Israeli settlers storm Al-Aqsa Mosque and climb Dome of the Rock
Israeli settlers have stormed repeatedly Al-Aqsa Mosque compound over the last two days, and on Thursday even climbed the Dome of the Rock Mosque. The settlers were led by the radical Rabbi Yehuda Glick, who is the former head of the Temple Institute. He was accompanied by a journalist on Thursday who carried a camera to document the attack, while settlers reportedly engaged in verbal altercations with angry Muslim worshipers defending the mosque. Witnesses reported that Rabbi Glick returned to storm the Al-Aqsa Mosque twice on Friday, joined by groups of Jewish settlers whom he lectured to about the alleged Temple.continue
Chances are that the current round of talks between Israelis and Palestinians will end without a final agreement, said President Barack Obama. “‘Obama told me that in all three of his main initiatives in the region—with Iran, with Israel and the Palestinians, with Syria—the odds of completing final treaties are less than fifty-fifty,” wrote Remnick. “‘On the other hand,’ he said, ‘in all three circumstances we may be able to push the boulder partway up the hill and maybe stabilize it so it doesn’t roll back on us. And all three are connected. I do believe that the region is going through rapid change and inexorable change. Some of it is demographics; some of it is technology; some of it is economics. And the old order, the old equilibrium, is no longer tenable. The question then becomes, What’s next?’” Obama also said, while discussing Iran, that “members of Congress are very attentive to what Israel says on its security issues.” The president promised to veto any Iran sanctions bill that reached his desk.
Obama expressed no regrets over his decision to back down from a strike on Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. “I am haunted by what’s happened,” said the president. “I am not haunted by my decision not to engage in another Middle Eastern war. It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in Syria would have led to a better outcome, short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in Iraq. And when I hear people suggesting that somehow if we had just financed and armed the opposition earlier, that somehow Assad would be gone by now and we’d have a peaceful transition, it’s magical thinking.” Obama also emphasized that the interests of Israel and the Sunni Arab states are “very closely aligned.” “What’s preventing them from entering into even an informal alliance with at least normalized diplomatic relations is not that their interests are profoundly in conflict but the Palestinian issue,” he explained, “as well as a long history of anti-Semitism that’s developed over the course of decades there, and anti-Arab sentiment that’s increased inside of Israel based on seeing buses being blown up. If you can start unwinding some of that, that creates a new equilibrium. And so I think each individual piece of the puzzle is meant to paint a picture in which conflicts and competition still exist in the region but that it is contained, it is expressed in ways that don’t exact such an enormous toll on the countries involved, and that allow us to work with functioning states to prevent extremists from emerging there.” The Times Of Israel
SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS: A mysterious rock which appeared in front of the Opportunity rover is “like nothing we’ve ever seen before”, according to Mars exploration scientists at Nasa. Experts said they were “completely confused” by both the origins and makeup of the object, which is currently being investigated by Opportunity’s various measuring instruments. Astronomers noticed the new rock had “appeared” without any explanation on an outcrop which had been empty just days earlier. The rover has been stuck photographing the same region of Mars for more than a month due to bad weather, with scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California monitoring the images it sends. Nasa issued a Mars status report entitled “encountering a surprise”, and lead Mars Exploration rover scientist Steve Squyres told a JPL event it seems the planet literally “keeps throwing new things at us”. He said the images, from 12 Martian days apart, were from no more than a couple of weeks ago. “We saw this rock just sitting here. It looks white around the edge in the middle and there’s a low spot in the centre that’s dark red – it looks like a jelly doughnut. “And it appeared, just plain appeared at that spot – and we haven’t ever driven over that spot.” Squyres said his team had two theories on how the rock got there – that there’s “a smoking hole in the ground somewhere nearby” and it was caused by a meteor, or that it was “somehow flicked out of the ground by a wheel” as the rover went by. “We had driven a metre or two away from here, and I think the idea that somehow we mysteriously flicked it with a wheel is the best explanation,” Squyres said.
