Suicide bombers hit Iraq security as attacks kill 35

Updated 28 December 2013
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Suicide bombers hit Iraq security as attacks kill 35

BAGHDAD: Three suicide bombings killed 14 Iraqi security force members overnight, officials said Wednesday, the deadliest in a series of attacks that left 35 people dead in two days.
The attacks come as Iraq witnesses its worst violence since 2008, a surge in unrest that has killed more than 5,400 people this year that has persisted despite authorities having carried out a swathe of operations and implemented tightened security measures.
Since the beginning of 2013, AFP has recorded just 16 days in which there were no deaths from violence in Iraq, the most recent of which was May 24.
The months-long surge in unrest drew condemnation from the Pope on Wednesday in his regular address to tens of thousands of worshippers massed in Vatican City.
On Wednesday, attacks in Sunni-majority areas of Baghdad and outside the capital left nine people dead and more than 20 others wounded, according to security and medical officials.
The deadliest of the attacks was in Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad, where two people were killed in a roadside bomb, while a magnetic “sticky bomb” attached to a car in the Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiyah killed a policeman.
Attacks also struck the restive central city of Baquba and nearby towns, the former insurgent bastion of Fallujah to the west of Baghdad, and the cities of Mosul, Kirkuk and Tikrit, all to the north of the capital.
The violence followed suicide bombings the previous night that killed 19 people, among them 14 security forces members.
In Tarmiyah, north of Baghdad, two suicide bombers attacked a house where a security meeting was taking place at about 11:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) on Tuesday, killing 11 people and wounding at least 20.
One bomber detonated explosives at a gate leading to the house, while the second managed to enter the building itself.
The dead were four soldiers, including a brigadier general, three police, among them a lieutenant colonel, and four Sahwa anti-Al-Qaeda fighters.
And near the northern city of Mosul, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle rigged with explosives near a police checkpoint, killing eight people, among them three police, and wounding 25.
Militants, including those linked to Al-Qaeda, frequently target Iraqi security forces and other government employees.
Some 30 suicide bombers have managed to detonate explosives in attacks this month, while others were killed before they could do so.
Other attacks in Iraq killed seven more people on Tuesday, as Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki left for a visit to Washington, during which he will push for increased US support for the country’s fight against insurgents.
The Iraqi government has so far failed to curb the heightened unrest this year, and experts say Baghdad should turn to longer-term efforts that build trust among citizens, especially members of the country’s Sunni minority.
Widespread discontent among Iraq’s Sunnis, who complain of being politically isolated and unfairly targeted by security forces, has been a major factor in the unrest, along with the civil war in neighboring Syria, which has bolstered militants.
The level of violence rose sharply after security forces stormed a Sunni protest camp in northern Iraq in April, sparking clashes in which dozens died.
And while authorities have made some concessions aimed at placating the protesters and Sunnis in general, such as freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of Sunni anti-Al-Qaeda fighters, the underlying issues remain unaddressed.
More than 700 people have been killed in violence so far this month, and over 5,400 since the beginning of the year, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.


Future rabbis plant with Palestinians, sow rift with Israel

Updated 10 min 54 sec ago
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Future rabbis plant with Palestinians, sow rift with Israel

  • The gap between American and Israeli Jews seems to be widening
  • American rabbinical students plant olive trees in a Palestinian village

