SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Israeli Minister of Military Affairs Moshe Yaalon have finalized a new arms deal worth USD 10 billion.
"Minister Yaalon and I agreed that the United States will make available to Israel a set of advanced new military capabilities ... including anti-radiation missiles and advanced radars for fighter jets, KC135 refueling aircraft, and most significantly the V-22 Osprey…," Hagel said in a joint press conference in Tel Aviv on Monday.
Hagel arrived in Israel on Sunday at the start of a six-day regional tour, his first since taking over as the Pentagon chief two months ago.
Meanwhile, Israel admitted to attacking a scientific research facility in Syria back in January, claiming the airstrike destroyed a convoy of advanced weapons that was bound for Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.
Hagel is set to visit Cairo, then Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to finalize details of a USD 10 billion arms deal that will also provide sophisticated missiles to Saudi Arabia and US F-16 fighter jets to the UAE.
The Pentagon chief’s trip comes a month after US President Barack Obama visited Israel and reaffirmed Washington’s backing of Tel Aviv while promoting fresh attempts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel met his Israeli counterpart Moshe Yaalon on Monday to put the finishing touches on a multi-billion dollars arms deal between the two allies, which will see Israel receiving an impressive package of advanced US missiles and aircraft.
"Today we took another significant step in the US-Israel defense relationship," Hagel said at a joint news conference in Tel Aviv, reiterating Washington's "ironclad pledge" to ensure Israel's qualitative military edge in the region.
"Minister Yaalon and I agreed that the United States will make available to Israel a set of advanced new military capabilities ... including anti-radiation missiles and advanced radars for fighter jets, KC135 refueling aircraft, and most significantly the V-22 Osprey, which the United States has not released to any other nation," Hagel confirmed.
Hagel arrived in Israel on Sunday at the start of a six-day regional tour, his first since taking over as Pentagon chief two months ago, which was likely to be dominated by concerns over Iran's nuclear program and the Syrian conflict.
Syria was a central part of their talks, with Yaalon admitting that Israel had already "acted" to stop advanced Syrian weapons from falling into militant hands, in what was seen as implicit confirmation of Israeli involvement in a strike on an arms convoy inside Syria in January.
"When they crossed this red line, we acted," he said, in what was widely understood to be the January 30 strike which hit what a US official said were surface-to-air missiles near Damascus that Israel suspected were en route to Hezbollah.
The second red line was maintaining the calm along the Israeli-Syrian ceasefire line on the occupied Golan Heights, and the third was the transfer of chemical weapons into the hands of militants, which "has not been tested yet," Yaalon said.
Later on Monday, Hagel will meet Israeli President Shimon Peres and then hold talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday morning before leaving for Jordan.
He will also visit Cairo on his tour, then Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to finalise details of the elaborate $10 billion arms deal that will also provide sophisticated missiles to Saudi and US F-16 fighter jets to the UAE.
Earlier last month, Hagel had reassured Ehud Barak in a two-hour meeting that he would work to prevent disruption to Washington's funding for military equipment to Israel despite massive recent US budget cuts.
The meeting came less than a week after President Barack Obama reluctantly ordered $85 billion in budget cuts, and amid speculation that the move would shave off funds to Israel. In 2007, the US and Israel signed a deal to send $30 billion in military aid to Israel for a decade.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Fighting between Nigeria's military and the armed group Boko Haram has left at least 185 people dead in a fishing community in the nation's far northeast, officials said on Sunday.
The fighting in Baga began on Friday and lasted for hours, sending people fleeing into the arid scrublands surrounding the community on Lake Chad, according to the AP news agency.
By Sunday, when government officials finally felt safe enough to see the destruction, homes, businesses and vehicles were burned throughout the area.
The assault marks a significant escalation in a long-running insurgency in the predominantly Muslim north, where Boko Haram has mounted a coordinated assault on soldiers using military-grade weaponry.
Boko Haram, which means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's north, has said it wants its imprisoned members freed and Nigeria to adopt strict Islamic law.
