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Saturday, July 22

"Rome risks water rationing as drought-hit lake set to go offline"

By Crispian Balmer
July 22, 2017 / 10:06 AM EDT

(ROME) Authorities have ordered a halt to pumping water out of a lake near Rome following a prolonged drought, a decision that could force city officials to impose water rationing in the Italian capital.
The head of the local Lazio region, which is centered on Rome, said on Saturday the ban on withdrawing water from Lake Bracciano would come into force on July 28.
"Sadly, it is a tragedy," Nicola Zingaretti told Tgcom24 TV station. "The truth is Lake Bracciano has fallen too much and we risk an environmental disaster."
Acea, the utility firm which runs Rome's water system, has said that two years of lower-than-average rainfall have dramatically reduced water levels in reservoirs feeding the city, with a prolonged, ongoing heat wave making matters worse.
But Acea attacked the order to turn off the taps at Bracciano, which is some 30 km (20 miles) north of Rome, saying the region had taken a "unilateral and illegitimate" decision.
"The drastic reduction of the flow of water into the capital's water network will force us to introduce a rigid rotation of supplies that will impact 1.5 million Romans," an Acea spokesman told the national Ansa news agency.
Zingaretti said only 8 percent of Rome's water came from Bracciano, adding Acea had the time to find a solution.
Earlier this month, Acea started to close the drinking fountains that dot the city in an effort to safeguard supplies.
Since then there has been no let up in above-average temperatures, with 2017 likely to be one of the hottest years on record in Italy. [emphasis mine]
"I would like to invite Donald Trump here to let him see what it means not to respect climate accords," Zingaretti said, referring to the U.S. president who last month pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris accord to fight climate change.
Editing by Catherine Evans


Thursday, July 20

"Water pollution in Lebanon reaching dangerous levels"

By Florence Massena
July 11, 2017
Lebanon Pulse

"It is time the EU stop funding Lebanon for looking after its environment and for our leaders to take real decisions. Nobody can sit on problems like this forever.”

Lebanese TV network LBCI published a picture June 19 showing a large polluted area along the coastline of Beirut, which then quickly appeared on Lebanese social media networks. A video shared June 1 by the Lebanese Transparency Association, a nongovernmental organization fighting corruption, also showed how badly polluted the water is a few meters below the surface. Although this problem is not new, it seems to reach a new level every year, polluting even underground currents.

“The world’s most beautiful pollution” — that's how blogger Claude El Khal referred to the coastal waters of Lebanon on his blog after LBCI shared the picture of a brown-colored area in the sea, close to the shore where people usually enjoy a swim in summer. Already in 2002, university student Lena Kakati warned on the Planetary Notions website, a global student platform that addresses topics of environmental importance, “Our natural waste greatly harms our health.”

She wrote, “A cycle forms when we dump our wastes in the water: Fish find it and eat it, and then people catch the fish to have for dinner.”

Since then, nothing seems to have changed, and since the garbage crisis in the summer of 2015 things have only gotten worse. Starting in early June, activists have shared pictures of trucks going from Burj Hammoud, north of Beirut, to the sea to dump trash there. Minister of Environment Tarek al-Khatib said June 13 that as per the contract between the contractor and the Council for Development and Reconstruction, the garbage is to be thrown in the sea.

But the main reason for water pollution in Lebanon is the untreated sewage. “In the last 20 years, the Lebanese government spent more than $1.5 billion in loans to put in place a water sanitation system,” economist and social activist Jad Chaaban told Al-Monitor.

“It worked in some places but not in Tripoli, Beirut and Batroun at least. The water sanitation stations are just not connected to the sewage network, so the sewage ends up being thrown [without treatment],” he said.

“Pollution also originates from factories that are located near the seaside and that throw chemicals in the sea, and from dumps placed along the seaside in places such as Tyre, Beirut and Tripoli,” Chaaban said. For him, all of this is happening because of “a total lack of governance and a high corruption level. The European Union gives loans to Lebanon, and then the only entity controlling what is done with the loan is the Council for Development and Reconstruction. No independent organization checks what is done with this money — it is a political problem.”

