US positions four ships east of Taiwan, China moves tanks to the coast as Pelosi visits Taipei

Revelations 6:3-4 “when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

Important Takeaways:

  • Chinese TANKS flood beaches opposite Taiwan as Beijing warns America will ‘pay the price’ for Pelosi’s Taipei visit: Four US warships lie off island’s east coast and flight tracking website goes DOWN as 300,000 people chart Nancy’s journey
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set to arrive in Taipei on Tuesday evening at 10:20 p.m., sources said
  • China warned the US will ‘pay the price for undermining China’s sovereign security interests’ with visit
  • Chilling footage appears to show Chinese amphibious tanks on the coast of Fujian along the Taiwan Strait
  • Beijing’s warplanes have been flying very close to the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday in a ‘provocative’ move
  • Four US warships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, are positioned in waters east of Taiwan

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Czech Republic first NATO nation to send tanks, armored vehicles raising concerns NATO may be dragged into war

Revelations 6:3-4 “ when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

Important Takeaways:

  • First NATO country sends tanks to Ukraine: Czech Republic provides T-72 tanks and armored infantry vehicles following Zelensky’s plea for help
  • Czech Republic is the first NATO country to deliver heavy military equipment since war began on February 24
  • BVP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, howitzer artillery pieces, and a dozen T-72 tanks were transferred to Ukraine
  • The delivery has once again raised concerns that NATO may get dragged into Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine
  • It comes as Russian artillery continued to pound the Ukrainian cities of Mariupol and Kharkiv

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Putin gearing up for war

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Important Takeaways:

  • Putin issues terrifying war warning – Russia ready to turn ‘everyone to radioactive ash’
  • America has been warning for weeks that Mr. Putin appears to be readying tens of thousands of troops, tanks and artillery pieces to invade Ukraine, but Mr. Putin has insisted it is merely a defense force – until now.
  • Putin has warned he is willing to take “military measures” in response to “unfriendly” Western action in Ukraine, in the clearest sign yet that the Russian strongman is gearing up for war.
  • Dmitry Kiselyov, a Russian media mogul, threatened to “put a gun to America’s head” if NATO forces are stationed in Ukraine and warned the alliance to back off “otherwise, everyone will be turned into radioactive ash.”

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Israel pounds Gaza to curb Palestinian militants but rockets still fly

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Stephen Farrell

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel pummeled Gaza with artillery fire and air strikes on Friday as it targeted Palestinian militant tunnels to try to stop persistent rocket attacks on Israeli towns.

The 40-minute, pre-dawn offensive killed 13 Palestinians, including a mother and her three children whose bodies were pulled from the rubble of their home, health officials in Gaza said.

The Israeli operation included 160 aircraft as well as tanks and artillery firing from outside the Gaza Strip, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said.

Palestinian rocket barrages against southern Israel swiftly followed on the fifth day of the most serious fighting between Israel and Gaza militants since 2014.

Egypt was leading international efforts to secure a ceasefire and ensure the conflict does not spread. Security sources said neither side appeared amenable so far but a Palestinian official said negotiations intensified on Friday.

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, urging a return to peace in the region.

Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, launched the rocket attacks on Monday, in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, in East Jerusalem.

Violence has since spread to cities where Jews and Israel’s minority Arab community live side by side. There have also been clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where health officials said seven Palestinians were killed on Friday.

At least 122 people have been killed since Monday in Gaza, including 31 children and 20 women, and 900 others wounded, Palestinian medical officials said.

Among eight dead in Israel were a soldier patrolling the Gaza border, six Israeli civilians – including two children, an elderly woman and an Indian worker, Israeli authorities said.

SYSTEM OF TUNNELS

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said there were reports of more than 200 housing units destroyed or severely damaged in Gaza and hundreds of people seeking shelter in schools in the north of the coastal enclave.

Israel says it makes every effort to preserve civilian life, including warning in advance of attacks.

“What we were targeting is an elaborate system of tunnels that spans underneath Gaza, mostly in the north but not limited to, and is a network that the operatives of Hamas use in order to move, in order to hide, for cover,” Conricus told foreign reporters, adding that the network was known as “the Metro”.

Israeli warplanes bombed the houses of three senior Hamas military commanders in central Gaza on Friday that had already been evacuated, local residents said.

An Israeli plane also bombed the building that housed the National Production Bank in Gaza City, with bricks and debris sent flying and windows shattered in some nearby buildings, witnesses said.

Dozens of mourners took part in the funeral of six people – members of two families whose houses were hit by Israeli air strikes on Thursday – in the southern Gaza town of Rafah.

Holding the cloth-bound body of his 19-month-old nephew in his arms, Khamees al-Rantissi said their house was bombed without prior warning. “What was this child doing? What threat did he pose for the state of Israel?” Rantissi asked.

