MintPress News Independent, non-partisan journalism Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:00:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Independent, non-partisan journalism Mint Press News clean Mint Press News (Mint Press News) All Rights Reserved Independent, non-partisan journalism MintPress News Turkey Has Stepped In To Help Gazans Where Arab Countries Didn’t Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:00:40 +0000 Turkey has stepped in to help Gazans where Arab countries didn't. Continue reading

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Turkey Israel Palestinians

Pro-Palestinian Turks stage a protest rally against Israel’s ground operation in Gaza Strip, outside the residence of Israeli ambassador in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, July 20, 2014.

ANKARA, Turkey — Even before Nael Salamah introduces himself, he hurriedly whispers in Arabic, “Don’t tell her anything about what has happened, she doesn’t know our mom and brothers are dead.” He’s talking about his 14-year-old sister, Ahid, who has been in a hospital in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, for two weeks.

As a symbol of good will toward Palestinians, Turkey has so far taken in 79 injured Gazans for treatment — among them Ahid, who was comatose on arrival. Before Ankara, the teen had spent some time in a Jerusalem hospital being treated for a bad shrapnel wound to her head. “There were 16 shells dropped on our home or within 250 meters,” her brother recalls. The Israeli airstrike about five weeks ago left him, his father and one brother with less severe injuries than Ahid, while his mother and two brothers were killed.

We walk into Ahid’s hospital room together. Her limbs are long and her cheeks are full, displaying her youth. She wears a soft, close-lipped smile, and a small red dot — burst blood vessels — swims near the iris of her right eye, which lingers slightly to the right. “Marhaba,” — hello, in Arabic — she says very slowly. “I’m so thankful for Turkey’s help,” she gladly offers up, again, speaking sluggishly. “That is from her brain injury,” the doctor says, referring to the lagging speech.

Turkey still hopes to bring another 150 injured Palestinians like Ahid to its hospitals, but the obstacles have been many, says the Ministry of Health. “We have to get approval from the hospital [where they’re originally treated], Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and then from the Israeli Department of Defense,” Ali Uzun, a spokesperson for Turkey’s Health Ministry, explains in an email. Earlier this month, only 18 of 39 planned evacuees made it onto Turkish planes after Israel denied permission to exit for 21 of the selected injured Gazans.

Still, the country provides assistance in other ways: before Wednesday’s ceasefire, the Turkish disaster relief agency had spent $1.5 million on aid to Gaza in the form of packaged meals, blankets, beds and other supplies. By Thursday, aid was pouring into the strip from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Oman.

But the late aid from the Arab countries doesn’t make up for their silence as Palestinians suffered in the Gaza Strip, says Nael Salamah. “They’re just Arab countries by name,” he says, as he rolls his eyes and chokes back tears. “I’m most disappointed by Egypt[‘s behavior].” The 30-year-old dentist struggled to get into neighboring Egypt when he found out Ahid was in Turkey. He had to go through Egypt to get a visa from the Turkish Embassy in Cairo. Egypt has refused entry to refugees at the Rafah border crossing, only letting in a small number of injured Gazans.

“They wouldn’t let me in at the Egyptian border,” he recalls, frustrated. “They said, ‘You’re a young Palestinian guy, we can’t let you through.’” Eventually, he did get through — for 72 hours. “In five minutes [at the embassy] I get my ticket, I get my visa, I get my everything. Thank you, Turkey.”

That thanks isn’t just for the visa or the medical help for his baby sister. Salamah and many others like him are grateful for Turkey’s outspoken support for Palestinians.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who until this month was prime minister, accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in July, when Israel first started its military operations in Gaza. Erdogan likened Israel to Hitler in one public speech. “They always curse [Adolf] Hitler, but they [Israel] now even exceed him in barbarism,” the leader declared. After the airstrikes began and the death toll leapt, Turkey declared three days of mourning for Gaza.

It isn’t the first time Turkey’s relationship with Israel has been strained over the treatment of Palestinians. Relations have been icy between the two countries ever since eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American were killed at the hands of Israeli naval commandos in 2009 after a Turkish aid flotilla attempted to break Israel’s blockade on Gaza.

With such a strong public stance on Gaza, it only makes sense that Turkey would back it up with substantive help, says Mehmet Ali Tugtan, assistant professor in political science at Istanbul’s Bilgi University. By using Turkey’s strained aid resources — which are already coping with violence and humanitarian crises along its borders with both Syria and Iraq, and over 1 million Syrian refugees within its borders — to bring a few hundred injured Palestinians for medical treatment, Turkey gains credibility on its position on Gaza.

“But can they do something really substantial? No,” he explains. “What Turkey really wants is to be able to get into Gaza to treat patients there, provide medical, economic and other support.” As long as Israel continues its blockade on the densely populated strip, that won’t happen, says Tugtan. For now, “it’s better that they do something [to provide aid] than nothing,” he adds.

But even this limited aid raises further questions: “What happens after they get treated? What if they want to stay? Do you just send them back to get killed or hurt again?” asks Tugtan.

Salamah wonders the same thing. His visa in Turkey only lasts 30 days, and after that, he has no idea where he’ll go. “No home, no clinic, nothing,” he whispers through tears. A greater challenge than coming home to nothing, perhaps, are the actual logistics of getting back, Salamah says. “I can’t go through Israel and I can’t go through Egypt. I honestly have no idea how I’ll get back.”

Uzun, from Turkey’s Ministry of Health, says there is a plan. “After the patients have fully recovered and have had a chance to rest, we will fly them, escorted, to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. From there a Turkish diplomatic escort will accompany them home, to Gaza.”

