Category Archives: Middle East

MAN IN THE HAT

Brussels bomb suspect Mohamed Abrini to be questioned over Paris attacks

Belgian officials believe the terror cell that struck in Brussels last year also orchestrated the 2015 atrocities in France.

12:38, UK,Monday 30 January 2017

Mohamed Abrini has been handed over to France
Image Caption:Mohamed Abrini has been handed over to French authorities

A suspect in the Brussels airport attack dubbed the “man in the hat” has been handed over to France to be questioned about the Paris atrocities.

Mohamed Abrini was detained in Brussels in April last year over his suspected involvement in the 22 March attacks and the Paris killings, which the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for.

Belgium’s prosecutor’s office said in a statement: “In the framework of the investigation related to the attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015, Mohamed Abrini was surrendered to the French judicial authorities for a period of one day.”

Eric Van Der Sypt, a spokesman, said the decision was based on “mutual agreements” between the two countries.

He said: “It’s not uncommon that suspects in different cases are surrendered for one day or a few days.”

Belgian investigators have said the airport and metro bombers, who killed 32 people, were part of the same Brussels-based cell that plotted the November 2015 Paris attacks. Some 130 people were killed in the Paris attacks.

CCTV footage of Brussels airport taken shortly before the March 2016 terror attack
Image Caption:CCTV footage of Brussels airport taken shortly before the March 2016 terror attack

Abrini, who was dubbed the “man in the hat” in CCTV images, fled from the airport without apparently detonating a suitcase bomb after accomplices Najim Laachraoui and Ibrahim El Bakraoui set off theirs, killing 16 people and themselves.

Sources close to the Belgian-led investigation have said the three bombers targeted passengers travelling to the United States, as well as Jewish people and perhaps Russians at the airport.

US sources said they are confident the airline check-in counters for flights to the United States, Israel and Russia were targeted.

Abrini had a record as a petty criminal who grew up in the deprived Molenbeek area of Brussels with Salah Abdeslam, the only survivor of the group that carried out the Paris attacks.

He was nicknamed “Brioche” after his days working in a bakery and is thought to have given up training as a welder at the age of 18 before he became radicalised.

The Belgian, of Moroccan origin, was seen at a petrol station north of Paris two days before the 13 November attacks with prime suspect Abdeslam, who drove one of the vehicles used in the attacks.

Belgian authorities have charged Abrini with “participation in the activities of a terrorist group and terrorist murders” following the atrocity in Paris.

Investigators said he briefly visited Syria last year and his younger brother Suleiman, 20, died there.

He came on to the radar of security services while he was allegedly part of the same cell as Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the organisers of the Paris attacks who opened fire on bars, restaurants and a concert hall before he died in a police shootout shortly afterwards.

HELL IF IT IS – THE COWARDLY CHRISTIANS OF THE WEST

HELL IF IT IS – THE COWARDLY CHRISTIANS OF THE WEST

I’m willing to bet good money that if most Muslims around the world were allowed to live one week freely as a Christian, without fear of being forced to reconvert back to Islam, without fear of their families being physically and economically punished, and without fear of themselves being tortured, murdered, and crucified then 2/3rds would convert immediately and on the spot, and never look back.

I say this not only to those tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of Muslims seeking a far better way, but to those hundreds of millions of apathetic and lazy and cowardly Christians in the West who would not even dare to say such a thing out loud.

A lot of the responsibility for those Christians and those Muslims who live and suffer in the Middle East and elsewhere in this world lies with the abject cowardice of the Christians of the West.

And I might very well say the same thing about those Christians and Muslims living in China and other parts of Asia, and in and throughout Africa.

The cowardly West is no real example of the Courage of Christ.

It should be, but hell if it is…

HOMELAND

All of these people died in faith without receiving the promises, but they saw the promises from a distance and welcomed them. They confessed that they were strangers and immigrants on earth.  

People who say this kind of thing make it clear that they are looking for a homeland.

 

If they had been thinking about the country that they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return to it.  But at this point in time, they are longing for a better country, that is, a heavenly one.

Therefore, God isn’t ashamed to be called their God—he has prepared a habitation for them.

YOUR CHOICE

Now once Solomon finished building the Lord’s temple, the royal palace, and everything else he wanted to accomplish,  the Lord appeared to him a second time in the same way he had appeared to him at Gibeon.

The Lord said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your cry to me. I have set apart this temple that you built, to put my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.  

solomon-temple

As for you, if you walk before me just as your father David did, with complete dedication and honesty, and if you do all that I have commanded, and keep my regulations and case laws,  then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, just as I promised your father David, ‘You will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’

However, if you or your sons turn away from following me and don’t observe the commands and regulations that I gave you, and go to serve other gods, and worship them,  then I will remove Israel from the land I gave them and I will reject the temple that I dedicated for my name. Israel will become a joke, insulted by everyone.  

