Car bomb attack on military in Turkish capital kills 28


Twenty-eight people were killed and dozens wounded in Turkey's capital Ankara on Wednesday when a car laden with explosives detonated next to military buses near the armed forces' headquarters, parliament and other government buildings.

The Turkish military condemned what it described as a terrorist attack on the buses as they waited at traffic lights in the administrative heart of the city.

A government spokesman said 28 people had been killed and 61 wounded in the blast, which took place near a busy intersection less than 500 metres from parliament during the evening rush hour.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag described the attack as an act of terrorism and told parliament, which was in session when the blast occurred, that the car had exploded on a part of the street lined on both sides by military vehicles.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who had been due to leave for meetings in Brussels later on Wednesday, cancelled the trip, an official in his office said. President Tayyip Erdogan postponed a planned visit to Azerbaijan.

A senior Turkish security source said initial signs indicated that Kurdish militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were responsible. Separate security sources in the mainly Kurdish southeast, however, said they believed Islamic State militants may have been behind the bombing.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

“I heard a huge explosion. There was smoke and a really strong smell even though we were blocks away,” a Reuters witness said. “We could immediately hear ambulance and police car sirens rushing to the scene.”

RUSH HOUR

A health ministry official said the authorities were still trying to determine the number of dead and wounded, who had been taken to several hospitals in the area.

Images on social media showed the charred wreckage of at least two buses and a car. The explosion, which came shortly after 6:30 pm (1630 GMT), sent a large plume of smoke above central Ankara.

Turkey, a NATO member, faces multiple security threats. It is part of a U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in neighbouring Syria and Iraq, and has been shelling Kurdish militia fighters in northern Syria in recent days.

It has also been battling PKK militants in its own southeast where a 2-1/2 year ceasefire collapsed last July, plunging the region into its worst violence since the 1990s.

The PKK, which has fought a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy, has frequently attacked military targets in the past, although it has largely focused its campaign on the mainly Kurdish southeast.

Wednesday's bombing comes after an attack in Ankara in October blamed on Islamic State, when two suicide bombers struck a rally of pro-Kurdish and labour activists outside the capital's main train station, killing more than 100 people.

A suicide bombing in the historic heart of Istanbul in January, also blamed on Islamic State, killed 10 German tourists.

Victims’ families confront Boston bomber at sentencing


Parents of the dead and some of the scores wounded in the 2013 attack on the Boston Marathon defiantly confronted bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, calling him “cowardly” at a hearing where he was to be formally sentenced to death.

The same federal jury that earlier this year found Tsarnaev, 21, guilty of killing four people and injuring 264 in the bombing and its aftermath voted in May to sentence him to death by lethal injection. U.S. District Judge George O'Toole on Wednesday will order the punishment.

Rebekah Gregory, who lost her left leg in one of the highest-profile attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, addressed Tsarnaev directly.

“Terrorists like you do two things in this world. One, they create mass destruction, but the second is quite interesting,” Gregory said. “Because do you know what mass destruction really does? It brings people together. We are Boston strong and we are America strong, and choosing to mess with us was a terrible idea.

“How's that for your victim impact statement?” she asked.

Ed Fucarile, whose son Marc lost his right leg in the attack, stared at the bomber as he read a statement.

“The first time I saw you in this courtroom, you were smirking at all the victims for your unspeakable cowardly act. You don't seem to be smirking today,” Fucarile said. “Your sentence today should be severe as possible.”

Tsarnaev, who appeared in court dressed in a dark sport jacket and open-collared shirt, looked down and showed no emotion during the hearing.

Gregory and Fucarile were part of a stream of two dozen survivors of the attack and relatives of the slain who discussed the pain they had suffered as a result of the blasts. Several runners, some tearful, addressed the guilt they suffered for the injuries suffered by friends who had come to cheer them on.

Tsarnaev's trial brought back some of Boston's darkest living memories. Jurors saw videos of the bombs' blinding flashes and the chaotic aftermath on April 15, 2013 as emergency workers and spectators rushed to aid the wounded, many of whom lost legs.

The bombing killed Martin Richard, 8, and Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 26, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29. Tsarnaev and his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan, shot dead Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 26, three days after the bombing.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev died following a gunfight with police that ended when Dzhokhar ran him over with a car.

During the trial, federal prosecutors described the ethnic Chechen brothers as adherents of al Qaeda's militant Islamist ideology who wanted to “punish America” with the attack on the world-renowned race.

Tsarnaev's lawyers admitted their client had played a role in the attack but tried to portray him as the junior partner in a scheme hatched and driven by his older brother. The Tsarnaev family came to the United States from Russia a decade before the attack.

'COULD HAVE CHANGED HIS MIND'

The parents of Martin Richard, the youngest to die in the attack, directly addressed the defense's claim, saying the younger Tsarnaev could have prevented the attack.

“He could have stopped his brother,” said William Richard, who testified during the trial about the agonizing decision he made to leave his son to die in his wife's arms so that he could save the life of his daughter, Jane, who lost a leg in the attack.

“He could have changed his mind the morning of April 15, 2013, walked away with a minimal sense of humanity and reported to authorities that his brother intended to hurt others,” Richard said. “He chose to do nothing, to prevent all of this from happening and he chose to accompany his brother and participate in this hate.”

Tsarnaev, who did not testify in his own defense during the trial, will be able to speak but does not have to do so. He is expected to appeal.

Even after the sentencing, the legal wrangling over Tsarnaev's fate could play out over years, if not decades. Just three of the 74 people sentenced to death in the United States for federal crimes since 1998 have been executed.

Krystle Campbell's mother, Patricia, called Tsarnaev's actions “despicable.”

“You went down the wrong road,” Campbell said. “I know life is hard, but the choices you made were despicable and what you did to my daughter was disgusting.”

Accused Boston bomber ‘wanted to punish America’


Accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev “wanted to punish America” when he killed three people and injured 264 with a pair of homemade bombs at the 2013 race, a federal prosecutor said on Monday.

In closing arguments before a jury decides whether Tsarnaev, 21, is guilty of the April 15, 2013, bombing and of fatally shooting a police officer three days later, Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty described the attack as deliberate and extremist.

“The defendant thought that his values were more important than the people around him. He wanted to awake the mujahedeen, the holy warriors,” Chakravarty said. “He wanted to terrorize this country. He wanted to punish America for what it was doing to his people.”

Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen who moved to the United States about a decade before the attack, could be sentenced to death if the jury that heard 16 days of testimony finds him guilty.

Defense attorney Judith Clarke opened the trial a month ago with a blunt admission, that “it was him” who carried out the attack. But his lawyers contended that Tsarnaev did so not out of his own ideological anger but out of a sense of subservience to his older brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan, who prosecutors say was his partner in the attack.

On Monday, Clarke continued that theme.

“There is no excuse. No one is trying to make one. Planting bombs at the Boston Marathon one year and 51 weeks ago was a senseless act,” Clarke said. “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev stands ready by your verdict to be held responsible for his actions.”

But, she added, evidence showed Tamerlan to have been the leader of the plot.

“Tamerlan built the bombs, Tamerlan murdered (Massachusetts Institute of Technology police) officer Collier, Tamerlan lead and Dzhokhar followed,” Clarke said.

'EYE FOR AN EYE'

Chakravarty took that argument head-on on Monday, describing Tsarnaev's reading of al Qaeda's “Inspire” magazine.

“These were political choices,” he said of Tsarnaev's actions. “He was making a statement, 'an eye for an eye.'”

Tamerlan died early on April 19, 2013, following a gunfight with police that ended when Dzhokhar sped off in a car, running his brother over in the process. Dzhokhar later found a hiding spot in a boat in a backyard, where he wrote a note suggesting the attack was an act of retribution for U.S. military campaigns in Muslim-dominated countries.

Monday's closing statements could be a preview of the arguments each side plans to make during the next phase of the trial, when the same jury will hear a fresh round of witness testimony before determining whether to sentence Tsarnaev to life in prison without possibility of parole, or to death.

The jury on Monday viewed video of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev standing with a backpack in the crowd at the marathon's finish line minutes before the blasts that killed restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 23, and 8-year-old Martin Richard. Tsarnaev is also accused of the fatal shooting of Massachusetts of Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 26.

Richard's parents, William and Denise; dancer Heather Abbott, who lost both legs in the blast, and former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis were among the people who packed the courtroom for closing arguments.

The defendant sat quietly in court on Monday, dressed in a white shirt, dark jacket and no tie. He did not speak.

But if he is found guilty, he may testify during the sentencing phase of his trial, legal experts said.

The surveillance video viewed by the jury on Monday shows a bomb, which the defendant is charged with leaving in front of the Forum restaurant near the finish line, going off with a blinding flash, killing Richard and Lu. The jury also saw video taken by a man injured in the blast.

