Iran kidnaps retired Kurdish senior officer
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Live updatesLatest: ‘Israel mischaracterizes US positions in Iran talks’

300,000 expected at march for slain Argentine prosecutor

Court allows extremists Marzel, Zoabi to run; Jewish guard Dan Uzan laid to rest in Copenhagen; Netanyahu continues to take flak for reports of overspending

Lazar Berman is a former breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Women protest while holding signs that read in Spanish 'We are all Nisman, No to Fear,' referring to the death of special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, outside Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. (photo credit: AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Women protest while holding signs that read in Spanish 'We are all Nisman, No to Fear,' referring to the death of special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, outside Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. (photo credit: AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The Supreme Court ruled that extremist candidates Baruch Marzel and Hanin Zoabi can run for Knesset. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired back at the Comptroller’s report, calling it a smokescreen to allow Tzipi Livni to sneak into office.

4-year-old Adele Biton, wounded in a 2013 rock-attack, is laid to rest after dying of complications. In Copenhagen, Jewish guard Dan Uzan is buried, with the Danish PM in attendance.

The Times of Israel liveblogged developments as they happened.

Kurds repulse IS attack near capital

Kurdish peshmerga forces repulsed a major attack by the Islamic State jihadist group southwest of Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital Erbil, officials say.

“The attack which was launched at 8:00 pm (1700 GMT on Tuesday) was foiled. It lasted four hours and we killed 34 IS members,” Sirwan Barzani, the local peshmerga commander, tells AFP.

He says around 300 jihadists had attacked the villages of Sultan Abdallah and Tal al-Rim, between the towns of Gweyr and Makhmur, an area about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of Erbil.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters detonate a landmine planted by the Islamic State (IS) group fighters on the outskirts of the village of Sinuni in the northern Iraqi district of Sinjar on January 15, 2015, after it was recaptured by Kurdish peshmerga troops. (photo credit: AFP/SAFIN HAMED)

Kurdish peshmerga fighters detonate a landmine planted by the Islamic State (IS) group fighters on the outskirts of the village of Sinuni in the northern Iraqi district of Sinjar on January 15, 2015, after it was recaptured by Kurdish peshmerga troops. (photo credit: AFP/SAFIN HAMED)

“Daesh (IS) was not able to use heavy military vehicles or car bombs due to trenches dug out by peshmerga on the front lines,” says Barzani, also the nephew of Kurdish leader Massud Barzani.

He says the IS offensive achieved no gains and added that his operation received air support from the US-led coalition which has carried out hundreds of strikes against IS since August 2014.

“The clashes are over now. We are collecting their bodies,” says Najat Ali, the deputy peshmerga commander on the Makhmur front.

— AFP

NJ Rabbi running Get kidnap team stands trial

A rabbi in Trenton, New Jersey, who prosecutors say employed a kidnap team to force unwilling Jewish husbands to divorce their wives is set to stand trial.

Openings arguments are expected today in Rabbi Mendel Epstein’s trial on charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and attempted kidnapping. Prosecutors allege that the Orthodox rabbi’s team used brutal methods and tools, including handcuffs and electric cattle prods, to torture the men into granting divorces.

Rabbi Mendel Epstein, accused of torturing men into granting their wives a Jewish divorce for $50,000, begins trial on February 17, 2015. (Photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

Rabbi Mendel Epstein, accused of torturing men into granting their wives a Jewish divorce for $50,000, begins trial on February 17, 2015. (Photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

“If it can get a bull that weighs 5 tons to move, you put it in certain parts of his body and in one minute the guy will know,” prosecutors said Epstein told two undercover FBI agents posing as a brother and sister trying to force the sister’s husband to grant the ritual Jewish divorce known as a “get.” Prosecutors say he was recorded telling the agents the effort would cost at least $50,000.

The kidnap team brought surgical blades, a screwdriver and rope to a staged kidnapping in 2013, according to the indictment. Epstein, who was indicted last May along with his son and three other Orthodox rabbis, told the undercover agents he arranged similar kidnappings every year or year and a half, the indictment says.

Several co-defendants have pleaded guilty in the case and others will go on trial with Epstein.

Rivlin in Rahat: We must look to our common future

President Reuven Rivlin, who has been vocal during his term about the needs of Israel’s minority communities, visits the Negev city of Rahat, and tells residents that they “are the sons and daughters of this land, equal citizens, an inseparable part of the State of Israel.”

“We must not widen the abyss that threatens to divide us, but we must continue to build the bridge which brings us together,” he says. “We must build this bridge with faith and belief in one another. We can only build this bridge through cooperation, working to rebuild and create a base for mutual trust. Only out of a deep understanding that we share a common path, which we must travel together.”