Everyone who passes by this temple, so lofty now, will be shocked and will whistle, wondering, Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and this temple?

The answer will come: Because they deserted the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt’s land. They embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them. That is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them.”

STILL TO COME

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward. For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.

 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.  And not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

 For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth?

But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.

THE SUN STAYED

Then spake Joshua to Jehovah in the day when Jehovah delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel,

Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon;
And thou, Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed,
Until the nation had avenged themselves of their enemies.

Is not this written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.  And there was no day like that before it or after it, that Jehovah hearkened unto the voice of a man: for Jehovah fought for Israel.

POWER OVER THE WORLD OF DEATH

And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying, 
“Fear not; I am the First and the Last,  and the Living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the Keys of Death and power over the World of Death.
 Write therefore the things which thou sawest, and the things which are, and the things which shall come to pass hereafter…”

THE DREAM AND THE FEARLESS

But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”

 So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.

The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.”  So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley.  During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands.  If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah  and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp.  The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.

Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”

 His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”

THE LAW IS HOLY AND GOOD

Therefore, what are we to say? That the Torah is sinful? Heaven forbid! Rather, the function of the Torah was that without it, I would not have known what sin is. For example, I would not have become conscious of what greed is if the Torah had not said, “Thou shalt not covet.”
 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, worked in me all kinds of evil desires — for apart from Torah, sin is dead.  I was once alive outside the framework of Torah. But when the commandment really encountered me, sin sprang to life,  and I died. The commandment that was intended to bring me life was found to be bringing me death!  For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me; and through the commandment, sin killed me.
 So the Torah is holy; that is, the Commandment and the Law is holy, just and good.

THE COPY AND THE READING

 Then Y’hoshua built an altar to Adonai, the God of Isra’el, on Mount ‘Eival,  as Moshe the servant of Adonai had ordered the people of Isra’el to do (this is written in the book of the Torah of Moshe), an altar of uncut stones that no one had touched with an iron tool. On it they offered burnt offerings to Adonai and sacrificed peace offerings.  He wrote there on the stones a copy of the Torah of Moshe, inscribing it in the presence of the people of Isra’el. Then all Isra’el, including their leaders, officials and judges, stood on either side of the ark in front of the cohanim, who were L’vi’im and who carried the ark for the covenant of Adonai. The foreigners were there along with the citizens. Half of the people were in front of Mount G’rizim and half of them in front of Mount ‘Eival, as Moshe the servant of Adonai had ordered them earlier in connection with blessing the people of Isra’el.  After this, he read all the words of the Torah, the blessing and the curse, according to everything written in the book of the Torah.  There was not a word of everything Moshe had ordered that Y’hoshua did not read before all Isra’el assembled, including the women, the little ones and the foreigners living with them.

THE OLD MAN AND THE NEW

Do not lie to one another, for you have stripped off the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new [spiritual] self who is being continually renewed in true knowledge in the image of Him who created the new self—  a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, [nor between nations whether barbarian or Scythian, nor in status whether slave or free, but Christ is all, and in all so believers are equal in Christ, without distinction.

 So, as God’s own chosen people, who are holy set apart, sanctified for His purpose and well-beloved by God Himself, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience which has the power to endure whatever injustice or unpleasantness comes, with good temper;  bearing graciously with one another, and willingly forgiving each other if one has a cause for complaint against another; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so should you forgive.  Beyond all these things put on and wrap yourselves in unselfish love, which is the perfect bond of unity for everything is bound together in agreement when each one seeks the best for others.

THE CITIES OF REFUGE

Then the Lord said to Joshua:  “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood.  When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them.  If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought.  They are to stay in that city until they have stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then they may go back to their own home in the town from which they fled.”

 So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah.  East of the Jordan (on the other side from Jericho) they designated Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau in the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead in the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan in the tribe of Manasseh.  Any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing among them who killed someone accidentally could flee to these designated cities and not be killed by the avenger of blood prior to standing trial before the assembly.

NO MAS – ACCULTURATION

God, that’s pathetic. That’s why I’ll hardly touch the damned things…

http://qz.com/523746

iSIGHT – INTELLIGENT AIMS

Intelligence Start-Up Goes Behind Enemy Lines to Get Ahead of Hackers

By NICOLE PERLROTHSEPT. 13, 2015

One of scores of intelligence analysts working at his computer at the headquarters of the security firm iSight in Chantilly, Va. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

CHANTILLY, Va. — On a recent Wednesday morning, 100 intelligence analysts crammed into a nondescript conference room here and dialed into a group call with 100 counterparts in Argentina, Brazil, Cyprus, India, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Taiwan and Ukraine.

