ISIS kills hundreds of tribesmen in eastern Syria

The Associated Press reports: The extremist Islamic State group shot and beheaded hundreds of tribesmen from eastern Syria over the past two weeks after crushing an uprising they led against the jihadi fighters, activists said Monday.

The killing of members of the Shueitat tribe come as Islamic State group fighters close in on the last government-held army base in the region. Syrian warplanes bombed the extremists’ positions Monday in an attempt to halt their advance.

A Turkey-based activist who is originally from Deir el-Zour and is in contact with people in the province told The Associated Press that the Islamic State killed as many as 200 members of the Shueitat tribe. On Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll among the tribesmen at 700. [Continue reading...]

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Yazidis haunted by cries for help as ISIS bury victims alive

Reuters reports: Refugee Samo Ilyas Ali has nine children to feed but he can’t focus on the future because the sounds of women and children crying out for help while being buried alive by Islamic State militants in northern Iraq often consume his mind.

Tens of thousand of Yazidis fled their ancient homeland of Sinjar and other villages to escape a dramatic push by the Sunni militants who regard the ethnic minority as devil worshippers who must embrace their radical version of Islam or die.

The refugees sit idle in camps in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

Traumatized by Islamic State militants notorious for beheadings and mass executions, they have simply given up on Iraq and want to go as far away as possible; to countries like Germany, worlds away from their mysterious customs.

U.S. air strikes against Islamic State positions and vows by Kurdish commanders to recapture Yazidi villages provided no reassurances.

It’s easy to see why.

Ten days ago, Ali and his fellow villagers were suddenly surrounded by Islamic State militants with machine guns at night. They had long beards. Some had face masks and Arabic writing on the sides of their heads.

Absent from the scene were Kurdish peshmerga, or “those who confront death”, fighters who had held parts of the north and were seen as the only force that could stand up to Islamic State after thousands of U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers fled their advance, leaving them with heavy weapons including tanks

Suddenly the men began digging ditches – soon to become mass graves. [Continue reading...]

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Yemeni victims of U.S. military drone strike get more than $1 million in compensation

The Washington Post reports: The Yemeni government paid the families of those killed or injured in a U.S. drone strike last year more than $1 million, according to documents that provide new details on secret condolence payments seen as evidence that civilians with no ties to al-Qaeda were among the casualties.

The documents, which are signed by Yemeni court officials and victims’ relatives, record payouts designed to quell anger over a U.S. strike that hit vehicles in a wedding party and prompted a suspension of the U.S. military’s authority to carry out drone attacks on a dangerous al-Qaeda affiliate.

The records reveal payments that are many times larger than Yemeni officials acknowledged after the strike. The $1 million-plus figure also exceeds the total amount distributed by the U.S. military for errant strikes in Afghanistan over an entire year.

The documents also contain other details, including the identities of those killed or wounded in the Dec. 12 operation by the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Among them were a father and son with identification cards listing them as associates of a Yemeni organization working to curb Islamist militancy. [Continue reading...]

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Syrian hackers use WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook and YouTube to spread malware aimed activists

IB Times reports: A group of pro-Assad hackers in Syria are using activist websites, WhatsApp, Viber, YouTube and social media to spread malware which claims to help protect privacy.

The group of hackers has infected more than 10,000 victims using sophisticated techniques to hide the malware they are sharing on websites visited by activists, social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Skype and even on instant messaging services WhatsApp and Viber.

The news comes from a report from Kasperksy Lab entitled “Syrian Malware – the ever-evolving threat” which says the group of hackers is highly organised and is targeting victims inside as well as outside of Syria.

The group is playing on the fears of victims in the worn-torn country by spreading fake messages (via email, Skype, Viber etc) which claim to give details about imminent cyber-attacks. [Continue reading...]

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Pope Francis supports international effort to ‘stop’ ISIS

The Associated Press reports: Pope Francis on Monday said efforts to stop Islamic militants from attacking religious minorities in Iraq are legitimate but said the international community — and not just one country — should decide how to intervene.

Francis was asked if he approved of the unilateral U.S. airstrikes on militants of the Islamic State group, who have captured swaths of northern and western Iraq and northeastern Syria and have forced minority Christians and others to either convert to Islam or flee their homes.

“In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor,” Francis said. “I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’ And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.”

