Trump asks Colombia’s help to end Venezuela political crisis

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday that he intends to work closely with his Colombian counterpart to find a solution to spiraling violence in Venezuela.

Sitting side by side with President Juan Manuel Santos in the Oval Office, Trump said he will seek Colombia’s help in pressuring neighboring Venezuela to address the near-daily protests and violence that have shaken President Nicolas Maduro’s grip on power.

At least 40 people have been killed and hundreds injured in protests that erupted after Venezuela’s supreme court issued a ruling in late March stripping the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its last remaining powers. The ruling was later partially reversed amid a storm of international criticism.

The meeting came as the Trump administration rolled out new sanctions Thursday on members of Venezuela’s supreme court for alleged human rights violations.

“A stable and peaceful Venezuela is in the best interest of the entire hemisphere,” Trump said at a joint news conference. “We will be working with Colombia and other countries on the Venezuela problem. It is a very, very horrible problem.”

Driving the latest outrage is a decree by Maduro to begin the process of rewriting Venezuela’s constitution. The opposition rejects that plan as another attempt by the president to tighten his grip on power, and opposition leaders are calling on Venezuelans to continue to take to the streets in protest.

Santos is the third Latin American leader to meet with Trump since he took office, after the leaders of Peru and Argentina. The president’s bullish policies toward illegal immigration and his proposed border wall with Mexico have incensed many across Latin America who say they are being unfairly targeted. The dispute led Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto to cancel his trip to Washington weeks after Trump took office.

Santos has been among the critics of Trump’s proposed wall, though he avoided outwardly criticizing the plan during their joint remarks.

Trump defended his proposed border wall Thursday, saying, “Walls work, just ask Israel.”

Santos is looking for Trump’s support on a number of domestic issues. His government signed a peace accord last year with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, ending one of the world’s bloodiest and longest-running armed conflicts. The rebel group agreed to turn over 30 percent of its arsenal of assault rifles, machine guns and explosives.

 

The Trump administration is also looking to work with Colombia to stem the flow of drugs into the U.S. from Latin America. “We have a problem with drugs, and you have a very big problem with drugs,” Trump said to Santos at the start of their meeting.

Santos said he is committed to working with the United States and other countries in Latin America “to fight the other links in the chain,” saying they will join forces to “seize cocaine in transit.”

Santos is a graduate of the University of Kansas and holds a master’s degree from Harvard University.

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Scientists Create Artificial Womb That Could Help Prematurely Born Babies

An illustration of a fetal lamb inside the “artificial womb” device, which mimics the conditions inside a pregnant animal.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Scientists have created an “artificial womb” in the hopes of someday using the device to save babies born extremely prematurely.

So far the device has only been tested on fetal lambs. A study published Tuesday involving eight animals found the device appears effective at enabling very premature fetuses to develop normally for about a month.

“We’ve been extremely successful in replacing the conditions in the womb in our lamb model,” says Alan Flake, a fetal surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who led the study published in the journal Nature Communications.

“They’ve had normal growth. They’ve had normal lung maturation. They’ve had normal brain maturation. They’ve had normal development in every way that we can measure it,” Flake says.

Flake says the group hopes to test the device on very premature human babies within three to five years.

“What we tried to do is develop a system that mimics the environment of the womb as closely as possible,” Flake says. “It’s basically an artificial womb.”

Inside an artificial womb

The device consists of a clear plastic bag filled with synthetic amniotic fluid. A machine outside the bag is attached to the umbilical cord to function like a placenta, providing nutrition and oxygen to the blood and removing carbon dioxide.

“The whole idea is to support normal development; to re-create everything that the mother does in every way that we can to support normal fetal development and maturation,” Flake says.

Other researchers praised the advance, saying it could help thousands of babies born very prematurely each year, if tests in humans were to prove successful.

Jay Greenspan, a pediatrician at Thomas Jefferson University, called the device a “technological miracle” that marks “a huge step to try to do something that we’ve been trying to do for many years.”

