accuses

Nazi-hunter accuses France of ‘complicity’ in genocide

PARIS — France’s best-known Nazi hunter, Serge Klarsfeld, accused his country’s government during World War II of “complicity in a crime against humanity and genocide.”

Klarsfeld, a Holocaust survivor and historian, who, in 2014, received France’s highest civil honor together with his wife, Beate, made the assertion in an interview with the French news agency Agence-Presse France, published Saturday, on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv deportations.

On July 16 and 17, 1942, French police officers rounded up more than 13,000 Jews at the Winter Stadium, or Velodrome d’Hiver. The men, women, and children were imprisoned there for days in unsanitary conditions and without sufficient water, leading to dozens of fatalities, including through suicide. Then the Jews were transported, partly on French national railway wagons, to Nazi death camps in Eastern Europe.

More than 1,000 people, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attended the commemoration of the 75th anniversary Sunday near a monument that was erected where the stadium, which was demolished decades ago, used to stand.

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) listens to Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld (2nd R) during a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv roundup in Paris on July 16, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Kamil Zihnioglu)

Earlier, Klarsfeld accompanied Macron to a new memorial space, opened near the main Vel d’Hiv monument for Jewish children who were murdered by the Nazis, with help from French authorities.

“It’s not an appeal to sentiment,” Klarsfeld, who is a prominent member of the executive board of the Memorial for the Shoah group in France, told the president, “but to historical accuracy.” Macron told him: “Thank you for the work that you do.”

French presidents rarely attend the annual commemoration for the Vel d’Hiv deportations.

Earlier this month, the Communist Party of France condemned Netanyahu’s attendance at the Vel d’Hiv commemoration. An Israeli prime minister had not yet attended the annual ceremony, which is an official day of commemoration in France. The ceremony “is about peace, whereas the Israeli prime minister is a man of war,” the party said in a statement.

But Klarsfeld defended Netanyahu’s presence there as “totally appropriate.” He disputed that the ceremony was about peace, arguing it was about remembrance. “If there was a State of Israel, a Jewish state, in 1942, Vel d’Hiv would not have happened,” Klarsfeld said.

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US accuses Syria of mass executions and burning bodies in crematorium

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration accused the Syrian government Monday of carrying out mass killings of thousands of prisoners and burning the bodies in a large crematorium outside the capital. It also stepped up criticism of Iran and Russia for supporting the Syrian government.

The allegation came as US President Donald Trump is weighed options in Syria, where the US attacked a government air base last month in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians.

But Trump hasn’t outlined a larger strategy for ending the Arab country’s civil war or ushering Syrian President Bashar Assad out of power. These questions were sure to arise in his meeting at the White House with the United Arab Emirates’ crown prince Monday, a day before Turkey’s president arrives.

The State Department said it believed that about 50 detainees a day are being hanged at Saydnaya military prison, about 45 minutes north of Damascus. Many of the bodies, it said, are then burned in the crematorium.

Acting assistant secretary for the US State Department Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones speaks at a news conference at the US Embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, October 1, 2015. (AP/Khalid Mohammed)

“We believe that the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place,” said Stuart Jones, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, in accusing the Syrian government of sinking “to a new level of depravity.”

The department released commercial satellite photographs showing what it described as a building in the prison complex that was modified to support the crematorium. The photographs, taken over the course of several years, beginning in 2013, do not definitely prove the building is a crematorium, but they show construction consistent with such use.

In presenting the photographs, Jones called on Russia and Iran to press Assad’s government to establish a credible cease-fire with Syrian rebel groups and begin negotiations on a political settlement.

“We are appalled by the atrocities that have been carried out by the Syrian regime and these atrocities have been carried out seemingly with the unconditional support from Russia and Iran,” Jones said.

A satellite image of what the State Department described as a building in a prison complex in Syria that was modified to support a crematorium, April 18, 2017. (State Department/DigitalGlobe via AP)

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had been “firm and clear” in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week that “Russia holds tremendous influence over Bashar al-Assad.”

A main point of that meeting “was telling Russia to use its power to rein in the regime,” she said. “Simply put, the killing, the devastation has gone on for far too long in Syria.”

The war has killed as many as 400,000 people since 2011. It has contributed to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and enabled the Islamic State group to emerge as a global terrorism threat.

Trump travels to the Middle East later this week on his first official foreign trip.