Francis also said he and his advisers were considering whether he might go to northern Iraq himself to show solidarity with persecuted Christians. But he said he was holding off for now on a decision. [Continue reading...]

Reuters reports: The Islamic State militant group that has seized large parts of Iraq and drawn the first American air strikes since the end of the occupation in 2011 has warned the United States it will attack Americans “in any place” if the raids hit its militants.

The video, which shows a photograph of an American who was beheaded during the U.S. occupation of Iraq and victims of snipers, featured a statement which said in English “we will drown all of you in blood”.

U.S. airstrikes on Kurdish forces in northern Iraq have helped the fighters take back some territory captured by Islamic State militants, who have threatened to march on Baghdad.

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How ISIS seized Peshmerga territory so easily

Vice News reports: In the initial stages of its Iraq offensive, the Islamic State had tried to make good on its threat of marching south to the capital of Baghdad, leaving Kurdish territory unthreatened. When progress stalled, leaders decided to push north, catching a complacent peshmerga off-guard. “ISIS in the beginning wanted to attack Baghdad, but changed their mind to Kurdistan,” Hikmat told VICE News. “That caught us by surprise.”

Islamic State tactics were another unpleasant shock. While the peshmerga had fought in counter-insurgency operations alongside US troops after the 2003 invasion, they had, for the most part, been trained to deal with a large organized army like Hussein’s. The fanatical and well-equipped Islamic State is very different, and while not numerically superior to the Kurds, has a fleeting, but important advantage against them: The militants can concentrate wherever they want — usually a weak spot — and quickly launch an attack. The peshmerga, meanwhile — which are showing no inclination to expand beyond their already overstretched borders — cannot. Basic logistics means that by using such tactics, the Islamic State is able to achieve at least a period of concentrated battlefield superiority before reinforcements arrive.

The strategy has made the militants difficult to handle, says Ali Faté, a peshmerga veteran who now commands the front at the town of Makhmour, which was seized by IS last week, then retaken by Kurdish forces. “The Islamic State war is something new and very different, it’s neither a gang war nor highly organized… Until we get an idea of weapons and tactics, we expect some losses… and even the weapons used are very different from those used by [Saddam Hussein's] Iraqi army.”

The weapons are also vastly superior. Islamic State fighters are well armed with heavy modern weaponry and armored vehicles, partly as a result of the ease with which they routed the US-trained and supplied Iraqi army and plundered their gear, along with significant sums of money. That equipment, much of it American-made, includes tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, and huge supplies of ammunition. The group had already appropriated Syrian army munitions via the same process.

“I want to stress this point, the Iraqi government left weapons and money for ISIS to get strong,” Hikmat says. “The same happened in Syria — so many weapons were left there for them by the Syrian army.”

Peshmerga forces, meanwhile, are mainly equipped with Soviet-era weapons looted from the Iraqi army during the 2003 US-led invasion. And ammunition is short. “We have had many promises and pledges of help, but we are short of bullets. We are not generous with them to our fighters or when firing at our enemies,” a source close to senior peshmerga commanders who spoke on the condition of anonymity told VICE News.

The Islamic State gained more than weapons from its fighting in Syria though. Its men are battle-hardened and experienced. The peshmerga, meanwhile had not faced a major test since Hussein was removed from power. Iraqi Kurdistan even remained peaceful while sectarian violence gripped the rest of Iraq in 2006 and 2007.

As a result, most of the veterans are gone. Newer recruits have, for the most part, little or no experience in battle. [Continue reading...]

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In Iraq, captured Yazidi women fear ISIS will force them to wed

The Washington Post reports: Hundreds of Yazidi women who were captured by Islamic extremists during their sweep through the town of Sinjar are being incarcerated at scattered locations across northern Iraq in what increasingly looks like a deliberate attempt to co-opt them into service as the wives of fighters.

As the militants with the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State surged into the area from surrounding Arab villages two weeks ago, snaring those who had not managed to flee, they showed a marked interest in detaining women, notably the youngest and prettiest, according to witnesses, relatives and in some instances the women themselves.

Women were separated from men, then younger women were separated from older ones and most were shunted off in buses or trucks.

Once in custody, the women are presented with a bleak choice.

