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VP Pence joins cleanup of vandalized Jewish cemetery

US Vice President Mike Pence made his way to Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri to help clean up the wreckage caused by vandals who overturned 154 tombstones at the site at the beginning of the week.

After hearing psalms upon his arrival, Pence rolled up his sleeves, put on his gloves, picked up a rake and went straight to work, gathering fallen twigs and helping the graveyard workers clear up the piles of soil which had mounted up as the tombstones were toppled and flatten the damaged earth.

There is no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti-Semitism.” Pence said at the beginning of his visit to the site which, for many, has come to symbolize the ominous rise in anti-Semitic occurrences in the US.

“I must tell you that the people of Missouri are inspiring the nation by your love and care for this place and the Jewish community. I want to thank you for that inspiration. For showing the world what America is all about,” said Vice President Mike Pence,” he continued.

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Pence also showed his solidarity with the Jewish community around the US when he addressed other cases of vandalism against Jewish sites, as well as several bomb threats which have been made against Jewish centers over the last few weeks.

It was a reminder, he said of the work that needed to be done to remove hatred and prejudice from their roots.

Pence: US will never allow Iran to threaten Israel with nuclear weapons

US Vice President Mike Pence vowed Saturday that Washington would ensure Iran could never threaten Israel with nuclear weapons.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Pence singled out Tehran as “the leading state sponsor of terrorism” and slammed it for continuously destabilizing the Middle East.

“Thanks to the end of nuclear-related sanctions under the [nuclear deal] Iran now has additional resources to devote to these efforts,” he said.

“Let me be clear again: Under President Trump the United States will remain fully committed to ensuring that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon capable of threatening our countries, our allies in the region, especially Israel.”

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard meanwhile announced it will conduct military drills next week, despite repeated warnings from the United States and fresh sanctions over a ballistic missile test.

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“The maneuvers called ‘Grand Prophet 11’ will start Monday and last three days,” General Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the force’s ground units, said in a news conference.

He said rockets would be used without specifying which kind.

In early February, Iran conducted drills involving short-range missiles at a time of heightened tensions with the United States.

The Islamic republic said the exercises were aimed at demonstrating Iran’s “complete preparedness to deal with the threats” and “humiliating sanctions” from Washington.

US President Donald Trump slapped fresh sanctions against Tehran’s weapons procurement network following a ballistic missile test on January 29.

“Iran would do well to look at the calendar and realize there’s a new president in the Oval Office. And Iran would do well not to test the resolve of this new president,” Vice President Mike Pence said earlier this month.

New Pentagon chief James Mattis, for his part, has branded Iran “the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world”.

Iranian officials have rejected the threats emphasizing that the missile program is purely defensive and would not be used to attack other countries or carry nuclear warheads.

On Thursday, an Iranian official claimed Israel’s nuclear arsenal was the biggest danger to world peace.

Israel is believed to be the Middle East’s sole nuclear power but it has long refused to confirm or deny that it has such weapons.

A war of words has been escalating between Tehran and Washington since even before Trump took office in January.

Under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, the US and five other world powers reached a 2015 deal with Iran to lift sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Trump himself has repeatedly denounced the historic accord as “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen.”

Trump says can ‘live with’ one-state solution, encourages sides to seek peace

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that he could “live with” either a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Authority conflict or a one-state solution as he held a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the leaders’ first private post-election meeting.

Trump opened his joint news conference with a vow to encourage a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority . But the president said the two parties themselves “must directly negotiate such an agreement.”

Netanyahu added, “both sides.”

Netanyahu said there is “no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump.” The prime minister was addressing a question from Israeli media about fears the administration “is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones.”

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Netanyahu said that he’s known Trump, members of Trump’s team and his family for many years. That includes Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, whom Netanyahu has known since Kushner was young. Netanyahu said he thinks any insinuation otherwise should be put “to rest.”

Trump greeted Netanyahu on a red carpet rolled out to the White House driveway. The two leaders smiled, shook hands and chatted amiably before heading inside the executive mansion, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump and Netanyahu’s wife Sara.

Trump reaffirmed the United States’ “unbreakable bond” between the two countries. He called Israel a symbol of resilience. He said Israel faces enormous security challenges and is calling the Iran nuclear deal negotiated under former President Barack Obama “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen.”

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“I’d like to see you pull back on settlements for a little bit,” Trump told Netanyahu. Netanyahu said later that Jewish communities were “not the core of the conflict” and made no commitment to reduce building of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

The American leader broke with his predecessors on the idea of a two-state agreement. While such an accord may have once appeared to be the “easier of the two” options, Trump said he’d be open to alternatives if the two sides propose something better.

Trump echoed Netanyahu’s calls for the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a Jewish state – something they have refused to do – and to halt incitement against Israelis.

