China’s Xi tells military to prepare for war as US Navy warns of high seas encounters

Chinese President Xi Jinping told military officials responsible for the disputed South China Sea to be better “prepared for war” as tensions with the US are rising. Beijing may be bracing for a worst-case scenario with the US.

Xi made the blunt remarks last week as he was meeting the Southern Theatre Command, the military officials responsible for one of China’s five strategic war zones. The calls were made on Thursday as part of his four-day visit to Guangdong province, but the Chinese state media reported them only on Friday.

“It’s necessary to strengthen the mission… and concentrate preparations for fighting a war,” President Xi said. “We need to take all complex situations into consideration and make emergency plans accordingly.

We have to step up combat readiness exercises, joint exercises and confrontational exercises to enhance servicemen’s capabilities and preparation for war.

US and China Warships Nearly Collide in China Sea

One of the key responsibilities of the Southern Theater Command is protecting China’s interests in the South China Sea, where Beijing claims sovereignty over a number of islands. The sea is of strategic importance to Chinese trade. The US rejects the territorial claims and has been sending so-called Freedom of Navigation missions through the waters and airspace, which Beijing considers its own, as a gesture of defiance.

Chief of US Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said Tuesday the US and China “will meet each other more and more on the high seas” as the two nations confront each other in the South China Sea.

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US could be at war with China in just 15 yrs, warns ex-US army chief in Europe

The former commander of the US Army in Europe has issued a sobering assessment of the deteriorating state of US-Chinese relations, predicting that it’s very likely the two nations will be at war in fifteen years.

 
 U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo © Reuters / Jason Lee

Speaking at the Warsaw Security Forum on Wednesday, Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said that the United States will have to shift its military to the Pacific “to deal with the Chinese threat” – requiring Europe to take a more active role in its own defenses.

“The United States needs a very strong European pillar. I think in 15 years — it’s not inevitable — but it is a very strong likelihood that we will be at war with China,” Hodges warned.

Funding and training for European security will still remain a top priority for Washington, Hodges emphasized, adding that the US will also have to prepare for “the eventuality that in 10 or 15 years we’re going to be having to fight in the Pacific.”

The former commander told the Associated Press that relations between US and China were becoming “increasingly tense,” accusing Beijing of stealing technology and gaining control of strategically important infrastructure across Africa and Europe. He claimed that in Europe, China owns more than 10 percent of the ports.

Hodges served as the US Army commander in Europe from 2014 until last year. He now works for the Center for European Policy Analysis, a Washington-based research institute. The think tank receives funding from Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, as well as the US Defense Department.

His remarks come amid a slew of economic, political and military tensions between Washington and Beijing. In recent months, the US has stepped up naval operations in the South China Sea, in what it claims is an effort to ensure freedom of navigation in the waterways around China. Beijing has described the frequent incursions as dangerous provocations.

Relations are also souring on the economic front. Citing alleged Chinese theft of technologies, as well the US trade deficit with China, Trump slapped tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods in September. Beijing reciprocated with tariffs of their own.

Trump has also accused China of trying to meddle in upcoming elections. Beijing has firmly denied the allegations, which have yet to be substantiated by evidence.

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'A Real Wonder Woman': Artist Behind Che Guevara’s Iconic Poster Paints Ahed Tamimi

The Irish artist said he is trying to save the life of the jailed Palestinian teen who “signifies nobility in the face of oppression.”

“There is a real Wonder Woman” is the title of a new painting from Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, who is famous for drawing the iconic 1968 poster of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, depicting Palestinian imprisoned teen Ahed Tamimi as a superhero.

RELATED: Israel Probed If Ahed Tamimi Family Were ‘Light-Skinned’ Actors

Fitzpatrick said he was amazed by Tamimi’s bravery when he first learned of her two years ago. “Ahed Tamimi, to me, signifies nobility in the face of oppression. This is a kid, a child,” Fitzpatrick told Newsweek magazine in an interview earlier this week.

“When I was 15, I think I would have been petrified. Wherever she’s getting her courage from, there’s a resonance of it echoing across the world. I’m just a part of it. There are organizations doing more than I could do, but I do think the pen—in my case, the brush—is mightier than the sword.”

He also said the title of his latest painting is directed at Gal Gadot, the former Israeli soldier-turned hollywood star who was the star of the latest “Wonder Woman” movie and has publically come out against Palestinian rights. “That’s deliberate … I think: Hold on, there is a Wonder Woman, and it’s this kid,” the renowned artist further told the magazine.

RELATED: Ahed Tamimi's Relative 1st Palestinian killed by Israel in 2018

“I’ve been collecting comic books all my life. I’ve been a guest at San Diego Comic Con. I would not say anybody in that [comic book] community has an idea that she was an IDF soldier and supports the persecution of Palestinians as young as Ahed Tamimi. I think they’d be shocked if they knew that.”

