Daily Archives: March 12, 2014

Rocket barrage from Gaza hits Israel, no one hurt : police

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(Reuters) – Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired at least 20 rockets into Israel on Wednesday, the Israeli military said, in the heaviest such barrage in two years.

The rocket fire, which police said caused no casualties, was claimed by the Islamic Jihad group and came a day after Israel killed three of its members in a Gaza air strike.

Police said “a number of waves of rockets” had hit southern Israel. The military said in a statement that two rockets had been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

“It’s a barrage such as we haven’t seen for two years,” Haim Yellin, a local municipal official in the south, told Army Radio, referring to an eight-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza in November 2012.

Sirens sounded in several communities across southern Israel to alert residents to take shelter and general warnings were given urging everyone in the area to remain indoors.

“It appears as though the waves of rockets have come in response to our preventive operations of yesterday,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

“We shall continue to thwart and attack those who seek to attack us, and shall act against them with great force.”

Describing the incident on Tuesday in which three Islamic Jihad militants were killed, the military said they were targeted after they fired mortar bombs at Israeli soldiers.

Islamic Jihad said at the time that its men had died confronting Israeli troops who had entered the Gaza Strip.

Israel pulled its soldiers and settlers out of the territory, now run by Hamas Islamists, in 2005. But it maintains a naval and air blockade and severely restricts the overland movement of people and goods across the volatile border.

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White House to host new Ukraine PM | world news

Ukraine’s new prime minister

Ukraine’s new prime minister

US President Barack Obama will host Ukraine’s new prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House on Wednesday.

It’s a high-profile gesture some say is aimed at cementing the West’s allegiance to Ukraine’s government. Others say it’s a diplomatic dig at Russia.

Many residents in Kyiv were hopeful on Wednesday ahead of their new prime minister’s visit to Washington.

One local man, Kiril, told euronews: “I think this meeting will be positive because the US wants to help Ukraine. I think Yatsenyuk’s visit will bring a lot of positive results to Crimea and Ukraine’s economy.”

The meeting comes as Ukraine’s southern Crimea region prepares for a referendum on Sunday to determine its future.

Ukraine’s parliament has warned the Crimean regional assembly that it faces dissolution unless it calls off the vote.

via White House to host new Ukraine PM | euronews, world news.

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Hamas Official Brags Group Will Blanket Israel With Advanced Missiles in Next War

A Hamas official reportedly told Agence France-Presse (AFP) over the weekend that any future war between Israel and the Iran-backed terror group will see Hamas launching missiles at Israeli civilians far in the country’s north, a boast bound to deepen increasingly open concerns within Israel’s military and political establishments that Hamas is stockpiling an arsenal capable of the sustained saturation bombing of Israeli civilian centers.

The comments were made during a Hamas ceremony in Gaza City for the unveiling of a rocket-statue which features a life size M-75 rocket, whose real life counterpart can reach 75 kilometers into Israel. The M-75 was used to target Tel Aviv and its surroundings as well as the greater Jerusalem area during 2012′s Operation Pillar of Defense.

AFP conveyed other boasts from the ceremony, including one by a masked figure who bragged that “Hamas managed to take the battle to the heart of the Zionist entity (Israel) after developing its rocket system.”

Israel last week intercepted a Gaza-bound arms ship dispatched by Iran and carrying missiles capable of putting roughly five million Israelis under fire. The nature and substance of Hamas’s threats, especially coupled with the Palestinian faction’s ongoing efforts to stockpile advanced missiles, are likely to solidify Israeli skepticism toward calls from some corners of the international community that Jerusalem lift its blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

via Hamas Official Brags Group Will Blanket Israel With Advanced Missiles in Next War – The Tower – The Tower.

