Aletho News


‘Caught in the act of spying’: US citizen detained in Moscow ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations

RT | December 31, 2018

An American citizen was apprehended during a “spying action” in Moscow, the Federal Security Service (FSB) said. He is currently being detained on suspicion of espionage.

FSB agents detained a US national named Paul Whelan on Friday during “a spying action,” the agency’s press office told TASS.

Criminal proceedings were launched against the man under Article 276 of the Russian Criminal Code, which covers the crime of espionage.

No details of the suspect’s identity or facts surrounding the operation were immediately disclosed.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the US Embassy in Moscow was notified of Whelan’s detention.

News of the American citizen’s arrest comes at a time of heightened tensions between the US and Russia. Washington has accused Moscow of meddling in its domestic affairs and of various spy activities.

In October, the US Ministry of Justice accused seven Russians of being GRU military intelligence officers, and charged them with hacking and committing wire fraud.

Four men belonging to that group were expelled from the Netherlands in April for allegedly attempting to hack the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Moscow denied all allegations, dismissing them as “spy mania.”

Earlier this month, a Moscow court sentenced former police officer Aleksey Zhitnyuk to 13 years in prison for providing classified data to a foreign national. The trial took place behind closed doors, and the details of the case remain unknown. However, according to media reports, he was suspected of being in contact with the CIA.

December 31, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

The UN’s vision of ‘peace’ for Palestine excludes ordinary Palestinians

By Ramona Wadi | MEMO | December 27, 2018

The UN is now adamant that the Palestinian Authority should return to govern the Gaza Strip. In the aftermath of Israel’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge, this hypothesis was raised by the US and has seldom been questioned, ostensibly due to other pressing factors such as delivering the necessary humanitarian aid to displaced and injured Palestinians in the besieged enclave.

Since the Palestinian cause has become fragmented into separate issues to prevent national unity, the PA — through decisions taken by its leader Mahmoud Abbas — has slowly imposed its own sanctions on Gaza, bizarrely in the name of unity. This facade was dropped swiftly, though, to reveal the real reason for the sanctions; the Fatah-led PA wants to force Hamas to relinquish its political power in the enclave. Hamas, remember, won the last Palestinian elections in 2006, but has never been allowed to govern both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as it was entitled to.

Protests in the occupied West Bank expressing solidarity with Gaza have been met with excessive violence from the PA’s security forces, which basically exist to protect Israel, not the people of Palestine. Criticising Abbas’s collaboration with Israel and the international community is a dangerous endeavour for ordinary Palestinians.

None of this is of any concern to the UN. In the past months, the organisation’s officials have specifically expressed a preference for the PA under Abbas to return to Gaza. It was UN Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov who reiterated this demand in his briefing to the UN Security Council: “Ultimately, reuniting Gaza and the West Bank under a single, legitimate and democratic Palestinian Authority and putting an end to the occupation will ensure long-term peace.” Abbas’s own term of office as President was supposed to end in 2009, by the way; he has refused to hold a presidential election that he knows he will lose.

Mladenov also attempted to conflate resistance in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. “It is critical that events in the West Bank do not lead to reigniting the Gaza fuse,” he insisted. “The people in Gaza have suffered enough and must not be made to pay the price for violence elsewhere.”

Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are suffering varying degrees of oppression, yet there is one consistent omission from the narrative: both civilian populations are victims of collaboration between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. If the people of Gaza have “suffered enough”, to quote Mladenov, why is the UN insisting that the instigator of a large part of their oppression return to the enclave as part of a solution that is nowhere in sight?

How long will it take, I wonder, for the UN to move from expressing opinions about its preferred Palestinian government, to imposing yet another demand upon the Palestinians in Gaza which will also be detrimental to those in the occupied West Bank?

If the UN really wishes the PA to return to Gaza, and there is no reason to doubt its officials’ statements, it is advocating the elimination of Gaza’s elected political representation — albeit with an expired term in office — in favour of a hierarchy that was created and backed to implement the international plan for Palestine’s destruction.

The UN is implementing a new degree of impunity allocated exclusively to the PA. There will be no voices at an international level clamouring against this human rights violation, though. On the contrary, a future collective chorus seeking PA rule in Gaza will do so from within the loose interpretation of human rights advocated by the UN. There is no logic in seeking the return of an entity that has itself contributed to crippling Gaza as a step towards peace. If this is what the UN wants, then it must be clear that the international community’s vision of peace excludes ordinary Palestinians, which is tantamount to supporting Israel’s plans for a complete colonial takeover of historic Palestine.


