.
Stone is a McClatchy special correspondent.
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Commentary: Open secrets – and Trump’s wrath – will challenge new CIA chief

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Senate panel overwhelmingly approves Trump Pentagon pick

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Around 100,000 in Abruzzo without power - English - Very Imp-p-p-pressive!

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'Catastrophe' in central Italy on day of four big quakes

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The president of Italy's Marche region has talked of a "catastrophe" and appealed for aid as four quakes above magnitude 5 struck in one day.
Luca Ceriscioli said quakes and snow had caused landslides and thousands of families were suffering power cuts, with some villages left isolated.
A man was killed and another reported missing in the nearby Abruzzo region.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker vowed EU solidarity with Italy after the tremors.
Marche was one of the regions worst hit by the earthquake of 24 August, with 46 of its 298 victims losing their lives in a single mountain village there, Pescara del Tronto.
The Lazio region was also affected on Wednesday and the tremors were felt in the capital, Rome.
Amatrice, the Lazio town where 236 of the August deaths were recorded, is close to the epicentre of the new quakes.
The tremors came after some 36 hours of steady snowfall in mountainous areas around Amatrice and Norcia.

'Maximum mobilisation'

In Teramo, Abruzzo, a man of 83 was found dead in the rubble of his barn which had collapsed, while in Ortolano, also in Abruzzo, a man was swept away by an avalanche, Italy's Ansa news agency reports.
The Italian Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology said it had recorded "some 200" tremors above magnitude 2 on Wednesday in Abruzzo and Lazio.
The first big quake struck at 10:25 (09:25 GMT) with a magnitude of around 5.3, followed at 11:14 with one of 5.4, followed some 11 minutes later by another of 5.3, the institute said (in Italian).
At 14:33, a fourth quake measuring 5.1 occurred, the institute says.
The first three were around 9km (5.6 miles) in depth, meaning they were dangerously close to the surface, while the fourth was even shallower, at 6.9km deep, according to the US Geological Survey.
"It's a catastrophe," Mr Ceriscioli said, as civil defence leaders met to discuss the response in Marche.
"Today's tremors and the snow of the last days add huge problems, especially on the roads, to the dramatic situation caused by the [August] earthquake.
"The lack of electricity causes serious problems to thousands of families who don't know where to go or to stay."
The priority, he said, was "taking people to safe and warm places".
He appealed for "maximum mobilisation", saying the army was already lending assistance, and called on other parts of Italy to send help to clear the roads and restore power.

'People were screaming'

In the Abruzzo village of Montereale, south of Amatrice, farmer Nello Patrizi, 63, told AFP News agency: "It was an apocalyptic shock. We were petrified.
"The first [quake] was bad enough, the others seemed even stronger. You had the impression everything was collapsing, people were screaming. It was a terrible thing.
"With all the snow there was this morning, people could not get out of their houses. I thought 'all we need now is an earthquake' and here it is."
People were given shelter in a large tent erected on a sports ground in Montereale.
Saying the rest of Europe shared Italy's pain, Jean-Claude Juncker said he was sending his commissioner in charge of humanitarian affairs to Italy.
"We will provide all kinds of efforts, instruments, helps at our disposal because I think that in that matter, as in the migration matter, Italy cannot be left alone," he said.
"An earthquake in Italy is an earthquake in Europe - that's the way I'm considering this sad event."
Schools have been evacuated in the areas worst affected while in Rome, the underground system was shut as a safety precaution.
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Maltempo, neve al Centro sud: scuole...

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Maltempo, neve al Centro sud: scuole chiuse. In Abruzzo ancora 80 ...

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La perturbazione continuerà anche domani. Il capo della Protezione civile, Fabrizio Curcio: "Tutti i mezzi sono prioritariamente impegnati per i soccorsi, stiamo lavorando senza sosta". In più parti crollano stalle e si segnalano morti di animali. Una ...

Previsioni meteo, neve fino a giovedì. Abruzzo, esonda il Pescara

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Roma, 18 gennaio 2017 - Abruzzo in piena emergenza per l'ondata di neve e maltempo, annunciati puntualmente dalle previsioni meteo. Il gelo non dà tregua al Centro Italia, colpito oggi anche da un violento terremoto: dopo le abbondanti nevicate che ...

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Nella Regione ancora blackout elettrico per 87mila persone a causa dell'emergenza neve e la situazione più grave riguarda la provincia di Teramo. A fornire l'aggiornamento è il presidente dell'Abruzzo, Luciano D'Alfonso, sulla sua pagina Facebook.
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abruzzo - Google Search

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Story image for abruzzo from BBC News

'Catastrophe' in central Italy on day of four big quakes

BBC News-2 hours ago
In Teramo, Abruzzo, a man of 83 was found dead in the rubble of his barn which had collapsed, while in Ortolano, also in Abruzzo, a man was ...
Story image for abruzzo from ANSA (registration)

Around 100000 in Abruzzo without power

ANSA (registration)-Jan 16, 2017
(ANSA) - Pescara, January 16 - The Abruzzo regional government said Monday that around 100,000 people in the central region were without ...
Story image for abruzzo from La Repubblica

Maltempo, neve al Centro sud: scuole chiuse. In Abruzzo ancora 80 ...

La Repubblica-3 hours ago
La perturbazione continuerà anche domani. Il capo della Protezione civile, Fabrizio Curcio: "Tutti i mezzi sono prioritariamente impegnati per i ...
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Лавина сошла на отель в Италии: Происшествия: Мир:

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На отель в центре Италии обрушилась снежная лавина, передает Reuters.
Инцидент произошел в среду, 18 января. Лавина сошла на гостиницу «Риджопиано» в провинции Пескара региона Абруццо.
В настоящий момент пропавшими без вести числятся три человека. Однако, по другим данным, в отеле в момент схода лавины находились 20 постояльцев.
Власти выясняют обстоятельства произошедшего, на место направляются спасатели.

The case for Kurdish statehood - Opinion

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Why has the West been so supportive of Palestinian nationalism, yet so reluctant to support the Kurds, the largest nation in the world without a state? The Kurds have been instrumental in fighting Islamic State (ISIS); have generously accepted millions of refugees fleeing ISIS to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG); and embrace Western values such as gender equality, religious freedom and human rights. They are also an ancient people with an ethnic and linguistic identity stretching back millennia and have faced decades of brutal oppression as a minority. Yet they cannot seem to get sufficient support from the West for their political aspirations.
The Palestinians, by contrast, claimed a distinct national identity relatively recently, are less than one-third fewer in number (in 2013, the global Palestinian population was estimated by the Palestinian Authority to reach 11.6 million), control land that is less than 1/15th the size of the KRG territory and have not developed their civil society or economy with nearly as much success as the Kurds. Yet the United Nations, the European Union, the Arab League and other international bodies have all but ignored Kurdish statehood dreams while regularly prioritizing Palestinian ambitions over countless other global crises.

