Category Archives: Syria

NBC’s Conduct in Engel Kidnapping Story is More Troubling than the Brian Williams Scandal

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

[…] The Brian Williams scandal is basically about an insecure, ego-driven TV star who puffed up his own war credentials by fabricating war stories: it’s about personal foibles. But this Engel story is about what appears to be a reckless eagerness, if not deliberate deception, on the part of NBC officials to disseminate a dubious storyline which, at the time, was very much in line with the story that official Washington was selling (by then, Obama was secretly aiding anti-Assad rebels, and had just announced – literally a week before the Engel kidnapping — “that the United States would formally recognize a coalition of Syrian opposition groups as that country’s legitimate representative”). Much worse, the NBC story was quite likely to fuel the simmering war cries in the West to attack (or at least aggressively intervene against) Assad.

That’s a far more serious and far more consequential journalistic sin than a news reader puffing out his chest and pretending he’s Rambo. Falsely and recklessly blaming the Assad regime for a heinous kidnapping of Western journalists and directly linking it to Iran and Hezbollah, while heralding the rebels as heroic and compassionate — during a brewing “regime change” and intervention debate — is on the level of Iraqi aluminum tubes.’

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Did NBC Cover Up Role of U.S.-Backed Free Syrian Army in 2012 Kidnapping of Richard Engel?

‘NBC News is at the center of a new controversy, this time focused on its chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. Back in 2012 he and five other members of an NBC News team were kidnapped by armed gunmen in Syria. They were held for five days. Just after his release Engel spoke on NBC News and said this about his captors: “This is a government militia. These are people who are loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. They are Shiite.” Well, earlier this week, a New York Times investigation prompted Engel to revise his story and reveal he was actually captured by Sunni militants affiliated with the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army. In an article published on Wednesday, Engel said the kidnappers had “put on an elaborate ruse to convince us they were Shiite shabiha militiamen.” According to the Times investigation, NBC knew more than it let on about the kidnappers. We speak to As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He runs the Angry Arab News Service blog. He expressed serious doubts about the circumstances surrounding Engel’s captivity and release when the story first broke in December 2012.’ (Democracy Now!)

Neocons, R2Pers and Hypocrisy

Robert Parry writes for Consortium News:

Sometimes I’m challenged over my linking belligerent neoconservatives with “liberal interventionists” who justify U.S. military invasions under the “humanitarian” banner of “responsibility to protect” – or R2P – meaning to intervene in war-torn countries to stop the killing of civilians, like the 1994 slaughter in Rwanda.

And, most people would agree that there are extraordinary situations in which the timely arrival of an external military force might prevent genocide or other atrocities, which was one of the intended functions of the United Nations. But my overall impression of R2Pers is that many are careerist hypocrites who voice selective outrage that provides cover for the U.S. and its allies to do pretty much whatever they wish.

Though one can’t generalize about an entire group – since some R2Pers act much more consistently than others – many of the most prominent ones operate opportunistically, depending how the dominant narrative is going and where the power interests lie.’

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US counts on arming, training foreign forces despite years of failure

David J. Lynch reports for Bloomberg:

The U.S. is trying to stabilize Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria using a tactic that’s rarely worked: training and equipping foreign forces.

The effort to defeat terrorists and insurgencies without using American troops is failing in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and other Sunni nations have now intervened. It still faces long odds and long wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

For now, President Barack Obama is doubling down on getting other nations to fight by boosting arms sales to the Gulf states, resuming military aid to Egypt and supporting the Saudi-led offensive in Yemen.’

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The US isn’t winding down its wars – it’s just running them at arm’s length

Seamus Milne writes for The Guardian:

Joe Magee Illustration on Saudi-led action in Yemen[…] Since the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan, the US and its allies are reluctant to risk boots on the ground. But their military interventions are multiplying. Barack Obama has bombed seven mainly Muslim countries since he became US president. There are now four full-scale wars raging in the Arab world (Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen), and every one of them has involved US and wider western military intervention. Saudi Arabia is by far the largest British arms market; US weapons sales to the Gulf have exceeded those racked up by George Bush, and last week Obama resumed US military aid to Egypt.