The graphic video captures the chaos of the immediate aftermath, with one responder yelling that he was worried about the possibility of an additional blast and another voice screaming, “We're on fire here. We're on fire.”

Israeli ex-envoy to Argentina: We killed most AMIA bombers


Israel has killed most of the people responsible for the 1994 bombing at a Jewish community building in Buenos Aires, a former Israeli ambassador to Argentina said.

“The vast majority of the guilty parties are in another world, and this is something we did,” Yitzhak Aviran said in an interview published Thursday by the Jewish News Agency, or AJN, a Spanish-language service. He did not specify their identities or how they were killed.

Eighty-five people died in the suicide bombing at the multistory Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina building, and hundreds more were wounded.

Aviran, who served as ambassador until 2000, arrived in Buenos Aires in 1993, the year before the attack and a year after a car bomb in front of the Israeli embassy in the city killed 29 people and wounded 200 others.

In the interview, Aviran criticized the Argentinean government’s decision last year to jointly investigate the bombing together with the Iranian government. Israeli, American and some Argentinean intelligence officials believe Iran’s leadership was complicit in planning the attacks.

“We still need an answer [from the Argentine government] on what happened,” he said. “We know who the perpetrators of the embassy bombing were, and they did it a second time.”

Suicide bombings kill 23 near Iran embassy in Beirut


Two suicide bombings rocked Iran's embassy compound in Lebanon on Tuesday, killing at least 23 people including an Iranian cultural attaché and hurling bodies and burning wreckage across a debris-strewn street.

A Lebanon-based al Qaeda-linked group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, claimed responsibility and threatened further attacks unless Iran withdraws forces from Syria, where they have backed President Bashar Assad's 2-1/2-year-old war against rebels.

Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy in Beirut before blowing himself up, Lebanese officials said. They said a car bomb parked two buildings away from the compound had caused the second, deadlier explosion. The Lebanese army, however, said both blasts were suicide attacks.

In a Twitter post, Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the religious guide of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, said the group had carried out the attack. “It was a double martyrdom operation by two of the Sunni heroes of Lebanon,” he wrote.

Lebanon has suffered a series of sectarian clashes and bomb attacks on Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim targets which have been linked to the Syrian conflict and which had already killed scores of people this year.

Tuesday's bombing took place on the eve of more talks between world powers and Iran over Tehran's disputed nuclear program. They came close to agreeing an interim deal during negotiations earlier this month.

The bombs also struck as Assad's forces extended their military gains in Syria before peace talks which the United Nations hopes to convene in mid-December and which Iran says it is ready to attend.

Shi'ite Iran actively supports Assad against mostly Sunni rebels, and two of its Revolutionary Guard commanders have been killed in Syria this year. Along with fighters from the Lebanese Shi'ite movement Hezbollah, Iran has helped to turn the tide in Assad's favor at the expense of rebels backed and armed by Sunni powers Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

CULTURAL ATTACHE KILLED

A Reuters cameraman at the scene counted six bodies outside one entrance to the embassy compound. Body parts were strewn as far as two streets away and several cars were badly damaged.

The embassy's sturdy metal gate was twisted by the blasts, which Lebanese Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said killed 23 people and wounded 146.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the bombs were “an inhuman and vicious act perpetrated by Israel and its terror agents”, Iran's IRNA news agency reported.

Israeli lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi said his country had played no role. “The bloodshed in Beirut is a result of Hezbollah's involvement in the Syria crisis. Israel was not involved in the past and was not involved here,” he said in Jerusalem.

Iran's ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi identified one of the dead as Ebrahim Ansari, a cultural attaché at the embassy.

A Lebanese security source said the bombers struck just before Roknabadi and Ansari had been due to leave the embassy for a meeting at Lebanon's Culture Ministry, as embassy guards were preparing a convoy of cars to take them.

Fires engulfed cars outside the embassy and the facades of some buildings were torn off. Shattered glass covered the bloodied streets and some trees were uprooted, but the embassy's well-fortified building itself suffered relatively minor damage.

“Whoever carries out such an attack in these sensitive circumstances, from whichever faction, knows directly or indirectly that he is serving the interests of the Zionist entity (Israel),” Roknabadi said.

He did not say whether other embassy officials were among the dead, but Lebanese TV stations quoted Iranian diplomatic sources as saying none of their staff in the embassy was hurt.

CONDEMNATION

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned what he described as a “shocking terrorist attack” and France expressed “solidarity with the Lebanese and Iranian authorities”.

Politicians from across Lebanon's Sunni, Shi'ite and Christian communities also condemned the attack.

In Syria, the government said its soldiers took full control of the town of Qara, which straddles a highway from Damascus to government strongholds on the coast and is also used by Sunni rebels to cross into Syria from Lebanon.

The capture of Qara may mark the start of a wider offensive by the army, which has been backed by Hezbollah and Shi'ite fighters from Iraq, to recapture the mountainous border region of Qalamoun and consolidate Assad's control of territory around Damascus and close to the Lebanese border.

Hezbollah's military role in Syria has helped to inflame sectarian tension there and in Lebanon. Many Lebanese Sunnis back the Syrian rebels, while many Shi'ites support Assad, whose minority Alawite sect derives from Shi'ite Islam.

Ayham Kamel, Middle East analyst with Eurasia Group, said the embassy bombing was an attempt by supporters of the Sunni rebels to weaken Hezbollah and Iran's support for Assad, undermine the Qalamoun campaign and possibly pressure Tehran before Wednesday's nuclear talks.

“While sectarian tensions in Lebanon will increase, Hezbollah's retaliatory response will be centered on Syria where (it) will further commit military forces to eliminate the Sunni rebel threat along the Syrian-Lebanese borders,” he said.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigade has strong links in Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps as well as connections with the Gulf. Two of its senior military leaders are Saudi nationals, said Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.

“This attack is a significant escalation. After months and months of speculation, an al Qaeda-linked group has now underlined its involvement in the Syria-related Lebanese theatre,” he said.

Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi implicitly blamed Saudi Arabia and Qatar for supporting radical militants, who have been blamed for previous attacks against Shi'ite targets.

Footage from local news channels showed charred bodies on the ground as flames rose from stricken vehicles. Emergency workers and residents carried victims away in blankets.

“These kinds of explosions are a new and dangerous development,” said the head of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc in Lebanon, Mohammad Raad.

Southern Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, was hit by three explosions earlier this year. Those attacks were blamed on groups linked to the Syrian rebels, believed to be in retaliation for the group's military role in Syria.

Three decades ago, Iranian-backed Shi'ite militants carried out devastating suicide bombings in Lebanon that hit the U.S. embassy, as well as U.S., French and Israeli military bases.

Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes, Mariam Karouny and Stephen Kalin in Beirut and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Samia Nakhoul, Alistair Lyon and David Stamp

Judge asked to invalidate Iran-Argentine probe of 1994 bombing


An Argentine prosecutor has asked a judge to declare as unconstitutional an agreement between Argentina and Iran to jointly investigate the deadly 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center that local courts blamed on Tehran.

Alberto Nisman, who oversaw an investigation of the AMIA center explosion that killed 85 people, presented the appeal to a federal judge on Wednesday, according to a document seen by Reuters.

Israel and world Jewish groups denounced the agreement under which Argentina and Iran formed a “truth commission” in January, saying it was a diplomatic win for Tehran, while offering no benefit to Argentina.

The agreement outlines plans for five Argentine officials who are not residents of Argentina or Iran to interview suspects in Iran. Nisman's appeal said the probe could result in sanctions for Argentina from international human rights bodies.

The commission violates rights protected by Argentina's constitution including judicial independence, the guarantee of due process, the right to effective judicial protection and the right to justice for victims, his motion said.

The bombing came two years after a group linked to Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the Israeli embassy in the Argentine capital, which killed 29. Tehran has denied links to either attack.

In 2007, Argentine authorities secured Interpol arrest warrants for five Iranians and a Lebanese in the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center.

Led by the United States, the West has imposed sanctions on Iran – including targeting its key oil revenues – to force it into a diplomatic solution over its nuclear program, which Western nations believe is aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez is allied with left-leaning leaders who have been on good terms with Tehran, such as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Reporting by Guido Nejamkis; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Paul Simao

Argentina’s president tweets: U.S. must include AMIA bombing in Iran talks


Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez on Twitter called on the United States to include the issue of the 1994 Buenos Aires AMIA Jewish center bombing in any bilateral talks with Iran.

In 31 tweets posted Monday night from the president’s official Twitter account, Fernandez also mentioned the pressure she feels from U.S. Jewish organizations about the AMIA case and complained that the focus of the U.S government in bilateral talks is only on Iran’s nuclear program.

Fernandez does not refer to any Jewish organizations by name.

“Perhaps the AMIA bombing, the case about which every American Jewish organization always asks the Argentine government, was mentioned?” she asks rhetorically on the social networking site.

