Monday, December 26, 2016
CHRISTIANS WORRY BETHLEHAM COULD BE DONE WITH BY THE ARAB MURDERERS.
Marking the place where Jesus was born, the Christmas tree in Bethlehem’s Manger Square stands 17 meters (55 feet) tall. During the holiday season, visitors swarm around the base, taking grinning selfies while snacking on paper cups of sweet corn. Christmas lights adorn the old stone alleyways and the falafel sellers keep their fryers working extra late.More than a million foreign tourists visit the Church of the Nativity each year, especially during Christmas time. Few visitors will notice anything amiss during a quick visit to the birthplace of Jesus as they dash into the cathedral with their cameras held aloft and take a few minutes to browse the plethora of shops selling Christian trinkets, the same way visitors have done for decades. But behind the cheery Christmas lights, the demographics tell a different story.Bethlehem’s Christian population is rapidly disappearing, as members of the community leave in droves for a better life abroad.Bethlehem as well as nearby Beit Sahour and Beit Jala were 86% Christian in 1950. But by 2016, the Christian population dropped to just 12%, according Bethlehem mayor Vera Baboun, a Catholic who is the first woman to hold the post.This trend is echoed across the West Bank. In the 1970s, Christians made up 5% of the population. Today, they are just 2%. In Bethlehem, only 11,000 Christians remain in the birthplace of Christianity.The situation for Christians is even more precarious in Gaza. In 2006, a year before hard-line Islamist party Hamas seized power from the more moderate Fatah, there were 5,000 Christians living in the strip. Today, there are just 1,100, according to Samir Qumsieh, the owner of Nativity TV, the only Christian TV station in the West Bank and a researcher focusing on Christian issues.In Israel, however, the Arab Christian population has held steady with demographic growth, increasing by about 5,000 over the past 20 years. Today there are 164,700 Christians in Israel, about 2% of the population, a similar ratio to past decades.By contrast, a 2014 Pew Research study found that while the overall number of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa increased from 1.6 million to 7.5 million between 1900 and 2010, an increase of nearly 400%, non-Christian populations increased by tenfold during the same period. The Christian percentage of the overall population in the region thus decreased from 10% in 1900 to 5% in 2010.The Pew study noted that part of this decline in the overall percentage is due to lower birthrates among Christians than Muslims. But it also found that Christians are more likely than other religious groups to emigrate from this part of the world.In 2012, Christians faced religious harassment in more countries in the Middle East and North Africa than any other region of the world, according to the study.Comparatively, Palestinian Christians are much more well-off than Syrian or Iraqi Christians, who are fleeing the country due to civil wars and religious persecution, said Dr. Amnon Ramon, a researcher focusing on Christianity at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research.But even in places that aren’t beset by crisis, Christians are still leaving, often for economic reasons. “Christian emigration is happening from the entire Middle East, partly because it’s easier for them to assimilate than Muslims,” said Ramon.Ramon noted that Christians often send their children to church-affiliated schools, where European languages are taught at a high level. “That’s a huge advantage, and it gives them a good start to assimilating when they emigrate,” Ramon said. Christians are also more proportionately city dwellers from higher economic classes, which also eases the integration process.In places like Europe and North America, there’s also less antagonism towards Christian immigrants over Muslim immigrants, said Ramon.-Complex Muslim-Christian interaction-Nabil Giacaman, a Christian shop owner of the “Christmas House” store on Manger Square, said that the focus on Christian-only emigration is an attempt to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims and foster division within Palestinian society. Since the Christian population is so much smaller, their shrinking numbers are felt that much more acutely, he said.“It’s not about Christians and Muslims, it’s not that I’m facing these issues only because I’m a Christian,” said Giacaman. “As Muslims suffer, Christians also suffer. At the end, we are all Palestinian, we get the same permits and the same treatment at the checkpoints.”Others say the situation is more nuanced.“Officially [in the Palestinian Authority], the laws are the same for Christians and Muslims but there is still some racism [against Christians],” said Qumsieh, who noted that most of the racism is connected to land ownership, and that people generally try to sell land to members of their own religion.-‘People will stay if they can get a flat and a job’-Aside from the political situation, another main reason for the emigration is Bethlehem’s struggling economy. According to Baboun, the unemployment rate in Bethlehem is 27%, the highest in the Palestinian territories after Gaza. Average unemployment in the West Bank is 22%.