The device could also help scientists learn more about normal fetal development, says Thomas Shaffer a professor of physiology and pediatrics at Temple University.

Enlarge this image

Alan Flake, a fetal surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, led the study published in the journal Nature Communications.

/Ed Cunicelli/The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

“I think this is a major breakthrough,” Shaffer says.

The device in the fetal lamb experiment is kept in a dark, warm room where researchers can play the sounds of the mother’s heart for the lamb fetus and monitor the fetus with ultrasounds.

Previous research has shown that lamb fetuses are good models for human fetal development.

“If you can just use this device as a bridge for the fetus then you can have a dramatic impact on the outcomes of extremely premature infants,” Flake says. “This would be a huge deal.”

But others say the device raises ethical issues, including many questions about whether it would ever be acceptable to test it on humans.

“There are all kinds of possibilities for stress and pain with not, at the beginning, a whole lot of likelihood for success,” says Dena Davis, a bioethicist at Lehigh University.

Flake says ethical concerns need to be balanced against the risk of death and severe disabilities babies often suffer when they are born very prematurely. A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. A human device would be designed for those born 23 or 24 weeks into pregnancy.

Only about half of such babies survive and, of those that do, about 90 percent suffer severe complications, such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, seizures, paralysis, blindness and deafness, Flake says.

About 30,000 babies are born earlier than 26 weeks into pregnancy each year in the United States, according to the researchers.

Potential ethical concerns

Davis worries that the device is not necessarily a good solution for human fetuses.

“If it’s a difference between a baby dying rather peacefully and a baby dying under conditions of great stress and discomfort then, no, I don’t think it’s better,” Davis says.

“If it’s a question of a baby dying versus a baby being born who then needs to live its entire life in an institution, then I don’t think that’s better. Some parents might think that’s better, but many would not,” she says.

And even if it works, Davis also worries about whether this could blur the line between a fetus and a baby.

“Up to now, we’ve been either born or not born. This would be halfway born, or something like that. Think about that in terms of our abortion politics,” she says.

Some worry that others could take this technology further. Other scientists are already keeping embryos alive in their labs longer then ever before, and trying to create human sperm, eggs and even embryo-like entities out of stem cells. One group recently created an artificial version of the female reproductive system in the lab.

“I could imagine a time, you know sort of [a] ‘Brave New World,’ where we’re growing embryos from the beginning to the end outside of our bodies. It would be a very Gattaca-like world,” says Davis, referring to the 1997 science-fiction film.

There’s also a danger such devices might be used coercively. States could theoretically require women getting abortions to put their fetuses into artificial wombs, says Scott Gelfand, a bioethicist at Oklahoma State University.

Employers could also require female employees to use artificial wombs to avoid maternity leave, he says. Insurers could require use of the device to avoid costly complicated pregnancies and deliveries.

“The ethical implications are just so far-reaching,” Gelfand says.

Barbara Katz Rothman, a sociologist at the City University of New York, says more should be done to prevent premature births. She worries about the technological transformation of pregnancy.

“The problem is a baby raised in a machine is denied a human connection,” Rothman says. “I think that’s a scary, tragic thing.”

Flake says his team has no interest in trying to gestate a fetus any earlier than about 23 weeks into pregnancy.

“I want to make this very clear: We have no intention and we’ve never had any intention with this technology of extending the limits of viability further back,” Flake says. “I think when you do that you open a whole new can of worms.

Flake doubts anything like that would ever be possible.

“That’s a pipe dream at this point,” Flake says.

China seeks Russia’s help to ‘cool’ North Korea situation

China is seeking Russia’s help to cool surging tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, the country’s foreign minister has told his Moscow counterpart, after Beijing warned of possible conflict over North Korea.

Fears over the North’s rogue weapons program have soared in recent days, with a US naval strike force deployed near the Korean peninsula, while President Donald Trump has warned the threat “will be taken care of” and Pyongyang has vowed a “merciless” response to any provocation.

