US infant mortality rates down 15%

(CNN)Infant mortality rates have reached new lows, according to a report released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday.

From 2005 to 2014, the infant mortality rate in the US dropped 15%, from 6.86 infant deaths per 1,000 live births to 5.82. Sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, declined by 29%, and there were drops in infant mortality rates across most racial groups.
“It’s good news, but on the other hand, we have so much more to do,” said Dr. Paul Jarris, chief medical officer for the March of Dimes, a nonprofit focused on the health of mothers and babies. “What is concerning, though, is that the inequities between non-Hispanic blacks and American Indians and the Caucasian population have persisted.”
The largest drop among racial groups, 21%, was in Asian and Pacific Islander populations. All race and Hispanic subgroups experienced reductions in infant mortality rates except American Indians or Alaska Natives, among whom there was not a statistically significant change. The report shows significant declines among non-Hispanic black populations as well as women of Cuban descent.
However, those reductions were not broad enough to close the racial gap. Infants born to non-Hispanic black women have a mortality rate more than double that of non-Hispanic white women. Among Hispanic subgroups, the highest rates are seen in Puerto Ricans, 6.68 per 1,000, while the lowest, 3.95, are in populations of Cuban descent.
“I think there was a public health push in the past decade to figure out ways to lower this rate, and it has made an impact,” said report author T.J. Mathews, a demographer at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. “We know that there have been a lot of efforts across the country in cities and states where they’re trying to figure out ways where they can lower the infant mortality rate.”
Rates for four of the five leading causes of infant death went down. Congenital malformations, the primary cause of infant death, dropped 11%. Deaths from short gestation and low birthweight declined 8%, deaths due to maternal complications fell 7%, and cases of SIDS fell 29%. Deaths caused by unintentional injuries increased 11%, from 26.2 in 2005 to 29.2 in 2014.
One source of the decline, Jarris said, is the push to end medically unnecessary induced labor. “These are when a woman is induced to cause labor when there is no medical indication. They were very common around 2003 to 2005, and we have done a good job as a nation of reducing these dramatically so that women aren’t delivering early when there’s no need.”
Declines in infant mortality rates were observed in two-thirds of all US states and the District of Columbia, and no state reported a statistically significant increase. Infant deaths declined 11% percent or more in Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
“Overall, 33 states and the District of Columbia had significant declines,” Mathews said. “Some states with fairly high rates, such as South Carolina and Mississippi, are in those categories where they had some of the sharpest declines.”
Although the report does not share details on how those states achieved lower rates, in the case of South Carolina, Jarris said the deliberate effort is key. “They have a strong partnership between the state Department of Health, the state Medicaid office, Blue Cross Blue Shield and the hospital association in which they are coordinating their efforts.”
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The decline, Mathews says, is a public health success.
According to the National Institutes of Health, since 1962, infant death rates in the United States have dropped more than 70%. Although rates continue to fall, the United States maintains one of the highest rates of infant death among developed countries.
“In terms of preterm birth and infant mortality, the United States has the highest rates of any of the developed nations,” Jarris said. “Our rates are more similar to that of developing nations. So the message, from my point of view, is that we cannot be complacent.”
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HERZOG: GET READY FOR MASS ALIYA FROM US DUE TO ANTI-SEMITISM

 

http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Herzog-Get-ready-for-mass-aliya-from-US-due-to-anti-Semitism-482747

 

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to get Israel ready in case there will be massive immigration from the United States due to ongoing incidents of anti-Semitism across America.

Speaking to his Zionist Union faction, Herzog expressed outrage over cemeteries that have been vandalized in Missouri and Pennsylvania and said they required immediate action by the Israeli government.

“I want to express my shock and strong condemnation for the outbreak of incidents of anti-Semitism in the United States, France and other places around the world,” Herzog said. “I call upon the government of Israel to urgently prepare a national emergency plan for the possibility that we will see waves of immigration of our brothers to Israel.”

Herzog said he was convinced that US President Donald Trump’s administration would do everything possible to stop such incidents. But other MKs said they saw Herzog’s statement as an attack on the president, who was initially reluctant to condemn rising anti-Semitism.

