Thursday, July 27, 2017

EU angry at new US sanctions against Russia

Both houses of the United States Congress have now voted to approve new sanctions against Russia. The bill also blocks Trump from lifting sanctions on Russia. The measure also includes new sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

The bill was passed earlier in the House by a vote of 419 to 3. The vote in Senate was 98 to 2.  Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont and Rand Paul a Republican from Kentucky were the two who voted no.  Starting a new cold war with Russia and worsening relations with Iran and North Korea are a bipartisan affair. Sanders said on Twitter "following Trump's comments that he won't recertify Iran's compliance with the nuclear agreement I worry that new sanctions could endanger it."

While Trump could veto the bill, given the overwhelming majorities by which the bill passed the two houses it would no doubt be over-ridden by more than the two-thirds majority needed. Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee said that he had talked to Secretary of State Tillerson about the legislation in the past week. Corker, the Foreign Relations chair said:
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) downplayed the chance that Trump would use his first veto on the bill, noting he had talked to the president and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the legislation during the past week. "It's just  not a good way to start a presidency to veto something and then be soundly overridden. It's not something I would do, but they might choose to do it."  Trump might do what makes little sense just to show that he disapproved of the bill. The bill could have serious repercussions not just with US relations with Russia and Iran but with Europe as well.

Germany warned that it was unacceptable for the US to use sanctions against Russia as a tool of industrial policy and said that there should be close coordination on any proposed sanctions between the EU and the US. A German foreign ministry spokesperson said that Germany could not accept the carrying out of an industrial policy in the guise of sanctions.

The EU went further and said that it was ready to act within days to counter proposed US sanctions on Russia because they threatened EU energy security. The EU see the unilateral addition of sanctions as breaking the unity between the EU and the US in response to Russia's's annexation of the Crimea and support for separatists in the Ukraine. EU chief executive Claude Juncker said:  "The U.S. bill could have unintended unilateral effects that impact the EU's energy security interests. If our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days. 'America First' cannot mean that Europe's interests come last." The EU is also preparing to use an EU regulation to block any attempt by the US to apply its sanctions using extraterritorial measures. If the EU is unable to settle measures through diplomacy it will file a complaint with the World Trade Organization.

The US is bringing countries such as China and Russia closer together as exemplified by the joint naval exercises in the Baltic Sea by the two countries right on NATO's doorstep. It may be that Russia will also punish the US by giving more support to the Taliban and Iran could do the same. The US will discover that its unilateral punishment of other nations is not without cost.

The several meanings of "digital transformation"

In general the term "digital transformation" refers to the transformation of business including processes, activities and models, through the use of developing digital technologies

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Wikipedia refers to digital transformation even more widely as the change associated with the application of digital technology to all aspects of human society. The use of new digital technology enables new types of innovation and creativity in different areas rather than just enhancing traditional methods. However,Wikipedia also recognizes a narrower sense of "digital transformation" which may just mean "going paperless" and can apply to government, art, medicine and science.
The narrower sense is perhaps closely related to the process of digitization. Wikipedia defines digitization as follows:Digitizing or digitization is the representation of an object, image, sound, document or signal (usually an analog signal) by generating a series of numbers that describe a discrete set of its points or samples. The result is called digital representation or, more specifically, a digital image, for the object, and digital form, for the signal. In modern practice, the digitized data is in the form of binary numbers, which facilitate computer processing and other operations, but, strictly speaking, digitizing simply means the conversion of analog source material into a numerical format; the decimal or any other number system that can be used instead.
Going paperless is just one example of digitization. Documents on paper are scanned to create text files that are digital representations of the original. Of course if a paper document is required a copy can be produced through a printer. Instead of creating a paper document as on a typewriter, text can be typed into a computer creating a digitized file which using a printer can be converted to a paper form. The Gutenberg Project digitizes books so that you do not need to go to the library or buy a paper copy of a book but can access it on line in digitized form and read it on line or download it in a form that can be read on devices such as Amazon's Kindle.
However, digitizing can take many other forms. One can change the music on your cassette tape or vinyl record into digitized forms through computer software. Or one can record not on tape but on your computer in different formats such as .mp3 or the better quality .flac and many others. The same is true of video usually combined with audio in formats such as .mp4 or .mkv and many others. You no longer need VHS tapes or vinyl records, as you can simply go on line and hear any music you want in digitized form or you can subscribe to streaming services. You can go on You Tube and watch whatever you want and download it if you wish to keep it. You can put it on a USB stick, burn it to a DVD and play it back whenever you want without ever having to worry about having a copy as a tape or vinyl record. Even when you watch a TV nowadays you are watching a digitized signal rather than an analog one as used to be the case.
While digitization does transform business and everyday life, digital transformation is usually used to refer to use of digital technology going far beyond digitization. What exactly it means is not clear. Perhaps it can be understood as a series of processes that have what the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein called family resemblances. A good way to understand the term is to look at what are regarded as digital transformations in different areas. Digital Journal features an article on digital transformation in power generation and another in health care.
The development of the smart home gives an example of what could be called digital transformation. Home automation or domotics as it is termed technically, involves the control and automation of such functions as lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, but also washers, dryers, ovens and refrigerators. These devices are all connected and controlled remotely often using WI-Fi. All the devices can be controlled remotely using a computer or a smart phone with access to the network to which the devices are all attached. You can turn on your lights or your sprinkler system when you are in another city or country. You can watch what your home security camera sees on your screen. Such a development in technology is transforming far beyond mere digitizing. The home automation market in the U.S. was estimated to be worth $5.77 billion dollars in 2015 and is expected to reach $10 billion by 2020. Some descriptions of digital transformation are quite general and promotional rather than giving any detailed information of what it involves as in the appended video.

Monday, July 24, 2017

French confirm meeting between Serraj and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in Paris on July 25

                                                          Emmanuel Macron French President
Faiez Serraj the head of the Presidential Council(PC) of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) is set to meet Haftar who is the head of the armed forces, the Libyan National Army (LNA) associated with the House of Representatives (HoR) based in the east. The meeting is to be in Paris tomorrow at the invitation of the French President Emmanuel Macron.

It is also expected that the incoming UN envoy Ghassan Salame will attend. He did not attend a meeting two weeks ago of a team from the HoR and the  GNA's High State Council. The group is working on amendments to the Libyan Political Agreement. However, there has been no announcement as to when or even if the HoR is to meet to approve the changes or what the changes are.

Even at this late date, the evening before the expected meeting, Serraj's office has refused to confirm or deny that he is even going to Paris. This is incredible and surely is an indication that there are unsolved problems about the meeting. There has not been any official comment from Haftar either although reportedly sources close to him say he is going.

As with other countries, France has maintained links with both rival government that of  the GNA and the rival HoR government. Macron has appointed Jean-Yves Le Drian as foreign minister. Le Drian favors stronger backing for  Haftar.