Fernandez was referring to last week’s phone call between President Obama and the newly elected Iranian leader, Hassan Rouhani.

“Was the AMIA case ever mentioned?” she tweeted to her 2.36 million followers. “Not at all.”

Fernandez criticized the media for its “double standard” about the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Argentina and Iran to jointly investigate the AMIA attack, which killed 85 and wounded 300.

“They say (the agreement) is historic only if the one talking with Iran is the U.S.,” she tweeted.

The president added, “The U.S. and other world powers should include AMIA. We hope we’ll be listened to.”

FBI says man shot dead while being questioned about Boston bombings


An FBI agent shot and killed a Florida man who turned violent while being questioned about the Boston Marathon bombings early on Wednesday, the bureau said.

A friend of the dead man identified him as 27-year-old Ibragim Todashev of Orlando, a Chechen who had previously lived in Boston, the Orlando Sentinel and Orlando television stations reported. Two brothers named by the FBI as suspects in the April 15 bombings were also ethnic Chechens with roots in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region.

The FBI said in a statement that a special agent, “acting on the imminent threat posed by the individual, responded with deadly force. The individual was killed and the special agent was transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.”

It said the shooting occurred in Orlando, Florida, while the special agent and other law enforcement agents, including two Massachusetts State Police officers, were interviewing the man about the blasts that killed three people and injured 264 others at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

“A violent confrontation was initiated by the individual,” the FBI said, without providing further details.

Todashev's friend, Khusn Taramiv, said Todashev knew bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev because both were mixed martial-arts fighters but had no connection to the bombing.

“Back when he used to live in Boston, right, they used to hang out,” Taramiv told Central Florida News 13. “He met them few times 'cause he was MMA fighter the other guy was boxer, right. They just knew each other, that's it.”

The shooting occurred at an Orlando apartment complex where several people of Chechen descent lived. Taramiv said Todashev and others in the complex had been questioned several times by law enforcement agents since the day the Tsarnaev brothers were identified as the bombing suspects.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died in a gunfight with police. His brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was found hiding in a boat in Watertown, Massachusetts, four days after the bombings. He was charged with crimes that could carry the death penalty if he is convicted.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been on a U.S. government database of potential terrorism suspects and the United States had twice been warned by Russia that he might be an Islamic militant, according to U.S. security officials.

In Florida, the Orange County Sheriff's Office said Todashev had been arrested on May 4 and charged with aggravated battery with great bodily harm after getting into a fight with another man over a parking space at an Orlando shopping mall.

Police said they arrested Todashev as he was leaving the scene and found a man lying on the ground near a “considerable” amount of blood.

Todashev told police the other man came at him swinging and the two started fighting. “Todashev said he was only fighting to protect his knee because he had surgery in March,” the report said.

The man, who suffered a split upper lip and had several teeth knocked out of place, did not to press charges against Todashev, who was released from jail on a $3,500 bond, a sheriff's spokeswoman said.

Another neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said Todashev was frequently seen shadow boxing as he jogged around the small lakes that dotted the apartment complex where he lived two blocks from the Universal Orlando theme park.

Additional reporting by Jane Sutton and Kevin Gray; editing by Jackie Frank

Two AMIA bombing suspects running for Iranian president


Two suspects in the bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires are candidates in Iran’s presidential election.

Mohsen Rezai and Ali Akbar Velayati, who are believed to have planned the 1994 attack, were among the eight candidates approved Tuesday for the June 14 election by Iran’s Guardian Council to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian constitution bars Ahmadinejad from seeking re-election.

Rezai is under an international arrest warrant, or red notice, from the Interpol international police agency.

Argentina has accused the Iranian government of directing the bombing, which killed 85 and injured 300, and the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah of carrying it out. No arrests have been made in the case.

Six Iranians have been on Interpol ’s most wanted list since 2007 in connection with the bombing, including the current defense minister, Gen. Ahmed Vahidi.

Meanwhile, the Argentinian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday in a statement that Argentina has received “no formal notification” about Iran’s official approval of an agreement for the two countries to jointly probe the AMIA attack.

Iran’s business commissioner to Buenos Aires, Ali Pakdaman, had said a day earlier that Ahmadinejad officially approved the agreement to create a Truth Commission investigating the bombing.

The statement issued by the office headed by Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said that only when the formal notification is received by the foreign ministries of Argentina and Iran will “the deal be put into operation.”

Iran also is believed to be behind the 1992 car bombing that destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 and injuring 242.

Turkey’s Erdogan to push Obama on Syria after bombings


Turkey's prime minister will push President Barack Obama for more assertive action on Syria during a visit to Washington this week, days after car bombs tore through a Turkish border town in the deadliest spillover of violence yet.

The bombings in Reyhanli, which killed 50 people on Saturday, and activists' reports of a massacre of Sunni Muslims in a Syrian coastal town have incensed Recep Tayyip Erdogan, already critical of the slow international response to the conflict.

The risk of Syria's chaos spreading will top the agenda in Erdogan's talks with Obama on Thursday, but the wide-ranging meeting with one of Washington's Middle Eastern allies is also expected to cover Turkey's nascent reconciliation with Israel and its deepening energy ties with Iraqi Kurdistan.

Turkey has thrown its weight heavily behind the two-year uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, allowing the rebels to organize on its soil and sheltering 400,000 refugees.

But Ankara resents a sense that Western allies are cheering it along while offering little in the way of concrete support.

“Of course Syria will be our main topic … We will draw a roadmap. Turkey has been damaged more than any other country,” Erdogan told reporters before boarding his plane to Washington.

Saturday's bombings in crowded shopping streets, which Ankara blamed on “an old Marxist terrorist organization” with direct links to Assad's government, brought home the reality of Syria's chaos spreading to Turkish soil.

Washington sees Turkey, which shares a 900 km border with Syria and has NATO's second-largest army, as key to planning for a post-Assad Syria and is expected to push for Erdogan's support in arranging a proposed peace conference also backed by Moscow.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he expected the conference to be held in early June, although Western leaders including Obama have dampened expectations that a civil war, estimated by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights to have killed over 94,000 people, can be doused soon.

Assad's government has said it wants specifics before it decides whether to take part, while Syria's main opposition coalition has said it will meet in Istanbul on May 23 to assess whether it will join.

“Our objective is to ensure Assad cedes power to a transitional authority. We are hoping that what (Russian Foreign Minister Sergei) Lavrov and Kerry announced will be within those parameters,” a senior Turkish government official said.

Turkey long advocated a no-fly zone to create safe havens within Syria but the idea failed to gain much traction among Western allies. It has since said it favors greater support to the opposition over military intervention, though some Turkish officials said a no-fly zone could come back under discussion.

Erdogan and Obama are also expected to confer on any evidence of chemical weapons use by Assad's forces, which the U.S. president has warned would be a “red line”, as well as possible deeper U.S. engagement in the conflict.

Turkey has been testing blood samples from casualties, which Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who will also be in Washington, said last week indicated chemical weapons use.

Washington has said in recent weeks it is rethinking its long-standing opposition to arming the rebels, although there has been no word on when a decision might be made.

ENERGY DEALS

Turkey and the United States have a long history of military and strategic cooperation but ties have often been prickly.

Erdogan and Obama will discuss a host of other regional issues, from Turkey's thawing relations with Israel to its energy deals with Iraq, as well as the division of Cyprus, split between a Turkish north and Greek Cypriot south since 1974.

“The visit is an opportunity for the leaders to coordinate on a broad and substantive agenda, including Syria, Iraq, Middle East peace, Iran and countering global terrorism, among others,” a White House official said.

Turkey is not the deferential U.S. ally it once was, its long-standing alignment with Washington has eroded under the decade-old leadership of Erdogan, who has carved out an increasingly assertive and independent role on the world stage.

Its caustic rhetoric on Israel, gold sales to Iran – meant to be under the choke of U.S. sanctions – and deepening energy ties with Iraqi Kurdistan, to the chagrin of the central government in Baghdad, have all been sticking points.

Before leaving for Washington, Erdogan – who will be accompanied by Energy Minister Taner Yildiz – said Turkey had agreed with Kurdistan's regional government and U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil on terms for oil exploration.

Kurdistan is pushing ahead with plans to build its own oil export pipeline to Turkey, despite objections from the United States, which fears it could lead to the break-up of Iraq.

An energy official in Ankara said Turkey could open a neutral escrow account to help share the revenues.

“If the U.S. administration gives the green light, Turkey could take a step forward in this,” the official said.

Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun and Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Matt Spetalnick and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Alison Williams

Israel says ‘no winds of war’ despite Syria air strikes


Israel played down weekend air strikes close to Damascus reported to have killed dozens of Syrian soldiers, saying they were not aimed at influencing its neighbor's civil war but only at stopping Iranian missiles reaching Lebanese Hezbollah militants.

