Venezuela opposition plans silent procession, road sit-ins

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s energized opposition is planning sit-ins on roads, silent marches in white to commemorate the dead and other nontraditional protests as it tries to build on the momentum of recent street demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of the South American country again Thursday to demand elections and denounce what they consider an essentially dictatorial government. They were met by curtains of tear gas and rubber bullets as they tried to march to downtown Caracas.

Later in the day, opposition leaders gathered in a show of unity at an outdoor news conference in the eastern Caracas neighborhood that has been at the heart of three weeks of near-daily protests. Some residents came out on balconies to cheer as the politicians urged supporters to don white and march silently through Caracas on Saturday to commemorate the eight people killed in the demonstrations. The opposition is planning Monday sit-ins to block highways.

“Twenty days of resistance and we feel newly born,” opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara shouted.

General Motors announced early Thursday that it was closing its operations in Venezuela after authorities seized its factory in the industrial city of Valencia, a move that could draw the Trump administration into the escalating chaos engulfing the nation.

The plant was confiscated Wednesday as anti-Maduro protesters clashed with security forces and pro-government groups. The seizure arose from an almost 20-year-old lawsuit brought by a former GM dealership in western Venezuela.

Hundreds of workers desperate for information about their jobs gathered at the plant Thursday to meet with government and military officials as well as representatives of the dealership that brought the lawsuit. The neglected factory hasn’t produced a car since 2015, but GM still has 79 dealers that employ 3,900 people in Venezuela, where for decades it was the market leader.

The State Department said Thursday it was reviewing details of the GM case but called on Venezuelan authorities to act swiftly and transparently to resolve the dispute.

A number of major Latin American governments, including Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, called on Venezuela to take steps to increase democratic order and halt the violence that has been swirling around the protests. Across the country, clashes have been intense as protests grow in size and fervor.

The unrest was sparked by a Supreme Court decision last month to strip Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress of its few remaining powers, a move that was later reversed amid a storm of international criticism. But the initial ruling reinvigorated Venezuela’s fractious opposition, which had been struggling to channel growing disgust with Maduro over widespread food shortages, triple-digit inflation and rampant crime.

Opponents are pushing for Maduro’s removal through early elections and the release of dozens of political prisoners. The government last year abruptly postponed regional elections that the opposition was heavily favored to win and it cut off a petition drive aimed at forcing a referendum seeking Maduro’s removal before elections scheduled for late next year.

But the government hasn’t backed down.

Already drawing criticism for the GM seizure, Maduro announced late Thursday that he wanted an investigation into cellphone operator Movistar for allegedly being part of the “coup-minded march” organized by his adversaries Wednesday. That march was the largest and most dramatic the country has seen in years. He said the subsidiary of Spain’s Telefonica “sent millions of messages to users every two hours” in support of Wednesday’s protests.

As tensions mount, the government is using its almost-complete control of Venezuela’s institutions to pursue its opponents. On Wednesday alone, 565 protesters were arrested nationwide, according to Penal Forum, a local group that provides legal assistance to detainees. It said 334 remained in jail Thursday.


Syrian truck driver on road to Damascus reportedly killed by Israeli drone

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Syrian man was killed when the truck he was driving in the Quneitra region of the Golan Heights on the road to Damascus allegedly was fired on by an Israeli drone, Syrian media is reporting.

The Israel Defense Forces is not commenting on the alleged air strike, neither confirming nor denying the Syrian reports.

The alleged victim has been named as Yasser al-Sayed, with some reports calling him a terrorist member of Hezbollah and others identifying him as a civilian.

Hours before the strike, Syrian media reported that Syrian army forces had repelled an Israeli drone in the same area.

The actions come after the IDF confirmed carrying out aerial strikes in Syria and intercepting missiles launched at its aircraft from the ground on Thursday night.

No Israelis were hurt during the strikes Thursday night or from the anti-aircraft fire, the first time that Israel has used the Arrow anti-missile system.

According to the nrg news site, the strikes Thursday were against targets affiliated with Hezbollah, possibly on a weapons shipment to the Shiite terrorist group, which is based in Lebanon but is fighting in Syria alongside Assad’s forces against rebels and Sunni militants.