Yet the story got even stranger when Opportunity investigated further. Squyres explained: “We are as we speak situated with the rover’s instruments deployed making measurements of this rock. “We’ve taken pictures of both the doughnut and jelly parts, and the got the first data on the composition of the jelly yesterday. “It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” he said. “It’s very high in sulphur, it’s very high in magnesium, it’s got twice as much manganese as we’ve ever seen in anything on Mars. “I don’t know what any of this means. We’re completely confused, and everyone in the team is arguing and fighting (over what it means). “That’s the beauty of this mission… what I’ve realised is that we will never be finished. There will always be something tantalising, something wonderful just beyond our reach that we didn’t quite get to – and that’s the nature of exploration.” Squyres was speaking at an event marking the 10th anniversary of the arrival of Opportunity and Spirit on the surface of Mars. While Spirit lost contact with Earth and was later declared “dead” in 2010, Opportunity has now roamed the planet far in excess of what was originally planned as a three-month mission. Nasa said that with its maximum speed of just 0.05mph, as of “Sol 3547” (15 January 2014) Opportunity had covered just over 24 miles (38km). The Independent
If Iran breaks its deal with the West tomorrow, the country would be only two to three weeks away from producing enough highly enriched uranium to assemble a nuclear weapon, according to Olli Heinonen, former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Heinonen directed the safeguards division of the United Nations body charged with enforcing the Non-Proliferation Treaty. He was asked Sunday on Aaron Klein’s WABC Radio about the timeframe in response to statements from Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, who boasted last week that Tehran can nix its deal with the West and resume enriching uranium to 20-percent levels within one day if it so desires. Heinonen responded that if Iran wanted it would currently take the country “two, three weeks to have enough uranium hexafluoride high-enriched for one single weapon.” He told Klein: “If [Iran] in reality [abrogates the deal] tomorrow, they still have quite a substantial stock of uranium hexafluoride, which is enriched to 20 percent. …
And then technically, when Iran has committed to this month to certain parts of the processes in such a way these tandem cascades are not anymore connected with each other, you can indeed put them back in one day’s time. “So if this all happens in the next, let’s say, weeks, this is really true. They can start to produce 20-percent enriched uranium,” he said. “Now, in order to go fast for Iran, it actually needs to make several such tandem cascades. Not just those in Natanz and Fordow [nuclear plants]. They have to put perhaps some 6,000 centrifuges to work in this kind of a mode.” Continued the former IAEA director: “If they do that, which they can technically do, it will take certainly a little bit more than one night to do. But then once they have sorted it out, it would take about two, three weeks to have enough uranium hexafluoride high-enriched for one single weapon.” Heinonen explained that as time elapses and Iran converts more of its 20-percent enriched uranium to five percent, as is required by the U.S.-backed deal, the two to three week timeframe to produce a nuclear weapon will expand. He said that if Iran keeps its side of the deal then in six months from now “it will take at least three months” more to enrich enough uranium to assemble a nuclear weapon. WND
Ukrainian protesters clashed with police in Kiev after at least 10,000 people took to Independence Square for an anti-government demonstration. Police retaliation with tear gas and water cannons was prompted by an attempt to storm the government quarter. What started as a peaceful demonstration on the city’s Independence Square, or Maidan, with heated anti-government slogans being shouted and the announcement that the opposition was creating a“people’s assembly,” turned into violent clashes with the police later Sunday. Protesters wearing orange helmets and wielding sticks and flares clashed with cordons of security forces surrounding government buildings and attempted to turn over a police bus. According to police, radical activists were also throwing smoke grenades. Live feeds showed riot police retaliating by throwing flash grenades from behind the cordon, as Twitter exploded with reports of Berkut special police forces readying to forcefully disperse the crowd and water cannon approaching the area. As tension grew, media reports said police used teargas to push back the crowd. Some of the protesters started breaking up the pavement, arming themselves with rubble.