Oil prices spiked above $105 a barrel, their highest in nearly a month, on Monday as the air strikes on Friday and Sunday prompted fears of a wider spillover of the two-year-old conflict in Syria that could affect Middle East oil exports.

“There are no winds of war,” Yair Golan, the general commanding Israeli forces on the Syrian and Lebanese fronts, told reporters while out jogging with troops.

“Do you see tension? There is no tension. Do I look tense to you?” he said, according to the Maariv NRG news website.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came under veiled criticism in Beijing, where he began a scheduled visit in an apparent sign of confidence Syrian President Bashar Assad would not retaliate. China urged restraint without mentioning Israel by name.

Russia, Assad's other protector on the U.N. Security Council, said the strikes by Israel “caused particular alarm.” President Vladimir Putin and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet on Tuesday to try to tackle differences over the Syrian crisis.

Israeli officials said the raids were not connected with Syria's civil war but aimed at stopping Hezbollah, an ally of Iran, acquiring weapons to strike Israeli territory.

Israel aimed to avoid “an increase in tension with Syria by making clear that if there is activity, it is only against Hezbollah, not against the Syrian regime,” veteran lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi, a confidant of Netanyahu, told Israel Radio.

MOST CASUALTIES FROM ELITE UNIT

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group based in Britain, said at least 42 Syrian soldiers were killed in the strikes and 100 were missing.

Other opposition sources put the death toll at 300 soldiers, mostly belonging to the elite Republican Guards, a praetorian unit that forms the last line of defense of Damascus and includes mainly members of Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has controlled Syria since the 1960s.

As well as the heavily fortified Hamah compound, linked to Syria's chemical and biological weapons program, the warplanes hit military facilities manned by Republican Guards on Qasioun Mountain overlooking Damascus and the nearby Barada River basin.

Residents, activists and rebel sources said the area is a supply route to the Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah, but missiles for Hezbollah did not appear to be the only target.

Air defenses comprising Russian-made surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns on Qasioun and overlooking the rebellious Damascus district of Barzeh were also hit, they said. Their statements could not be verified due to restrictions on media.

“The destruction appeared to be massive,” said one activist in Damascus, who did not want to be identified.

Russia said it was concerned the chances of foreign military intervention in Syria were growing, suggesting its worry stemmed in part from reports about the alleged use of chemical weapons in the conflict that has killed 70,000 people.

“The further escalation of armed confrontation sharply increases the risk of creating new areas of tension, in addition to Syria, in Lebanon, and the destabilization of the so-far relatively calm atmosphere on the Lebanese-Israeli border,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

Assad's government accused Israel of effectively helping al Qaeda Islamist “terrorists” and said the strikes “open the door to all possibilities”. It said many civilians had died but there was no official casualty toll.

CALCULATING

Israeli officials said that, as after a similar attack in the same area in January, they were calculating Assad would not fight a well-armed neighbor while preoccupied with survival against a revolt that grew from pro-democracy protests in 2011.

Israel has not confirmed the latest attacks officially, but has reinforced anti-missile batteries in the north. It said two rockets landed, by mistake, on Monday, in the Golan Heights, the Israeli-occupied area near Syria's border with Israel.

“They were fired erroneously as a byproduct of internal conflict in Syria,” an Israeli military spokesman said.

Syria would be no match for Israel in any direct military showdown. But Damascus, with its leverage over Lebanon's Hezbollah, could consider proxy attacks through Lebanon.

Tehran, which has long backed Assad, whose Alawite minority has religious ties to Iran's Shi'ite Islam, denied Israel's attack was on arms for Hezbollah. Hezbollah did not comment.

Moscow and Beijing have blocked Western-backed measures against Assad at the United Nations Security Council, opposing any proposal that has his exit from power as a starting point.

Allegations of the use of chemical weapons – long described by Western leaders as a “red line” that would have serious consequences – have added to regional and international tension.

After months of increasingly bitter fighting, Assad's government and the rebels have each accused the other of carrying out three chemical weapon attacks.

In Washington, an influential U.S. senator introduced a bill on Monday that would provide weapons to some Syrian rebels.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that Assad had crossed a red line and “the U.S. must play a role in tipping the scales toward opposition groups”.

President Barack Obama has taken a cautious approach to the reports of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, saying he would not allow himself to be pressured prematurely into deeper intervention in the conflict.

The White House has said the Syrian government has probably used chemical weapons. A U.S. official said on Monday Washington had no information to suggest that rebels had used them.

Syria is not part of the international treaty that bans poison gas but has said it would never use it in an internal conflict. Rebels say they have no access to chemical arms.

A U.N. inquiry commission said on Monday war crimes investigators had reached no conclusions on whether any side in the Syrian war has used chemical weapons, after a suggestion from one of the team that rebel forces had done so.

Additional reporting by Alexei Anishchuk in Moscow, Michael Martina in Beijing, Marwan Makdesi in Damascus, Jonathon Burch in Ankara and Patricia Zengerle in Washington Writing by Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Peter Graff and Mohammad Zargham

Three men charged with undermining Boston bombing probe


U.S. authorities on Wednesday charged three men with interfering with the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing, saying they hid fireworks and a backpack belonging to one of the suspected bombers as a manhunt was under way.

The three, two students from Kazakhstan and a U.S. citizen, were described as friends of surviving bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. They were not charged with direct involvement in the April 15 marathon bombings, which killed three people and injured 264.

But three days after the blasts, the trio moved swiftly to cover up for their friend when the FBI made public pictures of the suspected bombers, made a public plea for help locating them and conducted a day-long manhunt that left much of Boston on lockdown, according to court papers.

Authorities charged the two Kazakhs, Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, both 19, with conspiring to obstruct justice by disposing of a backpack containing fireworks they found in Tsarnaev's dorm room. The third man, Robel Phillipos, also 19, was charged with making false statements to investigators.

Tsarnaev, who attended the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, is being held at a prison hospital where he is recovering from wounds sustained in a gun battle with police. His older brother, Tamerlan, died in the gunfight.

Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and $250,000 fine. Phillipos faces a maximum sentence of eight years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In their initial appearances at Boston federal court on Wednesday, Kadyrbayev, Tazhayakov and Phillipos were put in the custody of U.S. Marshals after prosecutor Stephanie Siegmann argued that all three presented a “serious risk of flight.”

None of the suspects addressed the court, other than to respond to the judge's questions. U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler reprimanded Phillipos for not seeming to pay attention to the proceedings.

“I suggest you pay attention to me rather than looking down,” Bowler said.

Kadyrbayev's lawyer, Robert Stahl, said before the hearing that his client was “not a target” of the bombing investigation, but declined to comment on any other specifics. He said his client had “cooperated fully” with investigators and “wants to go home to Kazakhstan.”

Phillipos' attorney, DeRege Demissie, declined to discuss the case in detail after the hearing.

A month prior to the bombings, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov over a meal that he knew how make a bomb, Tazhayakov told the FBI, according to court papers.

Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov had entered the United States on student visas and lived in New Bedford, Massachusetts, according to court papers. Phillipos is a resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

COVER-UP ALLEGATION

On April 18, three days after the Marathon bombings, authorities released pictures of two men they identified as the suspects in the attack. Investigators at the time said they did not know the suspects' names and called on the public for help in identifying them.

Dzhokhar's three classmates quickly figured out their friend was one of the suspects, according to court papers. After seeing Tsarnaev's photo in TV news reports, Kadyrbayev texted him to say that he resembled the suspect, according to the complaint.

Tsarnaev's response included the phrase “lol” and “you better not text me,” as well as “come to my room and take whatever you want,” according to the court papers.

The three went to his dorm room that night and found a roommate who said that Dzhokhar had left.

The trio spent some time watching movies and then discovered an emptied-out fireworks tube, according to court papers. That discovery scared Tazhayakov, who then began to believe that Tsarnaev was involved in the bombing, according to court papers.

They decided to remove the backpack, fireworks and a laptop to help their friend “avoid trouble,” according to court papers.

Tazhayakov is currently enrolled at UMass Dartmouth but has been suspended, the university said on Wednesday. Kadyrbayev and Phillipos are not currently enrolled in the school.

After waking up the next morning to learn that police were hunting for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and that his brother, Tamerlan, was dead, Kadyrbayev decided to throw away the backpack with the fireworks tubes inside, according to court papers. He put the backpack and fireworks in a dumpster near his apartment.

A New Hampshire fireworks store last month confirmed that the elder bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, bought two large boxes of fireworks in February.

Investigators recovered the backpack on April 26 in a New Bedford landfill. In addition to the fireworks, it included a homework assignment sheet from a class that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was enrolled in.

In his first three interviews with police, Phillipos denied having gone to Tsarnaev's room on April 18, but in a fourth interrogation, on April 26, he confessed to the visit, the court documents said.