December 31, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Saudi Arabia takes charge of Afghan peace talks

By M.K. Bhadrakumar | Asia Times | December 31, 2018

The Taliban leadership has finally issued an official statement on the talks with US special representative Zalmay Khalilzad in Abu Dhabi 10 days ago. The deftly worded statement dated December 29 says:

“Some media outlets have published rumors that the representatives of the Islamic Emirate will hold talks with those of the Kabul administration in Saudi Arabia. These rumors are baseless. The position of the Islamic Emirate concerning talks with the Kabul administration remains the same and has not changed. We are advancing [the] negotiations process with the United States under a strong and extensive plan to bring an end to the occupation of our country Afghanistan. It is hoped that the negotiations process is not dealt with carelessly nor anyone given false hopes. As the United States has entered into the negotiations process with the Islamic Emirate, therefore, it must be advanced in a serious manner and not used as propaganda material.”

Evidently, after due deliberation, the Taliban leadership said they were unable to accede to the Saudi-Emirati joint proposal for talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Talks in Saudi in January

However, the Taliban statement is completely silent on the twin proposal put forward by the Saudis and Emiratis at Abu Dhabi – namely, on a three-month ceasefire. The Taliban would not reject the idea but would presumably revisit it depending on the progress of ongoing talks with the US special representative Zalmay Khalilzad. The ceasefire proposal went alongside the US media leak that 7,000 American troops might be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

However, the Taliban intends to continue with their talks with Khalilzad. The next round will take place in Saudi Arabia in January. The Taliban statement claims that it is “advancing” the negotiations with Khalilzad “under a strong and extensive plan to bring an end to the occupation.” The wording seems to imply that the Taliban keeps an open mind on a compromise based on a scaled-down American troop presence in Afghanistan in the near term.

The Taliban’s rejection of talks with the Afghan government will cause anger and consternation in Kabul. There is some evidence that Kabul watches with disquiet the intensifying negotiations between the US and the Taliban. Ghani recently appointed two figures who are known to be anti-Taliban and have a lineage going back to the Northern Alliance as the new defense and interior ministers in his cabinet, signaling a potent reset of the power calculus. Equally, Ghani also harbors political ambition to secure another term as president.

Suffice to say, the Taliban’s rejection of talks with Kabul or a ceasefire needn’t be taken as a red line. Taliban may change its stance on participating in intra-Afghan dialogue at a future point. The point is the Saudi role in hosting the next round of US-Taliban talks surged following a telephone conversation between King Salman and Ghani on Saturday.

Ghani reportedly praised the “prominent” role by King Salman and agreed that the next meeting of the US and Taliban on Saudi soil would be “a good step and start for subsequent processes.” The King, in turn, promised to use his offices to consolidate peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Of course, wherever Saudi Arabia goes, the Middle Eastern conundrum will cast shadows. The Saudi surge to take charge of the Afghan peace talks will most certainly cause heartburn in some regional capitals – in Doha and Tehran, and possibly in Ankara as well.

Pakistani diplomacy is working overtime to smoothen wrinkles. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has just visited Doha. He was in Tehran a week ago. Earlier, Pakistani army chief General Qamar Bajwa also visited Doha (which used to host a Taliban representative office in recent years). And Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is reportedly planning to visit Turkey on January 3-4.

Smart move

From the Saudi angle, it is a smart move that to underscore that the strategic partnership between the two countries remains resilient, notwithstanding the scars left by the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Indeed, from the US perspective too, the Saudi role is irreplaceable, given the longstanding relationship between Riyadh and the Taliban movement dating back to the end of the 1980s. As for the Taliban leadership, it simply cannot overlook the religious sanctity attached to the Custodian of the Two Holy Places.

All in all, while the Taliban feels emboldened by the developments since the Abu Dhabi talks, the upcoming talks in Saudi Arabia will be crucial, as they will set the tempo of the peace talks at a juncture when there are distinct signs that the 17-year conflict is set to conclude.

The bottom line is that the Taliban (and Pakistan) would know that it is unrealistic to hope to capture power and, importantly, to retain it without the cooperation and support of the western powers, especially the US.