The most aggressive group of protesters started throwing stones, debris and Molotovs directly at the police, with some of the petrol bombs landing in the midst of cordons and setting policemen’s uniform on fire. At least 70 law enforcers have been injured in violent riots and 4 of them are in serious condition, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry spokesperson told Ria novosti. Witnesses from the scene reported that one of the policemen was dragged out of the cordon and beaten by several masked people, and then taken to a tent in Maidan for medical treatment by other protesters. Police officials later reported that he suffered head injuries, broken ribs and nose and has been taken to hospital in “a state of shock.” A water canon was deployed to the scene of the clashes by the police, but has so far been used only once against those attacking the security cordon. The protesters have particularly been keen to discuss the armored vehicle on the Internet as the temperature in Kiev lowered to a freezing -7 degrees Celsius. Witnesses from the scene reported that one of the policemen was dragged out of the cordon and beaten by several masked people, and then taken to a tent in Maidan for medical treatment by other protesters. Police officials later reported that he suffered head injuries, broken ribs and nose and has been taken to hospital in “a state of shock.” A water canon was deployed to the scene of the clashes by the police, but has so far been used only once against those attacking the security cordon.
The protesters have particularly been keen to discuss the armored vehicle on the Internet as the temperature in Kiev lowered to a freezing -7 degrees Celsius. Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko stepped in to try and prevent the clashes, but was sprayed with powder from a fire extinguisher in the process. Photos on Twitter showed Klitschko, covered in foam, trying to calm down the crowd through a bullhorn. However, protesters did not back off and continued to shower fireworks and other objects on riot police, who protected themselves with shields. As flash and smoke grenades continued to go off, doctors were seen arriving at the scene to treat the injured. Meanwhile, opposition UDAR party spokesperson has announced that Klitschko has arrived at President Yanukovich’s residence outside of Kiev and that he was allowed to meet the President. There were no details on the nature of the meeting. Earlier on Sunday, Klitschko recorded a video message for Yanukovich, in which he urged the President“not to repeat the faith of [Romanian Communist leader Nicolae] Ceausescu and [Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddaffi.” Addressing the President from Maidan, the opposition leader demanded a stop to “pitting the police against the people” and to end “a war against Ukrainian citizens.”
BREAKING NEWS: A video surfaces threatening the Winter Olympics. Russia’s President vows the Games will be safe. Some U.S. lawmakers warn that they won’t be. One thing was clear as debate over the situation surged on Sunday: security is a top concern, less than three weeks away from the competition. ”It’s a very serious fear,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday. Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that the Games, like any high-profile event, could be a target for terrorists. But, he said, Russia has a “perfect understanding” of the threat and how to stop it. As a transcript of his interview with half a dozen national and international broadcasters was posted on the Kremlin website Sunday, a video that surfaced online again highlighted the security situation. In the video, posted on a well-known Jihadi forum website, two young men believed to have been suicide bombers in last month’s back-to-back bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd speak of those attacks and make an ominous promise. ”We’ve prepared a present for you and all tourists who’ll come over,” the video says. “If you will hold the Olympics, you’ll get a present from us for the Muslim blood that’s been spilled.”
Attack on transit hub fuels concerns
In the video, the men are dressed in black and standing in front of a black banner with religious verse that is typically associated with al Qaeda-linked extremists. Last month’s attacks in Volgograd, a major transit hub about 650 kilometers (400 miles) away from Sochi, sparked concerns over security as the Olympics approach. The explosions targeted a train station and a trolley bus and claimed the lives of more than 30 people. In addition to the Volgograd attacks, there has also been violence in recent days in the southern republic of Dagestan – the latest unrest linked to a long-running Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus region.
Putin pledges stepped up security
Putin has pledged that visitors to Sochi for the Winter Olympics will be kept safe. ”We will try to make certain that the security measures are not intrusive or too conspicuous, so they are not too noticeable for the athletes, the Olympics’ guests or journalists,” Putin said, according to the interview transcript. ”But at the same time, we will do our utmost to ensure that they are effective.” Russia has plenty of experience in keeping international events secure, Putin said, pointing to the G8 and G20 summits as examples. ”Security is to be ensured by some 40,000 law enforcement and special services officers,” he said. “Of course, we will draw on the experience acquired during similar events held in other regions of the world and in other countries. It means that we will protect our air and sea space, as well as the mountain cluster.”
U.S. lawmakers: Games aren’t safe
But several U.S. lawmakers offered a different take Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he wouldn’t go to the games himself, “and I don’t think I would send my family.” Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also called on the Russian government to be more cooperative with the United States on intelligence sharing ahead of the games. ”Their level of concern is great, but we don’t seem to be getting all of the information we need to protect our athletes in the Games. I think this needs to change, and it should change soon,” Rogers said. When asked whether he thought Americans would be safe at the Games, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden said he trusts Russia’s ability to provide security. ”I think Americans will be quite safe,” he said.