“The State of Israel is obliged to relate to all its citizens with respect and equality. Just as it is obliged to carry out brave and significant steps to bridge the economic gaps – in resources, infrastructure and industry – between the Jewish public, and the Arab and Bedouin communities.”

Egypt demands UN action in Libya

Egypt pushes for action against jihadists in Libya ahead of a UN Security Council meeting today, but faces reluctance from Western powers who are stressing the need for a political solution.

After launching air strikes against Islamic State group targets in Libya this week in response to the jihadists’ beheadings of Egyptian Christians, Cairo has asked the Security Council to provide a mandate for an international intervention.

Italy says time is “running out” to address the threat from IS on Europe’s doorstep, but Rome and other Western powers say peace talks needed to be given another chance.

With the Security Council due to meet later in New York, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry warns of the risks of inaction.

In talks with UN envoys, Shoukry stresses “the need for the international community… to assume its responsibilities towards the deteriorating situation in Libya, as it represents a clear threat to international peace and security,” his ministry says in a statement.

— AFP

Jeb Bush to emphasize differences with brother, father

GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush will address comparisons to his older brother and his father, who were both presidents, according to excerpts of a speech he will give today in Chicago.

“I recognize that as a result, my views will often be held up in comparison to theirs,” Bush says, according to AP.

“But I am my own man and my views are shaped by my own thinking and own experiences,” he says. “Each president learns from those who came before — their principles, their adjustments.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a potential 2016 presidential candidate. (photo credit: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a potential 2016 presidential candidate. (photo credit: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

4-year-old Adele Bitton laid to rest

Adele Bitton, 4-year-old girl seriously injured in a 2013 rock-throwing terror attack who died on Tuesday afternoon from complications from pneumonia, is laid to rest today in the West Bank town of Yakir.

Her father Rafi says during his eulogy, according to Ynet, “The bereavement eats me like cancer. The helplessness that I can’t take care of you is making me crazy. You have joined me with the family of bereaved, hundreds of thousands who live, and at night fall apart.”

Adele’s mother Adva says, “When you were still a baby you didn’t like to sleep. Now I understand you needed to get it all in. To get a lot in during your short life.”

Family and friends mourn at the funeral of 4-year-old Adele Bitton on February 18, 2015. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Family and friends mourn at the funeral of 4-year-old Adele Bitton on February 18, 2015. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Jewish guard buried in Copenhagen

Crowds of mourners turn out for the funeral of the Jewish man killed in the Copenhagen shooting spree, as questions mount about whether more could have been done to prevent the attacks.

Dan Uzan, a 37-year-old volunteer security guard, was killed outside Copenhagen’s main synagogue in the second of two weekend shootings that sent jitters across Europe.

Security was tight as hundreds of people gather at a Jewish cemetery in Copenhagen for Uzan’s funeral, with police out in force along with sniffer dogs and snipers posted on nearby rooftops.

Mourners crowd on February 18, 2015 at a cemetery in Copenhagen, Denmark, where a Jewish victim of the February 15, 2015 attacks is to be buried. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / SCANPIX DENMARK / BAX LINDHARDT)

Mourners crowd on February 18, 2015 at a cemetery in Copenhagen, Denmark, where a Jewish victim of the February 15, 2015 attacks is to be buried. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / SCANPIX DENMARK / BAX LINDHARDT)

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who said this week that “an attack on the Jews of Denmark is an attack on Denmark”, plans to attend the ceremony, according to Ritzau news agency.

“Everybody in our community knew Dan,” Dan Rosenberg Asmussen, the head of the Danish Jewish community, tells AFP.

“He was always ready to his part, he was a very fine example for the whole community.”

— AFP

Supreme Court: Extremists Zoabi, Marzel can run

The Supreme Court rules that extremist politicians Baruch Marzel and Hanin Zoabi can run for Knesset, after the Central Elections Committee banned them from the elections.

Marzel is running in the far-fight Yachad Party, and Zoabi is from the Joint (Arab) list.

In both cases, the petitions to disqualify them, filed by the candidates’ political opponents to the CEC, claimed that the candidate in question had violated Israeli election law – Marzel for alleged anti-Arab racism and Zoabi for alleged support for Hamas and opposition to Israel’s identity as a Jewish nation-state.

