Islamic State Hits Syria Hard As U.S. and Allies Ramp up Offensive, Ukraine and Russia Make Progress and Catalonia Looks For Independence Following Scotland’s Vote

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On Thursday, Islamic State fighters besieged a Kurdish city in northern Syria after seizing 21 villages forcing neighboring Kurds in Turkey to call to arms followers to resist the group’s advance, Tom Perry and Laila Bassam report, Islamic State Seizes Syrian And Kurdish Villages In Major Assault. The attack on Ayn al-Arab, Kobani in Kurdish, came two days after U.S. military officials said the Syrian opposition would be needed in order for the Syrian Kurds to defeat the Islamic State. U.S. President Barack Obama last week said he would strike the radical Islamist group that used Syria as a base to advance its pan to reshape the Middle East according to the radical views of Sunni Islam. The United States is conducting air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and now Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria. Ocalan Iso, deputy head of the Kurdish forces in Kobani, told Reuters via Skype, “We’ve lost touch with many of the residents living in the villages that ISIS (Islamic State) seized.” The Kurds appealed for military aid from other Kurdish group including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party who issued a call for young men in Turkey’s southeast to join the fight in norther Syria. On their website, in a statement, PKK said, “The youth of northern Kurdistan (southeast Turkey) should go to Kobani and take part in the historic, honorable resistance.” As night fell, a Reuters witness said 3,000 men, women and children waited at the Turkish border 6 miles from Kobani as Turkish forces stopped the crowd from crossing. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara: “We’re ready to help our brothers who are building up at the borders regardless of their ethnicity, religion and sect. But our priority is to deliver aid within Syria’s borders.” Redur Xelil, spokesman for the YPG, said Islamic State had encircled Kobani, telling Reuters via Skype.: “We call on world powers to move to halt this barbaric assault by ISIS.” Obama’s plan to expand support for groups fighting Islamic State in Syria focus on Sunni Muslim insurgents deemed moderate by Washington. On Friday, several thousand Syrians mostly Kurds crossed into Turkey finding refuge from the Islamic State militants who took over villages in northern Syria in the past 28 hours, the Associated Press reported, Syrian Kurds fleeing IS group cross into Turkey. In a statement on his website, Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region, said the Islamic State’s “barbaric and terrorist acts” on the Kobani area in northern Syria “threaten the whole entirety of the Kurdish nation and it has targeted the honor, dignity and existence of our people.” He also said, “The ISIS terrorists perpetrate crimes and tragedies wherever they are, therefore they have to be hit and defeated wherever they are.” The main Kurdish forces in Syria called the People’s Protection Unit or YPK have been battling the Islamic State for more than a year, but is viewed with suspicion by mainstream Syrian rebels and there Western supporters due to their supposed link to President Bashar Assad’s government. Meanwhile, France on Friday conducted its first airstrikes against the Islamic State group destroying a logistics depot that it controlled, Iraqi and French officials said, according to Jamey Keaten, France strikes Islamic State group’s depot in Iraq. President Francois Hollande confirmed the hit in northern Iraq, saying, “Other operations will follow in the coming days with the same goal – to weaken this terrorist organization and come to the aid of the Iraqi authorities. There are always risks in taking up a responsibility. I reduced the risks to a minimum.” Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for the Iraqi military, said four French airstrikes hit the town of Zumar, killing dozens of extremist fighters. France has become the first foreign country to publicly add military aid to the United Stated airstrikes against the group. In Washington, Congress approved with a vote of 78-22 in the Senate, a bill already approved by the House 273-156 Wednesday, to allow funding for the government after the end of the budget year on Sept. 30 and allow the U.S. military to train and equip Syrian rebels for a war against ISIS on Thursday night, the Associated Press reported, Strong Senate vote for Obama on Syria rebel aid. In the Senate, 44 Democrats, 33 Republicans and one independent voted for the bill, while 9 Democrats, 12 Republicans and one independent opposed it. