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Danjuma allegation: Panel submits report, Buratai to make it public

Molly Kilete, Abuja

The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, have vowed to make the report of the investigative panel set up to unravel alleged military connivance with herdsmen in the killings of innocent persons in Taraba State public.

Buratai made this known when members of the committee submitted their report to him at the Army Headquarters in Abuja This is even as the panel set up by Buratai to carry out verification of authentic arms and ammunition in possession of Army units and formations across the country have also submitted its report.

Buratai, while receiving the reports at the Army Headquarters, expressed worry at the allegations leveled against the Army in its handling of the Taraba crisis, and vows to make the report public in the shortest possible time.

The Army Chief, who said that the report would first be sent to superior authorities before making it public through the media, said the public would be in a better position to judge the panel’s report as nothing will be left unturned.

“I want to say that the report will be thoroughly studied and findings released to the public and the media,” he said while receiving the report from Joseph Nimmyel-led committee.

Also receiving the panel report on the audit of the number of arms and weapons in the possession of Army units and formations, Buratai said the panel was set up because of the proliferation of arms and light weapons not just in Nigeria but across the country’s borders.

“You will agree with me that the committee has done justice to the assignment. We will do our best to safeguard our arms and other vital weapons,” Buratai said.

“Arms verification is not simply as people think it is. However, we will pay special attention to it, especially at this period where there’s proliferation of arms and light weapons, not just in our country but also across our borders.

“This verification will assist us to identify if there’s any gaps or loopholes so that we can address the issues immediately.

‘We will do our best to preserve our arms and other vital weapons so that they don’t get into wrong hands,” he said.

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What’s Robert Mueller’s next big move? Here are 9 possibilities.

Robert Mueller.

Recent reports suggest intriguing possibilities for where the investigation is going.

What’s the next shoe that will drop in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation?

Mueller’s team won’t publicly say, and they don’t seem to be leaking about it, either. But the people they’ve been questioning have been leaking quite a lot to reporters in recent months. And the resulting stories, considered together, suggest several intriguing possibilities for where Mueller’s going.

Mueller’s investigators have recently asked about hacked and leaked emails from 2016, foreign money trails, the Trump campaign’s digital operation, President Donald Trump’s business dealings in Russia and Michael Cohen’s role in them, secret meetings in the Seychelles Islands, and Jared Kushner’s foreign business dealings. The special counsel is even still investigating Paul Manafort, who he’s already charged on 23 counts in two different venues.

Plus, three former Trump aides have already agreed to plea deals and are cooperating with Mueller, but we haven’t seen the fruits of that cooperation yet. We also recently learned about George Nader, an adviser to the United Arab Emirates’s crown prince, has testified to Mueller’s grand jury in return for immunity. And there’s also the forthcoming report on whether President Trump obstructed justice while in office.

We don’t yet know whether any of these investigatory trails will lead to charges. It’s entirely possible that many or even most of them won’t. But it seems like a safe bet that some will. So here are the leading possibilities for where Mueller’s going next.

Robert Mueller’s investigation could go in a lot of different directions

1) The email hacking and leaks: The theft of John Podesta’s, the DNC’s, and other political figures’ (mainly Democrats’) emails is a crime that we know happened in 2016. Mueller has reportedly taken charge of the investigation of this crime. And the Daily Beast recently wrote that investigators have identified a specific Russian intelligence officer behind “Guccifer 2.0,” a leading online persona in the hacks.

So charges here seem likely — but of whom? Particular Russians involved with the hacks are one possibility. There’s Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, who posted the DNC and Podesta emails. Then there are the questions of how, exactly, those emails got to Assange, and of whether anyone in Trump’s camp coordinated in the effort.

For instance, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone was in contact with both Guccifer and Roger Stone. Former campaign aide Sam Nunberg, who was recently called before Mueller’s grand jury, has said, “They want me to testify against Roger. They want me to say that Roger was going around telling people he was colluding with Julian Assange.” Stone has vociferously denied wrongdoing. But it’s safe to say we haven’t heard the last of the email matter.

2) Trump’s business dealings in Russia and other countries: In mid-March, the New York Times reported that Mueller had recently subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents “related to Russia and other topics he is investigating,” in the clearest sign yet that Trump’s business has come under Mueller’s scrutiny.

Furthermore, McClatchy reported that Mueller’s investigators “showed up unannounced” at a Trump business associate’s home in early April and questioned him or her about the company’s overseas dealings — with a particular focus on the role of Michael Cohen in those dealings. (This questioning came just days before Cohen’s residence and office were raided in a separate investigation.)

Among other things, Cohen was trying to move forward a planned Trump Tower in Moscow while Trump was running for president, and even asked Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson for help. He’s also been involved in exploring previous Trump Organization projects potential in both Georgia and Kazakhstan. (The New Yorker’s Adam Davidson, who has extensively covered Trump’s business, has predicted that investigations of its foreign practices will expose such “criminality” that it will mean the “endgame” of his presidency.)