Balad MK Hanin Zoabi speaks to the press during the February 17, 2015 Supreme Court appeal of  a decision by the Central Election Committee to ban her and right-wing activist Baruch Marzel from running for the Knesset in the March 17 elections. (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/FLASH90) (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Balad MK Hanin Zoabi speaks to the press during the February 17, 2015 Supreme Court appeal of a decision by the Central Election Committee to ban her and right-wing activist Baruch Marzel from running for the Knesset in the March 17 elections. (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/FLASH90) (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Zoabi’s party praises court decision

The Joint (Arab) list praises the Supreme Court decision to let Hanin Zoabi run for Knesset.

“This isn’t the first time politicians have tried to disqualify Arab MKs because of racism and political motives. We are aware that the inflammatory atmosphere is what creates for MK Zoabi an image that is far from reality,” says a statement from the party.

The faction also calls for an end to the Central Election Committee’s authority to disqualify candidates.

Party head Ayman Odeh calls the petition to disqualify Zoabi “another way the Right tries to push out the Arab population from the Knesset and circles of influence.”

Joint (Arab) List members (from left to right), Ayman Odeh, Masud Ghanayem, Jamal Zahalka and Ahmad Tibi sit together during a press conference in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/GIL COHEN-MAGEN)

Joint (Arab) List members (from left to right), Ayman Odeh, Masud Ghanayem, Jamal Zahalka and Ahmad Tibi sit together during a press conference in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/GIL COHEN-MAGEN)

‘Court giving green light for Zoabi’s incitement’

Yisrael Beytenu’s Sharon Gal slams the Supreme Court decision allowing Balad’s Hanin Zoabi to run for Knesset.

“Unfortunately, the court gave the green light for Hanin Zoabi to continue her incitement,” says Gal. “Now, it is giving its legal approval to all the terror supporters and accomplices and inciters.”

Sharon Gal. (photo credit: courtesy Radio tel Aviv)

Sharon Gal. (photo credit: courtesy Radio tel Aviv)

Israel knows details of Iran proposal, says PM

Netanyahu meets with US Senator David Perdue (R-GA) and says that “the Islamic Republic of Iran is relentlessly pursuing nuclear weapons with the express purpose of destroying the State of Israel. The P5+1’s latest proposal won’t stop them. The Iranians of course know the details of that proposal and Israel does too.

“So when we say that the current proposal would lead to a bad deal, a dangerous deal, we know what we’re talking about, Senator. I’m open to hearing the positions and arguments of those who think differently and I would hope that they would be open to hear the arguments of Israel as well.”

Netanyahu also says “Israel will continue to stand side-by-side with Egypt in the battle against terrorism, which threatens us all.”

Iran kidnaps retired Kurdish senior officer

Kurdish media reports that an unknown Iranian military force crossed into Iraqi Kurdistan over the weekend and kidnapped a retired peshmerga colonel and his bodyguards from the man’s farm 4 kilometers inside Kurdish territory.

The ex-officer, Sayid Bahadin, was a member of the ruling KDP party, and the Kurdistan Regional Government applied pressure on Iran for the return of the four captives.

“KRG got immediately involved, therefore after one night of detention, they released us,” Bahadin tells the KNN news channel.

The Kurdish government is demanding an explanation from Iran, who maintains the whole episode was a mistake.

An Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighter takes up position in the town of Bashiqa, 13 kilometers northeast of Mosul, on August 12, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye)

An Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighter takes up position in the town of Bashiqa, 13 kilometers northeast of Mosul, on August 12, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye)

Yesh Atid’s Peri says PM has failed

Former Science Minister Yaakov Peri tells Galei Yisrael radio that his Yesh Atid party prefers that “the next prime minister will not be Benjamin Netanyahu.”

“We think he has failed in a wide range of issues, and we think that we need to change the leadership in Israel, and we will help whatever we think will be good for Israel in the end.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Minister of Science Yaakov Peri in the Knesset, July 3, 2013. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Minister of Science Yaakov Peri in the Knesset, July 3, 2013. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

March for slain Argentine prosecutor set to embark

A silent march, organized by investigating attorneys demanding answers in the mysterious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, will take place in Argentina this afternoon.

Nisman, 51, was found shot dead in his apartment on Jan. 18, a day before he planned to take to Congress his allegations that President Cristina Fernandez and others in her administration reached a secret deal with Iran to shield officials allegedly involved in the 1994 bombing of Jewish community center.

Fernandez has denied the allegations.

File photos of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner (L) taken in Buenos Aires on September 19, 2012 and of Argentina's deceased Public Prosecutor Alberto Nisman (R) taken in Buenos Aires on May 20, 2009 (Photo credit: Juan Mabromata/AFP)

File photos of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner (L) taken in Buenos Aires on September 19, 2012 and of Argentina’s deceased Public Prosecutor Alberto Nisman (R) taken in Buenos Aires on May 20, 2009 (Photo credit: Juan Mabromata/AFP)

All the major opposition parties have said they plan to participate in the Wednesday afternoon march.

