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Russian Defense Ministry refutes AP propaganda - 'No new military base in Palmyra'

© Maxim Blinov / Sputnik
Russian sappers clearing terrorist mines laid in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palmyra.
The Russian Defense Ministry has denied allegations reported by the AP that Russia is constructing an army base in the ancient city of Palmyra, which has recently been freed from Islamic State.

"There are no 'new army bases' on the territory of the Syrian town of Palmyra and there will never be," Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in an official statement on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, the AP news agency came out with a report stating that the Russian military is building an army base in Palmyra within the zone listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site, and without permission from authorities. The agency cited an "American heritage organization" and a "top Syrian archaeologist" as its sources, as well as satellite images that appear to show some construction on the edge of the ancient site.


Comment: Notice the Associated Press does not name either source.


Yet, as General Konashenkov states, the pictures show something else entirely.

"The satellite pictures of this area posted by UNESCO, which were mentioned by AP, show the temporary camp of the International Demining Center of Russia's Defense Forces, which were demining the archaeological monument of Palmyra, and now the broader area of Tadmor city."

The installation of this temporary camp until the area is cleared of explosives has been approved at the Ministry of Culture and other official departments of the Syrian State," Konashenkov pointed out.

Comment: Without the aid Russia provided to the Syrian Arab Army to recapture Palmyra, Daesh could very well have completely demolished that ancient city. The appalling damage to Palmyra's priceless antiquities would have continued while the world wrung its hands but did nothing.


Info

Meet the 'Niger Delta Avengers': They may hold the price of oil in their hands

As Goldman famously declared on Sunday night when it boosted its near-term oil prices targets (while cutting its 2017 estimates as a result of what it admits will be a delayed rebalancing of the oil market), the biggest upside risk to oil over the next months remains the threat from unexpected supply disruptions...

... such as the Canada wildfire which has mothballed up to 1.5 million barrels in daily production (and which took a turn for the worse earlier today, when new evacuations threatened the restart of oilsands facilities), but mostly the ongoing attacks shaking up, or rather down, Nigerian production, specifically affecting the region of the Niger River delta.

Top Secret

The CIA 'accidentally' destroyed its only copy of the Senate Torture Report

As the government continues to suppress the entire 6,700-page Senate Torture Report, the CIA inspector general's office recently admitted to "mistakenly" destroying their only copy of the classified report. Although CIA Director John Brennan possesses another copy of the torture report, he refuses to send a replacement to the internal watchdog's office.

Last summer, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Justice Department were privately informed that CIA employees at the inspector general's office had both destroyed the disk and deleted the file containing the full Senate Torture Report. Despite the fact that the Justice Department ordered all copies of the classified document to be preserved, acting CIA Inspector General Christopher Sharpley was unable to locate another copy and eventually informed the Senate Intelligence Committee that his officers has mistakenly ruined their only copies.

Comment: See also:


Gold Coins

US Senate OKs 9/11 families suing Saudi Arabia as Treasury Dept 'outs' Islamic state's US Treasury holdings for first time - Figure WAY smaller than expected

© Hassan Ammar / Agence France-Presse
Saudi Arabia tops all other oil exporting countries in holding US debt, with $116 billion, US Treasury documents reveal. The first such disclosure in four decades ranks the kingdom alongside China, Japan, and other Treasury securities-owning nations.

The US Treasury Department released its data on foreign ownership of its securities on Monday, showing that total holdings had risen 0.8 percent to a record $6.29 trillion.

China, the largest holder of US debt, has $1.24 trillion despite trimming its portfolio by 0.6 percent this year, followed by Japan, which increased its holdings by 0.4 percent to $1.14 trillion in March. The Cayman Islands ranked behind China and Japan with $265 billion in holdings, up 3.9 percent since February.

Among the oil exporting countries, Saudi Arabia leads the pack, while ranking 13th overall, holding $116.8 billion in US debt.

Comment: Saudi Arabia had 'threatened' to 'dump' its US Treasury holdings, which were, until this 'act of benevolent transparency', believed to have been massive - somewhere in the region of a trillion+ dollars - if the US Senate gave the go-ahead to families of 9/11 victims to sue the Islamic state over its involvement in the 'day that changed the world'.

Well, that did happen... on the same day that the US Treasury released the above figures. Was this a pre-emptive move on Washington's part? Some sort of defensive maneuver? It's hard to say for sure at this point, but the two events occurring on the same day sure seems coincidental.


Star of David

Syrian Army captures more U.S. and Israeli weapons in Daraa

During a raid in the eastern countryside of Daraa, the Syrian Armed Forces seized 2 American supplied TOW-missiles, 32 Israeli manufactured mines and other improvised weaponry from a truck driver who was arrested during the confiscation. Since the beginning of the war, the TOW-missile has been utilized very effectively by rebels to take out hundreds of Syrian Arab Army (SAA) tanks. Some MENA analysts have even argued the anti-tank guided missile has "kept the revolution alive". Although it is unclear if the CIA supplies the TOW-missile directly to Syrian rebels, a Saudi Arabian official said the Gulf Kingdom had given 500 TOW-missiles to rebel forces last summer, while Qatar is also believed to be a major supplier. Footage from the bust can be seen here:


Arrow Up

Senate passes bill that would allow 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia

© Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
The US Senate adopted unanimously a proposed bill that would allow Americans to sue nation-states for terrorist attacks on US soil, despite opposition from the White House and allies such as Saudi Arabia.