Putin: ‘No danger’ for gay visitors
Russia’s stance on gay rights has been another area of concern for many visitors. Russia has come under international pressure since its parliament passed a law last summer outlawing “gay propaganda.” The legislation makes it illegal to tell children about gay equality and has been widely criticized by Western leaders, who have called it archaic and discriminatory. But Putin defended it before journalists Friday, saying that the law was about protecting children. ”We have just recently passed a law prohibiting propaganda, and not of homosexuality, but of homosexuality and child abuse, child sexual abuse. But this has nothing to do with persecuting individuals for their sexual orientation,” he said. ”So there is no danger for people of such nontraditional sexual orientation who are planning to come to the Games as guests or participants.” Russia has also been criticized over the limitations placed on freedom of speech at Sochi. The official protest site is about a 30-minute drive from the Olympic village and is difficult to find. But Putin said no visitors should fear problems if they protest, for example, over gay rights.
Putin: No corruption
The Russian leader also dismissed claims that corruption has pushed up the cost of the games, saying there was no proof that had occurred. When it won the bid in 2007, Russia said the Winter Games would cost $12 billion, but the government’s website now cites the total cost as 1.5 trillion rubles ($45 billion.) ”I do not see serious corruption instances for the moment, but there is a problem with overestimation of construction volumes,” Putin said. He suggested the problem was a universal one, where companies underestimate costs in the tendering process in order to win the project, and then push the price back up. But, he said, there was no evidence of anything that could be considered corruption, or “theft of public funds with the help of state officials in whose hands these funds fall,” in Sochi. ”If anyone has such information, give it to us, please. I repeat once again, we will be grateful. But so far there was nothing but talks,” he said. Putin put the cost of preparations for the Winter Olympics at only 214 billion rubles ($6.4 billion) but acknowledged that the total sum, including the cost of major infrastructure projects, was much higher. The total price tag of $45 billion outstrips the $40 billion China is thought to have spent on the Beijing Summer Games and is more than three times the cost of the London Games in 2012. Boris Nemtsov, former deputy prime minister of Russia and a vocal critic of Putin, published a report last year describing the Sochi games as one of the most “outrageous swindles” in recent Russian history. He claimed that up to 60% of the final cost — or $30 billion — has been embezzled. CNN
A finger was chipped off of the right hand of Rio’s de Janeiro’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue during a storm late Thursday. According to the New York Times, officials said the right thumb was chipped after lightning struck the iconic 125-foot statue. A finger on the same hand was also reportedly damaged in a separate storm, earlier this month. The statue, which is frequently hit by lightning, was erected in 1931 and set to be repaired next month. $4 million was recently poured into a renovation, the Times reported. The Blaze
Marijuana, which is still placed in the same category as heroin, ecstasy and psychedelic mushrooms by the federal government, is no more dangerous than alcohol, President Barack Obama said in an interview published Sunday. Speaking to New Yorker editor David Remnick, Obama said he still viewed pot smoking negatively – but that on the whole, the drug wasn’t the social ill that it’s been viewed as in the past. “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol,” Obama told the weekly magazine. The president said pot was actually less dangerous than alcohol “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.” “It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy,” he said. Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized recreational marijuana use. Another 18, along with the District of Columbia, allow some legal pot use, primarily for medicinal purposes.
But when it comes to federal law, marijuana remains a schedule 1 controlled substance – a drug with high potential for abuse but no accepted medical use – and the White House has said that Obama doesn’t support changing that status. Instead, Obama said in the New Yorker interview that he’s focused on making laws that treat users fairly. “We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing,” he told Remnick. In August, Obama’s Justice Department announced it would not challenge legalization in Colorado and Washington, and instead focus federal enforcement on trafficking cases and preventing pot from getting in the hands of kids. Prosecutors are now required to focus on distinct enforcement priorities that also include preventing driving while high and forbidding the cultivation of marijuana on public lands. In the New Yorker, Obama said Colorado and Washington’s laws were “important” since they decriminalized a commonly used substance. But he also said the laws could raise questions for other illegal substances. “If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka, are we open to that?” Obama wondered. “If somebody says, We’ve got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth, are we O.K. with that?” CNN
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – At least three Americans were among 21 killed in a Taliban attack Friday on a Kabul restaurant popular with foreigners and affluent Afghans, the deadliest violence against foreign civilians in the country since the start of the war nearly 13 years ago. ”The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has confirmed that three U.S. Citizens were killed during the attack in Kabul on January 17th. Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of those killed” a State Department spokesperson said Saturday evening. ”Out of deference to the families of those killed, we have no further details at this time. We will provide updates as we are able.” Kabul police chief Gen. Mohammad Zahir Zahir said Saturday that the victims included 13 foreigners and eight Afghans, and that the majority are civilians. He says the three attackers, including a suicide bomber and two gunmen, were also killed during Friday’s assault on the Lebanese restaurant.
