Israel announces plans for 2,500 homes in occupied W. Bank days after Gaza bloodshed

Israel says it plans to build 2,500 new settler homes in the West Bank in violation of a 2016 UNSC resolution. It comes just days after the IDF killed dozens of Palestinians protesting the Israeli occupation.

Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Thursday that he was finalizing plans for the construction of new homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Writing on Twitter, Lieberman said he would seek approval for the project next week, expressing hope that the regional planning board – the High Planning Council in Judea and Samaria – would designate 1,400 of the housing units for immediate construction.

“We will promote building in all of Judea and Samaria, from the north to south, in small communities and in large ones,” Lieberman wrote, using the Biblical names for the West Bank. Some 500,000 Israelis already live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The pending construction project is in direct violation of UN Security Council 2334. Adopted in December 2016, the resolution states that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem constitute a “flagrant violation” of international law and have “no legal validity.”

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Israeli border police during clashes with Palestinians near the Jewish settlement of Beit El in the occupied West Bank April 13, 2018. ©Mohamad Torokman

Earlier this week, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry called on the International Criminal Court to open a probe into Israel’s illegal settlements, calling Tel Aviv’s actions “crimes against humanity.” The settlements are “the single most dangerous threat to Palestinian lives, livelihoods, and national rights,” the ministry said in a statement released on Facebook. Israel dismissed the Palestinian statement as “cynical” and claimed the request to the ICC had no legal validity.

The project marks the latest Israeli action to come under international scrutiny. This month, Israel welcomed the relocation of the American, Paraguayan and Guatemalan embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a move that has been widely condemned by the international community.

In December, the United Nations General Assembly voted by 128 to 9 to declare the United States’ controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “null and void.”

Lieberman’s announcement also comes just a week after month-long Palestinian protests, known as the Great March of Return, near the Gaza border. During the opening ceremony of the US embassy in Jerusalem, violence peaked to a level unseen in previous weeks. Some 60 Palestinian protesters were killed and more than 2,000 were injured by Israeli forces.

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Double-dinho: Brazil legend Ronaldinho 'to marry two women at same time' (PHOTOS)

Brazil football legend Ronaldinho is set to marry two women at the same time after dating and living with the pair in his mansion, according to reports in his home country.

Ronaldinho, a World Cup 2002 and Champions League 2006 winner, got his hands on jugs for fun as a player and will now wed duo Priscilla Coelho and Beatriz Souza at the same ceremony in August at his $ 6.7 Rio mansion.

All three have lived together at the luxury apartment of the former Samba Boys and Barcelona number 10 in posh the Barra da Tijuca district since December and even holiday as a threesome, reports say.

Ronaldinho allegedly began dating Beatriz in 2016, but continued his relationship with Priscilla, which had begun several years earlier, columnist Leo Dias claims in Brazil’s O Dia newspaper. The source says the women receive an allowance of $ 2,000 to spend how they please.

The World Player of the Year for 2006 allegedly popped the question to the pair in January and gave the pair identical engagement rings. They were also lavished with identical gifts from the footy ace.

Ronaldinho has never publicly acknowledged the relationship, even taking to social media to refute earlier claims he was engaged, but it is understood the 38-year-old travels to almost every event he attends with his two girlfriends.

READ MORE: Russian football stars beat Ronaldinho-led FIFA legends on penalties in St. Petersburg

The former AC Milan playmaker returned to Brazil to finish his career after playing in Europe, helping Atlético Mineiro clinch the Copa Libertadores in 2013. The club are based in Belo Horizonte, the city from where Priscilla and Beatriz both hail.

He also won the 2005 Confederations Cup with Brazil and traveled to the Russian city of Kazan for the tournament’s 2017 edition. Ronaldinho retired from football in January this year. 

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Russian central bank boasts of alternative to SWIFT as ready-made defense against US sanctions

Russia has managed to develop a national system for money transfers that could protect its banking from the possible cut off from SWIFT transfer services in case of tougher US penalties, the central bank said.