But even as Trump promised to pursue peace between the two sides – who have had no substantive peace talks since 2014 – he offered no new prescriptions for unblocking the peace process or achieving a deal that has eluded so many of his predecessors.

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“I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like,” he said.

“I can live with either one. I thought for a while it looked like the two-state, looked like it may be the easier of the two, but honestly if Bibi and if the Palestinians if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best,” Trump said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

Netanyahu said that he wanted to focus on “substance” and not “labels,” when asked about support for a two-state solution for peace between Israelis and the PA.

“Rather than deal with labels, I want to deal with substance,” Netanyahu said.

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“There are two prerequisites for peace. First the Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state … Second, in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River,” he said.

Trump also said that he’d like to see the US Embassy in Israel moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but noted that “we’re looking at it with great care.”

A retreat from U.S. backing for a two-state solution would upend decades of U.S. policy embraced by Republican and Democratic administrations and a principle considered the core of international peace efforts.

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Trump also took a moment to call out and praise Sara Netanyahu, asking her to stand to be recognized. He also referenced his daughter, Ivanka, who was in attendance, when addressing a question on rising anti-Semitism in the United States. He said that he was going to do everything in his power to stop long-simmering racism

For Netanyahu, the talks with Trump are an opportunity to reset ties after a frequently combative relationship with Democrat Barack Obama, Trump’s predecessor. After speaking to reporters, the two leaders were due to hold talks in the Oval Office followed by a working lunch.

The two leaders, who seemed to strike up an emerging “bromance” in social media exchanges since the election, sought to demonstrate good personal chemistry face-to-face as well, both sporting smiles and exchanging asides.

Meetings with Obama were at best cordial and businesslike, at worst tense and awkward. In one Oval Office encounter in 2011, Obama grimaced as Netanyahu lectured him in front of the cameras on the suffering of the Jewish people through the ages.

Netanyahu pledges US-Israel alliance ‘about to become stronger’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to strengthen the alliance between the US and Israel on Monday afternoon before taking off to Washington for his first meeting with President Donald Trump since he entered the White House in January.

Before his departure, Netanyahu offered a few words to the press. “I am now leaving for a meeting of the utmost importance in Washington. There, I will meet with US President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and leaders of Congress and the Senate.”

Commenting on the general US-Israel relationship, which was sullied during the Obama administration, Netanyahu maintained that “the alliance was always extremely strong,” adding with palpable optimism, that “it is about the get stronger.”

He stressed that there was a general confluence of outlooks on the region as a whole. “President Trump and I see eye to eye on the threats and the opportunities in the region. We will speak about the two points and about enhancing the strong alliance in a large number of fields.”

The prime minister went on to describe a “thorough conversation” in the cabinet that took place on Sunday “at the end of which I said simply: I will lead and I will direct. That is what I intend to do—to lead and direct the historic alliance for the good of our national interests and for the good of the citizens of Israel.”

Speaking to the ministers during Sunday’s cabinet session, Netanyahu said that when Trump was asked how to advance the peace process with the Palestinian Authority during a phone conversation, Trump said he believes “that it is possible to convince the Palestinians to give up on things because they want peace.”

Netanyahu warned the ministers to be under no illusions: Trump still believes in carving out two states, he said, meaning that Israel had to act with caution, particularly in light of Trump’s personality.

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Netanyahu also sought to emphasize that there was no escaping the fact that Iran had to be a top priority of the discussions, even if it came at the expense of talks vis-a-vis construction in Judea and Samaria.

The prime minister was forthright in his words to dispel any beliefs that Trump would march to Israel’s beat.

“Indeed, it is true that it will be more comfortable for Israel but anyone who thinks that there won’t be limits on Israel is mistaken,” he said.

Also commenting on the visit before Netanyahu took off, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz urged that Israel unequivocally reject the notion of a two-state solution.

“Israel needs to say loudly and clearly: no to a Palestinians state, yes to an expanded, complete and united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.”

Katz, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, called on the prime minister to raise the subject of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in accordance with Trump’s campaign pledge.

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Speaking at the Jerusalem Conference, Katz added that Netanyahu must seek to gain Trump’s approval “for imposing Israeli sovereignty throughout Jerusalem, Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Givat Ze’ev and Beitar Illit to begin with.”

In addition, Katz implored Netanyahu to categorically refuse proposals pertaining to a freeze on Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

The position was also echoed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) who spoke immediately after Katz.

“Mr. Prime Minister, we trust you, we support you 100 percent in safeguarding the State of Israel as a Jewish state in the Land of Israel,” Bennett said.

 

 

 

Trump tweets ‘Iran is playing with fire’

US President Donald Trump tweeted early on Friday that “Iran is playing with fire” and “they don’t appreciate how kind President Obama was to them. Not me!”

