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Winter 2015

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Yemeni President Resigns Following Rebel Demands

Yemen's embattled president agreed to a series of concessions to Iranian-supported Houthi rebels on Wednesday, before resigning late Thursday evening local time. The country's leader, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, had remained under de facto house arrest in the presidential residence since fighters surrounded government buildings in the capital, Sanaa, on Monday.

The rebels' final advance this week consolidated their power in the capital. Houthi fighters had previously overrun a military base housing ballistic missiles and then gained control of the presidential palace and residence. Militiamen also seized President Hadi's chief of staff, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, and two of his guards. However, Houthi leaders had decided not to overthrow Hadi, choosing instead "to keep the enfeebled leader at their mercy rather than claim the burden of seizing power."

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By Michael Johnson  |  January 22, 2015 at 4:53 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Five Guantanamo Detainees Transferred

Five men held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba were transferred to foreign governments, the Pentagon announced on Wednesday. Oman took four of the Yemeni nationals, with a fifth inmate traveling to Estonia. All of the prisoners had suspected links to al-Qaeda and had been incarcerated since 2001 or 2002, according to military documents previously published by WikiLeaks.

Since taking office in 2009, President Obama has sought to close the prison, transferring some prisoners to third countries while prosecuting others in court. Last year the administration transferred 33 prisoners to other, mainly Arab, countries. U.S. officials say they hope to release over two dozen more who have already been cleared, but others remain too dangerous. Camp Delta now holds 122 inmates, down from a peak of 680 in 2003.

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By Michael Johnson  |  January 15, 2015 at 4:25 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Trial Against PLO Opens in Manhattan

Opening arguments in a lawsuit against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) began in a Manhattan federal courtroom on Tuesday. Over the next eight weeks, a jury will consider whether the two Palestinian leadership organizations should be held financially responsible for supporting terrorist attacks in Israel against U.S. citizens and interests between 2002 and 2004.

The plaintiffs in the case, represented by Kent Yalowitz, plan to show that the Palestinian leadership "embraced" the murder of 33 people during seven different attacks, including a suicide bus bombing. Yalowitz contends "killing civilians was standard operating procedure" for the PA, which continued to pay wages of officials who organized the attacks. Lawyers for Mark Sokolow, the lead plaintiff in the suit, said they would show evidence of how the PA provided "martyr payments" to the families of anyone imprisoned while resisting the "occupation". Meanwhile, graphic testimony from a shopkeeper who witnessed "...bodies [and] corpses ... flying onto the ground and rooftops" during a suicide bombing helped set the emotional tone of the trial.

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By Michael Johnson  |  January 14, 2015 at 4:06 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Hamas Operative Sentenced to Life

An Israeli military court sentenced Hamas operative Hossam Qawasmeh to three terms of life in prison for his role in the kidnapping and murder three Israeli teenagers last summer. The tribunal, which convicted Qawasmeh last week, also ordered the 40-year-old to pay each of the three victims families $63,000 in compensation.

Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach were originally abducted while hitchhiking in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem on June 12. The Israeli government conducted a massive search operation, arresting hundreds of Hamas operatives in the West Bank during the weeks after the kidnapping. The bodies of the three teens, one of whom held U.S. citizenship, were found near Hebron on June 30.

Hossam Qawasmeh in military court when he was indicted in September. (Photo: Emil Salman)

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By Michael Johnson  |  January 6, 2015 at 11:58 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

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

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