The parents of the Tsarnaev brothers have said in interviews in the North Caucasus region of Russia that they do not believe their sons were responsible for placing the bombs.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev's body has still not been claimed, a spokesman for the state's chief medical examiner said. His widow, Katherine Russell, on Tuesday said she wanted the medical examiner to release her husband's body to his family.

Additional reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Aaron Pressman in Boston and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Grant McCool and Jim Loney

Holder to ADL: Protect rights of all, including Muslims, after Boston


In a speech to the Anti-Defamation League, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urged Americans to protect the rights of Muslims and other minorities in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.

“The battle for the safety and rights of all Americans — all Americans — must be our common endeavor,” Holder told a conference in Washington on Monday marking the group's centennial.

He noted that the conference was held just weeks after the Boston bombing, which killed three and wounded scores.

The lead suspects are two brothers who are Muslims of Chechen origin. One was slain in the bombing's aftermath; one is in custody.

“Our investigation into this matter remains ongoing, and I want to assure you that my colleagues and I are determined to hold accountable, to the fullest extent of the law, all of those who were responsible for this attack,” Holder said. “But I also want to make clear that just as we will pursue relentlessly anyone who would target our people or attempt to terrorize our cities, the Justice Department is firmly committed to protecting innocent people against misguided acts of retaliation.”

Holder praised the ADL for its role in combating anti-Muslim sentiment, noting that the organization initiated a friend-of-the-court brief filed by an interfaith coalition in the successful Justice Department lawsuit against a Tennessee county that sought to prevent the building of a mosque.

“This action, and many others like it, prove the department’s determination to safeguard the core constitutional protections that stand at the center of who we are as a nation – and that have always empowered the ADL to bridge divides and promote cooperation over conflict,” he said.  “As Americans, we must not allow any group to be stigmatized or alienated.”

Holder also pledged his assistance in combating anti-Semitism, which he said remains a threat.

“We delude ourselves if we believe that the dark forces have been conquered,” he said. “They continue to exist in this nation. They continue to exist in the leadership of other nations around the world who have pledged to do harm to Israel and to Jewish people in other countries. We cannot afford to dismiss this sad and dangerous reality.”

U.N. official pins blame for Boston Marathon bombing on ‘Tel Aviv’


Richard Falk, an official for the U.N. Human Rights Council, in an online commentary blamed the Boston Marathon bombing on “Tel Aviv.”

“(A)s long as Tel Aviv has the compliant ear of the American political establishment, those who wish for peace and justice in the world should not rest easy,” Falk, the council's special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, wrote in an Op-Ed posted to the online Foreign Policy Journal on Tuesday.

Falk, who has said the George W. Bush administration was complicit in the 9/11 attacks, also called the Boston attack “retribution” for the actions of the U.S. military in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

“The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world,” Falk wrote. “In some respects, the United States has been fortunate not to experience worse blowbacks, and these may yet happen, especially if there is no disposition to rethink US relations to others in the world, starting with the Middle East.”

In recent months, Falk published an anti-Semitic cartoon on his blog and called for a boycott of Israel.

B'nai B'rith International called for Falk's removal from the Human Rights Council, saying that his ” latest string of inflammatory remarks — whether it be on the Internet or in one of his 'reports' to the council — has no place in the United Nations and his continued presence at the UNHRC further undermines the credibility of the system.”

Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, calling on them to condemn Falk's “odious and preposterous” remarks.

Anti-Semitic message painted on Boston-area church


A suburban Boston church was vandalized with an anti-Semitic message while police were hunting for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The Victory Assembly of God church in Sharon, Mass., was vandalized on the night of April 19, as police pursued Tsarnaev, 19, and the city and area towns were locked down.

Windows were broken in the church and the symbols $= (Star of David) = (swastika) were sprayed on the church's wall. Billboards for an upcoming Jerusalem Day celebration at the church also were destroyed.

The church's Rev. Joe Green told local media he believes the anti-Semitic vandalism was the result of the planned Jerusalem Day celebration.

“It’s really disappointing and sad that communities of faith are now the target of people who want to perpetrate messages of hate,” Robert Trestan, New England regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Boston Globe.

Boston bomb suspect’s wife assisting probe, lawyer says


The wife of the dead Boston Marathon bombing suspect is assisting authorities and in absolute shock that her husband and brother-in-law were accused of the deadly blasts, her lawyer said on Tuesday.

“She cries a lot,” attorney Amato DeLuca said of Katherine Russell, 24, an American-born convert to Islam who was married to Tamerlan Tsarnaev in June 2010. “She can't go anywhere. She can't work.”

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in a shootout with police and younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, lies wounded in a Boston hospital charged with using weapons of mass destruction in the twin blasts that killed three people and wounded 264 near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15.

The two ethnic Chechen brothers remained the only known suspects.

People interviewed by Reuters described Tamerlan Tsarnaev as proud but angry, never quite achieving his own idea of the American dream, and instead finding solace in a radical form of Islam adopted by fighters in his homeland.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's condition improved to “fair” from “serious” on Tuesday as he recovered from gunshot wounds at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where in an impromptu hearing on Monday he was charged with two crimes that could result in the death penalty if he were convicted.

Since recovering enough to communicate by nodding his head and writing, the younger Tsarnaev has also told authorities he and his brother acted alone, learned to build the pressure-cooker bombs over the Internet and were motivated by a desire to defend Islam because of “the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” NBC News reported.

NBC cited an unnamed U.S. counterterrorism source who has received multiple briefings on the investigation. Reuters could not confirm the information.

Katherine Russell's lawyer called a news conference to deny that she had any connection to or knowledge of the bombings, saying she was busy caring for the couple's 2-1/2-year-old daughter and working as a home healthcare aide in the time leading up to the blasts.

“She is doing everything she can to assist with the investigation,” DeLuca said outside his office in Providence, Rhode Island. “The reports of involvement by her husband and brother-in-law came as an absolute shock to them all.”

DeLuca declined to say what law enforcement agencies Russell had spoken with or what they asked her. “It is pretty evident that she didn't know anything,” he said.

U.S. prosecutors formally charged the lone surviving suspect with using a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property resulting in death.

Tsarnaev, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was recovering from gunshot wounds suffered during at least one of his two gun battles with police, authorities said. He was captured on Friday night following a massive, daylong manhunt that shut down greater Boston.

Police say the Tsarnaev brothers also killed a university police officer on Thursday night and wounded a transit police officer on Friday morning.

A total of 264 people were injured in the blasts, the Boston Public Health Commission said on Tuesday.

8-YEAR-OLD VICTIM BURIED

The family of 8-year-old Martin Richard, the youngest person to die in the attacks, privately buried their son on Tuesday.

“This has been the most difficult week of our lives and we appreciate that our friends and family have given us space to grieve and heal,” parents Denise and Bill Richard said in a statement. “We laid our son Martin to rest, and he is now at peace.”

The Tsarnaev brothers emigrated to the United States a decade ago from Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim region in Russia's Caucasus. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a legal U.S. resident and his younger brother became a U.S. citizen last year.

Russian authorities flagged the older Tsarnaev in 2011 as a possible Islamist radical, and some lawmakers have accused the FBI of failing to act thoroughly enough after Russia's security services raised their concerns with the United States. The FBI questioned him in 2011.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration legislation, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano why the older brother was not questioned upon returning from Russia in 2012.

Napolitano said U.S. Customs generated an alert when he left the country but neither Customs nor the Federal Bureau of Investigation was aware of his return six months later.

“The FBI text alert on him at that point was more than a year old and had expired,” Napolitano said.

Napolitano also dispelled reports authorities may have lost track of Tamerlan Tsarnaev because his name was spelled differently on an airline manifest.

Additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Eric Beech

Boston suspect won’t be treated as enemy combatant, White House says


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the ethnic Chechen college student suspected in the deadly Boston Marathon bombings, will not be treated as an enemy combatant in the legal process, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.

“He will not be treated as an enemy combatant,” Carney told reporters at a briefing. “We will prosecute this terrorist through our civilian system of justice. Under U.S. law, United States citizens cannot be tried in military commissions.”

Reporting By Mark Felsenthal; editing by Christopher Wilson

Chechnya, Tsarnaev and terror


According to media accounts based on police reports, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings is a 19-year-old man named Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, a resident of Boston who lived in the former Central Asian Republic of Kyrgyzstan and may or may not be Chechen in origin. He identifies himself as a Muslim.

Obviously no one knows, if in fact he is guilty, what his motivation was for helping his brother to set off bombs at the Boston Marathon on Monday. That said, a lot of people are unfamiliar with Kyrgyzstan so I thought I would set up a little bit of light on the subject since I have been there many times and have studied Central Asia, its politics and culture.

