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Tuesday, August 22

If this report is accurate, pardon me while I faint from shock

Arab Daily: Saudi Arabia Changing Anti-Syria Policy by Sacking Al-Jubeir, Demanding Iraq's Mediation

Before I get to the details in the report, it's been known to the public for several weeks (and much earlier to insiders) that Al Saud has been talking a new line about Syria. I've taken the view that I'll believe the talk when I'm certain it's backed up by sustained action. But yesterday SouthFront picked up on a striking omission in a blistering speech by Assad that gives some support to the rumor that Jubeir will be shown the door:
On Sunday, the President of Syria Bashar al-Assad attacked Turkey and the West during a speech at the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and expatriates annual conference:

“We have managed to foil the Western project. The West is like a chameleon due to its behavior to fit different situations. The psychological war against the Damascus government has failed to discourage us from fighting terrorism or even frighten us… We have fought terror since day one and we will continue to fight it until there is no terrorist in Syria…” Assad stressed.
He also added that Syria does not see Turkish President Erdogan as a partner.

“Erdogan is playing the role of a political bagger after he was exposed for supporting terrorism, and we don’t consider the Turkish side a partner, nor a guarantor and we don’t trust it,” Assad said.
South Front quoted more from the speech but the big surprise was what Assad didn't say:
One very notable thing about the speech is that while the Syrian president aggressively attacked Turkey and the West, he didn’t directly attack the Gulf countries. A note that some believe may mean that the near future might witness a Syrian-Saudi reconciliation, even if only on a low level.
It would be on a considerably higher level if Jubeir is indeed sacked. From the August 21 FARS report I linked to above:
TEHRAN (FNA)- Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir will possibly be fired soon, an Arab [Syrian] media outlet said, noting that the development and Riyadh's demand for Iraq's mediation to improve ties with Iran indicate Saudi Arabia is changing its policy on Syria.
The Arabic-language al-Ajel news website said different issues, including the crises in Qatar and Yemen and the victories against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, have made the Saudi regime review its calculations and plans ...
Meantime, secret information indicates that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seeks to replace al-Jubeir with prince Khalid bin Salman, the current Saudi ambassador to the US, it added.
According to the Syrian website, al-Jubeir played a leading role in Saudi Arabia's anti-Shiite policies and he has several times criticized Iran for religious reasons. [He has also stressed] that he will be the victim of Riyadh's altering views and stance to improve relations with Tehran.
 Earlier this month, an Iraqi minister said that Saudi Arabia has asked Baghdad to play a mediating role between Riyadh and Tehran to resume bilateral relations.
Iraqi Interior Minister Qassim al-Araji, who was on a visit to Saudi Arabia recently, announced that the Saudi officials have urged the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to mediate between Riyadh and Tehran.
"Mohammed bin Salman (the Saudi crown prince) officially demanded [of] me that Iraq mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia to reduce tensions. King Salman had also earlier raised such a demand. We believe that friendly relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia will help the regional security," al-Araji said in a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli in Tehran.
[...]
The rest of the report focuses on Iran's side of the story in its rocky dealings with Al Saud these past few years. But right now I want to stick with the question mark about Syria and Al Saud.  

Yesterday, an AP report picked by the Saudi Gazette discussed the latest meeting of the Saudi-controlled HNC:
RIYADH — Three Syrian opposition camps met in Riyadh Monday [Aug 21] to try to forge a unified front for what the UN hopes will be a substantive round of peace negotiations in October.
The Saudi-backed opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) held an hours-long meeting in a Riyadh compound with delegations from two other moderate camps, the so-called Cairo and Moscow groupings.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura has sought to unify the opposition to develop a more pragmatic negotiating strategy after hosting seven rounds of largely unsuccessful talks.
The main obstacle has been the fate of President Bashar Al-Assad, with the HNC insisting on his ouster but the other two camps adopting a softer stance on the issue.
"The goal of the meeting is to arrive at an agreement on the political program that forms the basis of the negotiations. At the forefront is the position on Bashar al-Assad," Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Ramadan told AFP this week.
There was no immediate comment on the conclusion of Monday's meeting.
De Mistura said last week that he hopes for "real, substantive" peace talks between the government and a still-to-be-formed unified Syrian opposition in October.
Rebels have suffered heavy territorial losses since peace talks to end the war began, including the regime's recapture of Aleppo, a former opposition stronghold.
With the rebel fighting position weakened, experts say the regime faces no pressure to make concessions at the negotiating table, and especially not over the question of Assad's future.
De Mistura has said he may still try to organise another "preparatory" round of talks in Geneva next month, but stressed that his office will be focusing on the agenda for "substantive talks" aimed for October. — AP
With respect for De Mistura's determined efforts to herd cats, the opposition is not facing reality. For years they were lulled into the idea that NATO forces would provide the military muscle to do what the opposition were unable to accomplish on their own, namely, stand up to well-armed terrorist groups.