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Key suspect in January Cairo car bombing killed in shootout

Mohamed al Sayed Mansour al Toukhi Ansar Bayt al Maqdis Cairo Bombing January 2014

Mohamed al Sayed Mansour al Toukhi Ansar Bayt al Maqdis Cairo Bombing January 2014

Egypt‘s Interior Ministry Yesterday announced that security forces killed a key suspect in the Jan. 24 car bombing outside the Cairo Security Directorate. According to the ministry’s statement, Mohamed al Sayed Mansour al Toukhi was killed during a shootout with authorities in Cairo’s Ain Shams district.

The statement described al Toukhi, also known as Abu Obaida, as “one of the most dangerous terrorist elements.”

The killing of al Toukhi comes a day after the Interior Ministry announced the arrest of Mohammed Durri Ahmad al Taliawi. Al Taliawi was allegedly involved in a bombing attack that killed one person outside a movie theater on Jan. 24 in the Cairo area.

Four separate bombings, including the car bombing outside the Cairo Security Directorate, were reported on Jan. 24. Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) originally claimed responsibility for all of the bombings before later backtracking on some of the smaller attacks that had been claimed by a separate group called Ajnad Misr.

Ansar Jerusalem has yet to comment on the reported death of al Toukhi or the arrest of al Taliawi. Ansar Jerusalem last confirmed the death or arrest of one of its members in a statement released to jihadist forums on Jan. 2.

Meanwhile, four suspected al Qaeda members were referred to trial yesterday over their involvement in plots to carry out attacks in Egypt, including against the US and French embassies. The arrest of three members of the cell, which has been linked to the Nasr City terror cell, was announced by Egypt’s interior minister in May 2013.

The fourth member of the cell, Dawud al Asadi, is still free.

In May 2013, Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim described Asadi vaguely as “the head of Al-Qaeda in some west Asian countries.” As my colleague Thomas Joscelyn has previously noted, Dawud al Asadi is a known alias of Muhsin al Fadhli, the head of al Qaeda’s network in Iran.

via Key suspect in January Cairo car bombing killed in shootout – Threat Matrix.

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Explosion and building collapse in Manhattan

Smoke is seen billowing from the site of an explosion at 116th Street and Park Avenue in Harlem on March 12, 2014.

Smoke is seen billowing from the site of an explosion at 116th Street and Park Avenue in Harlem on March 12, 2014.

The Fire Department of New York is on the scene of a fire at a large residential building in Upper Manhattan Wednesday morning after eyewitnesses reportedly heard an explosion at around 9:31 a.m. EST.

Firefighters were still fighting the blaze at 1646 Park Avenue in Harlem around an hour later, and eyewitnesses told Fox News that debris from the partial collapse had spread several blocks throughout the neighborhood.

Around that same time, the FDNY upgraded the incident to a four-alarm blaze and confirmed that it was being categorized as a “multiple dwelling explosion and collapse” being handled by upwards of 168 firefighters. On Twitter, one eyewitness said he was on his way to work when he came across the scene and saw nearby cars covered by bricks and glass.

It has yet to be confirmed whether or not any occupants remained inside the property, but a local hospital was reportedly treating at least 11 victims at a nearby emergency room.

The building is on the west side of Park Avenue in New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood between 116 and 117 Street, and contained a piano store in addition to apartments.

Building in East Harlem after explosion in NYC

Building in East Harlem after explosion in NYC

The Metro-North railroad suspended service in and out of Grand Central Terminal in downtown Manhattan as a precaution.

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Egypt’s army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi lands in UAE for joint military exercises

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Egypt’s army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan review the honor guard upon Sisi’s arrival to Abu Dhabi March 11, 2014. (Reuters)

Egypt’s army chief Field Marsha Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi arrived in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

Sisi is scheduled to attend the conclusion of a joint military exercise (Zayed-1) held by the UAE and Egyptian Armed Forces. After his arrival in Abu Dhabi Sisi was met by UAE deputy army chief Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

The two men noted the “fraternal and solid relations linking the two countries and their peoples,” and their wish to “consolidate bilateral cooperation,” the WAM news agency reported, without giving details on Sisi’s plans or the length of his stay.

