China's Premier Li Keqiang, on a tour of South America, is plugging a transcontinental railroad project that would cut through the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Last year, President Xi Jinping signed a memorandum on the project with the governments of Brazil and Peru, and Li is now pressing for an actual feasibility study. According to an interactive map on Diálogo Chino website, the "Twin Ocean Railroad" or "Transcontinental Railroad" would start at Porto do Açu Port in Rio de Janeiro state, and cut through the Brazilian states of Goiás, Mato Grosso and Rondônia. It would terminate at Puerto Ilo in Peru's southern Moquegua region.
A military court in Israel on May 21 ordered Palestinian lawmaker, Khalida Jarrar, be released on bail. Under the terms of her release, she is to pay a 20,000-shekel ($5,000) bond with a third-party guarantee. She is to be held three additional days pending a possible appeal. Jarrar, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was arrested last month by the Israeli military for incitement and involvement in terrorist activities after she disobeyed an Israel-ordered restriction from movement in the West Bank. She was placed under Israeli administrative detention, a system Israel says exists to prevent attacks by militants. Under administrative detention, individuals may be held captive for up to six months without being charged. The detention may be extended under a judge's approval, and evidence regarding the arrest may be withheld if deemed necessary. Some have called Jarrar's arrest a politically-fueled act, as Jarrar was instrumental in the Palestinian Authority's bid to formally join the International Criminal Court.
ISIS forces are in control of most of Moammar Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte, and this week sucessfully repulsed an effort to retake the town by the Misrata-based 166 Brigade, which is aligned with the Libya Dawn rebel coalition that holds power in Tripoli. The 166 Brigade was reportedly pushed to the west after launching an attack on Nufaliya, and ISIS-held town on the outskirts of Sirte. ISIS claims to have taken 166 Brigade camps south and east of Sirte, and posted photos of what it says is seized equipment.
Robert Doggart, apparently an ordained minister in something called the Christian National Church, pleaded guilty last month in a plot to massacre Muslims at an upstate New York hamlet known as Islamberg. Doggart, a resident of Signal Mountain, Tenn., was detained by the FBI April 11 as he was evidently planning to burn down the school, mosque and cafeteria at Islamberg—formerly Hancock, in Delaware county along the Pennsylvania border, in the southern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. "Our small group will soon be faced with the fight of our lives," he wrote in an indiscrete social media post. "We will offer those lives as collateral to prove our commitment to our God. We shall be Warriors who will inflict horrible numbers of casualties upon the enemies of our Nation and World Peace." Court papers say he intended to use an M-4 assault rifle and explosives, and sought to recuit volunteers for the attack from right-wing militia groups. He was apprehended while planning a reconnaissance mission of Islamberg. Doggart ran as an independent for Congress in Tennessee's 4th District last year, but was handily defeated.
Kurdish forces of the People's Protection Units (YPG) are continuing to press gains against ISIS in northern Syria—even as the "Islamic State" is defeating government forces in both Syria and Ira, taking the cities of Ramadi and Palmyra in recent days. On May 19, the YPG reported taking a number of villages and farms in the southern countryside of Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain) in northeast Syria's Hassakeh governorate. The YPG advance was supported by the US-led air-strikes. (ARA News, May 20) The gains come as ISIS continues its campaign of ethnic cleansing against Assyrian Christians in Hassakeh. The YPG has formed an alliance with two Christian military formations, the Syriac Haras al-Khabur and Assyrian Military Council, now fighting ISIS for the towns of Sere Kaniye and Tel Temir. (ARA News, April 23)
ISIS forces on May 20 seized the Syrian city of Palmyra, known in Arabic as Tadmur and famed for its ancient ruins—built by an Arab civilization 2,000 years ago in the Greco-Roman style. The Local Coordination Committees civil resistance network said the entire city came under ISIS control after pro-regime forces staged a "strategic retreat." As ISIS has advanced on Palmyra, there has been growing concern that its archaeological treasures will fall victim to the systematic ISIS campaign of cultural cleansing that has already seen partial destruction of the Iraqi sites of Hatra and Nimrud. UNESCO director general Irina Bokova said: "The fighting is putting at risk one of the most significant sites in the Middle East, and its civilian population. I reiterate my appeal for an immediate cessation of hostilities at the site. I further call on the international community to do everything in its power to protect the affected civilian population and safeguard the unique cultural heritage of Palmyra."
Maya indigenous peasants in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas are marching cross-country to oppose violence by the local narco gangs and the corruption of local authorities that protect them. The "pilgrimage" left the rural town of Simojovel some 15,000 strong at the end of March, and is now arriving at the state capital Tuxtla Gutiérrez, some 240 kilometers away through rugged country. The pilgrimage was organized by the Catholic pacifist group Pueblo Creyente (Faithful People) with the support of the local diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas in response to a wave of narco-violence in Simojovel.
Separate Israeli Supreme Court decisions issued on May 5 open the way for state authorities to forcibly evict residents of two Arab villages from their homes. The inhabitants of both villages, one in Israel and the other in the occupied West Bank, have previously been displaced following actions by Israeli authorities. "It is a sad day when Israeli Supreme Court decisions provide legal cover for forced evictions, as in the case of these two villages," said Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch. "The Israeli government should let these communities stay where they are, not force them to move yet again."