As they worked their way around the room, the analysts briefed one another on the latest developments in the “dark web.”

A security firm in Pakistan was doing a little moonlighting, selling its espionage tools for as little as $500. Several American utility companies were under attack. A group of criminals were up to old tricks, infecting victims with a new form of “ransomware,” which encrypts PCs until victims pay a ransom.

The analysts, employees of iSight Partners, a company that provides intelligence about threats to computer security in much the same way military scouts provide intelligence about enemy troops, were careful not to name names or clients, in case someone, somewhere, was listening on the open line.
John Watters, iSight’s chief, evokes military jargon to talk about his company’s focus. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

For the last eight years, iSight has been quietly assembling what may be the largest private team of experts in a nascent business called threat intelligence. Of the company’s 311 employees, 243 are so-called cyberintelligence professionals, a statistic that executives there say would rank iSight, if it were a government-run cyberintelligence agency, among the 10 largest in the world, though that statistic is impossible to verify given the secretive nature of these operations.

ISight analysts spend their days digging around the underground web, piecing together hackers’ intentions, targets and techniques to provide their clients with information like warnings of imminent attacks and the latest tools and techniques being used to break into computer networks.

The company’s focus is what John P. Watters, iSight’s chief executive, calls “left of boom,” which is military jargon for the moment before an explosive device detonates. Mr. Watters, a tall, 51-year-old Texan whose standard uniform consists of Hawaiian shirts and custom cowboy boots, frequently invokes war analogies when talking about online threats.

“When we went into Iraq, the biggest loss of life wasn’t from snipers,” he said. It was from concealed explosive devices. “We didn’t get ahead of the threat until we started asking ourselves, ‘Who’s making the bombs? How are they getting their materials? How are they detonating them? And how do we get into that cycle before the bombs are ever placed there?’”

“Our business,” Mr. Watters continued, “is tracking the arms merchants and bomb makers so we can be left of boom and avoid the impact altogether.”

ISight’s investors, who have put $60 million into the company so far, believe that its services fill a critical gap in the battle to get ahead of threats. Most security companies, like FireEye, Symantec, Palo Alto Networks and Intel’s security unit, focus on blocking or detecting intrusions as they occur or responding to attacks after the fact.

ISight goes straight to the enemy. Its analysts — many of them fluent in Russian, Mandarin, Portuguese or 21 other languages — infiltrate the underground, where they watch criminals putting their schemes together and selling their tools.

The analysts’ reports help clients — including 280 government agencies, as well as banks and credit-card, health care, retail and oil and gas companies — prioritize the most imminent and possibly destructive threats.

Security experts say the need for such intelligence has never been greater. For the last three years, businesses have been investing in “big data” analytic tools that sound alarms anytime someone does something unusual, like gain access to a server in China, set up a private connection or siphon unusually large amounts of data from a corporate network.

The result is near constant and confusing noise. “Except for the most mature organizations, most businesses are drowning in alerts,” said Jason Clark, the chief security officer at Optiv, a security firm.

The average organization receives 16,937 alerts a week. Only 19 percent of them are deemed “reliable,” and only 4 percent are investigated, according to a study released in January by the Ponemon Institute, which tracks data breaches. By the time criminals make enough noise to merit a full investigation, it can take financial services companies more than three months, on average, to discover them, and retailers more than six months.

“Just generating more alerts is wasting billions of dollars of venture capital,” said David Cowan, an iSight investor and a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners. The last thing an executive in charge of network security needs is more alerts, he said: “They don’t have time. They need human, actionable threat intelligence.”

Mr. Cowan and others point to what happened to Target in 2013, when the retailer ignored an alert that ultimately could have stopped criminals from stealing 40 million customers’ payment details from its network.

A year earlier, iSight warned its clients that criminals were compiling and selling malware that was specifically designed to scrape payment data off cash registers. Had Target received that warning, the blip on its network might not have gone unnoticed.

“Target faced the same problem every retailer does every day,” Mr. Watters said. “They are awash in a sea of critical alerts every day. Without threat intelligence, they had roulette odds of picking the right one.”

Gartner, the research firm, estimates that the market for threat intelligence like iSight’s could grow to $1 billion in two years from $255 million in 2013. Gartner predicts that by 2018, 60 percent of businesses will incorporate threat intelligence into their defensive security strategy.

ISight, which plans to file for an initial public offering of stock next year, hopes to capitalize, as do the dozens of other cyberthreat intelligence outfits now flooding the market, each with a slightly different approach.

That proliferation of start-ups has led to a new complaint from computer security chiefs: overlapping information — sometimes as much as 40 percent — in the reports they receive, none of which is cheap. ISight charges customers based on size, and while it does not disclose pricing, some customers say they pay $500,000 or more annually for the company’s services, as much as five times what low-end services charge.