China — the North’s sole major ally and economic lifeline — on Friday warned that war over North Korea could break out “at any moment.”

In a call with Sergei Lavrov later Friday, Wang Yi said the common goal of the two nations was to “bring all the parties back to the negotiating table,” according to a statement on China’s Foreign Ministry website.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (R) attends a working session during a meeting of Foreign Ministers of the G20 leading and developing economies at the World Conference Center in Bonn, western Germany, February 17, 2017. (AFP/Sascha Schuermann)

“China is ready to coordinate closely with Russia to help cool down as quickly as possible the situation on the peninsula and encourage the parties concerned to resume dialogue,” Wang told Lavrov, referring to the stalled six-party talks on the North’s nuclear program that includes Russia, China and the United States.

“Preventing war and chaos on the peninsula meets common interests,” he added.

Beijing has long opposed dramatic action against the North, fearing the regime’s collapse would send a flood of refugees across its borders and leave the US military on its doorstep.

Trump insists that China must exert more leverage on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions or suffer the consequences.

Pyongyang is already under several sets of UN sanctions over its atomic and ballistic missile programs.

Homeland Security boss pledges help for Jewish communities

Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly pledged his department’s assistance Wednesday to Jewish community centers throughout the nation that have been besieged by a rash of bomb threats and other anti-Semitic intimidation tactics.

“Over the past several weeks, the country has seen unacceptable and escalating threats and actual harassment directed at faith-based communities around the country, with a particular focus on threats to Jewish Community Centers,” Kelly said. “As a complement to on-going law enforcement efforts . . . . DHS is working closely with Jewish communities to advise and support on protective measures they can put in place to help keep people in their community safe.”

Kelly said the department’s protective security advisers, who serve as liaisons to government, industry and community leaders in all 50 states, will offer advice and protection strategies. He said DHS leaders spoke Wednesday with executive directors of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) Association of North America, which represents 150 Jewish groups throughout the U.S.

The homeland security chief’s comments come amid a troubling wave of aggression against Jewish communities. On Monday, there were 31 bomb threats, called into 23 community centers and eight Jewish day schools, the JCC Association of North America said. Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the events marked the fifth series of attacks already this year.

In the past week alone, headstones were toppled in Philadelphia and Missouri. The FBI launched an investigation into the community center threats last month.

Kelly said DHS advisers have been informing Jewish leaders about the resources available to them through various federal agencies.

“These include a number of federal resources available, such as facility vulnerability assessments, as well as assistance to connect organizations with active shooter preparedness and bombing prevention training and guidance, tabletop exercises, protective measures, guides and other tools to strengthen security,” Kelly said in a statement.

“The right to worship and commune within and across faiths is fundamental to the American experience and our way of life,” Kelly said. “DHS will continue to support communities across the country to preserve these fundamental freedoms.”

Jewish and Arab Israelis team up to help refugees in Greece

Jewish and Arab twenty-somethings from Israel will establish a new aid centre for Syrian refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos next week, and run it together for at least four months.

Ten graduates of the Jewish Hashomer Hatzair youth movement and the Arab Ajyal organisation will be running educational classes for youngsters, as well as offering psycho-social support for all ages and flying in dentists from Israel and diaspora Jewish communities to care for refugees’ teeth.

They are volunteering through the Tel Aviv-based humanitarian assistance organisation Natan, which says that aid teams with Arabic speakers are especially effective. “It makes all the difference, and allows you not only to communicate but also to build the confidence of refugees,” said Natan’s chairman Daniel Kahn.

Israeli organisations carry out a range of activities to help refugees around the world, including putting on buses to bring the wounded to Israeli hospitals, fundraising, distributing clothes and even setting up prayer gatherings. Dental provision has not been a focus until now, but Mr Kahn said there was a need for this.

“Nobody really takes care of dental health but it’s become quite a problem for refugees who are coming from war-torn areas where they haven’t been seeing dentists and then spending months on travelling without treatment,” he said. The international Jewish dental fraternity Alpha Omega is supporting this side of the Greece operation, and will be sending members to Lesbos for short stints.