But with a fantasy guiding them, the opposition went on pretending they could have an EU-style government in Syria, only one ruled over by their own clans in lieu of European technocrats. 

Does Al Saud know all this? I think they must know. Why, then, are they continuing to encourage the opposition's flights of fancy, if Riyadh has indeed turned over a new leaf regarding Syria?

Just asking; maybe somebody has a good answer. For now, I cling to South Front's sharp-eyed observation, although I'm not yet ready to grab for the smelling salts.

*********    


Pentagon do you want to fight Taliban or Iran and Russia in Afghanistan?

Now you listen to me. You better learn and practice the meaning of the word "focus" before you get even more American troops killed in Afghanistan for no good reason.  

What did Putin say in December 2015? He said, "One powerful fist." That's what he said the approach must be if governments want to beat the terrorists. 

What does one powerful fist mean? It means every government wanting to vanquish the terrorist armies staying focused on cooperating on that single goal.

But focus and cooperation are impossible if on Mondays the Gulf kingdoms want to beat each other and on Tuesdays NATO wants to beat Russia and on Wednesdays Israel wants to beat Iran and on Thursdays and Fridays the U.S. wants please the entire lot of scatterbrained governments and on Saturdays the U.S. Congress and E.U. Parliament want to play their ideas of geopolitical chess.

Leaving only Sundays for focusing on beating the terrorists.

So I don't care how many more troops you plan on deploying to Afghanistan under Trump because under Obama you and your ISAF coalition were so scatterbrained you couldn't make do when you had 100,000 troops to play around with.  

And you can talk all you want about your new "conditions-based" strategy in A'stan; if you can't focus on a goal for 15 minutes at a time, even the best strategy will not work.

Don't chatter at me about civilians in Washington forcing you to act like jumping beans. If you're being pushed around to the point where you can't do your job -- resign your posts. Resign en masse. That'll get the American public's attention.

Here's something to say in front of a microphone if you ever mustered enough focus to resign as a group: 

'Realize every bad guy with a suicide belt is watching the United States military constantly fall down, constantly screw up. This has given the bad guys a courage they shouldn't have, a courage that is getting many innocent civilians and good soldiers killed and holding entire nations hostage.'

*********

Monday, August 21

The Five Stages of Wanting to Kill a Dog Who Won't Stop Barking

I thought only humans worked their way through the Five Stages. I was wrong.

********

Solar Eclipse Gift Basket: "We must raise the flag of victory"

AP Photo/ Hassan Ammar
August 20, Sputnik:
The Russian Defense Ministry awarded renowned Syrian General Hassan Suheil for conducting a unique operation landing troops behind Daesh's defense lines. The Syrian general said that the government troops "must raise the flag of victory" and defeat terror. 
August 21, Sputnik:
Russian warplanes destroyed a Daesh convoy that was heading towards Syrian Deir ez-Zor, the Russian Defense Ministry reported Monday. Over 200 Daesh militants and over 20 vehicles carrying large-caliber weapons, as well as armored vehicles, including tanks were destroyed in the strike.
Stanislav Tarasov, a political analyst and specialist in Middle East studies, told Radio Sputnik that Daesh’s days in Syria are numbered.
"The tactic of fighting Syrian terrorists is changing. The offensive continues in Raqqa. Previously, terrorists could withdraw from the besieged city via special corridors towards Deir ez-Zor. Their current attempts to turn Deir ez-Zor into an undefeatable fortress are doomed to fail. This is because the Syrian Army backed by the Russian Aerospace Forces has taken the lead on the battlefield," Tarasov said.
August 20, VOA News:
After six years of civil war in Syria, markets across the Middle East are anticipating a mammoth reconstruction boom that could stimulate billions of dollars in economic activity. Lebanon, as Syria's neighbor, is in prime position to capture a share of that windfall and revive its own sluggish economy.
Battles still rage in Syria's north and east, and in pockets around the capital, Damascus, but the survival of President Bashar Assad's government now appears beyond doubt.