Indeed, in 2014 the UK and Sweden joined much of the rest of the world in recognizing a Palestinian state. There has been no similar global support for a Kurdish homeland. Moreover, Kurdish statehood has been hobbled by US reluctance to see the Iraqi state dismantled and by regional powers like Turkey, which worries that a Kurdish state will stir up separatist feelings among Turkish Kurds.
With an estimated worldwide population of about 35 million (including about 28 million in the KRG or adjacent areas), the Kurds are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East (after the Arabs, Persians and Turks), and have faced decades of persecution as a minority in Turkey, Iran and Iraq.
The 1988 “Anfal” attacks, which included the use of chemical weapons, destroyed about 2,000 villages and killed at least 50,000 Kurds, according to human rights groups (Kurds put the number at nearly 200,000). Several international bodies have recognized those atrocities as a genocide.
The Kurds in Turkey have also suffered oppression dating back to Ottoman times, when the Turkish army killed tens of thousands of Kurds in the Dersim and Zilan massacres. By the mid-1990s, more than 3,000 villages had been destroyed and 378,335 Kurdish villagers had been displaced and left homeless, according to Human Rights Watch.
The drive for Kurdish rights and separatism in Iran extends back to 1918, and – during its most violent chapter – cost the lives of over 30,000 Kurds, starting with the 1979 rebellion and the consequent KDPI insurgency.
A 2007 study notes that 300,000 Kurdish lives were lost just in the 1980s and 1990s. The same study states that 51,000 Jews and Arabs were killed in the Arab-Israeli conflict from 1950 until 2007 (and, because that total includes wars with Israel’s Arab neighbors, Palestinians are a small fraction of the Arab death toll).
Perhaps because of the Kurds’ own painful history, the KRG is exceptionally tolerant toward religious minorities and refugees. The KRG has embraced its tiny community of Jews, and in 2014 the Kurds rescued about 5,000 Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar after fleeing attempted genocide by ISIS. Last November, the Kurds recaptured the Sinjar area from ISIS, liberating hundreds more Yazidis from vicious oppression.
The KRG absorbed 1.8 million refugees as of December, representing a population increase of about 30 percent. The KRG reportedly needs $1.4 billion to $2.4b. to stabilize the internally displaced people in its territory.
“Most of the refugees [in the KRG] are Arab Sunnis and Shia, Iranians, Christians and others,” Nahro Zagros, Soran University vice president and adviser to the KRG’s Ministry of Higher Education, told the IPT. “Yet there is no public backlash from the Kurds.
And of course, we have been helping the Yazidi, who are fellow Kurds.”
The Kurdish commitment to gender equality is yet another reason that Kurdish statehood merits Western support. There is no gender discrimination in the Kurdish army: their women fight (and get beheaded) alongside the men. Last December, Kurdistan hosted the International Conference on Women and Human Rights.
The Kurds are also the only credible ground force fighting ISIS, as has been clear since the ISIS threat first emerged in 2014. ISIS “would have totally controlled the Baji oil field and all of Kirkuk had the [Kurdish] Peshmerga not defended it,” said Jay Garner, a retired US Army three-star general and former assistant vice chief of staff who served during “Operation Provide Comfort” in northern Iraq. “Losing Kirkuk would have changed the entire war [against ISIS], because there are billions of dollars [per] week in oil flowing through there. The Iraqi army abandoned their equipment [while the Kurds defended Kirkuk, which has historically been theirs].”
Masrour Barzani, who heads the KRG’s intelligence services, says that Kurdish independence would empower the Kurds to purchase the type of weapons they need without the delays that currently hobble their military effort against ISIS. Under the present arrangement, Kurdish weapons procurement must go through Iraq’s Shi’ite-led central government, which is also under heavy Iranian influence.
Besides bolstering the fight against ISIS, there are other geopolitical reasons for the West to support Kurdish statehood: promoting a stable partition of Syria, containing Iran, balancing extremist forces in the Middle East and giving the West another reliable ally in a volatile region.
Now that Syria is no longer a viable state, it could partition into more sustainable governing blocs along traditional ethnic/sectarian lines with Sunni Arabs in the heartland, Alawites in the northwest, Druse in the south and Kurds in the northeast. KRG leader Masrour Barzani recently argued that political divisions within Iraq have become so deep that the country must transform into “either confederation or full separation.”
Southeast Turkey and northwest Iran also have sizable Kurdish areas that are contiguous with the KRG, but those states are far from disintegrating and would aggressively resist any attempts to connect their Kurdish areas to the future Kurdish state.
However, the Kurdish areas of former Syria should be joined to Iraqi Kurdistan as a way to strengthen the fledgling Kurdish state and thereby weaken ISIS.
In a recent article, Ernie Audino, the only US Army general to have previously served a year as a combat adviser embedded inside a Kurdish Peshmerga brigade in Iraq, notes that Iran currently controls the Iraqi government and Iran-backed fighters will eventually try to control Kurdistan. He also makes the point that Western support for the Kurdish opposition groups active in Iran would force the Iranian regime to concentrate more on domestic concerns, effectively weakening Iran’s ability to pursue terrorism, expansionism and other destabilizing activities abroad.
Because the Kurds are religiously diverse moderates who prioritize their ethno-linguistic identity over religion, a Kurdish state would help to balance out the radical Middle East forces in both the Shi’ite and Sunni camps. The Kurds are already very pro-American, thanks to their Western-leaning values, the US-backed-no-fly zone, and the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein that made the KRG possible.
A Kurdish state would also have excellent relations with Israel, another moderate, non-Arab, pro-Western democracy in the region. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed Kurdish independence in 2014, and Syrian Kurds – after recently declaring their autonomy – expressed an interest in developing relations with Israel.
By contrast, the Palestinian Authority slanders Israel at every opportunity: PA President Mahmoud Abbas recently claimed in front of the EU parliament that Israel’s rabbis are trying to poison Palestinian drinking water. The PA raises Palestinian children to hate and kill Jews with endless anti-Israel incitement coming from schools, media and mosques. Palestinians have also shown little economic progress in the territories that they do control, particularly in Gaza, where Palestinians destroyed the greenhouses that donors bought for them in 2006 and instead, have focused their resources on attacking Israel with tunnels and rockets.
By almost any measure, a Kurdish state deserves far more support from the West. After absorbing millions of Syrian refugees while fighting ISIS on shrinking oil revenue, the KRG is battling a deepening financial crisis. Aggravating the situation, Iraq’s central government has refused – since April 2015 – to send the KRG its share of Iraqi oil revenue. The economic crisis has cost the KRG an estimated $10b. since 2014.
US Rep. Ed Royce (R-California), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced House Resolution 1654 “to authorize the direct provision of defense articles, defense services, and related training to” the KRG. Fifteen months later, the bill is still stuck in Congress.
Helping the Kurds should be an even bigger priority for the EU, which absorbs countless new refugees every day that ISIS is not defeated. If the EU were to fund the KRG’s refugee relief efforts and support their military operations against ISIS, far fewer refugees would end up on their shores.