Hamas accuses Abbas of ‘crimes against humanity’ in Gaza

Senior Hamas officials stepped up a war of words with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over the weekend, accusing him of “crimes against humanity” over his plans to pressure the terror group to cede control of the Gaza Strip.

Speaking at a Hamas-organized protest in Gaza City against the measures taken by the PA, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior member of Hamas’s political bureau, called the measures “a crime against humanity.”

“The criminals in the PA, you cut off power to the innocent people of the Strip, so God will cut off power to your hearts,” he added.

On Sunday, Ismail Haniyeh, the former Gaza leader for Hamas who is poised to take over soon as chief of the organization worldwide,called Abbas “delusional.”

Last week, the PA informed Israel it would no longer pay for electricity provided by Israel to Gaza, despite the Strip already facing a crippling power shortage. The PA earlier in April also cut salaries to its employees in the coastal enclave by 30 percent and slashed salaries the PA pays to Gazan families of Palestinian “martyrs” and prisoners.

The Hamas terror group seized power in Gaza in 2007 from the Ramallah-based Fatah organization of Abbas.

Since then, however, the PA has continued to use a large portion of its limited budget to pay for vital infrastructure in the enclave.

Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar speaks on the movement's Al-Aqsa TV on March 8, 2017. (Screen shot/MEMRI)

Abbas warned earlier in April that he would take “unprecedented” measures aimed at forcing Hamas to either take full responsibility for the territory it governs, or to relinquish control back to the PA.

PA leaders have since warned Ramallah they would take more steps if Hamas did not give in.

The renewed push by the PA to regain a foothold in Gaza comes ahead of Abbas’s meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House later this week. In the lead-up to the Washington confab, Abbas is under pressure to show that he represents all Palestinians, including those in Gaza.

On Sunday, Haniyeh said Hamas had no intention of giving in to Abbas’s demands, but that Hamas was open to continuing dialogue to reconcile differences with Fatah.

However, he added, “whoever thinks he can bring Gaza to its knees is delusional. Because Gaza, its resistance, sacrifices, symbols and martyrs are in the heart of the Palestinian people.”

Currently, the energy shortage in Gaza, caused by the enclave’s only power plant not having any fuel, has left the Strip’s residents with as little as four hours of power a day.

Hamas refuses to buy diesel oil for its only operating power station from the PA, saying that Ramallah is levying too high a tax on the fuel.

Palestinian children at the entrance of a shop using a generator during a power cut in a poor neighborhood of Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip, April 17, 2017. (AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)

The World Bank said on Thursday the power cuts have led to a “humanitarian crisis,” hitting hospitals, clinics, water supply and other vital services, as well as household needs.

It is not clear if Israel will stop supplying power to Gaza, which would lead to a near-complete shutdown of the Strip.

Israel could continue to bill for the electricity it supplies and raise the money from taxes that it collects for the PA.

In 2016, the PA’s overall budget was $4.14 billion, of which the Gaza Strip’s share was $1.65 billion – approximately 40%.

At the same time, Hamas has continued to impose high taxes on Gaza’s residents, while funneling the revenue into its coffers and military wing for weaponry to fight Israel. PA officials have estimated that Hamas has earned over a $1 billion from the taxes it raises.

White House Accuses Russia of Cover-Up in Syria Chemical Attack

WASHINGTON — The White House accused Russia on Tuesday of engaging in a cover-up of the Syrian government’s role in a chemical weapons attack last week, saying that United States intelligence had confirmed that the Assad regime used sarin gas on its own people.

A four-page report drawn up by the National Security Council contains declassified United States intelligence on the attack and a rebuttal of Moscow’s claim that insurgents unleashed the gas to frame the Syrian government. Instead, the White House asserted that Damascus and Moscow had released “false narratives” to mislead the world.

The document also urges international condemnation of Syria’s use of chemical weapons and harshly criticizes Russia for “shielding” an ally that has used weapons of mass destruction.

The release of the dossier at a White House briefing on Tuesday marked a striking shift by President Trump, who entered office praising President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia but now appears bent on pressuring him. The accusations came as Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state, was preparing for meetings in Moscow on Wednesday, and as Congress and the F.B.I. are investigating potential ties between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia.

“It’s no question that Russia is isolated,” said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary. He said only Moscow and what he described as the “failed states” of Syria, North Korea and Iran disputed Damascus’s responsibility.