Netanyahu said on Thursday the campaign “will take more time”. Israeli officials said Hamas must be dealt a strong deterring blow before any ceasefire.

The Israeli military’s build-up of forces on the Gaza border has raised speculation about a possible repeat of ground invasions during Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2009, but Israel is loath to risk a sharp increase in military casualties.

FLURRY OF DIPLOMACY

Egypt was pushing for both sides to cease fire from midnight on Friday pending further negotiations, two Egyptian security sources said, with Cairo leaning on Hamas and others, including the United States, trying to reach an agreement with Israel.

“The talks have taken a real and serious path on Friday,” a Palestinian official said. “The mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations are stepping up their contacts with all sides in a bid to restore calm, but a deal hasn’t yet been reached.”

The hostilities have fueled tension between Israeli Jews and the country’s 21% Arab minority. Violence continued in mixed communities overnight after street fighting and tit-for-tat attacks that prompted Israel’s president to warn of civil war.

Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, who led Friday prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque, decried the treatment of the mosque by Israeli forces. He said its “sanctity has been violated several times during the holy month of Ramadan” in what he called violations “unprecedented” since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Israel’s military said a Palestinian tried to stab a soldier near the West Bank city of Ramallah. The soldier shot the attacker. Palestinian health officials said the man was killed.

Major airlines have suspended flights to Israel and at least two owners of tankers delivering crude oil asked to divert from Ashkelon to the port of Haifa, farther north of Gaza, because of the conflict, shipping sources said on Friday.

There were pro-Palestinian protests in Jordan and Lebanon, on the borders of the West Bank and Israel, and in Bangladesh, where thousands marched from Dhaka’s national mosque.

But the broader picture across the Middle East and the Islamic world, where Muslims are marking the Eid al-Fitr holiday and where restrictions on movement due to COVID-19 are in place in some countries, was noticeably muted.

The U.N. Security Council will publicly discuss the worsening violence on Sunday, diplomats said after the United States had objected to a meeting on Friday.

The Israeli military has put the number of militants killed in Israeli attacks at between 80 and 90. It said that so far, some 1,800 rockets have been fired at Israel, of which 430 fell short in Gaza or malfunctioned.

(Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub, Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch in Israel; Aidan Lewis in Cairo, Nandita Bose and Steve Holland in Washington, Michelle Nichols in New York and Emma Farge in Geneva; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Mark Heinrich and Frances Kerry)

President Trump presides over July 4th holiday with military show

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump smiles as he as walks on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return to Washington from South Korea, U.S., June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will preside over July Fourth Independence Day celebrations on Thursday with a speech about patriotism and a show of military might that critics say is politicizing an important holiday and wasting taxpayer money.

Trump, a Republican who admired flashy displays of national pride and military strength put on by France, has dismissed concerns about the expense and militaristic overtones of the Washington event, which will take place in front of the Lincoln Memorial and feature fireworks, a flyover by Air Force One and a display of tanks.

Democrats charge the president with staging a campaign rally. Though the White House has said his remarks would not be political in nature, the president has a history of veering off script with sharp partisan attacks even at events that are not meant to be overtly political.

“People are coming from far and wide to join us today and tonight for what is turning out to be one of the biggest celebrations in the history of our Country,” Trump tweeted on Thursday morning.

He is set to give a speech at 6:30 p.m. ET (2230 GMT), followed by fireworks later in the evening. Asked earlier this week if he could give a speech that would represent all Americans, he said he thought he could and then launched into an attack on Democrats’ policies on healthcare and taxes.

Flights will be suspended at nearby Reagan National Airport from 6:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET (2215 to 2345 GMT) and then again later in the evening for the festivities. “Perhaps even Air Force One will do a low & loud sprint over the crowd,” Trump tweeted, encouraging people to get there early.

Some at the White House were worried about the crowd size, according to an administration official. Trump fumed about reports in 2017 that the crowd at his inauguration ceremony on the National Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol was smaller than it was for President Barack Obama. The Lincoln Memorial is at the opposite end of the monument-covered Mall.

Republican political groups were given prime tickets for Trump’s speech, and the Washington Post reported that the U.S. National Park Service diverted $2.5 million in park entrance fees to help pay for the event.

“Instead of addressing something like veteran homelessness, he’s spending it on boosting his ego with a parade that’s fundamentally about him and then getting tickets in the hands of wealthy donors for the Republican Party. What a waste of money,” Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro said on CBS “This Morning” on Wednesday.

Fellow Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders also weighed in with criticism: “This is what authoritarians do: @realDonaldTrump is taking $2.5 million away from our National Park Service to glorify himself with a spectacle of military tanks rolling through Washington,” he wrote in a tweet.

Trump downplayed the expense.