The writer is the author of The Last Israelis, an apocalyptic novel about Iranian nukes and other geopolitical issues in the Middle East.
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No Place for Terrorism Sponsors – Al-Manar TV Lebanon

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Syrian deputy Foreign Ministry rejected on Wednesday the participation of Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the Astana peace talks on Syria next week, stressing that negotiations should not include every party that supports, arms and funds terrorism.
“Once Qatar and Saudi Arabia halt their support to terrorism, then we can discuss their participation in the talks,” he said.
Speaking to Al-Mayadeen TV, Moqdad said that Washington should prove its sincerity to deal with solutions for the Syrian crisis, prevent the support of armed terrorist groups, and exert pressure on Turkey to close its border with Syria.
On the participation of the United States in Astana negotiations, the Syrian official said “anyone who wants to work in good will to resolve the crisis in Syria can take part,” calling to “punish those who finance and arm terrorism, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”
Source: Al-Manar Website

Key Syrian rebel group says will not join Astana talks | News , Middle East

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BEIRUT: Key Syrian rebel group Ahrar al-Sham said on Wednesday it will not take part in peace talks between the government and opposition factions in the Kazakh capital next week.
The group decided not to participate in the negotiations in Astana that start on Monday due to "the lack of implementation of the cease-fire" in force since December 30 and ongoing Russian airstrikes over Syria, it said in a statement.
Ahrar al-Sham was among rebel groups that signed the cease-fire deal brokered by government supporter Russia and rebel backer Turkey last month.
The truce has largely held across Syria although fighting has persisted in some areas, allowing Russia, Turkey and government supporter Iran to organize the peace talks in Astana.
Ahrar al-Sham said "the regime's offensive against our people in Wadi Barada,"an area 15 kilometers (10 miles) northwest of Damascus that is the capital's main source of water, was among the reasons it would not attend the talks.
Assad's forces have pressed an assault to retake the area from rebels after mains supplies were cut last month, leaving 5.5 million people in Damascus and its suburbs without water.
Ahrar al-Sham said however that it was giving its support to other rebel groups represented at the Astana talks.
Mohammad Alloush, a prominent figure of the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) faction, will in Astana head a "military delegation" of around eight people, backed by nine legal and political advisors from the High Negotiations Committee umbrella group.
Russia started airstrikes in support of Assad's government in 2015.

Kurdish Forces Not Going to Follow Decisions Taken during Astana Talks

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Syrian Kurds are not going to follow decisions, which will be taken during the talks in Astana, due to the fact that they have been practically excluded from the negotiation process.
Fighters of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) wave their flag in the northeastern Syrian town of Qamishli (Photo: <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>)
Syrian Kurds are dissatisfied with the fact that Russia and Iran have practically excluded them from the negotiation process on Syria in order to please Turkey’s interests. The Kurdish Hawar news agency published a related statement of the executive body of the North Syria Democratic Federation (a management structure of the Syrian lands in northern Syria).
Kurds claim that due to the fact that their representatives do not participate in the talks in Astana, any decisions, which would be taken there, would not apply to them. In fact, it means that the whole northern Syria does not participate in the peace process. The Kurdish authorities say that the expulsion of representatives of northern Syria from participation in the talks is a “violation of rights” of people, living here (not only Kurds, but also Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians and others).
According to the executive body of the North Syria Democratic Federation, “Russia is repeating mistakes” of the Western countries-participants of the international talks in Geneva. All three rounds of the talks on Syria in Switzerland took place without participation of Kurds. Now, the similar negotiations are planned in Astana and Kurds also do not participate again.
“We consider our exclusion from these negotiations a violation against us, considering our struggle, sacrifices, and the historic progress on the political and social levels, we have been the most rightful main power to be present in the Astana meeting. Moreover, SDF [the Syrian Democratic Forces], YPG [the People’s Protection Units], and YPJ [the Women’s Protection Units] have been the forces liberating a vast part of Syria from terror, making them the most eligible powers to participate in any military settlement associated to Syrian crisis,” the statement reads.
“So, we would declare in the name of the executive body of the NS Democratic federation that Astana meeting will not succeed just like other former meetings, and we would not commit to its resolutions, since we have not taken part in its sessions, we will continue our struggle against terrorist groups and construct the democratic federal system in North Syria.”
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General Flynn's Participation in Astana Talks on Syria Possible

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WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The Syrian peace consultations in Astana are expected to be held on January 23, with the opposition represented as a united bloc. The talks will be followed by a new round of negotiations on Syrian peace in Geneva on February 8.
"As you know, General Flynn was invited in a call that he had with the [Russian] Ambassador [to the United States Sergei Kislyak] on December 29," Spicer stated.
"I don't have anything to update you on that. But, I think, the scenario is that what President-elect is in, what's going on there [in Syria] is a major concern…We clearly have the desire to work with other countries and nations."

PressTV- ‘No major breakthrough in sight for Astana talks’

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With less than a week to the Syria peace talks to be held in Kazakhstan, there is a degree of skepticism over the final outcome of the much-awaited negotiations.
The peace talks initiated by Russia and Turkey will see representatives from militant groups as well as the Syrian government sit down at the table in Astana as part of efforts to give an end to the deadly war in Syria.
Mohammad Marandi, a professor at the University of Tehran, said the peace talks would not bear fruit unless the United States and its regional allies including Saudi Arabia, change their policies on Syria.
“It’s very difficult to imagine that the Astana talks will make a big difference until the United States changes its policy” Marandi told Press TV’s Top 5 on Wednesday
The US and its regional allies have already been under fire for fueling war in Syria by supporting militant groups in the Arab country.
Washington has not been directly involved the latest diplomacy after failing efforts to lead Syria peace talks.
 “The United States really does not deserve - under the Obama regime at least - to be at negotiating table,” said the professor of American studies and English literature at the University of Tehran.
The US-led alliance to fight Daesh in Syria refused to pound the terrorist group’s position in Dayr al-Zawr, but the alliance helped the terrorists by “intentionally bombing Syrian Army position,” he noted.
In September 2016, the United States and Russia brokered a ceasefire in Syria. But the truce failed after the US warplanes targeted a Syrian air base near Dayr al-Zawr in eastern Syria, killing 82 soldiers.
Since March 2011, Syria has been gripped by devastating war, which has left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead.