For now, all Salamah cares about is his sister’s well-being. “When I came she handed me something and said, ‘This is a gift for my brother,’” whom she doesn’t know has died. “He just graduated from high school,” Salamah says. Feeling helpless, he sobs, “He’s gone.” He says he’s trying to muster the energy to break the news to Ahid.

This article was written by for Global Post.

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Closing Time At Afghanistan’s Kandahar Airfield Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:00:28 +0000 As American troops come home, Western fast food shops and local businesses are leaving too. Continue reading

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Sajad Ahmad, proprieter of the House of Knowledge, has marked down all his wares as he prepares to close his shop. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – As the US troop presence dwindles here, The House of Knowledge is closing.

Sajad Ahmad set up the shop on a retail strip at Kandahar Airfield hoping it might help to enlighten the soldiers by offering them books about Afghanistan history and culture. At the height of the US presence, Kandahar hosted 30,000 soldiers.

“Business was not good,” Ahmad said.

The House of Knowledge had become a fixture on what soldiers called “The Boardwalk,” the social center of the base featuring a Burger King, TGI Friday’s, Tim Horton’s donuts and other Western shops. As the US dramatically reduces its troop presence here, some shopkeepers say they are going to stay and adapt to their new clientele, Afghan soldiers and civilians. But many stores are closing for good.

House of Knowledge owner Ahmad is a slight, serious man from Kandahar who rarely smiles. He reveals his deep intellect and sensitivity grudgingly, as he has found few people here who share his passion for books and learning.

“I opened House of Knowledge in 2009 to sell books that would help the Americans understand Afghanistan, because understanding will bring peace,” said Ahmad at his shop.

“I had to get rid of most of my books and sell DVDs and headphones instead,” he continued.

Many of the restaurants and electronics shops on the boardwalk are owned and run by people from all over Asia, including the Philippines, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but a few Afghan-run shops sell local souvenirs and jewelry.

The Tim Horton’s left with the bulk of Canadian forces in 2011, and TGI Friday’s has just been bulldozed into rubble. Even the Green Beans Coffee Shop, a ubiquitous mainstay of US bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, is gone. So are the battle-hardened faces fresh from fighting in Helmand, who just a few years ago gawked in disbelief at the rear-echelon troops gulping down smoothies and pizza without a care in the world.

Now nearly all of the soldiers at Kandahar have ceased combat operations, and the air among soldiers is relaxed. Not as much with the shopkeepers.

A soldier at Kandahar Airfield shops for jewelry on the 10-year-old store’s last day of business. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

In 2010, Ahmad the bookseller had an impressive inventory of books on Afghanistan, including esoteric titles like “The Other Side of the Mountain,” a brilliant 1999 treatise on Mujahideen tactics during the Soviet occupation. Aside from books, he also sold beautiful vintage postcards and maps. He still carries modern essentials like Steve Coll’s “Ghost Wars” and several Ahmed Rashid books, but the bookshelves only occupy about 10 percent of the store now.

“Afghan history is just entertainment for people here. They don’t realize all the lessons are right in front of them, all the mistakes have been made over and over for thousands of years,” Ahmad said stiffly. “But no one comes to help Afghanistan, they just come to fight. We must have some secret treasure I don’t know about.”

Ahmad will close the doors of the House of Knowledge in a few weeks and look for work in Kandahar City, but said he fears there are not enough jobs to go around, and business there is slow while the presidential election drags on unresolved.

Suliman Muhammad, manager of a new Afghan restaurant on the boardwalk, is optimistic about his prospects there. His restaurant imports American beef, lamb from Australia, and fresh local vegetables to make traditional Kandahar dishes.

“Local people don’t usually use recipes when they cook, but we have to be consistent so we hired a great cook, Nahematulah, from Kandahar City to make our menu,” said Muhammad. “Afghan soldiers and the local people will appreciate this quality food when they come here after the Americans leave.”

The restaurant is already a hit with soldiers looking for a change from the bland cafeteria food at KAF — the heavily spiced chappli kebab is the most popular with Americans, said Muhammad, who worked in restaurants in his native Pakistan for the last 14 years.

Some shopkeepers are staying, but changing their stocks to offer what Afghan soldiers want — and can afford. An average Afghan enlisted soldier makes about $180 a month, about three times the national average salary. That still pales in comparison with US troops’ pay. A brand-new Army private makes over $2,000 a month in Afghanistan.

“My cigarette store will close, my bike shop stays open,” said Najibullah, a Kandahar man and longtime fixture on the boardwalk. “The bikes I sell now are from Dubai, and too expensive for Afghan soldiers. I’ll have to get used bikes from Kabul to sell here now.”

As the drawdown of troops heads into its final stages, Najibullah said business is slow. But he doesn’t believe the Americans are really leaving, even as they tear down their infrastructure around him.

“The new president will sign the security agreement and the (US troops) will stay for years,” Najibullah said. “How could they leave now, after all the money they spent?”

This article was published by Global Post.

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Will Ukraine Bid To Join NATO Unleash 21st Century Cold War? Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:00:15 +0000 Experts warn that if US and Europe continue to expand NATO's reach without recognizing destructive consequences, crisis in eastern Ukraine risks serious escalation. Continue reading

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Petro Poroshenko

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko attends a graduation ceremony at the Ukrainian military academy in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 18, 2014.  (AP/Presidential Press Service, Mykola Lazarenko)

In a move that could dramatically spike international tensions and escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the Prime Minister of the Ukraine government in Kiev on Friday submitted legislation to Parliament declaring intention to join the western military alliance of NATO and longer-term ambitions to actually join the European Union.

Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk submitted the bill on Friday just ahead of a NATO emergency meeting held in Brussels to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.