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Trump plans to impose sanctions on several Iranian entities, seeking to ratchet up pressure on Tehran while crafting a broader strategy to counter its destabilizing behavior, people familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

Iran’s decision to test-fire a ballistic missile on Sunday helped trigger Trump’s decision, which could be announced as early as Friday, they said.

Iran announced that it had test-fired the missile on Wednesday, prompting a tough response from a senior adviser to President Trump.

Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, said the United States was putting Iran on notice over its “destabilizing activity” after it fired the missile.

“As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” Flynn said, without explaining exactly what that meant.

Iran has test-fired several ballistic missiles since the nuclear deal in 2015, but the latest test was the first since Trump entered the White House. Trump said during his election campaign that he would stop Iran’s missile programme.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted back on Friday, saying that the Islamic Republic is unmoved by US threats following its missile test launch and Tehran will never initiate war.

“Iran unmoved by threats as we derive security from our people. Will never initiate war, but we can only rely on our own means of defence,” Zarif tweeted.

White House says Jewish communities building may not help peace

The Trump administration said on Thursday that Israel’s building of new Jewish communities or expansion of existing ones in Judea and Samaria may not be helpful in achieving peace with the Palestinian Authority.

In a statement issued two weeks before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to visit US President Donald Trump, the White House said the administration “has not taken an official position on settlement activity.”

Trump has signaled he could be more accommodating toward Jewish communities projects than his predecessor Obama. The latest statement reflects slightly more nuanced language on how the new administration views Jewish communities.

“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal,” the White House said in a statement.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke by phone with Netanyahu on Thursday, the State Department said. It did not say whether they discussed the White House statement.

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The White House statement came as Israel has announced the construction of new housing units in Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria. On Wednesday, it said it would establish a new community, the first since the late 1990s. It also announced plans for the construction of 3,000 more homes in Judea and Samaria, the third such declaration in less than two weeks since Trump took office.

An announcement a week ago by Israel that it would build some 2,500 more dwellings in Judea and Samaria, drew rebukes from the Palestinian Authority and the European Union.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations said on Friday it was too early to tell how the White House’s latest statement on Israel’s recent drive to build new homes in Judea-Samaria would affect future building.

It was a first reaction by an Israeli official to the statement in Washington.

“It’s still too early to tell … I would not categorize this as a U-turn by the US administration but the issue is clearly on their agenda … the issue will be discussed when the prime minister (Benjamin Netanyahu) meets the president in Washington,” Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon told Israel Radio.

“We will not always agree on everything.”

The Yesha council said Friday it looks forward to working with the Trump administration.

6 killed after Muslim terrorists open fire in Quebec City Mosque while shouting Allahu Akbar

At least six people were killed and eight more are injured on Sunday evening when Muslim terrorists opened fire on them as they prayed in a mosque in Quebec City in an attack decried as ‘cowardly’ and ‘barbaric’.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the attack a ‘terrorist attack on Muslims.’

Earlier, a witness said that up to three gunmen fired on about 40 worshipers inside the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Center around 8pm. Most of the people inside the building were men.

Quebec City Police have confirmed that two people have been arrested in connection with the attack but the investigation is ongoing.

Initial reports from CBC’s French-language service Radio-Canada suggest that as many as three shooters began firing.

Witnesses also said the masked shooters shouted ‘Allahu akbar’ in what sounded like a Quebecois accent.

The Canadian Prime Minister responded to the shooting on Twitter writing: ‘Tonight, Canadians grieve for those killed in a cowardly attack on a mosque in Quebec City. My thoughts are with victims & their families.’

‘I’ve just spoken with Premier @phcouillard and am being briefed by our officials. We have offered any & all assistance needed.’

The deadly shooting unfolded following a weekend which has seen President Donald Trump’s  ‘Muslim immigration ban’ spark widespread protests across America.

It sparked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to remark that his country remains open to all immigration.

He tweeted, ‘To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.’

A large number of heavily armed police responded to the scene and according to local media the president of the mosque said that dozens were injured. Police have secured the perimeter and occupants have been evacuated according to Le Soleil.

‘There are many victims … there are deaths,’ a Quebec police spokesman told reporters.

‘Why is this happening here? This is barbaric,’ said the mosque’s president, Mohamed Yangui.

Mohammed Oudghiri normally attends the prayers but missed this Sunday. He is worried and is now considering moving back to Morocco.

He told the press: ‘We are not safe here.’

Quebec City Police later tweeted: ‘The situation is under control.’

In a later statement, Trudeau wrote: ‘It was with tremendous shock, sadness and anger that I heard of this evening’s tragic and fatal shooting at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec located in the Ste-Foy neighbourhood of the city of Québec.’