— AP

Gazans lay cornerstone of high-rise bombed in war

Palestinian officials lay the cornerstone for the rebuilding of a residential high-rise flattened in last summer’s war between the Islamic militant group Hamas and Israel.

Today’s ceremony by Gaza’s public works minister was a symbolic move to boost the spirits of the nearly 500 residents of Zafer 4 Tower, which was hit by two bombs from the air during fighting in August.

The high-rise was evacuated after Israeli warnings and before it was destroyed.

Officials and residents of the building gathered in a tent set up for the ceremony, next to the remainder of the debris of the 12-story building.

The project was paid for by Qatar Charity, which raised $3.5 million.

Smoke rises from the rubble of the al-Zafer apartment tower following Israeli airstrikes that collapsed the 12-story building, in Gaza City, Sunday, August 24, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Khalil Hamra)

Smoke rises from the rubble of the al-Zafer apartment tower following Israeli airstrikes that collapsed the 12-story building, in Gaza City, Sunday, August 24, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Khalil Hamra)

AP

Israeli killed in India car crash

A 23-year-old Israeli woman dies in a car crash in the Indian state of Goa. Her family has been updated.

UN alarmed over Israel-Palestinian violence, tensions

Jeffrey Feltman, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, expresses concern over tensions between Israel and the Palestinians in a briefing to the Security Council.

Feltman refers to the Palestinians’ dire financial situation, especially Israel’s withholding of PA tax revenues in retaliation for PA accession to the International Criminal Court.

He also expresses alarm at Palestinian rocket fire into Israel and into the sea.

“Reportedly, militants also attempted to smuggle material which could be used to produce weapons. These are extremely dangerous developments. Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reportedly shot and injured two Palestinians who were approaching the Gaza border fence on 16 and 23 January; and another two Palestinians were injured on 21 January after the Israeli navy fired warning shots at their boats,” he says.

Feltman calls on Israel and Egypt to relax border restrictions and allow more materials for rebuilding into the strip.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffery Feltman (screencapture: Youtube/Hassan Abuzaitoun)

UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffery Feltman (screencapture: Youtube/Hassan Abuzaitoun)

 

Danish PM joins funeral for Jewish guard

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt leads hundreds of mourners Wednesday at the funeral of a Jewish man who was among two people killed in a shooting spree in Copenhagen.

Security is tight as crowds gathed at a Jewish cemetery in Copenhagen for the funeral of 37-year-old Dan Uzan, with large numbers of police along with sniffer dogs and snipers posted on nearby rooftops.

Thorning-Schmidt is seen wiping away tears as chief rabbi Yair Melchior conducts the service.

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt (C) attends the burial of Dan Uzan, a Jewish victim of the February 15, 2015 attacks, at the Vestre Kirkegaard cemetery in Copenhagen on February 18, 2015. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / SCANPIX DENMARK / BAX LINDHARDT)

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt (C) attends the burial of Dan Uzan, a Jewish victim of the February 15, 2015 attacks, at the Vestre Kirkegaard cemetery in Copenhagen on February 18, 2015. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / SCANPIX DENMARK / BAX LINDHARDT)

The weekend attacks on a cultural center and a synagogue blamed on a 22-year-old Danish man of Palestinian origin who reportedly became radicalized in prison, have raised questions about security in the normally peaceful nation.

“It was a funeral I hoped I would never (have to) conduct,” Melchior tells AFP.

“We did not want anything like that to happen, but we accept the reality and we said good-bye to a dear friend.”

— AFP

Death threats made against Brussels Jewish leader

A Brussels-based rabbi who has lobbied for improved security for European Jews files a police complaint over death threats made against him.

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the Israel-born head of the European Jewish Association lobby group, was threatened on his personal Facebook page shortly after the murder of a volunteer Jewish security guard outside the main synagogue of Copenhagen, according to a Feb. 12 report on the website of the Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism.

According to the news site kikar.col.il, the threat comes amid many anti-Semitic slurs posted on Margolin’s Facebook page.

Margolin attracted international attention recently by calling on Europe’s interior ministers to create regulations that would allow some Jews to carry weapons that would allow them to fend off violent anti-Semitic attacks.

“Menachem Margolin will be a dead man unless he stops,” kikar.co.il quotes the unnamed person who issued the threat. “We will put a bullet in his head.”