The dead included the head of the International Monetary Fund in Afghanistan and three United Nations staff. The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham, said Saturday that the victims of the “shameful act” were “united by their shared humanity and by their commitment to building a peaceful future for Afghanistan.” ”The Taliban target those who have hope in, and work for, this country’s success. With such criminal acts the Taliban only destroy, they cannot build. The United States remains firm in our commitment to a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan where Afghans and their partners can live and work together free from the threat of violence,” Cunningham said in a statement. The U.N. chief condemned Friday’s attack “in the strongest terms,” saying “such targeted attacks against civilians are completely unacceptable and are in flagrant breach of international humanitarian law,” U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Insurgents have frequently targeted foreign interests around the country and in Kabul. Fox News
ALERT: Ahead of the start of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, an official in the Islamic Republic has called limiting uranium enrichment and diluting its stockpile the country’s “most important commitments.” On Monday, Iran will open its nuclear facilities to international inspectors and limit its enrichment of uranium. In exchange, Iran will see some economic sanctions lifted by the West. That’s part of a deal struck in November between it and the so-called P5+1 countries, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. Iranian state radio quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman of Iran’s atomic department, saying Sunday that the “suspension of 20-percent enrichment of uranium, and the diluting of the current stockpile of enriched uranium, are the most important commitments of our country.” (AP) YNetnews.com
A medical bill has been signed into law in Turkey that requires doctors to obtain government permission before administering emergency first aid. Critics have blasted the bill as a crackdown on doctors who treat activists injured during protests. The bill, which was drawn up by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), punishes health care professionals with up to three years in prison or a fine of almost $1 million if they administer emergency first aid without government authorization. It also bans doctors from practicing outside state medical institutions and aims to stop them from opening private clinics. President Abdullah Gul signed the legislation into law Friday. It has prompted a flurry of accusations from rights groups, condemning it as an attempt to criminalize emergency health care and deter doctors from treating protesters. The US-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) attacked the legislation as an attempt to quash dissent in Turkey, following last year’s violent protests. ”Passing a bill that criminalizes emergency care and punishes those who care for injured protesters is part of the Turkish government’s relentless effort to silence any opposing voices,” PHR senior medical adviser Vincent Iacopino said in a statement on the PHR website.