Globes English - Arrow 3 operational as new missile defense era begins

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Israel entered a new era in air defense today. After years of research and development, the Ministry of Defense Homa Administration (Israel Missile Organization), part of the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure, and the US Missile Defense Agency delivered the first new Arrow 3 advanced air defense system interceptors to Israel air force air defense units. 17 years after the Arrow system was first made operational, the Arrow 3 is extending and upgrading Israel's air defense. It provides Israel with new capabilities in intercepting ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads while these are still far away from us in outer space. In other words, Arrow 3 interception is not the Iron Dome interception of a Grad missile. Regardless of how much you gaze skyward, you will hear no boom and see no smoke.
Today's ceremony at the Palmachim air force base means that if someone in Iran or any distant country presses the button tomorrow, the interception office on duty in the air defense system can launch the Arrow 3 at the missile threat.
The advantage of the Arrow 3 is not merely its ability to intercept missiles bearing evil payloads far away from Israel's borders, while preventing complications caused by poisonous and hazardous fallout liable to be emitted following the explosion. Operationally, these missiles are designed to significantly increase the interception opportunities available to Israel when needed. If the first Arrow 3 interceptor fired misses its target missile, and that can happen, the interception officer at one of the Arrow 3 batteries will have enough time to launch another Arrow 3 interceptor at the missile threat.
Even if interception does not take place, Arrow 2 interceptors, which have undergone a series of upgrades, revisions, and adaptations since being made operational by the air force, will also be directed at the target missile. The Arrow 2 Block 4 missiles currently possessed by the air force are extremely advanced and up-to-date. They are capable of intercepting all the missiles and heavy rockets in the arsenal of Israel's enemies when the day of decision comes. Even though Arrow 3 missiles have smaller dimensions than Arrow 2 missiles, and there is a significant difference in their interception method, compared with the older Arrow missiles, they can be launched against enemy missiles using the existing infrastructure. A senior Homa source says that declaration of the new missiles as operational requires no substantial changes in the deployment of the missile batteries. These batteries operate from two sites, Palmachim and Ein Shemer, and are connected to the Oren Adir (Magnificent Pine) radar system developed by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) subsidiary Elta Systems. "The entire Arrow system is able to work together, and speaks the same language," the source stated. "New and important capabilities have been added to the command and control center and to the radar detection system, whose capabilities against the future threats expected in this area have been upgraded."
IAI is the chief contractor in the Arrow 3 program, and US company Boeing is the senior partner. Components linked to the new missiles system are produced in Boeing's US plants, imported to Israel, and assembled in Israel at IAI's Malam factory. With the delivery of the new missile interceptors to the air force, other defense companies can also pat themselves on the back for this achievement and take part in the celebratory occasion by opening several bottles of pink champagne. One of these is Elbit Systems Ltd. (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT), which, together with its Elisra Group subsidiary, developed the missile's firing management system, called Golden Citron. Another is Israel Military Industries Ltd. (IMI), which produced the engine.
A significant milestone
Although the Arrow 3's operational status is an accomplished fact, and constitutes a real milestone on the way to completion of Israel's multi-layer defense system against missiles and rockets, more trials of the weapons system are expected in the future. The Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 array can now provide a complete solution to any threat to Israel posed, and possibly that will be posed in the future, but it needs updates and adjustments from time to time. While Israel is further tightening its defense capabilities, senior missile industry figures, in Iran for example, are burning the midnight oil in an attempt to devise a way of challenging Israel, despite all its missile interceptors. "We're looking many years ahead, and this is definitely a project of predicting the future. Yes, there's a lot of work ahead of us, because we're building our capabilities according to the development of the threats," says a senior Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure source.
That source, incidentally, does not completely rule out the idea that someone will one day also celebrate the air force's procurement of missile interceptors called Arrow 4. "At our Administration, there are always ideas and thoughts, and we're constantly examining technologies of various types that will be suitable in another 10 or 15 years," he says, without elaborating.
IAI VP and Program Director for Air & Missile Defense Systems Boaz Levy adds, "The Arrow 3 system, a product of a development effort lasting many years, based on a multi-atmosphere solution invented by IAI, is today becoming a reality. This is a milestone for the defense establishment and the defense industry in Israel. The air force is receiving an additional air defense layer for high-altitude interception in outer space. Together with the Arrow 2, it is creating the best anti-ballistic missile defense solution. Many industries participated in the development by taking part in key building blocks in the project. These included IAI subsidiary Elta, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., IMI, and Elisra." On a personal note, Levy added, "Today's delivery of the system to the air force constitutes the closing of a circle and the completion of a dream for me as the person who accompanied and led the development and planning of the system for many years."
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - - on January 18, 2017
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017
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Arrow 3 system - Google Search

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Story image for Arrow 3 system from Jerusalem Post Israel News

Watch: Israel enters 'new era' of missile defense with Arrow-3

Jerusalem Post Israel News-2 hours ago
In face of the growing missile threat to Israel, the Arrow 3 will form the uppermost layer of Israel's multilayered defense system along with the ...

Arrow 3 - Wikipedia

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Arrow 3 launch in January 2014.
The Arrow 3 or Hetz 3 (Hebrewחֵץ 3‎, pronounced [ˈχet͡s]) is an anti-ballistic missile, jointly funded and developed by Israel and the United States. Undertaken by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Boeing, it is overseen by the Israeli Ministry of Defense's "Homa" (Hebrewחומה‎‎, pronounced [χoma], "rampart") administration and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. It provides exo-atmospheric interception of ballistic missiles (during the space-flight portion of their trajectory).
According to the chairman of the Israeli Space Agency, it is also possible that the Arrow 3 will serve as an anti-satellite weapon.


By August 2008 the United States and Israeli governments have initiated development of an upper-tier component to the Israeli Air Defense Command, known as Arrow 3, "with a kill ratio of around 99 percent".[1] The development is based on an architecture definition study conducted in 2006–2007, determining the need for the upper-tier component to be integrated into Israel's ballistic missile defense system. According to Arieh Herzog, then Director of Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO), the main element of this upper tier will be an exoatmospheric interceptor, to be jointly developed by IAI and Boeing.[2] Lieutenant General Patrick J. O'Reilly, Director of the Missile Defense Agency, said:
The design of Arrow 3 promises to be an extremely capable system, more advanced than what we have ever attempted in the U.S. with our programs. [...] This has to do with the seekers that have greater flexibility and other aspects, such as propulsion systems – it will be an extremely capable system.[2]
The new component will also require the integration of longer range detection, tracking and discrimination capability, beyond what the "Green Pine" and "Super Green Pine" radars employed with the Arrow 2 are providing. Among the advanced sensors considered for Israel's future multi-tier system, are airborne electro-optical sensors deployed on high flying unmanned aerial vehicles and future enhanced "Green Pine" radars, as well as the AN/TPY-2 radar already deployed in Israel, and operated by U.S. forces.[2][3]
The multi-billion dollar development program of the Arrow is undertaken in Israel with the financial support of the United States.
[hide]U.S. contributions to Arrow 3 program by fiscal year. Figures in millions of U.S. dollars.


Arrow 3 launch in February 2013.
An exo-atmospheric interception on December 10, 2015.
IAI began preliminary tests of the Arrow 3 in 2011. The company will not specify what tests were performed, but they are part of the preparations for a full fly-out test.[5] On January 23, 2012 the Israeli Ministry of Defense released photographs and video of the recent successfully fly-out tests from Palmachim Airbase. During the tests, a model of the interceptor missile was launched in order to check the starting and propulsion system, as well as other tracking sensors.[6]
On January 23, 2012 IAI announced an agreement to jointly work on the Arrow 3 with Boeing.[7] Boeing is responsible for 40-50 percent of the production content of the Arrow 3. Expected work content includes motorcases, shroud, canister, safe & arm / ignition devices, power devices (batteries), and inertial navigation units, as well as several avionics packages and actuators & valves.[8]
On February 25, 2013 a fly-out test of the Arrow 3 was conducted from Palmachim Airbase. The launch tested the missile control and engines. According to a senior defense source, the missile obtained hypersonic speed, and reached an altitude of 100 km (62 mi), entering space. It followed various objects, such as stars, and gained further altitude. Its engine stopped after six minutes.[9][10]
On January 3, 2014 another successful test of the Arrow 3 was conducted from Palmachim Airbase. During the test the interceptor entered space and carried out a range of maneuvers in response to a virtual incoming enemy missile. The test involved the activation of two of the interceptor's engines, the first of which brought it into space, and the second allowing it to carry out complex maneuvers.[11]
On December 2014 a test aimed to debut an exo-atmospheric intercept capabilities of Arrow 3 has been characterized as a "no test", given that "conditions did not allow for" actual launch of the intercepting missile.[12][13]
On December 10, 2015 Arrow 3 scored its first intercept in a complex test designed to validate how the system can detect, identify, track and then discriminate real from decoy targets delivered into space by an improved Silver Sparrow target missile.[14] According to officials, the milestone test paves the way toward low-rate initial production of the Arrow 3.[14]
On January 2017 the first Arrow 3 systems were delivered to the IAI, and were immediately integrated in existing operational missile defence system.