“We need housing projects, we need investors who will employ our youth,” said Qumsieh. “People will stay if they can get a flat and a job.”Qumsieh’s own family is a perfect example of the struggle to get educated Palestinians to stay. As one of six highly-educated brothers, four of whom are engineers, Qumsieh is the only one who stayed in Bethlehem. His two sons, studying in the US, “mocked me to my face” when he asked if they were coming back to Bethlehem after graduating from college, Qumsieh recalled.“I can’t see how we have a future with this problem of ongoing emigration,” Qumsieh said. “I hope it won’t come to be that the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher will become museums.”Baboun’s plan to improve the local economy centers around tourism. The city has one of the premier tourist sites in the Middle East – the Church of the Nativity – but is unable to capture the financial windfall that should come from attracting so many international tourists.According to the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, 1.16 million foreigners visited the Church of the Nativity in 2013, the most recent year statistics were available. During the same year, 3.54 million tourists visited Israel.All tourists to Bethlehem arrive from Israel through one of 29 checkpoints that lead to the city and surrounding villages.A major complaint from Bethlehem residents involved in tourism is that most foreign tourists come to Bethlehem for only a few hours. Their big buses arrive at the tourism bus terminal next to Manger Square, they walk one block to visit the Church, and then immediately get back on the bus to return to Jerusalem. During their brief tour, the visitors spend very little money in the city.Baboun said the city is considering a tourism tax to ensure some of the tourism dollars are directed back to the city, though declined to elaborate how or where the city would levy the tax.Bethlehem is also in the midst of a sorely needed $20 million renovation of the Church of the Nativity, after years of negotiating with the three churches that administer the site as well as Israeli and Palestinian authorities. The renovations, which started in 2014, will repair the leaky roof, strengthen the support columns and reveal the original floor mosaics.The church was first built in the 4th century, though renovations haven’t happened for the past 200 years. In 2012, UNESCO designated it a World Heritage in Danger site, a move Israel condemned as political, though Palestinians celebrated as a recognition over their sovereignty of the site.Baboun said a major obstacle to economic development is that many of the large infrastructure projects must be coordinated with the Israeli Civil Administration, the Israeli army, the Palestinian Authority and the Bethlehem City Council. Much of the city does not have running water, forcing residents to get water delivered privately. And there are no wastewater treatment areas in the region, a major environmental issue.Baboun is hoping that the tourists who throng Manger Square on December 24 will acknowledge the difficult realities while still celebrating the traditional Christmas sprit.“Bethlehem is open, and Bethlehem is ringing the bells of joy for peace in the Middle East,” she said.There are now 55 hotels in Bethlehem, Baboun added, hopefully ensuring that, unlike Joseph and Mary, everyone who wants will find a place at an inn.“This issue of Christian emigration has become a political tool,” said Ramon, the researcher at the Jerusalem Institute. “There are right-wing groups, like Evangelists, who are always saying ‘Christians are in such a bad situation with the Muslims and that’s why they’re leaving!’ Then there’s liberal Protestants who emphasize that the relations between Christians and Muslims are good, and it’s just the Israeli occupation that is responsible for all this.”“The real situation is somewhere in the middle,” he said. “The question about whether to stay or go is really dependent on one single thing: the question, where my children will have a better future?”
FBI warns of possible terror attacks on churches, holiday gatherings in US-Alert issued after publicly available list of US churches posted on a terrorists’ social media site-By Deb Riechmann December 24, 2016, 5:49 am-THE TIMES OF ISRAEL
WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal authorities warned law enforcement authorities across the nation Friday that Islamic State sympathizers are continuing to call for attacks on churches and other holiday gathering sites.The warning was issued after a publicly available list of US churches was posted on a militants’ social media site. It also came just days after Monday’s attack at a Christmas market in Berlin that left 12 dead and 56 injured.Separately on Friday, police in Australia detained five men suspected of planning a series of Christmas Day attacks using explosives, knives and a gun in the heart of Melbourne.FBI spokesman Andrew Ames said US citizens are advised to maintain awareness of their surroundings and report suspicious activity. He said the FBI will work closely with federal, state and local law enforcement should there be any potential threat to public safety.“The FBI is aware of the recent link published online that urges attacks against US churches,” Ames said. “As with similar threats, the FBI is tracking this matter while we investigate its credibility.”