Dubbed "Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act," the bill sailed through the upper chamber of Congress without opposition Tuesday. It now heads to the House of Representatives, which has its own version of the proposal.

"This bill is very near and dear to my heart as a New Yorker because it would allow the victims of 9/11 to pursue some small measure of justice," said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, according to The Hill. "[This is] another example of the [John] Cornyn-Schumer collaboration, which works pretty well around here."

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, co-sponsored the bill and apparently prevailed over his South Carolina colleague Lindsey Graham, who had put a hold on the bill last month, citing concerns it would open the US up to lawsuits by foreign governments.

Graham's office said he dropped the hold over the recent recess, The Hill reported.

The bill faces bipartisan opposition in the lower chamber and the executive branch, however.

Binoculars

Senators challenge government surveillance powers with new bill

© Pawel Kopczynski / Reuters
Senators Ron Wyden and Rand Paul will introduce a bill this week to halt implementation of a rule easing the government's ability to hack untold numbers of devices around the world. They argue the rule is too broad and was approved without public debate.

"This is a major policy change," Senator Wyden (D-Oregon) told the Los Angeles Times. "This has been buried from the public and from their elected officials. And they should know about it. This is not just a modest administrative change."

The amendment contested by Wyden and Senator Paul (R-Kentucky) was requested by the Department of Justice to update Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Adopted by the Supreme Court last month and passed on to Congress for review, it would create a sweeping expansion of law enforcement's ability to engage in hacking and surveillance.

Gold Bar

$90bn London gold vault set to be acquired by China's ICBC Standard Bank

© Bobby Yip / Reuters
A sales representative poses behind a nine-tael 24K gold in the shape of a dragon
China's state-owned ICBC Standard Bank has agreed to buy a massive precious metals storage business from Barclays. The deal is expected to boost China's access to the London gold market. The vault, one of the largest in Europe, is in a secret location in London that can store 2,000 tons of gold, silver, platinum and palladium. It was opened in 2012 by Barclays, which is now exiting the business as part of restructuring.

At current prices (about $1,300 per ounce) up to $90 billion worth of gold could be stored inside the London-based storage.

The world's biggest bank by assets, ICBC will become the first Chinese lender to own a vault in London. The bank intends to expand its role in the gold business and will gain more influence in trading, pricing and storage of precious metals. Last week, ICBC became a member of London's precious metals clearing system where trades are settled.

The purchase "enables us to better execute on our strategy to become one of the largest Chinese banks in the precious metals market," said Mark Buncombe, ICBC Standard Bank's head of commodities, as cited by the BBC. The deal is expected to be completed in July but no financial details have been released thus far.

China is the world's largest consumer of gold. According to Wells Fargo, the country now consumes about 40 percent of the gold mined around the world annually. Chinese imports of the yellow metal have surged over 700 percent since 2010.

Gold has been traded in London for over 300 years. About $5 trillion in transactions were handled in London's bullion market in 2015.

Comment: Apparently the Chinese are not the only ones who think gold is a prudent buy.


Arrow Up

Lavrov, Kerry: Syria meeting made progress, agrees to turn truce into ceasefire

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry have stated that there is progress in Syria peace talks after a meeting in Vienna, also saying that the powers there agreed to turn the Syria truce into a real ceasefire.

"We pledged our support for transforming the cessation of hostilities into a comprehensive ceasefire. We are committed to use our influence, to use the parties to [push for] cessation in order to ensure compliance," Kerry said.

Lavrov stressed "that we've made progress in all directions of our work, namely the cessation of hostilities, the expansion of the humanitarian assistance and the political process."

Kerry also announced that the ISSG sees progress in the situation, stating, however, that specific actions should be taken to make real changes.

Comment: See also: Russia holding the line to prevent total global war


Eye 2

What does he know? Soros dumps US stocks, buys gold

© Andrew Kelly / Reuters
George Soros
Billionaire George Soros has cut investment in US stocks by one-third and acquired a $264 million stake in the world's biggest bullion producer, Barrick Gold, Bloomberg reports, quoting the investor's fund data.

Overall, in the first quarter of 2016 the value of publicly disclosed holdings of Soros Fund Management fell by 37 percent to $3.5 billion. At the same time, Soros bought a 1.7 percent stake in Toronto-based Barrick Gold for $264 million, the biggest US holding in the company.

"Gold is always a safe haven at times when risks for investors are escalating. It's better to sit out turbulence with gold," economist Natalya Volchkova told the Ridus news agency. "Soros is killing two birds with one stone. He goes to gold, when it is cheaper so that he could profitably get rid of it in [the] future. At the same time, he leaves the more volatile dollar for a more stable asset," she added.

Gold prices have grown 16 percent in the first three months of 2016. This is the biggest quarterly growth in thirty years. Barrick shares have skyrocketed 39 percent since March 31 on news that the company has been rapidly cutting costs and reducing debt. On Tuesday, the precious metal was trading at $1,280 per troy ounce.

Many proponents of gold in the US are suggesting that the dollar should be backed by gold again. Among them is Ted Cruz, who was running for the Republican nomination for US president. He said the Federal Reserve "should get out of the business of trying to juice our economy, and simply be focused on sound money and monetary stability, ideally tied to gold."