ISight makes 90 percent of its revenue from subscriptions to its six intelligence streams, each focused on a particular threat, including cyberespionage and cybercrime.

The company’s most recent competition comes from its oldest clients, particularly banks, which have been hiring former intelligence analysts to start internal operations. One former client, which declined to be named because of concerns that doing so could violate a nondisclosure agreement, said it had been able to build its own intelligence program at half the cost of its canceled iSight subscriptions.

But most businesses do not have the same resources as, say, a company like Bank of America, whose chief executive recently said there was no cap on the bank’s cybersecurity budget.

Many of those businesses remain paralyzed by the drumbeat of alarms that expensive security technologies are sounding on their networks.

At iSight’s threat center, the company’s approach is perhaps best summed up by a logo emblazoned on a T-shirt worn by one of its top analysts: “Someone should do something.”

YES!

Yes I would do this…

“OH FOOLISH MEN, AND SLOW OF HEART…”

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emma′us, about seven miles from Jerusalem,  and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.

But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?”

And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cle′opas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

And he said to them, “What things?”

And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,  and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.”

And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”

Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread…

 

HAPPY EASTER FOLKS IT IS THE MORN OF OUR GREAT RESURRECTION

THE BYZANTINE PILGRIMAGE

I would have very much liked to have made such a  Pilgrimage at such a period of time.

Pilgrims’ Progress to Byzantine Jerusalem

Ancient pilgrimages to the Holy Land

helena

Jerusalem has been revered as a holy city for millennia—with pilgrims a staple feature in its bustling streets. Egeria’s Travels and the journals of the Bordeaux Pilgrim and the Piacenza Pilgrim demonstrate that this was as true in the Byzantine period as it is today.In the September/October 2014 issue of BAR, “After Hadrian’s Banishment: Jews in Christian Jerusalem” examines the diverse population of Byzantine Jerusalem. Despite being banned from living in Jerusalem after the Bar-Kokhba Revolt (132–135 A.D.), Jews were once again living in the city by the Byzantine period.

The Roman emperor Hadrian, who was responsible for expelling the Jews from Jerusalem, renamed the city Aelia Capitolina in the second century and left it to an overwhelmingly pagan population—Roman soldiers and citizens and the Hellenized residents of Palestine. When Constantine made Christianity a lawful religion in 325 A.D., Jerusalem became a Christian city. However, far from being transformed overnight, the population of Byzantine Jerusalem remained diverse with minorities, such as Jews, living in the city.

An interesting facet of this population was pilgrims—both Christian and Jewish. Traveling from distant lands, pilgrims came to worship in the Holy Land. Their accounts—from Egeria’s Travels and the journals of the Bordeaux Pilgrim and the Piacenza Pilgrim to the better-known writings about Helena, mother of Constantine, and Eudocia, wife of Theodosius II—offer valuable insight into life in Byzantine Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Egeria’s Travels even included a map.

While some pilgrims are known to us by name, such as Egeria the nun (author of Egeria’s Travels), others remain anonymous, like the Bordeaux Pilgrim and the Piacenza Pilgrim.

The Bordeaux Pilgrim is the earliest known Christian pilgrim who left an account of his journey to the Holy Land. Chronicling his travels in 333–334, the pilgrim began in Burdigala—modern-day Bordeaux in France, hence the name the Bordeaux Pilgrim—and passed through northern Italy, the Danube Valley, Constantinople, Asia Minor and Syria on his way to Byzantine Jerusalem. The journal kept by the Bordeaux Pilgrim is known as the Itinerarium Burdigalense. While the original copy of his journal is lost, the Itinerarium Burdigalense was transmitted over several centuries and survived in four early manuscripts written between the eighth and tenth centuries.


How can we reconstruct and visualize ancient and medieval pilgrimage routes? Find out in “Map Quests: Geography, Digital Humanities and the Ancient World” by Sarah E. Bond in Bible History Daily.


In his journal, the Bordeaux Pilgrim describes how Jews visited the Temple Mount and mourned upon “a pierced stone” (lapis pertusus).Egeria was a pious woman from Galicia, Spain, who traveled around the Holy Land in the years 381 to 384 A.D. Writing in Latin, she chronicled her travels in a devout letter—the Itinerarium Egeriae or Egeria’s Travels. Many believe that she was a nun because she addressed her letter to her “beloved sisters.”

christian-ampulla jewish-ampulla

Only fragments of Egeria’s Travels have survived, the original letter long since lost. The middle section of Egeria’s Travels, documenting about four months of her pilgrimage, was preserved in the 11th-century manuscript Codex Aretinus. This medieval manuscript also went missing for several centuries, but it was rediscovered in 1884 at the monastic library in S. Maria in Arezzo, Italy, by Italian scholar Gian Francesco Gamurrini.Egeria described holy sites in Byzantine Jerusalem, detailing religious processions and rituals among Christians. Her account provides useful information about liturgical worship in the fourth century, when the church calendar was still developing. For instance, Egeria visited Byzantine Jerusalem before December 25 was fixed and recognized as Jesus’ birthday. However, at this time she documented that there was already a procession from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to Mount Zion that took place on the Sunday of Pentecost.