That is introducing an element of stability into forecasts not seen since 2011, when the war broke out. The Damascus International Fair, a high-profile annual business event before the war, opened on Thursday evening for the first time since war broke out. The 10-day event kicked off with much fanfare, with participants from 43 countries and hundreds of attendees.
August 20, AMN:
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA), Hezbollah, and Lebanese Army [emphasis mine] have made significant progress in the Qalamoun region these past 48 hours, liberating more than 70km of territory along the Lebanese-Syrian border.
August 18, Asia Times:

The facts on the ground in the Syrian war theater are stark.

While the Beltway was blinded by regime change, Moscow swooped in and with a small expeditionary force turned the Middle East game upside down. While Russian jets fully coordinated with an array of forces on the ground, Russian diplomacy ended up closing down all manner of war fronts and imposing ceasefires or de-escalation zones.

A New Syrian Army (NSA?), instead of those walking dead FSA, is now fully battle-tested, in both conventional and guerrilla warfare, and with morale extremely high to the point that Hezbollah now needs to deploy only a few of its officers to coordinate each Syrian unit.

Popular national units, Hezbollah-style, or even PMU-style, are being built by Damascus as the backbone of future resistance forces against any invaders, direct or by proxy.

While the CIA and the House of Saud, Qatar (which later repented) and Turkey (which later aligned with Russia) were obsessed by their regime change crusade, “investing” in chaos spread by “moderate rebels” and demented jihadis alike, Iran invested billions of cold hard cash in Syria – including paying salaries to troops, buying oil, logistical support and building medicine factories.

So apart from the ['new' Syrian Army], the ones fighting jihadis on the ground are an array of Shiite militias. They include resistance groups sometimes referred to as Iraqi Hezbollah as well as the Local Defense Forces in Aleppo and National Defense Forces uniting Alawites and Sunnis, all backed by Iranian military advisers.

Hezbollah, for its part, is even stronger today than in 2006. In a nutshell, it was essentially Hezbollah that defeated al-Qaeda in Syria.

Most of all, the divide-and-rule Takfiristan project is dead. Daesh and al-Qaeda are being smashed – and will be reduced to squalid hit and run ops. The Trump administration ditched “Assad must go” as well as CIA financing of “moderate rebels.”

Syria and Iraq won’t be partitioned. And on the Pipelineistan front – a key reason for the war – we may even find in the foreseeable future Iran and Qatar teaming up to sell natural gas to Europe.

So there will be no neocon New Middle East. Instead, the “4+1” – Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, plus Hezbollah – has gained the upper hand. Live with it.

********

BREAKING NEWS: Barcelona Van Attacker Reportedly Arrested UPDATE 12:30pm EDT

UPDATE

Catalan Police Confirm Man Neutralized Today Was Barcelona Van Attacker - Media
19:03 update August 21, 2017
Sputnik 

The man shot dead in the Spanish town of Subirats is Younes Abouyaaquob, the suspected perpetrator of the terrorist attack in Barcelona, local media reported on Monday.

Earlier in the day, the Mossos d'Esquadra, the Catalan police force, confirmed it had shot dead an individual who appeared to be wearing an explosive belt in Subirats. Local media reported that he appeared to be matching the description of Abouyaaquob. According to El Pais newspaper, citing counterterrorism sources, the man shot in Subirats had "the features of Younes Abouyaaqoub."

According to El Periodico newspaper, the Mossos d'Esquadra confirmed that the individual was indeed Abouyaaquob, after delaying the identifying of his body as it may have been wearing explosives.