Following that meeting, NATO’s Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen emerged to say NATO would “fully respect” Ukraine’s effort to join the alliance.

In comments on Thursday, President Obama chastized Russia for its behavior in Ukraine, blaming President Vladimir Putin for the continued resistance shown by armed rebels in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk who have resisted submission to the government in Kiev which came to power in a coup earlier this year. “The  violence [of the pro-Russian separatists] is encouraged by Russia,” the president charged. “The separatists are trained by Russia.  They are armed by Russia.  They are funded by Russia.  Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. ”

Obama also referenced an upcoming NATO summit—scheduled next month in the UK—where he said the U.S. and other alliance members would reaffirm their “unwavering commitment” to Ukraine.

Though not well understood by many in the west, a move by Ukraine to join NATO  actually strikes at the heart of the current crisis and experts warn that further moves by the U.S. or European leaders to encourage Kiev’s official alignment with either NATO or the EU could have significant and disastrous consequences.

Speaking with Democracy Now! on Friday morning, journalist Jonathan Steele, former Moscow bureau chief for the Guardian newspaper, assessed the current situation by stating that what is most important to understand about the underlying political dynamics is that “Russia is trying to prevent Ukraine joining NATO.”

To explain the reasoning behind Russia’s thinking, Steele explained, “Imagine what would happen if Canada or Mexico decided to join an anti-U.S. alliance? Obviously, the U.S. would be concerned. Russia has legitimate concerns about the expansion of NATO. We’ve already heard just in the other day the Secretary-General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen was saying that NATO is now going to preposition stocks in Eastern Europe, and bring equipment in and have bases there. It is only further provocation to Moscow.”

Steele was referring to comments made by Rasmussen earlier this week in which he said NATO is planning to create a military “spearhead” in former Eastern Bloc countries as a way to counter Moscow.

The latest political developments—including charged accusations coming from Brussels, Washington DC, and Kiev—come as fighting continues and death mount on the ground in eastern Ukraine.

On Friday, the United Nations released a new report highlight the devastating human toll that fighting has taken on civilians living in or near the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. According to the UN:

Intense fighting, including the use of heavy weaponry by both sides, in densely populated areas of eastern Ukraine, has increased the loss of civilian life, with an average of around 36 people being killed every day, says a new report issued today by the United Nations human rights office.

The report, produced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and covers the period from 16 July to 17 August, expresses dismay at the killing and wounding of civilians who are trapped in urban areas or attempting to flee the fighting in eastern Ukraine using “safe” corridors established by the Government.

In a lengthy analysis—titled Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault—published in this month’s issue of Foreign Affairs, University of Chicago professor of political science John J. Mearsheimer describes why the unraveling conflict in Ukraine—though largely treated in the western media as the result of Russian duplicity and aggression—is, in fact, largely the result of interference by the U.S. and NATO members who have steadily attempted to draw Ukraine into their economic and military sphere without understanding (or simply disregarding) the deadly ramifications. According to Mearsheimer:

… the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West. At the same time, the EU’s expansion eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine — beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004 — were critical elements, too. Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement, and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion.

For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president — which he rightly labeled a “coup” — was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West.  Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise. After all, the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests, a point Putin made emphatically and repeatedly. Elites in the United States and Europe have been blindsided by events only because they subscribe to a flawed view of international politics.

Offering a similar assessment—including a history lesson towards the origins of the crisis, scenarios of possible outcomes, and the steps he thinks are needed to de-escalate the situation—a piece in The Nation this week by Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus at New York University and Princeton University, offers another thorough review of some of the moving parts in Ukraine. It reads, in part:

In politics as in history, there are always alternatives. The Ukrainian crisis could have at least three different outcomes. In the first, the civil war escalates and widens, drawing in Russian and possibly NATO military forces. This would be the worst outcome: a kind of latter-day Cuban missile crisis.

In the second outcome, today’s de facto partitioning of Ukraine becomes institutionalized in the form of two Ukrainian states—one allied with the West, the other with Russia—co-existing between Cold War and cold peace. This would not be the best outcome, but neither would it be the worst.

The third outcome, as well as the best one, would be the preservation of a united Ukraine. This will require good-faith negotiations between representatives of all of Ukraine’s regions, including leaders of the rebellious southeast, probably under the auspices of Washington, Moscow and the European Union, as Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, have proposed for months.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s tragedy continues to grow. Thousands of innocent people have been killed or wounded, according to a UN representative, and nearly a million others turned into refugees. It is a needless tragedy, because rational people on all sides know the general terms of peace negotiations:

  • Ukraine must become a federal or sufficiently decentralized state in order to permit its diverse regions to elect their own officials, live in accord with their local cultures, and have a say in taxation and budgetary issues, as is the case in many federal states from Canada to Germany. Such constitutional provisions will need to be ratified by a referendum or a constitutional assembly, accompanied or followed by parliamentary and presidential elections. (The rushed presidential election in May was a mistake, effectively depriving more than 40 percent of the country of their own candidates and thus a real vote.)
  • Ukraine must not be aligned with any military alliance, including NATO. (Nor must any of the other former Soviet republics now being courted by NATO.)
  • Ukraine must be governed in ways that enable it to maintain or develop economic relations with both Russia and the West. Otherwise, it will never be politically independent or economically prosperous.
  • If these principles are adopted, they should be guaranteed, along with Ukraine’s present territorial integrity, by Russia and the West, perhaps in a UN Security Council resolution.

But such negotiations cannot even begin until Kiev’s military assault on eastern Ukraine ends. Russia, Germany and France have repeatedly called for a cease-fire, but the “anti-terrorist operation” can end only where it began—in Kiev and Washington.