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told one House committee that Obama “is not going to order American combat ground forces into that area.” Obama’s general plan is to have U.S. troops train Syrian rebels at camps in Saudi Arabia, a process that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said could take a year. Kathleen Miles reports, Iranian Foreign Minister: America Helped Create ISIS And Is Taking The Wrong Approach … Again, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Wednesday that the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S created ISIS and foreign military presence will only create new terrorists. During a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations, Zarif said: “If you look at the essence of ISIS, it’s the product of foreign invasion. Foreign presence in any territory creates a dynamic for demagogues like ISIS to use the resentment in the population of being occupied.” He noted that the Islamic State began with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an Islamist leader of the anti-American insurgency in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion. He continued on to say: “As a principle, we do not believe that injection of foreign forces, either air or ground, solves our problem. We continue to have serious doubts about the willingness and ability of the U.S. to seriously engage this menace across the board –- and not just pick and choose where to engage. People need to be realistic. The so-called Syrians moderates — look at what’s happening on the ground — they control no territory. They can have no influence in fighting against either ISIS or the Syrian government. Syria is either controlled by the government or by ISIS. The U.S. cannot effectively fight against both at the same time.” Referring to the meeting in Paris and the U.S. led coalistion to fight ISIS, Zarif said: “Most participants in that meeting in one form or another provided support to ISIS … at the end of the day, creating a Frankenstein that came to haunt its creators. [Extremists] do not fly into Iraq. They come on foot from somewhere, and they don’t come from Iran. You can look at the addresses, and I believe every location was [represented] around the table in Paris.”

On Thursday, Ukrainian President Poroshenko renewed his call for American weaponry during his address to a joint meeting of Congress, expressing his appreciation for non lethal assistance from the U.S. but saying it was not enough to quell the violence in eastern Ukraine. the Associated Press reports, Ukraine’s pleas for lethal aid from US go unmet. Poroshenko, before heading to the White House to meet with Obama, said, “Blankets and night vision goggles are important, but one cannot win a war with a blanket.” The White House announced a new $46 million security package for Ukraine’s military that included counter mortar radar to detect incoming artillery fire, vehicles and patrol boats, body armor and heavy engineering equipment. In addition, $7 million will go to humanitarian organizations to assist people affected by the violence. Regarding his discussion with Obama and the desire for lethal American military assistance, Poroshenko told reporters: “I am satisfied with the level of our cooperation with the United States of America in the defense and security sector. I cannot say more, but I am satisfied.” In the Oval Office, Obama sat side by side with Poroshenko declaring, “The people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine.” Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists agreed to a cease-fire on Sept. 5, but the deal has been violated repeatedly. Both sides have promised to regroup and continue fighting, if required. Poroshenko came to Washington seeking lethal military assistance to help push back the Russian forces. His request has support from some members of the Obama administration, as well as lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted unanimously Thursday to advance legislation that would authorize $350 million for military assistance including anti-tank weapons. Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who chairs the committee, said, “President Putin has upended the international order, and a slap on the wrist will not deter future Russian provocations. In the face of Russian aggression, Ukraine needs our steadfast and determined support, not an ambiguous response. ” Obama has argued more weapons into the conflict will not de-escalate the situation. However, Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said, “The more costly the Ukrainians can make any fighting for the Russians, the less Moscow’s interest in resuming the conflict.” While sanction from both the European Union and the United States have had a negative impact on Russia’s economy, they have done little to detour PUtin’s tactics. Meanwhile, back in Ukraine, Yuras Karmanau and Mstyslav Chernov report, Ukraine, Russia, Rebels Agree To Buffer Zone In Peace Talks, Saturday that sporadic artillery fire hit part of eastern Ukraine hours after negotiators agreed to create a buffer zone between government troops and pro-Russian militants by halting their advances, pulling back heavy weapons and withdrawing foreign fighters. Despite a ceasefire agreement that has been in place since Sept. 5, the fighting between the two sides has been deadly. Shelling could be heard in Donetsk and rebels opened fire on the village of Stakhanovets in the Luhansk region, according to the Interior Ministry. Ukrainian national security council spokesman Volodymyr Polyoviy said Saturday that about 20 rebels and one soldier had been killed in clashes but did not specify if those took place after the negotiators agreed on the buffer zone around 4 a.m. The deal reached by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the Moscow-backed rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe says the two sides should stay where they were Friday and make no attempt to advance. According to the report: “Under