Those who convert to Islam can be promised a good life, with a house of their own and — implicitly — a Muslim husband, because the extreme interpretation of Islam promoted by the Islamic State does not permit women to live alone.

Otherwise, they have been told, they can expect a life of indefinite imprisonment — or, they fear, death. [Continue reading...]

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Iraqi, Kurdish forces claim defeat ISIS at strategic Mosul Dam

The Washington Post reports: Iraqi and Kurdish forces claimed Monday that they ejected Islamic State fighters from a strategically vital dam in northern Iraq, after waves of U.S. airstrikes scattered the radical Islamist militants in the biggest push yet to reverse their blitz through the country.

Fighting continued on the western bank of the lake at the head of the Mosul Dam, and government troops were unable to enter the facility because it was booby-trapped by the retreating militants, officials said.

But the officials claimed that Islamic State fighters were on the run after the offensive launched by Iraqi special forces and Kurdish pesh merga fighters backed by U.S. air support on Sunday.

The U.S. military’s Central Command said the airstrikes continued Monday, with a mix of fighter jets, bombers and drones successfully conducting 15 strikes against Islamic State targets near the Mosul Dam. It said the airstrikes damaged or destroyed nine fighting positions, a checkpoint, six armed vehicles, a light armored vehicle, a vehicle-mounted antiaircraft gun and an “emplacement belt” for improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs.

“All aircraft exited the strike areas safely,” the Central Command said in a statement. It said U.S. forces have carried out a total of 68 airstrikes in Iraq since Aug. 8, of which 35 have been in support of Iraqi forces near the Mosul Dam. [Continue reading...]

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U.S. police have become more violent as the public has become less violent

New York magazine reports: The story of Michael Brown’s death has in no small part been a story of police overreaction. The local force evidently killed an unarmed teenager, and then suited up as if going to war to police the generally peaceful protests that followed. And it’s revealed an irony: Over the past generation or so, we’ve militarized our police to protect a public that has broadly become less and less violent.

It all starts back in 1990, a time when the country found itself with less demand for military equipment abroad and new use for it back home. Within our shores, the drug wars were escalating; gang violence was surging; and sociologists were warning of sociopathic child “superpredators.” At the same time, the military was starting to shrink as the Cold War ended. Put two and two together and you get the 1033 program, which transferred assets from the military to the police. (Here’s a capsule history.)

A bigger flush of money and equipment followed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the Times reports, when the federal government equipped local police outfits to be the front line of the Global War on Terror:

Department of Homeland Security grant money paid for the $360,000 Bearcat armored truck on patrol in Ferguson, said Nick Gragnani, executive director of St. Louis Area Regional Response System, which administers such grants for the St. Louis area.

Since 2003, the group has spent $9.4 million on equipment for the police in St. Louis County. That includes $3.6 million for two helicopters, plus the Bearcat, other vehicles and night vision equipment. Most of the body armor worn by officers responding to the Ferguson protests was paid for with federal money, Mr. Gragnani said.

“The focus is terrorism, but it’s allowed to do a crossover for other types of responses,” he said. “It’s for any type of civil unrest. We went by the grant guidance. There was no restriction put on that by the federal government.”

But here’s the thing. Since 1990, according to Department of Justice statistics, the United States has become a vastly safer place, at least in terms of violent crime. [Continue reading...]

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Music: Pat Metheny & The Metropole Orkest — ‘Minuano’

The Metropole Orkest (or Metropole Orchestra), a jazz and pop orchestra based in the Netherlands, is the largest full-time ensemble of its kind in the world.

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Gruesome tales surface of Israeli massacres against families in Gaza neighborhood

Max Blumenthal reports: As the five-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas took hold on August 15, residents of Shujaiya returned to the shattered remains of their homes. They pitched tents and erected signs asserting their claim to their property, sorting determinedly through the ruins of their lives.

Those who managed to survive the Israeli bombardment have come home to bedrooms obliterated by tank shells, kitchens pierced by Hellfire missiles, and boudoirs looted by soldiers who used their homes as bases of operations before embarking on a series of massacres. Once a solidly middle-class suburb of Gaza City comprised of multi-family apartments and stately homes, the neighborhood of Shujaiya was transformed into a gigantic crime scene.