In terms of ending the violence and solving the conflict—and second only to actually achieving a cease fire or truce among the warring factions—critics of the European and U.S. stance towards Ukraine agree that in order to defuse the crisis, the western nations must ensure that Ukraine is not ripped further apart and commit to taking NATO membership off the table.

“The United States and its allies should abandon their plan to westernize Ukraine and instead aim to make it a neutral buffer between NATO and Russia, akin to Austria’s position during the Cold War,” argues Mearsheimer. “This would not mean that a future Ukrainian government would have to be pro-Russian or anti-NATO. On the contrary, the goal should be a sovereign Ukraine that falls in neither the Russian nor the Western camp. To achieve this end, the United States and its allies should publicly rule out NATO’s expansion into both Georgia and Ukraine.”

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EU-US Trade Deal Lets Corporate Interests Steamroll Food Safety, Groups Warn Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:00:11 +0000 In letter to EU Trade Commissioner, groups write that leaked TTIP chapter shows 'agribusinesses in the driving seat' at expense of fair, safe food. Continue reading

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What About Jordan? Sat, 30 Aug 2014 16:13:53 +0000 With a civil war to the north, the Islamic State to the east, and Israel and Gaza to the west, how long can Jordan maintain stability? Continue reading

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A boy celebrates as he wears a camouflage suit, during a celebration by the Muslim Brotherhood movement to declare victory of Gaza and Hamas against Israel, in Amman, Jordan, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. Thousands of followers and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Jordan celebrate what they call ” Hamas’ Victory” against Israel.

WASHINGTON — To the north, civil war has engulfed Syria, the Islamic State has made inroads into Iraq to the east, and the conflict between Israel and Gaza to the west has turned the world’s attention toward de-escalating hostilities. In the middle of all of this turmoil and chaos, however, lies the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, a constitutional monarchy reigned over by King Abdullah II, a country that has so far weathered the violent change sweeping through the region despite a huge influx of Palestinian, Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

But will its stability last?

“You have this sort of paradox in Jordan where the regional instability has somehow stabilized the kingdom. Jordanians, by and large, they look to Syria, they look to Egypt, and now to Iraq, and they say, ‘We don’t want that!”’ explained David Schenker, former country director for the Levant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, at a recent panel discussion held by the Hudson Institute, a non-profit think tank here.

The threat from extremist groups, such as the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, “in the short-term is limited,” Faysal Itani, resident fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council, said.

Speaking during the same panel, Itani explained that Jordan does not currently face immediate threat because of chance existential circumstances, rather than specific actions taken by its government.

Itani described the country’s security forces as loyal, cohesive, and adept, which “puts them in stark contrast to those of other neighboring countries of Syria that have struggled with ISIS, including Lebanon [and] Iraq.” He also pointed out that border control in Jordan is effective compared to the 560 mile Syrian-Turkish border, where thousands of people have crossed into Syria to join rebel groups.

Additionally, he said one of the most important things temporarily working in Jordan’s favor is “the geography of the Syrian civil war, mainly that the southern theater is still dominated by the FSA [Free Syrian Army] brigade groups and non-jihadist rebels.” He also noted, however, that the situation is in flux and “nothing can be taken for granted.”

Another reason Jordan currently seems immune to some of the perils experienced by other countries is because it is a high priority for U.S. Middle East policy, Itani said, adding that there is “some kind of meaningful political life” for Islamist groups to air their grievances.

One of the most important aspects for Jordan’s favorable situation, though, Itani pointed out, is that the country does not have a sectarian fault line — more than 95 percent of the population is Sunni.

Itani emphasized that the circumstances currently protecting Jordan from the winds of change sweeping throughout the region may not continue to hold up. There is a “fear” in Jordan, he said, of becoming Syria.


Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State

“The real security problem, in my view, is the al-Qaida affiliates, the Nusra and Daish, the so-called ‘Islamic State,’” stated Schenker.

Jordan is the leading supplier of foreign fighters in Syria, according to the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence in London. Those fighters tend to gravitate toward al-Nusra for geographic and social reasons, Itani explained, saying that the two groups are “not extremely ideologically dissimilar to ISIS” and that a situation could arise whereby al-Nusra and the Islamic State move closer together.

“In fact, if ISIS continues to be the success story of jihadism in the Levant, it may just absorb or swallow Jabhat al-Nusra,” he speculated.

Other dangers confronting Jordan include the fact that the Islamic State has made “substantial progress” in Anbar province, Iraq, which shares a long border with Jordan, said Itani. Additionally, the FSA is in trouble in Syria, which is the main group checking the Islamic State’s expansion in rebel-held territories.

And while Jordan does provide a political outlet for Islamist groups, Itani noted that “there are disenfranchised Jordanians” who are an obvious “potential recruitment ground for jihadist fighters and Jabhat al-Nusra.”

Itani believes that policymakers have a “misconception” of the Islamic State as a loose transnational terrorist network, and that strategy to address the group revolves around containing, rather than destroying, the group. Indeed, Britain recently drafted a proposal to the U.N. Security Council, authored in part by the United States and France, to contain the Islamic State and other extremist groups by curtailing their funding and other activities but did not advise armed force, according to Foreign Policy.

Itani cautioned that when thinking about the Islamic State, one must consider what it is and what its main prerogatives are. “First and foremost, it’s a state-building enterprise and because it’s a state-building enterprise focused on capturing population, territory and resources, it follows that they are not going to be immediately obsessing with carrying [out] attacks in Jordan,” he said.

The Islamic State’s “metric of success,” he continued, is the group’s ability to build a caliphate and “develop the means for confrontation with the West and its allies.”

