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End Time News – Updated 1 July 2017 - 6 stories
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earthquake headlines          6.0 quakes         7.0 quakes         quakes in diverse places       quake map

Magnitude 6.8 earthquake causes damage in Guatemala
by Mariano Castillo, CNN

(CNN)A magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck Thursday off Guatemala's Pacific coast, the US Geological Survey reported, causing some minor damage.

The quake was recorded at about 24 miles (38 kilometers) from the city of Puerto San Jose, according to the USGS.

One of the areas that suffered damage was Antigua Guatemala, the onetime colonial capital of Guatemala and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, according to CONRED, the country's emergency management system.

Founded in 1527, Antigua Guatemala survived many natural disasters until an earthquake destroyed most of the city in 1773, according to UNESCO. The capital was moved to present-day Guatemala City, but the monuments and architecture of the old capital earned it the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 1979.

Buildings suffer damage Thursday in the city of Antigua Guatemala, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Photos shared by emergency responders Thursday showed damage to the facade of some buildings and debris on some streets of Antigua Guatemala.

A spokesman for CONRED said there are no early reports of injuries.

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earthquake headlines             6.0 quakes            7.0 quakes            quakes in diverse places          quake map

5.1 magnitude earthquake jolts Nepal
Live Mint

Kathmandu: An earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale jolted parts of eastern Nepal on Sunday, officials said.

According to the National Seismological Centre (NSC), the epicentre was at Bitijor Bagaincha in south-eastern Nepal’s Okhaldhunga district. The seismic event was recorded at 7:43 am.

The NSC recorded a significant aftershock of the 2015 Gorkha earthquake, The Himalayan Times reported.

The tremor was also felt in adjoining districts and in the Kathmandu Valley. Nepal was hit by a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2015 that left nearly, 9,000 people dead and as many as 22,000 injured.

A mild earthquake measuring 4.7 on the Richter scale was also felt on Sunday in northeastern Sylhet region of Bangladesh. However, there was no immediate report of any damage or casualty.

In February this year, Nepal was hit by two earthquakes and the effects of one of them were also felt in the Kathmandu Valley.

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Danger maps reveal where the next major health pandemic llikely to break out
by Lizzie Parry, Digital Health Editor

NEW danger maps reveal the places in the world most likely to spark the next major health crisis.

And, for all those setting their sights on South America, it’s bad news. Note: See source for map.

The continent is a hotbed of potential killer viruses, new research from the EcoHealth Alliance in New York has revealed.

Their study is the first comprehensive look at all viruses known to infect mammals.

And the findings show bats are the biggest threat, carrying a “significantly higher proportion of viruses able to infect people than any other group of mammals”.

The hope is the maps will help experts predict where and how we should work to predict the next potential pandemic before it begins its killer spread.

They reveal the different danger hotspots across the world.

For bats the areas where new viruses are most likely to infect humans are South and Central America and parts of Asia.

Those viruses linked to primates are most likely to infect people in tropical regions across the world

Meanwhile, for primates the danger spots are in tropical Central America, Africa and South East Asia.

Dr Peter Daszak, EcoHealth Alliance’s president and senior author of the study, said: “In 2005, our team showed that SARS originates in bats.

“Ever since that finding, scientists have wondered whether bats are ‘special’ reservoirs for viruses.

“We now show definitively that bats carry a higher proportion of yet-to-be identified viruses of potential risk to people than any other mammal group.”

The West African Ebola outbreak that swept through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2014-15 started after a child became infected with the killer virus after coming into contact with an infected bat.

Meanwhile HIV jumped to humans from chimpanzees.

To identify the most likely site of the next pandemic, Dr Daszak and his team built a detailed database of all known viruses, that affect more than 750 mammals, and around 600 viruses.

They found for the first time that bats harbour the highest number of zoonotic viruses – those that jump from animals to humans – of any mammal group.

While the findings warn bats carry potentially deadly viruses, the researchers noted these diseases only infect people if they come into contact with bats, alter their environment, hunt them or disturb their ecology.

They added effective bat conservation could help reduce the risk of zoonotic disease, by reducing human-bat interactions.

Lead author Dr Kevin Olival, said: “The holy grail in pandemic prevention is to understand where the next zoonotic virus is likely to emerge and from what species.

“Our study provides the first ever predictive map of where these undiscovered zoonoses can be found across the world.

“This information is critical to prioritise surveillance to identify and stop the next pandemic.”

The findings are published in Nature.