25 And there shall be signs in the sun,(HEATING UP-SOLAR ECLIPSES) and in the moon,(MAN ON MOON-LUNAR ECLIPSES) and in the stars;(ASTEROIDS ETC) and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity;(MASS CONFUSION) the sea and the waves roaring;(FIERCE WINDS)
26 Men’s hearts failing them for fear,(TORNADOES,HURRICANES,STORMS) and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth:(DESTRUCTION) for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.(FROM QUAKES,NUKES ETC)
INCLUDING THIS QUAKE YESTERDAY.ALL YOU WILL BE HEARING FROM THE END OF THE WORLD CROWD FOR THE NEXT 2 YEARS.IS FROM TODAY ON THE 2ND WAVE OF ENERGY HAS HIT. AND EVERY DISASTER ON EARTH FROM HERE ON IN WILL BE BLAMED ON THIS SO CALLED WAVE OF ENERGY. LOOK FOR THE END OF THE WORLDERS TO MAKE ENDLESS VIDEOS SAYING FOR THE NEXT 2 YEARS-LOOK OUT FOR THE END OF THE WORLD APOCOLYPTIC EVENTS.FROM THIS 2ND WAVE OF ENERGY. THEY SURE WON'T MENTION THE BIBLE SAYS 4 BILLION OR HALF OF EARTHS POPULATION WILL BE DYING FROM ATOMIC-NUCLEAR WEAPONS. THAT DOES NOT MAKE A SENSATIONAL HEADLINE OR RAKE IN THE MONEY.
Major quake jolts Chile resort region; 21,000 homes lose power-[Reuters]-By Felipe Iturrieta and Antonio De la Jara-YAHOONEWS-December 25, 2016
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A major 7.6 magnitude earthquake jolted southern Chile on Sunday, prompting thousands to evacuate coastal areas, but no fatalities or major damage were reported in the tourism and salmon farming region.Chile's National Emergency Office (ONEMI) lifted both the evacuation order and a tsunami watch three hours after the Christmas Day quake struck, telling nearly 5,000 people who had evacuated they could return to their homes.Onemi said one bridge in the area was impassable as crews worked to restore electricity to 21,000 homes without power.Officials had issued a tsunami warning earlier for areas within 1,000 km (621 miles) of the epicenter, just 39 km (24.5 miles) southwest of Puerto Quellon, off the coast. But the warning was downgraded to a tsunami watch. Eight mostly small ports in the area were closed, Chile's Navy said.The quake was felt on the other side of the Andes mountains in Argentina, in the southwestern city of Bariloche, but structural damage in areas close to the epicenter was limited, witnesses said.The quake's depth was about 34.6 km (21.5 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said."There was a lot, a lot of movement here, but besides that nothing of note, there weren't houses falling," said Alamiro Vera, owner of the Cabanas Hotel in the southern Chile fishing town of Quellon. "It was just scary, and some things inside fell."A Reuters witness said some roads and at least one bridge were damaged in Quellon, located on Chiloe Island, a tourist destination in Chile's Los Lagos region.-'BIGGEST SCARE OF OUR LIVES'-The quake disrupted Christmas plans for thousands of people who fled their homes on foot, in cars and on horseback, seeking higher ground amid torrential rains as sirens warned about the potential tsunami.Quellon resident Denisse Alvarado was preparing to travel to the countryside to celebrate Christmas with friends when she felt the quake and ran out of her home."All of a sudden it shook and shook and shook," Alvarado, 46, told Reuters. "I thought the house would fall and the ground would open because it was very strong and very loud.""It was the biggest scare of our lives," she added.Though there were dozens of weaker aftershocks, damage was concentrated along a highway that runs across Chiloe Island, where traffic was shut down in one section and on smaller roads and bridges.Local television showed damage to some homes, especially in Quellon and surrounding areas.-SALMON ZONE-The area hit by Sunday's quake was south of Valdivia, Chile, where 1,655 people died in a 1960 quake ranked by the USGS as the most powerful recorded in Chile.The region is home to several industrial salmon farms. An official with Chile's National Fish and Aquaculture Service said several companies had evacuated employees and were evaluating their facilities for possible damage.Fishing and agriculture company Empresas AquaChile SA said its employees in the watch zone had been evacuated and were safe, adding that there was no damage to its facilities.Several other companies have industrial salmon farming operations in the region, including Blumar SA, Cia Pesquera Camanchaca SA, Australis Seafoods SA, Multiexport Foods SA, Invermar SA, and the local unit of Norway's Marine Harvest ASA.Chile is the world's leading copper producer, but there are no major mines located near the zone affected by the earthquake.Chile's state-run oil company ENAP [ENAP.UL] said its Bio Bio refinery in southern Chile was operating normally. The Puerto Montt airport was operating normally, a spokesman said.Latam Airlines Group SA and Sky Airlines said their southern Chile routes were operating without major delays.Chile has a long history of deadly quakes, including a 8.8 magnitude quake in 2010 off the south-central coast, which also triggered a tsunami that devastated coastal towns.(Additional reporting by Gram Slattery; Writing by Mary Milliken and Luc Cohen; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)
Typhoon Nock-ten lashes central Philippines, cuts power-[Reuters]-By Enrico Dela Cruz-YAHOONEWS-December 25, 2016
