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Australia Café Siege Leaves Gunman, 3 Hostages Dead

By VOA News

Australian police have confirmed three people, including the hostage-taker, were killed during a day-long standoff at a Sydney cafe. The siege ended around 2 a.m. local time Tuesday when heavily-armed police stormed the shop where New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said a gunman held 17 people hostage for about 16 hours.

New South Wales police called the attack an "isolated incident" by 50-year-old Iranian immigrant Man Haron Monis. A 34-year-old man and 38-year-old woman were also killed. The police commissioner said gunfire was exchanged when police raided the cafe, but would not confirm the causes of the three deaths.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Monis was politically motivated, calling him mentally unstable. He said Monis was well known to law enforcement. Abbott also said the way police handled the situation should leave Australians reassured. Four hostages and a police officer are being treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

The takeover of the Lindt chocolate cafe in Sydney's central business district began around 9:45 a.m. local time on Monday. Five people escaped the cafe on Monday and another five early Tuesday, just before the police assault. At least three more fled with help from emergency workers. A barrage of gunfire and flashes could be heard as security forces in tactical gear surrounded, then entered the storefront early Tuesday morning, local time.

A police spokeswoman said the attacker made contact during the siege, but negotiators had not been able to establish a motive for his action. At times throughout the standoff, hostages inside were seen standing with their hands pushed up against the windows. A black flag with the Islamic creed known as the Shahada written in white could be seen through the glass.

Man Haron Monis came into the public eye earlier with a letter campaign to the families of Australian troops killed in Afghanistan in which he criticized the soldiers' actions. The Sydney resident entered the country in 1996 seeking political asylum. He was out on bail after charges related to the 2013 killing of his ex-wife and the sexual assault of a woman earlier this year.

A police spokeswoman said the hostage-taker made contact during the standoff, but negotiators had not been able to establish a motive for his action.

Monis, a self-proclaimed Muslim cleric, was facing charges including sexual assault and accessory to murder in separate cases. He was found guilty in 2012 of sending offensive and threatening letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed overseas, according to media reports. He had been sentenced to 300 hours of community service, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Monis had obsessed over an ongoing legal battle over the letters, according to the Herald, which said a court on Friday refused to overturn charges against him. Local media reported that Monis had changed his name from Manteghi Bourjerdi.

Early in the crisis, hostages were seen standing with their hands pushed up against the windows. A black flag with the Islamic creed known as the Shahada written in white could be seen through the glass. The phrase is a declaration of faith for Muslims and translates to "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger." Radical Islamists, including the Islamic State group, have co-opted the Shahada to use on their flags.

Nearby buildings, including the U.S. Consulate in Sydney, had been evacuated. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the department had monitored the situation and accounted for all its personnel with the mission.

Although Monis was well known to authorities, security experts said preventing attacks by people acting alone could still be difficult. "Today's crisis throws into sharp relief the dangers of lone wolf terrorism," said Cornell University law professor Jens David Ohlin, speaking in New York.

"There are two areas of concern. The first is ISIS [Islamic State] fighters with foreign passports who return to their home countries to commit acts of terrorism," Ohlin said. "The second is ISIS sympathizers radicalized on the internet who take it upon themselves to commit terrorist attacks to fulfill their radical ideology. "We are entering a new phase of terrorism that is far more dangerous, and more difficult to defeat, than al-Qaida ever was."

Australia, a staunch ally of the United States and its escalating action against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, earlier this year raised its domestic terror threat level from medium to high, mainly because of concerns about home-grown extremists. About 70 Australians are thought to be fighting for militant groups in the Middle East.

Palestinian Statehood Is Focus of Kerry-Netanyahu Meeting

By VOA News

Secretary of State John Kerry met Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as Palestinian officials push for a United Nations resolution calling for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory within two years. The pair met in Rome for the talks that lasted nearly three hours.

Before the meeting, Netanyahu said he would not allow others to dictate a time frame for Israelis' withdrawal from land sought for a Palestinian state. "In recent years, we have repeatedly rebuffed attempts to dictate terms to us which would have harmed Israel's security and which do not conform to true peace," the prime minister said.

""This time, too, we will not accept attempts to dictate unilateral, time-bound moves to us. In a reality in which Islamic terror is reaching every corner of the globe, we will rebuff any attempt that would bring this terror into our home, into the State of Israel. … Even if there are dictates, we will stand up to them firmly.''

A Jordanian-drafted resolution calling for Israel to end occupation of Palestinian land could be introduced this week at the U.N. Security Council. Monday's meeting was the first stop on Kerry's trip to assess the state of Israeli-Palestinian issues.

From Rome, Kerry will travel Paris for talks with his counterparts from France, Britain and Germany. On Tuesday, he has scheduled talks with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby in London.

A senior State Department official said Kerry's goal is to hear what everyone has to say and work on a common path forward, while keeping open the prospect of a two-state solution.But the official said the United States does not believe a resolution calling for a hard deadline is the right way to resolve "a very complicated security negotiation." The officials told reporters that type of solution is "not consistent" with the discussions that have taken place with the Israelis and Palestinians during peace negotiations that broke down in April after nine months.