Troop withdrawal

Having said that, time is running out for the Trump administration, too. The postponement of the Afghan presidential election (originally scheduled for April) will deepen political uncertainties in Kabul. And this is happening at a time when the Taliban has proved its mettle in the battlefield and is in control of vast areas of the country. Over and above, there is the near-certainty that POTUS might order a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan at some point through 2019.

Interestingly, the White House has refuted the media leak regarding a unilateral troop drawdown in Afghanistan. “The President [Trump] has not made a determination to drawdown US military presence in Afghanistan and he has not directed the Department of Defense to begin the process of withdrawing US personnel from Afghanistan,” Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.

The crisply worded clarification leaves the door open for a future decision by Trump on the issue.

December 31, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

Iran challenges Saudi role in the Afghan endgame

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | December 31, 2018

As surely as night follows day, in the wake of Saudi Arabia assuming the lead role in the Afghan peace talks, Tehran has unveiled an analogous peace process involving the Taliban. (See my article in Asia Times Saudi Arabia takes charge of Afghan peace talks.)

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi made a dramatic announcement today that Tehran has hosted a delegation from Taliban to discuss possible ways to end the conflict in Afghanistan. Qassemi disclosed that the talks, which were held at the level of Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi on Sunday, were “extensive” and that they were “coordinated” with the Afghan government. He didn’t elaborate.

Qassemi explained: “Since the Taliban are in control of more than 50 percent of Afghanistan, and given the insecurity, instability and other issues that the country is dealing with, they [the Taliban] were interested in talks with Iran.” He flagged that Iran, which has long borders with Iran, “always sought a constructive role to maintain peace in the region.”

Qassemi said the visit by the Taliban delegation to Tehran followed the recent consultations of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani to Kabul on December 26. He said the Taliban leaders had expressed interest in meeting Shamkhani and the Afghan authorities were “fully aware” of the meeting and the negotiations. Qassemi added that Tehran principally aimed to “facilitate” dialogue between the Afghan groups and the Kabul administration so as to advance the peace process. He said Araqchi is planning a visit to Kabul shortly for follow-up discussions.

It is highly improbable that the Saudi and Iranian tracks shall ever meet. The best hope will be that they do not collide. What can happen is that the Afghan endgame may remain open-ended without any conclusive end in sight in a near future. But the silver lining is that the regional states such as Russia and India may no longer have to accept as fait accompli the outcome of the quadripartite process involving the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan.

Equally, the non-Afghan groups now get a breather, who are worried that a peace settlement reached by the quadripartite process may ignore their legitimate interests. Influential Afghan groups from the non-Pashtun regions of the north, west and the central highlands are watching with dismay that a settlement might be imposed on their country. Curiously, the very same extra-regional powers and Pakistan who incubated the Taliban in the early 1990s, launched it on the Afghan landscape and made possible its conquest of Kabul in 1996 are now reappearing as the charioteers of peace and reconciliation with the Taliban.

What worries Tehran most is that the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are veterans in using the Islamist groups as geopolitical tools. There is some evidence that the ISIS fighters who were defeated in Syria and Iraq are being transferred to Afghanistan. The regional states face the spectre of ISIS undermining peace and stability. The recent regional tour of Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi exposed these faultlines. (See my blog Pakistan’s Afghan jig irks regional states.)

Arguably, what Tehran may have done is to create space for the Taliban to withstand pressure from the quadripartite process. Tehran is explicitly opposed to any settlement in Afghanistan that may allow continued American military presence in the region. Tehran factors in that the US, Saudis and Emiratis are jointly advancing the project on regime change in Iran and will not hesitate to use Afghanistan as springboard to foster cross-border terrorism to destabilize Iran. Simply put, Tehran fears that the US objective in Afghanistan is to create a Syria-like situation in the region that will engulf Iran in violence and anarchy.

The emergent contradiction can be reconciled in only one way – by Pakistan living up to its stated position, namely, to give primacy to regional consensus on any Afghan settlement. However, Pakistan’s hands are tied after having accepted the multi-billion dollar bailouts recently (amounting to a total of US$ 12 billion) from the Saudis and the Emiratis to cope with its economic crisis. Pakistan had a choice of approaching the IMF but the US made things difficult. That in turn turned out to be a smart American ploy to involve its Saudi and Emirati allies who promptly loosened the purse strings to rescue Pakistan. Suffice to say, Pakistani leadership is no longer free to defy the Saudi-Emirati diktat on Afghan settlement.