3) Russian oligarchs’ money flowing into politics: An eyebrow-raising pair of reports from CNN and the New York Times earlier in April revealed that Mueller’s team has questioned at least two Russian oligarchs when they’ve visited the United States — and even seized and searched one’s electronic devices. Per CNN, investigators asked “whether wealthy Russians illegally funneled cash donations directly or indirectly into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and inauguration.” We’re still lacking details on this, but the line of inquiry could well flow from Rick Gates’s cooperation, since he was involved with Trump’s inaugural fundraising.

4) The Seychelles meetings and Emirati money: Mueller’s Russia investigation took a surprising turn this year with a spate of stories suggesting it was increasingly focused on a different foreign country: the United Arab Emirates.

Investigators served George Nader, an adviser to the UAE’s crown prince (the de facto ruler of the country), with a grand jury subpoena when he landed at Dulles airport this January. Nader has since reportedly been granted immunity in return for his cooperation and testimony. According to the New York Times, Mueller’s team has “pressed witnesses for information about any possible attempts by the Emiratis to buy political influence by directing money” to support Trump.

Yet there’s a connection to Russia here too. Nader and the UAE crown prince arranged a secret meeting in the Seychelles Islands in January 2017, between private security company CEO Erik Prince and Russian fund manager Kirill Dmitriev. Reports have long suggested this meeting was a backchannel way for Trump to communicate with Putin. Prince has denied this, but Nader has reportedly testified that it was. That would pose the questions of just what was discussed there, and why Prince seemed so eager to keep it secret.

This Mueller line of inquiry seems to have kicked into high gear at the beginning of this year. That suggests it could be related to Michael Flynn’s cooperation, which began in December — Flynn was, after all, a major player in the Trump transition.

5) The Trump campaign’s digital operation: Given the well-documented Russian digital effort to boost Trump’s chances, there have long been broader questions about whether Trump’s digital operation collaborated in this effort in some way. However, when Mueller charged 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies with crimes related to a propaganda effort designed to interfere with the 2016 campaign, he did not allege any “witting” participation from Trump’s team.

This line of inquiry still appears to be active, though. In March, ABC News reported that Mueller had recently called in “several digital experts who worked in support of Trump’s bid” for closed-door questioning. Mueller also reportedly asked the controversial company Cambridge Analytica to turn over the emails of any of its employees who worked on Trump’s campaign.

6) The Steele Dossier’s claims: The major specific claims in Christopher Steele’s infamous document — that Trump is vulnerable to sexual blackmail by the Russian government, that the Trump campaign and Russia conspired together about the hacked DNC emails, that Carter Page was involved in collusion, and that Michael Cohen traveled to Prague to meet with Russians about paying hackers — still remain largely uncorroborated and heatedly denied by all parties.

But Mueller’s team has, at the very least, been asking about them. At the end of February, CNN reported that they’ve asked witnesses about “the possibility of compromising information that Russians may have or claim to have about Trump,” including about the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant.

Furthermore, McClatchy recently reported that Mueller “has evidence” that Cohen did in fact travel to Prague. However, Cohen continues to vociferously deny this and no other media outlet has yet confirmed McClatchy’s report.

7) Other potential charges against Paul Manafort: Mueller has already charged Manafort with a combined 23 counts of conspiracy, money laundering, false statements, tax fraud, bank fraud, and other charges — but he may not be done with the former Trump campaign chair yet.

In a recent court filing, Mueller’s team revealed that they had obtained a new search warrant covering five phones associated with Manafort on March 9 of this year. This warrant, they said, was related to “ongoing investigations that are not the subject of either of the current prosecutions involving Manafort.”

So Manafort is still under investigation. But for what? One obvious possibility is collusion with Russian officials to interfere with the 2016 election, which is not related to any of the charges against Manafort so far — indeed, Mueller’s team has already confirmed they were investigating Manafort for just that topic. Manafort participated in the infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian-tied delegation arranged by Donald Trump Jr., and also tried to communicate with a Russian oligarch during the campaign.

Another possibility is further charges related to Manafort’s Ukraine work. Plea deals from his longtime business partner Rick Gates and a lawyer who’d worked with them, Alex van der Zwaan, bring up other topics that aren’t mentioned in the charges against Manafort so far, such as a meeting Manafort held with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and a report he helped orchestrate that alleged corrupt behavior from a leading opposition politician in Ukraine (which also may implicate the now-defunct lobbying firm the Podesta Group).

8) Jared Kushner’s business and foreign policy (and Russia): There have long been questions about whether presidential son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner has inappropriately mixed the concerns of his family real estate business with his high-level foreign policy job.

And in recent months, two reports have claimed Mueller was keenly interested in the same question. “Mueller’s investigators have been asking questions, including during interviews in January and February, about Kushner’s conversations during the transition to shore up financing for 666 Fifth Avenue,” CNN reported. And per NBC News, Kushner’s talks with Qatar, Turkey, Russia, China, and the UAE have all been the subject of questioning.