Meanwhile, the EFE news agency reported that the explosives were fake.

According to La Vanguardia newspaper, Abouyaaquob was found due to a tip from a local woman who spotted a man resembling him in the early afternoon. He fled after she approached him. She then alerted the authorities who dispatched a patrol.

On Thursday, a van mowed down a crowd of pedestrians in the central Ramblas area in Spain’s tourist resort of Barcelona. The infamous terrorist group Daesh has already claimed responsibility for the attack. Hours after the tragedy, another vehicle attack took place in the coastal town of Cambrils, south of Barcelona. The attack left 15 people dead and some 130 injured.

[END REPORT]

SEE ALSO

Barcelona Attack: 'Military Turn', New Terrorist Tactic and Security Flaws; Sputnik, August 21

END UPDATE

17:41 - August 21, 2017
Sputnik

Younes Abouyaaqoub, the man who rammed a van into people in Barcelona last week has been arrested, Spain's La Vanguardia said on Monday.

[...]
DETAILS TO FOLLOW
*********

Imam, suspected mastermind of Spain terror attacks, reportedly died in bomb factory explosion

Talk about poetic justice, if a Muslim cleric who plotted to blow up a cathedral was blown up by bombs he was making for the attack.

Suspected Mastermind of Catalonia Attacks Allegedly Killed in Alcanar Blast
15:05 - August 21, 2017 (updated 15:57)
Sputnik

MOSCOW (Sputnik) – According to El Periodico daily citing Josep Lluis Trapero, chief of Catalonia’s police force (Mossos d'Esquadra), the remains of [Moroccan] Abdelbaki es-Sati were found in the debris of the Alcanar blast.  
Es-Sati, an imam in the Spanish city of Ripoll, was the suspected mastermind of the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils.

The terrorist cell, which included 12 people, prepared explosives in a house in Alcanar town 120 miles south of Barcelona, using gas canisters and explosive material known as the "Mother of Satan," El Confidencial online media outlet reported on Saturday. But the gas cylinders accidentally detonated, destroying the house and killing two people the night before the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, which made the terrorists change their plan for the attack [reportedly the Sagrada Familia cathedral].

Abdelbaki es-Sati was reportedly detained several times before by police.
In particular Es Satty was detained in 2010 in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the north coast of Africa, for attempting to smuggle 12 kilograms (26 pounds) of hashish, the El Pais newspaper reported.
On Saturday, the country's authorities raided the house of es-Sati.
[...]
*****
See also:


Barcelona Attack Driver Still at Large, Identity Confirmed; VOA, August 21, 2017

Spain attacks: The imam who 'ate up the brains' of youths; AFP, August 20, 2017
Catalonia Attacks Suspect Organizer Es-Sati Spent 3 Months in Belgium; Sputnik, August 20, 2017.

Car Rams Into Group of People in South Belgium Leaving 4 Injured - Reports; Sputnik, August 20, 2017 

Barcelona Investigators Focusing Increasingly on North African Links; VOA, August 19, 2017

********

Assad to Western regimes: Stop supporting terrorists, you goddamn fiends

If Syria's state news agency wants to tell me that Assad said no such thing -- yes, well, Pundita's headline is closer to what he actually said than yesterday's Associated Press headline, Syria’s Assad rejects security cooperation with the West, which was as much copied by EVERY SINGLE Western publication that carried the report; e.g., the headline from Voice of America: Syria's Assad Rejects Security Cooperation With West.*  

My headline is also a better indication of what Assad said than the AP report opener: 
Syrian President Bashar Assad on Sunday refused any security cooperation with Western nations or the reopening of their embassies, until they cut ties with opposition and insurgent groups.
That's not what he said -- how and why would he make such a demand when his own government and allied governments routinely negotiate with "opposition and insurgent groups?" 

However, the AP reporters didn't get around to quoting him until the seventh paragraph:
“Let’s be clear. There will be no security cooperation nor opening of embassies or even a role for some countries that say that they want to play a role in ending the crisis in Syria before they clearly and frankly cut their relations with terrorism,” Assad said. “At that point maybe we can speak about opening embassies.”
Note he didn't explicitly address "Western" countries because of course it's not only governments in such countries that have been aiding and abetting terrorist groups in Syria -- and having the gall to term the groups "rebels."