Generally speaking, Kyrgyzstan is divided between its secular Sovietized North, centered around the capital of Bishkek, and its conservative Muslim south, centered around the Fergana Valley city of Osh. Throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, the Kyrgyz Republic represented one of the great hopes for democratization in former Soviet Central Asia. It had a flawed but democratically elected president, one of the least corrupt police forces in the region, and was relatively peaceful. Largely it was free of Western influence because it did not have oil or natural gas reserves coveted by Russia or the United States. Therefore, it did not suffer from the famous oil curse.

In recent years the most important political development in Kyrgyzstan was the 2005 Tulip Revolution, which saw radical Islamist insurgents and financed by the American CIA and based around Osh topple the regime of Pres. Akayev, who fled into exile rather than order his security forces to fire upon his people. Nobody can be 100% certain why the United States decided to repeat the same mistakes that it made in Afghanistan during the 1980s, but it isn't a huge stretch to assume that the fact that Akayev was demanding increased rent on the US air base at Manas that was established after the 9/11 attacks may have had something to do with it.

Since 2005 the political situation in the Boston suspect's homeland has deteriorated. Some analysts consider it nearly a failed state. Certainly the central government has lost control of much of the South. For example, when I tried to cross from Tajikistan into southeastern Kyrygzstan at Sary Tash in 2008, border guards informed me that they had not heard from Bishkek in years. In fact, they no longer even had a passport stamp. It was very clear that local warlords were in charge of mining and other concerns there.

Radical Islamists, always active in the southern part of the country, have become emboldened since 2005. One insurgent group, the Islamic Movement of Turkestan, formerly known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, has attracted self radicalized Muslims from all over the world, including a substantial faction from Chechnya. Chechnya, well-informed readers will recall, was destroyed by forces under the direction of Russian Federation president Boris Yeltsin. While we in the West may have forgotten this episode, Chechens are well known as ferocious fighters who never forget a grudge. Jihad is alive and well for them.

Why did Mr. Tsarnaev blow up the marathon? Assuming, of course that he did?

It may well be that his trajectory as an ethnic Chechen brought him into contact with radical Muslims in Kyrgyzstan. Although it seems like a stretch for Americans, Muslims around the world often see America and Russia acting in concert. It would then be another logical leap to attack America here yes, including attacking innocent civilians, because after all, Russia attacks innocent civilians in Muslim countries and in places like Chechnya, and the United States does so in other places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Of course, all of this is conjecture.


Ted Rall's most recent book is “Wake Up, You're Liberal! How We Can Take America Back from the Right” (Soft Skull Press).

Israel at 65


I watched the video of the Boston Marathon bombings and thought, of course, of the bus bombings that wracked Jerusalem and Tel Aviv a decade ago. The mundane calm violently shattered. The screams giving way to sirens. The bodies sprawled on the ground. And the smoke — movies never show how much smoke explosions really cause, because there would be too much to see anything.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one making these associations.

Dr. Alasdair Conn is chief of emergency services at Massachusetts General Hospital, where at least 22 of the severely wounded victims were rushed.

“This is like a bomb explosion we hear about in Baghdad or Israel or other tragic points in the world,” Conn told The New York Times.

The way Dr. Conn put it jarred me. Sixty-five years after its founding, Israel is vibrant, creative, tough, embattled, intense, exhausting — but tragic? Nope.

It’s not because enemies, like the terrorist or terrorists who attacked Boston, haven’t tried for years to reduce Israel to a nation of blood and tears. Just since the Second Intifada, the terror death toll of Israeli Jews and Arabs has topped 1,000. In the latest attack, in July of last year, a Hezbollah bomb planted on a bus full of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria claimed six lives.

Numbers don’t begin to reveal the human agony behind each of these attacks. Beyond the casualties and their anguished loved ones, there are the wounded, who bear the scars for life. Israel has known tragedy, and how.

But Israel — as a nation, as a set of ideals, as a population within its (somewhat iffy) borders — continues to thrive. If any one word could describe Israel, it would not be tragic. It would be resilient.

Research now shows that people who fare best in life are ones who’ve undergone some adversity — not too much, and not too little.

“In our trauma-focused age,” psychologist Anthony Mancini writes,we sometimes lose sight of our innate capacity to endure. We seem to assume that ‘traumatic events’ must result in ‘trauma.’ And yet the research tells us the opposite. Most people cope with the worst things with only modest and transient disruptions in functioning.”

By that measure, Israel was forged in just the right degree of adversity.

The sites of some of the worst terror attacks in modern history bear no lasting signs. Israeli leaders made a decision early on to restore attack sites to normality as soon as possible. The message that sends is the same as what grass reminds each time you mow it — “we’ll be right back.” All that marks the place is a plaque or some kind of permanent memorial — because preserving memory of sacrifice is also a way of ensuring resilience.

Israel’s economy has a kind of unplanned resilience — not relying on any one commodity or industry, but constantly inventing new ones. So, too, its agriculture, which has moved from simply growing stuff to engineering the finest ways to breed, plant, irrigate, harvest, process and ship produce. Dozens of other countries can grow cheaper potatoes, but all over Europe you’ll pay six bucks a kilo for Israel’s Avshalom brand.

Part of this resilience is born of an innate restlessness. But it also comes from being not just a country, but a People. As Gidi Grinstein, founder of the Israeli think tank Re’ut has pointed out, Jewish longevity and success is in large part due precisely to worldwide networks of communities that could grow when others shrank, or disappeared, that could help when others were hurting.

“A secret of Jewish survival, security and prosperity over centuries of exile has been its geographic spread among nations, cultures and languages,” Grinstein writes.

Israel was supposed to herald the Ingathering of the Exiles, when the far-flung Jews, called, disdainfully, the galut, would all drop their briefcases and flock to Zion.

Thankfully, our innate sense of resilience kept us from doing exactly that. Israel grew strong and has prospered by drawing on the talents and resources and experiences of Jews, non-Jewish friends and, yes, former Israelis throughout the world.

The last Israeli election, which saw the ascendancy of parties informed by a more open — that is a more American-Jewish — approach to Judaism is a good indicator of how Israel’s future also depends on the strength and ideas of outside Jewish communities. It doesn’t just take a village, it takes a web — or, to be geeky about it, it takes an interconnected network.

What binds these networks together is a common story, a shared narrative of struggle, endurance, redemption. That story has enabled Israel, in the words of the late Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, to emerge “stronger than before from the test of fire and blood.” That story has been both a source of hope, and its fuel.

Because, really, what is resilience but a fancy word for hope — HaTikvah. And if we lost that — now that would be tragic.

Obama: ‘The entire country is behind the people of Boston’


President Barack Obama called Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino on Friday to offer ongoing federal help in the Boston bombing investigation, and to express condolences for a police officer killed in the search for suspects.

“The President said that the entire country is behind the people of Boston as well as Massachusetts, and that the full force of the federal government will continue to be made available until those responsible are brought to justice,” a White House official said.

Obama stayed out of the public eye on Friday after traveling to Boston on Thursday to speak at a service for the victims of Monday's bombing.

Top White House officials continue to watch the situation and brief Obama, the White House said.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Eric Walsh

Boston bomb suspect identified, no arrest


BREAKING NEWS — UPDATES HERE

[UPDATE: 12 p.m.] “Contrary to widespread reporting, there have been no arrests made in connection with the Boston Marathon attack,” the FBI said in a statement.  “Over the past day and a half, there have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate.  Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting.”

[UPDATE: 11:43 a.m.] Boston Police, U.S. attorney in Boston say no arrest made in investigation of Boston Marathon bombing.

[11:29 a.m.] There have been no arrests made yet in the bombings at the Boston Marathon that left three people dead and scores injured, U.S. government and law enforcement sources said on Wednesday.

One of the sources said there was no one in custody either.

[11:00 am] Authorities have arrested a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings based on security video that showed a man depositing a bag at the scene before the blasts, CNN reported on Wednesday, citing U.S. and Boston law enforcement sources.

A U.S. law enforcement source told Reuters that a suspect had been identified and that a formal announcement would be made later in the day.

The developments are the biggest publicly-disclosed breaks since Monday's blast at the marathon finish line killed three people and injured 176 others. Investigators were searching through thousands of pieces of evidence from cell phone pictures to shrapnel shards pulled from victims' legs.

Based on shards of metal, fabric, wires and a battery recovered at the scene, the focus turned to whoever may have made bombs in pressure cooker pots and taken them in heavy black nylon bags to the finish line of the world-famous race watched by crowds of spectators.

A stretch of Boston's Boylston Street almost a mile long and blocks around it remained closed as investigators searched for clues in the worst attack on U.S. soil since the hijacked plane strikes of Sept. 11, 2001.

Cities across the United States were on edge after Monday's blasts in Boston. Adding to the nervousness was the announcement that mail containing a suspicious substance addressed to a lawmaker and to President Barack Obama. The FBI said, however, that agents had found no link the attack in Boston.

