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Obama Restores Ties With Cuba

After 50 years, the U.S. has restored ties with Cuba.

After 18 months of secret talks, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in a phone call on Tuesday on a breakthrough prisoner exchange, the opening of embassies in each other's countries, and an easing of some restrictions on commerce.

The two leaders made the announcement in simultaneous televised speeches. The Vatican and Canada facilitated the deal.

Obama is also calling for an end to the embargo. Republicans aren't happy with that and Congressional approval is necessary to lift it. There was also a prisoner exchange: [More...]

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Mass Arrests of Erdogan Media Critics in Turkey

Turkey conducted mass raids of journalists and a media organizations today. The targets of the raids were those who support Fethullah Gulea, a U.S. cleric and opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. More from The Guardian here.

Among the 31 people arrested: Ekrem Dumanli, the editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily newspaper. The paper is known for its exposure of government corruption.

Those held include an executive of Samanyolu television, also seen as close to Gulen, as well as a TV director, producers, scriptwriters and some police officers. Arrest warrants were issued for a total of 31 people, the official Anatolia news agency reported.

Among the offenses charged: "Using intimidation and threats" to "form a gang to try and seize state sovereignty", "forgery" and "slander."

I was watching this develop on the newspaper's Twitter feed last night. The raids were expected and 2,000 people gathered outside the Zaman's headquarters in support of the media and particularly the editor. Check out this short video. [More...]

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How the Failed Yemen Raid Went Down

The Wall. St. Journal has an open access link to an article on how the failed Yemen rain went down.

ISIS has taken a town in Libya. The Guardian has an interesting article on how bad and frightening it is. Isis posts a series of pictures showing people in Anbar laughing and hanging out with the ISIS police. You can view the photos, which have no violence, here.. [More...]

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Shootings at Parliament in Ottawa

There were three shooting incidents today in Ottawa. One was inside Parliament, one at the War Memorial where a soldier was shot, and one near the Rideau Centre Mall. At least one shooter, the one at Parliament, is dead. Prime Minister Harper was inside Parliament at the time but rushed to a secure location.

Much of downtown Ottawa is on lockdown. All Canadian military bases and Ottawa police stations are now closed to the public. The U.S. Embassy is also closed. People are being urged to stay away from downtown as the shooting investigation is still active.

Here's a Reddit live thread. The City of Ottawa twitter feed is providing updates of closures. Ottowa police provide this address for anyone with photos or video of the Parliament shooting.

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Saudi Arabia Sentences Cleric to Crucifixion

These kinds of headlines make me find 3 confirming reports before writing about them, in case there's a language difference as to the use of some words, like "crucifixion. In this case, it means what we think it means.

Nimr Baqer al-Nimr, a reformist cleric, has been sentenced to death by crucifixiton , the country's harshest punishment. He will be beaheaded and his body will be tied to two perpendicular pieces of wood. He'll be strung up and his severed head will be by him. This barbarity will take place in the public square severed head will be place by him. The event takes place in town square, with the public watching.

What was al-Nimr's sin? He preached against the Saudi King, arguing for civil rights. and an end to corruption and discrimination against minorities. [More...]

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Houthi Rebels Take Yemen Govt Offices, PM Resigns

It's a mess in Yemen. Houthi rebels (who are Shi'ite and a minority) have stormed government headquarters, ministries and TV stations in Sanaa. The Prime Minister of Yemen has resigned.

Last night UN envoy Jamal Benomar had announced a truce with the rebels. It's unclear what that means now, although Yemen's President says the accord will be signed today.

The Houthis are based in the north of Yemen, bordering on Saudi Arabia. As part of their demands, they want Yemen's recent decreases in fuel subsidies rolled back.

The fighting is said to benefit AQAP, which has been attacking Yemen security forces while the Houthis wage their battle. Yemen has also been fighting separatist rebels in the south.

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Saudi Arabia Beheads Four Drug Traffickers But Complains About ISIS

ISIS and jihadists aren't the only ones who use beheadings as a means of execution. Yesterday, Saudi Arabia beheaded four drug traffickers.

Four drug traffickers from Syria and Iran were decapitated by sword in northern and eastern Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, the government said, disregarding concerns raised by human rights organizations and raising the number of people executed over the last month to 30.

The King of Saudi Arabia has been harshly critical of ISIS, launching a crackdown on the "deviants." So have Saudi religious leaders. The King specifically criticized ISIS beheadings last week.

Abdullah denounced ISIS’s savage beheadings and mass killings. He said ISIS jihadists “do not know humanity,” according to a Saudi Press Agency report.

...Abdullah condemned the “cruelty” of the beheadings and children’s involvement in them, saying they are “against the teachings of Allah almighty.”

First, what a hypocrite. [More...]

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Colombian Victims Meet With FARC in Havana

Saturday, for the first time, some victims of the decades of violence in Colombia met directly with FARC members at the Peace Talks in Havana.