Israel Aerospace Industries announced in June 2009, that the Arrow 3 patented[15] exoatmospheric interception method includes a two-stage interceptor, like the Arrow 2, but purely based on hit-to-kill technology.[16] Unlike most kill vehicles, which use liquid or gas propulsion, the new Israeli kill vehicle will be propelled by an ordinary rocket motor equipped with a thrust-vectoring nozzle.[3] It will also be fitted with a gimbaled seeker for hemispheric coverage. By measuring the seeker's line-of-sight propagation relative to the vehicle's motion, the kill vehicle will use proportional navigation to divert its course and line up exactly with the target's flight path.[3] Joseph Hasson, chief missile designer at IAI, who patented the new kill vehicle with his colleague Galya Goldner, says that the concept is relatively simple, reliable and inexpensive, and is based on mature technologies. Furthermore, the kill vehicle's divert capability and agility reduce the need for detection and tracking systems, which usually accompany remote sensor-assisted exoatmospheric kills.[3] IAI displayed a full-sized model of the Arrow 3 missile and its kill vehicle at the June 2009 Paris Air Show.[17]
Arrow 3 should be able to intercept ballistic missiles, especially those carrying weapons of mass destruction,[18] at altitudes of over 100 km (62 mi),[19] and in greater ranges.[4] It could also be ship-based.[20] Arrow 3 is faster[4] than the Arrow 2 and slightly smaller,[3] weighing nearly half.[21]
An Arrow 3 battery is expected to intercept salvos of more than five ballistic missiles within 30 seconds. Arrow 3 can be launched into an area of space before it is known where the target missile is going. When the target and its course are identified, the Arrow interceptor is redirected using its thrust-vectoring nozzle to close the gap and conduct a "body-to-body" interception.[22]
Arrow 3 may have a reduced 30-year life-cycle cost.[17] It should use the same launch system as Arrow 2.[7] Reportedly it will cost $2–3 million per unit,[23] while program cost is estimated at some $700–$800 million over three years.[24]
According to numerous Israeli experts, namely Prof. Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, former director of the Israeli Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure and currently the chairman of the Israeli Space Agency, it is also possible that the Arrow 3 could serve as an anti-satellite weapon.[25]


According to Jane's Defence Weekly, a solicitation that outlines the expansion of an Israeli Air Force facility at Tal Shahar, roughly halfway between Jerusalem and Ashdod, near Beit Shemesh, indicates that almost certainly it will be used for four Arrow 3 launchers on sites cut into the surrounding hills. The estimated completion date would be around the end of 2014.[26] Each of the four launchers will have six missiles for a total of 24 interceptors.[26] The plans for the base were revealed in a routine United States Department of Defense contract solicitation.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up ^ "Israel profile: Missile overview: Missile Chronology" (PDF)Nuclear Threat Initiative. January 2010. Retrieved 2012-04-03. 
  2. Jump up to: a b c "Israel, U.S. to embark on collaborative 'upper-tier' missile intercept program to include Arrow 3 and land-based SM-3 missiles"Defense Update. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  3. Jump up to: a b c d e Eshel, David (2010-02-12). "Israel upgrades its antimissile plans"Aviation Week & Space Technology. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  4. Jump up to: a b c d e f g h i j k l Sharp, Jeremy M. (2016-12-22). "CRS report for Congress: U.S. foreign aid to Israel" (PDF)Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved 2017-01-07. 
  5. Jump up ^ Egozi, Arie (2011-08-02). "Arrow-3: a totally different layer of protection" Retrieved 2011-08-04. 
  6. Jump up ^ "Defense Ministry conducts first test of "Arrow 3" system"Israel Defense Forces. 2012-01-24. Retrieved 2012-01-24. 
  7. Jump up to: a b Ben David, Alon (2012-01-26). "Boeing links up with IAI on Arrow-3"Aviation Week & Space Technology. Retrieved 2012-01-27. 
  8. Jump up ^ "Arrow II brochure" (PDF). Boeing. March 2008. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  9. Jump up ^ Lappin, Yaakov (2013-02-25). "Israel successfully tests Arrow 3 missile defense"The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2013-02-25. 
  10. Jump up ^ Test launch of the missile Arrow 3
  11. Jump up ^ Lappin, Yaakov (2014-01-03). "Defense Ministry: Missile shield system passes 2nd flight test"The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2014-01-03. 
  12. Jump up ^ Opall-Rome, Barbara (2014-12-17). "'No Test' declared for Arrow-3 interceptor"Defense News. Retrieved 2014-12-19. 
  13. Jump up ^ Amouyal, Noa (2015-02-25). "Israel DM: glitch in Arrow 2 missile fixed"Defense News. Retrieved 2015-02-27. 
  14. Jump up to: a b Opall-Rome, Barbara (2015-12-10). "US-Israel Arrow-3 intercepts target in space"Defense News. Retrieved 2015-12-10. 
  15. Jump up ^ WO 2006003660, Hasson, Joseph & Galia Goldner, "Exo atmospheric intercepting system and method", issued 2006-01-12 .
  16. Jump up ^ "IAI develops Arrow 3 interceptor in response to longer range threats"Israel Aerospace Industries. 2009-06-10. Archived from the original on 2011-07-12. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  17. Jump up to: a b Richardson, Doug (2009-07-09). "IAI exhibits full-size Arrow 3 at Paris"Jane's Information Group. Retrieved 2009-08-19.  See Arrow 2 and Arrow 3. Retrieved 2009-09-23.
  18. Jump up ^ "Arrow 3 brochure" (PDF)Israel Aerospace Industries. Retrieved 2012-03-25. 
  19. Jump up ^ Ben-Yishai, Ron (2008-07-08). "US to help Israel develop Arrow-3"Ynetnews. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  20. Jump up ^ Greenberg, Hanan (2010-05-27). "Arrow 3: The new generation"YnetnewsArchived from the original on 29 May 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-27. 
  21. Jump up ^ Opall-Rome, Barbara (2010-03-22). "Iran threat speeds Arrow-3 effort"Defense News. Retrieved 2010-03-22. 
  22. Jump up ^ Fulghum, David (2012-09-03). "Higher-altitude Arrow design to show its potential"Aviation Week & Space Technology. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  23. Jump up ^ "Eyeing Iran, Israel slates missile shield for 2015"YnetnewsReuters. 2010-11-15. Retrieved 2010-11-15. 
  24. Jump up ^ "Israel asks U.S. to support Arrow-3"Defense Update. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  25. Jump up ^ Opall-Rome, Barbara (2009-11-09). "Israeli experts: Arrow-3 could be adapted for anti-satellite role" (PDF). Imaginova 16. Retrieved 2011-11-09.  See also full article: #1 (2010-03-04).
  26. Jump up to: a b Binnie, Jeremy (2013). "Israeli BMD facility details revealed"Jane's Information Group. Retrieved 2013-06-01. 
  27. Jump up ^ Frenkel, Sheera (2013-06-03). "U.S. publishes details of missile base Israel wanted kept secret"The Miami Herald. 

External links[edit]

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Israel deploys 'Star Wars' missile killer system

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Opinion: US must make a hard choice in Syria: Turkey or Kurds?