Some private entities, like the Advanced BMI Weight Loss Center, have even speculated on the reasons for the water pollution and have warned citizens to stay away from the seaside. No data can be found to confirm the center's information, as the National Council for Scientific Research, which studies water quality all year round, did not respond to a request for comment and their publications are private.

In regard to the consequences stemming from water pollution, Chaaban said, “We see a decline in fisheries and the marine ecosystem, which pushes us to import fish instead. [We also note] a decline in tourism and infiltration of the cities’ underwater system, which means this pollution will end up reaching our households.”

“In this case, Lebanon is in clear violation of the Barcelona Convention” [
The Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea Against Pollution], which Lebanon is a signatory of, he added. “It is time the EU stop funding Lebanon for looking after its environment and for our leaders to take real decisions. Nobody can sit on problems like this forever.”

But seawater is not the only water affected by pollution in Lebanon. “We face a major pollution problem — in particular [affecting] the main sources of wells, drinking water and rivers,” said Nada Nehme, who has a doctoral degree in geosciences from the Lebanese University, where she works at the faculty of agricultural science.

“I think especially about the Litani River. All these sources of water are contaminated by microbiological and dangerous chemical agents, which develop every year without a solution. Waste and muddy water are [some of] the causes of pollution, as well as encroachment on public spaces through tourist activities, the presence of restaurants on river banks and the use of pesticides,” Nehme told Al-Monitor.

Safaa Baydoun, a researcher on water science at Beirut Arab University who worked as a researcher on the Litani River, Lake Qaraoun and the upper Litani Basin (groundwater), shared some of her research results with Al-Monitor. “Significant spatial differences have been found between different sites of the Litani River, with the upper Litani exhibiting high levels of dissolved salts, very low levels of dissolved oxygen necessary for the river's aquatic life and very high levels of toxic ammonia and phosphates exceeding by many folds the criteria for short- or long-term exposure in healthy water bodies,” Baydoun said.

She added, “High levels of organic pollutants are also found. Domestic sewage and the overuse of fertilizers by farmers accompanied by runoffs are the underlying causes for the high levels of pollutants. This increased availability of nitrogen and phosphorus can cause excessive growth of algae, which in turn can disrupt the aquatic biological equilibrium leading to the oxygen depletion death of fish and amphibians and a drop in the biodiversity of aquatic plants. This phenomenon is called eutrophication. Better water quality conditions are found in the lower river, possibly due to the role of Lake Qaraoun in reducing the eutrophication level and the role of tributaries in diluting the contamination levels.”

Concerning the quality of water studied in 20 wells across the country, Baydoun said, “Even though less alarming than the general pollution of surface water in the basin, these results clearly show that groundwater quality is also deteriorating.”

She noted, “It is very important that long-term monitoring of groundwater quality is conducted and the Lebanese government should address the governance problem of the water quality sector involving stakeholders at all levels."

Without this involvement, the health of Lebanese people is directly threatened. “Since 2005, the national epidemiological surveillance program at the Ministry of Public Health has registered significant increasing trends in notifiable water and foodborne diseases,” Baydoun said.

She continued: “In the Bekaa Valley 243 cases were recorded in 2005, 281 cases in 2010, 2,068 cases in 2014 and 909 cases in 2016 — compared to 45, 112, 122 and 74 cases, respectively, in Beirut during the same periods. More specifically, the recent assessment of the EU-funded Sustainable Water Integrated Management project in the Litani Basin on the prevalence of mortality due to diarrhea caused by poor water and water quality degradation estimates that there are 0.3 cases of deaths on 13 newborns per 1,000 inhabitants in 2012.”

While more activists and scientists voice their concern and request action from the government, this urgent issue still awaits a proper response from the authorities.



Detwiler wildfire so hot it's created it's own weather system

"Sheriff Doug Binneweis speaking now. He says the fire started in an isolated community, Hunter's Valley, a hazardous place for residents"
 -- LA Times reporter Meg Bernhard on her Twitter page at a Cal Fire presser 8 hours ago about the fire.  