What has changed is that, in true imperial fashion, the west’s alliances have become more contradictory, playing off one side against the other. In Yemen, it is supporting the Sunni powers against Iran’s Shia allies. In Iraq, it is the opposite: the US and its friends are giving air support to Iranian-backed Shia militias fighting the Sunni takfiri group Isis. In Syria, they are bombing one part of the armed opposition while arming and training another.

The nuclear deal with Iran – which the Obama administration pushed through in the teeth of opposition from Israel and the Gulf states – needs to be seen in that context. The US isn’t leaving the Middle East, as some imagine, but looking for a more effective way of controlling it at arm’s length: by rebalancing the region’s powers, as the former MI6 officer Alastair Crooke puts it, in an “equilibrium of antagonisms”.’

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Patrick Cockburn’s Five Part Series on Life Under ISIS

Patrick Cockburn is an award winning Middle East correspondent for The Independent, and he recently published a five-part series on the what daily life is like living under the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Cockburn is also the author of The Rise of the Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution. You can listen to a recent interview he did about his five part series on the Scott Horton Show here.

Humanitarians for War on Syria

Rick Sterling writes for CounterPunch:

‘A massive campaign in support of foreign intervention against Syria is underway. The goal is to prepare the public for a “No Fly Zone” enforced by US and other military powers. This is how the invasion of Iraq began. This is how the public was prepared for the US/NATO air attack on Libya.

The results of western ‘regime change’ in Iraq and Libya have been disastrous. Both actions have dramatically reduced the security, health, education and living standards of the populations, created anarchy and mayhem, and resulted in the explosion of sectarianism and violence in the region. Now the Western/NATO/Israeli and Gulf powers, supported by major intervention-inclined humanitarian organizations, want to do the same in Syria. Is this positive or a repeat of past disasters?’

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New age of water wars portends ‘bleak future’

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Middle East Eye:

Behind the escalating violence in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as well as the epidemic of civil unrest across the wider region, is a growing shortage of water.

New peer-reviewed research published by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) shows that water scarcity linked to climate change is now a global problem playing a direct role in aggravating major conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa.

Numerous cities in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia are facing “short and declining water supplies per capita,” which is impacting “worldwide” on food production, urban shortages, and even power generation.’

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CIA Director: US does not want to see Syrian regime “collapse”

AFP report:

CIA Director John Brennan said Friday the United States does not want to see a chaotic collapse of the Syrian regime as it could open the way to Islamist extremists taking power.

The spy agency chief said Washington had reason to worry about who might replace President Bashar Al Assad if his government fell, given the rise of the Daesh terror group and other jihadists in Syria.

“I think that’s a legitimate concern,” Brennan said when asked if the US government feared who might succeed Assad.

Speaking at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations, he said that “extremist elements” including Daesh terror group and Al Qaeda veterans are “ascendant right now” in some parts of Syria.’

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John Kerry: Military Pressure Needed to Oust Assad

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

‘With the war against ISIS still in the process of being built up, administration officials are already planning for the post-ISIS war in Syria, and they intend to play a role in that as well.

Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that right now there is “no higher priority” than disrupting ISIS, but said after that ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad would be “needed.”’

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Rebranding: US May Look to al-Qaeda Faction as New ‘Moderate’ Allies in Syria

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

The dissolution of the Hazm Movement, one of the last US-armed “moderate” rebel factions in northern Syria, has created a paucity of factions for the US to throw weapons at, at a time when the Pentagon is talking up the creation of a huge moderate force.

Enter al-Qaeda? It’s hard to imagine, but Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper is insisting now that moderates are “anyone who is not affiliated with ISIS,” and that the only obstacle to arming such groups are the international rules of law.’

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Who Is Bankrolling the Islamic State? Interview with Patrick Cockburn

Patrick Cockburn is a Middle East correspondent for The Independent and the author of “The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.”

Obama, Republicans and the media concur: It’s time for war with ISIS

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

After more than six months of virtually ignoring the fact that the war against Isis was illegal by almost anyone’s standards – given Congress’s cowardly refusal vote on it and the White House’s refusal to ask them first – the Obama administration has finally submitted a draft war authorization against Isis to Congress.

That means the media can go back to doing what it does best: creating a “debate” over how many countries we should invade, without any discussion of how our invasions created the very situation in which we feel we have to contemplate more invasions. It’s like the early Bush years all over again.’