The anonymous Piacenza Pilgrim journeyed to the Holy Land in the 570s from the city of Piacenza in northern Italy. Itinerarium Antonini Placentini, his journal, overflows with wondrous tales from his travels. It recounts traditions about holy sites and relics and includes interesting anecdotes—some which seem nothing short of miraculous. When witnessing a baptism in the Jordan River on the Feast of Epiphany, the pilgrim describes how the waters stood still: “At dawn … the priest goes down to the river. The moment he starts blessing the water the Jordan turns back on itself with a roar, and the water stays still till the baptism is finished.”1 By the time the Piacenza Pilgrim visited Byzantine Jerusalem, Christmas was celebrated on December 25.

Perhaps the most famous Byzantine pilgrim was Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, who came to Jerusalem in 326–327 when she was 80 years old. Eusebius of Caesarea notes that she contributed to the construction of both the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives.

Jerusalem lies at the heart of Biblical archaeology. In the free eBook Jerusalem Archaeology: Exposing the Biblical City, learn about the latest finds in the Biblical world’s most vibrant city.

Helena is best-known for discovering Jesus’ tomb and the True Cross. Appended to his translation of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History, Tyrannius Rufinus relates the legend of how the empress found the True Cross: Three crosses were uncovered at a site that Helena had begun excavating, and a test was performed to determine which cross had been used to crucify Jesus. A very sick woman was brought to the crosses. Nothing happened when she touched the first two. Upon touching the third cross, however, she was miraculously healed. This proved to everyone present that Helena had found the True Cross, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built over the site of discovery.More than a hundred years after Helena, another empress took a pilgrimage to Byzantine Jerusalem. Eudocia, wife of Theodosius II, journeyed to the holy city in 439. Later, after separating from her husband the emperor, Eudocia made Jerusalem her home. The empress funded numerous construction projects, including the building of St. Stephen’s Church and monastery and the rebuilding of the wall around Mount Zion and the Siloam Pool. A skilled poet, she also wrote literature, including the epic poem Martyrdom of St. Cyprian.

Pilgrims visiting Byzantine Jerusalem—both royal and common—often purchased eulogia, implements thought to ward off evil. One type of eulogia manufactured in Byzantine Jerusalem were ampullae, hexagonal glass bottles likely used to hold holy water or oil. Ampullae with both Christian and Jewish symbols have been unearthed. These artifacts demonstrate that there were enough Christian and Jewish pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem to warrant the making of eulogia for them.

More information about the population of Byzantine Jerusalem—and about the Christian and Jewish pilgrims who visited the Holy Land—can be found in the article “After Hadrian’s Banishment: Jews in Christian Jerusalem” in the September/October 2014 issue of BAR.

——————

DRONE DOWN?

Syria claims shooting down of US drone over Latakia

A wheel purportedly from a US drone shot down in Syria Syrian state media carried footage of what they said was debris from drone being taken away

The Syrian military says it has shot down a US drone near the city of Latakia, a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad in north-west Syria.

US officials have said they lost contact with a drone but that it is unclear if it was shot down.

If confirmed it would be the first time Syrian forces have attacked a US aircraft since the start of coalition strikes against Islamic State (IS).

Syria has not been participating in the raids on IS.

The country’s state-run Sana news agency described the unmanned surveillance plane as “hostile”, without giving further details. The Pentagon said it was looking into the incident.

An MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft – it is not clear what model has been shot down The Pentagon said they lost contact with an MQ-1 Predator drone over north-west Syria
In a BBC interview last month, President Assad said “general messages” were provided to the Syrians about the coalition strikes via a third party.

A Jordanian jet involved in the coalition strikes crashed in northern Syria last year. IS captured the pilot and later burned him alive.

Chemical attacks

Meanwhile, Syrian activists have accused government forces of using chlorine in an attack in the north-western province of Idlib late on Monday.

Two groups reported that three children were among six people killed when aircraft dropped barrel bombs filled with the toxic chemical on Sarmin.

The Syrian military has denied the claim, describing it as propaganda.