“The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth. We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel,” he posted on Twitter on Wednesday. “We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!” Andrews is the name of a nearby military base.

The July 4th holiday celebrates the U.S. founders’ declaring independence from Britain in 1776.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

World must keep lethal weapons under human control, Germany says

FILE PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas arrives for the weekly German cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s foreign minister on Friday called for urgent efforts to ensure that humans remained in control of lethal weapons, as a step toward banning “killer robots”.

Heiko Maas told an arms control conference in Berlin that rules were needed to limit the development and use of weapons that could kill without human involvement.

Critics fear that the increasingly autonomous drones, missile defense systems and tanks made possible by new technology and artificial intelligence could turn rogue in a cyber-attack or as a result of programming errors.

The United Nations and the European Union have called for a global ban on such weapons, but discussions so far have not yielded a clear commitment to conclude a treaty.

“Killer robots that make life-or-death decisions on the basis of anonymous data sets, and completely beyond human control, are already a shockingly real prospect today,” Maas said. “Fundamentally, it’s about whether we control the technology or it controls us.”

Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands signed a declaration at the conference vowing to work to prevent weapons proliferation.

“We want to want to codify the principle of human control over all deadly weapons systems internationally, and thereby take a big step toward a global ban on fully autonomous weapons,” Maas told the conference.

He said he hoped progress could be made in talks under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) this year. The next CCW talks on lethal autonomous weapons take place this month in Geneva.

Human Rights Watch’s Mary Wareham, coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, urged Germany to push for negotiations on a global treaty, rather than a non-binding declaration.

“Measures that fall short of a new ban treaty will be insufficient to deal with the multiple challenges raised by killer robots,” she said in a statement.

In a new Ipsos survey, 61 percent of respondents in 26 countries opposed the use of lethal autonomous weapons.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Russia’s Putin inspects war games and vows to beef up army

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu while flying over Tsugol training range in Zabaikalsky region, Russia, September 13, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Thursday promised to strengthen the army and supply it with new generation weapons, as he traveled to watch Russia’s biggest war games since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Vostok-2018 (East-2018) drills taking place in eastern Siberia close to the border with China involve 300,000 Russian troops as well as joint exercises with the Chinese army.

“This is the first time our army and fleet have undergone such a difficult and large-scale test,” Putin said in comments published on the Kremlin website.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu oversee the Vostok-2018 (East-2018) military drills at Tsugol firing range in Zabaikalsky Region, Russia September 13, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu oversee the Vostok-2018 (East-2018) military drills at Tsugol firing range in Zabaikalsky Region, Russia September 13, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS

The exercises, that involve over a thousand military aircraft as well as up to 36,000 tanks, come amid tense relations between Russia and the West that have fallen to a post-Cold War low.

Addressing a gathering of the soldiers, Putin said Russia was a peaceful country ready for cooperation with any state interested in partnership, but that it was a soldier’s duty to be ready to defend his country and its allies.

“Therefore we are going to further strengthen our armed forces, supply them with the latest generations of weapons and equipment, develop international military partnership,” Putin said.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Keith Weir)

Turkish tanks trained on northern Iraq in show of force ahead of vote

A Turkish soldier on a tank is seen during a military exercise near the Turkish-Iraqi border in Silopi, Turkey, September 19, 2017. Dogan News Agency, DHA via REUTERS

SIRNAK, Turkey (Reuters) – Turkish troops dug in on the country’s southern border on Tuesday and turned their weapons toward Kurdish-run northern Iraq, where authorities plan an independence referendum in defiance of Ankara and Western powers.

Tanks and rocket launchers mounted on armored vehicles faced the Iraqi frontier, about 2 km (one mile) away, and mechanical diggers tore up agricultural fields for the army to set up positions in the flat, dry farmlands.

The military drill, launched without warning on Monday, is due to last until Sept. 26, Turkish military sources said, a day after the planned referendum for Kurdish independence in northern Iraq.

A Reuters reporter saw four armored vehicles carrying heavy weaponry and soldiers taking positions in specially dug areas, their weapons directed across the border. A generator and satellite dish could be seen at one location.

The show of force reflects the scale of concern in Turkey, which has the largest Kurdish population in the region, that the vote could embolden the outlawed Kurdish PKK which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s southeast.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week Ankara would not shy away from using force if necessary, and the showdown has hit the Turkish lira. It weakened beyond 3.5 to the dollar on Tuesday for the first time in four weeks.

Turkey has long seen itself as protector of the ethnic Turkmen minority, with particular concern about the oil city of Kirkuk where Kurds have extended their control since seizing the city when Islamic State overwhelmed Iraqi forces in 2014.

OIL CITY

Tensions spread to Turkish markets.

“The increasing tension before the referendum in northern Iraq continues to effect lira negatively,” Kapital FX Research Assistant Manager Enver Erkan said.