When Trump was asked about anti-Semitic incidents since his election in a joint press conference with Netanyahu, he spoke about his Jewish grandchildren, and the prime minister defended him.

“I’ve known the President and I’ve known his family and his team for a long time, and there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump,” Netanyahu said. “I think we should put that to rest.”

Herzog’s associates stressed that he was not calling upon American Jews to make aliya due to the incidents.

Officials working in the field of aliya said they were not aware of any expected “waves.”

Jewish Agency Spokesman Avi Mayer responded to Herzog’s comments saying: “As Abba Eban once said, quoting Niels Bohr, prediction is very difficult, especially when it’s about the future. Neither our data nor our field professionals indicate an impending wave of aliya from the United States.”

Yael Katsman, Director of Communications at Nefesh B’Nefesh echoed this. “We have been experiencing natural growth with regards to aliya interest and as such have not identified any unexpected spikes,” she told The Jerusalem Post. “Our organizational model is equipped to service all those interested in making aliya.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett said he trusted the American government to take care of the problem.

“They are responsible for the security of their citizens,” Bennett said. “I know the president, his administration and Congress care deeply about American Jews and will ensure their welfare.”

Former ambassador to the US and current deputy minister Michael Oren (Kulanu) said Herzog’s statement revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of American Jewry.

“As the nation-state of the Jewish people, we, of course, welcome Jews from around the world but a strong American Jewish community is a paramount interest of Israel,” Oren said.

When Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was asked about the incidents in the US at his Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting Monday, he said there was no connection between anti-Semitism around the world and the policies of the Israeli government.

US boycotts UN discussion on Israeli human rights abuses

The US on Monday issued a strongly worded statement accusing a United Nations body of longstanding bias against Israel.

Amid threats from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to withdraw entirely from the United Nations Human Rights Council, the State Department announced it would boycott the council’s entire Monday discussion about alleged human rights abuses committed by Israel and vote against any resolutions that came from it.

“The United States strongly and unequivocally opposes the existence of the UN Human Rights Council’s Agenda Item Seven: ‘Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories,’” acting spokesperson Mark Toner said in a statement.

Agenda Item Seven is a permanent fixture requiring the council to discuss three times each year any alleged abuses of human rights committed by Israel against Palestinians. Toner said that the item threatens the credibility of the council.

Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

“Today’s actions in the Council are yet another reminder of that body’s longstanding bias against Israel,” he said. “No other nation has an entire agenda item dedicated to it at the Council. The continued existence of this agenda item is among the largest threats to the credibility of the Council. It does not serve the interests of the Council to single out one country in an unbalanced matter.”

Israel is the only country-specific issue that has a permanent place on the council’s agenda, an opening for discussion about the Jewish state that often sees anti-Israel invective delivered at council meetings from Arab and Muslim states.

“Later this week, the United States will vote against every resolution put forth under this agenda item and is encouraging other countries to do the same,” Toner said.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon also slammed to council.

“The UN Human Rights Council has turned harming Israel into its raison d’etre,” he said. “The time has come to end to this shameful, and even embarrassing, chapter in the history of the UN. Members of the Council must put an end to the bias in this absurd body.”

Michael Lynk, the UN's special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, on October 28, 2016 (Courtesy)

Michael Lynk, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, on October 28, 2016 (Courtesy)

Earlier, Michael Lynk, the special rapporteur on Palestinian territories held by Israel since 1967, warned that the “illegal settlement enterprise has moved at an alarming pace” this year.

The US has always boycotted the discussion of the agenda item on Israel, and for the past several years Jerusalem has encouraged other nations to do the same.

Last month, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called out the Human Rights Council for “breathtaking double standards” and “outrageously biased resolutions” against Israel, during a press conference after her first meeting with the UN Security Council.

US United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at the Security Council meeting on February 21, 2017 at UN Headquarters in New York. (AFP PHOTO / KENA BETANCUR)

US United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at the Security Council meeting on February 21, 2017 at UN Headquarters in New York. (AFP PHOTO / KENA BETANCUR)

Earlier this month US envoy Erin Barclay said the United States’ commitment to human rights “is stronger than ever.” However, she slammed the council for its focus on Israel.