Haftar and Serraj met earlier in May in Abu Dhabi. The meeting was hailed at the time as a breakthrough. However, in spite of all the reports of agreements, no joint communique was ever issued and no actual agreements were ever signed off. They were said to have agreed on parliamentary elections, a truce, the need to fight terrorism, the development of a united army, and an end to the UN arms embargo. Perhaps the same issues will come up as Serraj recently suggested holding presidential and parliamentary elections next March. The head of the HoR Ageela Saleh rejected Serraj's suggestions and said that Serraj had no right to call for anything. Saleh does  not recognize the PC or GNA.

A Reuters report cites diplomats as saying that the talks will simply try to reach agreement on key principles, namely that the Libya Political Agreement is the basis for progress, that there was no military solution, and the Libyan military should be under civilian control. It is far from clear that Haftar would agree to these principles. After bringing the two into agreement the UN would implement the deal and set up elections.

The Italians were angry that they had not been informed of nor been involved in setting up the meeting. The Libya Herald reported just recently that Faiez Serraj and his foreign minister Mohamed Siala had arrived in Paris for talks. The Herald noted: " The French authorities have kept a tight control over the news about the meeting. Even this morning the Elysée Palace media office said that it still did not have full details about the encounter." This meeting has obviously not been at all well planned. One wonders how it can possibly turn out well.

However, in a statement, the Elysee said that president Macron would meet the two for consultations on getting Libya out of its crisis. Apparently, the French hope to have an agreement for when the new UN envoy Salame takes up his post. The statement said: “The challenge is to build a state capable of meeting the basic needs of Libyans and endowed with a regular and unified army under the authority of the civil power. It is a necessity for the control of Libya’s territory and its borders to fight terrorist groups, and arms and migrant traffickers.” The talks are supposed to take place at the chateau La Celle Saint-Cloud that is owned by the foreign ministry.

The Italians worry that the France is trying to propel Haftar to power and not support the PC which Italy has strongly backed. Yet French Foreign Minister Le Drian who is a strong supporter of Haftar told his Italian counterpart Angelino Alfano: “In this matter [Libya], we can do nothing, one without the other. It’s an issue we share.” However, it appears that France hopes that it can arrange something that Haftar will sign on to and that will involve the PC being in effect sidelined.

Analog versus digital wrist watches

There are two basic kinds of watches. Analog watches display the time through a dial with an hour hand, minute hand, and sometimes a second hand, on a dial usually divided into 12 hours, often marked by numbers or roman numerals.

A digital watch on the other hand displays the time by hour and minutes or even seconds on an LCD or LED screen in terns of numbers or digits. The Japan Watch and Clock Association describes the two types as follows:
Analogue watches/clocks have a mechanism to indicate time by means of mechanical structures a dial and hands (hand indication type), while digital watches have a mechanism to indicate time by means of electronic structures, such as a liquid crystal and LED (number display type)."Digital" ("digit" as a noun), representing a finger, implies a thing that can be counted on fingers, which indicates a number. On the other hand, "analogue" originally means resemblance or similarity, which indicates a continuous quantity, as the antonym of "digital."
The wristwatch was first developed in the second half of the 19th century but did not really catch on until after the first world war when many of the troops were issued wrist watches. These wrist watches were simply small pocket watches embedded in a strap on the wrist. The analog watch itself has a long history with the first accurate analog clock being developed by Christiaan Huygens who in 1656 invented the balance wheel or hair spring. The balance wheel successfully absorbed the energy of the main-spring and released it back so that the beats were constant and did not vary. There is a controversy over who first developed the hair spring as Robert Hooke also discovered it independently.
The first wrist watch was apparently designed for Countess Koscowics of Hungary in 1868. It was simply a small pocket watch embedded in a bracelet. However, as mentioned, wristwatches failed to become fashionable until after World War I. All the early watches were mechanical wind up watches. Often they contained jewels among the mechanical parts and were exquisitely crafted. If properly maintained they kept accurate time for many years. An important advance in the technology of the mechanical watch was the invention of the automatic or self-winding watch.
Self-winding mechanisms have a long history but interest in self-winding became more prevalent after wristwatches became common in the 1920's. In the automatic watch, the mainspring is wound automatically as a result of the natural motion of the wearer thus providing the energy to run the watch without having to wind it by hand. John Harwood in the UK took out a patent for a self-winding watch in 1923. The Rolex Company improved on the design in 1930. By the 1960's most quality mechanical watches were automatic although the self-winding mechanism made the watch rather thick. Some quality watchmakers continued with the conventional wind-up watches that could be much thinner. In 2007 Carl Bucherer introduced a self-winding device that was less thick and allowed the automatic watch to be quite thin as well.
The next important development of the analogue wrist watch was the electric watch in which the mechanism of the watch is powered by electricity from a battery. The Elgin Watch Company displayed examples in March of 1952 but Hamilton watches first produced them for retail sale in 1957. However, it was with the introduction of the quartz wristwatch in 1969 by Seiko that the battery powered watch became the norm. About ninety percent of the watch market is now of analog or digital quartz watches.
Indeed, probably the most common wristwatches one sees today are analog quartz wristwatches with hour and minute hands or even second hands and variations on the traditional watch face. Even mass-produced analogue watches of this type that one can buy for a few dollars will often keep excellent time. Surprisingly perhaps even the makers of the most expensive watches such as Rolex concentrate on analogue watches rather than digital.
Quartz digital watches represent the time through a display of numbers representing hours, minutes or seconds. An explanation of how digital watches work can be found here. Unlike mechanical analogue watches, digital watches have no moving parts. Many are waterproof and can stand a considerable amount of vigorous activity. They can also have many features such as stop watches, calendar and GPS functions, pedometers, heart rate monitors and so on. In fact they have developed into what is now called the smart watch.
The smart watch is more of a small computer worn on the wrist rather than a timepiece. As Wikipedia describes it:A smartwatch is a computerized wristwatch with functionality that goes beyond timekeeping. While early models can perform basic tasks, such as calculations, translations, and game-playing, 2010s smartwatches are effectively wearable computers. Many run mobile apps, using a mobile operating system. Some smartwatches function as portable media players, with FM radio and playback of digital audio and video files via a Bluetooth or USB headset. Some models, also called 'watch phones', feature full mobile phone capability, and can make or answer phone calls[1][2][3] or text messages.
Perhaps, one might think that the smart watch will replace both the traditional analog wrist watch and the digital wrist watch since it is so versatile and does so many more things. However many people already have smartphones and tablets that they carry around. Why do they need a computer on their wrist? Perhaps they just want an attractive-looking cheap or ridiculously expensive fashion statement analog watch on their wrist that they can read to tell the time.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Digital Transformation: Five myths

Stephen J. Andriole is a Professor of Business Technology at Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania. Professor Andriole has addressed five myths about digital transformation that could impact how a business goes about transitioning.