As to why AP delayed for seven paragraphs reporting what Assad actually said -- I darkly suspect it's because AP knows the anchors who report 'wire' stories on TV newscasts are under orders to never read further into a report than the first four two paragraphs.

I also suspect AP editors knew they didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of selling the report to any Western or Gulf Arab publication if their headline and lede accurately conveyed Assad offering the olive branch to foreign governments if only they'd give up supporting terrorism.

But the scariest part is that the liberty taken with just this one headline is a strong indication of the extent to which the news industry continues to distort and even outright omit the truth in its reporting to the public.  

How can democracy exist under such circumstances? It can't. 

* Below, a handful of headlines at Google News from major press on the AP report. All the rest of the publications I saw at Google that feature the AP report also show virtually the same headline: 

Syria's Assad rejects security cooperation with the West - The ...
https://www.washingtonpost.com/.../syrias-assad-reject-security-cooperation...west/.../b3...
21 hours ago - Syria's Assad rejects security cooperation with the West. The inside ... (SyrianPresidency Facebook page via AP) (Associated Press). By Albert ...

Syria: Bashar al-Assad rejects security cooperation with west | World ...

https://www.theguardian.com › World › Syria

18 hours ago - Syria: Bashar al-Assad rejects security cooperation with westAssad praises Russia, Iran, China ... Associated Press. Sunday 20 August 2017 ...

Syria's Assad Reject Security Cooperation With the West - The New ...

https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/08/20/world/middleeast/ap-ml-syria.html?...
23 hours ago - Syrian President Bashar Assad has blasted the Westrejecting any security cooperationor reopening of ... By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS AUG.

Syria's Assad Rejects Security Cooperation With Western Nations - WSJ

https://www.wsj.com/.../syrias-assad-rejects-security-cooperation-with-western-nations-1...

*******

Car rams into people at 2 bus stops in Marseilles, at least 1 reported dead UPDATED 6 AM, 12:50 PM EDT)

UPDATE
http://www.france24.com/en/20170821-car-crashes-bus-shelters-central-marseille-france

*****

UPDATE
Reuters 5:55 AM EDT
MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - At least one person was killed and another injured in Marseille on Monday when a car crashed into two bus shelters in different parts of the French city, police said.
Police advised the public to avoid the Old Port area where the driver, a 35-year-old man, was arrested.
"At the moment we have no information on the motives of this individual," a police official told Reuters.
The driver first hit a bus shelter around 8:15 a.m. (0615 GMT) in the 13th arrondissement - or district - in the poorer northern part of the city, before hitting a second bus shelter an hour later in the 11th arrondissement, several km (miles) south.
The incident comes as Spanish police hunt for the 22-year-old driver who plowed a van into a crowd in Barcelona on Thursday. -- [END]
END UPDATE

BREAKING NEWS - FRANCE
AFP via Twitte

At least one dead in after car crashes into people at two different bus stops, suspected driver arrested: police sources
********

Sunday, August 20

About 20 seconds is all it takes for sun to burn hole in unprotected retina

"... the same damage can be done on any other day if you stare at the sun. But with the eclipse, even when the visible light is reduced by the moon, UV and infrared rays can still do damage to the retina."

I didn't know it could happen that fast. The only reason the teen wasn't blinded in both eyes is that he had one eye closed when he glanced at the solar eclipse.
  
Man who was left partially blind by 1963 eclipse offers warning: 20 seconds is "all it took"  
-- AUGUST 20, 2017, CNN WIRE:

