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Fall 2014

Europe: Whole and Free?

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Abbas Pushes for Statehood at the UN

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas began a new initiative for Palestinian statehood at the UN on Wednesday, persuading Jordan to introduce a Security Council resolution backing the cause. European diplomats seemed poised to take up the issue as well, drafting a separate, more conservative proposal.

The Jordanian backed draft lays out a one year timeline for creating a "just, lasting and comprehensive peaceful solution that brings an end to the Israeli occupation," based on the 1967 boundaries. The text also includes a request for full international recognition of the new state at the UN with Jerusalem as a shared Israeli-Palestinian capital. Other measures, including a call for all Israeli security forces to be removed from the West Bank by 2018, are included in the draft.

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By Michael Johnson  |  December 18, 2014 at 3:03 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Tension Mounts Amid Death of Palestinian Minister

Investigators released an autopsy report on Thursday describing the death of cabinet minister and Fatah member Ziad Abu Ein. The Israeli government promised to launch an investigation into Ein's death following a confrontation with Israeli border police during a demonstration in the West Bank on Wednesday. Thousands of mourners attended the minister's funeral before an honor guard laid him to rest in the Palestinian administrative capital of Ramallah.

During the post-mortem examination, forensic experts from Israel and the Palestinian Territories both agreed that stress likely caused hemorrhaging in the inner lining of the heart, thereby blocking the coronary artery. But, a Palestinian pathologist conducting the autopsy told Wafa, the official news agency, that the minister's death was attributed to violence, not natural causes. Other government officials insist Ein died after "being struck, inhaling tear gas and a delay in providing medical attention." Meanwhile, the Israeli examiner did not blame the border police for the minister's death, rather saying that Ein's history of heart disease and previous heart attacks could have "made him more sensitive to stress."

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By Michael Johnson  |  December 11, 2014 at 2:37 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

U.S. Senate Approves Sanctions on Venezuelan Leaders

The U.S. Senate passed a bill Tuesday imposing new sanctions on Venezuelan leaders accused of human rights abuses. The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act directs President Obama to impose visa bans and asset freezes against anyone who materially or financially supported a crackdown on opposition protesters earlier this year.

The legislation, written by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and subsequently co-sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), received bipartisan support during the vote. Menendez explained it was important to "shine a bright spotlight" on "state-sponsored violence" and ongoing human rights abuses in the country.

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By Michael Johnson  |  December 10, 2014 at 2:53 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Senate Report Chastises CIA

After a five-year investigation, Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a 500-page executive summary of a report on the CIA's 2002-2007 Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program. The summary lambasts the CIA for its controversial use of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs), concludes that the interrogations were often more violent than top intelligence officials reported, and charges that the CIA deliberately misled the White House, Congress, and the Justice Department over their use and effectiveness.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. (Photo: AP)

According to the document, other agents leaked classified information to journalists, overstating the effectiveness of EITs. The committee found that using EITs never gave the intelligence officials any "success" in stopping a "ticking time bomb" or other imminent threat, as the agency claimed. A 6,700 page classified version of the report could be released to the public at a later point, promised committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein. Meanwhile, the Justice Department stated it was not inclined to reopen a 2012 inquiry into torture allegations.

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By Michael Johnson  |  December 9, 2014 at 5:56 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Militants Attack Police in Chechnya

Militants launched a coordinated attack on the Russian city of Grozny early Thursday morning, leaving 10 members of the security forces dead and many more wounded. Government officials said the gunmen had links to Islamist extremists in the North Caucasus.

Fighting broke out about 1 am when three cars carrying the fighters entered the city. Militants first shot and killed three police officers at a traffic checkpoint. The gunmen then separated into two groups, entering a publishing house and an unoccupied school nearby, according to Russian news sources. Security forces confronted the fighters at both locations, killing all 10 insurgents. A video published to YouTube shows Russian forces firing high caliber machine guns from armored vehicles, launching rocket propelled grenades, and indiscriminately shooting automatic weapons at the school. Pictures also surfaced of the publishing house engulfed in flames.

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By Michael Johnson  |  December 4, 2014 at 5:15 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Iran Bombs IS Targets in Iraq

Iranian fighter jets launched airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq late last week. Even as Tehran and Washington both work to combat IS, Iran has not been included in the U.S.-led coalition fighting the militants.

A file photo showing U.S.-made Iranian Phantom F4 jet fighters flying over Tehran. (Photo: AFP)

Footage released Sunday on al-Jazeera's website reportedly shows an Iranian Air Force (IRIAF) F-4 Phantom II jet bombing targets in Iraq's eastern Diyala province. Since only Turkey and Iran operate the F-4 in the region, and Ankara has been unwilling to engage in the military campaign against IS, analysts at Jane's Defense Weekly concluded the IRIAF is behind the strikes.

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By Michael Johnson  |  December 3, 2014 at 4:33 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Baghdad, Kurds Agree On Deal Over Oil Revenues

Iraq's central government and representatives from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) reached a preliminary agreement regarding the distribution of oil revenues on Tuesday. The deal resolves months of political infighting as both the Shiite dominated government in Baghdad and Kurdish peshmerga continue to fight the Islamic State (IS).

Under the agreement, the KRG will allow the central oil ministry to pump 300,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) through pipelines in northern Iraq and into Turkey. Erbil can also sell an additional 250,000 bpd directly to Turkey, bypassing the central government. In return, Baghdad will release 17% of the national budget to the KRG after it had been suspended earlier this year. Additionally, Baghdad plans to transfer up to $1 billion to Kurdish fighters, helping them buy new equipment and pay militia salaries.

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By Michael Johnson  |  December 2, 2014 at 4:44 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

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