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Andriole participated and oversaw digital transformation both in the public and private sector. He served as the director of the Cybernetics Technology Office of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); and as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and senior VP of Safeguard Scientifics Inc. He was also CTO and senior vice president for technology strategy at Cigna Corp.
Digital transformation is the transformation of business activities, processes and models by the use of digital technologies. Andriole's writes in a recent article that there are five common myths about digital transformation. He notes that many boards of directors and management teams see digital transformation as a way to efficiency, innovation and competitiveness. Andriole says his own experience shows that the path to transformation is a risky one. In the vast majority of cases he says that organizations made significant errors in trying to implement the transformation. The transformation must not only be well-planned and executed but also enthusiastically adopted by upper management.
Andriole teaches and directs research at Villanova on digital transformation and emerging technologies. He collects data about technology adoption and digital transformation trends in the course of his work, lending a great deal of expertise to his discussion on businesses looking to transition.
Andriole claims:I’m constantly hearing about the “amazing,” “fabulous,” “terrific” and “incredible” projects under way with the potential to “revolutionize” companies and “disrupt” whole industries. But when I probe survey respondents for key details about their initiatives, I often find that there is still confusion about the process. To replace this confusion with some clarity, I have distilled my observations and experiences into five myths about digital transformation — each of which has a corresponding reality. If you understand these myths, you’ll be less likely to fall prey to the hype about digital transformation and be more aware of how arduous the process really is.
The first myth is that every company should digitally transform. Not every company, process or business model requires digital transformation. The digital transformation process goes far beyond a simply software upgrade or improvement of the supply chain. It may be a profound shock to a reasonably functioning system. The business must ask if the business processes can be modeled using tools that enable creative, empirical simulations. The company must ask if it can model its existing processes. Andriole claims many cannot. But if you cannot then it is unlikely that you will be able to easily digitally transform all of the processes.
Even if a company could digitally transform its processes does not mean it should. The company should be able to make a case in terms of profit for adopting the digital transformation. If existing business rules, processes, models and systems are working well it makes no sense for the company to digitally transform them. The transformation may be costly and time consuming. No doubt those whose livelihood depends upon marketing and implementing digital transformation will try to convince companies otherwise.
A second myth is that digital transformation gives greater emphasis upon emerging or disruptive technologies. In reality, Andriole claims often the short-term transformation is through more conventional technology. This is because in many cases the existing practices and models of business are outdated. Andriole uses as an example Uber Technologies and Airbnb which have to a degree supplanted hotels and taxis. While emerging technologies may have helped them it was existing technologies, such as mobile phones, apps, and websites that were optimized for quick transactions and location tracking that allowed them to make significant gains over hotels and taxis. These factors helped them offer comparable services to hotels and taxis at lower costs.
The third myth is that profitable companies are the most likely to launch successful digital transformation policies. Adriole argues this is unlikely to be the case. If the company is doing well with its existing processes it is quite unlikely to try out a costly, risky enterprise, that will drastically change its existing system. If some thing is working well, it might be reasonable to make some minor changes but not any wholesale digital transformation. A more likely candidate is a failing company desperate to try anything to get back on its feet. Proponents for digital transformation in a profitable smooth running company are likely to find themselves the object of a political backlash if they try to promote digital transformation. If change is attempted and mistakes are made the promoters will soon be out of the company. Another good candidate for digital reformation are startups with money to burn and which are willing to take risks. It is the newcomers, not well established companies, that are the most likely to adopt digital transformation.
The fourth myth is that companies need to disrupt their industry before someone else does. Yet leading industries in a given market are unlikely to change their business models drastically. While such leaders may describe themselves as innovators and disruptors they usually are not. I presume they may have been such before they came leaders. One might argue though that unless they do change as the proponents of digital transformation argue, they will not remain as market leaders. Those supporting digital transformation may be right. Andriole only is showing that the market leaders are unlikely to change not that they may not need to in time if they do not want to be overtaken by companies that are more willing to take risks. The fourth myth is not really a myth. The myth is that market leaders will adopt technology to disrupt their industry before someone else does.
The fifth myth is that executives are eager for digital transformation. Andriole claims that the actual number wanting such transformation are relatively small especially in public companies. No doubt champions of digital transformation wish this were not so. Andriole claims that many executives are suspicious of digital transformation and worry that the changes might effect their status within the company. They also worry about the complexity of the process and how long they take to execute. Executive of companies that are doing well may be quite unwilling to radically change what is working out well. Even executives who speak favorably about adopting the process may in practice do little to support attempts to implement it. Those within the company who are comfortable with and advocate the new technology may be seen as threats to the present executives.
The champions of digital transformation may have difficulties marketing their wares to many businesses in the face of some of the issues that Andriole describes.

US Afghan air strike kills sixteen Afghan police

Omar Zwak a spokesperson for the governor of Helmand said:"Sixteen Afghan policemen were killed including two commanders. Two other policemen were wounded. It was most probably a miscommunication or the coordinates were not correct, which resulted in the US air strikes. An investigation has been launched."

The aerial attack on a compound took place on Friday afternoon after Afghan police had retaken a checkpoint captured by the Taliban a day earlier in Gereshk district, north of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah. A statement by the US military confirmed the event saying "aerial fires resulted in the deaths of the friendly Afghan forces, who were gathered in a compound." The statement did not give the number of deaths. There has been increased fighting in the southern Helmand province.

Trump has still not decided on a new strategy for Afghanistan. There have been recommendations that three to five thousand more troops be sent but Trump still has not announced a decision. The US has been fighting in Afghanistan for almost 16 years without defeating the Taliban insurgency. Indeed in June, US defense secretary James Mattis admitted the US was not winning in Afghanistan.

Earlier in June, US troops killed an Afghan civilian and his two young sons after their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan. Local officials and witnesses said the US troops began to fire indiscriminately after the incident. Ziya Gul a bricklayer and his two sons, 8 and 10 were working when they came under fire. A spokesperson for the governor of Nagarhar province said that an investigation had been launched into the incident. The increased civilian casualties are bound to cause resentment in Afghanistan and create political opposition to the Afghan government.

The US has upped its air attacks to a level not seen since the US forces were still in a combat role in  2012. As of  June 30 the US and coalition had used 1,634 munitions in Afghanistan just this year. In 2015 the figure was 298 and in 2016, 545.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Trump administration shutting down CIA program supporting rebels in Syria

The Russians have called for such a move for years. and the move will no doubt be seen as a victory for Russia and a gift from the US. The program was begun under Obama in 2013.However, stopping the program will not end US involvement in Syria by any stretch of the imagination as the US is deeply involved in funding and arming the Syrian Democratic Forces dominated by Kurds. The Kurds are regarded as terrorists by Turkey and there have been clashes with them.

The US was recently angered as Turkey revealed the location of its numerous bases in Kurdish-controlled areas. There are reports of US armored vehicles pouring into Kurdish-held areas in Syria suggesting that US involvement in Syria is actually increasing even though the CIA program has been jettisoned.