A Syrian man stands next to the remains of a barrel bomb that activists say was dropped on the town of Sarmin on the night of 16 March 2015 A local activist said barrel bombs were dropped on two locations in Sarmin
Chlorine is a common industrial chemical, but its use as a weapon is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

Syria signed the treaty after the nerve agent sarin was used in an August 2013 attack on several suburbs of Damascus that killed hundreds of people. Western powers said only the government could have carried out the attack, but it blamed the rebels.

In January, international investigators concluded that chlorine gas had been used in air raids on three villages that were blamed on the government.

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council approved a resolution that condemned the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine in Syria, and threatened military action in case of further violations.

A map showing Latakia and Sarmin in Syria
More on This Story
Syria’s war
War in Syria

ISRAELI ELECTIONS

He still seems to have the advantage in forming a coalition government. Thank God though that the US doesn’t have to go through this kind of thing.

With no clear winner yet, Netanyahu and chief opponent both vow to form next government

Published March 17, 2015
·FoxNews.com

March 17, 2015: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his vote during Israel’s parliamentary elections in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, Pool)

With no clear winner yet declared in Israel’s parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed victory for his Likud Party early Wednesday, while his chief rival said he would make “every effort” to form the next government.

Exit polls conducted by the country’s three major TV stations late Tuesday showed mixed results in the acrimonious race between the Likud Party and opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union.
Two polls showed the parties deadlocked with 27 seats each in the 120-member Knesset, and a third gave Likud a slight lead of 28-27.

Netanyahu appeared to have fended off Herzog’s strong challenge, the Associated Press reported, but his victory was not guaranteed.

The prime minister said he had invited other rightist politicians to join him in a coalition government “without delay,” according to Reuters.
In an interview published Monday on the NRG news website, Netahyahu said withdrawing from occupied areas to make way for a Palestinian state would only ensure that territory will be taken over by Islamic extremists. When asked if that means a Palestinian state will not be established if he is elected, Netanyahu said “indeed.”

The prime minister doubled down on his remarks in a phone interview with Israel’s Channel 10 television after casting his ballot Tuesday, saying that any state established alongside Israel would “attack us with rockets … Who wants such a thing?”

The statements marked a reversal for Netanyahu, who laid out his support for Palestinian independence in a landmark 2009 speech, shortly after his return to the premiership after a decade away. In the intervening period, two rounds of peace talks have failed and Netanyahu has continued to expand Jewish settlements while portraying Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the main obstacle to a peace deal.

Elections day is a public holiday in Israel. Most people don’t go to work, beaches and restaurants fill up, and stores advertise election-day sales.

Israeli election officials said 26.5 percent of eligible voters had voted by midday, a rate similar to previous years. Facebook featured a special “I voted” button in Hebrew, as it has during elections in other countries, in an effort to get out the vote.

Israelis cast ballots for a party list, rather than individual candidates. After an election, it typically takes weeks of negotiation to form a governing coalition and determine who will be prime minister.

Several smaller centrist and religious parties that have not pledged support for either Netanyahu or Herzog will likely tip the scales to determine who will become prime minister.

Polls have consistently show Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party slightly trailing the centrist Zionist Union in the race for the most seats in Israel’s 120-member Knesset. In response, Netanyahu has appealed to Likud’s staunchest supporters to “close the gap” and warned about the consequences of what he termed as a “left-wing government” coming to power. He has also talked about an international conspiracy funded by wealthy foreigners to oust him.

Netanyahu’s opponents have attacked him for what they call his inattention to Israel’s high cost of living and growing income inequality. Reports of the extravagant spending habits of the Prime Minister and his wife have done little to endear them to the public, and an expected bump from Netanyahu’s address to Congress about Iran’s nuclear program earlier this month failed to materialize.

Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union has said he would revive peace efforts with the Palestinians, repair ties with the U.S. and reduce the growing gaps between rich and poor.

“Whoever wants to follow Bibi’s path of despair and disappointment will vote for him,” Herzog said after casting his vote, using a popular nickname for Netanyahu. “But whoever wants change, hope, and really a better future for Israel, will vote the Zionist Camp lead by me.”

That call resonated with 51-year-old businessman Ofer Benishti, who voted at a polling station in Kfar Saba in central Israel. He said he was a lifelong Likud voter but was now casting his ballot for the Zionist Union.

“I have had enough,” said Benishti. “Bibi tried and tried and tried, but it just hasn’t worked. It’s time to give someone else a chance. It can’t get worse than this,” he said, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

But Meshy Alon, 22, said she was sticking with the prime minister. “He is not great, but he is better than anything else out there,” she said. “I can’t vote for the left … It’s a Jewish country, not a Palestinian one.”

In his interview with Channel 10, Netanyahu ruled out a coalition with Herzog and said he would seek an alliance with the ultra-national Jewish Home party, which also opposes Palestinian statehood.