The attack on Shujaiya began at 11pm on July 19, with a combined Israeli bombardment from F-16s, tanks and mortar launchers. It was a night of hell which more than 100 did not survive and that none have recovered from. Inside the ruins of what used to be homes, returning locals related stories of survival and selflessness, detailing a harrowing night of death and destruction.

Outside a barely intact four-level, multi-family home that was hardly distinguishable from the other mangled structures lining the dusty roads of Shujaiya, I met members of the Atash family reclining on mats beside a makeshift stove. Khalil Atash, the 63-year-old patriarch of the family, motioned to his son heating a teapot above a few logs and muttered, “They’ve set us back a hundred years. Look at us, we’re now burning wood to survive.” [Continue reading...]

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U.S. will block the cash grants that Gazans need to rebuild their homes

The New York Times reports: On Sunday, more than 235,000 people were still crammed into 81 of the United Nations’ 156 schools, where classes are supposed to start next Sunday. “The chances of that,” acknowledged Scott Anderson, deputy director of the agency that runs them, “are zero.”

After a month of fierce fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants that killed more than 1,900 Gaza residents, the extension of a temporary cease-fire through Monday was a great relief. But with an estimated 11,000 homes destroyed and many more severely damaged, Gaza’s housing and humanitarian crises are just beginning, and the uncertainty over the timing and terms for a more durable truce makes recovery planning elusive.

“Our fate at the end will be in the street,” lamented Alia Kamal Elaf, a 35-year-old mother of eight who has been staying at a school since fleeing the Shejaiya neighborhood in east Gaza City at the onset of Israel’s ground incursion on July 17.

The destruction has been far more severe than in previous rounds of Israeli attacks, especially in Shejaiya, the northern border town of Beit Hanoun and the southeastern village of Khuza’a, where little at all is left. Palestinian leaders plan to ask international donors for $6 billion at a conference scheduled for September, but there are many challenges money cannot solve.

The Hamas-run government that ruled Gaza since 2007 resigned in June, but the Palestinian Authority has yet to take control of its ministries. So who will assess damage or coordinate reconstruction?

Israel currently bans the import of construction materials for private projects, citing security concerns. In any case, several of Gaza’s cement-mixing plants and other factories that make doors, windows and floor tiles have been reduced to rubble.

Many aid workers think cash grants would provide the most efficient relief: People could fix homes that are still standing, rent new spaces or offset expenses as they cram in with relatives. But the United States will not give cash directly to people because it is too complicated to determine their possible connections with Hamas, which is deemed a terrorist organization by Washington.

“We’ll get lots of money to rebuild homes we can’t rebuild, but we won’t get the money to help these people help themselves,” said Robert Turner, director of Gaza operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides education, health and other services to the 70 percent of Gaza residents who are classified as refugees. “You cannot do widespread shelter construction unless construction material is free and available in the local market. Which it’s not, and is it ever going to be?” [Continue reading...]

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Amnesty and Human Rights Watch ‘barred from entering Gaza Strip’ by Israel

International Business Times reports: Israel has allegedly barred Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch representatives from entering Gaza, in order to investigate if the Israeli government and Hamas committed war crimes and human rights violations during the recent conflict.

Haaretz reported that employees from both organisations have not been allowed to enter Gaza since 7 July. The grounds for the ban are that the Erez border crossing, between Israel and the Gaza Strip, is closed, and that neither group is included in a list of aid groups issued by the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs.

During Operation Protective Edge to journalists, UN employees and Palestinians in need of medical care, were able to move through the Erez border crossing. [Continue reading...]

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#BDS: Protesters block Israeli-owned boat from unloading at Port of Oakland

KTVU reports: Dockworkers at the Port of Oakland honored a picket line this evening marking the second day in a row that an Israeli-owned commercial vessel was unable to unload cargo at the port, event organizers said.

For the second time this weekend, Bay Area protesters gathered at the Port of Oakland to stop a Zim Integrated Shipping Services vessel from docking and unloading in an act of protest against recent Israeli military action in Gaza.

The ship, identified as Piraeus by the online ship tracking service Marine Traffic, was moored at the Port of Oakland area as of 5:30 p.m. this evening, according to the website.

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The rise of antisemitism and Jewish extremism in Europe

Christopher Dickey: “Can you criticize Israel’s military actions and a lot of its policies without being antisemitic? Yes. Can you do it without having some people accuse you of antisemitism? No, you can’t.”