“No other nation is the focus of an entire agenda item… The obsession with Israel… is the largest threat to this council’s credibility,” said Barclay, a career diplomat. “It limits the good we can accomplish by making a mockery of this council. The United States will oppose any effort to delegitimize or isolate Israel.

US envoy Erin Barclay addresses the United Nations Human Rights Council March 1, 2017 (Screen capture: UNHRC)

US envoy Erin Barclay addresses the United Nations Human Rights Council March 1, 2017 (Screen capture: UNHRC)

Last week Tillerson sent a letter to nine nonprofit groups in which he explained that the United States may quit the council unless it makes reforms, Foreign Policy reported.

In the meantime, Tillerson said, the US would reiterate its “strong principled objection to the Human Rights Council’s biased agenda against Israel.”

Tillerson wrote that the US was concerned as well about membership in the council of countries accused of human rights violations, such as China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Should US President Donald Trump’s administration opt out of the UNHRC, it wouldn’t be the first to shun the body.

When the UNHRC was created out of the discredited UN Human Rights Commission in 2006, then-US president George W. Bush refused to join the new group, believing that it would lack credibility and that, like its predecessor, it would allow human right violators to become members.

In 2009, president Barack Obama reversed that decision, hoping to improve the UNHRC.

“With others, we will engage in the work of improving the UN human rights system,” then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton said at the time.

Netanyahu chief of staff heads to US to sort out settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz left for Washington on Sunday to discuss settlement building with the Trump administration.

He will join Ron Dermer, Israel’s Washington ambassador, to continue discussions with US special envoy Jason Greenblatt in an attempt to reach an understanding between Israel and US President Donald Trump’s administration about building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu left Israel on Saturday night for a three day trip to China, and the fact that Horowitz did not accompany the prime minister but went instead to Washington highlights the importance of the negotiations with the US.

Greenblatt visited Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan last week to gain a deeper understanding of the situation. Despite two meetings with Netanyahu during the course of the visit, no agreement was reached on settlement construction.

Netanyahu and Greenblatt made “progress on the issue of Israeli settlement construction following up on President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement in Washington last month to work out an approach that reflects both leaders’ views,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office issued after the second three-hour meeting Thursday night.

“Those discussions are continuing between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office,” it said.

Netanyahu and the Trump White House have been trying to reach an understanding on Israeli settlement activity since last month’s meeting between the Israeli leader and the US president, who in a joint press conference told Netanyahu that he wanted him to “hold back” on the settlements.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Netanyahu has been trying to get the White House’s approval for the construction of a new settlement — the first in some 25 years — to replace the illegal outpost of Amona, which was evacuated and demolished last month.

Last month, he indicated to members of his security cabinet that the government may have to back off the pledge, drawing vociferous protests from the settlers and their allies in the coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's special representative for international negotiations, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

The Israeli prime minister has also been actively trying to avoid friction on other fronts related to settlements, pushing to postpone a Knesset committee vote next week on a bill that calls to annex the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

On Thursday, Greenblatt sat down for an unprecedented session with a delegation from the settler umbrella group the Yesha Council, led by Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi and Shomron Regional Council head Yossi Dagan — a meeting that according to Channel 2 was coordinated with Netanyahu.

Ahead of Greenblatt’s trip to Israel, Dagan told Likud ministers that a Netanyahu agreement to rein in settlement construction, or to a partial freeze of settlements, would lead to political crisis, Channel 2 reported, adding that the settler movement has argued that the freeze imposed by the administration of former president Barack Obama constituted “a breach of their human rights.”

A statement from the Yesha Council following the meeting with Greenblatt described it as “fruitful and positive,” and added that the council “looks forward to continuing this important dialogue.”

Channel 10 reported that officials who have met with Greenblatt over the past several days came away with a sense that the administration is determined to make progress on a regional peace accord, with talk of convening a possible regional conference in the coming months, and that White House efforts to get Israel to rein in settlements would come into play then.

Netanyahu said earlier Thursday that Israel was “in the middle of a process of dialogue with the White House and it is our intention to get to an agreed-upon policy on construction in the settlements.”