Netanyahu portrayed Herzog as someone who would easily give up territory for a Palestinian state. The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

“We have a different approach,” Netanyahu said. “They (the Zionist Union) want to withdraw. I don’t want to withdraw. If I put together the government, it will be a nationalist government.”

Herzog, meanwhile, signaled he is going back on what had been perceived as an unpopular power-sharing deal with the co-leader of the Zionist Union, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Under that deal, Herzog and Livni would each have served as prime minister for two years if they won the elections.

Meanwhile, police said they arrested an Israeli soldier on suspicion of incitement of violence. The soldier wrote on Facebook that if a leftist were to rise to power, the soldier would follow in the footsteps of Israeli extremist Yigal Amir, who assassinated dovish Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

THE WISE CIVILIZATION from POLITICAL CAUSE

The Wise Civilization is that civilization that first admits to itself that not all men are civilized, and far more importantly, admits to itself that not all men even desire to be civilized.

CURRENT SPEECH AND PAST TRANSCRIPT OF NETANYAHU’S SPEECH TO AIPAC

I listened to Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC. It was short, but a very good speech, and an important and honest one and very well received.

Glad I watched it.

Also below this speech is a former speech to AIPAC on the same general subject matter.

Netanyahu’s speech at AIPAC (full text)

The prime minister’s address, delivered early morning Israel time on Tuesday
March 6, 2012, 6:22 am

 

Benjamin Netanyahu

nuclear duck

AIPAC American Israel Public Affairs Committee

 

Thank you for the warm reception. It could be heard as far away as Jerusalem – the eternal and united capital of Israel. More than two thirds of the Congress is in attendance here tonight. I deeply appreciate your being here.

Last May when I addressed the Congress, you stood up to applaud the state of Israel. Now I ask the 13,000 friends of Israel here to stand up and applaud you, the representatives of the American people. Democrats and Republicans alike, we applaud your unwavering commitment to Israel.

I want to recognize Yossi Peled who is here tonight. Yossi was born in Belgium. His parents hid him with a Christian family during World War II. His father, and many other members of his family, were murdered at Auschwitz. His mother survived the Holocaust, returned to reclaim Yossi, and brought him to Israel. He became one of Israel’s bravest and greatest generals.

And today, Yossi Peled serves as a minister in my government. Yossi’s life is the story of the Jewish people – the story of a powerless and stateless people who became a strong and proud nation able to defend itself. And ladies and gentlemen, Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.

I’d like to talk to you about a subject no one has been talking about recently….Iran. Every day, I open the papers and read about these red lines and these time lines. I read about what Israel has decided to do or what Israel might do. Well, I’m not going to talk to you about what Israel will do or will not do. I, never talk about that. But I do want to talk to you about the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran. I want to explain why Iran must never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

President Obama has reiterated his commitment to prevent this from happening. He stated clearly that all options remain on the table, and that American policy is not containment. Well, Israel has the same policy. We are determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. We leave all options on the table. And containment is definitely not an option.

The Jewish state will not allow those seeking our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal. A nuclear armed Iran must be stopped. Amazingly, some people refuse to acknowledge that Iran’s goal is to develop nuclear weapons. You see, Iran claims that it’s enriching uranium to develop medical research. Yeah, right. A country that builds underground nuclear facilities, develops intercontinental ballistic missiles, manufactures thousands of centrifuges, and absorbs crippling sanctions – is doing all that in order to advance…medical research. So you see, when that Iranian ICBM is flying through the air to a location near you, you’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s only carrying medical isotopes.

Ladies and Gentlemen, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then what is it? That’s right, it’s a duck – but this duck is a nuclear duck. And it’s time the world started calling a duck a duck.

Fortunately, President Obama and most world leaders understand that the idea that Iran’s goal is not to develop nuclear weapons is ridiculous. Yet incredibly, some are prepared to accept an idea only slightly less preposterous: That we should accept a world in which the Ayatollahs have atomic bombs.

Sure, they say, Iran is cruel, but it’s not crazy. It’s detestable but it’s deterrable. Responsible leaders should not bet the security of their countries on the belief that the world’s most dangerous regime won’t use the world’s most dangerous weapons. And I promise you that as Prime Minister, I will never gamble with the security of Israel.

From the beginning, the Ayatollah regime has broken every international rule and flouted every norm. It has seized embassies, targeted diplomats and sent its own children through mine fields. It hangs gays and stones women. It supports Assad’s brutal slaughter of the Syrian people. Iran is the world’s foremost sponsor of terror. It sponsors Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and terrorists throughout the Middle East, Africa, and South America. Iran’s proxies have dispatched hundreds of suicide bombers, planted thousands of roadside bombs, and fired over twenty thousand missiles at civilians. Through terror from the skies and terror on the ground, Iran is responsible for the murder of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans. In 1983, Iran’s proxy Hezbollah blew up the Marine barracks in Lebanon, killing 240 American servicemen.