The strategy of containment, Itani warned, will enable the Islamic State to “pose a serious challenge to Jordan” as long as its state-building activities go unchecked.


The economy and refugees

“Economically disadvantaged areas in Jordan, like Ma’an, Zarqa [and] Rusaifa are prime recruiting areas for Islamic militants,” stated Schenker.

King Abdullah II seems to agree with this sentiment. While addressing parliament over the weekend, he stated, “If we were able [to] solve the problem of the economy for the future of Jordan, we would overcome the biggest challenge facing us today, because our problem is neither political nor security, but economic.”

According to Schenker, economic disparities in the kingdom were among the main reasons Islamist groups protested in 2012. But because of events in Syria, Iraq and Egypt, people have stopped coming out in sufficient numbers to challenge the state.

This does not mean, however, that they are not protesting at all or that they do not have legitimate grievances against the government, he cautioned. Currently, over 140,000 teachers are on a nationwide strike, demanding a 50 percent raise in their salaries in response to rising housing, utilities and foodstuffs costs, said Schenker.

Further, approximately 1.4 million refugees from Syria, Iraq and other countries are taxing Jordan’s economy. Eighty percent of the nearly 600,000 refugees from Syria live outside the U.N. High Commission for Refugees camps, according to the U.N. While the Jordanian government provides them with welfare, Schenker said they are “working, buying food, renting apartments.”

With an official unemployment rate of 14 percent and an unofficial rate of 30 percent, Schenker worries that the country might see a “backlash” against the refugee population as economic stresses persist.

On Tuesday, King Abdullah II met with governmental committees to create a 10-year economic vision to push back against this potential backlash by addressing issues in the economy with industry, exports, the budget, and finance and banking.


Iran, Iraq and thwarting the Islamic State

Another person on the Hudson Institute’s panel who had a far more nefarious explanation for the rise of extremist Sunni groups in the region was Salameh Nematt, former Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Hayat newspaper. He concurred that, for the time being, Jordan is safe because of the absence of sectarianism, but also asserted that the Islamic State phenomenon and al-Nusra are “the product of the Iranian role in the region.”

He tied Sunni extremist violence to Iran’s support for Bashar Assad in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq. He explained that the Islamic State should be understood as a “reaction” to the “action” of Iran that spans over decades.


His sentiment was echoed by Schenker. “The proximate cause [of the rise of groups like the Islamic State] is the viciously sectarian governments in Iraq and Syria backed by Iran,” he said, “and until you can take care of the problem of Iranian regional meddling, then you’re not going to get any of this right. You’re not going to be able to resolve ISIS. This is purely a response to Iran meddling in Sunni countries.”

Itani, however, disagreed with these assessments, saying, “It is the Arab states that have treated their populations this way.”

“We’ve done it to ourselves,” he exclaimed. “In Iraq we’ve done it. In Syria we’ve done it.”

“What Iran is trying to do now is shore up what they’ve built over the past decade and prevent it from collapsing. It’s reactive, not something they’re enthusiastic about, but they’re doing what they see as they have to do,” he said.

Daniel Serwer, a professor of Conflict Management at Johns Hopkins University, backed Itani’s explanation. He said Nematt and Schenker have “a kind of extreme position” that is not helpful for understanding the complexity of what is going on.

Speaking with MintPress News, Serwer explained that the break-up of Iraq is a problem for Iran as well. “Iranian concerns about Sunni dominance of Iraq are only exceeded by Iranian concerns about the break-up of Iraq,” he said.

This means that the Iranians likely want to preserve Iraq through supporting a more democratic government that brings Sunnis into positions of power and “devolves power to the regional levels,” he explained.

He said that Iran has a lot to lose in every country surrounding Jordan’s borders. “Eastern Kurdistan is in Iran,” he said, which means that an independent Kurdistan in Iraq’s north could cause problems for the country. He also explained that Iran has a lot to fear from a “Sunni-stan” emerging in eastern Syria and western Iraq.

Indeed, it emerged this week that Iran has been arming Iraqi Kurds for their fight against the Islamic State.


Islamic State eyes Jordan and Lebanon

Yet, of greater importance for Jordan is Serwer’s evaluation of what comes next for the Islamic State.

“The next targets after Syria and Iraq are likely to be Lebanon and Jordan. They’re the obvious next targets. This is, you know, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. What is the Levant? The Levant is Lebanon and Jordan.”

In order to stop this advance into the Levant, Serwer believes we should look to Iraq. “I think the key question at this point is whether Haider al Abadi [the designate Prime Minister of Iraq] is able to put together a truly inclusive government with real power devolved to the Kurds and the Sunnis,” he said.

This is crucial, he said, because it could be the beginning of really defeating the Islamic State through convincing ordinary Sunni people and tribes to turn against the group. “Only Sunnis can deal with ISIL,” he asserted. “Kurds can deal with it at the margins, at their border with ISIL. Shia will be able to deal with it further south along their border, but a real defeat of ISIL requires that the Sunni population turn against them.”

On Wednesday, a group of congressmen presented a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner for Congress to discuss and vote on whether or not to ramp up the American military mission in Iraq.


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Ferguson Protesters File Lawsuit Against Police for Civil Rights Violations Sat, 30 Aug 2014 10:00:53 +0000 Plaintiffs say police used 'excessive force' in arresting both protesters and bystanders. Continue reading

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Police Shooting-Missouri

Protestors confront police during an impromptu rally, Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014 to protest the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. Police said Brown, who was unarmed, was fatally shot Saturday in a scuffle with an officer.

Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri filed a $40 million federal lawsuit on Thursday alleging that police in the local and county departments violated civil rights and used excessive force to falsely arrest innocent bystanders in an attempt to crack down on the demonstrations that took place throughout the month.