He noted that it was preferable to reach such understandings quickly rather than engaging in drawn-out negotiations.

Many on the Israeli right had anticipated that Trump would be more supportive of the settlement enterprise than his predecessor Barack Obama. However, last month, at a joint White House press conference with Netanyahu, Trump asked the prime minister to “hold back on settlements a little bit.” He also said in a newspaper interview that Israeli settlements “don’t help” in negotiating a peace agreement.

72 Bombs a Day – How the U.S. Spreads Democracy and Freedom

http://www.renegadetribune.com/72-bombs-day-u-s-spreads-democracy-freedom/
By Isaac Davis of Waking Times

Among the many other landmark events that took place in 2016, the United States military dropped a whopping 26,171 bombs in foreign nations. This is hardly good news for those on the receiving end, and as conflict spreads in the Middle East and government pushes for all out war with Russia and China, ordinary Americans, those who foot the war bill with tax money, have some soul-searching to do.

Are the values this nation was founded on best shared with the world through violence and destruction? Has American ingenuity in all matters of science and productivity been eclipsed by out capacity to exert the will of the oligarchy though police actions and indiscriminate bombing? Is there ever a moment when enough is enough, and we admit that bombing people doesn’t create peace or achieve the aspirations of a free and moral people?

As reported by McClatchyDC:

“The U.S. dropped 26,171 bombs last year, 3,027 more than 2015. According to an analysis of Defense Department data from the Council on Foreign Relations, a non-partisan think tank, the majority of the bombs were dropped in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. leads an international coalition fighting the Islamic State group in both countries and has carried out air operations in attempt to reduce the area controlled by the terrorist organization. Nearly the same amount of bombs were dropped in Syria (12,192) and Iraq (12,095) last year.” [Source]

This amounts to an average of just under 72 bombs a day for the year.

What makes this achievement even more remarkable is that most of these munitions were supposedly dropped on ISIS, a terrorist organization that even members of the U.S. Congress say is being funded covertly by the United States.

What makes this achievement even more remarkable is the fact that at present the U.S. is not legally at war with any nation, therefore all of the bombs fell on nations and people which are not engaged in open conflict against the U.S.

How incredible is this… the United States is technically not at war with any country right now but dropped more than 26,000 bombs in just 2016 and this under a “anti-war” President. We have an entire generation of Americans who have lived only under a system of “perpetual war”. The time is long overdue to redefine these issues.” –Ben Swann

Finally, what makes this achievement even more outstanding is the cognitive dissonance associated with the fact that the U.S. maintains the illusion of being a peaceful nation and all of these bombs, as well as the hundreds of thousands of bombs dropped in the last eight years were done so during the administration of a Nobel Peace Prize winner. This is Orwellian double-think at its finest.

I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.” -President Theodore Roosevelt

Prescient enough as it is, the above statement by Theodore Roosevelt is even more astonishing now when you consider the attitude of defense contractors, who view the possibility of world war III as a potentially great business opportunity.

The American public and the world have long since been warned of the dangers of allowing the military industrial complex to become such an integral part of our economic survival. The United States is the self-proclaimed angel of democracy in the world, but just as George Orwell warned, war is the health of the state, and in the language of newspeak, democracy is the term we use to hide the reality of the nature of our warfare state.


This article originally appeared on Waking Times.

First solar eclipse to cross U.S. in 99 years is coming. To some, it’s an act of God.

The first solar eclipse to cross America in 99 years is coming. To some, it’s an act of God.

On Monday, Aug. 21, in the middle of the day, the sky will go dark. The temperature will suddenly get several degrees colder. Birds will stop chirping and retreat to their nests. And tens of millions of people, crammed into a 60-mile-wide path that crosses from Oregon to the Carolinas, will stand in America looking up at the sky.

It’s easy to understand why many people will view this as an act of God.

The total solar eclipse that will cross America this summer – an event that last happened 99 years ago – will be an important moment for scientific observers and a massive nationwide spectator event. It will also, for many people of faith, be evidence of God’s majesty – and even, to a few, a harbinger of the coming end of the world.