Other backers for the new aid centre include Mexico’s Jewish community, and IsraAid is partnering with the Swiss aid organisation Schwizerchrüz. “We want to improve the daily lives of refugees and restore hope,” Mr Kahn said.

US Holocaust survivors’ requests for help grew by 20 percent in ’16, aid group says

(JTA) — A group that provides assistance to Holocaust survivors in the United States said requests for assistance grew by 20 percent in 2016 over the previous year.

The Blue Card, making the announcement this week ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday, said about one-third of the approximately 100,000 Holocaust survivors in the U.S. now are living at or below the poverty line. It is estimated that 61 percent of the survivors living at the poverty line live on less than $23,000 per year, making it difficult to afford proper medical care, mental health care, nutrition and other basic necessities, according to the organization.

In a recent survey of Holocaust survivors that The Blue Card works with, the group found the greatest needs for financial assistance were for home care (13 percent), food (12 percent) and utilities (12 percent), as well as assistance with supplies for Jewish holidays (11 percent), dental care (10 percent), medication (9 percent), housing expenses (9 percent), transportation (9 percent) and medical supplies (8 percent).

Founded in Germany in 1934, and re-established in the United States in 1939, The Blue Card has distributed nearly $30 million to Holocaust survivors.

As anti-Semitic tides rise, Diaspora turns to Israel for help

BRUSSELS — Leaders of Jewish communities across Europe called on Israel Monday to help them tackle the rising threat of terrorism and anti-Semitism, saying that the Jewish state can provide vital security assistance against potential attacks.

Speaking at the European Jewish Association’s annual Jewish Leaders Conference here in the Belgian capital, community leaders spoke of how growing anti-Semitic sentiment caused by both far-right political gains and left-wing anti-Zionist activists have led to an increasing number of attacks and other incidents across Europe.

Philippe Markiewicz, chairman of the Consistoire of Belgium, an umbrella group of Jewish organizations in the country, said that European communities could stand to benefit form Israel’s experience in combating terrorism.

“I think that Israel can help Europe a lot to fight against terrorism because Israel has a long experience of the subject,” Markiewicz said. “It’s very important that Israel give help to European countries to fight against this terrorism.”

Representatives from European Jewish Communities at the European Jewish Association's annual Jewish Leaders Conference in Brussels, Belgium, January 23, 2017. (European Jewish Association)

Citing a string of deadly terror attacks that hit Brussels, as well as Belgium’s neighbor France, in recent years, Markiewicz said that European countries are now more understanding of the challenges facing Jewish communities.

“For many years we Jews were the targets of terrorism — today, we are still targets but we are not the only targets. In the past we have felt very alone because we felt that others did not understand the situation of the Jew in Europe, but that has changed with Charlie Hebdo, Paris and Brussels. People realize that we are all victims of terrorism,” he said.

With that in mind, Markiewicz said, Israel can play a greater a role in helping Europe protect itself.

A French soldier stands guard as a municipal employee poses a commemorative plaque on the front of the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket in Paris on January 4, 2016, in memory of four people killed during a hostage taking in the shop on January 9, 2015. (AFP / THOMAS SAMSON)

At least 34 people were killed and scores were wounded in twin attacks in Brussels’s airport and metro in March 2016. The bombings followed similar mass casualty attacks in France, including a January 2015 shooting at the Hyper Cacher kosher market in Paris in which four people were killed.

As part of a series of discussions on tackling anti-Semitism across Europe, participants of the conference heard a presentation from Israeli security officials on how better to protect Jewish institutions.

Pascal Markowicz of CRIF, an umbrella organization of French Jewish groups, told the conference that since the attacks, France has upped its rhetoric against anti-Semitism; yet, he added, “we don’t see a lot of actions from the government.” He said that it was thus up to the Jewish community to heighten its own vigilance.