the deal, each party must pull back artillery of 100 millimeters (about 4 inches) or larger at least 15 kilometers (9 miles), setting up a buffer zone that would be 30 kilometers (19 miles) wide. The longer-range artillery systems are to be pulled even farther back to make sure the parties can’t reach one another. The deal also specifically bans flights by combat aircraft over the area of conflict and setting up new minefields.” NATO’s top general, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, hopes the agreement announced Saturday to create a buffer zone between Ukrainian government troops and the pro-Russian militants will succeed in stabilizing the situation. On Friday, Reuters reports, US, Canada send jets to intercept Russian aircraft, that U.S. and Canadian fighter jets intercepted Russian aircraft flying near U.S. and Canadian air space this week, a military spokesman confirmed. On Wednesday, six Russian aircraft entered the United States’ air defense identification zone (ADIZ), an area beyond sovereign U.S. airspace, according to a statement from NORAD, a U.S. and Canadian aerospace command, and U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM). In response, “two Alaskan-based F-22 fighter jets acting under the authority of NORAD identified and intercepted two Russian IL-78 refueling tankers, two Russian Mig-31 fighter jets and two Russian Bear long-range bombers in the ADIZ, west of Alaska,” the statement said. On Thursday, Canadian fighter jets intercepted two Russian Bear long-range bombers in the Canadian ADIZ. John Cornelio, a spokesman for NORAD and NORTHCOM, said that such intercepts had happened over 50 times in the last five years as Russian aircraft conducted exercises.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s vote for independence from Britain ended with voters resoundingly rejecting independence, but helped pave the way for a possible vote for Catalonia who wants independence from Spain, Jil Lawless and Danica Kirka report, Scots reject independence in historic vote. The historic vote and referendum ultimately prevented the rupture of a 307 year old union with England and brought a sigh of relief to Britain’s political establishment including Prime Minister David Cameron, who faced demands for his resignation if Scotland broke away. The vote on Thursday saw an unprecedented turn out of 85 percent with 55 percent against independence and 45 percent in favor. Alistair Darling, head of the no campaign, said Friday from Glasgow: “We have chosen unity over division. Today is a momentous day for Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole.” Cameron from his Downing Street office lived up to his promise to Scotland to give new powers on taxes, spending and welfare and the new plans will be agreed upon by November with draft legislation by January. He added, “We will ensure that those commitments are honored in full. We have heard the voice of Scotland, now the voices of millions in England must be heard.” Cameron also said people in other parts of the U.K. should also have more rights to govern their own affairs, particularly in England. The No campaign won the capital city, Edinburgh, by a margin of 61 percent to 38 percent and triumphed by 59 percent to 41 percent in Aberdeen, the country’s oil center. The Yes campaign won Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, but it was not enough. The vote to keep the U.K. together helps it avoid substantial loses to its territory and oil reserves and prevents it from having to find an new base for its nuclear arsenal housed in Scotland. The no vote also allowed the United Kingdom to keep its influence within international institutions including 28 nation European Union, NATO and the United Nations. Additionally, Britain avoids a prolonged period of financial insecurity that were predicted by Scotland’s independence. AOL reports, Catalonia pushes for independence following Scottish vote, hours after the vote on Friday, Spain’s Catalonia region took steps toward holding their own independence referendum. Catalonia’s regional parliament authorized a consultation vote on independence for the region with a presumptive November 9 date. However, the Spanish government condemned the possible vote as illegal. Due to Spain’s painful financial crisis, nearly two million people lined the streets of Barcelona a week earlier in support of independence. The decades-old independence movement has also been bolstered by Scotland’s referendum. Catalonia’s President Artur Mas told reporters he admired the U.K.’s commitment to a democratic referendum and expected the same process from Madrid. “It is more important to hold the referendum than the independence. … This represents high-quality democracy.” But Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who opposes Catalan independence, has been quick to congratulate Scotland for choosing not to break with the U.K. Catalan independence faces a battle due to the Spanish constitution that requires the authorization by Spanish parliament for any referendum. Spain will most likely take the Catalan parliament’s new law to the country’s constitutional court that favors Madrid over Barcelona. If held, Catalonia’s planned referendum would not result in legal separation from Spain, but provide President Mas with a political mandate to pressure Madrid for independence.