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By Fabrice Balanche, associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon 2, visiting fellow at The Washington Institute
On January 5, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to close Incirlik Air Base to the international coalition against the Islamic State, citing the lack of U.S. support for his efforts to take the IS-held Syrian city of al-Bab. That battle will likely force Washington to make some hard choices about which ally is most important in the anti-IS campaign — Turkey or the Kurds.
Since November 14, the Turkish army and allied Syrian rebel forces have been advancing on al-Bab. By December 10, they had entered the city’s western suburbs, seizing Sheikh Aqil hill on December 20. Turkish forces likely assumed that this position would allow them to put IS under fire and compel the group to flee, much like it did during the battle for Jarabulus.
On December 22, however, IS retook the hill, inflicting heavy losses on Turkish and rebel forces. Fourteen Turkish soldiers were reportedly killed; IS also burned two Turkish military prisoners alive, and video of their grisly deaths was widely disseminated on social networks.
In response, Turkish jets heavily bombed al-Bab, reportedly causing the deaths of 72 civilians on December 23. In total, 173 civilians have been killed by Turkish-led operations against the city since November 14, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
On January 4, Erdogan announced that the battle would be finished quickly, deploying troop reinforcements and additional tanks to the area. Turkish press reports have noted that 8,000 army troops are participating in the campaign, and their latest movements suggest Erdogan now intends to encircle al-Bab and cut off its links with the IS “capital” of Raqqa.
Yet this approach raises the question of whether and how Turkey will prevent further harm to civilians. When the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) encircled and conquered Manbij in June-July 2016, they made careful attempts to minimize collateral damage against the city itself and its inhabitants, but they suffered heavy military losses in the process. The commander of the Turkish-backed militia Sultan Murad recently stated that only a few thousand civilians remain in al-Bab, but that claim rings false: before the Turkish campaign, the city had about 100,000 inhabitants, along with 50,000 more in the adjacent towns of Qabasin, Tadef, and Bzaa. And as in Mosul, Manbij, and Ramadi before, IS has prevented local civilians from fleeing, intending to use them as a human shields.
To avoid potential carnage, Erdogan will therefore need the precision of American airpower. The Russian air force has supported some Turkish operations around the city, but it is unclear if they have the local capability or willingness to conduct a comprehensive campaign of precision strikes.
The battle’s outcome will likely affect Erdogan’s credibility with the Turkish population. The main goal of his Syrian intervention is to prevent the unification of the two large Kurdish cantons along the northern border, and al-Bab is the key junction point between them. The campaign also plays to Turkish nationalism after the failed coup last July.
Moreover, Erdogan has warned that the Turkish army will retake Manbij from the Kurds after al-Bab. The SDF were supposed to leave the city last year, as Vice President Joe Biden promised Erdogan in August. Ankara may invoke this promise as the battle for al-Bab develops.
Yet telling the Kurds to leave Manbij could end their alliance with the United States — a troubling prospect given their proven efficiency against IS, seen most recently in the successful SDF offensive toward Thawra Dam, the key to capturing Raqqa. What are Washington’s options in this delicate situation?
Doing nothing means upsetting Erdogan, who would not hesitate to withdraw access to Incirlik Air Base. This would make the coalition’s task more complicated, but not impossible; allied forces could strike the Raqqa region from bases in Jordan, Iraq, the Gulf states, or Cyprus (albeit with extra hurdles related to distance and route security). Yet Turkey will eventually take al-Bab with or without U.S. help, likely by shelling the city and otherwise causing heavy civilian casualties. Erdogan might then apply the same technique to Manbij if the SDF has not withdrawn by then, leaving Washington with the prospect of major civilian carnage, direct Turkish-Kurdish military confrontation, and further interference by the Russians, who would likely insert themselves as arbiters between Ankara and the Kurds.
Alternatively, if Washington supports Erdogan in al-Bab, it could help limit the death toll by precluding indiscriminate bombardment of civilians. Turkish soldiers and rebels would be assured of quality air support that hits the right targets, encouraging them to make progress in the ground battle against IS.
To be sure, this approach runs the risk of Erdogan building on a victory in al-Bab by attacking Manbij or even the SDF stronghold of Tal Abyad. The latter scenario could foreclose the possibility of Kurdish autonomy in Syria once and for all, even in divided cantons. Convincing the Kurds to leave Manbij voluntarily could avoid that outcome. And while the wider Kurdish goal of unifying their Syrian cantons could die with the fall of al-Bab, U.S. officials need to carefully consider whether supporting that Kurdish political dream is more important than maintaining the U.S. military alliance with Erdogan. Whatever the case, avoiding a Turkish-Kurdish confrontation in Syria is crucial to liberating Raqqa sooner rather than later, particularly if the United States wants to do so without being obliged to cooperate closely with Russia.
The views expressed in opinion articles published on euronews do not represent our editorial position.
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ANALYSIS: The Kurds after the Syria ceasefire

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Kurdish fighters at a training camp in northern Syrian town of Rmeilane in March 2016 (AFP)
Although the announcement of a fragile ceasefire on 30 December brought some respite to the majority of people across Syria, the tides have been turning in a different direction for some groups in the war-torn country.
The truce, backed by Turkey and Russia acting as guarantors, involves the return of the warring sides to negotiations in Astana, after nearly six years of fighting and before the revival of the Geneva peace process on 8 February.
The ceasefire also involves a deal that was struck between Russia and Turkey, and a tightening of ties that has meant that rebel groups have lost out on support from Ankara. Yet the biggest loss seems to lie among the Kurds in northern Syria.

Turkish-Russian rapprochement

Since June 2016, Turkey and Russia have worked to normalise ties as Russia sought to increase its influence in the region, while Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, searched for an alternative policy more in line with his country's primary strategic interest in Syria: containing Kurdish demands for a separate state and influence along Turkey's borders.
Russia and Turkey have until recently sat on opposite sides of the conflict. Russia backs the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey wants him gone. While Russia provided Assad with military support, Turkey coordinated with Gulf states to provide rebels with weapons and support.

ANALYSIS: The Kurdish 'frenemies' aiding Assad in Aleppo

But recent developments, most importantly the ceasefire, have changed the game.
“The ceasefire means a deal between Russia and Turkey was struck. Turkey would close its borders to the rebels and not provide them support. In exchange, Russia would help break up the unification of Kurdish territories,” said Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon 2.

In the aftermath of the Syrian uprisings in 2011, the Kurds set up three federal entities in the northern corners of the country which together make up a political enclave called Rojava. The three cantons of Cizre, Kobane and Afrin are predominantly Kurdish in population but also have Arab and Assyrian communities.
The Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main Kurdish party in Syria, declared in mid-March that the region was a federal entity within the borders of Syria. Rebel groups, Damascus, Washington and Turkey rejected the declaration. The US demanded the Kurdish YPG militia withdraw from positions west of the Euphrates, while Assad said the move was an “unlawful action” which "jeopardises the country’s territorial integrity".
But the Kurds have a complicated relationship with Assad. The Syrian opposition has continuously accused the Kurds of cooperating with the Syrian government through its ally Russia, where the PYD opened offices in February to forge diplomatic relations with Moscow. 

Russia replaces the US 

The strengthening of ties between Russia and Turkey and the recent ceasefire has weakened the US as a key player in the region.
Ignoring the White House in the truce has been interpreted as a sign of the US’s regional marginalisation with outgoing US President Barack Obama being portrayed as a "loser" after doing too little to aid the anti-Assad rebels.
Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, has been increasingly portrayed as the victor in Syria after dispatching his air force to support Assad in September 2015 and enabling the recapture of eastern Aleppo from rebels in December.
Analysts say it leaves the Kurds navigating a new political map and rethinking their plans for a federalised Syria.
“The Kurds have tried to maintain good relations with the US and Russia. But today, they are afraid of working with Russia, because they don’t trust Assad. At the same time however, they are not sure the US can protect them against Erdogan anymore,” said Balanche, who is also a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute.
The Kurdish YPG militia is an extension of the Kurdish PKK militant group, which has been at war with Turkey for decades and has been responsible for several attacks in the country, the latest of which targeted Izmir last week. 
Without a strong ally in the US, which has supported the PYD's armed wing, the Kurdish Project Units (YPG), the Kurds are in a weaker position.
“There is a huge debate today about this issue inside the PYD now. The Kurds might choose to move closer to Russia, because after the fall of Aleppo everyone has understood that Putin is the master and the US is no longer there,” said Balanche.