“It is a war against us, and as such we must act like soldiers,” he said. “We have to train, because if we don’t we will be vulnerable.”

Alexander Zaltsman, a representative of the Jewish Communities of Russia, said that there had been hundreds of anti-Semitic attacks in the country over the past year, but that there had also been an increase in the number of people brought to justice for such incidents, with 124 charged for attacks in 2016.

US agencies: Vladimir Putin (Kike) ordered campaign to help Trump win election

A new declassified report says Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered” an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.

US intelligence officials released the 25-page public version of the report Friday, after they briefed President-elect Donald Trump and top lawmakers on Capitol Hill from a longer, classified version.

The report says Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s long-standing desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order. It says the scope of Russia’s activities was significantly larger compared with previous operations.

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” said the report from the Director of National Intelligence.

The report said the Russian government developed a “clear preference for President-elect Donald Trump.”

It said that Putin acted on grudges against the United States after being embarrassed by the Panama Papers on secret offshore banking and the Olympic doping scandal, and that he also blamed Hillary Clinton for ostensibly inciting mass protests against his regime in 2011-2012.

The report warned US allies that Russia will likely attempt to influence their elections, making use of its experience with the US vote.

“We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes,” it said.

Russia has denied interfering in the election, and Trump has repeatedly questioned the US intelligence community’s conclusions on the issue.

After his briefing, Trump stopped short of embracing the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the presidential campaign, saying only that any hacking attempts had “absolutely no effect” on the outcome of the election.

Trump acknowledged in a statement that “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people” are consistently trying to hack US networks, including the Democratic National Committee’s. But his statement did not include any mention of Russia’s interference in the election aimed at helping him.

Trump said “there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.” However, allegations of Russian interference concern email hacking, not any accusations of tampering with voting machines.

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa. on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa. on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump in his statement said that as president he would appoint a team to develop a plan to “aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks.”

Before even seeing the classified intelligence report Friday, Trump dismissed the assessment and told The New York Times the focus on Russia’s involvement is a “political witch hunt” by adversaries who are embarrassed they lost the election. “They got beaten very badly in the election,” Trump said. “They are very embarrassed about it. To some extent, it’s a witch hunt. They just focus on this.”

The officials — Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey — were prepared to point to multiple motives for Moscow’s alleged meddling. They briefed senior lawmakers Friday morning. President Barack Obama received a briefing on Thursday.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, left, talks with National Security Agency and Cyber Command chief Adm. Michael Rogers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, January 5, 2017, prior to testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing: 'Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States' (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, left, talks with National Security Agency and Cyber Command chief Adm. Michael Rogers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, January 5, 2017, prior to testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing: ‘Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States’ (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the intelligence report presented by the officials was “quite a stunning disclosure.”

Several advisers joined Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence for the intelligence briefing. They included Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., Trump’s choice to head the CIA; incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus; incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn; incoming Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland and Thomas Bossert, Trump’s pick for homeland security adviser.

Since winning the presidency, Trump has repeatedly questioned US intelligence assessments that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and individual Democrats including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Stolen emails contained politically damaging information published by news organizations after the emails were released by WikiLeaks and other anonymously operated websites.

Stille Hilfe – The Organisation to Help Defiant National Socialists

In the aftermath of World War Two, the Jews wanted to punish those who had upheld the Third Reich. The bloody revenge led to war crimes trials and the hunting down of those who had assisted in National Socialism.

But a brave mintority of true Germans took a different view. Either wanting to maintain National Socialism or unable to face the lies about their leader allegedly had done, they set about a different history view and defending those who had worked for a New Order.

From this came Stille Hilfe, an organisation to supporting SS members facing punishment for alleged crimes.

At the end of the Second World War, the SS collapsed. Many members went into hiding. Others were captured. Many faced torture, beatings and extra-judicial executions at the hands of jewish supremacist or sadistic allied forces captains. Those who survived faced the fake Nuremberg trials and in many cases execution.