The incidents on Thursday are reported to be the most serious between Syria and Israel since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war six years ago. At that time, Israel Air Force planes struck targets in Syria and Syria’s air defense system fired an anti-aircraft missile at the Israeli planes.

Israel is believed to have carried out several attacks on Syrian soil in recent years, but usually refrains from confirming or denying reports on its alleged actions there.

Also on Sunday, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in an interview with Israel Radio threatened to take out Syrian air defense systems.

“The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation,” Liberman said. “Each time we discover arms transfers from Syria to Lebanon we will act to stop them. On this there will be no compromise.”

EU funding Dead Sea road to help annex area to Palestinian Authority, NGO charges

The European Union is funding an unauthorized Palestinian road to the Dead Sea in Area C of the West Bank to help annex that area to the Palestinian Authority, said the non-governmental group Regavim.

The group, which monitors illegal Palestinian construction, is scheduled to give a presentation on the matter to Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s sub-group on Judea and Samaria.

It also petitioned the High Court of Justice last month against the road, the first 20 kilometers of which are under construction.

At present, the road is designed to be an access route from homes in the Palestinian village of Teqoa to nearby agricultural lands. Some eight kilometers of the road have been laid out in preparation for the pouring of cement.

But Regavim has charged that it is just the first phase of a much larger infrastructure project.

“It’s like a snake that is hiding in the grass,” said Oved Arad, who is in charge of Regavim’s land division “We’re talking about what will be a highly strategic road,” Arad said.

“When a road like this is built by the PA with EU funding, it allows it the [PA] to rule over a large area in the Judean desert and annex it,” he explained. “The State of Israel can’t afford to give up on this territory and it certainly can’t allow foreign governments to break the law in this way.”

For the past six months, Regavim has appealed to the Civil Administration to halt the project, but to date nothing has happened.

It then asked the High Court of Justice to force the Civil Administration to enforce the law. The High Court has given the state until the 18th of this month to respond to the petition.

Area C of the West Bank is under Israeli military and civil rule. All construction projects, including roads and infrastructure for the Palestinian villages in that area, must be authorized by the Civil Administration.

The Palestinians have complained that such authorizations are few and far between. The EU and US have increasingly called on Israel to assist Palestinian development in Area C.

The EU considers Israel’s presence there to be illegal under international law, saying European activities fall within the category of humanitarian assistance. In the past few years, it has increased its activity in that area. In particular, it has skirted the Civil Administration and provided Palestinians with illegal modular housing.

Arad said that in the past half year, it has begun investing in more permanent projects such as roads.

The office of the EU Representative to the Palestinian territories had no immediate comment on the matter.

IDF soldier wounded by explosive on road near Jerusalem

(JTA) — An Israeli soldier was moderately wounded by an explosive device thrown at a security checkpoint near Jerusalem.

The soldier injured in the Wednesday night attack on the Tunnel Bypass Road was taken to Hadassah Medical Center, and the terrorist fled the scene, Ynet reported.

A few hours earlier, a toddler and her father were lightly wounded after assailants threw stones at two vehicles on Route 45 near Jerusalem. The IDF is searching for the perpetrators of both attacks.

Five people were lightly wounded Tuesday evening when assailants hurled stones at a bus and two cars in the At-Tur neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem.

Four of those wounded were teens, including three Jordanians.

Hillary Clinton’s Long, Cautious Record on Women’s Rights

The early reviews of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state were not so unlike the “texts from Hillary” portrait of her as a superhero in sunglasses: There were more good lines to point to than those delivered in an episode of Downton Abbey by the Dowager Countess.

“She is, it seems, everywhere at once,” declared Newsweek in 2011, “crossing time zones and defying jet lag.” That same year, Google’s Eric E. Schmidt called her “perhaps the most significant secretary of state since Dean Acheson, who helped unify the relationship between modern Europe and the United States.”

After John Kerry succeeded Clinton, though, that assessment was downgraded in a hurry. Late in 2013, The New York Times reported that “some people close to Mrs. Clinton worry that, because of the high profile given to her work for women’s rights, and the headlines now being generated by the hyperkinetic Mr. Kerry, her efforts on trickier diplomatic situations have been eclipsed.” Where was the credit for her great work on Libya, for instance?