The aid seems to have been frozen in February after the groups suffered from a major Islamist attack in January. There were complicated relations and conflict among groups. Apparently, Trump made the decision after talking with CIA director Mike Pompeo and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. Trump and Russian President Putin also made a deal for a partial cease-fire during their recent meeting at the G-20 summit. The ceasefire includes the area where rebels supported by the CIA are stationed. While this may be seen as helping Russia it also help all those living the areas as they will not suffer the effects of  being in a battle zone.

The development is a stark change from the situation last month when the US shot down a Syrian plane and Russia in response said that US planes flying over the area would be regarded as potential targets. Earlier still, the US had hit a Syrian base with Tomahawk missiles in response to an alleged chemical attack by Assad. No doubt there will be an outpouring of articles describing the cessation of the program as a sellout to Russia even though there is plenty of evidence the program was not working well. It is unlikely to have made any significant difference to the progress of the war.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mixed reactions in Libya for Presidency Council's head Faiez Serraj's call for elections next March

                                                       Faiez Serraj head of Presidential Council
Recently as part of his road map for peace,  head of the Presidential Council (PC) of the Government of  National Accord,  Faiez Serraj, said that there should be parliamentary and presidential elections next March. I discuss the entire road map in a recent article. While there has been strong support from some of the members of the High State Council of the GNA for Serraj's proposal, the House of Representatives members have been largely negative.

The speaker of the HoR Ageela Saleh dismissed the proposal in spite of the fact that he himself had called for elections next year. Saleh objects that Serraj has no legal powers to make such a call as he has not been appointed to such a role by the HoR. The HoR has not yet recognized the GNA in any event so naturally Serraj will be regarded as not having the status to call an election.

Ziyad Daghim, a member of the HoR from Benghazi said that Serraj's call for elections was fanciful and contradictory. He pointed out that for such an election to take place a two-thirds vote in favor of such action by the HoR would be required. In the present circumstances Daghim thought this impossible. Another member from Benghazi Essam al-Jahanni claimed the elections were a "sugar-coated bomb" that was aimed at Haftar's Libyan National Army that would lead the company to disaster.

Another HoR member, Abu Bakr Buera claimed that the proposal was unworkable. He said the proposal would soon be forgotten. He said that proposal showed that earlier efforts at conciliation by the UAE and others to mediate between Serraj and Haftar had failed. Buera claimed that to resolve the crisis joint efforts by the HoR, PC, and armed forces were required. Presumably he means Haftar's Libyan National Army by the "armed forces". Other HoR members claimed that security conditions made elections impossible for now. Some saw the proposal as coming from the Muslim Brotherhood, a group reviled by those loyal to Haftar. One of the few HoR members who praised the plan was Mohamed Raied from Misrata who called the plan excellent.

The elections would have repercussions for the HoR as there would be legislative elections but the members of  State HIgh Council would remain safe in their seats. This might explain why most members supported Serraj's plan. However, some members such as Nuri Elabbar who was former head of the High National Elections Committee did have concerns about the security situation making free elections difficult if not impossible. He noted that security would need to be guaranteed and well funded. Local organizations would have to cooperate in facilitating the elections. As with members of the HoR, Elabbar had concerns about the legitimacy of  holding the vote asking: Would it come from a vote to amend the Constitutional Declaration by the HoR? Was it based on the authority of the Libyan Political Agreement? And would the State Council have to be involved in the decision? He had no answer for his own questions.

Aref Nayed, of the Libyan Institute for Advanced Studies, and former Libyan ambassador to the UAE welcomed the call for elections but said they should occur in five months time on the 17th of December. In a letter to the new Libyan special envoy, Ghassan Salame, Nayed said that fresh elections would renew the legitimacy of  Libya's legislative and executive institutions. However, he claimed, some of the proposals in the Serraj's road map would prevent polls from actually taking place.

Nayad proposes that the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, along with the Arab League and the African Union, help organize parliamentary and presidential election by the 17th of December. He  sets this date because this is the deadline Haftar set for a political solution and is the date upon which he claims the Libya Political Agreement expires. The elections avoid a political vacuum. Others do not think the time period for the agreement begins until the HoR accepts the political agreement. It is not clear that either the HoR or the PC and GNA would accept these arrangements. Many would see the elections as being organized by outsiders to satisfy their interests. After all the talk of the LPA being the basis for any agreement this plan appears to be a substitution for an LPA that expires!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Libyan UN-brokered government's head outlines a road map to peace

                                           Troops loyal to GNA

Fayez al-Serraj, head of the Presidential Council of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA)  noted that he and his government had tried to bridge the gap between it and the rival House of Representatives (HoR) government, and had always tried to achieve reconciliation but without success. Serraj said that representatives of the HoR and the GNA's High Council of State had been unable to live up to their privileges regarding their sovereign positions. One might equally claim that the GNA was not able to do so either in that it was unable to present a government to the HoR that could gain the confidence of the HoR as is required by the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). It lost the vote twice, the last time on August 22, 2016.

There have been earlier so-called road maps to peace one near the end of May suggested by Martin Kobler and an earlier one in the middle of February. Neither was a success. Serraj claimed that there was security in the capital Tripoli. While there may be peace temporarily it is not clear that the various militia are under control of the GNA and there are militia threatening the city from outside. The eastern commander Haftar also has said several times he intends to liberate the  city.

Serraj urged uniting military institutions and placing them under civilian authority. He also suggested declaring an amnesty. No doubt at least some military groups and militia in western Libya would be unwilling to accept a united army if that army were commanded by Haftar.

Serraj also urged that there be presidential and parliamentary elections in March of 2018. Serraj said on TV: "Ceasefire in all cities across Libya except places where fighting terror is ongoing, forming a High Council of National Reconciliation with 100 members and forming dialogue committees under the sponsorship of the UN to discuss elections law and constitution amendment." Serraj also suggested that committees should be formed with the HoR to join divided institutions. Yet, Ageela Saleh, the speaker of the HoR rejected Serraj's road map. Saleh also said that there would be no elections until a constitution was ready.

It is not clear that Serraj developed his road map in consultation with the other 8 members of the PC or if he talked it over with members of the High State Council or any members of the House of Representatives.

The Libya Herald also reported on Serraj's speech mentioning aspects left out by the Observer.  Serraj advocated a national program to gather up weapons, and to demobilize militias. It is not clear how this could be done. There is no central force that Serraj controls at present that could do this. The security problem and building up a national army with disarming of militia is something that simply has not transpired. Serraj also said there should be a crackdown on corruption, smuggling and human trafficking.