MANILA (Reuters) - A typhoon slammed into central Philippines late on Sunday, bringing strong winds and heavy rains and cutting off power, but there were no immediate reports of casualties, weather officials and radio reports said.Typhoon Nock-ten was packing maximum sustained winds of 185 kph (115 mph) with gusts up to 255 kph when it made landfall over Catanduanes province, which was under the highest storm alert, on the Bicol peninsula on Sunday evening.The typhoon made a second landfall over Camarines Sur province, then weakened slightly with winds of 175 kph but gusts at 290 kph, the weather bureau said."We continue to pray, stay positive and stay alert. Brownout in a lot of areas already," Camarines Sur Governor Miguel Luis Villafuerte said in a post on his Instagram account. Communication lines have been cut in some areas, radio reports said.Around 218,000 people fled to evacuation centres after authorities warned of storm surges and flooding in coastal villages and low-lying areas.Nock-ten could make another landfall early on Monday while moving west faster at 20 kph, from 15 kph previously, and crossing the provinces of Camarines Norte, Southern Quezon, Laguna, Batangas, and Cavite, weather forecasters said.The typhoon's eye will be near Metro Manila on Monday afternoon, they said.Land, sea and air travel has been suspended in some areas, leaving stranded thousands of people heading home for Christmas in the mostly Christian country.In 2013, more than 6,000 people were killed and 200,000 homes destroyed when Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest-ever storm to make landfall in the Philippines, hit the central islands of Leyte and Samar.About 20 major typhoons pass through the Philippines each year. Since 1948, at least seven have hit during the Christmas period.
Dakotas under blizzard warnings as winter storm forecast over central U.S.-[Reuters]-YAHOONEWS-December 25, 2016
(Reuters) - Almost all of North and South Dakota were under blizzard, ice storm or winter storm warnings on Sunday as wintry weather was forecast to hit the Central U.S., meteorologists said.The National Weather Service said it expected a strong winter storm to drop heavy snow - as many as 15 inches (38 cm) in parts of the Dakotas - across the northern plains on Christmas day, as well as rain or even freezing rain as far east as Wisconsin.The service warned that the freezing weather would make ground travel near impossible in spots and could hamper the plans of some of the 94 million Americans who, according to American Automobile Association, were expected to travel by vehicle over the holiday season."Holiday travel will likely be poor across much of the northern-tier states," the weather service's Weather Prediction Center said. The weather service also warned of dense fog for large swaths of the country's southern and central regions, bringing further difficulty to drivers.For travelers making their holiday treks by air, flight tracking website flightaware.com was reporting only a few dozen flight cancellations or airport delays across the country as of early on Christmas morning.(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
Snow storm bears down on western U.S. as holiday travelers hit the roads-[Reuters]-By Brendan O'Brien-YAHOONEWS-December 24, 2016
MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - A winter storm was taking aim on Saturday at the U.S. West and Midwest where it was expected to dump heavy snow and freezing rain, causing headaches for millions of holiday travelers who were hitting the road over the weekend, forecasters said.Winter storm and blizzard warnings and watches were in effect from Nevada and Colorado up through the Dakotas and into northern Minnesota as 2 inches (5 cm) to 15 inches (38 cm) of snow along with strong gusts were in the forecast on Saturday and Sunday, the National Weather Service said."Blizzard conditions are possible across portions of the northern plains on Christmas Day, where snow along with winds gusting in excess of 60 mph could create very dangerous travel conditions," the weather service said.The treacherous weather could hamper the plans of some of the 94 million Americans who, according to American Automobile Association, were expected to travel by vehicle over the holiday season.From New Mexico up through northeastern Wisconsin, a mix of freezing rain and flurries will cover roadways with an icy glaze and blowing snow over the weekend, the service predicts.Thunderstorms and 45-mph (70 kph) winds were also expected for northern Texas, central Oklahoma and southern Kansas and Missouri on Saturday and Sunday, the National Weather Service said.The storm caused problems on Friday in northeastern Oregon, where transportation authorities closed Interstate 84 between Baker City and LaGrande for several hours on Friday after snow reduced visibility to zero.Bad weather was to blame for more than 620 flight cancellations on Friday in the United States, flightaware.com reported.In Appleton, Wisconsin, where snow had fallen on Friday evening, a plane carrying the Minnesota Vikings National Football League team slid off a runway, local airport and team officials said. No injuries were reported.Flood watches and warnings were also in effect for parts of the West Coast, including coastal Southern California, and Midwest after heavy rains fell on Friday night and temperatures were expected to rise throughout the regions over the weekend.Despite the winter weather, parts of Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee will enjoy unseasonably warm weather on Christmas Day, as temperatures are likely to soar into the 60s F, according to the NWS.(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Adrian Croft)