“This is not exactly a happy-time cocktail party of people you want to be associated with,” Mr. Spicer added. His choice of language in criticizing the Syrian government set off an intense backlash, after he suggested that President Bashar al-Assad was worse than Hitler — without acknowledging that Hitler gassed his own people during the Holocaust.

At the Kremlin on Tuesday, Mr. Putin spoke emphatically against the American accusations, saying he would request a formal examination by the United Nations and the international community and trying to cast doubt on the Trump administration’s conclusions. Mr. Putin compared the White House’s arguments to the erroneous intelligence findings on weapons of mass destruction that drew the United States into war with Iraq in 2003.

“To my mind, this strongly resembles what happened in 2003 when representatives of the United States showed in the Security Council what was supposed to be chemical weapons found in Iraq,” Mr. Putin said after a meeting with President Sergio Mattarella of Italy. Using an acronym for the Islamic State, he added, “A military campaign in Iraq ensued, and it ended in devastation of the country, growth of the terror threat and emergence of ISIL on the international scene.”

Mr. Trump on Tuesday defended the missile strikes after the chemical attack, even as he declared that United States involvement in Syria would be limited.

“We’re not going into Syria,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Fox News. “What I did should have been done by the Obama administration a long time before I did it, and you would have had a much better — I think Syria would have been a lot better off right now than it has been.”

That was a stark reversal from his position in 2013, when Mr. Trump implored President Barack Obama not to attack Syria, arguing there was “no upside and tremendous downside.”

Senior White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the declassified intelligence report, said Russia’s goal was to cover up the Syrian government’s culpability for the chemical attack. They asserted that the Syrian government, under pressure from opposition forces around the country and lacking enough troops to respond, used the lethal nerve agent sarin to target rebels who were threatening government-held territory.

During his daily White House news briefing, Mr. Spicer would not comment on the possibility that the Russian government had known in advance of Syria’s plan to carry out the chemical attack, or to launch a subsequent assault on a hospital that was treating victims.

“There’s no consensus within the intelligence community that there was involvement” by Russia, Mr. Spicer said.

But later on Tuesday, Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, said she believed that the Russians had foreknowledge of the chemical attack.

“I think that they knew,” Ms. Haley told CNN in an interview.

Officials also noted that Russia, which brokered the 2013 agreement by which Syria agreed to surrender its chemical weapons, has repeatedly rejected evidence that Mr. Assad’s regime is still using them.

“Moscow’s response to the April 4 attack follows a familiar pattern of its responses to other egregious actions,” the report said. “It spins out multiple, conflicting accounts in order to create confusion and sow doubt within the international community.”

The tense back-and-forth between Washington and Moscow unfolded as Mr. Tillerson, in Italy on Tuesday, said that Mr. Assad’s reign in Syria was “coming to an end,” and warned that Russia was at risk of rendering itself irrelevant in the Middle East by continuing to support him.

He said Russia was either incompetent or inattentive in its failure to secure and destroy Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles. “But this distinction doesn’t much matter to the dead,” Mr. Tillerson said. “We can’t let this happen again.”

At the Pentagon, several officials said the presence of Russian personnel at the Al Shayrat airfield, used to launch the chemical strike, points to at least a possibility that Russia knew about the chemical attack. But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Tuesday refused to make that direct accusation.

“It was very clear that the Assad regime planned it, orchestrated it and executed it,” Mr. Mattis said at a news conference, when asked whether Russia was involved. “We know what I’ve just told you. We don’t know anything beyond that.”

Mr. Mattis also declined to confirm reports that a Russian drone was flying over a hospital treating victims of the chemical attack last week, in advance of the hospital being bombed. While several United States officials have suggested privately that the hospital was targeted in an effort hide evidence of the chemical attack, Mr. Mattis appeared to be taking pains at Tuesday’s news conference to point his finger solely at Syria, at least for now.

“We have gone back through and looked at all the evidence,” Mr. Mattis said. “It is very clear who planned the attack, who authorized it and who executed it. There is no doubt at all.”

The Trump administration’s dossier appeared to suggest a broader effort to generate international consensus for a forceful response to the Syrian government’s actions. White House officials said they were eagerly awaiting action by the United Nations and the results of a fact-finding mission by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international body charged with enforcing the global chemical weapons ban.