In the last decade, its been responsible for murdering and maiming American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Just a few months ago, it tried to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in a restaurant just a few blocks from here. The assassins didn’t care that several Senators and members of Congress would have been murdered in the process. Iran accuses the American government of orchestrating 9/11, and it denies the Holocaust. Iran brazenly calls for Israel’s destruction, and they work for its destruction – each day, every day.

This is how Iran behaves today, without nuclear weapons. Think of how they will behave tomorrow, with nuclear weapons. Iran will be even more reckless and far more dangerous.

There’s been plenty of talk recently about the costs of stopping Iran. I think it’s time to talk about the costs of not stopping Iran.

A nuclear-armed Iran would dramatically increase terrorism by giving terrorists a nuclear umbrella. That means that Iran’s terror proxies like Hezbollah, Hamas will be emboldened to attack America, Israel, and others because they will be backed by a power with atomic weapons.

A nuclear-armed Iran could choke off the world’s oil supply and make real its threat to close the Straits of Hormuz. If you’re worried about the price of oil today, imagine how high oil prices will be when a nuclear-armed Iran starts blackmailing the world. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, this would set off a mad dash by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and others to acquire nuclear weapons of their own.

The world’s most volatile region would become a nuclear tinderbox waiting to go off. And the worst nightmare of all, Iran could threaten all of us with nuclear terrorism. It could put a nuclear device in a ship heading to any port or in a truck parked in any city. Think about what it would mean to have nuclear weapons in the hands of radicals who lead millions in chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”

For the sake of our prosperity, for the sake of our security, for the sake of our children, Iran must not be allowed to get nuclear weapons!

The best outcome would be if Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program peacefully. No one would be happier than me and the people of Israel if Iran actually dismantled its program.

But so far, that hasn’t happened.

For fifteen years, I’ve been warning that a nuclear-armed Iran is a grave danger to my country and to the peace and security of the world. For the last decade, the international community has tried diplomacy. It hasn’t worked.

For six years, the international community has applied sanctions. That hasn’t worked either. I appreciate President Obama’s recent efforts to impose even tougher sanctions against Iran. Those sanctions are hurting Iran’s economy. But unfortunately, Iran’s nuclear march goes on. Israel has waited patiently for the international community to resolve this issue.

We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.

As Prime Minister of Israel, I will never let my people live under the shadow of annihilation.

Some commentators would have you believe that stopping Iran from getting the bomb is more dangerous than letting Iran have the bomb.

They say that a military confrontation with Iran would undermine the efforts already underway, that it would be ineffective, and that it would provoke even more vindictive action by Iran. I’ve heard these arguments before. In fact, I’ve read them before. In my desk, I have copies of an exchange of letters between the World Jewish Congress and the US War Department. The year was 1944. The World Jewish Congress implored the American government to bomb Auschwitz. The reply came five days later. I want to read it to you. Such an operation could be executed only by diverting considerable air support essential to the success of our forces elsewhere…..and in any case would be of such doubtful efficacy that it would not warrant the use of our resources….And here’s the most remarkable sentence of all. And I quote: Such an effort might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans. Think about that – “even more vindictive action” — than the Holocaust.

My Friends, 2012 is not 1944. The American government today is different. You heard it in President Obama’s speech yesterday. But here’s my point.

The Jewish people are also different. Today we have a state of our own. The purpose of the Jewish state is to secure the Jewish future. That is why Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.

We deeply appreciate the great alliance between our two countries. But when it comes to Israel’s survival, we must always remain the masters of our fate. Israel’s fate is to continue to be the forward position of freedom in the Middle East. The only place where minorities enjoy full civil rights; The only place where Arabs enjoy full civil rights. The only place where Christians are free to practice their faith; The only place where real judges protect the rule of law; And as Prime Minister of Israel, I will never allow anything to threaten Israel’s democratic way of life. And most especially, I will never tolerate any discrimination against women.

This week, we will read how one woman changed Jewish history. In Synagogues throughout the world, the Jewish people will celebrate the festival of Purim. We will read how some 2,500 years ago, a Persian anti-Semite tried to annihilate the Jewish people. We will read how his plot was foiled by one courageous woman – Esther. In every generation, there are those who wish to destroy the Jewish people.

We are blessed to live in an age when there is a Jewish state capable of defending the Jewish people. And we are doubly blessed to have so many friends like you, Jews and non-Jews alike, who love the State of Israel and support its right to defend itself. Thank you for your friendship, Thank you for your courage, Thank you for standing up for the one and only Jewish state.

There is but one way to advise – by example.

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