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Gen. Wesley Clark: “ISIS got started through funding from our friends and allies to destroy Hezbollah”

Islamic State Sprouting Limbs Beyond Its Base Raising Fears of Unending War

Eric Schmitt and David D Kirkpatrick report for The New York Times:

‘The Islamic State is expanding beyond its base in Syria and Iraq to establish militant affiliates in Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt and Libya, American intelligence officials assert, raising the prospect of a new global war on terror.

Intelligence officials estimate that the group’s fighters number 20,000 to 31,500 in Syria and Iraq. There are less formal pledges of support from “probably at least a couple hundred extremists” in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Yemen, according to an American counterterrorism official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential information about the group.

[…] But it is unclear how effective these affiliates are, or to what extent this is an opportunistic rebranding by some jihadist upstarts hoping to draft new members by playing off the notoriety of the Islamic State.’

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Congressional Opposition Mobilizes Against Obama’s ISIS War Bill

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

After several months of escalating war, President Obama has finally gotten around to putting forward a draft version of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against ISIS.

The bill is facing growing opposition from both sides, with complaints not only that its vagueness amounts to no limitation at all, but from hawks that wanted the massiveness of the war more explicitly stated.

The White House was quick to try to quiet the hawks by bragging about how they left the language deliberately vague so the president could unilaterally escalate at will. That’s only adding to the problems.’

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Obama aide: ISIS war powers language ‘intentionally’ vague

Justin Sink reports for The Hill:

Language in President Obama’s proposed authorization for use of military force (AUMF)against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is “intentionally” fuzzy, the White House acknowledged on Wednesday.

Press secretary Josh Earnest said some of the language in the bill submitted to Congress on Wednesday was not specifically defined “because we believe it’s important that there aren’t overly burdensome constraints that are placed on the commander in chief.”

Obama “needs the flexibility to be able to respond to contingencies that emerge in a chaotic military conflict like this,” Earnest argued.

The proposed legislation limits Obama from the use of “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”’

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ISIS war to extend far beyond Iraq and Syria under Obama’s proposed plan

Spencer Ackerman and Dan Roberts report for The Guardian:

US air force raptorsBarack Obama’s proposed framework for the US-led war against the Islamic State will not restrict the battlefield to Iraq and Syria, multiple congressional sources said on Tuesday, placing the US into a second simultaneous global war that will outlast his presidency.

Several congressional sources familiar with the outlines of the proposal, all of whom expected the White House to formally unveil it on Wednesday, told the Guardian the so-called Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) would bless the anti-Isis war for three years.

Congressional language to retroactively justify the six-month-old US war against Isis will not, they said, scrap the broad 9/11-era authorities against al-Qaida, as some congressional Democrats had proposed, meaning the two war authorizations will coexist.

Asked if the anti-Isis AUMF opens the US to a second worldwide war against a nebulous adversary, one congressional aide answered: “Absolutely.”’

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U.S. Won’t Admit to Killing a Single Civilian in the ISIS War

Nancy A. Youssef reports for The Daily Beast:

Civilian deaths, a keystone metric of the last war in Iraq, has now become the statistic no one wants to talk about.

Five months and 1,800-plus strikes into the U.S. air campaign against ISIS, and not a single civilian has been killed, officially. But Pentagon officials concede that they really have no way of telling for sure who has died in their attacks‚—and admit that no one will ever know how many have been slain.

“It’s impossible for us to know definitively if civilians are killed in a strike. We do everything we can to investigate. We don’t do strikes if we think civilians could be there. But we can’t have a perfect picture on what’s going on,” one Pentagon official explained to The Daily Beast.’

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U.S. Defense Secretary Doubts State Deptartment Claim of 6,000 ISIS Killed

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

The State Department’s key talking point on the ISIS war today is that everything is going swimmingly. Secretary of State John Kerry declared ISIS’s momentum ‘decisively halted” while other officials bragged of 6,000 ISIS fighters, and half of the ISIS leadership, killed in their air war.

The State Department was claiming the death toll was based on a private tally kept by Centcom, though Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressed serious doubt about the figure.’

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ISIS Gaining Ground in Syria, Despite U.S. Strikes

Tim Mak and Nancy A. Youssef report for The Daily Beast:

150113-mak-syria-map-jan-embed‘ISIS continues to gain substantial ground in Syria, despite nearly 800 airstrikes in the American-led campaign to break its grip there.