‘A privileged position’

But according to Sihanok Dibo, an adviser to the leadership of the PYD, the situation hasn’t dramatically changed.
“The current vacuum in the US administration cannot be interpreted that the US has been sidelined,” said Dibo. “We are sure that both the US and Moscow will continue to be involved as guarantors to resolve the crisis.”
On 31 December, Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies approved a blueprint, known as the social contract, at a meeting of a 151-member council in the city of Rmeilan. The contract aims to cement the autonomy of Kurdish areas of northern Syria - although Kurdish leaders say an independent state is not the goal.

“The Kurds are in a privileged position,” Dibo told MEE. “This is due to five years of hard work; our project [for establishing a federal Syrian state] is becoming increasingly popular among Syrians with many more seeing it as the only solution to the crisis.”
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), of which the YPG is a major contributor, took control of the Jabar Castle in the western countryside of the Raqqa Governorate on Friday, after swiftly advancing along the western bank of the Euphrates River near Lake al-Assad in western Raqqa.
Dibo believes the self-governing Kurdish regions in northern Syria and their fight against IS will not be affected by the Russian-Turkish rapprochement because “the Kurds have good relations with Russia.”

'The real victims'

But according to Ahmed Araj from the Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the SDF, the reconciliation between Turkey and Russia may be an agreement to prevent the Kurds advancing their control over northern Syria.
Balanche agrees that the situation for the Kurds in northern Syria after the ceasefire is grim and quite similar to the aftermath of Turkey’s intervention in Manbij in August 2016.
"The real victims of the ceasefire are the Kurds,” Balanche told MEE.
'The real victims of the ceasefire are the Kurds' - Syria expert Fabrice Balanche
“The official narrative of the PYD is everything is fine, but just like in Manbij, the fighters on the ground feel a deep sense of betrayal by the US and a sense of fear of what is to come,” explained Balanche.
Syrian military officials announced in December that Kurdish-controlled areas should return under government control as the fight against rebel and Islamic State group forces enters new phases.
The news came amid reports that the Syrian army had requested that the YPG evacuate the Sheikh Maqsoud enclave in Aleppo by the end of this month following the government's recapture of the city from rebels in December.
On 21 December, the Turkish military also announced that Turkey-backed Syrian rebels had gained full control of the highway linking al-Bab to Aleppo amid intense ground and air fire support.
The town, which is 25km from the Turkish border, is the main target of the now four-month-long operation Euphrates Shield, which is intended to push Islamic State and Kurdish fighters away from the Turkish-Syria border area.
“If Turkish-backed rebels manage to take over al-Bab, they will move into Manbij which will completely eliminate any possibility for the Kurds to link the areas between Afrin and Kobane,” explained Balanche. 
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If US wants Kurds at Syria talks, invite IS too, Turkey says

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Istanbul (AFP) - If the United States wants to invite Kurds to the upcoming Syrian peace talks it might as well invite the Islamic State jihadist group too, said Turkey's foreign minister Saturday whose country views Kurdish fighters in Syria as extremists.
The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG), have been Western allies in the Syrian conflict but are condemned by Turkey, which will co-host the peace talks in Kazakhstan with Russia set for January 23.
Turkey calls the PYD a "terror group" for its links to Kurdish separatist militants in Turkey and has blasted the US repeatedly for working with the group on the ground in Syria.
A comment by a US State Department spokesman this week that Washington believes the PYD would "have to be a part of this process... at some point" infuriated Ankara.
"If you are going to invite a terror group to the table then you might as well invite Al Nusra and Daesh," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters, referring to the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, known previously as Al-Nusra Front, and the so-called Islamic State (IS).
"We do not deny the US role and contribution (to the talks), but we expect the following from the new US administration: it must stop co-operating with terror groups," he said.
"The current (US) administration is making serious mistakes," he said.
It was not the first diplomatic spat over the heated Kurdish issue this week.
A US Central Command tweet insisting its Kurdish allies were not linked to outlawed militants whipped up a storm Thursday, with Ankara asking if Washington had "lost its senses".
Relations between the US and Turkey have become increasingly bitter in the last month, with Ankara expressing hope of a "new chapter" under President-elect Donald Trump.
While Washington has played a key role in attempts to bring Syria's warring parties to the negotiating table in the past, it has been notably absent from the cooperation between Ankara and Moscow to broker a nationwide ceasefire that is meant to pave the way for the January 23 peace talks.
Despite backing opposite sides in the Syrian conflict, Russia and Turkey are keen for a deal to end the conflict and both sides appear to think Trump's administration could help.
The Astana talks are scheduled to begin just three days after Trump is inaugurated.
Turkey said this week that Russia had agreed the incoming US administration should be present at the upcoming talks, though there was no confirmation from Moscow.
A representative for the Syrian Kurds said that they had not been invited to take part.
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Page 13