Cross-border trade, however, appeared to continue. Despite the nearby military maneuvers a kilometer line of traffic, mostly trucks and cargo, queued to enter Iraq at the Habour border gate.

Turkey’s strong economic ties to the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) will weigh on any response from Ankara. The KRG pumps hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day and has approved plans for Russian oil major Rosneft to invest in pipelines to export gas to Turkey and Europe.

The military exercises came as Turkey, the central government in Baghdad and their shared neighbor Iran all stepped up protests and warnings about the independence referendum in the semi-autonomous Kurdish northern Iraq.

The United States and other Western countries have also voiced concerns and asked Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani to call off the vote, citing fears the referendum could distract attention from the fight against Islamic State militants.

Iraq’s Supreme Federal Court ordered Barzani to suspend the vote and approved Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s demand to consider “the breakaway of any region or province from Iraq as unconstitutional”, his office said on Monday.

Turkey has brought forward to Friday a cabinet meeting and a session of its national security council to consider possible action.

(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans and Ralph Boulton)

Britain, U.S. sending planes, troops to deter Russia in the east

NATO defence ministers attend a meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium,

By Robin Emmott and Phil Stewart

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britain said on Wednesday it will send fighter jets to Romania next year and the United States promised troops, tanks and artillery to Poland in NATO’s biggest military build-up on Russia’s borders since the Cold War.

Germany, Canada and other NATO allies also pledged forces at a defense ministers meeting in Brussels on the same day two Russian warships armed with cruise missiles entered the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Denmark, underscoring East-West tensions.

In Madrid, the foreign ministry said Russia had withdrawn a request to refuel three warships in Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta after NATO allies said they could be used to target civilians in Syria.

The ships were part of an eight-ship carrier battle group – including Russia’s sole aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov – that is expected to join around 10 other Russian vessels already off the Syrian coast, diplomats said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the troop contributions to a new 4,000-strong force in the Baltics and eastern Europe were a measured response to what the alliance believes are some 330,000 Russian troops stationed on Russia’s western flank near Moscow.

“This month alone, Russia has deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad and suspended a weapons-grade plutonium agreement with the United States,” Stoltenberg said, also accusing Russia of continued support for rebels in Ukraine.

Those ballistic missiles can hit targets across Poland and the Baltics, although NATO officials declined to say if Russia had moved nuclear warheads to Kaliningrad.

NATO’s aim is to make good on a July promise by NATO leaders to deter Russia in Europe’s ex-Soviet states, after Moscow orchestrated the annexation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014.

NATO’s plan is to set up four battle groups with a total of some 4,000 troops from early next year, backed by a 40,000-strong rapid-reaction force, and if need be, follow-on forces.

As part of that, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced a “battle-ready battalion task force” of about 900 soldiers would be sent to eastern Poland, as well as another, separate force equipped with tanks and other heavy equipment to move across eastern Europe.

“It’s a major sign of the U.S. commitment to strengthening deterrence here,” Carter said.

Britain’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said Britain would send an 800-strong battalion to Estonia, supported by French and Danish troops, starting from May. The United States wants its troops in position by June.

London is also sending Typhoon fighter aircraft to Romania to patrol around the Black Sea, partly in support of Turkey.

“Although we are leaving the European Union, we will be doing more to help secure the eastern and southern flanks of NATO,” Fallon said.

SYRIAN SHADOW

Others NATO allies joined the four battle groups led by the United States, Germany, Britain and Canada to go to Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. Canada said it was sending 450 troops to Latvia, joined by 140 military personnel from Italy.

Germany said it was sending between 400 and 600 troops to Lithuania, with additional forces from the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Croatia and Luxembourg.

Stoltenberg said allies’ commitments would be “a clear demonstration of our transatlantic bond.” Diplomats said it would also send a message to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has complained that European allies do not pay their way in the alliance.

For the Kremlin, the U.S.-led alliance’s plans are already too much given Russia’s grievances at NATO’s expansion eastwards, although Stoltenberg denied going too far.

But NATO’s troop announcements in the Baltic states and Poland were partly overshadowed by the dispute about whether Spain should refuel the Russian warships, which was later resolved by Moscow’s decision to withdraw its request.

NATO’s tensions with Russia have been building since Crimea and the West’s decision to impose retaliatory sanctions.

But the breakdown of a U.S-Russia brokered ceasefire in Syria on Oct. 3, followed by U.S. accusations that Russia has used cyber attacks to disrupt the presidential election, have signaled a worsening of ties.

Even before the break down of the Syrian ceasefire, Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended a treaty with Washington on cleaning up weapons-grade plutonium, signaling he was willing to use nuclear disarmament as a new bargaining chip in disputes with the United States over Ukraine and Syria.

(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Tom Heneghan)