Authorities had found and buried at least 185 bodies as of Sunday afternoon, said Lawan Kole, a local government official in Baga. Officials could not offer a breakdown of civilian casualties versus those of soldiers and fighters.
Many of the bodies had been burned beyond recognition in fires that razed whole sections of the town, residents said.
Brigadier General Austin Edokpaye said the Boko Haram fighters used heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades in the assault, which began after soldiers surrounded a mosque they believed housed members of the group.
Edokpaye said they used civilians as human shields during the fighting, implying that soldiers opened fire in neighbourhoods where they knew civilians lived.
"When we reinforced and returned to the scene the terrorists came out with heavy firepower, including [rocket-propelled grenades], which usually has a conflagration effect," the general said.
However, local residents who spoke to a journalist who accompanied the state officials said soldiers purposefully set the fires during the attack.
Violence by security forces in the northeast targeting civilians has been widely documented by journalists and human rights activists.
A similar raid in Maiduguri, Borno state's capital, in October saw soldiers kill at least 30 civilians and set fires across a neighborhood.
On Sunday afternoon, the burned bodies of cattle and goats still filled the streets in Baga. Bullet holes marred burned buildings. Fearful residents of the town had begun packing to leave with their remaining family members before nightfall.
"Everyone has been in the bush since Friday night; we started returning back to town because the governor came to town today," grocer Bashir Isa said.
"To get food to eat in the town now is a problem because even the markets are burnt. We are still picking corpses of women and children in the bush and creeks."
The insurgency in Nigeria grew out of a 2009 riot led by Boko Haram members in Maiduguri, which ended in a military and police crackdown that killed around 700 people. The group's leader died in police custody in an apparent execution.
Shootings, suicide bombings and other attacks carried out by the group have killed at least 1,548 people before Friday's attack, according to an AP tally.
Fighters suspected to belong to Boko Haram also have been seen in northern Mali, where heavily armed rebels took power last year in the weeks following a military coup.
Analysts say Boko Haram may get its hands on weapons smuggled out of Libya following its recent civil war.
Despite the deployment of more soldiers and police to northern Nigeria, the nation's weak central government has been unable to stop the killings. -www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – A major U.S. arms deal with Israel sends a “very clear signal” to Tehran that military action remains an option to stop it from going nuclear, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters on Sunday.
Asked if a multi-billion dollar arms package with Israel was designed to convey a message that a military strike remains an option, he said: “I don't think there's any question that's another very clear signal to Iran.”
Hagel was speaking just before his plane touched down in Tel Aviv to present Israel and Arab states with a $10 billion arms deal to defend themselves from Iran on his week-long trip to the Middle East, which kicked off on Sunday.
In a two-day visit to Israel, Hagel will seek to counter criticism from some U.S. lawmakers and pro-Israel groups that he is too soft on Iran and too hostile to the Jewish state -- a charge he has vehemently rejected.
Hagel is expected to tout the arms deal as a demonstration of Washington’s commitment to Israel’s security and as a way of countering Iran’s military power and nuclear ambitions.
The unveiled arms deal will provide U.S. military aircraft and missiles to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to AFP news agency.
The United States and Israel have disagreed over the urgency of the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, with Washington maintaining there is still time to see if tough sanctions and diplomacy persuade Tehran to change course.
Hagel is due to tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and meet Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, officials said.
His trip to Israel comes a month after President Barack Obama visited Jerusalem and reaffirmed U.S. backing of Israel while promoting fresh attempts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
After Israel, Hagel will travel on to Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Under the unusual U.S. arms package announced Friday, which was negotiated simultaneously with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the United States plans to sell advanced missiles to the Saudis and more than two dozen F-16 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates.
With the Gulf states anxious over Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, the Pentagon has agreed to billions of dollars of arms sales designed to bolster the Arab nations’ air power and missile defenses.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Al Arabiya
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Saudi Arabia has sent more tanks and weapons for its troops in Bahrain during the Formula One Grand Prix auto race in Manama.
Bahrani activists said on Sunday that the tanks were sent by heavy military transport vehicles, which crossed the main bridge that links the two neighboring countries.