Serraj noted that there had to be respect for all the different cultural components of Libya including the Amazigh, Tebu, and Tuareg communities.The proposed National Reconciliation Council would have branches in all towns and areas, and would prepare a national conference to end the current divisions and enmities. The HoR, backed by Field Marshal Haftar,  might not agree to any such process and could keep areas under its control from sending representatives. Alternatively, they could simply vet any representatives to be sent to assure they would support the HoR and Haftar.

Serraj would bypass the efforts of the Constitutional Drafting Assembly and he presents a series of proposals that would see the head of the state directly elected, who would then nominate a new government. He also proposed that meanwhile the HoR and State Council set up a joint committee that would agree on amendments to the Constitutional Declaration that would set out the powers of the head of state. The HoR and State Council already has members taking part in a dialogue to come up with amendments to the Libya Political Agreement.

Serraj managed not to mention Khalifa Haftar in his entire speech, nor of others who do not accept the GNA such as Khalifa Ghwell's followers loyal to the former Salvation Government and who recently clashed with forces loyal to the GNA east of  Tripoli. It is doubtful that Serraj has the power to follow through with much of what he outlines in his road map. Opposition to his road map may be sufficient to prevent most of what he proposes from becoming reality.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Seventy-year old Korean grandma is a You Tube and Instagram star

. In social media that often prizes youth and good lucks, Park Makrye shows off her wrinkles and her life as a senior.She is so liked by South Koreans that large companies such as Samsung are using her in ads.

Being a celebrity has not changed Makrye's life style. She still gets up at dawn to run her diner. Her videos are called Grandma's Diary. Koreans love just watching her meet up with an old friend or try pasta for the first time.

Lee Injae, 31, who  lives in the capital Seoul says: "She's real. She's not fake. It's refreshing to see the world through the eyes of a grandmother."

Park describes her life before she went on You Tube as "dead like rotten bean sprouts". She said that she used to think that at over 70 her life was over but after her appearances on You Tube she thinks life begins after seventy. Park's rise to fame hardly meets South Korean's expectations of the elderly who are often seen as being poor or as in protests promoting conservative values. South Korea has the highest rate of poverty among the elderly of any developed country. Fewer in the younger generation support their aging parents as the Confucian tradition of revering the aged loses its grip on a younger generation.

Park was encouraged by a grandaughter to start making videos. She thought it would be a way of keeping dementia at bay. Park's fans travel to her diner from far and wide even though it is in a remote part of the city of Yongin about 34 km south of Seoul. There is no easy public access to the diner.

Her granddaughter, Kim Yura, just 27 travels with Park after a doctor told the family that Park had a high risk of getting Alzheimer's disease as had happened to her three elder sisters. Kim even took Park to Australia as a treat. Many of the videos produced on the trip were popular. Park has about 400,000 followers on You tube and Instagram.

Lee Taek Gwang of Kyunghee University said: "The reason she is so popular is that she talks candidly without pretension about things that women feel uncomfortable about. She talks about topics that we don't dare to talk about, especially on women's issues." Park noted that her parents did not educate her even though they were not poor. They wanted to put me to work. However, she continues to write even though she says that her instagram posts are almost illegible. Fans dub Park;s way of expressing herself the "Makrye font".

Makrye was left on her own when her husband ran off after running up debts. She was left with three young children which is why she ended up running a restaurant until after nine every night.However, she was able to see that all three children finished high school.  Kim was the first to attend college. Park says she will continue to run the restaurant until she dies.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Owners of cargo ship that hit USS Fitzgerald destroyer may be liable for damages

The USS Fitzgerald and the Philippine-flagged container ship MV ACX Crystal collided early in the morning on June 16. Not much new information has been released since the last article I wrote on the issue. However there have been some developments.

The U.S. Navy announced that it had temporarily relieved the commander of the Fitzgerald for medical reasons. The captain was in his cabin at the time of the collision and was injured. Seven sailors were killed. There are at least six ongoing investigations including two US Navy internal hearings and an investigation by the US Coast Guard.  There is also an investigation by the Japanese Coast Guard.

So far there has been no explanation as to how the Fitzgerald with sophisticated equipment and lookouts sailing in clear conditions at night was hit by a huge cargo ship three times it size before it saw the ship coming and took evasive action. The captain of the cargo ship claims that it had given warning signals of flashing lights to the Fitzgerald almost ten minutes before the collision.

The Fitzgerald is in dry dock. The US wants to take it back to the US for repairs but is making temporary repairs first to ascertain if it can go back under its own steam or must be towed. The cost of replacing the Fitzgerald would be almost $2 billion. The ship is 21 years old. Even if the repair costs are less it will still be hundreds of millions of dollars. The costs of repairs to the cargo ship ACX Crystal will be far less.

A recent article  by Lawrence Brennan a former US Navy Captian and an adjunct professor of law at Fordham Law School discusses the complicated legal situation faced by the owners of the ACX Crystal as well as the US Navy. 
USS Fitzgerald damageImage of the damaged USS Fitzgerald. NHK Newsweb
Brennan an expert on maritime law notes that there are still many factual issues open and also legal issues. The collision will involve, lengthy, complicated, and expensive problems. 

One problem for the owners of the ACX Crystal is that the captain continued on towards port even after the collision and came back only after he had gone some distance and some time later. As Brennan writes: 

"If, however, the steel-on-steel collision impact generated sparks, as commonly occurs during collision, the bridge watch should have seen the “shower of sparks." In any event, ACX Crystal failed to stand by and render assistance to the Fitzgerald as required by law. This serious failure could be proof of inattention by ACX Crystal’s bridge watch and look outs or an unusual attempt to “runaway” but the ship apparently returned to Fitzpatrick about an hour later." The Crystal did return and at that time reported the incident to the Japanese Coast Guard.

Brennan says that from  the limited information available it appears probable that the blame will be shared by the operators of both vessels, and that legal liability will be apportioned on the basis of the relative causal faults of each. Because of the huge difference in the claim amounts of the two vessels, the ACX Crystal will probably not want to bring an action against the US even if it could. It will more likely try to initiate a limitation of liability proceeding in order to limit the amount of the claims of the US, the estates of the dead sailors, and of those surviving but injured. 

Interestingly, the estates of the seven dead sailors and surviving members may be able to bring suit against ACX Crystal owners, but it is precluded from bringing suit against the US under the Feres doctrine which bars service members generally from claims for injuries sustained while on active duty.

The investigations into the collision are certainly slow in releasing any new information as to what exactly happened in this bizzare accident which should not have happened.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Libya Dialogue members suggest amendments to Libyan Political Agreement.

The Libya Dialogue  delegates of the High State Council (HSC) from the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli and the House of Representatives (HoR) from the Tobruk-based rival government, met in the Hague Netherlands to discuss amendments to the Libya Political Agreement  signed in Skhirat Morocco in December of 2015.

The GNA is required to have a vote of confidence from the HoR. It has twice been rejected the last time on August 22 last year.There was supposed to be a new GNA presented within then days at the time. Ten months later no further meeting has happened.