“I don’t think it’s an accident that God put us human beings here on Earth where we can actually see total solar eclipses. I think God wants us to make these discoveries,” said Hugh Ross, who is both an astronomer and a minister. “I would argue that God on purpose made the universe beautiful, and one of the beauties is a solar eclipse.”

Ross will be leading a trip to watch the eclipse for about 80 people interested in finding spirituality in science. They’ll travel down a dirt road into a field in Eastern Oregon, where they will wait for the sun to be blotted out. Across the country, other church groups will do the same.

A solar eclipse isn’t all that rare. The moon is always rotating around the Earth, while the Earth rotates around the sun. Usually the moon appears slightly higher or lower than the sunlight hits the Earth. But twice a year, it’s right smack in front of it, and the moon blocks out the sun during the daytime, and that’s at least a partial solar eclipse.

When a total eclipse occurs, the shadow falls on just a tiny part of the Earth, about 60 to 100 miles wide, and then moves about a thousand miles over the course of a few hours. Because so much of the Earth is water, this almost always happens over an ocean.

The last total solar eclipse visible from the continental United States was in 1979, and it was only over a corner of the Pacific Northwest.

Something like this summer’s event, where so many people on land can see a total solar eclipse, is exceptionally rare – although the United States actually will experience another one, crossing an opposite diagonal swath of the country, in 2024.

This August, the “path of totality” cuts across the entire country, and every single spot in the continental United States will see an eclipse up to 60 percent.

That means that anyone in the country can step outside and see some darkness on that Monday in August. But eclipse-watchers – including Jay M. Pasachoff, a Williams College astronomer who has traveled around the world to witness an astonishing 65 eclipses – say that one truly has to see totality to really grasp the awe-inspiring nature of an eclipse. Even 99 percent, Pasachoff said, is nowhere near as dramatic as the moment it totally goes dark, which will last for up to two minutes and 40 seconds.

“You have to be in totality to do it. Basically the universe gets a million times darker,” Pasachoff said. “It is absolutely necessary to be in the path of totality. It’s a poor second to be off to the side.”

For Ross and other clergy planning to showcase the eclipse as both a scientific and a religious event, that stunning experience of seeing totality is an opportunity for discussing God’s handiwork. When Ross was a researcher at the California Institute of Technology, he would take his fellow scientists on hiking trips in the Sierra Nevada, he said.

“When they would say, ‘Yeah, it’s gorgeous,’ I would say, ‘Why is it so beautiful?’ It would always lead to a discussion about the Christian faith,” he said. For that reason – the opportunity to use natural beauty as a tool for evangelism – he thinks this eclipse will be a popular Christian event. “A lot of leaders of churches are going to be encouraging people,” he said, to go see the eclipse in August.

It’s certainly not just church leaders who have that idea. Visitors from as far as Europe and Asia started booking hotel rooms months ago in sleepy little corners of Wyoming and Idaho where they will be able to see the eclipse.

The population living in that long path of totality, from Oregon to the Carolinas, is about 12 million people, by the count of Angela Speck, co-chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s task force on the 2017 eclipse. Speck says another 12 million or many more could easily visit for the eclipse date. Nearly everyone in the continental United States lives within one day’s drive of the eclipse path – so if 4 percent of the country decided they wanted to drive to the right spot that day and see the sun go dark, 12 million would turn to 24 million overnight.

There’s precedent: In 1991, Speck said, so many people tried to enter Mexico to see a total eclipse that the country closed parts of its borders.

Speck and others involved in this year’s eclipse preparation are concerned that rural communities on the eclipse path won’t be prepared for the massive traffic jams, the food and water needs of the hordes of visitors, or the safety glasses that every eclipse-watcher should have. (They cost about a dollar, but supplying one to every American who may look up at the total or partial eclipse is a staggering task.)

In certain religious communities, the talk surrounding the eclipse has to do with a different sort of preparation. Gary Ray isn’t worried about just travel plans and adequate eye protection. He’s focused on the Rapture.

Ray, a writer for the evangelical Christian publication Unsealed, views this eclipse as one of several astronomical signs that the day when Christians will be whisked away from the Earth is fast approaching.