Several months back, there were also reports that the FBI was keenly interested in whether Kushner sought a backchannel to communicate with the Russian government during the transition. It is unclear whether Mueller is still pursuing that angle.

9) The obstruction report/Trump interview: Last but certainly not least, it’s long been known that Mueller has been investigating whether President Trump obstructed justice while in office — by discouraging an FBI investigation into Michael Flynn, by firing FBI director James Comey, by pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself, by dictating a highly misleading story about Don Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting, and by floating pardons for witnesses.

Mueller’s team has reportedly suggested to Trump’s legal team that the obstruction probe is nearing an end — and that an interview with the president himself would help bring it to a close. And the Washington Post’s Robert Costa reports that Mueller’s team has suggested they aim to finish a report on the obstruction matter this summer.

If that’s accurate, it’s not entirely clear what Mueller would do with that report. It seems that it would be submitted to his boss, Rod Rosenstein. But it’s unclear whether it would then be sent to Congress (as, depending on the findings, a prelude to potential impeachment), released publicly, or just kept secret.

Regardless, it certainly seems that something is coming.

China to introduce default judgment against corrupt fugitives


China plans to introduce default judgment in corruption-related criminal cases as the authorities step up the fight against crooked officials who have fled overseas.

NAN reports that default judgment is a binding judgment in favour of either party based on some failure to take action by the other party.

Most often, it is a judgment in favour of a plaintiff when the defendant has not responded to a summons or has failed to appear before a court of law.

Lawmakers were briefed on the move Wednesday as a draft revision to the Criminal Procedure Law was submitted to the top legislature for review.

The default judgment will be used against suspects and defendants in corruption or bribery cases who have fled abroad, according to the draft.

The bimonthly legislative session of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress will run from Wednesday to Friday.

The post China to introduce default judgment against corrupt fugitives appeared first on The Sun News.

Niger Delta: Modular refineries to be commissioned by December

Paul Osuyi, Asaba

Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu on Wednesday in Kwale, Delta State, said two modular refineries will be completed and commissioned by December this year.

The refineries, to located in Rivers and Delta states, are among the 38 that were granted licenses to be constructed and operate in the Niger Delta region.

Kachikwu said the Federal Government’s resolve to establish modular refineries was part of long term plans to end Nigeria’s importation of petroleum products as well as to discourage illegal oil bunkering activities in the Niger Delta.

The minister, who was represented by his Senior Technical Adviser (Refineries and Downstream Infrastructure), Engr. Rabiu Suleiman, spoke when he led a joint team from the ministry, Office of the Vice President, and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) to inspect ongoing construction of a modular refinery by Omsa Pillar Astex Company Limited (OPAC Modular Refinery) in Kwale.

He said the team was on ground to provide support and evaluate the performance of what the company is doing to ensure that it was in line with the Buhari administration’s vision of encouraging local production of petroleum products.

“If you recall, sometime last year, the Vice President visited the Niger Delta and made a policy statement that will encourage the establishment of modular refineries. We are happy that we are here today. This is one of the first few that have meant to that promise to deliver on what they have promised to do and today we are happy to see the installation of 7,000-barrel capacity modular refinery. As you can see, Russian Technology is being installed,” he said.

“The commitment we hear is that, within six months from now, the refinery would be completed and we are looking forward to seeing that. In my side talks with the chairman of the company, he is expecting another 45 tonnage of materials arriving on site and that is significant portion.

“If that arrives in the next few weeks, and construction continues and the weather being a good friend, six months will be made and that is going to be a promise fulfilled. By that, we can say by end of the year, we will be coming to witness the commissioning of yet another refinery in Nigeria,” Kachikwu said.

He explained that the commissioning of the two modular refineries, which have reached advanced stages in construction, would send the right signals to other investors who had doubted the federal government’s commitment to invest in the construction of more modular refineries.

“A total of 38 licences have been issued, ranging from high scale refineries of 100,000 to 50,000 barrels had been issued. Out of these 38, about 10 of the modular refineries have advanced and they have all secured what we call ‘permit to construct’, just as it is here. So, with the license to construct the LTA, it means that 10, as at today, are ready to go. This is just one of the ten.

“We have visited others which are also under construction in similar stages as this one. They also gave us six months from last month. Going together, we can see two being commissioned in the next five to six months; and others are on the sea being imported, and we look forward to see many more. The first one that will be commissioned will be a remarkable encouragement to those others who are slowing their feet,” Kachikwu added.

Chief Engineer of the company, Elberd Bilanich, a Russian who conducted the team round the project site, expressed joy at the pace of construction work at the OPAC Modular Refinery, saying that upon completion, the two refineries would refine 7,000 barrels of crude oil each daily.

Senior Special Adviser to the Vice President on Niger Delta Matter, Edobor Iyamu, said the Federal Government would continue to give entrepreneurs all necessary support for quick completion of all ongoing modular refineries in the region.