 Now at least there are suggested amendments so that the HoR will presumably hold another vote soon but there is no date set for any HoR meeting to vote confidence again. The group agreed that the number of members of the Presidency Council(PC) main executive body of the GNA should be reduced from the present nine to three. This may not sit well with some regions. The number was originally three but was expanded to satisfy different regional groups among other reasons.The amendment also makes the PC separate from the government. It is not explained what this is supposed to mean. There was also agreement that there needed to be a united Libyan army that operated under the authority of the state.

Khalifa Haftar is not mentioned. He demands that the section of the LPA that gives the power of commander in chief to the PC be removed. He will demand that he remain as head of the Libyan armed forces. He is now commander of the Libyan National Army associated with the HoR government. The group also suggested that a draft constitution should be drawn up by five members each from the HoR and the HSC with the aid of the new UN envoy Ghassan Sallame. Sallame was invited to attend the meetings in the Hague but declined to go. Both sides reaffirmed that the LPA should be "the most visible instrument for meeting Libyans' demand for peace and stability". Yet no reference is made to the sections of the LPA under which the amendments are being made nor what the next steps are going to be. The talks took place over ten days hosted by the Dutch government with foreign minister Bert Koenders at the forefront of many of the talks.

While all the talking is going on Libya is being wracked by clashes with forces loyal to the old Salvation government east of Tripoli, and threats by eastern commander Haftar to "liberate" Tripoli.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

International Committee of Red Cross reports 300,000 cases of cholera in Yemen

The Red Cross says that more than 7,000 new suspected cases are diagnosed each day in a country hit by war and economic collapse as well as near famine. The epidemic has been raging now for 10 weeks. While the spread of cholera in the worst hit regions has slowed, the disease is spreading to other areas. The worst hit areas are in the west of the country where there has been a continuous war between a Saudi-led coalition supporting the government of Mansour Hadi in the port city of Aden and Houthi rebels who hold much of the north-west of Yemen and the capital Sanaa.

The war has helped the spread of the disease caused by human waste getting into food or water. It thrives where there is poor sanitation. A few cases are now appearing further east in the Hadramawt region and Mukalla port. The economic collapse has resulted in 30,000 health workers going unpaid for more than 10 months. The UN has issued "incentive payments" to get them involved in a campaign to fight cholera. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set up a network of rehydration points. These together with what is left of the Yemeni health system has managed to keep the death rate relatively low at just 0.6 percent of cases. Even so, more than 1,700 have lost their lives to the disease.

The spread of the disease has caused humanitarian organizations to divert some resources from tackling the malnutrition issue to combating the disease. UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrich said:"Humanitarian organisations have had to reprogramme their resources away from malnutrition and reuse them to control the cholera outbreak. And if we don't get these resources replaced, then using those resources for cholera will mean that food insecurity will suffer." There are almost 19 million Yemenis reliant upon aid, and according to the Red Cross this is the world's largest single humanitarian crisis. Only 45 per cent of Yemen's hospitals are operational and medicines and medical supplies are scarce.

In theory prevention of cholera is simple. Wash your hands with clean water. Drink clean water. Eat food that has been boiled or well cooked. However, clean water in Yemen is scarce. In Sanaa the capital the municipal workers have not been paid in months. There is no electricity and rubbish is piling up in the streets. However, there are 17 cholera treatment centers across Yemen.

WHO has decided it will be unlikely to try to attempt a cholera vaccination campaign in Yemen, reversing a decision to do so made a month ago. The reversal is due to the already rampant spread of the disease and security conditions. A spokesperson for the WHO, Christian Lindmeier, said doses
readied for shipment to Yemen will probably be sent to other parts of the world in danger from the disease saying: “There is a likelihood they will not be used anymore in Yemen and therefore rerouted to other areas/countries who may need them more urgently right now.” The announcement came as a surprise to many.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Militia loyal to former Liyban "Salvation" government clash with forces loyal to UN-brokered unity government

Reuters reports that  militia opposed to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) were attempting to approach the capital Tripoli from the east. The clashes took place in Garabulli about 50 km ( 30 miles) to the east of the capital on the coastal road. Most of the group's support comes from the city of Misrata. The militia were driven out of Tripoli in May and have been attempting to regroup. Libya Observer claims the group are the National Guard of the Salvation Government(SG) associated with the General National Congress (GNC) led by Khalifa al-Ghweil. The Observer speaks of the clashes as in the Gwiya district of Castelverde town, 70 km to the east of Tripoli. A tweet claims that members of the Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB) are also involved against the GNA forces.Some of the many militia groups in Tripoli are nominally loyal to the GNA but often have their own agendas.The GNA has yet to form a national army and disband militias.

The forces loyal to the GNA involved in the clashes include the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, the Al-Daman Brigade of Tajura, as well as the Central Security Force of Abu Salim and other forces as well according to the Libya Observer. Sources told the Observer that it was the Pro-GNA forces that started the clash when the accused the National Guard forces of trying to enter Tripoli. There have been movements of military vehicles coming towards Tripoli lately. There could be an attempt to enter Tripoli from different directions threatening the GNA government of Faiez Serraj head of the Presidential Council.

The commander of the SG, Mahmoud al-Zegil said that the forces east of Tripoli are opposed to the policies of the GNA's Presidential Council (PC) saying: "The Presidential Council helped strengthen the position of Khalifa Haftar instead of complaining to the UN about his violations and military escalation." The opposition troops may not be strong enough to enter Tripoli. The SG and other opponents of the GNA are also very much anti-Haftar. Haftar no doubt is quite happy to watch the group fight with those supporting the GNA as it shows division within groups against him and will further weaken the position of those opposed to him within the GNA.

New Mongolian president campaigned on a platform of "Mongolia First"

Khaltmaa Battulga, a former Judo champ perhaps had been watching the US presidential campaign as his slogan of "Mongolia First" seems to mirror Trump's "America First" slogan. Battulga is a populist businessman. He belongs to the opposition Democratic Party. Overseas votes remain to be counted but Battulga had 50.6 percent of the vote, while his opponent of the ruling Mongolian People's Party, Miyegombo Enkhbold, had only 41.2 percent of the vote. Voter turnout was just over 60 percent.

The election was seen by many as a referendum on the ruling parties economic plans.While Mongolia has been democratic since the communist government collapsed about 30 years ago, politics has been growing increasingly acrimonious as economic problems have mounted and the political elite has faced increasing charges of corruption. The election was rife with mud-slinging from all sides with many in the public seeing neither runoff candidate as desirable and there were many blank ballots cast as a protest. Luvsanvandam Sumati of a polling group said:"The worst election in Mongolian history." In spite of the fact that some investor's are wary of Battalga because he wants more state control of mines and his suspicions about Chinese investment, Battalga says he will support plans for building a key railway to China. He has also praised China's Belt and Road pan-Asian infrastructure initiative. Battulga rose to fame as a wrestler. He owns a hotel, a Genghis-Khan-themed amusement part, and also food companies. Battulga ran a nationalist campaign that helped him gain votes from many younger voters who believe that Mongolia should have a greater return on its natural wealth. Battulga portrayed himself as the anti-oligarchy candidate who would keep a watchful eye on the ruling party. He also promised to bring more jobs to Mongolia and bridge the great gap in wealth with many families living in undeveloped rural and urban areas.