China's aircraft carrier to drill in Western Pacific-[Reuters]-YAHOONEWS-December 25, 2016
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's first aircraft carrier will carry out drills in the Western Pacific, in what the navy called part of routine exercises, amid renewed tension over self-ruled Taiwan that Beijing claims as its own.The navy said in a statement late on Saturday the Liaoning, along with its accompanying fleet, would conduct "exercises far out at sea", without giving details of the location or route, in what is likely its first blue-water drill far from home waters."This exercise is being carried out in accordance with annual exercise plans," the navy said in a statement also carried on the front page of the official People's Liberation Army Daily.China's successful operation of the Liaoning is the first step in what state media and some military experts say will be the deployment of domestically built carriers by 2020.Taiwan's defense ministry said on Sunday it had been monitoring the drills closely as the Liaoning went through the Miyako Strait, a body of water between the Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa, heading into the Pacific.It said it was monitoring whether the aircraft carrier would continue into the Bashi Channel, which lies between Taiwan and the Philippines, on its return.The Japanese Defense Ministry said on Sunday evening that a Maritime Self Defense Force ship and a P3C patrol airplane had spotted six Chinese naval vessels including Liaoning traveling through the passage between Miyako and Okinawa and into the Pacific.There was no territorial incursion, the ministry said.One Z-9 patrol helicopter that took off from a Chinese frigate flew near Miyako Island, prompting the scrambling of Japanese jet fighters, said the Japanese Defense Ministry.Nikkei business daily reported that Japan had told China via diplomatic channels that it was closely watching the moves of the aircraft carrier.China's military conducted its first ever live-fire drills using an aircraft carrier and fighters in the northeastern Bohai Sea close to the Korean peninsula this month, and has more recently been in the East China Sea.The navy showed pictures on its official microblog from the drills in the East China Sea, including J-15 carrier-borne fighter jets launching into the sky, overseen by navy chief Wu Shengli.They conducted aerial refueling and air combat exercises on Thursday, the navy said.China's growing military presence in the disputed South China Sea in particular has fueled concern, with the United States criticizing its militarization of maritime outposts and holding regular air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.The Western Pacific exercise comes amid new tension over self-ruled Taiwan, following U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's telephone call with the island's president that upset Beijing.China's air force conducted long-range drills this month above the East and South China Seas that rattled Japan and Taiwan. China said those exercises were also routine.China's Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier has participated in previous military exercises, including some in the South China Sea, but China is years away from perfecting carrier operations similar to those the United States has practised for decades.Last December, the defense ministry confirmed China was building a second aircraft carrier but its launch date is unclear. The aircraft carrier program is a state secret.Beijing could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years, the Pentagon said in a report last year.(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by J.R. Wu in Taipei and Nobuhiro Kubo in Tokyo; Additional writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Robert Birsel and Paul Tait)
Russia examines all possible reasons for Black Sea jet crash-[Associated Press]-VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV and VERONIKA SILCHENKO-YAHOONEWS-December 25, 2016
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Backed by ships, helicopters and drones, Russian rescue teams searched Sunday for victims after a Russian plane carrying 92 people to Syria crashed into the Black Sea shortly after takeoff. Investigators said they were looking into every possible cause for the crash, including a terror attack.All 84 passengers and eight crew members on the Russian military's Tu-154 plane are believed to have died when it crashed two minutes after taking off at 5:25 a.m. in good weather from the southern Russian city of Sochi. The passengers included dozens of singers in Russia's world-famous military choir.More than 3,000 rescue workers on 32 ships — including over 100 divers flown in from across Russia — were searching the crash site at sea and along the shore, the Defense Ministry said. Helicopters, drones and submersibles were being used to help spot bodies and debris. Powerful spotlights were brought in so the operation could continue all night.Emergency crews found fragments of the plane about 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) from shore. By Sunday evening, rescue teams had recovered 11 bodies and Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said fragments of other bodies were also found.Asked if a terror attack was a possibility, Sokolov said investigators were looking into every possible reason for the crash. Several experts noted factors that suggested a terror attack, such as the crew's failure to report