Obama’s Stark Options on ISIS: Arm Syrian Kurds or Let Trump Decide

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The White House declined to disclose what decision Mr. Obama had reached, but some administration officials believe it is unlikely that he will resolve the contentious issue in the waning moments of his presidency.
That such a pivotal decision has been left to Mr. Obama’s final weeks in office reflects the complexity of the debate about working with the Y.P.G., as the Syrian Kurdish militia is known, as well as the caution the president has displayed about sending American forces to fight in the region.
Mr. Obama has vowed to deal the Islamic State crippling blows in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa before he steps down on Friday. Allied airstrikes have increased in and around Raqqa in recent weeks as thousands of Syrian Kurdish and Syrian Arab fighters encircle the city, isolating it from the resupply of arms, fighters and fuel. Last month, Mr. Obama ordered 200 more American Special Operations forces to Syria to help these local fighters advancing on Raqqa, nearly doubling the number of American troops on the ground there.
But the American military believes that Raqqa cannot be seized unless the Y.P.G. is equipped for urban warfare. It is unclear what level of support President-elect Donald J. Trump will maintain for opposition groups in Syria combating the Islamic State, especially those groups that are bitterly opposed by the Turks.
Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter stressed Raqqa’s importance during a visit to Fort Campbell, Ky., in January 2016. “The ISIL parent tumor has two centers: Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq,” Mr. Carter said. “That’s why our campaign plan’s got big arrows pointing at both Mosul and Raqqa.”
American officials requested anonymity in order to describe the administration’s internal deliberations.
About 250,000 civilians are in Raqqa, and the Islamic State has fortified the city with trenches and mines and would defend it with suicide bombers. Because the Obama administration has ruled out the use of American combat troops, the United States has to rely on mobilizing local Arab forces to join battle-hardened Syrian Kurdish fighters.
“Raqqa is very difficult because unlike Iraq, we’re not working with a government,” Brett McGurk, the American envoy to the coalition that is fighting the Islamic State, said at a seminar last week. “We’re not working with an army. We have to work with local actors and organize them into a military force.”
American military officials say it is urgent to retake Raqqa because it is the capital of the Islamic State’s caliphate, a sanctuary for many of its top leaders and the hub for the extremist group’s plots against the West.
The Pentagon has been urging Mr. Obama to equip the Syrian Kurds, whom American commanders view as their most effective ground partner, with armored vehicles, rocket-propelled-grenade launchers, machine guns and other heavy equipment so that the American-supported Raqqa attack can begin in February.
The weaponry is needed, American military officials say, because the Iraqi push to capture Mosul has demonstrated that retaking a city occupied by Islamic State fighters, armed with suicide car bombs, is a difficult and bloody operation.
To buttress the Raqqa mission, the Pentagon is also urging that the White House authorize the use of United States Army Apache attack helicopters, which are equipped with Hellfire missiles. Apaches are supporting Iraqi troops in the fight for Mosul.
But arming the Kurds would also aggravate Mr. Obama’s tense relations with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has contended that the Y.P.G. is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Turkey and the United States regard as a terrorist group.
The administration has been considering ways to ease Turkey’s anxiety, such as making arrangements to monitor the weapons given to the Syrian Kurds for the Raqqa offensive and thus prevent the weapons from being used elsewhere by the Kurds. In addition, Arab forces would occupy Raqqa after the city is taken, and Kurdish fighters would be withdrawn.
The United States also recently began carrying out airstrikes near Al Bab, a town in northern Syria that Turkey has been struggling to take from the Islamic State.
But American diplomats in Ankara, the Turkish capital, have warned that providing weapons to the Y.P.G. could provoke a Turkish backlash, officials say. Not only might it cause a deep breach in the United States’ relations with Mr. Erdogan, but the Turks might take actions against the Y.P.G. in northern Syria that could ultimately undermine the offensive to retake Raqqa.
Anticipating Mr. Obama’s decision, the Turks have been quietly increasing the pressure by delaying approval for American air missions that are flown from the Turkish air base at Incirlik and supplies going in and out of the base. Incirlik has been a major hub for carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Turkey’s sensitivity on the issue was clear last week when the United States Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, posted a statement on Twitter by the Syrian Democratic Forces, the umbrella group that includes Syrian Kurds as well as Syrian Arab fighters, affirming that it is not part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party as “some regional governments” have claimed.
“Is this a joke or @CENTCOM has lost its senses,” Ibrahim Kalin, Mr. Erdogan’s spokesman, responded on Twitter.
Faced with the dilemma, some administration officials have suggested that American officials go back to the drawing board and try to cobble together a more diverse force to take Raqqa that would include Turkish Special Forces as well as Turkish-supported Syrian opposition groups. American commanders say about 20,000 troops will be needed to seize the city. By contrast, Turkey has been able to muster only about 2,000 Arab fighters in its battle to reclaim Al Bab, and that campaign has been bogged down by fierce resistance.
During a visit to Washington last month, Masrour Barzani, a top security official in the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq, pressed American officials to work with Syrian Kurds who are separate from the Y.P.G. and are operating in Iraq, a group known as Pesh Merga of Rojava, or Roj Pesh. Aides to Mr. Barzani assert that the Roj Pesh are trained by the pesh merga, would be politically acceptable to the Turks and number about 3,300.
“Roj Pesh are the most efficient and politically diverse force,” Mr. Barzani said. “They can be the bridge to lessen regional tensions and a force multiplier in the campaign.”
But Pentagon officials say that the Y.P.G. has the most effective fighters, is already closing in on Raqqa, and that trying to assemble, train and equip an alternative force could be difficult and at best would take many months.
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Texas police officer shot, killed; suspect dies in standoff

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USA Today Network WFAA-TV, Dallas-Fort Worth Published 6:57 p.m. ET Jan. 17, 2017 | Updated 5 hours ago
Police stage outside a home where a suspected shooter remained in Little Elm, Texas, Jan. 17, 2017.(Photo: WFAA-TV)
DALLAS — A Little Elm, Texas, police officer was shot and killed Tuesday afternoon after police approached a man carrying a gun in a residential area, according to authorities. The suspected shooter was later killed after an hours-long standoff.
The suspected gunman was found dead around 10 p.m, The Dallas Morning News reported. He had holed up in a house in the 1400 block of Turtle Cove Tuesday evening, surrounded by police and SWAT. A Twitter account for the City of Little Elm called it an "active shooter situation in the area of Lobo and Eldorado."
Officers responded to the home around 3 p.m. CT after residents reported seeing a man with a gun, officials said. After being told to drop the weapon, the suspect began shooting at officers from inside the house, Lt. Orlando Hinojosa said. Detective Jerry Walker was hit, officials said at a news conference.
Other officers were able to drive a squad car to Walker's aid and move him to another area where he was airlifted to the Denton Regional Medical Center, where he later died.
Detective Jerry Walker (Photo: Little Elm Police Department)
No other injuries were reported.
Walker, 48, was a father of four and an 18-year veteran of the force, said Rodney Harrison, Little Elm chief of police. Walker was promoted to detective in 2013.
Police poured into the residential area in the far-north Dallas suburb, causing school bus delays at multiple nearby Little Elm schools. The Little Elm Independent School District released a statement saying some students who walk home were being held at school until parents could come get them.
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Officer shot and killed in Dallas area

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LITTLE ELM, Texas- Little Elm detective, Jerry Walker, was shot and killed after responding to an incident on Tuesday.
Fire Chief Brian Roach named Jerry Walker as the officer shot during a press conference Tuesday evening, it was then confirmed later in the evening that he did not survive his injuries.
Rodney Harrison, Little Elm chief of police, says Walker was 48 years old and joined the department in September of 1998. Walker was a father of four.
Little Elm police officer shot and killed
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Officers responded to a report of an individual with a gun in the 1400 block of Turtle Cove just after 3 p.m. Tuesday, officials said. After police told the suspect to drop the gun, he ran inside the home and began shooting at officers, DCSO Lt. Orlando Hinojosa said.
A man claiming to have witnessed the encounter said he heard one initial gunshot, and then a flurry of three or four gunshots with an officer hiding behind a truck in a driveway.
Walker was shot in the upper body and was careflighted to Denton Regional Hospital where he was surrounded by family, friends and fellow officers. Police were trying to make contact with the suspect, who was barricaded inside a home near Waterview and Turtle Cove.
Little Elm Fire Chief addressed the media at 10:25 p.m. Tuesday evening stating the barricaded suspect was dead. No further information was available at the time.
A Twitter account for the City of Little Elm called it an "active shooter situation in the area of Lobo and Eldorado."
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Little Elm police officer shot and killed
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Police activity unfolding in that area caused school bus delays at multiple nearby Little Elm ISD schools. As a precaution, students were being held at Lakeside, Powell and Zellars until the situation was cleared.
Little Elm ISD later tweeted it was releasing buses from Lakeside and Powell, but students who walk home were still being held at the school.
Little Elm neighbors evacuated
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Schools are no longer on lockdown at this time. The students who typically walk home had to be picked up by parents.The district issued the following statement on their website:
We have been notified by police of an incident in the neighborhood near Waterview and Turtle Cove that is preventing traffic flow from around that area. We are keeping the students at Lakeside Middle School, Powell, and Zellars until we hear from police that the area is cleared and safe to enter. Students who are bus riders and even students who walk home will be getting home late today due to this event. This will cause delays in buses at the High School.
Authorities were able to extract an elderly, female relative of the suspect through a window, leaving the suspect alone in the home.
Residents of the area that were evacuated have been taken to the Little Elm Senior Citizen Center.
Authorities from The Colony, Denton County and Frisco Police assisted with the situation.
(© 2017 WFAA)
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