In December Ahed was arrested and indicted on 12 charges including assaulting an Israeli soldier and throwing stones after a video of her slapping an Israeli soldier in her home’s yard went viral. It was revealed later that the Palestinian girl was upset after soldiers had shot her 14-year-old cousin in the face a day earlier.

The teen, who turned 17 behind bars last month, has received large international attention and solidarity since her arrest as many prominent actors, artists and academics in the United States and other countries signed letters and petitions calling for her release.

RELATED: Young US Jews Write 700 Letters of Solidarity to Ahed Tamimi

Fitzpatrick said that he fears for her life as many in Israel are calling for sentencing her to life in prison or even executing her over “insulting” the Israeli occupation. “I’m afraid they’re going to kill her. And that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing,” he said in an attempt to echo the international campaign he kicked off against injustice with his Viva Che painting.

Ahed is being tried in an Israeli military court and the judge has denied her bail. Her first hearing Tuesday was held behind closed doors as media and the public were kicked out of the courtroom. Israeli military courts have a conviction rate of more than 99 percent.

Over the years Ahed gained international attention for her brave actions against Israeli occupation forces during protests and clashes in and around her village. In 2015 a video of her, along with female members of her family, went viral showing her fighting an Israeli occupation soldier who was pinning down her 12-year old male cousin.

 

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New York Times Erases Palestinian West Bank from Map

The unexplained move by the newspaper, which has been accused of being pro-Israel bias, comes as Israel mulls annexing the occupied territory.

As Israeli government mulls the annexation of the Palestinian occupied territory of the West Bank, the New York Times and a local Israeli newspaper seem to embrace the potential plans by removing the West Bank from the map while only naming Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

RELATED: EU: Israel Uses Tourism to Promote Settlements, Erase Palestinian Culture

According to Electronic Intifada website, the map was included in the print version of an article about secret Israeli airstrikes in Egypt, which are approved by the government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The article was published on Feb. 3, according to the website.

Meanwhile, the online version of the article did not include the same map but a photo attached with it shows Israeli Prime Minister speaking at an event for the Jerusalem Post with a map behind him that also omits the West Bank from a map showing only Israel and Gaza.

“One possible conclusion is that Netanyahu and The Jerusalem Post are promoting a future in which some two million Palestinians are squeezed into a Gaza Strip bantustan while even more Palestinians in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) are forced into a greater Israel in which they may or may not have voting rights,” Michael F. Brown wrote for Electronic Intifada.

Brown said that the New York Times has in the same posted the Syrian occupied territory of Golan Heights as part of Israel despite being internationally recognized as an occupied territory. The leading U.S. newspaper never explained that characterization and has so far failed to explain the latest one.

The news is particularly concerning because it comes less than two months after Likud, the Israeli ruling right-wing party, overwhelmingly voted for a resolution urging its lawmakers to push for the annexation of the West Bank, which is under heavy Israeli military occupation and is considered part of the future Palestinian state.

Meanwhile the West Bank and Gaza have been rocked with unrest over the past two months over the Dec. 6 decision of the U.S. administration to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, breaking with international accords stating that the fate of the city should be decided as part of a final peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.

The New York Times coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always come under scrutiny from pro-palestinian activists as well as other journalists for its clear bias in favor of Israel. The newspaper tends to solely interview Israelis and occupation officials even when the news involves Palestinians people, homes and lands.

RELATED: Israel Pressures NBA to Remove 'Nonexistent' Palestine from Countries List

Ethan Bronner, who served as the newspaper’s Jerusalem bureau chief between 2008 and 2012, sparked controversy in 2010 when reports surfaced that his son was enlisted in the Israeli military in what many called, including journalists within the organization, a conflict of interest.

The management responded by saying that “the editors discussed the situation and see no reason to change Bronner’s status as bureau chief.”

Israel has been carrying out increasing colonization of the West bank over the past few decades through building thousands of homes and transferring Jewish population into settlements all over the occupied Palestinian territory, which is illegal under international law.

Successive right-wing governments have been increasingly endorsing the ideological principles of extremist Jewish conservatives who believe in the idea of a greater Israel between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea.

Multiple ministers within Netanyahu's government have publically said they would stand against the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank as it is part of Israel.

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Moscow has become ‘very convenient scarecrow’ for US – Russia’s UN envoy

Russia has turned into a convenient bogeyman used in the internal battles raging in the US political landscape, the Russian envoy to the UN says.

Although tensions are simmering, too much hinges on the bilateral relations, with the UN Security Council remaining one of the few cooperative platforms.

“We, unfortunately, became a very convenient scarecrow, including in the domestic political battles that are raging [in the US],” Vasily Nebenzya said in an interview with RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze.