any malfunction and the fact that plane debris was scattered over a wide area.The plane was taking the Defense Ministry's choir, the Alexandrov Ensemble, to perform at a New Year's concert at Hemeimeem air base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia. Those on board also included nine Russian journalists and a Russian doctor famous for her work in war zones.Russian President Vladimir Putin went on television to declare Monday a nationwide day of mourning."We will conduct a thorough investigation into the reasons and will do everything to support the victims' families," Putin said.The Black Sea search area — which covered over 10 square kilometers (about 4 square miles) — was made more difficult by underwater currents that carried debris and body fragments into the open sea. Sokolov said the plane's flight recorders did not have radio beacons, so locating them on the seabed was going to be challenging.The Tu-154 is a Soviet-built three-engine airliner designed in the late 1960s. More than 1,000 have been built, and they have been used extensively in Russia and worldwide. The plane that crashed Sunday was built in 1983, and underwent factory check-ups and maintenance in 2014 and this year, according to the Defense Ministry.Magomed Tolboyev, a decorated Russian test pilot, said it was clear that all on board had died in the crash."There is no chance to survive in such situation," he said, according to the Interfax news agency.Before Sokolov spoke to reporters in Sochi, senior Russian lawmakers had ruled out a terror attack, arguing that the military plane was under reliable protection. Security is particularly tight in Sochi, the Black Sea city that hosted the 2014 Winter Games and is regularly visited by Putin, who often receives foreign leaders at his residence there.But some experts said the crew's failure to report a malfunction pointed at a possible terror attack."Possible malfunctions ... certainly wouldn't have prevented the crew from reporting them," Vitaly Andreyev, a former senior Russian air traffic controller, told RIA Novosti.Vadim Lukashevich, an independent aviation expert, told Dozhd TV that the crew's failure to communicate an equipment failure and the large area over which the plane's fragments were scattered raises the possibility of an attack.Alexander Gusak, a former chief of a SWAT team at the main domestic security agency, the FSB, told Dozhd that Russian airports are still vulnerable to terror threats despite security cordons."It's possible to penetrate them. It's a matter of skills," he said.Russian planes have been brought down previously by terror attacks.In October 2015, a Russian plane carrying mostly Russian tourists back from vacation in Egypt was brought down by a bomb over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people aboard. Officials said the explosive device was planted in the plane's luggage compartment. The local affiliate of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.In August 2004, two Russian planes were blown up in the skies over Russia on the same day by suicide bombers, killing 89 people. A Chechen warlord claimed responsibility.In the last year, the Russian military has repeatedly flown Russian singers and artists to perform at Hemeimeem, the main hub for the Russian air campaign in Syria.The passenger list released by the Defense Ministry included 64 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, including its leader, Valery Khalilov. The ensemble is the official choir of the Russian military and also includes a band and a dance company. The choir sang "Get Lucky" at the opening of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, becoming an online sensation.The damage to the choir was reported to be devastating. Viktor Yeliseyev, head of the rival choir for the Russian National Guard, said "most singers of the choir have died."Also on board was Yelizaveta Glinka, a Russian doctor who has won wide acclaim for her charity work, which has included missions to war zones in eastern Ukraine and Syria. Her foundation said Glinka was accompanying a medical shipment for a hospital in Syria."We never feel sure that we will come back alive," she said when Putin presented her with an award earlier this month. "But we are sure that kindness, compassion and charity are stronger than any weapon."Syrian President Bashar Assad was among numerous foreign leaders who sent their condolences to Putin, saying he received news of the crash "with deep grief and sadness."In recent years, Russian airlines have replaced their Tu-154s with more modern planes, but the military and other Russian government agencies have continued to use them. While noisy and fuel-guzzling, the plane is popular with crews that appreciate its maneuverability and ruggedness."It's an excellent plane, which has proven its reliability during decades of service," veteran pilot Oleg Smirnov said.Still, since 1994, there's been 17 major plane crashes involving the Tu-154 that have killed over 1,760 people in all. Most resulted from human error.In the latest previous deadly crash of a Tu-154, a plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others crashed in April 2010 while trying to land at a military airport in Smolensk in western Russia, killing everyone on board. Investigations by both Polish and Russian experts blamed pilot error in bad weather, but Polish authorities have launched a new probe.___Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.
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