Republicans have long talk about replacing Obamacare, but no bill yet

http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/16/politics/republicans-obamacare-no-bill/index.html

Washington (CNN)Congressional Republicans insist they are moving forward on their campaign pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare, but internal divisions over key components mean they will head home for a week-long recess with few details on how they will overhaul the nation’s health care system.

Republicans huddled in the basement of the Capitol for a closed-door meeting Thursday to hear presentations from the two committee leaders leading the effort — Oregon Rep. Greg Walden and Texas Rep. Kevin Brady — who outlined plans to set up tax credits and restructuring how states will administer Medicaid programs that provide coverage for millions.
Members coming out of the meeting continued to stress they were unified on their goal and campaign promise to do away with the Affordable Care Act, but no draft language was was handed out. Most members described a more robust discussion of the House GOP’s “Better Way” health care proposal that they campaigned on in 2016.
“This is a complex issue, one of the members said ‘hey you’ve got to keep this simple.’ You can’t keep this simple. When you are talking about health care and rolling back 2,600 pages of the Affordable Care Act this is going to take some complexity,” Republican Rep. Mark Walker, the head of a group of fiscal conservatives, said after the meeting.
Many conservatives, despite the lack of details, said they are confident that there will be a vote in the first quarter of the year — a goal that House Speaker Paul Ryan has set.
But other members said their new target for moving legislation from committees to the House floor was sometime in mid-April.
In recent weeks, town halls in member’s districts have erupted with angry pushback from voters who are uneasy about the Republicans’ plans to transform the health care system.
At Thursday’s meeting, there was a PowerPoint presentation and members were supposed to get paper versions to bring home, but they weren’t ready in time for the meeting. Instead leaders promised to give each member packets with information so they will be armed with some more answers for voters.
A PowerPoint distributed after the meeting included quotes from Americans who had been negatively affected by the Affordable Care Act and included maps of just how much premiums had gone up in individual states and how few options there were in some places. The slide show included a briefing of the three-part plan to give regulatory relief through administrative action, repeal and replace using reconciliation and then move forward with additional legislation.
Michigan Rep. Bill Huizenga told reporters he wasn’t worried they still hasn’t seen a bill from leaders yet, noting that the Democrats’ efforts to design Obamacare took 14 months.
“We knew we haven’t gotten into this overnight,” Huizenga said. “We are not going to get out of it overnight.”
The official cost estimate of the GOP proposal is still a work in progress by the Congressional Budget Office. Members are awaiting the results.
“If it comes back and it’s out of the roof then it might take some more time to figure out how to pay for this,” Walker admitted.
Missouri GOP Rep. Ann Wagner downplayed the fact that leaders didn’t unveil actual legislation, telling reporters “I think we’ve got the outline of things that will be a part of a bill and part of a reconciliation package going along. We have had this in place for some time, and now we’re getting down to some of the very specifics.”

Trump’s man aims to reassure GOP

Newly installed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who recently resigned his House seat, attended the meeting and pledged “the president is all-in on this.”
But GOP leaders are concerned that the window for action is tight and they are scrambling to corral members around a proposal. The more time they take the more that counter-pressures from the right and left — to speed up or slow down the process — are making their job more difficult. They are using a budget procedure known as reconciliation to repeal major planks of the law and begin the process of replacing it. This process allows them to pass the measure with a simple majority in the Senate. But they want to use a similar strategy for tax reform so they are mindful of the need to get bill moving soon so they can tackle other issues this spring.
Price discussed the need to stick with the timeline the leaders set out. “Let’s not miss this opportunity. Let’s go shoulder to shoulder, arm to arm,” he said.
But multiple members from across the ideological spectrum stressed that a lot of decisions still hadn’t been made on key issues.
“So there’s obviously unanswered questions and — no shocker here — we have differences of opinion even within our conference,” Huizenga told reporters.