At least one-third of the country’s territory is now under ISIS influence, with recent gains in rural areas that can serve as a conduit to major cities that the so-called Islamic State hopes to eventually claim as part of its caliphate. Meanwhile, the Islamic extremist group does not appear to have suffered any major ground losses since the strikes began. The result is a net ground gain for ISIS, according to information compiled by two groups with on-the-ground sources.’

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Who Should Be Blamed For Muslim Terrorism?

Andrew Vltchek writes for CounterPunch:

A hundred years ago, it would have been unimaginable to have a pair of Muslim men enter a cafe or a public transportation vehicle, and then blow themselves up, killing dozens. Or to massacre the staff of a satirical magazine in Paris! Things like that were simply not done.

When you read the memoirs of Edward Said, or talk to old men and women in East Jerusalem, it becomes clear that the great part of Palestinian society used to be absolutely secular and moderate. It cared about life, culture, and even fashion, more than about religious dogmas.

The same could be said about many other Muslim societies, including those of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Indonesia. Old photos speak for themselves. That is why it is so important to study old images again and again, carefully.

Islam is not only a religion; it is also an enormous culture, one of the greatest on Earth, which has enriched our humanity with some of the paramount scientific and architectural achievements, and with countless discoveries in the field of medicine. Muslims have written stunning poetry, and composed beautiful music. But above all, they developed some of the earliest social structures in the world, including enormous public hospitals and the first universities on earth, like The University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco.

The idea of ‘social’ was natural to many Muslim politicians, and had the West not brutally interfered, by overthrowing left-wing governments and putting on the throne fascist allies of London, Washington and Paris; almost all Muslim countries, including Iran, Egypt and Indonesia, would now most likely be socialist, under a group of very moderate and mostly secular leaders.’

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2015: The Dangers Ahead

Charlie Hebdo: This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech—It Was About War

Editor’s Note: This article seems to be causing quite a stir on social media. It’s certainly worth a read.

Asghar Bukhari writes for Medium:

[…] The truth is, this awful attack can not be explained in a vacuum, absent of the context around it. It has to be seen through the prism of events that are going on around the world. With eyes firmly fixed on the wars going on from Palestine to Pakistan.

A global view spreading across the Muslim world, is that the West is at war with them (propagandists say this is due to hate preachers — nothing to do with more bombs being dropped on Iraq alone than were used in the whole of the first and second world war).

This anger sweeping the Muslim world, is solidifying in the consciousness of millions, re-enforced by daily bombings, kidnappings and of course wars that the West has initiated and engaged in. These policies have lead to many Muslims abandoning the belief that they could bring any change peacefully — cue the rise of men taking up arms.

I argue, that we are creating extremists in the bucket load and have done so exponentially, since we declared this endless war of terror . Our policies are hardening views on all sides.’

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How France became Syria’s enemy No. 1

Mirella Hodeib reports for The Daily Star:

‘The gory attack Wednesday on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo came at critical time for France: Its traditional sway in the Middle East is steadily declining and more than ever its foreign policy marred by confusion. Those very miscalculations are the topic of journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot’s polemic book “The Roads to Damascus: The Black Dossier of French-Syrian Relations.” The duo – who rose to fame after their kidnapping in Iraq in 2004 – trace in their latest book the details of almost 30 years of French-Syrian ties – relations that have greatly deteriorated at the onset of the Syrian uprising in 2011.

Lebanon being the bone of contention between Damascus and Paris; the authors also go into great lengths describing the major milestones that have shaped the peculiar relationship between the three countries. From the 1981 assassination in Beirut of French diplomat Louis Delmare, including the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri, the 2006 war with Israel and more recently Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian war, Lebanon has always been the catalyst of Syrian-French relations.’

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Blowback in Paris

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Middle East Eye:

‘[…] A kneejerk response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre would be familiar: crackdowns, monitoring and curbs on Muslim communities, including racial profiling; wild promises of “punishing” the attackers and taking decisive action to root out terrorists once and for all; ramping up military intervention in Iraq, Syria, Yemen or elsewhere to increase the heat on the terrorists at source, and teach them a lesson.

