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US Joins Russia To Block UN Condemnation Of Turkish Military Strike

Donald Trump continues to send mixed messages about Turkey’s expansion of military action in Syria.

Despite Trump’s recent criticism of the Turkish offensive targeting American allies in the region — after he effectively paved the way for the strikes earlier in the week — the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations wouldn’t join international condemnations of Turkey on Thursday.

“As the president has made abundantly clear, the United States has not in any way endorsed the decision of the government of Turkey to mount a military incursion into Northeast Syria,” Kelly Craft, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said following a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

However, Craft’s statement only warned of vague “consequences” if Turkey failed “to play by the rules, to protect vulnerable populations … to guarantee that ISIS cannot exploit these actions to reconstitute.”

According to the Washington Post, as well as a report from Turkish state-run media, the 15-nation U.N. Security Council failed to issue a joint statement condemning Turkey’s incursion into the Kurdish region of Syria after the United States and Russia objected.

Instead, representatives of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Poland denounced Erdogan’s actions after the council’s closed-door meeting.

Trump has threatened to “totally destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy after receiving intense scrutiny from numerous members of Congress — including many high-profile Republicans.

With American support, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have liberated multiple Syrian cities that were once controlled by ISIS. U.S. intelligence officials have estimated that Trump’s decision to abandon the SDF could result in the release of 12,000 ISIS prisoners.

Trump’s refusal to contribute to the U.N. hasn’t been limited to diplomacy: The international organization is currently in severe debt, thanks in large part to the $1 billion that Trump’s government still owes it.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Israel Pressing Ahead With Settlements Despite U.N. Vote

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Jerusalem municipality, undeterred by a U.N. anti-settlement resolution, is due to consider on Wednesday requests for construction permits for hundreds of new homes for Israelis in areas that Israel captured in 1967 and annexed to the city.

Israel is still fuming over the resolution approved last Friday by the United Nations Security Council that demands an end to settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel has also described as “shameful” the decision of its long-standing ally the United States to abstain in the vote rather than wield its veto. The Obama administration is a strong opponent of the settlements.

An agenda published by Jerusalem City Hall listed applications for at least 390 new homes whose approval looks certain to intensify international and Palestinian opposition to the Israeli settlement-building.

The Municipal Planning and Construction panel usually meets on Wednesdays and the permit requests were filed before the Security Council resolution.

Settler leaders and their supporters have been urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step up construction in East Jerusalem, accusing him of having slowed its pace last year because of international pressure.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported on Tuesday that 1,506 housing units for Israelis have already been approved in East Jerusalem this year, compared with 395 in 2015.

The Jerusalem municipality said in a statement on Tuesday it would “continue to develop the capital according to zoning and building codes, without prejudice, for the benefit of all residents”.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem its united capital, a stance not supported by the international community. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

Some 570,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in settlements that most countries consider to be illegal and the United States terms illegitimate. Israel disputes that, citing historical, political and Biblical links to the areas, as well as security concerns.

The new U.N. resolution changes nothing on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians and will probably be all but ignored by the incoming U.S. administration of Donald Trump.

However, Israeli officials fear it could spur further Palestinian moves against Israel in international forums.

A U.S. official said after Friday’s vote that Washington’s decision to abstain was prompted mainly by concern that Israel would continue to accelerate settlement construction and put a two-state solution of the conflict with the Palestinians at risk.

The U.S.-backed peace talks have been stalled since 2014.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis; Editing by Gareth Jones)

IMAGE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office December 25, 2016. REUTERS/Dan Balilty/Pool

United Nations Appoints Portugal’s Guterres As Next U.N. Chief

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The 193-member United Nations General Assembly appointed former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Guterres on Thursday as the ninth secretary-general of the world body for five years from Jan. 1, 2017.

Guterres, 67, will replace Ban Ki-moon, 72, of South Korea. Ban will step down at the end of 2016 after serving two terms.

Guterres was prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002 and served as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005 to 2015.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

IMAGE: Nominated U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a news conference at Necessidades Palace in Lisbon, Portugal October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

WHO Declares Nigeria Ebola-Free In ‘Spectacular Success’

By Zainab Junaid and Helen Maguire, dpa

LAGOS/LUXEMBOURG — Nigeria was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday after recording no new confirmed cases for 42 days, which is twice the incubation period for the deadly Ebola virus.
“This is a spectacular success story that shows that Ebola can be contained,” WHO said in a statement. “The story of how Nigeria ended what many believed to be potentially the most explosive Ebola outbreak imaginable is worth telling in detail.”
The U.N. organization attributed Nigeria’s success to the country’s rapid adaptation of a polio eradication plan to fight the Ebola virus, including information campaigns and international support.
Nigeria confirmed 19 Ebola cases, seven of whom died, giving the country a fatality rate of 40 per cent — much lower than the approximate 70 per cent seen elsewhere, WHO said.
All Ebola infections in Nigeria have been traced back to Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, who arrived in Lagos on July 20 and died five days later.
The number of people living in the city — about 21 million — and the daily commuting of thousands of people made it particularly difficult to contain the virus.
But with assistance from WHO, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations, government health officials managed to track down nearly everyone who had contact with infected people.
The authorities provided “ample financial and material resources, as well as well-trained and experienced national staff,” WHO said.
An innovative polio eradication campaign was adapted to the Ebola outbreak, with cutting-edge technologies such as GPS systems for contact tracing, while the authorities staged information campaigns and introduced compulsory screening at airports and ports.
“If a country like Nigeria, hampered by serious security problems, can do this … any country in the world experiencing an imported case can hold onward transmission to just a handful of cases,” WHO Director General Margaret Chan said.
On Friday, WHO also declared Senegal free of Ebola.
European Union foreign ministers agreed Monday to appoint an Ebola coordinator to oversee efforts by member states, France announced, at talks in Luxembourg on how best to respond to the outbreak.
“This coordinator … will make sure on the one hand that the action is effective on the European level and that each country does what is necessary,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, adding that the name will be chosen in the coming days.
The ministers also recognized the need for “urgent additional assistance” to tackle the outbreak.
Britain has called for the EU and its 28 member states to double their financial contribution to as much as 1 billion euros (1.32 billion dollars), to help fund extra beds and isolation facilities in the worst affected countries.
“There is a major health crisis here; we have got a very short window to get on top of it and prevent the uncontrollable spread of this disease,” British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said ahead of the Luxembourg talks.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had proposed establishing such a team of “white helmets” — experts, medics and healthcare workers who could be summoned to tackle similar outbreaks in future.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said the Netherlands is providing a frigate to deliver aid to West Africa, in response to a United Nations request, and has stepped up its humanitarian aid to the region.
Discussions on the Ebola outbreak are also expected to dominate a summit of EU leaders on Thursday.
One British volunteer who survived Ebola after contracting it in Sierra Leone flew back to the country to resume his work, British media reported Monday. Will Pooley, a nurse, will continue working at a hospital in the capital of Freetown. Scientists still do not know whether someone can be sickened by the Ebola virus twice.
In Belgium meanwhile, the country’s main airport began screening passengers arriving from Ebola-hit countries for fever on Monday, a spokeswoman for Brussels Airlines told dpa.
The United States, Canada, Britain, France, and the Czech Republic are also conducting screenings for fever.
The WHO’s latest update reported nearly 9,000 confirmed and probable cases in seven affected countries — Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, and the U.S.
There have been about 4,500 deaths.

AFP photo/Dominque Faget

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