Future of Obamacare taxes, Medicaid programs

Committee leaders walked through several policy issues they are working through such as how to design tax credits for those who will be shopping for health care in the new system and how to address how money will flow to states that administer the Medicaid program.
They went over plans for creating high-risk pools and proposals for incentives for broader use of health savings accounts. In the PowerPoint sent out after the meeting, there was a promise to “deliver relief from the Obamacare taxes,” “eliminate the individual and employer mandate penalties,” and “repeal Obamacare spending for the Medicaid expansion and the new open-ended subsidies.”
But in some areas, there was no clear consensus. For example, the details on how states would handle the Medicaid program are still being worked out. Republicans from Medicaid expansion states have been fighting to keep their expansion money and ensure voters back home who were covered under the program could remain on it, but Medicaid has long been a top target for fiscal conservatives looking to make cuts in the budget. There is wide consensus that states need more flexibility in handling their federal Medicaid dollars, but there still are not clear details on whether that flexibility will come through block grants or per capita allotments is still up in the air.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brady told reporters that the discussion was also ongoing as to what to do with Obamacare taxes. Conservatives have said the taxes need to be repealed immediately, but others have been arguing that Republicans will need to keep the taxes in place in the short term to fund their own Obamacare replacement.
Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas told reporters that he had no actual budget numbers of how each program- from tax credits to health savings accounts- would be funded, a key factor in whether or not Republicans will be able to rally around the plan.
“They did not overlay the money and that is the big question,” Sessions said. “You cannot pass policy, you have to pass money. It’s about money.”
So far, a leading member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus didn’t sound impressed with what he heard from his leadership.
“So far it just sounds like Obamacare light,” said Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador.
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Western navies (White Freemasons) hold major drill off coast of Iran

Western navies held a series of drills off the coast of Iran last week, in a show of force in light of increased Iranian harassment of foreign military vessels.

The exercises, dubbed “United Trident,” were led by the United Kingdom and included ships from the US, France and Australia. The navies practiced fighting off enemy aerial incursions and mine clearing, as well as live fire drills, according to the British daily Telegraph.

The final drill featured 13 ships from the allied navies sailing in formation, with helicopters flying overhead.

British naval officials told the Telegraph that the drills had been planned for some time and were not connected to US President Donald Trump’s recent adoption of a more hardline stance against Iran, which resulted in the imposition of sanctions Friday on a number of individuals and entities involved in the country’s ballistic missile program. Rather, they said, they were rather meant to promote stability in the Persian Gulf and to ensure “the free flow of commerce” through the Strait of Hormuz.

Satellite view of the Strait of Hormuz (photo credit: NASA/Public domain)

The strait is a narrow waterway connecting the Persian Gulf to the Indian Sea through which a fifth of the world’s oil supply passes.

Iran has previously threatened to close off the strait in the past over tensions with the US, a move that would lead to turmoil in global oil markets.

Last week, Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari was dismissive of the show of force close to Iranian waters, telling the semi-official Mehr news agency that “they talk a lot.”

He also warned the Western navies against encroaching on Iranian waters, saying, “This is our red line.”

Iran has had numerous confrontations recently with US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf and around the Strait of Hormuz, with the most notable case being Iran’s capture last January of 10 US Navy sailors who had drifted into Iranian waters after experiencing mechanical problems.

File photo of the USS Mahan destroyer, seen in September 2002. (Public Domain/Photographer's Mate Airman Rex Nelson, US Navy/Wikipedia)

Earlier this month a US Navy vessel fired three warning shots at a group of Iranian ships that approached the destroyer at high speed in the strait.

US defense officials said the USS Mahan called on the four Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps vessels to slow down, but they continued to approach at high speed. This led the ship to fire flares and a helicopter dropped a “smoke float” signaling device, according to Reuters.

UN Security Council to hold urgent talks on Iran ballistic missile test

The UN Security Council will hold urgent talks Tuesday on Iran’s test-firing of a medium-range missile said capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, diplomats said.

The United States requested the emergency consultations after the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations called for council action.

“In light of Iran’s January 29 launch of a medium-range ballistic missile, the United States has requested urgent consultations of the Security Council,” the US mission said in a statement.

The talks on Iran will follow a meeting on Syria scheduled for 10:00 am (1500 GMT).

Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon said the test of the 4,000 kilometer range (2,500 miles) ballistic missile violated UN resolutions that bar Iran from launching ballistic missiles that could have a nuclear capability.

“The international community must not bury its head in the sand in the face of this Iranian aggression,” said Danon.

Israel ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon addresses the UN Security Council on January 17, 2017 (Courtesy)

“The Security Council members must act immediately in response to these Iranian actions which endanger not only Israel, but the entire Middle East.”