Britain, France and the United States are pushing for a vote as early as Wednesday on a draft United Nations Security Council resolution that would condemn the use of chemical attacks and remind the Syrian government to cooperate with international investigators. A verbal confrontation with Russia is likely, and possibly a veto.

Much of the White House report was devoted to rebutting Russia’s claim that the chemical attack last week, which it said killed as many as 100 people, including “many children,” was actually the result of a Syrian airstrike against a terrorist depot in the town of Khan Sheikhoun that contained chemical weapons. The report cited a video and commercial satellite imagery that showed that the chemical weapon had landed in the middle of a road, not at a weapons facility.

White House officials also said American intelligence agencies did not believe that the Islamic State or other terrorist groups had sarin gas.

The report also rejected Moscow’s claim that the attack was a “prank of a provocative nature” and denied Russian suggestions that the substance used might not have been sarin.

“Victims of the attack on April 4 displayed telltale symptoms of nerve agent exposure, including pinpoint pupils, foaming at the nose and mouth, and twitching,” the report said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Putin repeated his claim that opposition forces had essentially tried to frame the Syrian government by placing chemical weapons in civilian areas and blaming Mr. Assad’s forces.

“We have information from various sources that similar provocations — and I have no other word for that — are being prepared in other regions of Syria, including southern suburbs of Damascus, where they intend to plant certain substance again and accuse official Syrian authorities of using it,” Mr. Putin said.

But White House officials said antigovernment forces could not have fabricated the volume of evidence that points to the Assad regime’s responsibility.

In seeking to rebut Russia’s claim, the report went into detail about the carnage last week. It said social media reports placed the start of the attack at 6:55 a.m. in Khan Sheikhoun, in Idlib Province. The United States’ assessment is that Su-22 bombers took off from the Al Shayrat airfield and delivered the chemical agent. It also asserts that “personnel historically associated with Syria’s chemical weapons program” had been at the airfield in late March preparing for an attack, and on the day it was carried out.

U.S. Accuses Russian Email Spammer of Vast Network of Fraud

Several years ago, federal agents traveled to Moscow to enlist the help of their Russian counterparts in arresting one of the world’s most pernicious email spammers. They were rebuffed, a former American law enforcement official who was there said. The spammer, who used the pseudonym Peter Severa, was protected, probably by the Russian government, and could not be touched.

The agents went home and waited for their target to make a mistake.

Last week he did, traveling for vacation to Barcelona, Spain, where the agents who had been following him for years were ready. Early last Friday, Spanish police burst into the hotel room where the spammer was staying with his family and arrested him. Simultaneously, cybersecurity operatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and several private companies took down his online network of tens of thousands of virus-infected computers.

On Monday, the Department of Justice unsealed court papers accusing the spammer, whose real name is Peter Levashov, of wire fraud and unauthorized interception of electronic communications. Mr. Levashov, 36, is expected to be extradited to the United States.

Officials said Mr. Levashov’s arrest and the takedown of his network ended a vast criminal enterprise. For more than a decade, Mr. Levashov used his online empire to enrich himself and help others drain bank accounts and commit stock fraud, officials said. He has flooded computers with millions of spam email messages advertising counterfeit pharmaceuticals and remedies for erectile dysfunction, using subject lines like “No amorous failure risk.”

Despite Russian news media reports to the contrary, American officials said Mr. Levashov played no role in attempts by Russian government hackers to meddle in the 2016 presidential election and support the candidacy of Donald J. Trump.

But as the Trump administration’s early hopes of a rapprochement with the Kremlin have given way to increasing rancor, Mr. Levashov’s arrest is certain to heighten tensions. In the past, the Kremlin deplored such arrests as tantamount to kidnapping. An advisory on the website of the Foreign Ministry accused the United States of “hunting Russians around the world,” and urged citizens to take precautions. Mr. Levashov was captured three months after the arrest of Stanislav Lisov, a Russian hacking suspect, also in Barcelona.

The arrests are likely to increase discord when Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson visits Moscow this week.

Government agents and cybersecurity analysts have followed Mr. Levashov since at least 2006. In that time, he has made a fortune clogging inboxes with spam using a network of computers infected with a malware known as Kelihos.

The cost of a spam campaign ranged from $200 to $500 per one million email messages, though he offered discounts of more than 50 percent for bulk orders. Mr. Levashov charged more to target American computers, an indication that these were a higher priority, court documents said.