The death of Michael Brown, a black teenager who was unarmed when he was shot to death by Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, sparked weeks of marches and demonstrations against police brutality and racism.

The five plaintiffs, including some who were not involved with the protests but encountered officers while eating out or walking home, said they were arrested violently, shot at with rubber bullets, and subjected to racial slurs.

“The police were completely out of control,” said attorney Malik Shabazz of Black Lawyers for Justice. “In those initial days, it was virtually a police riot.”

The lawsuit names Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, Ferguson officer Justin Cosma, several unnamed officers collectively identified in the suit as “John Doe,” and the city and county governments.

Early days of the protests saw the police forces dressed in riot gear and shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds of unarmed protesters. After days of unrest, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon put the State Highway Patrol in charge of securing Ferguson, which initially helped ease tensions. But police brutality returned to the protests after St. Louis County police were allowed back on the ground shortly after state troopers took over operations.

Talking Points Memo writes:

Plaintiff Tracey White said she and her son, a high school junior, were waiting for a ride from her husband at a West Florissant Avenue McDonald’s after attending an Aug. 13 “peace and love” rally at a Ferguson church when several rifle-carrying officers told her she was being arrested because she would not “shut up.” White said she and her son were detained for five hours at the county jail on charges of failing to disperse, but she said she was not provided with any records reflecting that charge or a future court date.

“It was so horrifying,” she said. “We did nothing wrong.”

Dwayne Anton Matthews Jr. said he was confronted by eight officers that same night while walking to his mother’s home after the bus route he normally takes stopped short of his destination because of the unrest. The suit alleges that after Matthews was shot multiple times with rubber bullets, he fell into a creek or sewer, where police officers “pounced on him, slammed his face into the concrete and pushed his head under water to the point that he felt he was going to be drowned.”

Matthews, who styles his hair in long dreadlocks, told reporters at a Thursday press conference outside the St. Louis federal courthouse that he was called a “coon” and a “mophead,” among other racial slurs.

Hundreds were arrested in recent weeks, including protesters, reporters, lawyers, and community leaders. Wilson has not been arrested for Brown’s death.

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Rendition Victims Urge Obama To Declassify Senate Torture Report Sat, 30 Aug 2014 10:00:44 +0000 'You must now take responsibility for telling the world — and more importantly the American people — the whole truth about rendition and American torture.' Continue reading

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A watch tower overlooks the area near the Polish intelligence school just outside of Stare Kiejkuty, Poland, on Friday, Dec. 16, 2005. The installation has become the focal point of allegations of secret CIA prisons in Poland. The United States has denied access of information concerning extraordinary rendition to UK MPs. ( AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

A watch tower overlooks the area near the Polish intelligence school just outside of Stare Kiejkuty, Poland, on Friday, Dec. 16, 2005. The installation has become the focal point of allegations of secret CIA prisons in Poland. (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)

As officials continue to delay the release of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on post-9/11 CIA interrogation techniques, 10 victims of CIA rendition and torture have signed an open letter (pdf) to President Obama asking him to declassify the heavily redacted report.

The 500-page summary of the report, which includes details about secret overseas prisons, waterboarding of suspected enemy combatants, and rendition — the practice of sending a terrorist suspect covertly to be interrogated in a foreign country  — was so extensively redacted as to render it “impossible to understand,” as one critic put it. The report was expected to be released in August, but has been delayed and is currently thought to be sitting on President Obama’s desk while negotiations over declassification continue.

The signatories to the letter want these blackouts removed, in order to force a public reckoning with and official acknowledgement of their experiences.

“Despite living thousands of miles apart and leading different lives today, a shared experience unites us: the CIA abducted each of us in the past and flew us to secret prisons for torture,” reads the letter, which was coordinated by the international human rights group Reprieve. “Some of us were kidnapped with our pregnant wives or children. All of us were later released without charge, redress or apology from the US. We now want the American public to read that story, in full, and without redactions… You must now take responsibility for telling the world — and more importantly the American people — the whole truth about rendition and American torture.”

The letter, which details prolonged confinement in small boxes and dark spaces, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and “bombardment with noise and weapons,” continues:

Torture, we thought, was something only dictators did. Colonel Gaddafi’s thugs were infamous for maiming and killing political opponents in Libya. In Egypt activists often disappeared. Moroccan interrogation techniques include “bottle torture,” where bottles are used to violate prisoners. We understood the Syrian regime’s brutality well before it murdered thousands of its citizens.

Before our abductions, though, none of us imagined the torturers standing over us one day would come from the United States.

Publishing the truth is not just important for the US’s standing in the world. It is a necessary part of correcting America’s own history. Today in America, the architects of the torture program declare on television they did the right thing. High-profile politicians tell assembled Americans that ‘waterboarding’ is a ‘baptism’ that American forces should still engage in.

These statements only breed hatred and intolerance. This is a moment when America can move away from all that, but only if her people are not sheltered from the truth.

In advance of an August 29 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filing deadline, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has reportedly asked for an additional one-month delay due to “ongoing negotiations” between the Committee, the Obama administration, and the CIA regarding declassification.

Earlier this week, the ACLU filed a FOIA lawsuit demanding the CIA release all three reports about “its post-9/11 program of rendition, secret detention, and torture of detainees” — the 6,000-page Senate Select Committee Intelligence Committee report; the CIA’s report in response, defending the agency’s actions; and a report commissioned by former CIA  Director Leon Panetta, which is reportedly consistent with the Committee’s investigative report findings, but contradicts the CIA’s response to the SSCI.