It was the first request for council consultations made by the United States since new US Ambassador Nikki Haley took office.

US President Donald Trump has promised to strengthen ties with Israel and has sharply criticized the Iran nuclear deal that led to a lifting of international sanctions against Tehran.

Trump is due to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 15.

Terming the test a “flagrant breach” of UN Security Council resolutions, Netanyahu promptly demanded the reimposition of sanctions against Iran and said he would discuss with Trump a reevaluation of the “entire failed nuclear accord” that the Obama Administration and other P5+1 countries agreed with Iran in 2015.

The missile test, which Fox News reported took place on Sunday, was unsuccessful; the Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missile flew 600 miles and then exploded, it said, citing US officials. Israel’s Channel 10 television said the failed test actually took place about 10 days ago. It said the Iranians were plainly “testing Trump,” who last week, in a phone conversation with Netanyahu, said the two would consult closely to address “the threats posed by Iran.”

The nuclear deal, intended to thwart Iran’s rogue nuclear program and championed by President Barack Obama as a “game-changer,” has been consistently castigated by Netanyahu as “a bad deal” that actually paves the way for an Iranian nuclear arsenal.

Asked about the missile test, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said they were looking into the report.

“We’re aware that Iran fired that missile. We’re looking into the exact nature of it,” Spicer said.

UN Resolution 2231, which was passed shortly after the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015, calls on Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”

Iran argues that because the nuke deal forbids them from pursuing a nuclear weapon, no ballistic missile is capable of carrying atomic arms that don’t exist and thus tests of them are not out of bounds.

A long-range Qadr ballistic missile is launched in the Alborz mountain range in northern Iran on March 9, 2016. (AFP / TASNIM NEWS / Mahmood Hosseini)

Britain, France and the United States have sought council action over Iranian missiles launches last year, but Russia and China opposed discussion of possible sanctions that they argued would jeopardize the hard-fought nuclear deal.

News of the test came a day after Trump committed to enforcing the Iranian nuclear deal, despite his campaign pledge to dismantle the landmark accord that he has repeatedly called “disastrous” and “one of the dumbest deals” he’s ever seen.

In a Sunday phone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abd Al-Aziz Al Saud, the president pledged to “rigorously enforc[e] the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” referring to the deal’s formal name, according to a White House readout of the conversation.

US President Donald Trump seen through an Oval Office window  gives a thumbs up as he speaks on the phone to King Salman of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office of the White House on January 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)

As a candidate, Trump often sent mixed signals about how he would handle the Iranian nuclear threat if he was elected. In his address at last year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, he vowed both to rip up the pact and enforce it.

Since Trump’s election in November, his advisers have signaled that he would not unilaterally walk away from the agreement unless Tehran violated its terms.

Dichter: Israel and Russia hold diverging views on Mideast

MK Avi Dichter (Likud), a former head of the Shin Bet security agency, said Tuesday that Russia’s interests in the Middle East by no means coincide with Israel’s and that the Jewish state must be vigilant concerning Russia’s growing influence in the region.

In an interview with Reuters, Dichter, who serves as chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that while Israel-Russia ties were good and that there was mutual respect between the two countries, “Russia thinks and acts as a superpower and as such it often ignores [the] Israeli interest when it doesn’t coincide with the Russian interest.”

Over the past year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin twice and has spoken with him on the phone six times, praising thedeveloping relations between them and their convergence of opinion on a range of issues. Israel and Russia have been coordinating on a number of issues including a de-conflicting mechanism between their respective armies, set up to assure the Israel Defense Forces does not strike Russian jets operating in Syrian airspace.

Dichter, however, warned Tuesday that “the gap between us and them is large and disturbing” on a number of issues.

Whereas Israel considers Iran its greatest foe in the region and makes defending itself against Lebanese terror group Hezbollah a top priority, “Russia does not view Iran and its proxies according to the level of threat they pose or broadcast towards Israel,” Dichter said, adding that Russia “view[s] Hezbollah positively as the errand lackey of Iran in Syria and Lebanon, (and) they are backing the Shi’ite militia activity in Iraq and Syria.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) holds a joint press confrence with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on November 10, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On a number of other key issues, namely the Iranian nuclear deal, the Syrian civil war and Iran’s role in the region, Dichter noted, Russia and Israel hold diametrically opposing views.