PORTLAND, Oregon — A Portland man who watched a solar eclipse in 1963 says the experience left him partially blind in one eye, and now he wants everyone to know the warnings about eye damage during the upcoming eclipse are no joke.
Back then, it was a total solar eclipse in Alaska and Canada, but the path of totality did not come through Oregon.
Still, Louis Tomososki remembers being 16 years old and watching it unfold from the baseball field at Marshall High School.
Nobody was talking about safety glasses back then, so he watched it with the naked eye, closing his left eye and leaving his right eye open.
“Oh 20 seconds probably, that’s all it took,” Tomososki told FOX 12. “I’m glad I didn’t go 40 seconds, it would have been even worse.”
He doesn’t remember exactly when he realized there was a problem, but those few seconds burned a hole in his retina leaving him with a sizable blind spot he’s had ever since.
He describes it as looking at someone and being able see their face – but not their nose.
Tomososki remembers it was discovered during an eye exam when he went into the Air Force right after high school.
In the 54 years since that eclipse, he said the blind spot hasn’t gotten any worse or any better.
“Every time we go to an eye doctor now for an exam, they dilate your eyes and look in there, the first thing they say is, you looked at a solar eclipse sometime in your life,” he said.
Dr. Brandon Lujan, an assistant professor of Opthamology at OHSU’s Casey Eye Institute, said the same damage can be done on any other day if you stare at the sun. But with the eclipse, even when the visible light is reduced by the moon, UV and infrared rays can still do damage to the retina.
“Some damage occurs pretty quickly, but a lot of damage can take hours to days to really come to bear,” Lujan said. “Unfortunately there’s not a treatment for it, so once that damage is done you have to wait and hopefully things improve and your body can heal some, but a lot of the damage can be permanent.”
It’s a lesson Tomososki wishes he knew back in 1963.
With Monday’s total solar eclipse on the horizon, he wants you to remember that even a quick look at the sun with the naked eye just isn’t worth it.
“A quick look like we did back in 1963, and I’m 71, almost 71 now, that quick look cost us,” Tomososki said. “And it could have cost us a lot more.”
[END REPORT]
********

ISIL pays smugglers $3-5K/head to get members out of besieged Tal Afar. Meanwhile in Syria, ranking IS rolling in USD

August 20, 2017 - 4:48 pm [local time]
FARS

TEHRAN (FNA)- Abbas al-Bayati, a member of the Iraqi Parliament, reported that human traffickers are taking $3,000 to $5,000 for transferring members of the ISIL from the Northwestern Iraqi city of Tal Afar after the recent victories of the Iraqi forces. 

He went on to say that the traffickers are those who have smuggled and sold the country's oil and historical monuments, stolen by ISIL, to foreign countries.

Tal Afar is on the verge of full liberation following the Iraq forces' operation in the region.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi announced earlier today the resumption of ground operations to liberate Tal Afar from ISIL.

[END REPORT]

No mention of where the smugglers are transferring those IS members. Somewhere in Iraq, or to Idlib in Syria, or Turkey? Or Europe? Maybe the answer is determined by rank; I'd assume the higher the rank the more IS bosses will pay the smugglers, and that could determine how far the smuggled are transferred from the fighting.  

In any case it's doubtful IS foot soldiers merit such hefty bribes, which I note the traffickers are demanding in U.S. dollars; those lowest on the totem pole are probably left in Tal Afar to be killed.

One thing is fairly certain: high-ranking IS members still have plenty of American dollars to spread around. From another FARS report today, filed at 1:20 pm local time:

Senior ISIL Commanders Escape from Eastern Syria [Deir Ezzor] with Hefty Amount of Money

TEHRAN (FNA)- Several commanders of the ISIL terrorist group have escaped from the Eastern province of Deir Ezzur with thousands of US dollars [as they flee] the Syrian Army advances in Raqqa and Homs provinces toward Deir Ezzur, a local source said Sunday.

The source reported that a number of ISIL's notorious commanders, including Abu al-Hawra Tunisi, have escaped from the town of al-Mayadeen in Southeastern Deir Ezzur with $300,000. 


Al-Hawra Tunisi was [is?] the official in charge of releasing ISIL's statements.

The source also said that ISIL has executed Abu Esbat al-Sudani, one of its own commanders in al-Mayadeen.

In the meantime, the Syrian Army's artillery and missile units along with the country's air force targeted ISIL's positions and movements in Jonayd division base, al-Maqaber region, and the neighborhoods of Huweija Sakar, Panorama base, Huweija al-Mari'eiyeh, al-Hamidiyeh, al-Jabileh and al-Roshdiyeh, killing a large number of terrorists and destroying their military equipment.