Ukraine at War Despite Ceasefire with Rebels and the U.S. Continues to Rally Support Against an Ever Growing Islamic State

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On Saturday, despite a ceasefire between Kiev’s forces and Moscow backed rebels in the east, Ukraine is ‘still in a state of war” with Russia, according to the country’s prime minister shortly after a second convoy of Russian trucks rolled into Ukraine, the Associated Press reports, Ukraine Prime Minister says country still in ‘state of war’. Speaking to a conference of politicians and business leaders in Kiev, Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal is to take all of Ukraine: “He cannot cope with the idea that Ukraine would be a part of a big EU family. He wants to restore the Soviet Union.” The second convoy of Russian trucks that entered through rebel held territory in eastern Ukraine on Saturday with 2,000 tons of humanitarian aid. The last truck crossed early Saturday from the Russian border town Donetsk, 120 miles east of the Ukrainian city with the same name, Rayan Farukshin, a spokesman for Russia’s custom agency, told the Associated Press via phone. News Agency ITAR TASS reported 250 trucks were heading toward the city of Luhansk. Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, told journalist Saturday the trucks entered illegally: “Ukraine border guards and customs were not allowed to examine the cargo and vehicles. Representatives of the Red Cross don’t accompany the cargo, nobody knows what’s inside.” President Petro Poroshenko has tried to since last week’s ceasefire to prove that improvements on the ground have happened in eastern Ukraine, but Friday, he admitted that the deal has been riddled with violations. Galina Balzamova, a representative of the ICRC’s Moscow office said, “We were not officially notified of an agreement between Moscow and Kiev to ship the cargo.” Lysenko said 6 Ukrainian servicemen have died since the truce and 12 rebel fighters have been killed by Ukrainian forces near Seas of Azov city of Mariupol. A Saturday statement from the Donetsk city council said that fighting occurred throughout the night near the airport with two shells hitting a residential building in the area and reported no causalities. Laura Mills and Peter Leonard report, Ukraine government repels rebel attack on airport, the convoy of 200 white trucks crossed the border with humanitarian aid to Ukraine on Saturday without Kiev’s consent but was met with silence by Ukraine’s leaders. Yury Stepanov, a Russian overseeing the convoy, said: “Early in the morning, we entered Ukraine to bring aid to Luhansk. We came in around 215 vehicles.” The aid arrived as fighting continued between pro-Russian rebels and government forces. Stepanov said the goods consisted mainly of food such as rice sugar and canned fish and beef, but included medicine, technical equipment and clothes. While local workers unloaded boxes, several carloads of armed militiamen in camouflage arrived to inspect the scene. Stepanov said his team was responsible for delivery, while distribution will be handled by local authorities which means the separatist leaders of the self proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic. Gennady Tsepkalo, a senior separatist officials, said, “The militia will feed itself separately. This is for the residents of the Luhansk People’s Republic.” The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s observer mission to the Russian-Ukrainian border said Saturday that ed220 trucks cross into Ukraine, none of which were inspected by the Ukrainian side or accompanied by the ICRC. Allowing more humanitarian aid into the region was one component of the 12-point deal.