Describing the bill as “repugnant,” Iacopino said the legislation not only puts everyone’s health at risk, but also conflicts with the Turkish constitution and “must be blocked through Turkey’s constitutional court.” The PHR says the bill will also put the medical community at odds with their ethical and professional responsibility to care for the sick and wounded. The UN has implored the Turkish government to rethink the bill because it will have “chilling effect on the availability and accessibility of emergency medical care in a country prone to natural disasters and a democracy that is not immune from demonstrations.” In last year’s wave of protests against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, six people were killed and over 8,000 were injured across the country. The government was accused of cracking down on medical professionals when the Turkish Health Ministry launched a probe into those doctors treating protesters in June. They asked the Turkish Medical Association (TBB) to hand over the names of the doctors and their patients. “Recently we were inspected by the Ministry of Health, they said what we were doing here is wrong. But there could be no punishment for those who are helping people. There is no such religion or law that could discriminate against us,” Abtullah Cengiz, spokesman for the Gezi Park doctors, told RT in June. RT
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel plans to deploy a new missile shield known as “Iron Beam” next year which would use a laser to blow up short-range rockets and mortar bombs, a defense industry official said on Sunday. The system is designed to deal with threats that fly on too small a trajectory to be engaged efficiently by Iron Dome, the Israeli interceptor credited with an 80 percent success rate against rockets fired by Palestinian militants. Both shields are manufactured by state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. While Iron Dome launches radar-guided interceptor rockets, Iron Beam’s laser will super-heat the warheads of shells with ranges of up to 7 km (4.5 miles). Rafael said Iron Dome would be formally unveiled at next month’s Singapore Air Show. The Israeli military declined to discuss deployment plans. Iron Dome is complemented by Arrow II, an Israeli interceptor designed to shoot down ballistic missiles at atmospheric heights. Israel plans to integrate them with the more powerful rocket interceptors Arrow III and David’s Sling, both of which are still in their testing phases. The United States has extensively underwritten the projects, seeing them as a means of reassuring its Middle East ally as instability rocks the region. The industry official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters Iron Beam would form the “fifth layer” of integrated missile defense. Yahoo News
The event, called “Stand Your Ground,” comes after a year of presidential executive actions and new state laws restricting the rights of legal gun owners. “As we celebrate the one year anniversary of GRAA we need to make sure that our voice is heard by every elected official that we will stand our ground and not concede to even one more gun law,” the group’s website stated. The events are scheduled from noon to 4 p.m. The Examiner reported: Several of the rallies are drawing national politicians. In Louisiana, for example, Republican Sen. David Vitter is expected to attend. In Austin, Texas, former 2012 libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson will attend Gohmert: Pro-gay marriage judges ‘need some basic plumbing lessons’ “This event is vital so Americans can have their voices heard,” Reed said. “Our elected leaders work for us, and we need to make it crystal clear how we expect them to vote on this issue. The end goal is protect all gun rights for law abiding Americans.” The Florida rally will take place on the steps of the Capitol building, according to the group’s Florida Facebook page. Gun Rights Across America emphasized that legal gun owners are law-abiding citizens — not criminals. “We are not criminals; we are law abiding American citizens,” Shannon Montague, vice president of the organization, told the Examiner in an email. “We will no longer let the misinformed and uninformed classify us into a genre that is not ours. We are American. We are protectors of the Second Amendment, we are the majority and we will ‘Stand Our Ground.’” INFO WARS
The relationship between the Vatican and the Jews has improved greatly over the past 30 years, and confidants of Pope Francis I say he intends to take another step forward: opening up the Vatican archives to address accusations that the Holy See, led by then-pope Pius XXII, neglected the plight of Jews during the Holocaust. “The pope is consistent with all he said as a cardinal, and as pope he will undoubtedly make happen what he said he would do when he was a cardinal,” Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a friend of the pope, told The Sunday Times, based on conversations with Francis. “What we said to each other was between us, but I believe that, yes, he will open the archives…. The issue is a very sensitive one and we must continue analyzing it,” he said. Francis’s close ties to the Jews of Argentina is fairly well known. He and Skorka have been close friends since the days when Francis was known as cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires. In September 2013, in fact, Skorka spent a week at St. Martha’s House, the papal residence at the Vatican.
The two have also coauthored a book, On Heaven and Earth, and have prayed from each other’s pulpits. Earlier this month, the pope confirmed a much-anticipated first official visit to the Holy Land, scheduled for May 24-26, during which he will visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. Relations between the Vatican and worldwide Jewry underwent a renaissance under Pope John Paul II, who oversaw the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1993 and visited Yad Vashem and the Western Wall in 2000, but they became frayed during the papacy of his successor, Benedict VXI, who reinstated British bishop Richard Williamson, who had publicly denied the Holocaust. “What we said to each other was between us, but I believe that, yes, he will open the archives…. The issue is a very sensitive one and we must continue analyzing it,” he said. Francis’s close ties to the Jews of Argentina is fairly well known. He and Skorka have been close friends since the days when Francis was known as cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires. In September 2013, in fact, Skorka spent a week at St. Martha’s House, the papal residence at the Vatican. The two have also coauthored a book, On Heaven and Earth, and have prayed from each other’s pulpits. Earlier this month, the pope confirmed a much-anticipated first official visit to the Holy Land, scheduled for May 24-26, during which he will visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. Relations between the Vatican and worldwide Jewry underwent a renaissance under Pope John Paul II, who oversaw the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1993 and visited Yad Vashem and the Western Wall in 2000, but they became frayed during the papacy of his successor, Benedict VXI, who reinstated British bishop Richard Williamson, who had publicly denied the Holocaust. The controversy surrounding the Vatican’s actions during the Holocaust has also been a hot-button issue in relations between the Vatican and the Jews as the church has moved Pius along the path to sainthood, most recently declaring him venerable in 2009. Many people have criticized Pius for failing to publicly condemn the Nazis and to warn the Jews of the Rome ghetto before they were rounded up for deportation.