‘We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a centre of worship and refuge.’

‘On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of all those who have died, and we wish a speedy recovery to those who have been injured.’

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‘While authorities are still investigating and details continue to be confirmed, it is heart-wrenching to see such senseless violence. Diversity is our strength, and religious tolerance is a value that we, as Canadians, hold dear.’

‘Muslim-Canadians are an important part of our national fabric, and these senseless acts have no place in our communities, cities and country. Canadian law enforcement agencies will protect the rights of all Canadians, and will make every effort to apprehend the perpetrators of this act and all acts of intolerance.’

‘Tonight, we grieve with the people of Ste-Foy and all Canadians.’

The mayor of Gatineau, Quebec said there will be heightened security at mosques in the city after the attack.

Other cities are upping security in light of recent attacks at Muslim places of worship. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said on Twitter:  ‘The awful attack in Quebec is not an outlier. Today, a mosque in Texas was burned to the ground. We must stop those who seek to divide us.’

‘NYPD is providing additional protection for mosques in the city. All New Yorkers should be vigilant. If you see something, say something.’

State Dept. reviewing Obama’s last minute decision to send $221 m. to the Palestinian Authority

The State Department is reviewing a last-minute decision by former Secretary of State John Kerry to send $221 million dollars to the Palestinian Authority late last week over the objections of congressional Republicans.

The department said Tuesday it would look at the payment and might make adjustments to ensure it comports with the Trump administration’s priorities.

Kerry formally notified Congress that State would release the money Friday morning, just hours before President Donald Trump took the oath of office.

Congress had initially approved the Palestinian Authority funding in budget years 2015 and 2016, but at least two GOP lawmakers — Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Kay Granger of Texas, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee — had placed holds on it over moves the Palestinian Authority had taken to seek membership in international organizations. Congressional holds are generally respected by the executive branch but are not legally binding after funds have been allocated.

Granger released a statement Tuesday saying, “I am deeply disappointed that President Obama defied congressional oversight and released $221 million to the Palestinian territories.”

She added: “I worked to make sure that no American taxpayer dollars would fund the Palestinian Authority unless very strict conditions were met. While none of these funds will go to the Palestinian Authority because of those conditions, they will go to programs in the Palestinian territories that were still under review by Congress. The Obama Administration’s decision to release these funds was inappropriate.”

The Obama administration had for some time been pressing for the release of the money, which comes from the U.S. Agency for International Development and is to be used to fund humanitarian aid in Judea-Samaria and Gaza, to support political and security reforms and to help prepare for good governance and the rule of law in a future imaginary Palestinian state, according to the notification sent to Congress.

Israeli-Canadian who fought ISIS charged with murder in foreign country

Details emerged from a top secret case involving a 22-year-old Canadian-Israeli who had been fighting abroad against ISIS before being arrested in June 2015 and charged with murder in a country with which Israel has no diplomatic relations, it was cleared for publication Tuesday morning.

The case was exposed approximately 2 months ago by MK Ayoob Kara, who then served as a deputy minister, and was immediately barred from public consumption by the Military Censor.

In recent days, a settlement was reached between the parties involved according to which the young man is soon to be released. The Israeli man’s family has been ordered to pay the victim’s family a sum of of $120,000. The young man’s father is currently attempting to collect the money.

The incident occurred when the Israeli was away from battle and an errant driver discovered that he was Israeli and attempted to kill him. The Israeli, who was armed, shot him in self defense and killed him before being arrested and charged with murder, leading to concerns that if indicted, he would be sentenced to death.

The case was kept under wraps until November 2016, when Deputy Minister Kara published a post on Facebook revealing the details. Kara wrote: “After much deliberation, the Deputy Minister of Regional Cooperation, MK Ayoob Kara, revealed he has been in touch with Ilan Hassin, the 21-year-old Jewish Israeli’s father, named Adam Hassin, who has been incarcerated since 6 June 2015 and will soon be indicted”.

Furthermore, Kara uploaded a picture of himself with the father and a video clip in which he recounts the Israeli’s story. The Military Censor has prohibited the post, even though it had already been shared on WhatsApp. Security officials even accused Kara of being irresponsible and causing damage.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also expressed its concerns and were quick to appeal to the Military Censor to remove the post and prevent its further dissemination. Kara’s office released a statement claiming that it was done with the cooperation of the Israeli’s family who had sought his help.

Recently, the case took a sharp turn, when Hassin reached a settlement agreement with the victim’s family according to which he would receive a reduced sentence and soon be released.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated: “the safety and well-being of the Israeli citizen is at the top of our priorities. For that reason, we have been in constant contact with his family. We hope his father’s and family’s efforts are fruitful and that their son is soon released”.

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