“The Bible says a number of times that there’s going to be signs in the heavens before Jesus Christ returns to Earth. We see this as possibly one of those,” Ray said about the eclipse.

He is even more interested in another astronomical event that will occur 33 days after the eclipse, on Sept. 23, 2017.

The Book of Revelation, which is full of extraordinary imagery, describes a woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” who gives birth to a boy who will “rule all the nations with an iron scepter” while she is threatened by a red, seven-headed dragon. The woman then grows the wings of an eagle and is swallowed up by the earth.

Ray says that image will be created in the sky on Sept. 23. The constellation Virgo – representing the woman – will be clothed in sunlight, in a position that is over the moon and under nine stars and three planets. The planet Jupiter, which will have been inside Virgo – in her womb, in Ray’s interpretation – will move out of Virgo, as if she is giving birth.

Astronomers don’t see this as a particularly unusual event. But to Ray and others, it could be the sign that the Rapture is ready to happen: “We think it’s God signaling to us that he’s about to make His next move.”

And Ray thinks the two eclipses that are slated to travel across the United States in 2017 and 2024, together marking an X across the nation, could be the starting and ending signs bookmarking a seven-year period of awful tribulations that Revelations says waits in store for nonbelievers who are left behind on Earth when the Rapture occurs.

“That time frame is speculative, 2017 to 2024. But it makes a lot of sense. There are a lot of things that really point us to that,” he said.

Therefore, the eclipse preparation that Ray recommends is a bit different from the scientists’ association’s advice.

“My number one encouragement to people would be to just trust God. More importantly, to trust the right God,” he said, warning that those who do not believe when the day of the Rapture comes will be left behind to face the tribulations. “If people want to be ready, the one thing you can do is accept what He has offered, which is the gift of grace and forgiveness. That’s all we have to do to be ready.”

University of Redlands astronomer Tyler Nordgren, who is advising the National Park Service on handling this eclipse, looked at prior events. Just a partial eclipse, not a total one, set visitor records in 2012 when it crossed through National Park Service sites in the Southwest. For this summer, he told the Park Service, “Imagine the biggest event you’ve ever had, and double it.”

So come August, even nonbelievers looking out at the crowds on the eclipse path may find themselves comparing it to an apocalyptic event. For one Eastern Oregon park, Nordgren predicts 25,000 to 50,000 sky-watchers. The park has one toilet.

US claims deadly north Syria strike, denies targeting mosque

WASHINGTON — The US military said Thursday it carried out a deadly air strike on an al-Qaeda meeting in northern Syria and would investigate reports that more than 40 civilians were killed when a mosque was struck in the raid.

“We did not target a mosque, but the building that we did target — which was where the meeting took place — is about 50 feet from a mosque that is still standing,” said Colonel John J. Thomas, spokesman for US Central Command.

According to a CENTCOM statement, “US forces conducted an airstrike on an al-Qaeda in Syria meeting location March 16 in Idlib, Syria, killing several terrorists.”

The CENTCOM spokesman later clarified that the precise location of the strike was unclear — but that it was the same one widely reported to have targeted the village mosque in Al-Jineh, in Aleppo province.

Illustrative: US Navy F-18E Super Hornets flying over northern Iraq as part of the US-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State and other targets, September 23, 2014. (AP/US Air Force, Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel)

“We are going to look into any allegations of civilian casualties in relation to this strike,” he added, when asked about reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that 42 people had died, most of them civilians.

“We take that very seriously,” he said, adding that CENTCOM had not received any direct reports of civilian casualties.

Thomas said the unilateral US strike “destroyed one half of a building in which the meeting was occurring.”

Al-Jineh is held by rebel and Islamist groups, but no jihadist factions are thought to be present.

The Britain-based Observatory said that raids by unidentified warplanes had targeted the village mosque during evening prayers.

It said more than 100 people were wounded, with many still trapped under the collapsed mosque.

Fresh wave of bomb scares hits three JCCs in US

Jewish community centers in three states were hit with bomb threats between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, with at least two coming via email. All were deemed to be non-credible.