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Wars and Rumors of Wars

Qatar crisis: Armed conflict and protracted dispute are growing more likely, analysts say
Tom DiChristopher

--The dispute between Qatar and its neighbors is now entering its fifth week.
--Qatar has rejected a harsh list of demands from Saudi Arabia and other countries, which will likely prolong the crisis, analysts say.
--Some Middle East watchers believe the risk of armed conflict is growing.

A diplomatic crisis on the Arabian Peninsula is turning into a protracted standoff, and some analysts now say the risk of armed conflict is emerging.

The dispute between Qatar, a major natural gas exporter, and its neighbors is now entering its fifth week. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and implemented a partial blockade on June 5 in a bid to bring the tiny Persian Gulf monarchy in line with Saudi-dominated foreign policy.

Some analysts initially thought the parties would seek a resolution by the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but last week, the anti-Qatar alliance issued a series of harsh demands.

"It's escalated to a stage where it's very difficult for both sides to back down," Firas Modad, analyst at IHS Markit, told CNBC this week.

The demands include non-starters such as shutting down Al Jazeera news and closing a Turkish military base. The coalition also calls on Qatar to end its alleged ties to terrorist groups and political opposition figures in Gulf nations and Egypt. It demanded Qatar pay reparations and submit to compliance reviews going forward.

Qatar has rejected the demands. That is likely to trigger a series of additional economic and political sanctions against the government in Doha, causing the impasse to stretch out for months, risk consultancy Eurasia Group concluded in a briefing this week.

"The crisis will continue to escalate before the Qatari leadership ultimately adjusts its policy positions, or in a slightly less likely scenario, opts to cement an alliance with Turkey and closer ties with Iran," Eurasia Group said.

Qatar, the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, has long chafed the region's pre-eminent Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia by attempting to forge its own foreign policy. That includes maintaining ties to Riyadh's Shiite Muslim rival Iran, which shares a massive gas field with Qatar and has sent food supplies to Doha since the crisis began.

Meanwhile, Turkey has moved forward plans for military cooperation with Qatar. On Friday, fresh Turkish armed forces arrived at the military base in Qatar, where training missions began last week.

Charles W. Freeman Jr., U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, this week suggested the recent escalation risks pushing the crisis into armed conflict.

"The Qataris and the Turks and others have said that these demands are unacceptable. So, we are clearly in a crisis with the potential to lead to armed conflict," he told the foreign policy blog LobeLog.

The severity of demands lends credence to the idea that Saudi Arabia's true goal is regime change in Qatar, said Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets. If the demands were formulated knowing that Qatar would reject them, that at least raises questions about Riyadh's real objective, she said.

The U.S. State Department itself has questioned whether Qatar's alleged support of terrorism is truly what is driving the dispute.

Croft said she has gone from being primarily concerned about the lifting of the blockade to increasingly worried about Gulf countries blundering their way into a military conflict due to unintended escalation or miscalculation this summer.

"I now can't say this is not going to lead to some kind of military escalation," she told CNBC.

Violent outbreaks have already occurred amid heightened tensions. Iran alleged the Saudi navy killed an Iranian fisherman in a Persian Gulf confrontation two weeks ago. The Saudis later said the Iranian vessel was trying to carry out a terror attack on an offshore oil field.

Eurasia Group said the U.S. commitment to resolving the dispute is a critical factor. President Donald Trump has at times undercut efforts by the State Department to de-escalate the situation by tweeting his support for the Saudi-led group and publicly calling Qatar a funder of terrorism.

"If U.S. diplomatic investment in the dispute proves insufficient, or if Washington offers mixed signals, the likelihood that a diplomatic solution fails would increase," Eurasia Group said.


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Wars and Rumors of Wars

The US-Led Coalition Is Inching Toward Armed Conflict With Russia And Iran In Syria
by Jared Keller

Syria’s six-year civil war just escalated to a new level.

Less than 24 hours after a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Air Force Sukhoi SU-22 fighter-bomber outside the southern city of Tabqa, the Russian government stated that it would treat all coalition aircraft operating west of the Euphrates River “targets.”

“The destruction of the Syrian Air Force [jet] by American aircraft in Syrian airspace is a cynical violation of the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement on June 19, assailing Operation Inherent Resolve as a front for Western geopolitical domination. “The repeated fighting of the United States of America under the cover of ‘counter-terrorism” against the legitimate armed forces of a member state is a flagrant violation of international law and in fact military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Citing the U.S.-led coalition’s failure to contact Russian command through “existing channels of communication,” the Ministry of Defense bailed on the incident-prevention hotline outright and eliminated coordination between coalition commanders over operations surrounding the “de-confliction zones” that have been flashpoints for escalating skirmishes between coalition and pro-regime forces.