"An insane amount of heat" as fire near Yosemite National Park moves with frightening speed
By Meg Bernhard, Veronica Rocha and Hailey Branson-Potts
July 19, 2017 - 9:45 PM PST
The Los Angeles Times

(MARIPOSA, CA) It has destroyed 29 structures, temporarily cut off power to Yosemite National Park and threatened the historic gold-mining town of Mariposa, sending its residents fleeing. It’s sent its smoke as far away as Idaho, and it burned so hot that it created its own weather system.

If the Detwiler fire, which has moved with frightening speed this week through the rugged terrain of rural Mariposa County, was looking to make a dramatic statement, it succeeded.

The blaze — which has forced 4,000 people from their homes — nearly doubled in size overnight Tuesday, exploding from 25,000 acres to 45,724 acres, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Wednesday.

By Wednesday evening, the fire was only 7% contained and had burned about 48,000 acres, according to Cal Fire. It was burning about 35 miles west of Yosemite National Park and had gotten within a mile of central Mariposa, officials said.

The flames are being fed by tall grass and overgrown shrubs that sprouted along the central Sierra Nevada foothills during the winter rains, said Jordan Motta, a fire captain and Cal Fire spokesman.

The rich fuel source has created fire activity that “we haven’t seen in the last seven or eight years,” he said. Officials said the fire also was burning in an area where there are many dead trees, killed by bark beetles and years of drought.

As the conflagration snaked through hills and canyons, conditions on the ground and around the blaze became so intense that a large pyrocumulus cloud formed. So-called fire clouds develop when a blaze is so hot that it can create its own environment, said Jim Andersen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford.

“Any time you see a fire with a pyrocumulus, you know the fire is really roaring,” he said. “It takes an insane amount of heat.”

“That cloud was a monster,” said Janet Kirkland, 72, who fled her home on rural Hunters Valley Road on Sunday with her two dogs, Gizzy and Precious.


The blaze, which started Sunday east of Lake McClure, had destroyed 29 structures, damaged five more and was threatening an additional 1,500 as of Wednesday night, officials said. More than 3,100 firefighters were on the scene.

On Tuesday, the Detwiler fire knocked out power to Yosemite National Park for several hours, but crews were able to restore service late that night, said Denny Boyles, spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

The park’s main source of power comes from a 70,000-volt transmission line, which is not in the fire’s path, Boyles said. But that could change if the fire shifts direction. Mobile generators were positioned near the park as a precaution.

“It’s a fluid situation with the fire still burning,” Boyles said.

About 8,500 customers along the Sierra foothills were without power as crews worked to repair lines damaged by the fire, he said. Power lines also were de-energized to protect fire crews battling the blaze.

The fire has made for a hazy few days in Yosemite, where roaring waterfalls fed by a record-setting wet winter have drawn legions of tourists.


The Detwiler fire has produced huge amounts of smoke that could be seen in satellite imagery near Boise, Idaho, more than 600 miles away, said Andersen of the National Weather Service.

There is “absolutely no rain in the forecast” in the area of the fire for at least the next several days, he said.



Sunday, July 16

"Thousands forced to evacuate as wildfires close in on city in Canada"

"Wildfires have been spreading across swathes of British Columbia since the start of July. Around 40,000 people have been evacuated as 167 active wildfires rage in the province as of Saturday, according to reports in local media."

Praying that everyone stays safe.....

RT - July 16, 2017 - 09:08
[See website for photos, Twitter comments and map]

An entire city and surrounding areas in British Columbia were forced to evacuate as raging wildfires intensified by strong winds spread across the region.An evacuation alert was issued for Williams Lake and surrounding areas in Cariboo Regional District on Saturday.

“All individuals in the City [Williams Lake] and the above areas must evacuate immediately,” the order stated.

Around 12,000 people live in the city, and the same number of people in the surrounding areas were also ordered to evacuate, CBC Canada reported.

“We’re a little anxious at the moment. I’ll tell you that,” Sue LaChance, an evacuee, told CBC, “It’s quite surreal actually. I’m almost 50 years old, and this is definitely a first.”