According to Iyamu: “From the inspection, we understand that they will begin with diesel and kerosene production, but down the line they will venture into the refining of premium motor spirit. This refinery is meant to be a 7,000 barrel per day refinery. We are excited as a government that things are coming to fruition.”

Warri Zonal Operations Controller of DPR, Mr Antai Asuquo, who was represented by the Zonal Head of Gas, Engr. Ignatius Anyanwu, said DPR has deployed representatives to the site to ensure they meet government standards and industry regulations.

Chairman of OPAC Refineries, Momoh Jimah-Oyarekhua, confirmed that the refinery would come on stream by December, disclosing that the company’s production target is 60,000 barrels, but decided to start with 7,000 from where it would expand in phases.

“Generally, our plan is actually to install 60,000 barrels’ refinery eventually in Delta State, and this is our first phase of the refinery. We decided to start from the 7,000 barrels modular and in no time after commission – maybe a year – we are planning to expand to about 13,000 and 20,000 to follow, and eventually to install 40,000 before reaching our desired peak of 60,000 barrels refinery,” Oyarekhua stated.

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Border Crossings: Field Report

Border Crossings host Larry London sat down with Christopher Porterfield from the band Field Report. The Wisconsin-based quartet have released their new album, “Summertime Songs,” on March 23rd which is a deeply personal album, showcasing Porterfield’s ability to “cut down complex and heartbreaking situations with deft and graceful writing.”

Israel and Iran’s escalating shadow war in Syria, explained

Each side has set red lines that could easily be crossed.

TEL AVIV — In the early hours of April 9, Israeli fighter jets bombed the Tiyas air force base in central Syria, killing at least seven military personnel.

Israel wasn’t targeting Syria’s chemical weapons program, as the US would do four days later in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attack on civilians in the Syrian town of Douma.

Israel was instead going after a very different enemy: Iran. And the dead troops weren’t Syrian; they were Iranian.

It was far from the first time Israel has hit Iran and its various allied groups in Syria. Iran has alarmed Israeli and American officials by steadily expanding its military presence across Israel’s northern border with Syria in recent years, and Israel has responded numerous times. Some senior US and Israeli officials also worry that Tehran might restart its nuclear program if the Trump administration pulls out of the Iran nuclear deal, which President Trump has threatened to do by a self-imposed May 12 deadline.

But this latest strike was the most direct and brazen yet. Tehran has threatened to retaliate, and Israel has made clear that it’s prepared to keep fighting.

The Iranian response — considered now not a question of if, but when — could take many forms, ranging from missiles launched from Iran, Lebanon, or Syria against Israeli cities to cross-border raids from Syria or Lebanon to terror attacks against Israeli or Jewish targets abroad.

Israel, for its part, has promised an even stronger response if this happens, threatening all of Iran’s soldiers in Syria and even the Assad regime itself.

The tough talk reflects Jerusalem’s insistence that it won’t allow Tehran to turn Syria into a forward operating base for it and its proxies to attack Israel.

All of which points to a frightening and little-understood new reality: What was previously a shadow conflict inside Syria between Israel and Iran is now threatening to explode into all-out war between the two bitter Middle East foes.

The Syrian civil war turned a relatively quiet border into a war zone

Israel and Syria have technically been in a state of war since Israel’s founding in 1948. But as hard as it is to imagine now, for more than three decades, Syria was Israel’s least worrisome border.

The Assad family ruled the country with an iron hand but largely abided by a de facto ceasefire with Israel, preferring that its terrorist allies do the direct fighting.

As one senior Israeli military officer told me late last year, “it was comfortable to have [the Assad family] in control … it was our quietest front.”

That all changed with the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

In the initial stages of the fighting, Sunni rebels with close ties to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries dealt Assad a string of battlefield defeats, and there was a real prospect of the strongman resigning or being forced from power.

That was unacceptable to Iran, which views Syria as its closest Arab ally. So Tehran went all in to bail out Assad.

Iran initially sent money, arms, and other logistical support — and then, when that wasn’t enough, military advisers from the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia that has long been funded, armed, and trained by Iran.

In the early years of the Syrian civil war, Israel largely kept to the sidelines. The exception was with regard to what Israel considered its two red lines: Iran sending newer and more advanced weapons to Hezbollah through Syria, and the establishment of a pro-Iranian terror network on the Syrian border with Israel along the Golan Heights.

This first phase of the Israel-Iran showdown in Syria was thus conducted largely in the shadows and followed a well-worn pattern: An explosion would take place someplace in Syria, with later reports confirming that the target was a weapons convoy, an arms depot, or senior Iranian or Hezbollah operatives.

Israel wouldn’t take credit for the strike, but everyone in the region, including Syrian and Iranian leaders, knew who was responsible.

“We act when we need to act, including here across the border, with dozens of strikes meant to prevent Hezbollah [from obtaining] game-changing weaponry,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed in April 2016 on a tour of the Golan Heights.

Last year, Israel’s outgoing Air Force chief said that Israel had carried out close to 100 airstrikes on weapons convoys bound for Hezbollah, a staggering number.