However, his defenders contend that he refrained from directly confronting Hitler in order to preserve the church’s ability to save Jews, by encouraging religious orders to hide them. In 2007, the papal envoy in Israel, Antonio Franco, threatened to skip the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum to protest a panel that criticized Pius. He eventually relented, but the spat strained the delicate ties between the Vatican and Israel, as well as the Vatican’s image among Jews the world over, many of whom are similarly critical of Pius. In 2012 Yad Vashem toned down the criticism, but insisted in a statement that “only when all material is available will a clearer picture emerge,” referring to Pius and the closed Vatican archives. Based on his writings, Francis would appear to concur with that sentiment. “Opening the archives of the Shoah [Holocaust] seems reasonable,” the pope wrote in On Heaven and Earth. “Let them be opened up and let everything be cleared up. Let it be seen if they could have done something [to help] and until what point they could have helped. “If they made a mistake in any aspect of this, we would have to say: ‘We have erred.’ We don’t have to be scared of this — the truth has to be the goal.” The Times of Israel
SIGNS IN THE SUN, MOON AND STARS: The Sun’s activity is at its lowest for 100 years, scientists have warned. They say the conditions are eerily similar to those before the Maunder Minimum, a time in 1645 when a mini ice age hit, Freezing London’s River Thames. Researcher believe the solar lull could cause major changes, and say there is a 20% chance it could lead to ‘major changes’ in temperatures. ’Whatever measure you use, solar peaks are coming down,’ Richard Harrison of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire told the BBC. ’I’ve been a solar physicist for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.’ He says the phenomenon could lead to colder winters similar to those during the Maunder Minimum.
‘There were cold winters, almost a mini ice age. ’You had a period when the River Thames froze.’ Lucie Green of UCL believes that things could be different this time due to human activity. ’We have 400 years of observations, and it is in a very similar to phase as it was in the runup to the Maunder Minimum. ’The world we live in today is very different, human activity may counteract this – it is difficult to say what the consequences are.’ Mike Lockwood University of Reading says that the lower temperatures could affect the global jetstream, causing weather systems to collapse. ’We estimate within 40 years there a 10-20% probability we will be back in Maunder Minimum territory,’ he said. Last year Nasa warned ‘something unexpected’ is happening on the Sun’ This year was supposed to be the year of ‘solar maximum,’ the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle. But as this image reveals, solar activity is relatively low. ’Sunspot numbers are well below their values from 2011, and strong solar flares have been infrequent,’ the space agency says. The image above shows the Earth-facing surface of the Sun on February 28, 2013, as observed by the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. It observed just a few small sunspots on an otherwise clean face, which is usually riddled with many spots during peak solar activity. Experts have been baffled by the apparent lack of activity – with many wondering if NASA simply got it wrong. However, Solar physicist Dean Pesnell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center believes he has a different explanation. ’This is solar maximum,’ he says. ’But it looks different from what we expected because it is double-peaked.’ ’The last two solar maxima, around 1989 and 2001, had not one but two peaks.’ Solar activity went up, dipped, then rose again, performing a mini-cycle that lasted about two years, he said. The same thing could be happening now, as sunspot counts jumped in 2011 and dipped in 2012, he believes. Pesnell expects them to rebound in 2013: ‘I am comfortable in saying that another peak will happen in 2013 and possibly last into 2014.’ He spotted a similarity between Solar Cycle 24 and Solar Cycle 14, which had a double-peak during the first decade of the 20th century. If the two cycles are twins, ‘it would mean one peak in late 2013 and another in 2015′. MailOnline
Russia and China have agreed to conduct a joint naval drill in the Mediterranean Sea, a Russian media report cites the Defense Ministry. The countries’ fleets are currently involved in an intl operation to escort the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile. The Defense Ministry said on Sunday that group of Russian naval officers deployed onboard a heavy nuclear missile cruiser “Peter the Great” visited Chinese frigate Yancheng. “On board the Chinese patrol ship, Russian sailors discussed with their foreign counterparts the possibility of joint tactical exercises in the Mediterranean Sea. Under the agreement, such exercises can be carried out in the near future in an effort to improve the level of operational compatibility between Russian and Chinese warships during joint operations in the eastern Mediterranean,” the statement from the Ministry of Defense said. The main aim of the joint naval exercise would be to increase the level of operational cooperation between the two navies designed to tackle terrorist threats and improve joint rescue operations at sea, the Ministry explained. On January 7, both counties escorted the first consignment of Syrian chemical weapons materials that has left the country on a Danish ship.