Dichter emphasized that it is important to understand that Russia’s renewed interest in the region, amid a pull-back from the United States under President Barack Obama, is by no means temporary, as “it did not return to the Middle East with military capabilities in the air and at sea only to ‘show off’ and then leave.”

“The new neighbor did not come here only to rent an apartment, he came here to build a villa,” Dichter cautioned.

It is not yet clear what policy changes, if any, will come to pass under President-elect Donald Trump, but the brash billionaire has indicated that under his administration, US policy on Syria might align more with Russia’s.

The Ku Klux Klan says it will hold a Trump victory parade in North Carolina

One of the largest Ku Klux Klan groups in the country has announced a parade to celebrate President-elect Donald Trump’s win.

The Loyal White Knights of Pelham, N.C., says on its website that its parade will take place on Dec. 3.

“TRUMP = TRUMP’S RACE UNITED MY PEOPLE,” says the website’s front page.

No time or location for the event is listed, and a phone call to the number on its website was not returned.

The group has between 150 and 200 members and is “perhaps the most active Klan group in the United States today,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. Last year, it was part of a South Carolina protest against the Confederate flag’s removal from the state Capitol.

Several Klan groups endorsed Trump. Well-known former Klan leader David Duke, who on Tuesday lost a Senate bid in Louisiana, was also a vocal supporter.

The Trump campaign was criticized this year for initially refusing to denounce support from the Klan. Later, the campaign described the Klan’s efforts as “repulsive.”

Trump and Obama Hold Cordial 90-Minute Meeting in Oval Office

WASHINGTON — For months, President Obama said that Donald J. Trump was unqualified, temperamentally unfit and a threat to the republic who should never be president.

For years, Mr. Trump questioned Mr. Obama’s birthplace and legitimacy, branded the nation’s first black president weak and called his tenure a disaster.

On Thursday at the White House, the once-unimaginable happened: The two men met face to face for the first time for a 90-minute discussion in the Oval Office and shook hands, making a public show of putting their bitter differences aside.

“I want to emphasize to you, Mr. President-elect, that we now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed because if you succeed, then the country succeeds,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Trump after the meeting as the two sat side by side two days after Mr. Trump’s stunning election upset imperiled Mr. Obama’s legacy. The president called the conversation “excellent” and said he had been “encouraged” by Mr. Trump’s interest in working with him and his team.

Mr. Trump, who appeared nervous and uncharacteristically subdued beside Mr. Obama, called the president “a good man.” He said that the meeting was “a great honor” and that their conversation had lasted far longer than he would have expected.

“I have great respect,” Mr. Trump said, turning to face Mr. Obama. “We discussed a lot of different situations, some wonderful, and some difficulties. I very much look forward to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel.” Given that Mr. Trump has never held elective office or served in government, some administration aides suggest that Mr. Obama could play a larger-than-usual role in acquainting Mr. Trump with the demands of the office.

“The meeting might’ve been at least a little less awkward than some might have expected,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said. Aides said that the two men discussed foreign and domestic policy issues that Mr. Trump would need to deal with on Day 1 in the Oval Office. As early as Friday, the president-elect will get a version of the President’s Daily Brief, a classified compilation of all threats facing the United States and other highly significant intelligence information.

Photo

Speaker Paul D. Ryan with Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, on the Speaker’s Balcony at the Capitol on Thursday. CreditAl Drago/The New York Times 

Mr. Trump’s trip was surreal for many Republicans and Democrats in Washington, who never expected to see the real estate executive and reality television star in an Oval Office meeting to begin preparations to lead the most powerful nation in the world. Mr. Trump, whose campaign drew support from white supremacist groups, sat just in front of a bust of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Oval Office.

Outside in the Rose Garden, reporters could see Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, emerge from the West Wing talking in hushed tones with Jared Kushner, the president-elect’s son-in-law and adviser. The two then headed off for a stroll around the South Lawn. Nearby, aides to Mr. Trump snapped photographs of one another in the White House colonnade, standing in the spot where a crowd of shocked White House aides, some openly crying, had watched the day before as Mr. Obama called for national unity after Mr. Trump’s victory.