Meanwhile, across the world, ISIS continues to grow stronger as the U.S. continue to rally support internationally in the fight to stop the Islamic extremist, while some neighboring Arab countries in the Middle East choose not to participate. On Sunday, Prime Minister David Cameron summoned military and security chiefs for an emergency meeting in response to the beheading of a British hostage and a threat against another, Gregory Katz reports, UK’s Cameron calls emergency meeting after killing. The meeting was in response to the release of a video showing the beheading of British aid worker David Haines and the threat of another with death by Islamic extremists. Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it saw no reason to doubt the authenticity of the video. Haines is the third Westerner to be executed with the first two being U.S. journalists. President Barack Obama said the United would stand with Britain in an expanded effort against terror groups. “We will work with the United Kingdom and a broad coalition of nations from the region and around the world to bring the perpetrators of this outrageous act to justice, and to degrade and destroy this threat to the people of our countries, the region and the world,” he said. Germany and France also condemned the killing during their international conference Monday to combat IS. French President Francois Hollande said, “The odious assassination of David Haines shows once more the need for the international community to mobilize against the base and cowardly Daesh.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the Haines killing “an abhorrent act of barbaric violence beyond all limits of human civilization” and said the Paris meeting comes at the right time. Some British lawmakers called for Britain to launch air strikes against Islamic State forces after the killing. Desmond Butler reports, Turkey seeks behind-the-scene role in NATO coalition, that Turkey has decided to take a behind the scenes role in the war with the Islamic State group as it wants to keep its soldiers out of combat operations and declined to allow NATO to use its bases or territories to launch air attacks. The reason is rooted in two dilemmas: the Islamic State groups has dozens of Turkish hostages including diplomats and Turkey is wary of boosting its rebellious Kurdish minority in the battle against Islamic State enemies in Iraq. Even though NATO allies have shown publish support for Turkey, they would like more action from heir ally. Butler reports: “They would chiefly like to see Turkey tighten its border controls, stem the flow of fighters transiting Turkey from Western Countries and the Middle East, and crack down on oil smuggling from Syria that finances the Islamic State group. They could also benefit from closer intelligence cooperation and possibly the use of Incirlik Airbase in southern Turkey as a base from which to launch strikes against the group.” Western governments are alarmed by the Islamic State’s ability to smuggle Iraqi and Syrian oil across Turkey’s borders and while Turkey has cracked down, analysts say that Turkey is not able to police the smuggling across its 750 mile border with Iraq and Syria. Both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chick Hagel were in Ankara last week on successive trips to press Turkey on its role, but failed to get a pledge of support in combating IS. In addition, Turkey decline to sign a U.S. brokered statement by Middle Eastern countries last week denouncing the Islamic State group and pledging to fight it. Another reason for hesitation is a three decade long conflict with the Kurdish minority that has cost tens of thousands of lives. Last year, Kurdish rebels declared a ceasefire and began withdrawing fighters from Turkey into bases in norther Iraq, but tensions rose again as the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, accused Turkey of not boosting Kurdish rights quickly enough. Government officials say there are signs that Kurds from Turkey are crossing the border to help PKK militants in Iraq and Syria fight the Islamic State group. Teams of security officials operating at Turkish airports and bus stations have interrogated more than 500 people over the last four months and have deported 107 to their countries of origin, according to one official in the Turkish prime minister’s office. Officials also say they are fighting oil smuggling, but face challenges across a more than 550 mile border with Syria. Lori Hinnant reports, Iran says rejects US call to fight IS militants, Iran will not join the international coalition to fight the militant group. Neither Iran nor Syria, who share most of their borders with Iraq, was invited Monday to the international conference in Paris. Opening the diplomatic conference intended to discuss how to combat the group, French President Francois Hollande said, “The terrorist threat is global and the response must be global. There is no time to lose.” The killing of David Haines, a British aid worker, added to the urgency for a clear strategy to fight the well organized Sunni group who has amassed members from all over the world and makes $3 million a day from oil smuggling, human trafficking, theft and extortion, according to U.S. intelligence officials and private experts. Iraq’s President Fouad Massoum called for a coordinated military and humanitarian approach, as well as regular strikes against territory in the hands of the extremists and the elimination of their funding. According to Hinnant: “Western officials have made clear they consider Syrian President Bashar Assad part of the problem, and U.S. officials opposed France’s attempt to invite Iran, a Shiite nation, to the conference in Paris.” Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Iranian state television, said his government refused American requests for cooperation, warning that another U.S> incursion would result “in the same problems they faced in Iraq in the past 10 years.” Ahead of the conference, France’s foreign minister acknowledged many of the countries at the meeting Monday probably financed Islamic State’s advances, while Haider al-Abadi, in his first interview aired Sunday as Iraqi prime minister, told state run al-Iraqiyya that he has given France approval to use Iraq airspace and said all such authorizations must come from Baghdad.