“Winds picked up and huge fires all around us,” Jacinda Mack, a community member who stayed in the city to assist firefighters, told the Vancouver Sun. “Everybody moving north – huge, huge smoke.”

A nearby fire disrupted Highway 97, north of the city, Mayor Walt Cobb said.

“We made the decision to get everybody while we could, because depending on how the fire went, we might have lost all our access out of town,” he said, adding that mass evacuations blocked roads and “the traffic is very, very thick.”

Local residents were asked to evacuate to the city of Kamloops, 200km from Williams Lake. The authorities created a Facebook page connecting evacuees with Kamloops locals willing to assist.

According to Cariboo Regional District Chairman Al Richmond, nature is “bringing forward our worst-case scenario.”

Wildfires have been spreading across swathes of British Columbia since the start of July. Around 40,000 people have been evacuated as 167 active wildfires rage in the province as of Saturday, according to reports in local media.



Syria : Two snapshots from a fast-moving train


The young woman still has pride of appearance; eyes sharply focused, her face a study in concentration despite the loads she's carrying. A born survivor. Good luck to her.  

Syria: ISIL Prevents Civilians from Fleeing Terrorist-Held Regions in Deir Ezzur - July 15, 5:45pm, FARS

The ISIL has started arresting those civilians who try to leave terrorist-held towns in Southeastern Deir Ezzur as the Syrian Army is making rapid advances in Eastern Homs and Southern Raqqa towards Deir Ezzur, local sources said Saturday.
The sources said that the ISIL has arrested four civilians and four vans in the towns of Al-Mayadeen and Albu Kamal on charges of fleeing the militant-held towns and regions.  They added that the ISIL has set up night patrols along the roads in the deserts of Albu Kamal and Al-Mayadeen that are taken by civilians to leave the towns for other regions.

The ISIL has also announced that the civilians who try to leave the regions under its control will be harshly punished, the sources said, adding that however people have left several neighborhoods in some towns and villages and the abandoned neighborhoods are now filled by ISIL militants.

Relevant reports said on Thursday that the people's uprising in al-Mayadeen killed several ISIL leaders, including Amir Zakat al-Mayadeen, nom de guerre Abu Maryam, and the preacher of ISIL mosques in Deir Ezzur named Abu Fatemeh Maqrebi.

Meantime, the Syrian army units launched artillery and missile attacks on ISIL positions and moves in al-Sana'a district near the passageway of the village of al-Jafrah, destroying a military vehicle and killing and wounding all terrorists inside. [...]
My eyes went to the young man in the green shirt. Seen too much, done too much for his years.  A bruised, serious gaze. Now he and his two friends have admitted to the folly of their war against the Syrian government and decided to fight on the side of the  SAA. A hard choice from the look on the young man's face. They'll take strength from each other for the journey ahead.


Valuable information regarding a network of insurgent trenches and tunnels in Jobar were leaked after a handful of militants deserted from Failaq al-Rahman (Free Syrian Army branch) on Saturday.

Bringing with them dozens of family members, the small FSA unit managed to flee westwards, bypassing the ongoing skirmishes in the Arfeh sector to reach government-held territory.

After being given a warm welcome by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), the five former opposition fighters agreed to reveal everything they knew regarding the FSA’s and Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s defensive fortifications in eastern Damascus.

In turn this information will enable the SAA’s 105th and 106th Brigades of the Republican Guard to speed up their push through the embattled Jobar and Ayn Tarma suburbs.

According to a rebel source, the five militants previously served with Jaish Al-Islam before joining the FSA in 2016. Now, they have volunteered to be enrolled in SAA ranks instead.



Trains on Paris-Marseille Line Suspended Due to Massive Wildfire

02:03 - 16.07.2017

The train traffic between Paris and French southern city of Marseille was suspended after a massive wildfire broke out in the south of France and swept over 1200 acres of forest, local media reported Sunday.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Over 800 firemen are engaged in the fire extinguishing operation as the wildfire continues to spread because of the strong wind, according to the France Bleu radio station.

The trains from other French cities also arrived at Marseille with delays, the radio station reported.

The local residents in southern France were instructed not to leave their houses; no one was injured in the fire.