“There are risks in using the global financial networks, the global financial system, of which Russia is a part,” the Central Bank of Russia’s governor, Elvira Nabiullina, said at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

“Therefore, since back in 2014, we have been developing our own systems, including a payments system. Inside Russia we have created a system for transferring financial data, which is similar to SWIFT.”

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© Maxim Zmeyev

Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), is the financial network that provides high-value cross-border transfers for its members across the world. The Belgium-based cooperative supports most interbank messages, connecting over 11,000 financial institutions in more than 200 countries and territories.

The probable cut off from SWIFT entered Russia’s political agenda as early as in 2014. Back then, Washington and Brussels imposed the first round of anti-Russian sanctions over the country’s alleged involvement in the Ukraine crisis and the reunification with Crimea.

Though SWIFT itself fended off the talks about the exclusion of Russia from the network, several state corporations, including Rosneft and Rostec, have pledged to use the country’s analogue of the global interbank cash transfer service.

SWIFT has a precedent of disconnecting a sanctioned state from the network. In 2012, SWIFT cut off Iran amid international penalties against the country, leaving Tehran no chance to access billions of dollars in revenue.

“This system is already operational and it allows, inside Russia, to transfer financial data,” Nabiullina said. The governor called the domestically developed network an “absolutely similar, competing system” that allows Russia to nullify risks at least inside the country.

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‘Duress cannot be ruled out’: ex-UK Ambassador Craig Murray unconvinced by Yulia Skripal interview

Yulia Skripal has spoken out amid concerns from Russia that she is being held in the UK against her will. Her appearance may have put some at ease, though others – like Craig Murray – have been left with more questions.

The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan turned-blogger, Craig Murray, published his concerns over what he deemed to be a troubling interview from the 33-year-old Russian, who was poisoned with a nerve agent – identified as A-234, now commonly known as ‘Novichok’ – while visiting her father Sergei in Salisbury in March.

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“[I] was happy to see Yulia alive and looking reasonably well yesterday,” Murray wrote on his blog.

“Of the Russian Embassy she said very simply ‘I am not ready, I do not want their help.’ Strangely this is again translated in the Reuters subtitles by the strangulated officialese of ‘I do not wish to avail myself of their services,’ as originally stated in the unnatural Metropolitan Police statement issued on her behalf weeks ago.

“‘I do not wish to avail myself of their services’ is simply not a translation of what she says in Russian and totally misses the ‘I am not ready’ opening phrase of that sentence. My conclusion is that Yulia’s statement was written by a British official and then translated to Russian for her to speak, rather than the other way round.”

Murray stated his belief that, rather than translate what Skripal said in Russian for the subtitles, Reuters may have used a script handed to them by the British government. The blogger also added that Yulia’s statement would have been more convincing if her recently released from hospital father, Sergei, was by her side.

Murray, who has blogged constantly on the Skripal incident, added: “Duress cannot be ruled out when he is held by the British authorities.

“I remain extremely suspicious that, at the very first chance she got in hospital, Yulia managed to get hold of a telephone (we don’t know how, it was not her own and she has not had access to one since) and phone her cousin Viktoria, yet since then the Skripals have made no attempt to contact their family in Russia.

READ MORE: If Novichok was used, Skripal would have died on the spot – Putin as ex-double agent leaves hospital

“That includes no contact to Sergei’s aged mum, Yulia’s grandmother, who Viktoria cares for. Sergei normally [called] his mother – who is 89 – regularly. This lack of contact is a worrying sign that the Skripals may be prevented from free communication to the outside world. Yulia’s controlled and scripted performance makes that more rather than less likely.”

As well as an apparent telephone blackout, Murray labeled it “particularly concerning” that Yulia does not seem to have social media access. “The security services have the ability to give her internet risk free through impenetrable VPN,” he said. “But they appear not to have done that.”