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Israel’s second red line — preventing the establishment of a terrorist network on the Golan Heights frontier — was upheld by Jerusalem just as ruthlessly, if at times with slightly more nuance.

The Golan Heights is a strategic area of elevated land situated along Israel’s northern border with Syria. For decades it was part of Syria, allowing Arab forces to shell Israelis on the ground beneath them.

Israel conquered the region during the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community. Israel and Syria had in past years discussed land-for-peace deals that called for Israel to withdraw from the territory in exchange for a comprehensive agreement.

But the prospects for such a pact disappeared right around the time the Syrian state disintegrated and went up in flames. Iran and its proxies have viewed the ensuing chaos as an opportunity to open a new front from which to attack Israel, and sporadic mortar shelling and small-arms fire were a feature of the early years of the Syrian civil war.

There was also at least one anti-tank missile attack and an improvised explosive device (IED) ambush on the border fence in 2014, killing an Israeli civilian and seriously injuring several Israeli army personnel, respectively.

Israel responded to these attacks with force, allegedly launching a series of attacks throughout 2015 and 2016 that killed several top Hezbollah operatives and IRGC commanders, including a brigadier general.

Israel never acknowledged playing a role in any of the strikes; indeed, one Israeli security official once told me, with a smile, that “every time one of their guys gets killed, it helps” — as if their deaths were due to a random bolt of lightning and not precision-guided munitions.

But it hasn’t been all targeted airstrikes and mystery explosions. In June 2016, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched what they called the “Good Neighbor” policy. This was a program to provide Syrians across the border with medical assistance, humanitarian aid, food, and basic infrastructure like fuel generators and water piping.

It had a moral component: helping provide injured Syrians arriving at the border with medical care, often at Israeli hospitals. But it also had a harder-edged goal: to win the “hearts and minds” of the local Syrian population and dissuade them from cooperating with Iran and its allies.

“If we weren’t doing this, someone else would be,” the IDF officer commanding the “Good Neighbor” initiative told me last year, alluding to the yellow-and-green flag of Hezbollah. “There’s no such thing as a vacuum in this region.”

By late 2017, more than 4,000 Syrians had received medical care in Israeli hospitals, with the IDF running several hundred missions across the border into Syria.

Israel also reportedly began arming and funding various anti-Assad rebel groups in southern Syria. That was done to help offset the huge and growing battlefield advantage Assad had, and as a hedge against Iran and Hezbollah in the area. (Israeli military officials consistently deny the reports they arm and fund rebels, claiming their aid is strictly nonlethal.)

Israel’s newest red line: the establishment of a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria

So long as the Syrian civil war ground on and took a toll on Iranian forces, Israel appeared to be willing to stick to its prior, limited red lines.

The turning point likely came in December 2016, when the Syrian city of Aleppo fell to the Assad regime and Iranian-backed forces. (Russian warplanes had also bombarded the city.)

Israeli intelligence officials told me at the time that they feared Assad and his backers were going to win the civil war and then at some point turn their sights south, to the Golan Heights and Israel.

“We will simply not allow for Shia consolidation and Iranian entrenchment in Syria, nor will we allow Syria to become a forward operating base against the State of Israel,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said last year.

Tehran didn’t appear to be hiding the fact that that was exactly what it intended to establish. In November 2017, reports emerged about the construction of an alleged Iranian compound at a Syrian military base south of Damascus. Israeli jets bombed the site weeks later.

It does look like Iran has longer-term designs on Syria. At the height of the fighting, several thousand IRGC personnel, 8,000 Hezbollah fighters, and 30,000 other Shia militiamen from places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan were committed to the fray.

After pouring billions of dollars into its Syrian project, buttressing the Assad regime and bankrolling Hezbollah and other Shia militias — and losing 1,000 of its own soldiers —Iran was not about to simply pack up and go home.

It was time to cash in on its hard-fought victory. Iranian companies have signed contracts to enter the Syrian market for everything from telecommunications to phosphates, agriculture, and academia.

More ominously (at least for Israel), Iran has raised the idea of establishing a naval outpost on Syria’s Mediterranean coast as well as permanent deployments at various Syrian airfields — primarily as bases for the IRGC’s drone, missile, and air defense units.

Israeli intelligence recently leaked five such locations to the press, signaling that it knew what Iran was doing and tacitly acknowledging that its third red line had been severely violated.

As Yossi Kuperwasser, a retired senior Israeli military intelligence officer, recently told me, “It’s true that Israel was more successful in preventing the delivery of weapons to Hezbollah and Iran from building an infrastructure for terrorism on the border than it was preventing Iran from building the basic infrastructure in Syria.”

An IRGC drone that crossed into Israel last February took off from one of those airbases, Tiyas (also called T-4); the IDF later claimed that the drone had been armed. An Israeli attack helicopter shot the drone down, and Israeli jets attacked its control caravan at the Tiyas airbase.