Just as Trump managed to adopt a populist narrative that appealed to many poorer people, Battulga was able to do the same even though he is one of the richest people in Mongolia. Battulga wants to build railroads to Russia to increase trade with it and lessen dependence on China. He also wants to build plants to process minerals instead of exporting raw materials.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

122 countries sign on to treaty to ban nuclear weapons at UN meeting

To loud cheers Elayne Gomez, president of the UN conference that has been negotiating the legally binding treaty announced that 122 nations had signed on to the ban while the Netherlands was opposed and Singapore abstained. Gomez said: "The world has been waiting for this legal norm for 70 years" the time period from when the first atomic bombs were dropped by the US on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in August of 1945. Gomez noted that this was the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in more than 20 years. The treaty comes into effect 50 countries ratify it.

Last December UN member states voted overwhelmingly for a treaty that would ban nuclear weapons even though there was strong opposition from all the nations that have nuclear arms. Every one of them refused to even participate in the talks.All NATO members boycotted the negotiations except for the Netherlands which attended but voted against the resolution. The Netherlands has US nuclear weapons on its territory and parliament urged that a delegation be sent to the meetings.

Countries that ratify the treaty must "never under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices." The transfer of nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices is also prohibited or even the threat to use nuclear weapons.

Richard Moyes, managing director of Article 36, a UK-based group that works to prevent harm from nuclear and other weapons, claimed that it was not plausible to believe that security could be secured by threatening to kill hundreds of thousands with nuclear weapons. He said we  know that there have been errors of judgment, accidents, and also a degree of instability in leadership in the world.

The nine countries that are known to or believed to possess nuclear weapons are: US, Russia, UK, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel. None support the treaty or even sent delegates. The US and a number of other nuclear powers want to strengthen the nearly five-decade old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty(NPT). This of course retains the nuclear club as the only countries allowed to have nuclear weapons. Israel was able to develop nuclear weapons in spite of the treaty. Neither Israel, Pakistan, nor India have signed the treaty. North Korea withdrew from it in 2003.

The NPT wss originally intended to prevent the spread of nuclear arms from the five original countries that had such arms: US, Russia, China, UK, and France. The agreement included a provision that the five powers move towards nuclear disarmament and provisions that would allow non-nuclear states access to nuclear technology in order to produce energy.

US ambassador Nikki Haley said when the nuclear talks began in March that:"  "there is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons, but we have to be realistic."She asked if anyone thought North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons, stressing that North Koreans would be "cheering" a nuclear ban treaty — and Americans and others would be at risk."Of course North Koreans may feel at risk because the US has nuclear weapons. It might very well give up nuclear weapons if was assured the US and others opposed to it did. Yet the US has pointed to the escalation of  North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes as a reason to retain its nuclear capability. One could argue that it is US nuclear capability that leads the North Koreans to believe that they also need to develop nuclear weapons in defense.

The UK did not attend the talks although it claims to support multilateral disarmament. Canada voted against the UN resolution to begin negotiations on the treaty. It did not send anyone to the negotiations. A leaked memo the US wrote to other NATO countries last year show why Canada and other NATO countries opposed the treaty and did not attend them except for the Netherlands. The memo said: "If negotiations do start, we ask allies and partners to refrain from joining them". Passage of the ban would increase pressure to meet disarmament obligations. The US and UK in particular are both planning to modernize their nuclear arsenals a move that is even against the old NPT.

Trump will keep Guantanamo Bay open and may add new detainees

  Obama never was able to follow through on his promise to  close the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. In his presidential campaign far from promising closure Donald Trump promised to keep the detention center open. Trump appears to be taking action to keep his promise.

In March, Trump asked Congress for additional funding for the facility. A request for $115 million to be incorporated in a 2018 spending bill is under consideration.The money would build a new military barracks for US troops but it also contains language that prevents the facility from being closed and also bans the transfer of any detainees to the United States mainland.

In his campaign in February of 2016 Trump said of Guantanamo: "We're going to load it up with bad dudes." The acting Pentagon comptroller John Roth said that it did not seem as if the facility would close anytime soon. Trump has not as yet sent any new detainees to Cuba but Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that he saw no legal problems with sending more detainees to the facility. Sessions said in a radio interview this March: "I've been there a number of times as a senator, and it's just a very fine place for holding these kind of dangerous criminals. We've spent a lot of money fixing it up, and I'm inclined to the view that it remains a perfectly acceptable place."

While Obama did not close Guantanamo he vastly reduced the population. Trump said in January of this year that there should be no further releases from Gitmo because the detainees were extremely dangerous and should not be allowed back on the battlefield. There are only 41 detainees left. A majority 26 are being held without charge, three have been convicted, and seven others face charges. There are another five recommended for transfer  in spite of Trump claiming they are all dangerous.

David Rivkin, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of  Democracies, who served under both President Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the Justice Department said: “We have taken off the table the silly ideas that the previous administration had about Guantanamo.” After Trump's inauguration there were various draft executive orders floating around that would have revoked Obama's executive order that the facility be closed and suspend any existing transfers pending a review. The orders also called for the facility to continue to operate to hold members of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces including those of the Islamic State. But for some reason none of the orders have yet been signed. Perhaps Trump is too busy playing golf. The issue of Guantanamo appears to be off the press radar for the most part.

Wells Dixon, a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights who represents some detainees says that business is going ahead as usual at the facility although no one new has been cleared for transfer. A US Department of Justice spokesperson, Ian Prior said of a visit by officials to the facility: “In addition to the Department of Justice's role in handling detainee-related litigation, it is important for the Department of Justice to have an up-to-date understanding of current operations...Keeping this country safe from terrorists is the highest priority of the Trump administration. Recent attacks in Europe and elsewhere confirm that the threat to our nation is immediate and real, and it remains essential that we use every lawful tool available to prevent as many attacks as possible.” Sessions has claimed there is plenty of space for new prisoners at Guantanamo and it is well equipped to handle them. Experts have pointed out that the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) that is used to justify the indefinite detention of suspected Al Qaeda members etc. does not mention the Islamic State. Dixon said any arrival of a suspected IS member would face a legal challenge.

The election of Trump has led to loss of hope for many detainees who fear they will never be released. Dixon said: “The men are very aware of fact that no one has left Guantanamo since end of the Obama administration, and that takes a tremendous psychological toll,” he said. “It is torture by any reasonable measure.”