The Oval Office meeting was the centerpiece of a marathon day in the capital for Mr. Trump, his first since winning the presidency. His wife, Melania, had tea with Michelle Obama in the White House residence and took in the view of the Washington Monument from the Truman Balcony. White House aides said the two women talked about raising children in the White House.

“We want to make sure that they feel welcome as they prepare to make this transition,” Mr. Obama said of the Trumps.

Later on Capitol Hill, after meeting with Republican congressional leaders who will hold sway over enacting his agenda, Mr. Trump strode with Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the House speaker, to a balcony overlooking the platform on the west side of the Capitol where he will be sworn in on Jan. 20, 2017, peering out to the National Mall below.

“Really, really beautiful,” he said of the view.

The president-elect arrived in the late morning from New York at Reagan National Airport in his trademark jet with the name Trump emblazoned on its side, and then rode with his wife in a black, armored sport utility vehicle in a motorcade that moved swiftly through Washington. By midafternoon, crowds had gathered on a crisp autumn day on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue next to the Trump International Hotel, where barricades were set up. Police officers were lined up on motorcycles, officers on horses patrolled the area, and tourists taking photographs mingled with camera crews.

Mr. Trump and his wife had lunch with Mr. Ryan at the Capitol Hill Club, a peace summit meeting after Mr. Ryan had offered tepid support for the Republican nominee during the campaign and Mr. Trump had branded him a “weak and ineffective leader,” threatening retribution.

Photo

Mr. Trump with his wife, Melania, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, at the Capitol on Thursday.CreditAl Drago/The New York Times 

Later, after a meeting in Mr. Ryan’s office in the Capitol, Mr. Trump said that he was excited to begin carrying out an agenda to address immigration, health care and tax cuts. Investors, apparently buoyed by the prospect of those tax cuts as well as increased infrastructure spending, sent the Dow Jones industrial average to a record high on Thursday.

“We’re going to do some absolutely spectacular things for the American people,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re going to lower taxes, as you know, we’re going to fix health care and make it more affordable and better. We’re going to do a real job for the public.”

Mr. Trump also met for about an hour with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader.

“We are looking at jobs,” Mr. Trump told reporters as he left. “Big-league jobs.”

The meetings unfolded as members of Mr. Obama’s staff were starting the business of handing over the vast bureaucracy of the federal government to Mr. Trump’s staff. Speculation swirled over possible appointments in the Trump administration, with Stephen K. Bannon, the conservative provocateur and Mr. Trump’s campaign chief, and Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, being mentioned as possible picks for chief of staff.

Top advisers to Mr. Obama have spent months preparing for the transition, a complex venture condensed into the 72 -days before the inauguration. It is up to them and the Trump team to set it in motion, pairing Obama administration staff members with representatives of the president-elect for crash courses in the workings of the White House and federal agencies.

Mr. Obama said Wednesday that he had instructed his staff to follow the example set by President George W. Bush in 2008 and provide a professional and smooth transition for Mr. Trump’s team, despite the policy differences that separate the president and his successor. For all the public drama and division of the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama’s aides have since July been quietly working with advisers to Hillary Clinton and Mr. Trump to plan for the passing of power.

But the crush of information may be onerous, particularly when it comes to Mr. Trump’s task of hiring 4,000 political appointees over a matter of weeks. Saddled with an antiquated personnel system when Mr. Obama was elected in 2008, his aides moved this year to build a new one designed to make it easier to track the positions, as well as the applicants and their personal and professional information.

In December, Mr. Obama’s team plans to hold the first of two war-gaming exercises to prepare Mr. Trump and his staff for a potential national security crisis. The second simulation for Mr. Trump is set for January, days before he officially gains access to the nuclear codes.

Hillary Clinton Urges Democrats to Hold President Trump Accountable in Concession Speech

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/hillary-clinton-urges-democrats-hold-president-trump-accountable-concession-speech?akid=14860.275016.RYVpBx&rd=1&src=newsletter1066883&t=6

 

Hillary Clinton gave her concession speech at the New Yorker Hotel, half a mile from what the campaign believed would be a historic victory Tuesday night.

“Last night I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country,” Clinton told supporters in New York City.