Mr. Levashov was also known to rent his huge network of virus-infected computers to online criminals who would use it to tap bank accounts and distribute ransomware, viruses that encrypt data in an infected computer or smartphone.

At times, cybersecurity specialists said, Mr. Levashov had control of more than 100,000 computers. He has already been indicted twice in the United States on wire and computer fraud charges.

“He was a kingpin in the criminal underground,” said Brett Stone-Gross, a cybersecurity analyst who has tracked Mr. Levashov for years.

Despite his sprawling criminal enterprise, Mr. Levashov appears to have lived openly and lavishly in St. Petersburg, his hometown. He had a large home and bodyguards and traveled around town in an armored sedan, according to someone with knowledge of the investigation into his activities, who asked to remain anonymous because the information is confidential. His wife was said to be a high-end wedding planner sought by St. Petersburg’s elite.

Though he engaged primarily in criminal exploits, Mr. Levashov appears to have occasionally dabbled in politics, suggesting collusion with the Russian government.

During Russia’s 2012 presidential election, his computer network was used to spread fake news stories about one of Vladimir V. Putin’s opponents, the billionaire businessman and Brooklyn Nets owner, Mikhail D. Prokhorov, saying he had come out as gay.

Text overlaid on a picture of Mr. Prokhorov said, “Everybody who knows me knows I am a,” followed by an anti-gay slur.

Some have speculated that Mr. Levashov also helped carry out a huge assault on Estonian government and banking computers in 2007 that is considered one of the first examples of cyberwarfare. The attack is widely believed to have been retaliation by Russia after Estonian authorities removed a World War II memorial to Soviet soldiers from its pedestal in the center of the capital, Tallinn.

Cooperation between Russian government agencies and cybercriminals is not uncommon. Russian hackers have access to the contents of millions of infected computers around the world, and there is evidence that Russian intelligence agencies piggyback on their criminal operations as a form of cheap intelligence gathering.

Last month, the Justice Department indicted two Russian intelligence agents, accusing them of working with a suspect in criminal hacking to breach Yahoo and steal account information from hundreds of millions of users.

Current and former F.B.I. agents said they have rarely, if ever, received help from Russia to arrest cybercrime suspects. More often than not, they said, the hacker is recruited to work for the government.

Sending spam is not illegal in Russia, and cybercriminals usually avoid directing more harmful attacks against computers on Russian territory.

When arrests do occur, it is because the suspect enters a country that has a collaborative law enforcement relationship with the United States.

It is not clear why Mr. Levashov would risk traveling abroad. Cybersecurity researchers had long ago guessed his true identity, and in recent years American law enforcement has stepped up arrests of criminal suspects from Russia. The Russian foreign ministry estimates that as many as three dozen Russian citizens have been arrested under similar circumstances at the behest of American authorities.

In late March, the F.B.I. received information that Mr. Levashov had left his home in St. Petersburg and traveled to Spain. American officials would not comment on how they learned of his travel plans or say whether the Russian government had cooperated.

To shut down the criminal network, specialists at the F.B.I.’s field office in Anchorage and two cybersecurity companies, CrowdStrike and Shadowserver, took advantage of a flaw in the Kelihos malware to gain access to computers controlled by Mr. Levashov and reroute them to an F.B.I. controlled server called a sinkhole.

During the operation, the F.B.I. for the first time used powers granted under amendments to what is known as Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which give broad authorization to hack into virus-infected computers. Officials said that this was done to wrest control of the computers from Mr. Levashov and that no hard drives were searched.

Mr. Levashov will remain imprisoned in Spain while American officials negotiate his extradition.

ARAB MK LIKENS SYRIA TO GAZA, ACCUSES ISRAEL OF ‘HYPOCRITICAL’ RESPONSES

 

http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Arab-MK-blames-Israel-of-hypocrisy-over-responses-to-Syria-Gaza-486305

 

MK Hanin Zoabli (Joint List) said Thursday that Israelis are hypocritical for condemning and expressing their shock over the harsh images of the deadly recent attacks in Syria, but remain silent when it comes to Gaza.

In an interview with Israel Radio, Zoabi questioned why she was never asked to comment on the deadly airstrikes in Gaza, in which children were killed.