The ex-diplomat’s questions stem from Skripal’s first appearance since surviving the nerve agent attack when she and her father, Sergei, were found unconscious on a public bench in the British city of Salisbury on March 4. The UK government immediately accused Russia of being behind their poisoning, a claim the Kremlin has vehemently denied. Skripal did not comment on who she thought was to blame for her poisoning.

Yulia was released from the hospital on April 9, disappearing into the protection of a UK government safe house. She is now understood to be rehabilitating at an undisclosed location in London.

In Wednesday’s interview with Reuters, Skripal said she eventually wants to return to Russia. She also reiterated what she had said in an earlier written statement released by British police: “no one speaks for me, or for my father, but ourselves.”

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Celestial mystery: Riddle of strange gas jets from Rosetta's comet solved (VIDEO)

Strange ‘sunrise jets’ projecting off Rosetta’s comet and out into space are caused by the space rock’s weird duck-shaped structure, according to astronomers.

The jets, which reach several kilometers into space, have been identified in space missions going all the way back to 1986. Since their discovery, though, scientists have tried to understand the processes on the surface that cause the mysterious projections – and what they reveal about the comet itself.

READ MORE: Alien invasion: French territory under siege from giant predatory worms (PHOTOS)

In 2014 the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission landed on the comet, which is officially called 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and spent nearly two years there studying how, every morning, the comet routinely transforms from an almost lifeless rock to a dust-spewing phenomenon.

The mission took more than 70,000 photos throughout the process and discovered that the early morning activity is caused by frost, which forms at night on the comet’s cold surface. When morning comes and the sun’s rays touch the icy coating, it begins to evaporate.

“When the sun rises over a part of the comet, the surface along the terminator almost instantaneously becomes active,” researcher Dr Xian Shi explains. “The jets of gas and dust, which we then observe within the coma, are very reliable: they are found each morning in the same places and in a similar form.”

The new research revealed that the peculiar shape and jagged topography of the comet are responsible for the phenomenon. The researchers analyzed images from the “neck” region of the comet, which connects its two lobes. They used computer simulations to gain a better understanding of the driving processes.

The frost evaporates quickly form strongly-illuminated regions and much slower from areas at lower altitudes or in the shade. In addition – similar to how an optical lens works – pits and other concave structures on the comet virtually concentrate gas and dust emissions. These two effects proved decisive in creating the jets.

On a comet with a more standard shape the structures would not be as prominent, meaning gas and dust would be much more evenly distributed. “The complex shape of Rosetta’s comet makes many investigations difficult. But for this study it was a blessing”, Shi said.

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US police release footage of NBA player Brown's stun-gun arrest (VIDEO)

Milwaukee police have released controversial footage of officers using a stun gun on NBA player Sterling Brown during his arrest for a parking violation in January.

The local police chief has apologized for his officers’ “inappropriate actions” after what appeared to be a basic parking violation escalated into the use of force by police.

Brown, 23, who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, was arrested in the early hours of January 26 after parking across two disabled spots outside a Walgreens store.

Body-cam footage of the incident released on YouTube shows a police officer waiting for Brown in the parking lot and asking to see the player’s driver’s licence.

A tense exchange continues as the officer waits for a back-up squad to arrive, although Brown does not appear overtly confrontational at any point, even when additional officers surround him.

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Screenshot from the video of Chikesia Clemons's arrest at Waffel House in Saraland © Canita Adams

The situation escalates when the officers tell Brown to take his hands out of his pockets.

“I have stuff in my hands,” Brown responds, before a scuffle breaks out and the player is tased. He is then heard groaning in pain as officers move to restrain him.

The officer who initially questioned Brown is later heard mocking him to a colleague, saying the NBA player “was being an ass” and “trying to hide something”, before adding: “and now he’s like, ‘I’m a Bucks player, blah, blah, blah. So what.”