In the ensuing bombing raid, Syrian anti-aircraft missiles managed to down one of the Israeli F-16s (it crashed inside Israel, with the two pilots ejecting safely). It marked the first time since the early 1980s that an Israeli fighter jet had been shot down.

It also marked a major escalation in the Israeli-Iranian conflict — and a real step toward open conflict.

“This is the first time we saw Iran do something against Israel — not by proxy,” an Israeli military source told the New York Times. “This opened a new period.”

The Tiyas airbase was back in the news in early April when Israeli jets bombed it again, setting off the current crisis. Seven IRGC officers, including the colonel responsible for its drone program, were reported killed. Subsequent reports claimed that an additional target was an advanced anti-aircraft system that had just arrived from Iran.

The shadow war has now become a direct conflict between Iran and Israel

“Israel will get the necessary response sooner or later,” an Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson promised on April 16, adding that “the days of hit and run are over.”

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah went further, saying on April 13, “the Israelis need to know that they are in a face to face confrontation with Iran.”

Israel, for its part, shows no inclination of backing down. As one former IDF spokesperson told Israel’s Army Radio in mid-April, “We’re in open warfare with the IRGC in an ongoing campaign.”

Netanyahu, among many other Israeli officials, has threatened not only Iran’s military forces in Syria but also the Assad regime itself if the situation spirals out of control.

“The fighters of the IDF and security services are prepared for any development,” the Israeli premier said on the occasion of Israel’s 70th independence celebration on April 20. “We will not be deterred by the cost and we will exact a price from those who week our lives.”

The truly ominous problem is that each side has laid out positions that leave them little strategic wiggle room.

“I’m not saying no Iranians in Syria. They can have an Iranian embassy in Damascus,” Yaakov Nagel, a former national security adviser to Netanyahu, told me in mid-April. “[But] no military forces in Syria. Israel will not tolerate it.”

Iran, though, is unlikely to simply surrender its hard-won gains in Syria, and it has continued to issue bombastic threats of its own. “If Israel gives us an excuse — Tel Aviv and Haifa will be destroyed,” Ali Shirazi, an aide to the Iranian supreme leader, declared around the same time.

All of which means one very scary thing: The war between Israel and Iran in Syria that began seven years ago has now decidedly moved out of the shadows, hurtling toward its third — and potentially most destructive — phase.

The entire Middle East is perched on a knife’s edge.

Neri Zilber is a journalist based in Tel Aviv and an adjunct fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Find him on Twitter @NeriZilber.

A judge just opened the door to restarting DACA. Here’s what his ruling means.

The court shot down the legal rationale for Trump’s decision to end DACA — but gave him 90 days to come up with a better one.

A federal judge in Washington, DC, has just reopened the door a crack to young unauthorized immigrants who qualified for relief from deportation and work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which the Trump administration wound down in September.

But the administration has 90 days to shut that door again.

In a ruling released Tuesday night in the case NAACP v. Trump (combined with the case Trustees of Princeton University v. Trump), DC District Judge John Bates continued a streak of legal defeats the Trump administration has suffered in their attempts to end the DACA program.

Two federal judges had already issued preliminary injunctions against the administration, forcing the government to allow immigrants who already have work permits under DACA to apply for two-year renewals.

Judge Bates went further. His ruling would force the Trump administration to allow immigrants who qualify for DACA — by being between the ages of 15 and 31, having arrived in the US before 2007, being enrolled in school or having a degree, and not having a significant criminal record — to apply for work permits even if they never applied before September 2017.

Crucially, though, Bates’s ruling doesn’t go into effect for 90 days. In the meantime, the judge is giving the Trump administration a chance to redeem itself. If Trump’s Department of Homeland Security issues a new memo in the next 90 days that offers a stronger legal argument for ending DACA than the one it’s provided so far, it can avoid having to grant new DACA permits.

The ruling could end up reanimating DACA in full, against the administration’s wishes. Or it could give the administration a lifeline that will help it persuade appeals courts to overturn the defeats it’s already suffered. It all depends on what happens in the next 90 days.

This ruling changes nothing immediately. But it’s potentially good news for people who qualify for DACA.

Immigrants who currently have a valid work permit under DACA — or who had one as of September 5, 2016, which has since expired — are currently allowed to apply for a two-year renewal of their work permit and protection from deportation. That’s the result of a January court ruling from a federal judge in California, in another lawsuit against the administration. (A judge in New York, in yet another lawsuit, has subsequently ruled the same way, meaning that the Trump administration will have to overturn both rulings to stop processing renewals again.)

If Judge Bates’s new ruling goes into effect in late July, though, it would go further than that. It would allow people who qualified for DACA but didn’t apply for it the opportunity to apply for a two-year work permit for the first time.

And it would allow DACA recipients to apply for permission to leave the country and be allowed in when they return — allowing some DACA recipients to clear a hurdle blocking their path to full legal status they’d otherwise qualify for.