JCCs in St. Louis, Atlanta, and Boulder, Colorado received the threats, according to local news reports. The threats in St. Louis and Boulder came via email; Atlanta’s JCC would not comment on the nature of the threat. All three JCCs had received bomb threats this year.

The scares are the latest of nearly 150 bomb threats to hit JCCs, Jewish day schools and other Jewish institutions since the beginning of the year. The threats have mostly come in waves, via phone and email. Many of the institutions have been threatened more than once.

“The safety and security of our members, staff, and guests is always our top priority,” read a statement from Atlanta’s Marcus JCC on Tuesday’s threat. “We will not let this threat deter us from our mission and the responsibility we have to be the safe, welcoming, inclusive, and diverse communal town square for the generations of Atlantans who have relied on us.”

On Sunday, at least six JCCs in the US and Canada received bomb threats which were found to be non-credible. They were reported at JCCs serving Rochester, New York, Chicago, Illinois, Indianapolis, Indiana, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Vancouver, British Columbia, and Houston, Texas. The calls and email came as Jewish communities around the globe celebrated the holiday of Purim.

The FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies have been investigating the threats, but have yet to charge anyone with committing the vast majority of them. Juan Thompson, a St. Louis resident, has been charged with committing eight of the threats, but appears to be a copycat.

On Thursday, a top New York police official said most of the threats were likely being carried out by a single individual using phone spoofing technology to mask the source of the calls.

Also Tuesday, the website for the metropolitan Detroit area’s Walk for Israel was hacked and peppered with hate-filled and anti-Semitic expressions.

US demands UN pull report accusing Israel of apartheid

The United States on Wednesday demanded that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres withdraw a report by a UN body accusing Israel of imposing apartheid on the Palestinians and of racially dominating them.

Guterres distanced himself from the report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) but US Ambassador Nikki Haley said it should be scrapped altogether.

“The United States is outraged by the report,” said Haley in a statement. “The United Nations secretariat was right to distance itself from this report, but it must go further and withdraw the report altogether.”

Based in Beirut, ESCWA is comprised of 18 Arab countries, according to its website, which lists the state of Palestine as a full member, and works to strengthen cooperation and promote development.

“That such anti-Israel propaganda would come from a body whose membership nearly universally does not recognize Israel is unsurprising,” said Haley.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres shaking hands with new US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at the United Nations in New York,  January 27, 2017. (AFP/Bryan R. Smith)

Haley has accused the United Nations of being biased against Israel and has vowed as President Donald Trump’s envoy to staunchly defend Israel at the world body.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said “the report as it stands does not reflect the views of the secretary-general” and was done without consultations with the UN secretariat.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon earlier slammed the commission for releasing the report which accuses Israel of establishing “an apartheid regime that oppresses and dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.”

Danon said the “attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East by creating a false analogy is despicable and constitutes a blatant lie.”

Rima Khalaf (YouTube Screen Shot)

“It comes as no surprise that an organization headed by an individual who has called for boycotts against Israel, and compared our democracy to the most terrible regimes of the twentieth century, would publish such a report. We call on the Secretary-General to disassociate the UN from this biased and deceitful report,” he said in reference to ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf, a Jordanian national.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, speaks to the UN Security Council after it passed an anti-settlement resolution, December 23, 2016 (UN Screenshot)

The report published Wednesday, titled “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” says that “available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.”

The Beirut-based commission slammed Israel’s Law of Return, “conferring on Jews worldwide the right to enter Israel and obtain Israeli citizenship regardless of their countries of origin and whether or not they can show links to Israel-Palestine, while withholding any comparable right from Palestinians, including those with documented ancestral homes in the country,” as a policy of “demographic engineering” meant to uphold Israel’s status as the Jewish state.

The report further accuses Israel of “practices” that have fragmented Palestinians, arguing that it is the “principal method by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime.”

UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk (photo credit: UN Watch)

“This fragmentation operates to stabilize the Israeli regime of racial domination over the Palestinians and to weaken the will and capacity of the Palestinian people to mount a unified and effective resistance,” the report reads.