Meanwhile, Saudi-backed Bahraini security forces clashed with pro-democracy protesters, who held demonstrations on Sunday across the country against the Grand Prix race.
The violence erupted when police attacked protesters blocking roads in Manama. The protesters also burnt tires on roads in villages outside Manama, according to witnesses.
Protests have increased in Bahrain as the Manama regime prepares to host the controversial sporting event.
Bahrain’s public security chief, Major General Tariq Hassan said in a statement, “Police are out in force to beef up security measures at the Bahrain International Circuit.”
On Saturday, police fired tear gas at anti-regime demonstrators calling for the cancelation of the sporting event over the regime’s crackdown on peaceful protests.
Similar demonstrations were held on Friday, when tens of thousands of Bahrainis rallied along the Budaiya highway west of Manama to demand the cancelation of the race.
The Bahraini revolution began on February 14, 2011, when the people, inspired by the popular revolutions that toppled the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt, started holding massive demonstrations.
On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invaded the country, upon Manama's request, to help the Bahraini regime quash the uprising.
The protesters initially said they wanted political reform and a constitutional monarchy. However, following the regime’s brutal crackdown on the popular protests, the Bahraini people began demanding that the ruling Al Khalifa family step down.
Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others arrested in the crackdown, but the protesters are undaunted and have refused to back down on their demands. -www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The Syrian government has called on the armed foreign-sponsored insurgents to lay down their weapons or face the consequences.
According to Xinhua news agency, the government made the demand on Sunday in a in a text message sent to people across the Arab country.
It said that "to all those carrying weapons against the state, be rational and quick to lay down weapons because the men of the Syrian army are coming."
The message said, "Our duty is to protect the homeland, and confronting terrorism is a national and legitimate duty".
The warning came as the Syrian forces continue mop-up operations against the foreign-backed terrorists across the country.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011. Many people, including large numbers of Army and security personnel, have been killed in the violence.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –The FBI has charged Eric Harroun, a 30-year-old former US Army soldier, with conspiring to use a rocket-propelled grenade - which it considers a “weapon of mass destruction” - on behalf of a foreign terrorist organization.
In this case, the terrorist-designated group is the al-Nusrah Front, which has been actively engaged in insurgency against the Syrian government. Information filed by the FBI in its case against Harroun briefly touches on the group’s history of name changes, though it is often referred to by the US as “al Qaeda in Iraq.”
The manner by which Harroun came to be considered in the service of a foreign terrorist group spans several years, and the affidavit filed by the FBI is, rather ironically, based on information he willingly posted via Facebook, as well as in voluntary interviews with the FBI at the US Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
Harroun first came to some public fame after a video entitled “American Fighter Vows Death to Assad” appeared on a news website and showed Harroun (also identified as “US Mujahid” in other versions) alongside purported members of al-Nusrah.
According to testimony supplied by Harroun to the FBI, he traveled to Turkey in November of 2012 and shortly thereafter entered Syria, where he sought to join up with the Free Syrian Army in its fight against the Assad government. Unfortunately for Harroun, the US government’s classification of the al-Nusrah Front, the group he found himself fighting alongside and which is largely composed of non-Syrians, likely began making officials nervous.
One interesting detail included in the FBI’s affidavit include questions over Harroun’s views on Zionism during a March 2013 interview, and his comment that “the only good Zionist is a dead Zionist.”
It seems clear that the FBI had been attempting to ascertain to what extent Harroun was involved with the combatant group in Syria, and whether he was becoming radicalized. Though his interviews with the bureau in Turkey did not seem to indicate any support of al-Qaeda or radical Islamism, he did comment on training he received by members of al-Nusrah on the use of rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and admitted firing such a device on at least one occasion while in Syria.
Harroun has made his first federal court appearance in Virginia, and if convicted faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Human rights groups on Monday sharply criticized the latest draft of what could become the first international treaty to regulate the $70 billion global conventional arms trade, accusing the United States and others of pushing to dilute it.
