Arab - Israeli Conflicts · State Department


The Huffington Post

UN School Shelling ‘Disgraceful’… ‘Appalled’… 10 Dead… UN Chief: ‘A Moral Outrage And A Criminal Act’… ‘Gross Violation Of International Law’… NYT: Israeli Troops ‘Paid Little Heed To Warnings’ During Previous UN Shelling…

The State Department issued a statement Sunday condemning Israel’s “disgraceful” shelling of a United Nations school sheltering civilians in Gaza, saying that the United States is “appalled” by the attack which left 10 people dead.

“The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced persons, in which ten more Palestinian civilians were tragically killed,” reads the statement from State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki. “We once again stress that Israel do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties.”

Psaki continues: “UN facilities, especially those sheltering civilians, must be protected, and must not be used as bases from which to launch attacks. The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.”

Below, more from the Associated Press:

In language that was rare in its directness and severity, the U.S. denounced in a statement issued Sunday the attack earlier in the day that killed 10 people, noting that the school had been designated a protected location.

“The coordinates of the school, like all UN facilities in Gaza, have been repeatedly communicated to the Israel Defense Forces,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in the statement. “We once again stress that Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties.”

The U.S. condemnation follows one by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who depicted the shelling near the Rafah school as both “a moral outrage and a criminal act.”

Earlier, a senior Palestinian diplomat expressed outrage over killings and bloodshed on both sides in Gaza and called for negotiations to end the savage fighting that has gone on for nearly a month. “What we need now is to stop this fighting, to address the tragic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip,” Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” adding “these things need to be stopped.”

He said that putting the people of Gaza “in a continuous situation of confrontation and fighting” will only lead to more violence, saying “This is an excellent atmosphere for radicalism.”

“But if you give them (Palestinians) hope, you open the borders, you let them go to school, let them look for good jobs, let them look for moderation. And we will succeed in allowing all those who want to have peace…to have the upper hand.”

Pierre Krahenbuhl, head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, called the shelling a clear violation of international law. “These are premises that are protected, the sanctity of which has to be respected by all parties,” he said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

About 1,400 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza nearly a month into Israel’s forceful assault on Hamas, according to health officials.

National Security · State Department

White House holds high-level meeting over security threat


President Barack Obama’s top national security advisers met at the White House on Saturday to discuss the potential threat of terrorist attacks that caused Washington and its allies to issue travel warnings and close embassies throughout the Middle East.

The United States issued a worldwide travel alert on Friday warning Americans that al Qaeda may be planning attacks in August, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.

Without giving an update on the nature of the threat, the White House said top officials including Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and national security adviser Susan Rice gathered on Saturday to discuss it.

“Early this week, the president instructed his National Security team to take all appropriate steps to protect the American people in light of a potential threat occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula,” the White House said in a statement.

“This afternoon, National Security Advisor Rice chaired a meeting with the Principals Committee to further review the situation and follow-up actions,” it said, referring to the group of advisers.

A senior U.S. official, asked if the United States had pre-positioned forces to deal with the latest threat, replied, “We’ve had U.S. forces prepared for some time to respond to potential contingencies in the Middle East and North Africa.

“We’re postured to support timely and effective action if requested. This latest threat is serious, and the Pentagon is working closely with its partners, to include the State Department and the intelligence community, to confront it,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Obama is spending the weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat after playing golf earlier on Saturday. His birthday is Sunday.

The White House said Obama had received regular briefings about the potential threat and U.S. preparedness measures all week. Rice and counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco briefed him after the high-level meeting on Saturday, it said.

Other attendees at the White House meeting included Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and the heads of the FBI and CIA.

The U.S. State Department said on Thursday that American embassies that would normally be open this Sunday – including those in Abu Dhabi, Baghdad and Cairo – would be closed.

CBS News reported that intelligence officials had information about a major plot.

“Intelligence officers have reporting from a reliable source that a major plot is under way and that the team to carry it out has been selected and is in place,” CBS reported. U.S. authorities did not know the date, the timing or the target of the planned attack, it said.

France said earlier on Saturday it would close its embassy in Yemen for several days from Sunday, following similar moves by Britain and Germany.

State Department

Videos: Hillary Clinton on the Hill


Hillary Clinton is pictured. | AP Photo

Video: Hillary Clinton on the Hill

Hillary Clinton · State Department

The Benghazi report: Big trouble for Hillary Clinton?