As of 12:05am EDT the report still isn't at Google News. 


Tuesday, July 11

"Donald Trump to Delay State Visit to Britain Until Next Year"

The background provided in the following report from Iran's state news agency accurately comports with earlier Western reporting on the question of President Trump's visit to the U.K.; i.e., it's not Iranian propaganda, it's straight news reporting.    

July 11. 2017
TEHRAN (FNA)- UK government conceded no official visit by US president until 2018 following months of doubt, after months of doubt about the visit.

Amid speculation the US president could have made a surprise stopover after last week’s G20 summit, the government has conceded that the official visit will not take place until 2018, the Guardian reported.

But the decision leaves open the possibility of a low-key visit to London before the end of this year if Trump is in Europe on other business.

Protesters were planning to swing into action at short notice at Trump’s golf courses in Scotland after a Conservative aide fuelled speculation that the president might make a flying visit, saying: “There are currently no plans for him to visit. But his travel plans are a matter for him.”

The government had been warned that the president could visit Turnberry, one of his two golf resorts in Scotland, during his trip to Europe, between attending the G20 summit in Hamburg and joining celebrations for Bastille Day in France on 14 July.

Last month it emerged that Trump told Theresa May in a phone call that he did not want to go ahead with a state visit to Britain until the British public supported him coming. The US president said he did not want to come if there were large-scale protests.

The planned state visit was not mentioned in the last month’s Queen speech, which usually outlines any state visits scheduled for the duration of the parliament.

May invited Trump to Britain seven days after his inauguration when she became the first foreign leader to visit him in the White House. She told a joint press conference she had extended an invitation from the Queen to Trump and his wife, Melania, to make a state visit later in the year and was “delighted that the president has accepted that invitation”.

The invitation has been widely criticized. The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, called on the UK government to cancel the invitation after Trump criticized his response to the London Bridge terrorist attack.

"Daesh Confirms Death of Group Leader al-Baghdadi"

"... information received from different sources indicated that there was a power struggle within Daesh for its top position ..."  This may point to why the Russian lawmaker (see report below) believes that the probability of Baghdadi's death from a recent Russian airstrike is "about 100 percent:" the Russian military could have been acting on inside information about Baghdadi's exact location. In any case, it seems his 15 minutes of fame is finally ended.

11:28 - 11.07.2017 

Daesh terrorists confirmed the group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead, Al Sumaria TV channel reports citing a source in the Iraqi province of Nineveh.

According to the source, Daesh terrorists issued a brief statement in which they reported the death of their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as well as the name of the "new Caliph."

On June 16, the Russian Defense Ministry said al-Baghdadi was likely eliminated as a result of a Russian Aerospace Forces strike on a militant command post in the southern suburb of the city of Raqqa in late May. It noted that it was in the process of confirming the information through various channels.

On June 23, US Operation Inherent Resolve Col. Ryan Dillon said that the US has no conclusive evidence to believe that Baghdadi was killed in Russian airstrikes. However, the US "certainly would welcome the death of al-Baghdadi, but we do not have any definitive proof to lead us believe that this is accurate," he added.

On June 29, Russian lawmaker Alexei Pushkov told Sputnik that [given?] the information of the Russian side the probability of al-Baghdadi's death is about 100 percent. The lawmaker noted that information received from different sources indicated that there was a power struggle within Daesh for its top position, which serves as signal that al-Baghdadi is dead.

Al-Baghdadi appeared in the media for the first time in 2014 when he declared the creation of a caliphate in the Middle East. Since then, the media have reported several times about the death of the Daesh leader, though the information has never been confirmed.



Monday, July 10

An allover view of today's Syria

Century Foundation Fellow Sam Heller is an American who lived in Syria to study Arabic for two years prior to the outbreak of the war there. He holds a master’s degree in Arabic from the University of Maryland College Park and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Yale University. He is currently based in Beirut.