Saturday, July 8, 2017

United States and Russia agree to a ceasefire and de-escalation zone in southwest Syria

The US together with Russia and Jordan have agreed to a ceasefire in the southwestern area of Syria. The ceasefire was reported after the meeting of Putin and Trump on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Hamburg. The meeting was exceedingly long lasting a full two hours and twenty minutes. There is also a more general ceasefire that came into force back at the end of December 2016. Despite many reported violations it appears to be generally holding. The UN Security Council passed a resolution last December supporting the ceasefire.

The ceasefire is to take effect on July 9 at noon Damascus time. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the announcement after Trump's meeting with Putin. Lavrov said: “In this zone [in southern Daraa, Quneitra and As-Suwayda provinces] the ceasefire regime will take effect on July 9 starting 12:00 Damascus time. The US took an obligation that all the militant groups, located there, will comply with the ceasefire.” It remains to be seen if all the groups are willing to comply with the ceasefire. A separate agreement for a  de-escalation zone was negotiated by experts from Russia, Jordan, and the US in Amman the capital of Jordan. Lavrov said: “At first, the security around this de-escalation zone will be maintained with the help of Russian military police in coordination with the Jordanians and Americans.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a news conference that the ceasefire agreement indicates that the US and Russia can work together on the Syrian crisis. No doubt many critics of an accommodation of the US with Russia will be critical of this development even though any cessation of hostilities one would think is positive. It may pave the way for an eventual political solution. Tillerson said: "I think this is our first indication of the US and Russia being able to work together in Syria, and as a result of that we had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas." The present deal is separate from a draft agreement worked out earlier this year during talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, sponsored by Iran and attended by Russia, Turkey, the Syrian government and some representatives of the armed opposition. A final agreement has yet to be signed.

Hamas and Egypt appear to improve relations after meeting

After a series of meetings between Hamas and senior Egyptian officials in Cairo relations between Egypt and the Islamist Palestinian group appear to be improving.

The improved relations may have important implications for Gaza and Palestinian politics. Ismail Haniyeh who recently became leader of Hamas said in a speech in Gaza on Wednesday that relations with Egypt which borders the strip to the south have been warming:"We have launched a new chapter with Egypt and the relations have witnessed a big move."
For most of the last ten years Egypt has supported Israel in enforcing a blockade of the strip by land, sea, and air. Hamas seized the Gaza strip in 2007 and has controlled it ever since. Just recently Israel has made the situation in Gaza even worse cutting off electricity to Gaza leaving it with only about four hours a day with power. The cuts hit hospitals and water treatment plants during a heat wave causing hardships for Gaza's two million people. Sanctions against Gaza are part of an attempt by the rival Fatah Palestinians to force Hamas to give up power and join a unified government.
In order to keep popular support Hamas is attempting to mend its relations with Egypt. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood regarded as a terrorist group in Egypt and so trying to improve ties with Egypt is an uphill battle. Nevertheless, Yahya Sinwar, Hamas's newly appointed leader in Gaza met Egyptian officials including the chief of intelligence last month.
These meetings are thought to have been arranged by Mohammed Dahlan, who was a senior Fatah official originally from Gaza but now a staunch opponent of Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority President and leader of Fatah. Haniyeh claimed that Egypt had been helping to improve conditions in Gaza and has alleviated some of the hardships caused by the Israeli blockade. Haniyeh said: "We have found complete readiness by Egypt and their authorities have issued orders to implement a package of measures that has began with allowing fuel into Gaza." Haniyeh also thanked both Qatar and Saudi Arabia for financial support.
Dahlan spends much of his time in the UAE and has close relations to Egypt. He is emerging as a power broker in the region. Analysts claim that the developing ties between Hamas and Egypt are a challenge to the power of Abbas. The development may cause alarm in Israel and even the US and the EU all of whom regard Hamas as a terrorist group and do not want its influence to increase in the region.
Hamas has helped Egypt address security concerns by clearing land on its side of the border that created a buffer zone that has watchtowers, cameras, and barbed-wire fences. Gaza Tawfiq Naeen the head of security services in Gaza appointed by Hamas said: "These measures serve as a message of assurance to the Egyptian side." Hamas would like to see the one crossing into Egypt at Rafah kept open longer and to increase energy supplies and other imports.
Egypt would like to obtain intelligence on radicals who are entering and leaving Gaza and also help with tracking Islamic State (IS) militants who are attacking Egyptian troops in northern Sinai. In a sign that Abbas, now 82,, worries about these developments he is scheduled to meet with Egyptian president el-Sisi this week. According to Akram Attallah, an independent analyst in Gaza this is the first cooperation between Hamas and Egypt since Hamas was founded 30 years ago.
Dahlan has been active in fostering the new relationship of Hamas with Egypt. Abbas expelled Dahlan from Fatah back in 2012. Attallah said: "Dahlan employed this moment to present himself as the most efficient party in the Palestinian arena and a savior for Hamas." Analysts are watching to see what will happen to Hamas' relations with Qatar that in the last few years has spent more than $500 million improving infrastructure and health services in Gaza. It is possible that Egypt may demand breaking off relations with Qatar as a condition of improving relations with it.
In his speech, Haniyeh did not depart from the strident critical tone of his predecessor, Khaled Mashalal towards Israel. He railed against "Israeli violations" in Jerusalem and promised to free Palestinians in Israeli jails. He said not one inch of Palestinian land should be relinquished:“We will remain faithful to the principles of the Palestinian people, and at the forefront is the liberation of the land, of Jerusalem, of the al-Aqsa Mosque, the prisoners, the realization of the Palestinian right of return, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.” Haniyeh had nothing positive to say about Donald Trump: “We believe that the most dangerous thing official Palestinian policy suffers from is responding to and dealing with repeated American dictates.. since the arrival of the American president to power, with the pressure and encouragement of the Zionist enemy, Trump has been trying to “eliminate the Palestinian issue” by “blackmailing” Arab-Islamic powers “and imposing a so-called historic reconciliation.” Not surprisingly, Haniyeh also gave thanks to and praised its backers including Iran, Turkey and Qatar. However, he also emphasized his thanks to Egypt.
Egypt has been sending millions of liters of diesel fuel to Gaza to keep the Strip's only power plant can begin operation again after months of being shut down. Israel cut off power to Gaza after Abbas' Palestinian Authority stopped covering 35 percent of the cost of the Israeli-supplied electricity. There are reports that Dahlan and Hamas have agreed to a new "management committee" in Gaza which would see Dahlan share control in the enclave. However Haniyeh still spoke of reconciliation between Fatah in Ramallah and Gaza claiming that such reconciliation was one of the subjects of discussion with Egypt. Haniyeh said that Egypt was welcome to play a central role in such reconciliation. Haniyeh claimed: “Fatah won’t eliminate Hamas and Hamas won’t eliminate Fatah,” said Haniyeh, adding that together, with all the Palestinian factions united, “the occupier could be eliminated.”

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

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