The Russian Air Force targeted a number of ISIL positions in the Eastern city of Deir Ezzur and its outskirts on Saturday, destroying a large depot of arms and ammunition in the city's districts.

The warplanes heavily bombed ISIL's positions in the Civil Defense region north of al-Mufti Grand Mosque in Deir Ezzur city, destroying a large weapons and munitions depot of the terrorists.

The fighter jets later targeted ISIL's defense lines in Jonayd division base, Tal (hill) Aloush, and Tal Milad in the Southwestern outskirts of Deir Ezzur city.

The Russian army aircraft further struck al-Rabi'at region South of Panorama region, and the two regions of al-Maqaber (cemetery) and al-Khazanat Southwest of Tamin brigade base.


*********  

Plot to bomb Spanish cathedral foiled when plotters blew up themselves

Barcelona Terror Cell Initially Planned Attack at Sagrada Familia Cathedral
02:52 - August 20, 2017
Sputnik

A terrorist cell responsible for the attacks in Barcelona's central Las Ramblas area and Cambrils coastal town was originally plotting a much bigger attack with explosives at the Sagrada Familia cathedral, local media reported, citing sources.

MADRID (Sputnik) — The terrorist cell, which included 12 people, prepared explosives in a house in Alcanar town 120 miles south of Barcelona, using gas canisters and explosive material known as the "Mother of Satan," El Confidencial online media outlet reported on Saturday. But the gas cylinders accidentally detonated, destroying the house and killing two people the night before the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, which made the perpetrators change their plan for the attack. The media outlet also pointed out that the terrorists initially saw the Sagrada Familia cathedral as their only target.

Meanwhile, El Espanol online media outlet reported that, apart from the cathedral, terrorists had also planned attacks on Las Ramblas street and in the port area of Barcelona.

[...]

********

Saturday, August 19

"Don't you worry bout a thing"

This rendition of "Don't you worry bout a thing" from the classic Inner Visions album was sung at Stevie Wonder's blowout performance at the O2 Arena in London in 2008. The audience singing along in parts makes this version a special joy. (I ignored the backup singers doing silly vogueing moves during the song although their voices were okay).

The rendition is from a two-hour concert, beautifully filmed and recorded over two nights by a top-notch production crew. What I've heard so far of the concert is Stevie and his band at the top of their form and a great audience 'jamming' along. I love the lilting "All I do" starting at the 17:17 mark. I wish the sax solo had been longer but the concert had to zip through a playlist of 31 songs. 

See the YouTube notes for the playlist and personnel.



********

Thursday, August 17

Barcelona van attack: Latest details as of 4:10 PM EDT UPDATED 5:10 PM , 5:37 PM, 5:45 PM, 7:00 PM EDT

UPDATE 7 PM EDT
Details in this AP report via SF Gate worth reading.
  http://www.sfgate.com/news/crime/article/Barcelona-van-terrorist-attack-13-dead-11859422.php

UPDATE 5:45 PM EDT
A few clarifications from the Telegraph live blogging on the event:

[Still unclear/unknown how many attackers] 

UPDATE 5:37 PM EDT

BREAKING: One killed in explosion linked to Barcelona terror attack

ONE person has been killed in an explosion at a house in an incident connected to the Barcelona terror attack, according to Catalyan police.
The blast happened in the Alcanar is a Spanish municipality of Catalan – around 202km away from Barcelona.
The person who died in the blast is alleged to have been handling canisters of butane – a highly explosive gas.
A senior police officer told Reuters that the explosion is linked to the van attack on Las Ramblas in which 13 people were killed earlier today.
frm the Daily Star UK 
also, latest CNN update comports with Daily Star story; also, CNN now reporting 100 injured:
(CNN)[Breaking news update, published at 5:18 p.m. ET]
One person was killed Thursday in an explosion at a house in Catalonia in an incident connected to the Barcelona van attack, the head of the Catalan Police said. The victim is Spanish and was not on police radar.
[Previous story, published at 5:05 p.m. ET]

At least 13 people were killed and more than 100 injured after a van rammed through crowds in the heart of Barcelona on Thursday ...
UPDATE - 5:10 PM EDT
From CNN report updated 4:47 PM EDT
END CNN UPDATE EXCERPTS

Reuters 4:14 pm still reporting 2 arrests:


The head of the Spanish region of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, said ...two people had been arrested. It was still not clear how many attackers had been involved.
END UPDATES
********
Reuters 3:29pm EDT

(MADRID) Catalonia's regional head said on Thursday that Spanish police had arrested two people after a van drove into crowds in Barcelona city's center.