He is I think the best analyst of the Syrian war who writes for the English-speaking public. He is not an Assad-friendly or supporter of the government, which puts me at odds with him in that respect, But but he hasn't let his opinion cloud his attempts to observe Syria as clearly as he can, and in November he did acknowledge at Foreign Policy ("Assad will talk, but he won't negotiate"):
And even as the Syrian government has reinforced a fundamentally oppressive political order, it is impossible to walk around Damascus and not notice the active participation of women in social and economic life, as well as the obvious diversity by sect and religiosity.
On June 30 the American national security website War on the Rocks published Heller's big-picture analysis of how Syria's situation stands at present, The Signal in Syria's Noiseand the best course in Syria for America going forward. While the entire article is a 'must read' for anyone interested in Syria and America's engagement in the country, here I'll just feature Heller's closing observations:
Policymakers and analysts need to approach Syria with a realistic, nuanced view of how the country is organized – which, counterintuitively, is probably more comprehensible than any attempt to catalogue hundreds of armed factions. Understanding Syria is not about counting the number of enclaves, or rebel brigades, or pro-regime militias. It’s about understanding how they relate to each other, to the whole of the country, and to the historical course of the war.
More than half a decade into Syria’s war, America ought to be taking the long view and pursuing de-escalatory arrangements that allow America to safely exit. Those arrangements, if they are going to last, cannot be totally, defiantly at odds with Syria’s internal organization and logic.
Winding down sections of the war, and America’s involvement in them, is going to require Washington to engage Syria as it really fits together and operates – Syria as it is, not as we want it to be.
Of course Heller's observations were made prior to the July 7 meeting between presidents Trump and Putin, but the decisions the two leaders made to de-escalate the Syrian conflict are in step with those observations and applauded by Assad's government.     

Let's hope that going forward the American administration will be guided by the same picture Sam Heller has drawn of Syria -- Syria as it is, not as anyone wants it to be, not as any outside government tries to make it.


Quneitra: "The truce seems to be holding so far"

‘We hope truce will hold’: People in Quneitra welcome Russia-US brokered ceasefire
Published time: 9 Jul, 2017 20:20

As the ceasefire agreed by Russia, the US and Jordan takes effect in southwestern Syria, people in the Quneitra province have shared their hopes of peace and normality finally prevailing. However, they fear the militants could violate the truce “every second."

“We hope the truce will hold and peace will finally come to the whole of Syria. We here - in Khan Arnabah - are sitting together. It's been a long time since we sat together like this,” a local resident said in a video by Ruptly.

“But one cannot trust terrorists – they сan violate the truce every hour and every second,” the man added.

A soldier said his unit is ready to “protect civilians in case any violation occurs.”

“We will respond quickly to any violation at any time. We are ready,” he added.

Another resident said he hopes the Syrian Army acts quickly against those militant groups which violate the ceasefire agreement negotiated by Russia and the US.

The truce appears to be holding so far, as no clashes have been reported since it took effect at noon Damascus time (09:00 GMT) Sunday, according to media reports, citing the rebel sources.

“The situation is relatively calm,” Suhaib al-Ruhail, a spokesman for the Alwiyat al-Furqan rebel group in the Quneitra area, said, as cited by Reuters.

The ceasefire deal and de-escalation agreement was agreed by Russia, the US, and Jordan Friday. It applies to Syrian government forces and rebel groups in the Daraa, Quneitra, and Suwayda provinces.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said a suspension of hostilities will allow much needed humanitarian supplies to reach ravaged areas as well as provide an opportunity to initiate contacts with opposition groups. A monitoring center in the Jordanian capital Amman will oversee the truce.

It is also understood that Russian, American, and Jordanian forces will be dispatched to the area.



Sunday, July 9

New Syrian ceasefire terms are hideously vague, if DEBKAfile is right

I've been waiting for hours for news about implementation of the US-Russia brokered ceasefire, which was supposed to go into effect at noon today, Syria time. But as the minutes ticked past the deadline there was no word. Finally it occurred to me to check DEBKAfile to see if they'd scared up any clues from the IDF about the ceasefire. Here's what their sources told them. Take it or leave it:

Syrian ceasefire deal skips Syria, Iran, Hizballah
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis 
July 9, 2017, 3:42 PM (IDT)

The ceasefire which Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin agreed should go into effect in along southwestern Syria’s borders with Jordan and Israel on Sunday, July 9, is a hodgepodge of unknown factors with vague prospects – even by the rickety standards of that six-year war.