 

The entrance to the building of the Consulate General of Russia is shown in San Francisco © Stephen Lam

No thaw happened in the US-Russian relations with President Donald Trump coming into office due to “the domestic dimension and the political situation within the United States,” Nebenzya believes.

Relations have sunk to a new low after a series of diplomatic tit-for-tat measures, which started with the Obama administration expelling 35 Russian diplomats and denying access to the Maryland and New York compounds late last year. In August, Moscow responded by demanding a reduction in the number of US embassy and consulate staff, to which Washington retaliated and ordered three Russian diplomatic properties on its soil shuttered.

However, “too much depends on our bilateral relations, and it's not appropriate that they are so low these days and they should be improved, and that will be for the best – for the better of the world and not just our two countries,” he said.

“I will not make peace and security hostage to our bilateral relations,” Nebenzya added.

“The Security Council maybe is one of the few platforms left for us and the US to cooperate,” he said. “Hopefully, that platform that is the Security Council will help us in many things, including improving Russian-American relations.”

 

Anatoly Antonov © Maxim Blinov

As to how work gets done in the Security Council despite the diplomatic standoff between the US and Russia, Nebenzya assures he has “no problem in communicating personally on good terms with any American colleague, not only Nikki Haley,” calling it “a professional camaraderie.”

With rhetoric occasionally flaring up at Security Council meetings, Nebenzya says he hadn’t engaged in a heated exchange with his colleagues.

“I think that the United Nations, and the Security Council in particular, should not be a place for futile rhetoric and a spotlight to master their rhetorical skills,” he says, adding the UN should serve its main purpose: “to maintain the international peace and security.”

“I never, never imagine that the Russian and the American people have anything like hostility towards each other. It's the political situation that is to blame, but on a personal level we are all humans, first of all, and secondly, we feel sympathy towards Americans and I feel that Americans feel sympathy towards Russians,” Nebenzya says.

You can watch the full interview with the Russian envoy to the UN Friday on RT’s SophieCo.

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US-led forces confirm ‘unintentional killing’ of 61 more civilians in Iraq, Syria

The US-led coalition fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) has confirmed another 61 “unintentional civilian deaths” caused by its strikes in Iraq and Syria, raising the number of civilians it has acknowledged killing since 2014 to at least 685.

The coalition said in a statement, released on Friday, that during the month of July, it had investigated 37 reports of civilian casualties. “[of these] 13 were accessed to be credible resulting in 61 unintentional civilian deaths.”

The coalition is currently investigating a total of 455 reports of civilian casualties caused by its artillery or air strikes, the statement said.

It has acknowledged at least 685 civilian deaths caused by its operations since August 2014.

 

A general view of destroyed houses on the front line in the Al Dariya neighborhood in western Raqqa, Syria, 24 July 2017. © Morukc Umnaber / Global Look Press

"To date, based on information available, CJTF-OIR [Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve] assesses that, it is more likely than not, at least 685 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve,” the statement said, noting that the coalition takes all reports of civilian casualties “seriously and assesses all reports as thoroughly as possible.”

The deadliest incident was a March 14 strike near Mosul, in which the coalition attacked an Islamic State position where fighters were firing at coalition allies.

“During a strike on ISIS fighters engaging partner forces from a fighting position, it was assessed that 27 civilians in an adjacent structure were unintentionally killed,” the coalition said.

“Although we are unable to investigate all reports of possible civilian casualties using traditional investigative methods, such as interviewing witnesses and examining the site, the Coalition interviews pilots and other personnel involved in the targeting process, reviews strike and surveillance video if available, and analyzes information provided by government agencies, non-governmental reports, partner forces, and traditional and social media.”

From August 2014 to July 2017, the Coalition conducted a total of 24,160 strikes. “During this period, the total number of reports of possible civilian casualties was 1169.” The total number of credible reports of civilian casualties during this time period was 164, it said.

 

Smoke rises after an air strike in Raqqa, Syria August 15, 2017 © Zohra Bensemra

Civilians are paying an “unacceptable” price in the siege of the city of Raqqa, a top UN human rights official stressed on Thursday, adding that the US-led coalition may not be respecting the principles of international humanitarian law in its “intense” airstrikes.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights, said his office had managed to verify reports of 151 civilian deaths from six aerial or ground operations over the course of August alone. 

Given the extremely high number of reports of civilian casualties this month and the intensity of the airstrikes on Raqqa, coupled with ISIL’s use of civilians as human shields, I am deeply concerned that civilians – who should be protected at all times – are paying an unacceptable price and that forces involved in battling ISIL are losing sight of the ultimate goal of this battle,” Zeid said in a statement

The UN has expressed “deep concerns” over the mounting number of civilian casualties in Raqqa inflicted by US-led coalition airstrikes, condemning “any attack directed against civilians or civilian infrastructure.”

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us they are deeply concerned by unconfirmed reports of a high number of civilians killed by airstrike in Raqqa city over the last 24 hours,” Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for the UN secretary-general, told reporters at a daily briefing at the end of last month. 