At least 80 people have been hospitalized and around 12 have died, Carles Puigdemont told a news conference. It was still not clear how many attackers had been involved in the incident.

[...]
***
Telegraph (U.K.) 3:39pm EDT

Live Updating (British time)
9:09pm

9:09 PM Oukabir denies involvement in Las Ramblas attack

A local newspaper in Catalonia, El Nacional, reported that Oukabir told police in Ripoll that he had nothing to do with the Barcelona attack.
He said that his documents had been stolen and used to hire the car, sources told the paper.
Jordi Munell, mayor of Ripoll, confirmed that Oukabir had denied any involvement in the attack

8:34pm Man who drove at police officers at checkpoint shot dead


The police force for Spain's Catalonia region says troopers have shot and killed a man who was in a car that hit two officers at a traffic blockade in Barcelona.
The Mossos d'Esquadra force did not indicate if the incident was related to the van attack in the city's Las Ramblas .
Local media reports say a white Ford Focus ran over the officers and then was intercepted by police 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) away.
That's where troopers shot one man dead.
A white van crashed into a packed summer crowd this evening in Barcelona's historic Las Ramblas district. Barcelona police called it a terror attack. Officials said 12 people were killed and 80 injured.

The Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The driver was arrested around two and a half hours after the attack, police said.

The vehicle hit pedestrians in Las Ramblas, a busy tree-lined promenade in the centre of the city.

Police released a photograph of a man called Driss Oukabir [see Telegraph for photo], who is suspected of renting the van which was used to crash into the pedestrians.
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Reuters/Jerusalem Post staff - 18:52

BARCELONA - A van plowed into crowds in the heart of Barcelona on Thursday and Spanish media reported at least 13 people were killed, in what police said they were treating as a terrorist attack.

One of the suspected attackers has been killed in a shootout with police on the outskirts of the city, La Vanguardia newspaper reported.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, the group's Amaq news agency said.

"The perpetrators of the Barcelona attack are soldiers of the Islamic State and carried out the operation in response to calls for targeting coalition states," the agency said, referring to a United States-led coalition against the Sunni militant group.

Police earlier confirmed they had arrested two people in connection with the attack. It was not immediately clear how many attackers were involved in the incident.

The death toll was reported by Cadena Ser radio, citing police sources. Police said some people were dead and injured but did not confirm the number of casualties. They said were searching for the driver of the van.

Spanish newspaper El Periodico said two armed men were holed up in a bar in Barcelona's city center, and reported gunfire in the area, although it did not cite the source of the information.

It was not immediately clear whether the incidents were connected.

The incident occurred in vicinity of the Maccabi kosher and Habibi halal restaurants. They are located across from the city's medieval Jewish quarter.

Limor Hasson, an Israeli tourist, told Channel 2 that there was a group of about 20 Israelis in the Maccabi restaurant at the time of the attack.

Chief Rabbi of Barcelona Meir Bar-Hen told Channel 2 that all community events will be cancelled and that he is headed to the scene of the incident to offer his services.

Bar-Hen said that it did not appear that Jews were targeted.

Chabad representative told The Jerusalem Post that the institute is located close to the scene of the attack and that members of Chabad staff were trying to reach the area to see if they were any Jewish casualties but that the police would not let them enter the area. "If there are Jews there we will try to find them and help them however we can," he said. "We are waiting for the incident to be over."

He confirmed that all Jewish institutes had closed until they received further notice.
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19:21 - 17.08.2017 updated 21:58
Sputnik

MOSCOW — The CIA warned Catalonia police of the possibility of a similar van ramming attack in Barcelona’s Rambla two months in advance, local media reported Thursday.
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