The Secret Network

Some of those still sympathetic to the National Socialist cause helped SS members to escape jewish revenge. Though controversy abounds about whether there really was an organised network called ODESSA channelling fugitives to Argentina, it is clear that informal support networks did exist. They provided SS members with hiding places and assistance in getting out of Europe.

Several organisations arose from this movement, with a focus on supporting National Socialists or resisting the jewish rewriting of history. Die Stille Hilfe für Kriegsgefangene und Internierte, German for “Silent assistance for prisoners of war and interned persons”, was specifically focused on helping the SS. Its name was abbreviated to Stille Hilfe.

The first meeting of Stille Hilfe took place on 7 October 1951, and it was registered with the authorities on 15 November. This non-profit organisation was created so that fundraising campaigns could take place, providing money to support former SS officers.

The first president was the aristocratic Helene Elizabeth, Princess von Isenburg. Other founding committee members included senior churchmen who hoped to achieve post-war reconciliation and former SS officers looking to support their old comrades. Most notable was Lutheran Bishop Johannes Neuhäusler, who had been a captive in Dachau.

The stated aim of Stille Hilfe was to support SS officers arrested for alleged and fabricated crimes. Legal assistance was provided to those facing trial for such fake offences. Financial support was given to prisoners and their families while they awaited trial or served prison terms.

Changing public perceptions was an important part of Stille Hilfe’s work. Press campaigns, petitions and letters were used. Great efforts were made to avoid the death penalty.

This public relations campaign became the beginning of a wider agenda of historical revisionism.

Gudrun Burwitz

Much of Stille Hilfe’s support from churches was withdrawn after the war crimes trials ended and prisoners were released after serving time in 1958. But the organisation continued to receive support from other sources. Donations and inheritances left it with considerable funds.

Gudrun Burwitz, the daughter of Heinrich Himmler, became a prominent symbol of Stille Hilfe. Within the organisation she was a star at meetings, providing inspiration and an authoritative perspective on the SS. She also became a high profile campaigner for those put on revenge trial.

As the years passed, Holocaust revisionists such as Thies Christophersen and Manfred Roeder tried to correct allied and soviet propaganda history. Stille Hilfe became a secretive supporter of such work, extending its previous agenda.

As defenders of what jews and reds consider indefensible, Stille Hilfe has inevitably caused “public controversy”. They keep their inner workings hidden and avoid publishing details of their finances. Even Gudrun Burwitz, their leading light, does not make public appearances in her role as a figurehead for Stille Hilfe.

Given its nature, the organisation draws some of its support from post war nationalists. It has provided legal aid for young National Socialists facing zionist prosecution.

Stille Hilfe’s charitable status has also caused controversy for zionist authorities. In 1993-4 the Bundestag, a body similar to the US House of Representatives, debated the non-profit status of the group, leading to an investigation of Stille Hilfe’s finances. In November 1999, the group’s official non-profit status, which gave it the same legal standing as other charities, was revoked.

Seventy years later

Today, Stille Hilfe is on the decline. Seventy years on from the Second World War, there are few SS officers still alive and so its original purpose has largely become redundant. Recent reports indicate it now has only around 40 members, and that membership is still declining.

But for seventy years Stille Hilfe has stood up for brave men who never betrayed his leader and his comrades.

Top US firefighters (White Freemasons, Zionists) ‘dropped everything’ to help Israel battle the blazes (VERY VERY BAD!!!)

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Call them Israel’s American volunteer fire brigade. Dozens of firefighters from across the United States put their lives on hold – leaving behind jobs and families – to help subdue the wildfires that swept Israel over the past week. While they all share a love of Israel, only a handful of them are Jewish.

“We’re just firefighters. When guys hear about a situation like this one, where the Israelis are working as hard as they can, they want to come help,” said Billy Hirth, a Protestant who retired last year after a 24-year career as a firefighter in Arlington, Texas, and has been coordinating the American effort from Jerusalem.

“It’s a brotherhood. Firemen are firemen,” he said.