Following the release of the footage, Milwaukee police chief Alfonso Morales apologized for the conduct of his officers.

“The department conducted an investigation into the incident, which revealed members acted inappropriately and those members were recently disciplined,” he said at a brief news conference on Wednesday.

“I am sorry this incident escalated to this level,” the police chief added. Brown, who was briefly jailed but never charged with any crime, has vowed to take legal action against the police department.

In a statement on Wednesday, he said that the “common denominator” in situations such as this was “racism towards the minority community.”

“What should have been a simple parking ticket turned into an attempt at police intimidation, followed by the unlawful use of physical force, including being handcuffed and Tased, and then unlawfully booked,” Brown said.

“This experience with the Milwaukee police department has forced me to stand up and tell my story so that I can help prevent these injustices from happening in the future.

“Situations like mine and worse happen every day in the black community. Being a voice and a face for people who won’t be heard and don’t have the same platform as I have is a responsibility I take seriously.”

He went on to list cases of black men being shot and killed by US police, adding: “Black men shouldn’t have to have their guard up and instantly be on the defensive when seeing a police officer, but it’s our reality and a real problem.

“There must be mutual respect and both sides have to figure out how to accomplish this.”

READ MORE: Officers who killed Alton Sterling won’t face charges

Brown’s club, the Milwaukee Bucks, have backed their player, saying: “The abuse and intimidation that Sterling experienced at the hands of Milwaukee Police was shameful and inexcusable. Sterling has our full support as he shares his story and takes action to provide accountability.”

Milwaukee police had been braced for a backlash over the footage, after Mayor Tom Barrett said earlier this week that he had found it concerning.

The city’s police department has been trying to rebuild relations with the black community after numerous controversial incidents, including the killing by police officers of black 23-year-old Sylville K. Smith in August 2016, and mentally ill black man Dontre Hamilton in 2014.

The city has also paid out millions of dollars in recent years to settle lawsuits by black residents who said police had illegally strip-searched them.

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US has largest debt in world history, dollar to lose status as No.1 currency – Jim Rogers

The US dollar is becoming less appealing for investors as American debt continues to soar and the greenback is printed to cover it, says investor Jim Rogers. He sees the alternative coming from BRICS countries.

The American currency will lose the status of main reserve currency much sooner than 2030, Rogers said at the Valdai Club’s discussion session, held as part of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.

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“Dollar is going to be higher than now because the turmoil is coming. Then, it is going to be overpriced and people will look around and say, ‘America’s got the largest debt in the history of the world. It’s printing money as fast as it can,’” the investor said.

People will look at what Brazil, Russia, China, India, Iran and other developing countries are doing, Rogers said. “They are forming a competing currency right now,” he added. So, the dollar alternative will come from the countries that “have been bossed by the US, and they don’t like it, but have enough power to do something about it.”

Rogers went on to say that organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank “have never been right about anything” and should be abolished, since they have been politically dependent on the United States for decades.

Speaking separately to RT, the businessman said that sanctions and trade wars are the biggest threat to the world’s economic stability. “The world has learned throughout history that closing off is not good, opening up is good,” Rogers said.

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‘We must do serious business with Russia’: Ex-ambassador eyes thaw in London-Moscow relations

The former British ambassador to Russia has said that the government knows they must rebuild positive relations with the Kremlin, after the relationship crumbled over the Skripal poisoning in March.

Former British Ambassador to Russia Tony Brenton, who was in the diplomatic role during the time Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned, spoke to the BBC’s Today program about the Skripals and diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The former diplomat, who lived in Russia from 2004-2008, told the BBC that despite all that has happened, the British government will have to improve its relations with the Kremlin.

“In the longer term the British government are going to be slow to resume contact,” he said. “You can’t just switch hot to cold just like that. On the other hand, there is awareness in the British system that we’re going to have to resume quite serious business with the Russian authorities.

“We’re already in quite close contact with them for example about security for World Cup fans going over there very, very shortly. There’s going to be more and more sorts of business [with Russia].”

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Relations between the two nations broke down following the nerve agent attack against Russian ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March. Brenton weighed in on the Skripal case, reaffirming the government’s view that Russia was behind the attack in Salisbury.

“She’s come out of a terrible ordeal, she may still be adapting to the things that she’s been told and her new situation… these people have been attacked in an awful way and we believe firmly the Russians are responsible,” he told the BBC.

Following the release of the interview, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman addressed Yulia Skripal in a comment to RT.

“We’d like Yulia Skripal to know that not a single day passed without the Foreign Ministry, Russia’s embassy in London trying to reach her with the main purpose to make sure she was not held against her will, she was not impersonated by somebody else, to get the first-hand information about her and her father’s condition,” Maria Zakharova said.

Brenton’s comments come the morning after Yulia Skripal’s first interview following the chemical attack. “I came to the UK on March 3 to visit my father, something I have done regularly in the past. After 20 days in a coma, I woke to the news that we had both been poisoned,” Skripal said in a video that was recorded by Reuters. She reiterated her words in a handwritten statement.

She and her father, Sergei, were found unconscious on a public bench in the British city of Salisbury on March 4. The UK government immediately accused Russia of being behind their poisoning, a claim the Kremlin has vehemently denied. Skripal did not comment on who she thought was to blame for her poisoning.

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Massive fireworks blast kills 1, injures 30 in Spain (VIDEOS, PHOTOS)

One person has been killed and at least 30 injured in an explosion at a pyrotechnics warehouse in a residential area in northwestern Spain.

Rescue teams are also searching for at least one missing person, according to Galician government spokesperson Santiago Villanueva.

READ MORE: Teen fined over $ 36 mn for sparking Oregon wildfire

A massive explosion rocked the town of Tui, in Galicia, at around 3:40pm local time Wednesday, sending a huge column of smoke over the area. The blast caused significant damage to buildings and cars nearby, and at least 11 houses were completely destroyed in the massive explosion, reports El Pais.

Footage and photos of the aftermath show the scale of devastation inflicted by the blast.

The fireworks factory and storage facility in Paramos, in Tui, a municipality of approximately 17,000 residents was reportedly ordered to shut years ago, according to the former mayor of Tui, Enrique Cabaleiro.

The owner of the warehouse has been detained by the Guardia Civil for manslaughter.

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Yuan the Conqueror: China to launch yuan-backed metals futures in London

A metals futures contract denominated in Chinese currency may soon be launched at the London Metal Exchange (LME), according to the exchange chief executive, Matthew Chamberlain.

“At present, investors are trading our products in US dollars. We would definitely like to explore the possibility of launching products denominated in offshore renminbi,” Chamberlain said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

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© Global Look Press

The LME, which is owned by Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX), currently allows traders to use the Chinese currency as collateral. Last July, the HKEX stock market also launched yuan-denominated gold futures.

LME’s chief executive didn’t specify when the new metals contracts would start changing hands in London. However, Chamberlain is reportedly confident that yuan-backed futures contracts are destined for success, as the Chinese currency is becoming more and more used in global finance.

“Chinese investors are definitely very active customers at the LME. They are trading through mainland brokers who are members of the LME or western firms,” he said, as quoted by the media.

“We believe with the increasing number of Chinese trading in our market, there would be more Chinese companies wishing to join the LME.”

The first steps towards internationalizing the Chinese renminbi were taken nearly a decade ago, when Beijing allowed the currency to be used in trade and investing. In 2016, yuan was included in the Special Drawing Right (SDR) basket alongside the US dollar, the Japanese yen, the euro, and the British pound. The move granted yuan the status of a reserve currency.

Earlier this year, China, the world’s biggest crude importer, rolled out a yuan-denominated oil contract that attracted nearly 27 billion yuan ($ 4 billion) during the first trading session. The contract saw interest from both domestic and foreign investors.

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