On the contrary, many regional states — Iran, Qatar, Turkey, in particular — view Saudi Arabia and the UAE through an entirely different prism, imbued with horror. They watch with dismay that the real winner in all this will be Saudi Arabia.

Indeed, it is a masterstroke by the Saudi regime to assume the role of peacemaker at a juncture when its international image is severely damaged following the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Ironically, Saudis are undertaking a rescue act to help the US wriggle out of a 17-year old war. Make no mistake, Riyadh is displaying its importance as the US’ irreplaceable regional ally in the Muslim Middle East. It expects better sense to prevail in the US Congress and the American media who have been clamoring for punishing the Saudi regime for the murder of Khashoggi.

December 31, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | 1 Comment

Afghan Taliban Were in Tehran for Peace Talks: Iran

Al-Manar | December 31, 2018

Iran said Monday that the Afghan Taliban have visited Tehran for a second round of peace talks in just a few days aimed at bringing an end to 17 years of conflict.

Iran has made a more concerted and open push for peace in neighboring Afghanistan since US President Donald Trump indicated there would be a significant withdrawal of American troops.

“Yesterday (Sunday), a delegation of Taliban was in Tehran and lengthy negotiations were held with Iran’s deputy foreign minister… (Abbas) Araghchi,” said spokesman Bahram Qassemi at a televised press conference on Monday.

That came just days after Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, visited Kabul and told reporters that talks had been held with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“The Islamic Republic has always been one of the primary pillars of stability in the region and cooperation between the two countries will certainly help in fixing Afghanistan’s security issues of today,” Shamkhani told Tasnim news agency.

Qassemi said Iran’s priority was “to help facilitate negotiations between Afghan groups and the country’s government.”

December 31, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment

Stolen West Bank artefacts displayed at Israel museum

MEMO | December 31, 2018

Israel has exhibited artefacts stolen from the occupied West Bank at a Jerusalem museum, an Israeli newspaper reported Monday.

Twenty artefacts – out of an estimated 40,000 confiscated in 1967 – are currently on display, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

The purloined artefacts reportedly include a number of ancient coins and bowls.

For the last four decades, the artefacts remained in the Israeli authorities’ possession “with no means of ascertaining their provenance”, the paper reported.

Palestine’s official WAFA news agency condemned the looting of Palestinian antiquities.

The display of stolen artefacts, the news agency asserted today, “violates international law… which prohibits an occupying power from… carrying out archaeological excavations in occupied territory”.

December 31, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , | 2 Comments

UK Government Refuses to Confirm if Israeli Ambassador’s Killers are Free

Sputnik – December 31, 2018

Israel’s ambassador to Britain, Shlomo Argov, was shot and mortally wounded in 1982, giving Menachem Begin’s government the excuse needed to invade Lebanon and drive the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) out of Beirut.

The UK National Archives has refused a request by a Sputnik reporter — made under the Freedom of Information Act — to reveal what happened to the terrorists who attacked Mr. Argov.

Mr. Argov, 52, was leaving a diplomatic function at the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane, central London, when a gunmen approached him and fired two shots.

He was hit in the head, went into a coma for three months and later lost his sight.

Mr. Argov was transferred to Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem. His death in 2003 was blamed on the injuries he received that fateful night in London.

The gunman — Hussein Ahmad Ghassan Said — was shot and injured by a police officer who was acting as Mr. Argov’s bodyguard and he was arrested, along with two other men who fled the scene in a car, which was chased through the streets of London.

Said and the two other men, who had links to the Palestinian extremist Abu Nidal Organisation, were convicted of attempted murder and jailed for life in March 1983.

The file on Hussein Ahmad Ghassan Said, Marwan Al-Banna and Nauoff Nagib Meflehel al-Rosan at the National Archives is marked as “closed until 2077”.

The file covers the events of January 1982-December 1984.

Although the terrorists were from Abu Nidal Organisation and not Yasser Arafat’s PLO, the Israeli government retaliated by launching Operation Peace for Galilee, a full-scale invasion of Lebanon.

The Israelis occupied parts of Beirut and in September 1982 their Falangist allies massacred hundreds of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps while Israeli troops led by future prime minister Ariel Sharon turned a blind eye.

Israeli forces only left in 1985.