Is Obama Ready for an About-Face to Recognize Assad? Will Syria Provide the Strike Force Against ISIS?

By DEBKAfile

High expectations based on unconfirmed reports swirled around Arab capitals that President Barack Obama, in league with Moscow and Tehran, had turned his longstanding anti-Assad policy on its head. He was said to be willing to accept Bashar Assad's rule and deem the Syrian army the backbone of the coalition force battling the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

If these expectations are borne out by the Obama administration, the Middle East would face another strategic upheaval: The US and Russia would be on the same side, a step toward mending the fences between them after the profound rupture over Ukraine, and the Washington-Tehran rapprochement would be expanded.

The Lebanese Hizbullah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah would be vindicated in the key role they played in buttressing President Assad in power.But for Saudi Arabia and Israel, an Obama turnaround on Assad would be a smack in the face. The Saudis along with most of the Gulf emirates staked massive monetary and intelligence resources in the revolution to topple the Syrian ruler.

Israel never went all-out in its support for the Syrian uprising, but focused on creating a military buffer zone under rebel rule in southern Syria, in order to keep the hostile Syrian army, Hizbullah and elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps fighting for Assad at a distance from its northern borders with Syria and Lebanon.

If Obama goes through with accepting the Assad regime, Israel will have to write off most of its military investment in Syria. In any case, Israel's intelligence agencies misjudged the Syrian situation from the first; until a year ago, they kept on insisting that Assad's days were numbered.

Massive Suicide Bombing in Tel Aviv Thwarted


Israel Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet) revealed on Monday that during October and November security forces arrested several Arab terrorists who were planning a suicide bomb attack in the heart of Tel Aviv. Those arrested include Yasmin Sha'aban, an Arab woman from Jenin in Samaria, along with four residents of Tulkarm area just over the 1949 Armistice line in Samaria to the east of Netanya.

The five were in touch with a terrorist operative from Gaza who gave them instructions on how to assemble explosives and carry out the attack. "According to the plot that was hatched, Sha'aban was the designated suicide bomber. She was supposed to carry out the attack with an explosives belt hidden in her cloths while disguised as a pregnant Jewish woman," the Shin Bet said.

According to the Shin Bet investigation, Sha'aban was planning to get an entry permit to sovereign Israeli territory for medical reasons and use it to launch her attack on Israeli civilians. After arresting the five, security forces seized an improvised M-16 semi-automatic rifle, a hunting rifle, ammunition and explosives. The five confessed to planning the suicide bombing as well as other attacks.

Further detailing the revealed attack plan, Shin Bet noted the terrorists intended to illegally live in an apartment in sovereign Israeli territory to plan the attack. When the attack was to launched, Sha'aban intended to dress up as a pregnant Jewish woman armed with a bomb belt under her clothes and head for Tel Aviv. In addition to the suicide attack, the terrorists planned to plant a bomb on a bus carrying soldiers, and to kidnap an IDF soldier.

According to the investigation Hamas and Islamic Jihad planned to claim joint responsibility for the attack, indicating their involvement in the planning. Sha'aban and another suspect have been charged with terrorism at the Samaria District Court.

Shin Bet noted that the arrests illustrate "the high motivation that exists among terror operatives to carry out attacks, with an emphasis on the period after Operation Pillar of Defense." Likewise, it gives further evidence at the active attempts by terrorist organizations in Gaza to expand their activities to Judea and Samaria.


Postcard Shows Orphans Marking CChanukah in Nazi Germany

By Israel Hayom

"This is what it's like when we light the Hanukkah candles at the orphanage. Will it stay the same?" These words were written on the back of a 77-year-old postcard recently given to Yad Vashem as part of a special preservation project.

The postcard was sent out by Frankfurt Jewish Orphanage in 1937 to Jewish communities worldwide in hope of raising donations. The photograph on the front of the card shows children in the orphanage lighting candles, observing the Jewish holiday even after the Nazis rose to power.

One of the children in the picture was Max Zellman, who arrived at the orphanage with his sister in 1931. In 1939, the Zellman siblings were moved to France, where they were hidden by the Jewish rescue organization Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (Children's Aid Society.) In 1944, they were smuggled into Spain, and from there they immigrated to British Mandate Palestine.

Max, who changed his name to Mordechai Yaron, donated the postcard to Yad Vashem. Now 86, he told Israel Hayom: "Today, some [Israeli] young people are going to live in Berlin and they have no idea what happened near Berlin in the time of the Holocaust. Preservation is very important."

Yad Vashem Archives Director Dr. Haim Gertner said: "In many homes in Israel, there are still documents, photographs and objects related to the life, the culture, the religion, and educational and welfare activity, as the Holocaust approached."

Gertner called on anyone who has personal items from the Holocaust period to give them to Yad Vashem to be preserved as part of the museum's Gathering the Fragments campaign, a national project to protect the materials and make them accessible to the wider public.

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