Hillary Clinton won't testify as scheduled at congressional Benghazi hearings due to a concussion.
Hillary Clinton won’t testify as scheduled at congressional Benghazi hearings due to a concussion.

Let there be no doubt about it.  This will in no way hinder the Secretary of State’s excellent record nor will it be a problem if she decides to run in 2016.

Hillary Clinton has been an outstanding public servant for decades and a few rumblings from the other side, in an effort to derail anything with Barack Obama’s name on it, will be an epic fail.

The Week

An independent inquiry faults missteps by the State Department in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

“So much for any presidential aspirations Hillary Clinton may be entertaining for 2016,” says Janet Shan atHinterland Gazette. An independent review board investigating the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, released its unclassified report late Tuesday. (Read the whole thing below.) The upshot? “Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” at high levels of the State Department contributed to the death of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. As secretary of state, that’s a pretty big stain on Clinton’s reputation.

The board, led by former diplomat Thomas Pickering and retired Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, eventually concluded that blame for the American deaths rests “solely and completely with the terrorists,” and pointedly “did not find reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty.” But the board did fault the State Department for relying on unseasoned U.S. security personnel and Libyan militias to protect Stevens, ignoring requests for more guards, failing to make needed security upgrades, not adjusting to the deteriorating situation in Benghazi, and for poor intra-agency coordination. Clinton was expected to testify before Congress about the report on Thursday, but begged out, citing a concussion sustained during a fall last week while she was fighting a stomach bug.

Conservatives aren’t buying it. With U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice pulling out of the running for Clinton’s job and CIA Director David Petraeus ousted amid a sex scandal, “Clinton is the latest scapegoat for ongoing frustrations over Benghazi,” says Alexander Abad-Santos at The Atlantic Wire. And since the report declined to name new victims to destroy in their Benghazi-gate crusade, they’re making do with “Concussiongate.”

Well really, Clinton is bowing out from yet another round of Benghazi hearings, this time because of a supposed concussion, “and we’re supposed to just take her word for it”? says Jim Treacher at The Daily Caller. “If she has a concussion, let’s see the medical report.” Imagine the outrage if Clinton predecessors Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice had called in sick for Iraq War hearings. Yes, “Clinton’s story beggars belief,” says the New York Post in an editorial. Thissupposed concussion “looks like one of the most transparent dodges in the history of diplomacy,” and Republicans must insist she testify later if not now.

Give me a break, says Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice. Clinton is faking an illness? Theseconservatives “are fixated on creating crises where they aren’t any,” and doing so in a “cravenly partisan” manner. Congratulations, or something: Your paranoia has earned you a coveted spot in our “Get a Life” club.

In the end, Clinton will probably emerge from this relatively unscathed, says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Before she gets another chance to testify, she will likely “leave the Obama cabinet with sky-high approval ratings and an eye on the 2016 presidential nomination,” and at this point, “it’s logical for her not to want to dwell on the worst debacle of her tenure at State.”

Read the report for yourself:

Benghazi Report

Richard C. Holbrooke · State Department

Richard Holbrooke dies: Veteran U.S. diplomat brokered Dayton peace accords

Richard Holbrooke
Image via Wikipedia

Sad news for the State Department and for his family…

Washington Post

Veteran U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke, 69, whose relentless prodding and deft maneuvering yielded the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war in the Balkans, a feat he hoped to emulate as President Obama’s chief envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, died Monday in Washington from complications following surgery to repair a torn aorta.

A foreign policy adviser to four Democratic presidents, Mr. Holbrooke was a towering, one-of-a-kind presence who helped define American national security strategy over 40 years and three wars by connecting Washington politicians with New York elites and influential figures in capitals around the world. He seemed to live on airplanes and move with equal confidence through Upper East Side cocktail parties, the halls of the White House and the slums of Pakistan.

News of Mr. Holbrooke’s death came after Obama, speaking at a State Department holiday reception, praised him as “simply one of the giants of American foreign policy.”

“Tonight America has lost one of its fiercest champions and most dedicated public servants,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement Monday night, adding, “He was one of a kind – a true statesman – and that makes his passing all the more painful.”