The blasts at the finish line of Monday's race injured 176 people and killed three: an 8-year old boy, Martin Richard, a 29-year-old woman, Krystle Campbell and a Boston University graduate student who was a Chinese citizen.

Boston University identified the student as Lu Lingzi.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

“Whether it's homegrown, or foreign, we just don't know yet. And so I'm not going to contribute to any speculation on that,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who until January was Massachusetts' senior senator. “It's just hard to believe that a Patriots' Day holiday, which is normally such time of festivities, turned into bloody mayhem.”

FBI ASKS WITNESSES FOR PHOTOS

The FBI was leading the investigation and asking witnesses to submit any photos of the blast site — which was crowded with tens of thousands of spectators, race staff and volunteers and runners. Many of them have turned in thousands of images, authorities said.

“Probably one of the best ways to get a lead is to go through those images and track down people coming and going with backpacks,” said Randy Law, an associate professor of history at Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama and author of “Terrorism: A History.”

“It's the needle in the haystack but when you have the resources that the local and federal authorities have, they can go through what I'm sure will be thousands and thousands of photos and hours of videos. You can find something occasionally,” Law said.

The head of trauma surgery at Boston Medical Center, which was still treating 19 victims on Wednesday, said his hospital was collecting the shards of metal, plastic, wood and concrete they had pulled from the injured to save for law enforcement inspectors. Other hospitals were doing the same.

“We've taken on large quantities of pieces,” Dr. Peter Burke of Boston Medical Center told reporters “We send them to the pathologists and they are available to the police.”

NYLON FRAGMENTS, BALL BEARINGS AND NAILS

Bomb scene pictures produced by the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force and released on Tuesday show the remains of an explosive device including twisted pieces of a metal container, wires, a battery and what appears to be a small circuit board.

One picture shows a few inches of charred wire attached to a small box, and another depicts a half-inch (1.3 cm) nail and a zipper head stained with blood. Another shows a Tenergy-brand battery attached to black and red wires through a broken plastic cap. Several photos show a twisted metal lid with bolts.

The nickel metal hydride battery typically is used by remote-controlled car enthusiasts, said Benjamin Mull, a vice president at Tenergy Corp. The batteries, made in Shenzhen, China, are sold on the internet and in hundreds of outlets.

People at the company “were shocked and appalled” when they learned their battery had been used in the blast, he said.

Security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said instructions for building pressure-cooker bombs similar to the ones used in Boston can be found on the Internet and are relatively primitive.

Pressure cookers had also been discovered in numerous foiled attack plots in both the U.S. and overseas in recent years, including the failed Times Square bombing attempt on May 1, 2010, the officials said. Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington, Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Boston and Terril Yue Jones in Beijing; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Grant McCool

Boston bomb suspect spotted on video, no arrest made


Investigators believe they have spotted a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing from security video, a U.S. law enforcement source said on Wednesday, but no arrest had yet been made.

Police may make an appeal to the public for more information at a news conference scheduled for later on Wednesday, a U.S. government source said.

Earlier, cable news network CNN reported a suspect was in custody, citing Boston and U.S. law enforcement sources, but it later retracted its report.

Three Reuters sources also disputed there had been an arrest. Officials later confirmed the arrest report was inaccurate.

The suspect in the video had not yet been identified by name, two U.S. government officials said.

“Despite reports to the contrary there has not been an arrest in the marathon attack,” Boston police said in a statement.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a statement asking the media to “exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting.”

Shortly after the false arrest report, security officials at Boston's federal courthouse ordered staff, media and attorneys to evacuate and move at least 100 yards (91.4 meters) away, according to a Reuters reporter on the scene.

Bomb-sniffing dogs and fire engines arrived at the courthouse.

The identification of a possible suspect marked the most significant, publicly-disclosed break since Monday's blasts at the Boston Marathon's finish line killed three people and injured 176 others in the worst attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

The bombs killed an 8-year old boy, Martin Richard; a 29-year-old woman, Krystle Campbell, and a Boston University graduate student who was a Chinese citizen. Boston University has identified the student as Lu Lingzi.

The crowded scene in central Boston was recorded by surveillance cameras and media outlets, providing investigators with significant video of the area before and after the two blasts.

Investigators were also searching through thousands of pieces of evidence from cellphone pictures to shrapnel pulled from victims' legs.

Based on the shards of metal, fabric, wires and a battery recovered at the scene, the focus turned to whoever may have placed homemade bombs in pressure cooker pots and taken them in heavy black nylon bags to the finish line of the world-famous race watched by thousands of spectators.

Streets around the bombing site remained closed to traffic and pedestrians on Wednesday, with police continuing their work.

SENSE OF RELIEF

Rich Havens, the finish area coordinator at the Boston Marathon who also witnessed Monday's blasts, said he was relieved officials had identified a suspect.

“When the police said we are turning every rock, they really meant it,” Havens said. “There is a sense of relief that the amazing work they are doing – breaking through bits and pieces – is actually turning things up. And that they've gotten to this point in a matter of two days.”

Bomb scene pictures produced by the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force and released on Tuesday show the remains of an explosive device including twisted pieces of a metal container, wires, a battery and what appears to be a small circuit board.

One picture shows a few inches of charred wire attached to a small box, and another depicts a half-inch (1.3 cm) nail and a zipper head stained with blood. Another shows a Tenergy-brand battery attached to black and red wires through a broken plastic cap. Several photos show a twisted metal lid with bolts.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

“Whether it's homegrown or foreign, we just don't know yet. And so I'm not going to contribute to any speculation on that,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who until January was Massachusetts' senior senator. “It's just hard to believe that a Patriots' Day holiday, which is normally such time of festivities, turned into bloody mayhem.”

The head of trauma surgery at Boston Medical Center, which was still treating 19 victims on Wednesday, said his hospital was collecting the shards of metal, plastic, wood and concrete they had pulled from the injured to save for law enforcement inspectors. Other hospitals were doing the same.

“We've taken on large quantities of pieces,” Dr. Peter Burke of Boston Medical Center told reporters “We send them to the pathologists and they are available to the police.”

Security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said instructions for building pressure-cooker bombs similar to the ones used in Boston can be found on the Internet and are relatively primitive.

Pressure cookers had also been discovered in numerous foiled attack plots in both the United States and overseas in recent years, including the failed bombing attempt in New York's Times Square on May 1, 2010, the officials said.

Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington and Scott Malone in Boston; editing by Daniel Trotta and Gary Crosse

New evidence photos from Boston Marathon bombing


Argentina’s Timerman slams Israel criticism of Iran pact


Argentinian Foreign Minister Hector Timerman hit back at Israeli criticism of a joint commission with Iran on the AMIA bombing on his first day of testimony to his country's Congress.

Both houses of the Congress must approve the “truth commission” before it is made active, and Jewish groups were present at the Senate session Wednesday to make clear their opposition.

Timerman argued that the commission was the best avenue to get at the truth of the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires JCC, which killed 85 and injured hundreds.

Dealing with Iran was not “pleasant,” he said in his testimony, “but our goal is advancing the AMIA case. We want to know the truth about the attack.”

Iran until now has resisted any cooperation with Argentina or international authorities in the bombing.

Timerman, who is Jewish, quoted Deuteronomy: “Justice, justice shall thou pursue.”

He was especially scornful of some Israeli criticism of the proposed pact.

“Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told me that we cannot sign agreement with Iran,” he said. “So maybe he wants that we kidnap the suspects or put a bomb below the car of one of them.”

Also testifying was Julio Schlosser, the president of DAIA, a Jewish umbrella group, who likened the pact to dealing with Holocaust deniers.

“We reject the memorandum because our counterpart is not dependable,” he said.

Iran rejects questioning of defense minister under Argentina agreement


Iran denied that its defense minister will be questioned by an Argentinian judge about his alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center.

Ahmed Vahidi, who is under an international arrest warrant by Interpol in connection with the deadly bombing of the AMIA center, would be questioned under the framework of the recent truth commission agreement signed by Argentina and Iran, according to Argentina's foreign minister, Hector Timerman.

“The matter of questioning of some of the Iranian officials is a sheer lie,”  Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “It seems that those who are concerned by the actual agreement are spreading such reports.”

Timerman, who is Jewish, had said that seven Iranians with international arrest warrants against them would be interrogated under the agreement.

“I can assure that he will have to be present when the judge questions them, and he will be,” Timerman said on Jan. 29 during his meeting with relatives of the victims of the AMIA bombing when he was asked specifically about Vahidi.

The bombing, for which no one has been prosecuted, killed 85 and injured hundreds.

Argentinian congressman and leaders from political parties are set to meet Thursday outside the Holocaust Museum of Buenos Aires to protest the agreement with Iran.

Rabbi Sergio Bergman, a member of the Buenos Aires municipal legislature, recommended the venue for the protest and debate. He noted that Iranian leaders deny the Holocaust.