Despite Trump’s divisive rhetoric, frequently called out by Clinton, she had a different message this time.

“I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans,” Clinton said.

Bill Clinton and VP nominee Tim Kaine were nearly in tears.

“This is not the outcome we wanted, that we worked so hard for,” she continued. “I’m sorry we did not win this election for the values that we share, for the visions that we hold.”

Yet Clinton claimed to feel pride and gratitude.

“You represent the best of America and being your candidate has been one of the greatest honors of my life,” she said, sharing her disappointment with the room and tens of millions of Americans.

Reminiscent of Bernie Sanders in the primary process, Clinton urged her voters not to lose hope.

“This is painful, and it will be for a long time, but this campaign was never about one person. It was about building an America that is hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted.”

She also spoke to the deep divides that plague America.

“We must accept the result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead,” she explained, and pressed supporters to hold Trump accountable in his new role.

“Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power,” Clinton said. “It also enshrines other things: the rule of law, the principle that we are all equal in rights and dignity, freedom of worship and expression. We respect these values, too.”

US police delegation (Freemasons) visits Israel to learn counter-terrorism techniques, hold 9/11 ceremony (NOT GOOD!!!)

Citing Israel’s preeminence in counter-terrorism – and the fact that it is the only country outside the United States to have a 9/11 memorial honoring every victim – a US police delegation arrived to visit the country on the 15th anniversary of the attack.

Fifty-two officers from seven states arrived on Wednesday for one week to train with multiple units, visit the new state-of-the-art police academy in Beit Shemesh, and hold a ceremony at Jerusalem’s 9/11 memorial on Sunday.

A similar delegation of a dozen US police chiefs from across the US participated here last month in a one week counter-terrorism seminar sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League.

Israel Police Ch.-Supt. Yoni Zeitak said Thursday that the visit marks the first time that a police delegation from the US came to Israel to hold a 9/11 memorial.

“They came on a unity mission, and one of the main features of the visit will be officers from both our countries taking part in a 9/11 memorial ceremony,” said Zeitak. “We get many groups of police officers that visit for professional reasons, but this is also a solitary mission to honor US and Israel Police officers.”

During their stay, the US officers will reside at the Beit Shemesh academy, where they will participate in multiple counter-terrorism training exercises, and meet with Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, Zeitak said.

The leader of the delegation, Michael Safris, chief of the Essex County’s Sheriff’s Office Deputy Division, is also a member of the Police Unity Tour, established in 1997 to honor fallen US officers.

“The motto of the Police Unity Tour is ‘We ride for those who died,’ and every year for Police Week, when they put the names [of fallen officers] on the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, DC, we have different chapters that ride bicycles from New Jersey to Washington to raise money for the memorial,” he said.

As a symbolic gesture to show unity with fallen Israeli police officers, Safris, who has regularly visited Israel for 10 years, said on Thursday the US group and officers from Israel rode bikes together for 24 kilometers in the Negev with Deputy Police Commissioner Zohar Devir.

“Because this wasn’t a good year for Israeli officers, we thought we could do a ride together,” he said. “The point was to meet with fellow officers to honor their sacrifices, and to build our relationships.”

Safris said the American officers are participating in numerous training demonstrations at the academy.

“We had demonstrations on different ways they stop vehicles with terrorists, different fighting techniques, including Krav Maga, and how to utilize it, and how they use multiple tactics,” he said, adding that the academy is on par with the finest US federal law enforcement facilities.

The delegation includes male and female officers from New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, California and Nevada.

Asked why the relationship is so strong between the US and Israeli police forces, Safris noted respect for Israel’s efficiency and advanced tactics, coupled by its ability to enforce the law in a humane manner, despite dealing with countless depraved terrorists.

Craig W. Floyd, president and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial Fund, said the significance of the US officers coming to Israel to hold a 9/11 ceremony during the present international terrorism wave cannot be overstated.

“I think the timing is certainly very appropriate, because we’re involved in a global war on terrorism, and we need to work together and build solidarity between law enforcement officers from around the world to combat that terrorism, and win that war,” said Floyd.

“Clearly, the United States and Israel have such strong relations to begin with, but to have our law enforcement professionals come over here to spend time and learn from each other in terms of techniques and attitudes in the ways we’re dealing with this terrible problem… if we do it together, we can be successful.”