The Emirates have given Egypt $4.9 billion in financial aid since Mursi’s ouster, as well as deposited $2 billion in the Egyptian central bank, interest free.

Last week, the UAE joined Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in recalling their ambassadors from fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member Qatar over its support for Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

As a sign of support for the military-installed government in Cairo, the UAE’s Arabtec contractor signed a memorandum of understanding Sunday to develop a $40 billion project to build one million housing units in Egypt.

The signing came ahead of an expected announcement by Sisi that he will run in elections to replace Mursi, a vote he is widely expected to win.

Sisi has emerged as the most popular political figure in Egypt following Mursi’s troubled year-long rule, with many viewing him as a strong leader who can restore stability after three years of unrest unleashed by the 2011 revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

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Former Libyan PM in Malta for brief stop; Zeidan leaves country despite ban

Libya‘s ousted PM Ali Zidan

Former Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zaidan was in Malta for some time is the past few hours, on his way to another European country following a vote of confidence he lost in the Libyan congress.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat confirmed that Zaidan was in Malta on a refuelling stop and the two met briefly.

Dr Muscat did not say where the Libyan PM was headed and the meeting between the two was more of a sign of personal friendship.

The PM said that Malta is following closely what is happening in Libya.

The Associated Press reported that Libya’s ousted prime minister has left the country despite a ban on travel, hours after parliament removed him from office in a no-confidence vote.

Officials in Tripoli on Wednesday could not confirm the departure of Ali Zeidan, Libya’s first democratically chosen leader who had struggled for 15 months to stem the country’s spiraling descent into chaos.

But Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told state-owned television that Zidan had made a brief stop-over on the Mediterranean island late on Tuesday, before travelling on.

The Western-backed Zeidan was ousted in a parliament vote on Tuesday as Libya faces a series of crises, including an escalation over oil ports seized by an eastern militia.

Soon after parliament voted, Libya’s general prosecutor banned Zeidan from travel pending an investigation into corruption allegations.

via Former Libyan PM in Malta for brief stop; Zeidan leaves country despite ban – The Malta Independent.

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Protesters clash with police across Turkey as thousands mourn 15yo teen death

Police and protesters have clashed in several cities in Turkey as the country is gripped by unrest following the death of 15-year old Berkin Elvan. He was hit by tear-gas canister shot by police and died in hospital after 269 days in a coma.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Turkey’s biggest cities in Ankara and Istanbul after the family of Berkin Elvan confirmed his death and made the announcement on Twitter.

“To our people: We lost our son Berkin Elvan at 7am this morning. Condolences to us all,” Berkin’s parents wrote.

Hashtag #BerkinElvanÖlümsüzdür (“Berkin Elvan is eternal”) trended globally on Twitter, as news of his death spread.

Berkin Elvan became an accidental victim of anti-government protests over the Gezi Park re-development plan. On June, 16 he left home to buy some bread for his family, but on the way he was hit in the head with a tear-gas canister shot by the police during clashes with protesters.

Anti-government protesters run as riot police fires a water cannon during a demonstration in Ankara March 11, 2014.

“Elvan had an epilepsy attack on March 7th, when his heart stopped for nearly 20 minutes,” the attorney told Anadolu on Sunday adding that “Berkin who was 45 kilos when he was shot, shrunk down to 16 kilos.”

Upon learning about his death about 1,000 people staged a rally outside the Istanbul hospital where the teen was treated.

Outside the hospital security forces tried to disperse the crowd as some of the mourners attacked police cars with stone and sticks while forming barricades with rubbish containers, Anadolu Agency reported.

In Istanbul police used tear gas and water cannon after several dozen protesters outside the hospital hurled stones at a police bus and stole helmets and shields, English-language Hurriyet Daily News reported. It also cited an AFP photographer, who said that one demonstrator was injured.

Riot policemen shield themselves as fireworks thrown by protesters explode next to the statue of a bull, during an anti-government protest in the Kadikoy district of Istanbul March 11, 2014.