But what of the three men whose actions triggered these horrific events?

Said was a Jordanian national while al-Banna was Abu Nidal’s cousin and al-Rosan was a colonel in Saddam Hussain’s Iraqi intelligence agency.

The Abu Nidal Organization the PLO were enemies and ironically al-Banna and al-Rosan were also under orders to kill the PLO’s London representative, Nabil Ramlawi, but were arrested before they could get to him.

Said, al-Banna and al-Rosan were jailed for life at the Central Criminal Court in London and given minimum terms of between 30 and 35 years.

Two of them were reportedly later transferred to high security hospitals in the UK after becoming mentally ill.

In 1999 the respected Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz published an article claiming MI5 had knew about the plot.

Lord Alton, a former Liberal MP, tried to raise the issue in the House of Lords but was rebuffed when Lord Williams of Mostyn, a Home Office minister, refused to comment “on the operations of the security and intelligence agencies.”

The Independent newspaper also claimed a convicted murderer, and Liverpool police informer, Ronald Waldron, said he had given a “hot” warning of the plot to kill Argov.

“I gave them everything, the group’s whole list of targets. I told them that they were planning to kill Argov. They knew that Argov was on the list, but they still left him with one bodyguard, completely exposed to the assassins’ bullets. That was really a crime,” Waldron told The Independent.

Abu Nidal died mysteriously in Baghdad in 2002.

In the intervening years Said, al-Banna and al-Rosan have vanished.

Are they still in jail? Are they in psychiatric hospitals? Have they been deported to Jordan or Iraq?

Or were they released and given political asylum in Britain?

A Sputnik reporter submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act in September.

But earlier this month this request was refused by the National Archives, after “consultation with the Ministry of Justice”.

They said they were unable to open the file because it was exempt from the Freedom of Information Act under various grounds.

“When these exemptions apply, we are required to consider whether it is in the public interest to release this information and we regret to say, after very careful consideration, we do not think there is a public interest in doing so. These exemptions apply because we considered that the factors in favour of release are outweighed by the factors against releasing this information into the public domain at this time,” said the National Archives in a statement to Sputnik.

So what were the exemptions?

Sections 23 and 24 both cover “national security”.

“It is in the public interest that our security bodies can operate effectively in the interests of the United Kingdom, without disclosing information that may assist those determined to undermine the security of the United Kingdom and its citizens,” said the National Archives statement.

So perhaps the Israeli press were right and MI5 were privy to the plot and failed to stop it, or even allowed it to happen?

Another exemption was “law enforcement”.

“The Metropolitan Police Service has a duty to protect life and property, which would not include the release of information that would prejudice law enforcement,” said the National Archives statement.

But Mr. Argov is dead and his three attackers were jailed after a trial at the Old Bailey so what information could possibly be released that would “prejudice law enforcement”?

Unless one or all of the three attackers had been a police informant and was perhaps released early in a secret deal?

Another exemption was “physical and mental health”.

The Ministry of Justice’s “duty to openness and transparency under the FOI Act must not be fulfilled in such a way as to undermine public confidence that the right to privacy of victim’s families will be upheld, and must be balanced against its parallel duties to protect them from further harm, shock and distress.”

Sputnik has tried to contact Mr. Argov’s son, Gideon, a venture capitalist who lives in Boston, but without success.

The final exemption is “third party personal data”.

“The exemption applies because the document contains the personal information of one or more identifiable individuals reasonably assumed still to be living. These individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy, which would not include the release of this information into the public domain during their lifetime,” says the National Archives statement.

But numerous files have been released by the National Archives containing personal information about individuals who are still alive.

December 31, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment

WWF’s Polar Bear Tours

By Paul Homewood | Not A Lot Of People Know That | December 31, 2018

In David Rose’s article about polar bears in the Mail yesterday, the local Inuit believed that polar bears were no longer scared of humans.

Perhaps one reason is the proliferation in recent years of polar bear tourism.

Even WWF are getting in on the act.

When the bears regularly encounter coachloads of tourists, it is little surprise that they quickly get accustomed to humans, and realise they are little threat.

We should not be surprised by this behaviour. After all we see exactly the same phenomenon in safari parks, albeit more extreme.

The likes of WWF claim that it is lack of food which forces polar bears into human settlements. But it is more likely that their own activities are responsible.

December 31, 2018 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science | , | 1 Comment