“When you talk about 9/11,” he continued, “that’s really when our war on terror began, and Israel, obviously, has been dealing with terrorist attacks for many years before, so we can certainly learn from your experience and expertise here.”

Moreover, despite international criticism, Floyd cited Israel’s law enforcement’s ability to protect citizens and provide security while protecting “the rights and freedoms of the people that live here, just as we want to do in the United States.”

Noting that the delegation is one of more than 200 from across the globe annually hosted by the Israel Police Foreign Affairs Department, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the Israeli force is particularly honored by the US delegation’s visit during their annual 9/11 memorial ceremony.

UN alarmed by Hamas move to hold public executions in Gaza

The UN envoy for the Middle East expressed alarmed on Wednesday after Hamas authorities in the Gaza strip moved to hold public executions, and urged them to change course.

Nickolay Mladenov told the Security Council that public executions are prohibited under international human rights law and that any such killings in the Gaza Strip would be carried out without the approval of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which is required under Palestinian law.

“I urge Hamas not to carry out these executions and call on President Abbas to establish a moratorium on the implementation of the death penalty,” Mladenov told the council by video-conference.

The death penalty can be applied only to the most serious crimes following a judicial process that upholds fair trial standards, the envoy said.

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov talks during a press conference in Gaza City, September 17, 2015. (AP/Adel Hana)

“I have serious doubts as to whether capital trials in Gaza meet these standards,” he added.

Thirteen men, most convicted of murder connected to robberies, are currently awaiting execution, according to Hamas officials.

Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, does not recognize Abbas’s legitimacy.

The authorities announced on Sunday that they are planning to carry out a series of public executions.

The last public executions in Gaza took place during the most recent war with Israel in 2014, when a firing squad from Hamas’s armed wing killed six men.

Nine death sentences were handed down in the Gaza Strip in 2015 and two in the West Bank, run by the Palestinian Authority, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Around 10 more have been handed down in Gaza so far this year.

Israeli hold on Golan ‘null and void,’ UN Security Council says

The UN Security Council on Tuesday rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the annexed Golan Heights would “forever” remain under Israeli control and expressed concern over his statements.

The 15-member council agreed that the status of the Golan, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967, “remains unchanged,” said Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi, who holds this month’s council presidency.

Liu recalled a 1981 resolution which states that Israel’s “decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights was null and void and without any international legal effect.”

The council statement followed remarks made by Netanyahu earlier this month when his cabinet held a meeting in the territory, a first for an Israeli government.

Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a security and defense tour in the Golan Heights, near the Northern Israeli border with Syria. April 11, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“The Golan Heights will remain in the hands of Israel forever,” Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting, held amid fears that Israel could come under pressure to return the Golan as part of a future peace deal for Syria.

“Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights,” he said.

Council members “expressed deep concern” over the Israeli statements and “stressed that the status of the Golan remains unchanged,” said Liu.

Members of the Security Council vote at United Nations headquarters in New York, July 20, 2015. (AP/Seth Wenig, File)

Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, denounced the Security Council for discussing an issue that “completely ignores the reality in the Middle East.”

“While thousands of people are being massacred in Syria, and millions of citizens have become refugees, the Security Council has chosen to focus on Israel – the only true democracy in the Middle East,” Danon said in a statement Tuesday evening

“It’s unfortunate that interested parties are attempting to use the council for unfair criticism of Israel,” the ambassador added.

Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and effectively annexed it in 1981. The international community never accepted the annexation, and Israeli leaders see in the turmoil in Syria a chance to convince the world to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.

According to a report on Israel’s Channel 2 earlier this month, the first clause of a draft agreement aimed at settling the brutal civil war in Syria, being worked on with the support of the US, Russia and other major world powers, specifies that the Golan Heights is Syrian territory and must be returned to Syria.

In November, Netanyahu reportedly asked US President Barack Obama to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the area, given the civil war. Obama refused to even reply, according to Israeli media accounts.

Netanyahu’s statement on holding the Golan drew alarm and condemnation internationally, including from Israel’s allies and from Syria.

Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad warned in response that his war-torn state would retake the plateau by any means necessary.

The Arab League, European Union and the United States also objected to Netanyahu’s remarks on the strategic plateau, among others.