This became the first practical interaction between the Russian and the Chinese navies. The Chinese Department of Defense noted that Captain Pyshklov, commanding officer of the Mediterranean Combat Group of the Russian Navy, praised the performance of the Yancheng during the escort operation, while his counterpart, Li Pengcheng spoke highly of the important role the Russian Navy played in the escort operation for the ships transporting Syria’s chemical weapons. In July, Russia and China held a three-day joint naval military exercise. The “Naval Interaction-2013″ in the open waters off the Port of Vladivostok became China’s largest overseas military exercises in terms of the number of troops deployed outside its territorial waters. Seven Chinese warships including four destroyers, two frigates and one comprehensive supply ship took part in the war games. Both Russian and Chinese ships have polished their skills in joint air-defense and maritime replenishment. They have also practiced tackling submarine threats and tested their skills in joint escort and in rescuing a hijacked ship while shooting maritime targets. Russia and China have regularly held joint naval drills since 2005 within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. However, “Naval Interaction-2013″ was only the second exercise conducted outside the SCO: the first was held in April 2012. In recent years, the Chinese navy has participated in a series of joint exercises in the Pacific and Indian oceans, while Chinese ground forces have taken part in land war games organized by the SCO. RT
“[T]he item is meant to be part of a lesson, and so certainly as a standalone poster without the context of a teacher led discussion, I could see that there might be some cause for concern.” In added defense of the curriculum, Neal told reporters that it is officially recommended as appropriate teaching material by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which advises its use as a “pregnancy prevention intervention.” According to the material’s publisher, the goal of the material is to “empower” young adolescents. But Module 2 of the program, which is what was being referenced by the obscene poster, is exceedingly frank in the way that it addresses specific expressions of sexuality. Ellis believes that this material is highly inappropriate for students who are around his daughter’s age, and he is hoping that school administrators will rethink their use of the material. If they do not, Ellis says he will pull his daughter out of the sex education classes entirely. ”This has nothing to do with abstinence or sexual reproduction — actually, a lot of these things,” he adds. “I would like to see that this particular portion of the curriculum is removed from the school.” Natural News
From Russia, with malware. A 17-year-old Russian national from St. Petersburg was responsible for the malicious programing that allowed for data from Target and Neiman Marcus to be compromised, according to a California-based security firm. IntelCrawler said in a blog post Friday that it identified the creator, who they said wasn’t responsible for the security breaches of the two retailers, but rather sold the software to cybercriminals throughout Eastern Europe. The company’s CEO, Andrew Komarov, said it was possible for Target and Neiman Marcus to be hacked after the software tried several easy passwords to remotely hack the stores’ registers, and added that the malware, called BlackPOS, has been downloaded some 60 times.
Target’s security breach following a Black Friday shopping blitz affected up to 110 million customers. However, Neiman Marcus has yet to reveal how many shoppers were affected, or what kind of data was taken. The luxury retailer’s CEO, Karen Katz said in a statement that the company is “very sorry” for the breach, adding “we want you always to feel confident shopping” at the store. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, Komarov said, citing findings that there are at least six ongoing attacks within U.S. merchants or retailers that use online credit card processing. U.S. officials have launched an investigation into the Neiman Marcus and Target breaches and are looking into a possible connection. Daily News