The problem is that these are tried, tested, and failed strategies that serve largely as useful recruiting sergeants for terrorist networks like IS and al-Qaeda. We are so obsessed with these strategies, despite their abject failure, that while getting rightly worked up at the horrifying atrocities against the West like that just committed in Paris, we are incapable of mustering a similar emotional response to the reports of dozens of civilian casualties due to US-led airstrikes.

Such so-called collateral damage, which includes the “mass destruction of civilian homes” by western bombs according to rebel eyewitnesses on the ground, is not even an accident, but a result of Obama’s deliberate loosening of “near certainty” standards previously adopted to minimise civilian deaths: and is already driving locals into the arms of IS.

We must not fall into the trap of the terrorists themselves – the inability to recognize the suffering of the Other, their wholesale demonization, the acceptance of their indiscriminate destruction as a necessary means to a “greater good.” The only way forward is for people of all faith and none to stand together in rejecting the violence perpetrated in our name, whether by state or insurgent.

Recognising that the Paris atrocity is predictable blowback which is likely to worsen as we insist on narrow, reactionary militarised solutions, does not absolve the perpetrators of responsibility for their terrible crimes; but it might help us find a path to safety based on co-existence, renunciation of violence, and unity in adversity.’

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Charlie Hebdo attack: Violence that was bound to spread to western Europe

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

‘[…] In this widening sea of violence, regardless of who carried out the Paris massacre, it would be surprising if Western European states remained unaffected. One of the characteristics of the modern jihadi movement has been to commit highly public atrocities both as a method of intimidation and as a demonstration of the religious commitment of those carrying them out.

This was a feature of 9/11, suicide bombings in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and the ritualised murder of journalists and aid workers on camera. An added benefit from the jihadis’ point of view comes if they can tempt the government into an overreaction that helps spread their cause.

Thus George Bush and Tony Blair played straight into the hands of al-Qaeda by responding to 9/11 by sending armies in. The prison wardens of Abu Ghraib, by mistreating prisoners, and the CIA by torturing them, acted as recruiting sergeants. The counter-effectiveness of that strategy is demonstrated by the growth of al-Qaeda-type jihadi movements 14 years after 9/11.’

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War with Isis: The West is wrong again in its fight against terror

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

Islamic State (Isis) will remain at the centre of the escalating crisis in the Middle East this year as it was in 2014. The territories it conquered in a series of lightning campaigns last summer remain almost entirely under its control, even though it has lost some towns to the Kurds and Shia militias in recent weeks.

United States air strikes in Iraq from 8 August and Syria from 23 September may have slowed up Isis advances and inflicted heavy casualties on its forces in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani. But Isis has its own state machinery and is conscripting tens of thousands of fighters to replace casualties, enabling it to fight on multiple fronts from Jalawla on Iraq’s border with Iran to the outskirts of Aleppo in Syria.

In western Syria, Isis is a growing power as the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad loses its advantage of fighting a fragmented opposition, that is now uniting under the leadership of Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda.

Yet it is only a year ago that President Obama dismissed the importance of Isis, comparing it to a junior university basketball team.’

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76,000 Estimated Killed in Syrian War in 2014

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

‘The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-rebel mouthpiece based in London, has issued an assessment of the annual death toll in the nation’s ever-growing civil war, estimating 76,021 killed nationwide.

The Observatory broke down their figures by faction, as well, showing that no group was particularly spared in the conflict, finding 22,627 killed were soldiers or members of pro-government militias, with some 17,000 hardcore Islamists slain, 15,000 from more moderate rebel factions, and 17,790 civilians.

The breakdown is likely to be far more controversial than the overall toll, as different factions inevitably have wildly different definitions of civilians, and auxiliary militias stuffed into those figures are often really just able-bodied men seen as supportive of a faction.’

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Syria’s ancient sites were already damaged by war. Now they’re being looted.

Hugh Naylor reports for The Washington Post:

‘Syria’s vast archaeological sites have suffered extensive damage because of bombing by government warplanes and the demolition of religious shrines by Islamic State militants. But there is an increasing, perhaps more menacing problem: old-fashioned plunder.

A new report has found evidence of “widespread looting” at locations that Syria has nominated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Under threat are the remains of a Mesopotamian trading post and a 4,500-year-old city that housed thousands of cuneiform tablets, as well as an ancient town with a chapel known for containing the world’s oldest depictions of Jesus, according to the report, released this past week by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.’

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