Margolin confirmed the report and added that he filed a complaint with police.

“We cannot afford to be intimidated by threats,” he says in an interview with kikar. “We will continue working with all-out might to ensure that every last Jew in Europe can live safely and with the freedom to practice their faith.”

— JTA

Former DNC chair calls PM’s planned speech ‘outrageous’

Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean calls House Speaker John Boehner’s invite to Netanyahu to address the US Congress “a stupid thing to do” and “outrageous.”

Speaking on MSNBC, Dean says, “Imagine Obama going to Israel two weeks before the elections and giving a speech to the Knesset where he told the Israelis how they should run their foreign policy.”

“I think Boehner was just trying to get some political advantage,” he says. “I think he made a mistake but the guy who really made a mistake was Netanyahu by accepting. I think it was a really stupid thing to do, and it has harmed US-Israeli relations greatly.”

Livni to get personal bodyguards

Zionist Union candidate Tzipi Livni, who will share a rotating premiership with Isaac Herzog if the factions wins the upcoming elections, will receive personal protection, Channel 2 reports.

Labor leader Isaac Herzog and Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni announce the merger of their parties at a press conference in Tel Aviv on December 10, 2014. They said they would rotate the prime ministership if they win elections next March. (Photo credit: FLASH90)

Labor leader Isaac Herzog and Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni announce the merger of their parties at a press conference in Tel Aviv on December 10, 2014. They said they would rotate the prime ministership if they win elections next March. (Photo credit: FLASH90)

Class to end at noon in capital

Jerusalem will close its schools at 12 noon tomorrow in advance of an expected snowstorm.

France calls grave vandalism ‘anti-Semitism’

French prosecutors call for five teenagers suspected of vandalizing hundreds of Jewish graves to be charged, arguing there is a clear “anti-Semitic motive” behind their alleged act.

Some 250 tombs were vandalized last week at a Jewish cemetery in the northeastern town of Sarre-Union.

Five adolescents aged 15 to 17 were detained for questioning over the incident, in which tombstones were pushed over and vaults opened.

The youngest came forward earlier this week after being taken aback by the scale of the reaction across the country to the vandalism. He denied any anti-Semitic motive from the group of boys, none of whom has a criminal record.

But today, local prosecutor Philippe Vannier tells reporters that, despite their denials, “the anti-Semitic motive of their behaviour is now clear” after a probe into the incident.

He says all five boys admitted to taking part in the vandalism but continued to maintain they were not motivated by anti-Semitism.

Vannier asks for an official inquiry to be opened for “desecration and violation of burial places due to the religion of the deceased.”

He says the vandalism, which happened on Thursday last week but was only discovered Sunday, appeared to be part of a game that went wrong.

PM slams comptroller report

Netanyahu responds to the State Comptroller’s report alleging overspending at his official residence, calling it a “smokescreen meant to allow Tzipi Livni to sneak into the Prime Minister’s Office.”

The PM speaks at a Likud conference in Ashkelon.

He also accuses the Zionist Union of distracting the public by hiding Livni from the public eye because “she is a danger to the country.”

Netanyahu charges that Livni would negotiate with Hamas.

‘Israel mischaracterizes US positions in Iran talks’

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest says that the US will keep details of negotiations with Iran quiet, “particularly when we see there is a continued practice of cherry-picking specific pieces of information and using them out of context to distort the negotiating position of the United States.”

He adds that Israel might have the greatest insight and the most at stake from all the countries not present at negotiations.

Still, says Earnest, “there’s no question that some of the things the Israelis have said in characterizing our negotiating position have not been accurate. There’s no question about that.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest, August 27, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)

White House press secretary Josh Earnest, August 27, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)

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Live updates Latest: ‘Israel mischaracterizes US positions in Iran talks’

Iran kidnaps retired Kurdish senior officer

Kurdish media reports that an unknown Iranian military force crossed into Iraqi Kurdistan over the weekend and kidnapped a retired peshmerga colonel and his bodyguards from the man’s farm 4 kilometers inside Kurdish territory.

The ex-officer, Sayid Bahadin, was a member of the ruling KDP party, and the Kurdistan Regional Government applied pressure on Iran for the return of the four captives.

“KRG got immediately involved, therefore after one night of detention, they released us,” Bahadin tells the KNN news channel.

The Kurdish government is demanding an explanation from Iran, who maintains the whole episode was a mistake.

An Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighter takes up position in the town of Bashiqa, 13 kilometers northeast of Mosul, on August 12, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye)
An Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighter takes up position in the town of Bashiqa, 13 kilometers northeast of Mosul, on August 12, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye)