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  • Russian Defence Ministry/YouTube

    Russia says it has launched rocket strikes on Islamic State group targets in Syria from warships in the Caspian Sea - about 1,500km (930 miles) away.

    Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said four warships fired 26 sea-based cruise missiles on 11 targets, destroying them and causing no civilian casualties.

    Meanwhile, Syrian ground troops have launched an offensive under Russian air cover, Syrian officials say. 

    Russia denies claims that its week of strikes have mainly hit non-IS targets.

  • Europe must live up to the challenge of an upheaval that has forced hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee Syria, where everyone including Iran, Russia and the West must seek a political solution, French President Francois Hollande said on Wednesday.

    Speaking alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Hollande said the risk of failure was "total war" and that Europe, if slow to grasp the scale of the refugee exodus, had now made a start.

    As for Syria, Hollande reiterated the Paris line that any solution for Syria had to be based on an alternative to President Bashar Assad.

    "What's happening in Syria concerns Europe because what is going on there will determine the balances of power in the region for a long time," he said.

  • The West Bank settlement of Ofra, in the Binyamin Region north of Jerusalem. (CC-BY-SA/Yakov/Wikimedia Commons)

    The US State Department denied reports it had issued Israel an ultimatum this week threatening not to veto a UN Security Council resolution declaring West Bank settlements illegal if Israel announced new settlement construction.

    Deputy State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said that while his office was aware of such reports in the press, those reports were “false.”

    “Our position on settlements is well known and hasn’t changed,” he said. “We convey it regularly to the Israeli Government. I know we don’t generally comment on private conversations, but I’d like to nip that story in the bud. We haven’t issued any kind of ultimatum on this.”

    Toner emphasized that far from issuing any such ultimatum regarding a UN resolution, “there’s not even a resolution out there right now.”

  • An Associated Press reporter on Monday grilled a State Department spokesperson over the US’s condemnation of an Israeli strike on a UN-run school in Gaza last summer, contrasting that response to Washington’s failure to condemn its own apparently accidental strike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan last week.

    The US government has said that the bombing of the hospital in Kunduz, which killed at least 19 people and wounded dozens more, was a “tragic incident,” but has refrained from condemning the attack as “the facts are still emerging” and it is still under investigation.

    During the daily press briefing, reporter Matthew Lee recalled that the State Department had issued a “very, very strong” statement after Israel bombed the UN school in the Gaza Strip, saying, “The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.”

  • Syria's President Bashar Assad attends prayers on the first day of Eid al-Adha at al-Adel mosque in Damascus. (photo credit:REUTERS)

    President Bashar Assad said a military campaign by Russia, Syria and its allies will decide the fate of the Middle East, and a year of US-led air strikes against Islamic State militants had only helped the spread of terrorism.

    In an interview with Iranian television broadcast on Sunday, Assad said if Syria, Russia, Iran and Iraq unite in battling terrorism their efforts would yield practical results.

    He was speaking days after Russian jets, based in western Syria, launched air strikes against targets Moscow has identified as Islamic State bases, but which Assad's opponents say disproportionately hit rival, foreign-backed insurgents.

    "The chances of this alliance's success are big, not small," Assad said, adding that failure would mean "we face the destruction of the whole region."

  • al-Qaida cheif Ayman al-Zawahiri sits with predecessor Osama Bin Laden during an interview in 2001 . (photo credit:REUTERS)

    A month after the leader of al-Qaida said that the Islamic State and its leader are illegitimate, a recording of Ayman Zawihri was released Monday, documenting an even harsher tirade against ISIS and the man who refers to himself as the Caliph of Islam, ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

    "You spill blood and attack the Muslim people in order to rule," Zawihiri said in his fourth recorded lecture released as part of his "Islamic Spring" lessons. He added that, "Baghdadi's Caliphate is a Caliphate of explosions, damage and destruction."

    The bulk of the criticism dealt with the manner in which ISIS forces those under its rule to convert to Islam and succumb to the organization's rule. "Pledging allegiance by force, which some spiritual leaders have allowed, is not our way," he said.

  • The Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey  (ACS) reveals that Arabic and Urdu – Pakistan’s national language– are the fastest-growing foreign languages spoken at home, according to a new report by the Center for Immigration Studies.

    After five decades of large-scale immigration, a record 63.2 million U.S. residents, or more than one-in-five, speak a language other than English when at home. 

    Previous reports have shown that the United States is now the second largest Spanish speaking country in the world. But the new census study shows that the fastest-growing foreign languages, in percentage terms, are languages spoken by immigrants from Muslim-majority countries.

    Between 2010 and 2014, there was a 29 percent increase in Arabic, a 23 percent increase in Urdu, and a 9 percent in Persian, which is spoken in Iran.

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Provocative Commentary

“The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees. He who fritters away the early morning, its opportunity and freshness, in other pursuits than seeking God will make poor headway seeking Him the rest of the day. If God is not first in our thoughts and efforts in the morning, He will be in the last place the remainder of the day.” 
― E.M. Bounds