 

“This is hypocrisy,” she said. “Why didn’t you interview me when you [the IDF] slaughtered the children and babies in Gaza? If the Syrian army were coming to liberate the occupied Golan Heights, was your conscience ‘kicking’ or would you attack the children of Syria and bombard them?”

“This is outrageous and hypocritical,” she added.

Zoabi then condemned the Syrian President Bashar Assad, but added that the how she sees it, the IDF is no better. “Bashar is a war criminal, and what has happened since the Syrian revolution started in 2011 is a massacre. I did not start saying this when we found out yesterday about the use of chemical weapons, but throughout the past five years.”

“But the Israeli army is a war criminal as well,” she added. “Both of them should be put on trial in the [International Court of Justice in the] Hague. Both of them are saying that they will do whatever they can to win.”

After a vocal argument with the hosts of the show, Zoabi was cut off the air.

In response to Zobai, MK Oded Forer (Yisrael Beytenu) said that these remarks reveal the true face of the Arab Joint List.

“While hundreds of people are being slaughtered by chemical weapons in Syria, they are trying to make this massacre to another opportunity to defame the State of Israel and the IDF,” he said. “Now we have no doubt about the Joint List and their actual intentions.”

“I recommend they go back to Syria and Gaza, and express their opinions freely in the democracies there,” he added.

The remarks came after Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh sparked controversy on Wednesday when he said in the Knesset plenum that his heart “aches for the children in Syria, just as it is saddened to see the children killed in Yemen or Gaza.”

Odeh refused to comment to his fellow lawmakers who asked him to clarify who is responsible to the death of children in Gaza.

Assad accuses Israel of waging war against Syria via rebels

Syrian President Bashar Assad accused Israel of supporting “terrorists” fighting against the Syrian regime as part of an ongoing war between the two countries.

In an interview with a Croatian newspaper published in English Thursday by Syria’s official news agency SANA, Assad said that while the Israeli and Syrian armies may not be fighting each other directly, what he called Israel’s support for groups battling his regime amounts to a war between them.

“Concern about a war is unrealistic, because the reality is that we are living this war. But as for calling it a Syrian-Israeli war, you can assume in any case that these terrorists are fighting for Israel,” he said.

“It is a war that has taken a new form and uses new instruments,” he said. “Even if they are not a regular Israeli army, they are still fighting for Israel,” he added.

Assad and other Syrian officials have repeatedly accused Israel of working in tandem with rebel groups, pointing to reported strikes on regime targets. Israel has largely stayed out of the Syrian war, though it says it has carried out air strikes to stop weapons transfers to Hezbollah and has hit regime positions in response to mortars and small-arms fire that stray over the border, no matter the source.

Nonetheless, Assad said Israel is working in tandem with the United States, Britain, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others, as they “all share the same objective” of the defeat of the Syrian dictator.

“Practically, our victory over the terrorists is a victory over all those states put together. That’s why Israel is doing its best to support these terrorists in every place the Syrian Army advances,” he said.

A picture taken on April 1, 2017 near the town of Qumhanah in the countryside of the central province of Hama, shows members of the Syrian government forces advancing towards the frontlines. (AFP Photo/Stringer)

A picture taken on April 1, 2017 near the town of Qumhanah in the countryside of the central province of Hama, shows members of the Syrian government forces advancing towards the frontlines. (AFP Photo/Stringer)

Last month, Assad also claimed that Israel was supporting “terrorists” fighting against the Syrian regime, “whether logistically, or through direct raids on our army.”

Although Israel has remained largely mum over whether it provides support for rebel groups in Syria, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said in 2015 that the Jewish state has provided humanitarian aid to fighters helping to advance its goals.

Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Israel has sought to refrain from getting directly involved in the conflict, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted in April 2016 for the first time that Israel had attacked dozens of convoys transporting weapons in Syria destined for Hezbollah, which fought a 2006 war with Israel and is now battling alongside the Damascus regime.

Last month, Syria fired surface-to-air missiles at Israeli fighter jets returning to Israel after carrying out an airstrike on a weapons convoy destined for Hezbollah.

An Israel Air Force F-16 fighter jet fires off flares during a demonstration on December 31, 2015. (Hagar Amibar/Israel Air Force/Flickr)

An Israel Air Force F-16 fighter jet fires off flares during a demonstration on December 31, 2015. (Hagar Amibar/Israel Air Force/Flickr)

One missile was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow missile defense battery, military officials said, in the first reported use of the advanced system.

It was the most serious incident between the two countries since the Syrian civil war began six years ago.

In the interview published Thursday, Assad did not address the chemical weapons attack on the rebel held village of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria on Tuesday, in which at least 72 people were killed, among them 20 children.

The US and EU have blamed Assad as being responsible for the attack, as has Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, although Syria’s army has denied it used chemical weapons, as has its patron Russia, saying it “has never used them, anytime, anywhere, and will not do so in the future.”

Assad also said that while he does not predict a victory for his regime and his Russian and Iranian backers this year, he believes that momentum is on their side.

“Of course, things are moving in a better direction, as I said, not in the interest of the terrorists but in the interest of the Syrian people, but war is unpredictable,” he said.

“We have a great hope which is becoming greater; and this hope is built on confidence, for without confidence there wouldn’t be any hope.”

Syrians walking past a giant poster of Syrian President Bashar Assad (L) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (R) in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, March 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Joseph Eid/ File)

Syrians walking past a giant poster of Syrian President Bashar Assad (L) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (R) in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, March 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Joseph Eid/ File)

He also said that he sees the conflict as one he must win.

“We do not have any other option except victory. If we do not win this war, it means that Syria will be deleted from the map. We have no choice in facing this war, and that’s why we are confident, we are persistent and we are determined.”

Journalist Accuses Israel of Fukushima Sabotage

By Richard Walker

A leading Japanese journalist recently made two incredible claims about the Fukushima power plant that suffered a nuclear meltdown in March 2011, sending shockwaves around the world. First, the former editor of a national newspaper in Japan says the U.S. and Israel knew Fukushima had weapons-grade uranium and plutonium that were exposed to the atmosphere after a massive tsunami wave hit the reactor. Second, he  contends that Israeli intelligence sabotaged the reactor in retaliation for Japan’s support of an independent Palestinian state.

According to Yoichi Shimatsu, a former editor of Japan Times Weekly, these nuclear materials were shipped to the plant in 2007 on the orders of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, with the connivance of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The shipment was in the form of warhead cores secretly removed from the U.S. nuclear warheads facility BWXT Plantex near Amarillo, Texas. While acting as the middleman, Israel transported warheads from the port of Houston, and in the process kept the best ones while giving the Japanese older warhead cores that had to be further enriched at Fukushima.

Shimatsu credits retired CIA agent and mercenary Roland Vincent Carnaby with learning the warheads were being transported from Houston. In a strange twist, Carnaby was mysteriously shot dead less than a year later by Houston police at a traffic stop. He was shot once in the back and once in the chest. He did not have a weapon in his hands. Intelligence sources said he had been tracking a Mossad unit that was smuggling U.S. plutonium out of Houston docks for an Israeli nuclear reactor.

In an even more explosive charge, the journalist says that 20 minutes before the Fukushima plant’s nuclear meltdown, Israel was so upset with Japanese support for a Palestinian declaration of statehood that it double-crossed Japan by unleashing the Stuxnet virus on the plant’s  computers. The virus hampered the shutdown, leading to fallout from a section of the plant housing uranium and plutonium retrieved from the warheads supplied in 2007.

While it is impossible to verify some of Shimatsu’s claims, there was a massive cover-up at the time of the Fukushima disaster in March.  Explosions at the site were immediately downplayed. While it was subsequently reported that three reactors suffered meltdowns, Japanese authorities tried to rate the disaster as a Level 4 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, although outside experts declared it a 7, which is the highest level.

Something worth noting is how in 2009, two years after Shimatsu says the warheads were secretly moved to Japan, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a veiled warning to Japan not to abandon its anti-nuclear weapons policy.

The IAEA had to know, however, that Japan has long retained the potential to build nuclear weapons. That was made clear as far back as 1996 when a leaked Ministry of Foreign Affairs document exposed how Japan had been promoting a dual strategy in respect to nuclear weapons since the mid-1960s. It would often publicly profess a non-nuclear policy while maintaining the ability to build a nuclear arsenal. The Liberal Democratic Party, which has dominated Japanese politics, has always said there is no constitutional impediment to nukes.

A factor that undoubtedly would have encouraged the Bush-Cheney White House to provide Japan with the means to secretly build nukes was the growing power of China. Cheney and Bush sought to arm Japan and India with nuclear weapons as a means of curbing China.