In recent days and weeks scores of civilians have reportedly been killed and injured in Raqqa due to airstrikes and shelling and up to 25,000 people remain trapped in the city,” Dujarric said.

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China says it will never allow war or chaos on its doorstep as tensions escalate on Korean Peninsula

Beijing has said it will not allow war or chaos on the Korean Peninsula, as two US B-1B bombers conducted a new flight in the area, joined by South Korean and Japanese fighter jets in a show of force amid mounting tensions.

The statement was made by defense ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang at a monthly news briefing on Thursday, Sina reports.

Six American warplanes - two nuclear-capable B-1B strategic bombers and four Marine Corps F-35Bs - held a joint flight operation with Japanese F-15 fighter jets on Thursday, Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) said in a statement. The squadron flew near the island of Kyushu, south of the Korean Peninsula.

Following that, the US warplanes, accompanied by South Korean F-15K fighter jets, conducted a joint operation over South Korea as well as bombing drills over the Pilseung range in the eastern province of Gangwon, according to Yonhap.

The maneuvers come just two days after North Korea’s launch of a missile over Japan.

Ren Guoqiang also reiterated China’s position that the North Korean crisis should be resolved through dialogue, and insisted on the denuclearization of the peninsula, according to Sina, citing the spokesman.

Russia also insists that there cannot be any military solution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. At the latest UNSC meeting, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, reiterated Beijing and Moscow’s ‘double freeze’ initiative, recommending Pyongyang halt all nuclear and missile tests while the US and South Korea cease the military build-up in the region.

On Thursday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry also expressed concern, saying that the Korean issue is serious and not a computer game, Reuters reports, citing the ministry’s spokeswoman, Hua Chunying.

During a previous news briefing, Hua responded to British Prime Minister Theresa May’s call on Beijing to exert more pressure on Pyongyang voiced during her trip to Japan on Wednesday. Hua also questioned whether other relevant parties implement the UN resolutions “without holding back anything.”

“They are the loudest when it comes to sanctions, but nowhere to be found when it comes to making efforts to promote peace talks. They want nothing to do with responsibility,” Hua told reporters on Wednesday. 

READ MORE: Tokyo & Seoul seek ‘maximum pressure’ after UNSC condemns Pyongyang’s ‘outrageous’ missile test

The flyover of the North Korean medium-range missile was unanimously condemned by the UN Security Council, which convened for an emergency meeting following the test. The UN called on Pyongyang to halt their activities, which are “not just a threat to the region, but to all UN member states.”

US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that “all options are on the table” regarding North Korea, later tweeting that “talking is not the answer.” Trump also said that Washington has been paying Pyongyang “extortion money” while negotiating for over two decades.

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US Coalition Killed 744 Iraqi, Syrian Civilians in June: Report

War monitoring group Airwars claims June was the second deadliest month for civilians in Iraq and Syria since the start of Coalition attacks in 2014.

At least 744 civilians were killed in strikes in Iraq and Syria last month by the U.S.-led Coalition fighting the Islamic State group, an independent organization said on Wednesday. 

RELATED: New Cease-Fire Begins in Parts of Southern Syria

“Across Iraq and Syria, Airwars tracked a record 223 alleged Coalition casualty events during June, likely killing a minimum of between 529 and 744 civilians – a rise of 52 percent on May’s estimated totals,” the London-based group of researchers and journalists said. 

“June was the second deadliest month for civilians in Iraq and Syria since the start of Coalition actions in August 2014,” according to the report.

The reported death toll is higher than that claimed by the U.S.-led Coalition.

In the monthly report released on Friday, the Coalition said its strikes had unintentionally killed at least 603 civilians between August 2014 and May 2017. The Coalition, battling to defeat Islamic State group militants in Iraq and Syria, claims it goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

The liberation operation of Mosul in Iraq officially came to an end on Monday when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in the city, three years after the Islamic State group seized it.

A top U.S. general in Iraq strongly rejected an Amnesty International report accusing the coalition of violating international law in the battle for Mosul. 

RELATED: Syrian Observatory Claims Islamic State Group Leader Is Dead

"I reject any notion that coalition fires were in any way imprecise, unlawful or excessively targeted civilians," Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend told a news briefing in Washington.

He added that he believed the fight against the Islamic State group was the "most precise campaign in the history of warfare."

Operations are still underway from various fronts to liberate the city of Raqqa in Syria. 

The United Nations has raised concern about the situation of up to 50,000 civilians who remain trapped in the region. 

“Availability of food, water, medicine, electricity and other essentials has been dwindling, with the situation rapidly deteriorating,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Andrej Mahecic said in Geneva. 

"It is imperative that trapped civilians are able to secure safe passage out — to reach safety, shelter and protection."

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