The Guardian reports:

While Feinstein and the CIA have reached the nadir of their relationship — the CIA intends to attack her report’s credibility — there are concerns that the CIA has weighed the scale in favor of secrecy. Obama allowed it to lead the declassification review, despite its interest in keeping the report secret. McClatchy reported this week that the main declassification interlocutor with Feinstein, top intelligence lawyer Robert Litt, represented CIA clients in private practice in undisclosed lawsuits.

“We believe the public should know the full story of what took place in the CIA’s secret prisons and that all of these documents – the Senate report, the CIA response, and the Panetta review should be released to the public,” said Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the ACLU, which filed the freedom-of-information case.

“It’s disappointing that the government is seeking further delay, but, given Senator Feinstein’s assurances, we’re hopeful that all of the documents will be released with very limited redactions in September.”

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War Without Reason: Mark Perry On The Futility Of The Assault On Gaza Sat, 30 Aug 2014 10:00:31 +0000 MintPress talks to author Mark Perry about Israel’s shifting goals in its most recent actions against Gaza and the amount of artillery it used in the area during one especially devastating assault. Continue reading

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In this Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 file photo, Palestinians look for their belongings after houses were destroyed in an Israeli strike in the Gaza Strip.

The Pentagon is reportedly in possession of a summary report that details how the Israeli army used up to 7,000 shells to bombard Shuja’iya in Gaza City on July 20, according to analysis run by Al-Jazeera America on Thursday.

The amount of shells and artillery pieces used in Shuja’iya is significant because the bombardment was one of the more notorious events during Operation Protective Edge, having killed 65 Palestinians. During a ground assault in the neighborhood prior to the July 20 bombing, 13 members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were also killed.

Mark Perry, the author of the analysis and the book “Talking to Terrorists: Why America Must Engage with its Enemies,” explains that when speaking with a “high-ranking U.S. military officer,” information regarding the number of Israeli battalions (11), artillery pieces (258), and “high explosive shells” (7,000) used in Shuja’iya was divulged.

During an interview with MintPress News, Perry said that he was “almost certain” that the report contained the same informationSecretary of State John Kerry reacted to when he famously exclaimed, “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation!”

Meanwhile, Perry’s report states that Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, a war veteran and chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, exclaimed: “If the figures are even half right, Israel’s response was absolutely disproportionate!”

Perry said that he became interested in what happened in Shuja’iya because he was “interested in military tactics and… fascinated by Israel’s approach to controlling Hamas.” From the start of the war, he said, he believed Israel would emotionally overreact to what he called a “modest threat.”

The most pertinent example of that overreaction, coupled with an inappropriate military reaction, was the battle of Shuja’iya, he explained.

“It was almost as if they hadn’t read Clausewitz,” he said. “They did not look at this military confrontation as having political goals.”

He asserted that Israel initially claimed it wanted to disarm Hamas, then it said it wanted to demilitarize Gaza. After that, it wanted to break up the unity government, then it was going to destroy the tunnels, and finally, its goal was to strengthen and deepen ties with the United States.

All of this confusion, as well as the high civilian casualty rate (up to 2,200 Gazans and 69 Israelis), has led Perry to believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not have any clear political goals in mind before embarking on this war. However, Israel did declare a 3-kilometer buffer zone (1.8 miles) around the Gaza Strip, which “eats up about 44 percent of Gaza’s territory.

Perry said the “we’re going to make them pay” mentality is not a political goal, and it ended up costing the Israelis because Gazans are now more vigilant in their support for Hamas, and Israel has had to concede Hamas’ role in the unity government.

What it did show, he said, was the futility of an emotional war unguided by clear policy goals.

Netanyahu is in trouble because Israel’s right-wing looks at him and sees a person that “cannot protect southern Israel because Hamas can still fire rockets in there, and the left-wing looks at him as a war monger,” he continued.

Following Tuesday’s ceasefire, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has been quoted as saying: “From the start we set achievable goals and accomplished them.”

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Feds Set To Open Fracking Floodgates In California Based On One Flawed Study Sat, 30 Aug 2014 10:00:19 +0000 Report raises grave concerns about fracking pollution’s threat to state's air and water, say opponents, and also highlights fact that government officials have never collected the data needed to determine extent of danger and future destruction. Continue reading

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Drilling rig

Drilling rig at Lost Hills field in California (Photo courtesy of Earthworks)

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has put the ecosystems, water resources, and residents of California at urgent risk, expert critics are warning, by accepting a failed scientific review of the dangers of fracking in the state as a basis to begin issuing permits for the controversial gas drilling technique as soon as next year.

The BLM-commissioned study was conducted by the California Council on Science and Technology and came in response to a lawsuit brought by two environmental groups—the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club—who objected to the leasing of public land in California to oil and gas companies for the drilling process also known as hydraulic fracturing—which injects water, sand, and chemicals deep into the earth to release fossil fuel deposits trapped in shale formations. A federal judge ordered the study in 2013 after ruling that the BLM had violated state law by issuing oil leases in Monterey County, Calif., without considering fracking’s environmental risks.

The findings of the report, according to the BLM, conclude that no serious dangers were found and signaled that fracking licenses could be issued on federal lands for drilling in 2015. Jim Kenna, the BLM’s California state director, told reporters on a media call that the report would allow state regulators to authorized fracking while also monitoring for safety, environmental impacts, and health concerns.

But as the Los Angeles Times points out, even the independent research organization that conducted the survey on which the decision was based says the study had severe shortcomings and lacked key metrics.

[The report] authors noted that they had little time and scant information on which to base conclusions, citing widespread “data gaps” and inadequate scientific resources for a more thorough study.