AT-TUWANI, West Bank: Young American rabbinical students are doing more than visiting holy sites, learning Hebrew and poring over religious texts during their year abroad in Israel.
In a stark departure from past programs focused on strengthening ties with Israel and Judaism, the new crop of rabbinical students is reaching out to the Palestinians. The change reflects a divide between Israeli and American Jews that appears to be widening.
On a recent winter morning, Tyler Dratch, a 26-year-old rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Boston, was among some two dozen Jewish students planting olive trees in the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani in the southern West Bank. The only Jews that locals typically see are either Israeli soldiers or ultranationalist settlers.
“Before coming here and doing this, I couldn’t speak intelligently about Israel,” Dratch said. “We’re saying that we can take the same religion settlers use to commit violence in order to commit justice, to make peace.”
Dratch, not wanting to be mistaken for a settler, covered his Jewish skullcap with a baseball cap. He followed the group down a rocky slope to see marks that villagers say settlers left last month: “Death to Arabs” and “Revenge” spray-painted in Hebrew on boulders and several uprooted olive trees, their stems severed from clumps of dirt.
This year’s student program also includes a tour of the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron, a visit to an Israeli military court that prosecutes Palestinians and a meeting with an activist from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, which is blockaded by Israel.
The program is run by “T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights,” a US-based network of rabbis and cantors.
Most of T’ruah’s membership, and all students in the Israel program, are affiliated with the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements — liberal streams of Judaism that represent the majority of American Jews. These movements are marginalized in Israel, where rabbis from the stricter Orthodox stream dominate religious life.
The T’ruah program, now in its seventh year, is meant to supplement students’ standard curricular fare: Hebrew courses, religious text study, field trips and introductions to Jewish Israeli society. Though the program is optional, T’ruah says some 70 percent of the visiting American rabbinical students from the liberal branches of Judaism choose to participate.
The year-long program is split into one semester, focused on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and another, on alleged human rights abuses inside Israel.
T’ruah claims its West Bank encounters aren’t one-off acts of community service, but experiences meant to be carried home and disseminated to future congregations.
“We want to propel them to action, so they invite their future rabbinates to work toward ending the occupation,” said Rabbi Ian Chesir-Teran, T’ruah’s rabbinic educator in Israel.
The group began its trip in the most Jewish of ways, a discussion about the weekly Torah portion that turned into a spirited debate about the Ten Commandments.
“The Torah says don’t covet your neighbor’s fields, and we’re going to a Palestinian village whose private land has been confiscated for the sake of covetous Jews building settlements,” Chesir-Teran said.
As their bus trundled through the terraced hills south of Hebron, students listened to a local activist’s condensed history of the combustible West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
As part of interim peace deals in the 1990s, the West Bank was carved up into autonomous and semi-autonomous Palestinian areas, along with a section called Area C that remains under exclusive Israeli control.
The destinations of the day — the Palestinian villages of At-Tuwani and Ar-Rakkes — sit in Area C, also home to around 450,000 Israeli settlers. Palestinians seek all of the West Bank as the heartland of a hoped-for independent state.
The group was guided by villagers to their olive trees — an age-old Palestinian symbol and a more recent casualty of the struggle for land with Israeli settlers.
Israeli security officials reported a dramatic spike last year in settler violence against Palestinians.
Yishai Fleisher, a settler spokesman, blamed the attacks on the “atmosphere of tension” in the West Bank. “We’re against vigilantism, unequivocally,” he said.
As Israeli soldiers watched from the hilltop, Palestinians and Jews dug their fingers into the crumbling soil, setting down roots where holes torn out of the field hinted at recent vandalism.
Dratch said he came of age in Pennsylvania during the violent years of the second Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s. “My religious education was steeped in fear of Palestinians,” he said.
But in college, Dratch’s ideas about Israel changed. Dratch says he still supports Israel, while opposing its policies in the West Bank. “I realized I could be Zionist without turning my back on my neighbor, on Palestinians,” he said.
With hundreds of young American rabbis sharing such sentiments, some in Israel find the trend alarming.
“I worry about a passion for social justice becoming co-opted by far-left politics among future American Jewish leaders,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, a Jewish research center in Jerusalem.
“Future rabbis are marginalizing themselves from the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews,” he added.
As Israel heads toward elections in April, opinion polls point to another victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his religious, nationalist allies.
In the US, meanwhile, surveys show American Jews, particularly the younger generation, holding far more dovish views toward Palestinians and religious pluralism. Netanyahu’s close friendship with President Donald Trump has further alienated many American Jews, who tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
Two weeks after visiting At-Tuwani, the group received disheartening news: half of the 50 trees they’d planted had been uprooted, apparently by settlers. The students scrambled to make plans to replant.
Dratch said that while his time in Israel has provided him with plenty of reasons to despair, he still harbors hope for change.
“We’ll be sharing these stories to give people a full picture of what it means to care about this place,” he said.