Potentially, this could affect hundreds of thousands of people — estimates indicate that as many as 1 million people qualified for DACA while it was in place but never applied for it. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly characterized them as “too lazy to get off their asses”; more likely, they couldn’t afford the $495 application fee or were afraid to give the government their information. Even if the door were opened for them to apply now, those things might still be true, so it’s not clear how many of the people who didn’t apply before would apply now.

It might be more meaningful for the thousands of immigrants who have turned 15 since September 5 — they were too young to apply for DACA while it was in place, and because the Trump administration stopped accepting new applications immediately in September, they weren’t allowed to apply once they qualified. The Center for American Progress estimated that as of March 5, 23,000 immigrants had become DACA-eligible after the administration shut the door on them.

But DACA hasn’t reopened yet. Bates delayed his ruling for 90 days to give the Trump administration a second chance. If the administration takes it, the ruling might never go into effect.

The Trump administration has 90 days to come up with a better reason DACA should end

The heart of Bates’s legal argument is that the Trump administration claimed it had to end DACA because it was unconstitutional — but “that legal judgment was virtually unexplained,” the judge wrote, “and so it cannot support the agency’s decision.”

For one thing, the Trump administration passed judgment on DACA’s unconstitutionality before any federal judge had actually said so themselves. Federal courts put a later and broader deferred action program, one for parents of US citizens and green card holders, on ice in 2015 — but DACA was explicitly not included in that ruling. And the only legal challenge against DACA itself, back in 2012 when the program was first started, was thrown out of court.

Additionally, in the lawsuits against the end of DACA, the administration is now claiming that the courts don’t even have the authority to rule over its decision to rescind the program. For Bates, the fact that the administration ended DACA because it was unconstitutional but is now telling the courts that ending DACA is outside the scope of constitutional review set off red flags.

This is important because Bates isn’t just rejecting the reason the Trump administration gave him. He’s giving the Trump administration 90 days to come up with a better one: “The Court will stay its order of vacatur for 90 days, however, to afford DHS an opportunity to better explain its view that DACA is unlawful.”

Whether the court would accept that alternate rationale is an open question — the ruling doesn’t exactly set out a checklist for what an acceptable DACA rescission would look like. (This bears a resemblance to the Supreme Court case over the travel ban, which also raises questions about when, and how closely, the federal courts can scrutinize executive branch policy.)

Even if Bates did rule that the Trump administration’s new argument was strong enough to let the end of DACA go forward, it wouldn’t overrule the federal judges in New York and California who have forced the administration to start accepting renewals again. But it might strengthen the administration’s hand as it appeals those rulings. Neither of the previous opinions relied on the argument that you can’t presume something is unconstitutional, like Bates just did, but they both noted it, and it appears to have factored into their general judgments that the administration ended DACA in a rash and capricious way.

Armed with a stronger legal grounding for killing DACA due to the DC ruling, the Trump administration might force appeals courts on the coasts to take a second look at the case for ending DACA, and to consider whether the person acting rashly was not the administration but the judges who ordered renewals to start up again.

The Trump administration has another chance to try to kill DACA, and it will almost certainly take it

If the Trump administration finds a new reason that DACA shouldn’t go back into effect, it will be incontrovertibly clear that the administration is responsible for killing the program.

In September, Trump was able to muddy the waters of political blame: While Attorney General Jeff Sessions took the “bad cop” role of formally announcing DACA’s sunset, Trump tweeted false reassurances to immigrants. The president was willing to pull the trigger on ending DACA when it looked like Congress would either step in to fix it or take the blame by failing to do so.

If it were up to Trump now, maybe the Department of Homeland Security wouldn’t bother to argue that DACA should be put on hold.

But it’s probably not up to Trump.

Technically, the decision rests with Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump’s homeland security secretary and a protégé of predecessor John Kelly (now Trump’s chief of staff); like Kelly, Nielsen has gotten more comfortable in the role of immigration enforcer as she’s been in the job.

Because the judge is asking specifically for a legal argument, though, the role of killing DACA again might fall to the same person who announced its death the first time: Sessions. Nielsen may not have a strong preexisting opinion that DACA needed to die. Sessions absolutely does.

Judge Bates just gave them another 90 days to make their best case, and they are all but guaranteed to take it. The question is what comes next.

Kenya Economy Seen Rebounding After Election Slowdown

Kenya’s economy is expected to rebound to 5.8 percent growth in 2018 after electoral uncertainty and drought cut last year’s expansion to the lowest level in more than five years, Finance Minister Henry Rotich said Wednesday.

The economy will benefit from increased investment in key areas like manufacturing, farming, housing and health care, he said.

President Uhuru Kenyatta won re-election in November in a second vote after the first in August was annulled by the Supreme Court citing irregularities. Around 100 people, mainly opposition supporters, were killed mainly by police during the prolonged election season.

“Despite the slowdown in 2017 our outlook is bright,” Rotich said at the launch of the annual economic survey. “We expect growth to recover to 5.8 percent in 2018, and over the medium term the growth is projected to increase by more than 7 percent.”