Several Western delegations, however, played down the complaints of groups like Oxfam, Amnesty International, the World Council of Churches and Control Arms, saying the latest draft showed progress, though improvements were clearly needed.
United Nations member states began meeting last week in a final push to hammer out a binding international treaty to end the lack of regulation over conventional arms sales. On Friday, Peter Wolcott of Australia, president of the drafting conference, distributed a revised draft treaty.
One of changes was in the list of arms the treaty covers.
The previous draft treaty said that the following weapon types would be covered by the pact "at a minimum" - tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers and small arms and light arms.
But in the new draft, the words "at a minimum" have been removed, which rights groups said has dramatically narrowed the scope of the weapons to be covered by the treaty.
"This treaty is not good enough," said Anna Macdonald of Oxfam. "This is not the treaty that is going to save lives and protect people."
Jonathan Frerichs of the World Council of Churches told reporters predator drones and hand grenades are examples of deadly arms that should be explicitly covered but are not.
Arms control campaigners and human rights advocates say one person dies every minute worldwide as a result of armed violence, and that a treaty is needed to halt the uncontrolled flow of weapons and ammunition that they argue helps fuel wars, atrocities and rights abuses.
NRA APPLAUDS SENATE MEASURE
Several Western diplomats said that the rights groups were ignoring improvements and exaggerating shortcomings of the new draft, noting a new draft comes out on Wednesday ahead of the final day of negotiations on Thursday.
If the pact does not get the required unanimous approval of member states, it would go to a vote in the 193-nation General Assembly, where diplomats say it is very likely to pass.
The point of an arms trade treaty is to set standards for all cross-border transfers of conventional weapons. It would also create binding requirements for states to review all cross-border arms contracts to ensure arms will not be used in human rights abuses, terrorism or violations of humanitarian law.
In addition to the narrowing of the scope of weapons covered, rights groups and supporters of a tough treaty said ammunition is not properly covered, and loopholes that exclude defense cooperation agreements, loans and leases remain in the draft.
Oxfam's Macdonald suggested it was the United States, the world's top arms producer, that had pushed for a narrowing of the scope of the weapons covered in the treaty. The U.S. mission did not have an immediate reaction, but several diplomats also blamed it on the United States and other major arms exporting nations.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced conditional support for the treaty last week, saying Washington was "steadfast in its commitment to achieve a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty that helps address the adverse effects of the international arms trade on global peace and stability."
But he did not promise U.S. support. He repeated that the United States would not accept a treaty that imposed new limits on U.S. citizens' right to bear arms, a sensitive political issue in the United States.
Over the weekend, the National Rifle Association, a powerful U.S. pro-gun lobby, welcomed a measure adopted by the U.S. Senate on Saturday that called on the United States not to join the U.N. arms trade treaty. The NRA has vowed to fight hard to prevent ratification of the treaty if it reaches Washington.
The measure, which was put forward by Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, passed on a 53-46 vote. Several U.N. diplomats in New York said this was a sign of the difficulties the United States would have securing Senate approval of a pact.
"Thanks to the efforts of Senator Inhofe, we are one step closer to ensuring the U.N. will not trample on the freedoms our Founding Fathers guaranteed to us," said Chris Cox, executive director of NRA's Institute for Legislative Action.
The American Bar Association, an attorneys' lobbying group, last month disputed the NRA position on the treaty, saying in a paper that "ratification of the treaty would not infringe upon rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment."
The main reason the arms trade talks are taking place at all is that the United States - the world's biggest arms trader - reversed U.S. policy on the issue after President Barack Obama was first elected and decided in 2009 to support an arms treaty.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Syrian rebels have used a rocket containing chemical substances in the conflict, killing 25 people and injuring 86, says Syria's Information Minister. Reports say most of the casualties killed in the attack in the flashpoint city of Aleppo were civilians.
Syrian government's SANA news agency reported that terrorists fired a rocket containing chemical substances in the Khan al-Assal area of rural Aleppo and confirmed that at least 25 people, most of them civilians, were killed.
Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi stated Turkey and Qatar bore "legal, moral and political responsibility" for the "dangerous escalation" in violence because of their support of rebel groups fighting to oust President Bashar Assad. He decried the incident as the interim government’s “first act.”
Syrian rebel commander, Qassim Saadeddine, immediately denied the accusations and claimed the Syrian regime had launched SCUD missiles containing chemical agents on Khan al-Assal.
The opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 26 people killed following the attack, saying that 16 died on the scene, while the other 10 died in hospital. A spokesperson for the organization said it was unclear how many civilians perished in the attack.
Fears that Syria’s chemical weapons could fall into militant hands have been a source of constant concern for the international community over the past few months. The US and the UN have repeatedly warned President Bashar Assad’s government against deploying its own chemical arms stockpile.
Damascus maintains that it would never use such weapons against its own people, but would consider their deployment if threatened by outside forces.
Reports that Syrian rebels had seized control of a number of chemical weapons depots in the Aleppo province emerged on Sunday.
"Opposition fighters gained control over weapons and ammunition stores in the village of Khan Toman in southern Aleppo province on Saturday after fierce fighting that went on for more than three days," an anonymous military source told AFP. Reports of the weapons seizure came after days of brutal clashes between opposition and government forces.
The source said the rebels only managed to steal a few crates containing ammunition, as a large part of the weapons stockpile had been transferred out of the facility. Activists disputed this, maintaining that rebels had taken control of “huge reserves.” A video posted online showed fighters looking over crates of weapons and ammunition, and claimed the attack was mounted by opposition group the Martyrs of Syria.
UK-based opposition group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the attack, but did not mention chemical weapons among the arms that were reportedly seized by the rebels.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Diplomats from around the world are to gather at the United Nations for talks on an international arms trade treaty, in an effort to stop the sale of illegal conventional arms.
Similar talks held last July failed, mainly due to the objections of the United States and Russia, the world's two largest arms exporters.
The talks will kick off at the UN headquarters on Monday and will last two weeks.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has said his country is committed to reaching an agreement during this round of talks. The last round was stalled when the US said it needed more time to consider the proposed accord. Russia and China also asked for a delay.
Kerry said in a statement on Friday that the United States looks forward to working with other countries to reach consensus on an Arms Trade Treaty "that helps address the adverse effects of the international arms trade on global peace and stability" by helping to stem the illicit flow of weapons across borders.
He said the US will not support a treaty that would be inconsistent with US law and the right of Americans under the Constitution to bear firearms, or a treaty that would impose new requirements on the US domestic trade in firearms and US exporters.
"The United States could only be party to an Arms Trade Treaty that addresses international transfers of conventional arms solely," Kerry said.
The draft treaty under consideration does not control the domestic use of weapons in any country, but it would require all countries to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and to regulate arms brokers.
It would prohibit states that ratify the treaty from transferring conventional weapons if they would violate arms In considering whether to authorise the export of arms, the draft says a country must evaluate whether the weapon would be used to violate international human rights or humanitarian laws.
Many countries, including the United States, control arms exports, but there has never been an international treaty regulating the estimated $60bn global arms trade. For more than a decade, activists and some governments have been pushing for international rules to try to keep illicit weapons out of the hands of anti-state fighters and organised crime.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said he was confident that the UN's 193 member states would overcome their differences during the upcoming negotiations and muster the political will to reach agreement on a treaty.
The UN chief reiterated his support for a treaty that regulates international transfers of both weapons and ammunition and sets common standards for exporting states.
Paul Holtom, a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told Al Jazeera that his organisation was hopeful that these talks would be constructive.
"I think there's a challenge, but I think one of the big clouds from July - the presidential elections here in the US - has been lifted, and I think the US will come with a very constructive position, having had time now as requested to study the document and to make proposals to strengthen it," he said.
"The challenge will be that we are having a negotiation between 193 states, who have very different interests with regards to the arms trade, and I think trying to find compromises that still produce a strong treaty, that's where the challenge will be." embargoes or if they would promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. -www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Al Jazeera