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Gaza: Families bombed at home

B’Tselem: During the fighting in Gaza, dozens of residences were bombed while residents were at home. The following infographic lists members of families killed in their homes in 59 incidents of bombing or shelling. In these incidents, 458 people were killed, including 108 women under the age of 60, 214 minors, and 18 people over the age of 60. Mouse over the houses for more details. [Continue reading...]

The Guardian reports: At least 59 Palestinian families suffered multiple casualties over four weeks of Israeli bombardment in Gaza, according to data collated by the Guardian. The youngest casualty was 10-day old Hala Abu Madi, who died on 2 August; the oldest was Abdel al-Masri, aged 97, who was killed on 3 August.

The figures are based on data from three independent Palestinian human rights organisations – the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and Al Mezan, both based in Gaza, and the West Bank-based Al-Haq; the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem; and the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

However, it is almost certainly an incomplete picture. Systematic identification of bodies and logging of data have been hampered by the sheer scale of the casualties in Gaza – about 2,000 killed in total, and 10,000 wounded – types of injuries, and the need for swift burial.

Among families in which four or more people died, 479 people were killed in total, including 212 children under the age of 18, and 15 people aged 60 and over. The deadliest day was 30 July, when 95 members of 10 families were killed. On 20 July, 65 members of 10 families died, and on 21 July, 71 members of six families were killed.

The Guardian has interviewed six families who suffered multiple casualties. In each case, relatives say there was no warning of attack, and all deny any connection with militant organisations in Gaza.

However, in many cases there may have been a military target among the dead. But the number of women and children killed in such attacks has led human rights organisations and international observers to question whether Israel’s use of force was proportionate and in keeping with the obligation under international law to protect civilians in war.

Hamdi Shaqqura, of the PCHR, said: “What has been significant about this onslaught is the deliberate attacks on families – whole families have been smashed under the rubble. We have documented 134 families, in which two or more members have been hit by Israeli forces – a total of 750 people. [Continue reading...]

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A former Israeli soldier’s story — Eran Efrati

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Kurds move to retake Mosul dam as U.S. bombing weakens ISIS

The New York Times reports: Seizing on the momentum of focused American airstrikes in recent days, Kurdish forces moved to retake the strategic Mosul Dam on Sunday night, in their most significant challenge yet to the Sunni militants’ advance in northern Iraq.

The American assaults hit 10 armed vehicles, seven Humvees, two armored personnel carriers and one checkpoint belonging to fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the United States Central Command said Sunday.

In the past two days, United States forces have conducted 30 airstrikes across Iraq, officials said, with many of them focused around the dam, which militants captured after routing the Kurdish forces 10 days ago. A statement from the National Security Council in Washington on Sunday said that the bombings were ordered by President Obama to help the Iraqi forces “retake and establish control over the Mosul Dam.”

Mr. Obama, the statement added, also officially informed Congress that he had authorized the American airstrikes in Iraq, consistent with the War Powers Resolution.

As of late Sunday, Kurdish government officials said fighting around the dam complex, Iraq’s largest, was continuing, despite early reports that the site had been retaken.

“We do not control the entire dam yet,” said Fuad Hussein, a spokesman for Massoud Barzani, the Iraqi Kurdish president, in a televised statement.

The air campaign has seemed to check the militants’ move against the semiautonomous Kurdish region, an offensive that sent tens of thousands of refugees fleeing and at one point threatened the Kurdish capital, Erbil.

By hammering the militants with warplanes and drones, the Americans have severely curtailed the freedom of movement enjoyed by the ISIS fighters.

It remains to be seen how the Kurdish forces, known as the pesh merga, may fare if the air support is halted, despite Mr. Obama’s suggestion that it could last for months. Having lost significant ground during the ISIS fighters’ sudden advance this month, Kurdish forces have shown that they may not be able to go it alone. The forces pushing into the Mosul Dam area are believed to include the Iraqi Special Forces, making the operation a hybrid of American, Kurdish and Iraqi commands.

Kurdish officials acknowledge that the airstrikes have been vital to recent success in halting the militants’ onslaught. For their part, pesh merga officials have complained bitterly about inferior arms compared with those used by the militants, who have claimed powerful American munitions abandoned on the battlefield by the Iraqi military. [Continue reading...]

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