The report was compiled by Richard Falk, a Princeton professor emeritus with a long track record of vehemently anti-Israel rhetoric who previously was the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Palestine, and by Virginia Tilley, an American political scientist who authored the book “The One-State Solution” in 2005.

Haley described Falk as “a man who has repeatedly made biased and deeply offensive comments about Israel and espoused ridiculous conspiracy theories.”

ISRAEL CALLS ON BANKS IN SPAIN, SOUTH AFRICA, US TO SHUT BDS ACCOUNTS

 

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is ratcheting up pressure on banks to close the accounts of groups that boycott Israel, including one organization that has links to an internationally recognized Palestinian terrorist organization.

“Facilitating the bank accounts of BDS organizations constitutes support for BDS. Banks maintaining such accounts should carefully consider the danger of running afoul of strict anti-BDS legislation in the US and other countries,” Erdan told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive statement on Thursday.

 

“Countries have already shut BDS accounts for legal reasons and we urge others to do the same,” he added.

The Post’s ongoing investigative series on financial institutions enabling boycott groups to target Israel revealed that BDS South Africa’s bank account is maintained at that country’s First National Bank.

BDS South Africa – one of the most powerful and aggressive anti-Israel groups internationally – held a series of fund-raisers in 2015 with Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which the US and EU have designated as a terrorist organization.

The BDS South Africa website shows a photograph of Khaled hosted by the group with a caption that reads, “Leila Khaled fund-raising dinner in Rustenburg.” A second photograph carries the caption: “Leila Khaled fundraising dinner in Pretoria.”

Khaled was a key member of a terrorist cell that hijacked TWA Flight 840 in 1969. A year later, she participated in the hijacking of EL AL Flight 219. BDS South Africa termed Khaled a “Palestine icon” on its website. It is unclear whether the money raised was sent via the First National Bank account to the PFLP and Khaled, or held in the account to promote BDS in South Africa and abroad.

Concerns about money laundering for crime and terrorism, as well as anti-BDS laws, have triggered the closure over the past year of BDS accounts in Ireland, US, Austria, France, the UK and Germany.

Nainesh Desai, First National Bank’s business chief risk officer, wrote to the Post: “Due to client confidentiality, First National Bank (FNB) cannot disclose information about any of its customers to a third party.”

In June, the Austrian financial giant BAWAG closed the bank account of Vienna’s Austrian-Arab cultural center, OKAZ, because it hosted Khaled in April.

First National Bank maintains a correspondence bank relationship with the UK’s Standard Chartered. When asked if First National used Standard Chartered to transfer BDS funds and payments for the PFLP, Julie Gibson, a Standard Chartered spokeswoman, said: “Whenever we receive complaints or information about potentially suspicious activity, we look into it.”

Gibson told the Post by phone that an investigation had been opened into the BDS account, but Lauren Callie, a Standard Chartered spokeswoman in South Africa, wrote to the Post that Gibson “made no reference nor commitment to the bank specifically investigating the BSD account with First National.”

According to Callie, Standard Chartered’s official position is as follows: “In line with the bank’s commitment to preventing fraud, money laundering and terror financing, Standard Chartered will investigate any external reports or tipoffs we receive. Regrettably, we are unable to provide any specifics on our investigations, in the interest of client privacy and confidentiality.”

Gibson told the Post that Standard Chartered has terminated correspondence bank accounts in the past but has declined to state the reasons. She added that the bank complies with US laws regarding terrorism.

Standard Charted admitted in 2012 that it violated sanctions against Iran, and paid $667 million to the US government.

The US government reopened an investigation in 2015 against Standard Chartered for additional violations of Iran sanctions.

Numerous Post press queries to BDS South Africa were not returned.

The International Association of Democratic Lawyers – a pro-BDS organization that supports Iran’s nuclear program – has accounts with Texas-based Comerica Bank and Spain’s La Caixa. When asked about Erdan’s statement, Wayne Mielke, a spokesman for Comerica, told the Post: “We decline to comment outside of reiterating that we have a robust compliance program in place at the bank.”

An anti-BDS bill is working its way through the Texas legislature.

Several queries to La Caixa were not immediately returned.