The victims told the BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Havana that they were listened to by the negotiators with a great deal of respect.

I was glad to see the victims of the right-wing paramilitary groups were also included. Some in Colombia (mostly FARC victims it seems) didn't think it was appropriate but:

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay praised the move, calling it unprecedented and a potential model for other countries dealing with issues of justice, peace and reconciliation.

[More...]

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ISIS Slaughters Detained al Sha'etat Tribe Members

Ten days ago, ISIS captured these members of the al Sha'etat tribe in Deir Ezzor, Syria. I thought they were going to be killed immediately but ISIS gave them a reprieve, allowing them to repent. Non violent photos of them when they were captured are here and after the reprieve here.

Apparently, many either didn't repent or repented then rescinded, because today ISIS reported and showed photos of their slaughter. They were beheaded, crucified or otherwise executed and the photos are disgusting. I'm not linking to the photos, but it's clear they are the same young men.

Also today, ISIS supporters deny killing Yazidi civilians or that ISIS intends to do so. [More...]

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Monday Night Open Thread

Check out this photo in this article from the National Post on the people fleeing Sinjar. The caption is "Iraqis from the town of Sinjar head towards the autonomous Kurdistan region on Aug. 4, 2014, as they seek refuge after ISIS militants took control of their town." Photo credits are to "AP stringer/Getty Images."

Now check out this one from 2013 in the New York Times -- it's the same same photo. The caption says "Syria-Iraq border, August 2013."

You really have to watch the media. (This photo and this one are really from yesterday.)

This is an open thread, all topics welcome.

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Mexico Will Repeal New Sinaloa Law Gagging Journalists

Yesterday the LA Times reported the state of Sinaloa in Mexico passed a law prohibiting journalists from reporting crime details not obtained from official state sources. Under the new law, scheduled to take effect in October, journalists would not be allowed to tour crime scenes, or take photos or record video and audio of them.

The outcry by journalists was immediate and justifiable. Today Sinaloa legislators announced they intend to repeal the law in a special session to be held August 21. They say they didn't read the bill closely enough and that they agree it is likely to impermissibly infringe on the ability of the media to do its job. According to the head of the Sinaloa legislature's political coordination committee (Diputación Permanente): [More...]

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Israel Announcement on Tunnel Operation and War

Update: Israel has concluded the soldier it believed to be captured by Hamas, Lt. Hadar Goldin, was killed in battle in Gaza on Friday. A special committee reviewed pathological evidence at the scene and other information and made the determination.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today announced that Israel's tunnel operation is almost complete and by tomorrow, all known tunnels will have been destroyed. It is pulling back some troops from Gaza, but Netanyahu made it clear Israel is not ending its ground war. He said Hamas will have a heavy price to pay if it continues to attack Israel. More from his announcement:

“Every option is on the table to ensure long-term quiet to the residents of Israel,” he said. “I won’t say when we’ll finish and where we’ll go. We have no obligation outside of our security concerns.”

Hamas responds: [More...]

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U.S. Blasts Hamas for Breaking Ceasefire and Seizing Israeli Soldier

Update: Hamas' military wing, al Qassam Brigades, has released this statement:

“The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades has no information on this soldier. We have lost contact with one of our combatant groups, which was fighting in the sector where the soldier went missing and it is possible that our fighters and this soldier were killed,” the group said in a statement
They also say:

"We have no idea about where the Israeli soldier is or what is the situation. "We lost contact with the group who made the suicide mission near Rafah after it was done. "We believe everyone in this group was killed by an Israeli air strike including the Israeli soldier who the Israelis are talking about having disappeared."

[More...]

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Israel Says Fate of One Soldier in Ambush is "Unclear"

Update: since writing the post below, the Israeli Defense Forces have posted on Twitter that they are trying to "identify" (not locate) the 7th soldier. Nor do they describe him as "missing."

A vehicle carrying 7 soldiers was attacked July 20. We have identified 6 of their bodies. Efforts to identify the 7th soldier are ongoing.

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On Sunday, Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prossor, denied Hamas had captured an Israeli soldier.

Yet, today the Israeli Army says the fate of the one of the seven soldiers in an armored vehicle in Shujaiyeh, Gaza that was attacked by Hamas is "unclear." He is classified as "missing" but presumed dead. [More...]

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Israel Denies Hamas Captured Israeli Soldier

Earlier today, Al Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, claimed it captured an Israeli soldier, Shaul Aron. Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prossor, now denies the claim.

"There's no kidnapped Israeli soldier and those rumours are untrue," said Israel's UN ambassador Ron Prosor.

It appears the soldier, whose name is Oron Shaul, was one of 13 Israeli soldiers killed yesterday, but was not captured alive. Hamas may have found his identification, or it may have taken his name from this leaked list of the 13 soldiers who were killed. The list is not from an official source.

Prior to the official denial, many reporters and analysts on Twitter doubted the claim. Here's why. [More...]

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