Turkey’s Erdogan accuses Germany of ‘Nazi practices’

ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out Sunday at Germany for blocking several rallies there ahead of an April vote in Turkey on boosting his powers as head of state, likening it to Nazi practices.

“Your practices are not different from the Nazi practices of the past,” Erdogan told a women’s rally in Istanbul, ahead of an April 16 referendum on whether to approve changes to the constitution.

“I thought it’s been a long time since Germany left [Nazi practices]. We are mistaken,” he said.

Several German towns prevented appearances by Erdogan’s ministers last week, citing security and safety concerns.

The cancellations have infuriated the Turkish government, which accused Berlin of working against the “Yes” campaign in the referendum and summoned the German ambassador to the foreign ministry in protest.

“You will lecture us about democracy and then you will not let this country’s ministers speak there,” said an angry Erdogan, adding that Germany was not “respecting opinion and thought.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday called Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to try to defuse the row, and the two countries’ foreign ministers are set to meet later this week.

Rights group accuses Syria of 8 chemical attacks in Aleppo

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A human rights group accused the Syrian government on Monday of conducting at least eight chemical attacks using chlorine gas on opposition-controlled residential areas during the final months in the battle for Aleppo.

Human Rights Watch said in a report released Monday that it used witness interviews and video footage to document government helicopters carrying out the attacks in rebel-held eastern Aleppo that killed at least nine civilians, including four children, and injured around 200 people.

The attacks took place in areas where government forces were planning to advance, following the front lines as they moved from east to west, the rights group said.

Ole Solvang, the organization’s deputy emergencies director, said: “The pattern of the chlorine attacks shows that they were coordinated with the overall military strategy for retaking Aleppo, not the work of a few rogue elements.”

The Syrian government has previously denied any chemical attacks.

Human Rights Watch said the attacks were carried out between November 17 and December 13 — two days before President Bashar Assad’s forces took control of eastern Aleppo in a humiliating defeat for opposition fighters trying to oust the Syrian leader.

Syrian pro-government forces advance in the Jisr al-Haj neighbourhood during the ongoing military operation to retake remaining rebel-held areas in the northern embattled city of Aleppo on December 14, 2016. (AFP Photo/George Ourfalian)

Syrian pro-government forces advance in the Jisr al-Haj neighbourhood during the ongoing military operation to retake remaining rebel-held areas in the northern embattled city of Aleppo on December 14, 2016. (AFP Photo/George Ourfalian)

In five of the chemical attacks, the rights group said it reviewed photographs or video footage of remnants of chemical-filled improvised munitions posted online or shared with Human Rights Watch. In all five, it said, the footage showed the same type of yellow gas cylinder and on one remnant a label was still visible with a warning that the cylinder contained gas.

Human Rights Watch said opposition-affiliated groups, first responders, activists and journalists reported that government forces also carried out chemical attacks in other locations in Syria during the same period.

While chlorine has many civilian uses, the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria joined in October 2013 bans the use of the toxic properties of any chemical as a weapon.

Inspectors charged with determining who is responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria have determined that the Syrian government was behind at least three attacks involving chlorine gas in 2014 and 2015 and the Islamic State extremist group was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas in 2015.

Illustrative photo: A Syrian victim who suffered an alleged chemical attack at Khan al-Assal village -- according to SANA -- receives treatment by doctors at a hospital in Aleppo, Syria, March 19. (AP/SANA)

Illustrative photo: A Syrian victim who suffered an alleged chemical attack at Khan al-Assal village — according to SANA — receives treatment by doctors at a hospital in Aleppo, Syria, March 19. (AP/SANA)

The United States, Britain and France have been pressing the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on the Syrian government for using chemical weapons. But Russia, Syria’s closest ally, has repeatedly questioned investigators’ conclusions linking chemical weapons use to the Assad regime.

Britain and France have drafted a Security Council resolution that would impose sanctions on 11 Syrians and 10 Syrian organizations and companies allegedly involved in chemical weapons attacks in the war-ravaged country. But the resolution faces strong opposition from Russia.

Human Rights Watch called on the Syrian government to immediately stop using chemical weapons and urged the Security Council to impose sanctions on senior leaders in Syria’s chain of command. It also urged the 192 parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention to address Syria’s alleged violations of the treaty.