Growth slowed to 4.9 percent last year from a revised 5.9 percent in 2016, the statistics office said.

Kenya’s diversified economy is better able to withstand shocks like the commodity price drop that started in 2014 and hit oil-producing African countries such as Nigeria and Angola.

But its economy was hobbled by a severe drought in the first quarter of last year that was followed by poor rainfall.

The services sector including tourism grew strongly last year and that helped to offset the slowdown in farming and manufacturing, said Zachary Mwangi, director general of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

Tourism is vital for hard currency and jobs and grew 14.7 percent while earnings surged 20 percent, he said.

In contrast, growth in the agriculture sector, which accounts for close to a third of overall output, slid to 1.6 percent in 2017 from 5.1 percent the year before.

The government says manufacturing is a priority due to its potential to create jobs, and it grew at 0.2 percent last year from 2.7 percent the year before.

Production of cement, sugar and processed milk slid as firms reeled from the impact of the election and high costs.

Rotich said the projected economic rebound is supported by favorable economic fundamentals including inflation, which has dropped to about 4 percent this year.

“The ongoing investments in infrastructure, improved business and factory confidence, and strong private consumption are expected to support growth,” he said.

Adamawa State budgets N2.5 billion for free malaria treatment

Billy Graham Abel Yola

The Adamawa State government has set aside a total of N2.5 billion to provide free treatment of malaria in the state.

The Malaria Programme Manager of the Adamawa State Ministry of Health, Mr Isaac Kadala, made the disclosure during the commemoration of the 2018 World Malaria Day in Yola, the state capital.

Kadala said Adamawa State was ready to beat back the menace of the disease in the state as the budgeted funds will be used in purchasing drugs, mosquito nets and other medical supplies for distribution to health facilities across the state.

“We have budgeted N2.5 billion for the treatment of Malaria,” Kadala said.

“We have a plan to ensure free treatment of malaria across all medical facilities in the state.

“Wherever you go in the state, public or private health facility, the treatment of malaria will be free.”

Mr Kadala explains that although the treatment of malaria in the state has been free by policy, the implementation had suffered setbacks due to the shortage of drugs and other medical essentials.

Kadala stressed that with the budget the ministry intends to make available sufficient supplies of drugs to all the health facilities in the state in order to meet its objective of delivering on its free malaria treatment policy for residents of the state.

Earlier in her remarks, the Adamawa State Commissioner of Health, Dr Fatima Atiku Abubakar, said malaria prevention and control remains a top priority of the state government and its supporting partners, noting that the state government remains committed to the global movement to beat back malaria.

Dr Fatima called on the residents to deploy to good use the over 2.5 million mosquitoe nets distributed within the state in November 2017, saying “every household has at least one net to prevent mosquito bite.”

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Again, herdsmen kill 37 in Benue communities

Rose Ejembi, Makurdi

At least, 37 persons have been feared killed while several others have been injured and some still missing after suspected herdsmen attacked three council wards in Guma Local Government Area of Benue State.

The affected villages were Tse Umenger in Mbadwem Council Ward, Mbakpaase in Saghev council Ward as well as Tse-Ali in Mbawaar council Ward all of Guma local government area of Benue State.

Daily Sun gathered from a source who hails from Umenger that the heavily-armed bandits suspected to be herdsmen numbering over 50, stormed the Umenger village, on Tuesday evening, and set the entire village on fire killing about 15 people in the process.

Our source said a few hours after the attack on Umenger, at about 11:30 pm, another group of armed men numbering over 20 invaded and sacked villages at Tomanyiin-Mbakpaase in Saghev Council Ward killing three persons.

And in the early hours of Wednesday, the attackers were said to have stormed Tse-Ali in Mbawaar Council Ward killing 19 people while also razing down many houses and food barns in the area.

Recall that only last week Friday, gunmen allegedly in military camouflage, were said to have raided five villages in Saghev council Ward and killed 16 persons.

These attacks on Guma villages were coming a few hours after suspected herdsmen attacked Ayaar Mbalom in Gwer East local government killing 19 persons, including two Catholic priests.

Tyonenge James, a local from Tse-Ali who spoke with our correspondent on phone Wednesday afternoon disclosed that already, 19 dead bodies had been recovered from the area at the time of this report.

“The invaders killed three persons and injured many, burnt down all the houses stalled with food items. Right now, no single house is standing in these villages at the time of this report,” our source from Tse-Ali said.

Another source from Mbakpaase who simply gave his name as Tersoo said some youths in the area have so far been able to recover some of the dead bodies and buried them immediately.

“In Mbakpaase which is my village, some dead bodies have been recovered and buried this morning by some villagers who have since fled for safety.”

A gubernatorial aspirant on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Tivlumun Nyitse who is from Mbadwen told newsmen on phone that 15 dead bodies were recovered from his council Ward this morning while many houses were also burnt in the area.

However, when contacted, Commissioner of Police in charge of Benue State, Fatai Owoseni said he was yet to get details about the said attacks.

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