Whether or not it holds is of less concern to Israel than the military presence of Iranian and Hizballah forces on its borders. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made this point at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, after putting those concerns before President Vladimir Putin last Thursday and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before the Trump-Putin encounter at the G20 summit on Friday.

Both assured him that Israel’s concerns would be taken into account. But neither spelled out what practical form that consideration would take.

The ceasefire deal they forged at Hamburg with great fanfare turns out to be no more than a generic title for a still unwritten piece of work on the prospective military and political cooperation between the US and Russia. Up until the Sunday noon deadline, nothing was heard from Tehran, Damascus or Beirut on if and how they intended to uphold the truce.

Jordan alone is celebrating the ceasefire and claiming it as a major feat. According to spokesmen in Amman, American and Jordanian drones and warplanes will jointly monitor the cessation of hostilities and the rebel-held areas of Daraa and Quneitra will become autonomous rebel-ruled regions, as a model for the rest of the country.

Such reports are without foundation. The Americans and Russians have not yet filled in the details of the new arrangement, such as who will supervise the truce, which troops will police it - or even the demarcation line boundary around the demilitarized enclave.

In preliminary discussions, Moscow proposed deploying Russian military police as monitors. This was rejected by the Americans as tantamount to handing southwestern Syria over to Syrian ruler Bashar Assad. Instead, they proposed posting US or international forces in the Deraa and Quneitra areas (See attached map). But here the Russians dug in their heels, refusing to allow the number of US troops in Syria to increase.

No one knows where Tehran or Damascus stands on this question either. No doubt, once the details are in place, Russian and US diplomats will be scrambling to bring their allies aboard before the ceasefire breaks down.

Given all these uncertainties, the truce announced in Hamburg is not expected to hold water for long. In Syria, there is never any shortage of willing ceasefire-breakers.

Israel has kept a low profile on these deliberations, although the Golan and its northern border are at high risk from the latest turn of the Syrian war, but also from any external deals for its termination.

In reference to the ceasefire, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday: “We are still learning the details of the deal and its connotations for southwestern Syria and Iran’s deepening presence in Syria. We reserve full freedom of action to do what is necessary in our security interests,” he said, repeating “full freedom of action.” 

The minister added that Israel is deeply concerned that the Islamists in flight from liberated Mosul may head west out of Iraq. That concern, he said, is shared by Saudi Arabia and other Middle East nations.

Netanyahu and IDF chiefs continually reiterate that the presence of Iranian and Hizballah forces on Israel’s border is unacceptable. But this did not stop Presidents Trump and Putin from coming to terms on a deal that leaves both those forces at Al-Baath on the outskirts of Quneitra, just 3km from Israel’s Golan border, or in parts of Deraa, which is 36km east of the Golan (and 1km from Jordan).

This constant Israeli official refrain by the Netanyahu government is as much practical use as its insistence that Iran will not be allowed to pump advanced weapons for Hizballah to Lebanon through Syria, when in practice, the Lebanese Shiite group is free to help itself to those weapons in Syria while fighting on its different fronts - whether Israel likes it or not.




July 8, 2017

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in response to a reporter’s question about US President Donald Trump’s claim that Russia might been aware of the Syrian chemical attack beforehand. “Maybe they’ve got the right approach and we’ve got the wrong approach”. Tillerson has explained that USA may not have all the answers, in what some may interpret as a recognition that USA has made mistakes in Syria.

Tillerson said that Putin and Trump spent more than two hours meeting in Hamburg to discuss Syria. Tillerson added: “But there’s a lot more commonality to that than there are differences. So we want to build on the commonality, and we spent a lot of time talking about next steps.”

Tillerson also said that the defeat of ISIS is near, and considered that the long duration of war had made various parties more willing to agree than before. “In many respects, people are getting tired. They’re getting weary of the conflict,” he said. However, Tillerson hasn’t formally disclosed any details of a cease-fire deal in southern Syria.