The boy’s mother Gulsum Elvan has blamed the death of her son on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who back in June praised the “legendary heroism” of police forces in quelling anti-government protests.

“It’s not God who took my son away but Prime Minister Erdogan,” she told reporters outside the Istanbul hospital.

Angry people confronted riot police, shouting “killers”.

Police reportedly announced that they would let the protesters give a press statement in Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue, but they would not allow marching to Taksim Square.

Protesters are hit by water cannon during clashes with riot police in Kadikoy, on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, on March 11, 2014.

In the capital city of Ankara around 2,000 students gathered outside the Middle East Technical University. As the crowd marched towards the headquarters of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, it partly blocked traffic on one of Ankara’s main streets.

Protesters chant slogans behind a barricade during clashes with riot police in Kadikoy, on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, on March 11, 2014.

As the protesters ignored a warning from security forces, police fired tear gas and water cannons to scatter the crowd.

People in many other cities around Turkey also went on to the streets to mourn the death of the young man.

Police and protesters have also clashed in the cities of Izmir, Adana, Antalya, Kocaeli and Mersin, according to Dogan News Agency reporters on the ground.

Anti-government protesters run as riot police fires a water cannon during a demonstration in Ankara March 11, 2014.

 

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NATO starts air drills close to Ukraine’s borders

F-16 “Fighting Falcon” jets

NATO has begun wargames in Poland as recently dispatched US jets are set to take part in the exercises. Poor weather has delayed naval maneuvers in the Black Sea, with the US saying both drills were planned before the outbreak of unrest in Ukraine.

The air drills began on Tuesday at the Lask Air Base in central Poland. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski was present as the exercises commenced, standing by as four Polish F-16s lifted off. A US Hercules transport plane landed with support staff, while at least 12 US F-16 fighter jets and 300 personnel are due to arrive by Thursday.

Komorowski, without directly naming Crimea, said “events to the east” provided a reason to protect military spending in an age of austerity.

“I hope events to the east of the Polish border, which is also NATO’s border, will encourage tough decisions regarding Polish security,” Reuters cites him as saying.

The decision to deploy the US jets followed a phone conversation between US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Polish counterpart Tomasz Siemoniak on Sunday. Washington insisted the air exercise was planned long in advance, though Siemoniak maintains the exercise was to have been smaller, only involving transport aircraft.

Following recent events in Crimea, however, Siemoniak asked the Pentagon to send fighter jets instead.

“This was our request,” Reuters cites Siemoniak as saying at a Polish Rocket Defense site. “We really appreciate that the reaction was that quick and significant.”

On Monday, NATO also gave the green light to Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) for reconnaissance flights over Poland and Romania in order help monitor the crisis in Ukraine. The planes are slated to fly from their home airbases in Geilenkirchen, Germany and Waddington in Britain, from where they will cross Romanian airspace on Tuesday.

That follows a decision made by the US last week to send a KC-135 aerial refueling plane and six F-15 fighter jets to Lithuania to bolster NATO’ air patrol over Baltic airspace. Those ships will reinforce four F-15s, which arrived on January 1 to fill NATO’s Baltic Air Policing rotation. The rotations is scheduled to end April 30.

Baltic allies had requested the assistance amid a growing standoff between Ukraine and Russia on the Crimean Peninsula. Following the deployment, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the modest US military deployment should be viewed as “concrete steps to reassure our NATO allies.”

Meanwhile, strong winds and high seas have caused the US and its NATO allies Bulgaria and Romania to delay the naval portion of its military exercises by 24 hours, the Bulgarian defense ministry said.

“The weather is now improving, the sea is not that rough and I don’t expect another postponement,” Reuters cites Lieutenant-Colonel Dimitar Titev as saying.

Washington said both the air drills and the joint Black Sea exercises with Romania and Bulgaria, which were delayed due to bad weather, were scheduled long before crisis struck Ukraine.