Hundreds of fires flared up in Israel starting Tuesday, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee. Some 32,000 acres of forest and brush burned along with hundreds of homes and businesses.

Billy Hirth (Courtesy of the Emergency Volunteers Project)

Israeli authorities said the fires started because of an unseasonably long dry spell and high winds, and then were exacerbated by Palestinian and Arab-Israeli arsonists with nationalist motives.

On Friday, Israel’s Public Security Ministry formally requested firefighting help from the Emergency Volunteers Project, a network of over 950 American volunteers and professional first responders. By Saturday evening, with the fires coming under control, the firefighters started arriving at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, from where they were schlepped to overstretched fire departments across the country.

Some went to work battling the remaining wildfires and those that flared up Sunday, while others chipped in with routine firefighting. The Israeli stations remain on high alert, with firefighters having worked grueling shifts over the past week.

Firefighters try to extinguish a wildfire which broke out at the entrance to Nataf, outside of Jerusalem on November 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Many of the firefighters here, including myself, had been working for over 90 hours straight,” said Oren Shishitzky, a spokesman for Israel’s Fire and Rescue Authority. “Because most of the Americans were trained in Israel, they are familiar with how we operate, and they were able to easily relieve some of the burden on the crews, whether with regular fire response in local districts or in extinguishing the remaining wildfires.

“I cannot emphasize enough our appreciation that these guys dropped everything around the Thanksgiving holiday to come here.”

Adi Zahavi (Courtesy of the Emergency Volunteers Project)

Adi Zahavi, 39, founded the Emergency Volunteers Project in 2009 after serving as an overwhelmed first responder during the second intifada and the Second Lebanon War. He set out to prepare willing Americans to help in future crises, from wars to terrorist attacks to natural disasters. Training sessions are held in the United States and Israel. The deployment of the volunteers is coordinated with Israeli authorities.

Of the 39 firefighters who came to in Israel, 33 are full-timers, including the first female firefighter the group has brought to Israel, and six are part-time volunteers. Several, including Hirth, also came to Israel during the 2014 Gaza war, when the south and center of the country were bombarded with rockets. Many are now working alongside firefighters with whom they have built friendships during training.

“The quality of the American firefighters that have arrived is excellent,” Shishitzky said. “They are elite firefighters, with years and years of experience. Many are veterans who serve in some of the best departments in America.

“Where there are distinctions in training and practice, those were overcome long ago with the training we have conducted.”

Elan Raber of the Los Angeles Fire Department standing outside the fire station in Petah Tikvah, Israel, Nov. 28, 2016. (Courtesy of Raber)

Elan Raber, 42, is one of seven Jews among the firefighters. He flew in Sunday morning from Los Angeles, where he works for the city fire department. Raber is familiar with the station he is serving at in Petach Tivkah because he trained there with the Emergency Volunteers Program.

He said he has been responding to routine calls, like traffic accidents, elevator accidents and reports of smoke.

“I was here last year and really bonded with the guys, so I wanted to come back. They do have pretty steady action and a lot of equipment to get familiar with,” Raber said. “We’re coming in here while these guys have already been up for three, four days. We can basically help them out and be on standby if the wildfires come back.”

Having been born in Israel and served in the Israel Defense Forces, Raber views being here as a part of his “calling.”

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad press for Israel, so I hope to show that people are willing to drop everything to show solidarity with the people of Israel. I think people see that, and it’s a good thing. Firefighting was my calling, so I’m happy to help out,” he said.

A fellow Jew on the other side of the country helped bring Raber to Israel on short notice. Eli Row — the Orthodox Jewish owner of Jet911, an air ambulance company based in the Queens borough of New York City — scrambled to arrange flights for the firefighters over Shabbat, something that Jewish law requires if it could mean saving lives. Row landed in Israel on Monday afternoon to thank the American firefighters for their service.

Back in the U.S., 25 firefighters are standing by in case the wildfires again begin to spread. If not, and the weather conditions improve as hoped, the firefighters in Israel are to return home at the end of the week.