July 8, 2017

Following yesterday's semi-official announcement of a ceasefire agreement in the Syrian south at the end of talks between Russian President Putin and US President Trump, some additional details of the agreement appeared on Saturday. A US official said the agreement was the result of months of negotiations.
According to US officials, Russia, the United States and Jordan have set the ceasefire terms. Al-Qaeda, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), may not abide by the agreement or might even even act against it. From its side, Moscow confirmed that the government of President Bashar al-Assad will fully respect the agreement.
“Russian, American and Jordanian experts … agreed on a memorandum of understanding to create a de-escalation zone” in the regions of Deraa, Quneitra and Suweida, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.
From his side, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the agreement includes Suweida, Quneitra and Daraa. On the mechanism of implementation of the ceasefire Lavrov said: “At first, security around this de-escalation zone will be guaranteed by the forces and means of the Russian military police , In coordination with the Americans and Jordanians”.
However, US officials have said no ceasefire monitoring mechanism has been agreed upon so far. [emphasis mine]
The Arab and Israeli media reported that the agreement includes a buffer zone on the Golan front with a width of 30 km supervised by the Russian Military Police, with the withdrawal of some Syrian Arab Army (SAA) allies from the area such as Hezbollah and Iran. However, these claims have not been confirmed by any official sources so far.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday that the United States doesn’t see a future for President Assad and his family in Syria. It’s believed that the United States is again trying to exploit another agreement with Russia to achieve its agenda in Syria. Some experts believe that this could be seen as a bad sign, as this US behavior had foiled a previous deal in northern Syria by the end of 2016.

Qatar rats out Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi (UAE)

We knew this was going to happen, right? Doha is spitting mad. FARS wrote last week that their response to the Saudi coalition demands was "tooth-breaking." Al Thani was just getting warmed up, if this latest is any indication: 

Egyptian Daily Releases Documents of Saudi Crown Prince's Support for ISIL, Al Qaeda
July 9, 2017 

TEHRAN (FNA)- A leading Egyptian newspaper released a number of documents proving that Saudi Arabia's new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his counterpart in Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, have long been supporting the ISIL and al-Qaeda terrorist groups' global operations.

"A leaked document in Qatar's embassy and a letter to Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on October 26, 2016, show Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed's support for certain key al-Qaeda members in the Arabian Peninsula," Arabic language al-Badil newspaper wrote.

Based on the documents, US Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence said that the Saudi and Abu Dhabi crown princes have established continued contacts with two Yemeni nationals, namely Ali Abkar al-Hassan and Abdollah Faisal Ahdal, who are on the US blacklist of most wanted terrorists.

The documents also revealed the detailed activities and operations of the two Yemeni nationals in support of the al-Qaeda and the ISIL as well as Saudi Intelligence Chief Khalid bin Ali bin Abdullah al-Humaidan's financial support for them.

The documents were revealed after a new report [PDF] released by a British think tank on Wednesday said that Saudi Arabia is the “foremost” foreign funder of Islamist extremism in the UK and other western countries.

The Henry Jackson Society — a right-wing think tank — said that overseas funding primarily from the governments and private charities of Persian Gulf countries has a “clear and growing link” to the onslaught of violence the UK and other western states.

The group estimated that the Saudi government and charities spent an estimated $4 billion exporting Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Islam, known as Wahhabism (also practiced by ISIL and other terrorist groups), worldwide in 2015, up from $2 billion in 2007.

In 2015, there were 110 mosques in the UK practicing Salafism and Wahhabism compared to 68 in 2007. The money is primarily funneled through mosques and Islamic schools in Britain, according to the report.

Influence has also been exerted through the training of British Muslim religious leaders in Saudi Arabia, as well as the use of Saudi textbooks in a number of the UK’s independent Islamic schools,” the report said.

Although many Western countries, including the United States, have acknowledged the threat of foreign terrorist financing, Britain “has seen far less of a response from policy makers supporting moves to tackle the challenge of foreign-funded Islamist extremism,” the report said.

See also "End Qatar blockade UK Foreign Minister tells Arab states," July 8, 2017; Gulf Times


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