The “USS Truxtun” destroyer

On Saturday, US Navy destroyer, the USS Truxtun, crossed Turkey’s Bosphorus strait and entered the Black Sea. The ship, with around 300 crew, was heading to “previously planned” training exercises with the Bulgarian and Romanian navies. The exercise is not expected to entail any live-fire component.

The USS Truxton, one of the largest destroyers ever built for the US Navy, had been expected to visit the Bulgarian port of Varna March 12-14. However, Titev said he was presently unable to predict what its estimated time of arrival would now be as a result of the inclement weather.

The Bulgarian naval frigate Drazki, and three Romanian naval vessels will take part in the drill, which will be held in international waters southeast of the Romanian port of Constanta. Constanta lies about 220 miles from the Crimean port of Sevastopol, where Russia’s Black Sea fleet leases a base.

The exercises come as the parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea adopted an independence declaration from Ukraine which precedes a referendum slated for March 16.

The United States says it will not recognize the referendum on Crimea, while Russia’s State Duma has said it will only debate the issue of Crimea joining Russia only after the referendum takes place.

The crisis first erupted on February 28 when forces with no national insignia occupied airports and other strategic locations in Crimea. The West says the troops are under Russian control, a claim Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied. Local authorities have said the troops belong to local ‘self-defense squads’. Under a current agreement with the Ukrainian government, Russia is allowed to have 25,000 troops stationed on the Crimean Peninsula.

Washington has accused Moscow of committing outright military aggression in Ukraine, while Russia denies invading the region, saying any action would take place within a framework of international law to protect Russian citizens from attack.

Putin said that Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine would take place only as a “last resort.”

Hopes of a diplomatic solution to the crisis were severely dampened after Kerry decided to cancel a visit to Moscow on Monday to discuss the issue with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

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Confusion grows over missing Malaysian Airlines plane

Last Updated Mar 12, 2014 2:43 AM EDT

The mystery over the fate of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 became even more convoluted Wednesday when Malaysia’s air force chief denied earlier remarks that the missing plane had reversed direction and reached the Strait of Malacca before vanishing.

The Boeing 777 was traveling from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board when air traffic controllers lost contact with it. Five days later, officials seem to have no idea where the plane may have ended up.

Malaysian air force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud was quoted as saying in local media report Tuesday that the military had radar data showing the plane had turned back from its original course, crossed the country and made it to the Strait of Malacca to the west of Malaysia. The Associated Press said it contacted a high-level military official, who confirmed the remarks.

But on Wednesday, Daud issued a statement denying that he had said any such thing.

“I wish to state that I did not make any such statements,” he said.

Instead, he reiterated a comment from Sunday, when he said that the air force had “not ruled out the possibility” that the plane had turned back. But Daud said there was no evidence the jetliner had reached the Strait of Malacca.

Separately, a senior Malaysia Airlines executive told the Reuters news service Wednesday the carrier has “no reason to believe” anything the plane’s crew did led to its disappearance.

Hugh Dunleavy, the commercial director of Malaysia Airlines, said in an interview, “We have no reason to believe that there was anything, any actions, internally by the crew that caused the disappearance of this aircraft.”

Authorities began their search for the missing aircraft at the position it was last reported to be over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam. But they have also said search operations were ongoing in the Malacca strait.

With no debris found yet, authorities have not ruled out any possible cause, including mechanical failure, pilot error, sabotage or terrorism.

Crews from several nations, including the United States, have been scouring the area for any sign of the missing plane. On Wednesday, Vietnam said it was scaling back its search in its waters.

China, however, said it would add two planes to the rescue mission and would broaden its search to include land areas.

Earlier, investigators had focused on two passengers who were traveling on stolen passports. But authorities later identified the two men as Iranians with no apparent ties to terrorism. They bought their tickets through an Iranian middleman and were both scheduled to fly on to Europe, where investigators believe they planned to seek asylum.

via Confusion grows over missing Malaysian Airlines plane – CBS News.

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