Israel summons Argentina’s envoy over deal with Iran


Israel's Foreign Ministry summoned the Argentinian ambassador over his country's agreement with Iran to jointly investigate the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires JCC.

Israel's ambassador in Buenos Aires, Dorit Shavit, also requested a meeting with the Argentinian Foreign Minister Hector Timerman to discuss the pact, according to Israel's Foreign Ministry.

Argentina and Iran signed an agreement over the weekend to form an independent commission to investigate the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center, which left 85 dead and hundreds injured.

Timerman met for first time with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, on Sept. 27 at the United Nations headquarters in New York to discuss the AMIA case.

Israel, the United States and the Argentinian Jewish community have objected to the bilateral meetings.

Though Argentina has accused the Iranian government of directing the bombing, and the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah of carrying it out, no arrests have been made in the case. Six Iranians have been on the Interpol international police agency's most wanted list since 2007 in connection with the bombing, including the current Iranian defense minister, Gen. Ahmed Vahidi.

Iran also is believed to be behind the 1992 car bombing that destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 and injuring 242.

Israel's Foreign Ministry said that when the talks began between Argentina and Iran, it asked to be updated on the discussions, but Argentina never responded.

“Israel is clearly and understandably concerned by the matter,” the Foreign Ministry said. “Though the attack took place on Argentinian soil and was aimed at Argentinian citizens, the findings of the ensuing investigation by Argentinian authorities has brought up a clear resemblance with the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which occurred two years earlier.

“The proven relation between the two attacks grants us the natural right to follow the investigations and to expect the perpetrators and their sponsors to be brought to justice.”

Burgas bombing investigator dismissed for leaking info to media


An investigator in the deadly July bombing in Burgas was dismissed for leaking classified information to the media.

The Prosecutor's Office dismissed Staneliva Karadzhova after she provided information about the latest developments in the probe of the July 18 attack, the Bulgarian news agency Novinite reported. Five Israelis and a Bulgarian were killed in the attack at the seaside resort.

Karadzhova reportedly was dismissed on Jan. 3, the same day she told a local newspaper that Bulgaria’s security services had identified one of the perpetrators of the bombing. The suspect was not named.

The Office of the District Prosecutor in Burgas said in a statement issued Monday that Karadzhova was dismissed because “she spoke to the media without clearing her statement with the supervising prosecutor,” The Associated Press reported.

American and Israeli intelligence officials attribute the suicide bombing to a joint Hezbollah-Iran operation.

The bomber used the alias Jacque Felipe Martin; an accomplice was known as Ralph Willima Rico. Neither suspect's true identity has been discovered, according to Novinite.

Martin, Rico and the third accomplice, whose actual identity was discovered, all used fake U.S. identification documents from the state of Michigan.

The blast occurred on a bus soon after a charter plane, Air Bulgaria Flight 392 from Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel, landed at Burgas Airport. The bus was the second of four carrying Israeli tourists from the airport to hotels in the city.

Bulgarian police identify accomplice in Burgas bombing


Bulgaria’s security services reportedly have discovered the identity of one of the perpetrators of the July bombing in Burgas that killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian.

The Bulgarian news agency Novinite reported Thursday that the discovery was the first time Bulgarian authorities had tracked down an individual suspect, as the bomber and another accomplice are known only by their aliases.

The report did not name the newly discovered accomplice. Bulgarian authorities have no suspects in custody in connection with the case.

American and Israeli intelligence officials attribute the suicide bombing at the seaside resort to a joint Hezbollah-Iran operation. According to a report in The New York Times, Israel’s intelligence apparatus intercepted telephone calls between Lebanon and Burgas months ahead of the bombing.

Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization in the United States but not in the European Union, could be classified as such also in Europe if it is found to have perpetrated an attack on EU soil.

The bomber was known under the alias of Jacque Felipe Martin and he had an accomplice with the alias of Ralph Willima Rico. Neither of the suspect's true identities has been discovered, according to Novinite. Martin, Rico and the third accomplice, whose true identity has been discovered, all used fake U.S. identification documents from the state of Michigan.

The blast on the bus occurred soon after a charter plane, Air Bulgaria flight 392 from Ben-Gurion Airport, landed at Burgas Airport. The bus was the second of four carrying Israeli tourists from the airport to hotels in the city.

Hamas leader calls for third intifada


A senior Hamas leader called for a third intifada, including suicide bus bombings in Israel.

Hamas Jerusalem bureau chief Ahmed Halabiyeh on Tuesday called for new, violent action against Israel,  saying that ”we must renew the resistance to occupation in any possible way, above all through armed resistance.” He called for “a third intifada to save the Aksa Mosque and Jerusalem.”

The call came in response to the approval for construction of thousands of apartments in eastern Jerusalem and the E1 area near Ma'aleh Adumim.

Also on Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a conference that Israel is “on the verge of a third intifada,” Ynet reported.

“If we continue to refuse peace, we will be dealt a painful blow that will affect all aspects of our lives,” he said.

Opinion: Christians’ letter was reasonable, worded sensitively


There has long been an unwritten covenant between the Jewish establishment and Christian leaders when it comes to interfaith dialogue: “We can talk about any religious issues we like, but criticism of Israel’s human rights violations is off limits.”

Over the past few weeks, we’ve painfully witnessed what can happen when Christians break this covenant by speaking their religious conscience.

On Oct. 5, 15 prominent American Christian leaders released a letter that called on Congress to make military aid to Israel “contingent upon its government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies.”

While most Americans wouldn’t consider it unreasonable for our nation to insist that an aid recipient abide by U.S. laws, some Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, lashed out at their Christian colleagues, eventually walking out on a scheduled Jewish-Christian roundtable. They are now requesting that the Christian leaders come to a “summit meeting” to discuss the situation.

Considering the vehemence of such a response, one might assume that the Christian leaders’ letter was filled with outrageous and incendiary anti-Israel rhetoric.

But in fact their letter is a sensitively worded and faithful call supporting “both Israelis and Palestinians in their desire to live in peace and well-being,” as well as acknowledging “the pain and suffering of Israelis as a result of Palestinian actions,” the “horror and loss of life from rocket attacks from Gaza and past suicide bombings,” and “the broad impact that a sense of insecurity and fear has had on Israeli society.”

Yes, the authors of the letter also expressed their concern over “widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians, including killing of civilians, home demolitions and forced displacement, and restrictions on Palestinian movement, among others.”

As painful as it might be for these Jewish groups to hear, however, these are not scurrilous or arguable “allegations.” They long have been documented by international human rights groups, including the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem. The letter points out that a 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices has detailed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.

Why has the Jewish establishment reacted so violently to a relatively balanced and religiously based call? Because by speaking their conscience, these Christian leaders had the audacity to break the unwritten covenant: If you want to have a dialogue with us, leave Israel alone.

A recent JTA Op-Ed by Rabbi Noam E. Marans, who serves as director of interreligious and intergroup relations for the American Jewish Committee, provided an interesting window into the mechanics of this covenant. In his Oct. 21 piece, “Christians’ letter is an unworthy tactic,” Marans said nothing about the substance of the letter itself, choosing instead to vehemently attack the Protestant leaders and reject the statement as nothing less than “the opening of a new anti-Israel front.”

Marans went on to surmise that this reasonable, religiously based call for justice was the product of “certain leaders” who are frustrated with “their own failure to convince denominations to use divestment as a club to pressure Israel.” Nowhere did he address the issue of Israeli human rights violations (except to refer to them as “allegations.”) In the end, he suggested that this letter represents “the anti-Israel sentiment of some Christian leaders and their small but vocal, energetic and well-funded following who are attempting to hijack the positive trajectory of Christian-Jewish relations.”

It is difficult to read such a statement without concluding that Marans’ definition of “postive Christian-Jewish relations” means anything other than “no criticism of Israel allowed.”

It is important to note that the letter to Congress was not written by a few angry church renegades; it was authored by 15 prominent church leaders representing a wide spectrum of the Protestant faith community, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker agency) and the Mennonite Central Committee.

While it is painful to read such accusations leveled at respected Christian leaders by a Jewish director of interreligious and intergroup relations, it is even more saddening that some Jewish organizations have chosen to walk away from a scheduled interfaith roundtable, then demand that the Christian leaders attend a “summit” on their own dictated terms.

It is not the role of Jewish organizations to dictate how their Christian partners can live out their conscience or their values, no matter how much they may disagree. Unpleasant realities cannot be discarded simply because these organizations regard such issues as off limits.

We can only hope that these Christian leaders will stand firm and that this sad episode will lead us to a new kind of interfaith covenant — one based on trust and respect, a willingness to face down our fear and suspicion of one another, and a readiness to discuss the painful, difficult issues that may divide us.

Will the American Jewish establishment be up to such a task?

Rabbi Brant Rosen is the co-chair of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace and a congregational rabbi in Evanston, Ill.