For example, the report found no evidence of water contamination from fracking in California, but the scientist directing the research, Jane Long, said researchers also had no data on the quality of water near fracking sites.

“We can only tell you what the data we could get says,” said Long, a former director at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “We can’t tell you what we don’t know.”

Environmental groups say the flaws of report are glaring—demonstrating a rushed process and an inadequate survey of data—and slammed the BLM for indicating that fracking leases would be approved based on such flimsy and inconclusive evidence.

“This report raises grave concerns about fracking pollution’s threat to California’s air and water, but it also highlights the fact that government officials have never collected the data needed to determine the extent of the damage in our state,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “A few months of incomplete data simply can’t support a federal decision to resume selling off our public lands in California to oil companies. Using this report as a basis for continued fracking in California is illogical and illegal.”

The poverty of the report would not be so bad, according to Siegel, if the coming decisions based on its findings were not so profound.

“How can we count on a fair and unbiased process for evaluating the decision to resume leasing when the head of California BLM has predetermined the outcome?” she asked. “First we get the verdict, and then we get the trial.”

According to a review of the study by the San Francisco Chronicle, fracking in California may well, in fact, “endanger groundwater” in the state. The newspaper reports:

The report found that half of the oil wells fracked in the state lie within 2,000 feet of the surface, close to aquifers. Hydraulic fracturing uses a high-pressure blend of water, sand and chemicals to crack rocks containing oil or natural gas. Those cracks can sometimes extend as far up as 1,969 feet – not far from the surface.

Fracking chemicals, some of them toxic, could migrate along the cracks and leach into drinking water, according to the report. There are no recorded cases of that happening in California, the authors note, but it remains a possibility needing further study.

“In California, hydraulic fracturing is occurring at relatively shallow depths and presents an inherent risk for fractures to intersect nearby aquifers,” reads the report, from the California Council on Science and Technology.

Water wells in Kern County, where most of California’s fracking takes place, lie 600 feet to 800 feet below the surface, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

In its analysis, the Center for Biological Diversity listed the federal review’s most disturbing conclusions:

  • Fracking in California happens at much shallower levels than elsewhere, and the report notes that, “Hydraulic fracturing at shallow depths poses a greater potential risk to water resources because of its proximity to groundwater and the potential for fractures to intersect nearby aquifers.”
  • The study notes that investigators “could not determine the groundwater quality near many hydraulic fracturing operations and found that existing data was insufficient to evaluate the extent to which contamination may have occurred.”
  • Some fracking chemicals used in California are “acutely toxic to mammals,” the report says, while also noting that “No information could be found about the toxicity of about a third of the chemicals and few of the chemicals have been evaluated to see if animals or plants would be harmed by chronic exposure.”
  • The report says that “Current practice and testing requirements do not necessarily protect against adding produced water contaminated with hydraulic fracturing fluid to water used in agriculture.”

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Shell Renews Quest to Plunder Arctic in Search of Oil Sat, 30 Aug 2014 10:00:11 +0000 Greenpeace responds with promise to escalate its campaign to 'Save the Arctic' from the dangers of oil and gas exploration in fragile region. Continue reading

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In this image provided by the U.S. Coast Guard the conical drilling unit Kulluk sits grounded near a beach 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter)

In this image provided by the U.S. Coast Guard the conical drilling unit Kulluk sits grounded near a beach 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter)

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell on Thursday indicated its continued desire to drill in the Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska by submitting new plans for exploratory operations to federal agencies.

“Shell’s preparations are a red flag for the millions of people around the world who want to save the Arctic from catastrophe.” —John Deans, GreenpeaceDespite previously failed attempts to perform such drilling and a global campaign—spearheaded by environmental campaigners at Greenpeace—that has vowed to stop Shell at all costs, the company appears committed to pushing forward.

As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports:

The oil giant says it is keeping its options open [for operations in 2015] and has proposed putting two drilling rigs to work in the Chukchi Sea. The proposal came in a filing with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), a division of the U.S. Interior Department.

Shell has been absent from the Chukchi Sea, located off northwest Alaska, for the past two summers. The company has already spent an estimated $6 billion on leases and equipment, but has yet to drill a single well.

Nor will it drill if environmental groups have any say in the matter.  They have sued, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in January that the federal government did not adequately assess environmental impacts when the Bush Administration put oil leases up for sale in 2008.

Greenpeace was swift with its condemnation. In a statement, John Deans, a member of the the group’s Save the Arctic campaign, said:

Shell clearly believes the approval process is a formality and that it will be able to do whatever it wants in the Arctic next summer. The company is lurching forward despite the flood of reports from government agencies and environmental groups that Arctic drilling is too risky, that the Arctic is too vulnerable, and that Shell itself is too incompetent to proceed. If the Obama Administration is serious about climate change, it needs to prove it by keeping Shell out of the Arctic.

Shell’s preparations are a red flag for the millions of people around the world who want to save the Arctic from catastrophe. Shell clearly hasn’t learned anything from its last Alaskan misadventure, which would have been funny had it not put lives, local communities, and a delicate ecosystem in grave peril. Shell is putting the pieces in place for next summer so it will at least appear competent to the administration, but anyone who has been paying attention knows that Shell is simply hoping the public and the US government will confuse their commitment for competency.

The Dutch oil giant has bungled its way through its Arctic operations and squandered nearly $6 billion so far– and all they have to show for it is a containment dome crushed like a beer can, a grounded drill rig, and a PR disaster. Even with all of the money they’ve spent, Shell hasn’t been able to prove they can operate in the Arctic.

Brendan Cummings, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, told the New York Times: “Drilling in the Arctic makes no more sense in 2015 than it did when it was first proposed.”

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