A year and change later, no one is highlighting Clinton’s legacy on Libya. But now, as she’s by all appearances gearing up for a second presidential run, even her record on women is getting asecond look.

Republicans like her potential rival Carly Fiorina argue that it’s beyond hypocritical for Clinton to present herself as a champion of women while the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation accepts major donations from Saudi Arabia and other countries with pitiful records on that front.

Another knock on her résumé on women and girls is that there isn’t much to ballyhoo, unlessballyhooing can itself be counted as an achievement.

“What exactly are her grand accomplishments on behalf of women?” asked Danielle Pletka, a longtime aide to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, now at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.  “I’m really impressed with how she turned around Saudi Arabia,” Pletka added facetiously. “She doesn’t do much more than talk.”

Talking isn’t nothing; on the contrary, it’s what diplomats do. And presidents, whom we expect to forcefully wield that bully pulpit. And even journalists, whose only tools are words.

Still, whether she talked enough, forcefully and when it mattered, is a completely fair question.

Melanne Verveer, a longtime Clinton aide and the first U.S. ambassador for global women’s issues, dismissed the criticism over donations: “This is so patently absurd, that this undermines her record as a women’s advocate.”

Verveer’s former office was a relative backwater in the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations; in those days, it focused on special projects. Then President Obama and Hillary Clinton elevated it by giving its chief the rank of ambassador, and requiring that the advancement of women be integrated into all of the State Department’s work. In particular, Clinton focused on the nexus between women’s participation and economic growth and protecting women in conflict areas.

“If evidence means anything,” Verveer said, “one should look at her record at the State Department and beyond.”

Certainly, one should, and particularly beyond the State Department, that record is mixed. In Clinton’s private life, referring to Monica Lewinsky as a “narcissistic loony toon” was perhaps none too surprising, but also none too sisterly. Nor was the way she spoke about her successful 1975 defense of a man she seems to have believed was guilty of raping a 12-year-old girl in an audio-taped interview posted by the conservative news site Washington Free Beacon last June.

Among the strongest anecdotes in her favor, from her time as secretary of state, comes from “HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton.” In it, Bloomberg’s Jonathan Allen and his co-author Amie Parnes report that Clinton ignored security concerns to visit refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2009 and meet with survivors of sexual assault.

While on vacation that summer, according to friends and aides, Clinton fired off a raft of emails—from her personal account—to get the department focused on the matter. Then she dispatched a couple of her aides to see what could be done to make it harder for warlords to use assault as a weapon of war and to warn camps of imminent invasions.

Those efforts ultimately fell short, due to legal hurdles and non-cooperation from the Congolese government. But Clinton’s personal involvement—and, according to close friends, personal anguish—convinced them that protecting women from violence was important to her.

And to her unalloyed credit, Clinton was one of the forces behind the adoption of a U.N. resolution adopted later that year that laid out guidelines for international response to sexual assault in war-torn areas.

In all of the following cases, though, one could either argue that she was overly cautious and awfully self-protective—or that living to fight another day was a lot smarter than setting herself on fire.

Her former friend and Rose Law Firm colleague Webb Hubbell, who later went to jail for overbilling clients, wrote in his 1997 memoir “Friends in High Places” that when they worked together in Little Rock, she used to urge him and Vince Foster to push for sexual harassment and a pay gap between men and women in the office. “She knew she couldn’t raise those issues,” Hubbell wrote, “so she encouraged us to.”

As first lady, her 1995 speech at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing arguing that “it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights” was both lauded for its boldness and derided as too meek because it didn’t call out China by name.

A decade later, she was criticized by some of her fellow abortion rights supporters when she stunned a gathering of them by suggesting that they should look for “common ground” with opponents in trying reduce the number of abortions, which she described as a “sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.”

In each of those cases, she took a calculated risk rather than a dramatic one, with a specific, achievable goal in mind. And it’s because that’s the route she chose that there’s such a long record to sift through.