Mr. Holbrooke’s death could have a profound impact on the administration’s efforts to implement aspects of its strategy for the war in Afghanistan, which relies not just on military gains but development assistance and diplomatic initiatives with the governments in Kabul and neighboring Pakistan that had been his principal focus.        More…

State Department

State Department compares Park 51 Imam to Shirley Sherrod


Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo makes a great point: 

Is Imam Rauf the Muslim Shirley Sherrod?

And do I need a calendar to remember who to hate next week?

Foreign Policy – The Cable

The State Department’s top spokesman cautioned reporters Tuesday not to take snippets of edited remarks on the Internet by the “Ground Zero mosque” imam and use them to brand him a radical, lest they repeat the mistakes made by the media in calling former USDA official Shirley Sherrod a racist based on edited clips of her promoted on conservative websites.

Imam Feisal Rauf, the spiritual leader of the proposed Park 51 community center in lower Manhattan, is on his State Department-sponsored trip to the Persian Gulf right now, giving speeches in Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates about what it’s like to be a Muslim in America.

Rauf has been traveling on behalf of the department since 2007 on trips sponsored by both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. He belongs to the progressive Sufi sect of Islam and has been praised as a bridge-builder even by conservative pro-Israel bloggers, such as the Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, who has had extensive interactions with him.

But activists who oppose the Park 51 project have pointed to various statements by Rauf to build the case that he’s dangerous radical. For example, yesterday Pamela Geller of the blog Atlas Shrugs posted a clip of excerpts from a speech Rauf gave in 2005. Those excerpts include Rauf saying:

We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaida has on its hands of innocent non Muslims. You may remember that the US-led sanctions against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children. This has been documented by the United Nations. And when Madeleine Albright, who has become a friend of mine over the last couple of years, when she was Secretary of State and was asked whether this was worth it, said it was worth it. [emphasis Geller’s]

P.J. Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, told reporters Tuesday that they shouldn’t be quick to take those remarks out of context.

“I would just caution any of you that choose to write on this, that once again you have a case where a blogger has pulled out one passage from a very lengthy speech. If you read the entire speech, you will discover exactly why we think he is rightly participating in this national speaking tour.”

The Cable asked Crowley directly, “Is he the Muslim Shirley Sherrod?”

Crowley responded, “That’s a good cautionary tale for everybody.”   Continue reading…

Julian Assange · State Department · Wikileaks

Wikileaks Founder Has Massacre Video?

Daily Beast

Julian Assange, who Pentagon investigators fear may soon release State Dept. secrets, denies having them—but says he’s readying video of a deadly U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan.

After several days underground, the founder of the secretive website Wikileaks has gone public to disclose that he is preparing to release a classified Pentagon video of a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan last year that left as many as 140 civilians dead, most of them children and teenagers.

In an email obtained by The Daily Beast that was sent to Wikileaks supporters in the United States Tuesday, Julian Assange, the website’s Australian-born founder, also defends a 22-year-old Army intelligence specialist who is now under arrest in Kuwait on charges that he leaked classified Pentagon combat videos, as well as 260,000 State Department cables, to Wikileaks.

“Mr. Manning allegedly also sent us 260,000 classified US Department cables, reporting on the actions of US Embassy’s [sic] engaging in abusive actions all over the world,” Assange said in an email. “We have denied the allegation, but the US government is acting as if the allegation is true.”

American officials have said they are eager to determine the whereabouts of Assange, who canceled an appearance last Friday in Las Vegas, to discourage him from releasing any more classified information on his website, which is nominally based in Sweden and promotes itself as a global resource for whistleblowers. As recently as two weeks ago, Assange, who first gained global notoriety as a computer hacker, was in his native Australia.

In April, his website posted a copy of a classified Pentagon video of a 2007 American helicopter attack in Baghdad in which a dozen people were killed; that video is also believed to have been leaked by the Army intelligence analyst, Specialist Bradley Manning of Potomac, Maryland.

While denying again that Wikileaks has the State Department cables, Assange acknowledges in the email today that he is in custody of the May 2009 video that shows the airstrike on the Afghan village of Garani, believed to be the most lethal combat strike in Afghanistan—in terms of civilian deaths—since the United States invaded the country in 2001. Assange writes that “we are still working on” preparations for release of the video of “the Garani massacre.”

The State Department and Pentagon did not immediately comment on Assange’s email message.  Continue reading…