“In the areas of Russian aviation in the sky, all air facilities, including aircraft and unmanned vehicles of the international coalition found west of the Euphrates will be escorted by Russian air and air defense aircraft,” the Ministry of Defense stated.

The downing of the SU-22 marks the U.S. military’s first air-to-air kill since 1999, when Serbian Mig-29 was shot down as part of NATO’s Operation Allied Force. Coalition aircraft “will continue to conduct air operations throughout Syria,” OIR spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon told Foreign Policy on June 19, adding that the shootdown was “accordance with the rules of engagement and international law.”

“The Coalition is always available to de-conflict with the Russians to ensure the safety of Coalition aircrews and operations,” a OIR spokesman told Task & Purpose via email. “The de-confliction line has proven effective at mitigating strategic miscalculations and de-escalating tense situations.”

The Russian military has provided air support in Syria for forces loyal to longtime ally President Bashar al-Assad since 2015. The Russian broadsides come as the U.S.-led coalition finds itself facing an increasingly crowded operational area in its fight against ISIS. The downing of the Syrian SU-22 marked the culmination of more than a month of incursions by local militias aligned with the Assad regime into a de-confliction zone at the At Tanf garrison on the Syria-Iraq border, forcing coalition forces to call in defensive airstrikes against pro-regime convoys and artillery.

On June 8, a U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle shot down an Iranian-made drone that deployed munitions near coalition forces, prompting the Pentagon to relocate an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System from Jordan to the At Tanf in response.

“This blatant aggression confirms beyond doubt the truth … the American position aims to try to influence the Syrian Arab Army’s ability [to] exercise its legitimate right to fight terrorism,” the Syrian government said in a statement following the SU-22 shootdown, echoing the Russian Defense Ministry’s language. “This attack comes at a time when the Syrian Arab army and its allies are advancing in the fight against ISIS terrorists who are being defeated in the Syrian desert in more ways than one.”

In response to the string of incidents with and Russian forces, coalition forces have “taken prudent measures” to “reposition aircraft over Syria so as to continue targeting ISIS forces while ensuring the safety of our aircrew given known threats in the battlespace,” an OIR spokesman told Task & Purpose.

While the escalating clashes between coalition and pro-regime forces may end up drawing the United States into an outright conflict with the Syrian military, Russia isn’t the only player backing the Assad government. Hours before the shootdown, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard announced that it had targeted ISIS fighters with Zolfaghar ballistic missiles in the eastern Deir Ezzor region of the country. CNN reports that the strikes, launched in response to the twin terror attacks that left at least 16 dead capital at the Iranian parliament and a beloved shrine in Tehran on June 7, mark the first time the Iranian regime has fired missiles at another country since the Iran-Iraq war three decades ago.

That the Russian government explicitly cited the de-confliction zones that are proving fertile ground for clashes between the various armed forces operating in war-torn country suggests that tensions will only widen beyond the “self-defense” proxy war that comes with supporting Syria’s warring factions against their mutual enemy of ISIS. And with Russia and Iran deepening their military involvements in the region while cutting off avenues of de-escalation with coalition commanders, it’s almost certain that the Pentagon’s first air-to-air killed in almost 20 years won’t be its last.


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Trump administration wants to rally world to stop ‘four famines’
by Nahal Toosi

But will other countries heed the calls of a president who has also proposed gutting U.S. foreign aid?

President Donald Trump has long insisted that other countries should share more of the financial burden in tackling global emergencies. Now, a crisis involving four potential famines in Africa and the Middle East may test whether foreign governments will heed his demands.

Food and water shortages, caused by conflict as well as climate, are threatening to tip parts of Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan into famine, risking at least 20 million lives.

In the coming days, the White House is planning to rally other governments to do more to prevent the calamity, several Trump administration officials told POLITICO. The officials declined to offer details, but one likely forum for the president to make such a push is next week's G-20 summit in Germany.

“This administration wants to demonstrate our global leadership,” said Garry Hall, senior director for international organizations and alliances at the National Security Council. “This is right in the president’s agenda. It makes America great because America is good. It’s in our national DNA.”

It’s not clear, however, whether other governments will listen to an American president who has proposed gutting the U.S. foreign aid budget and rattled even longstanding allies with his isolationist streak.

“It undermines our credibility as a global leader when President Trump pushes a budget that slashes our contributions to the United Nations, to refugee relief, to humanitarian assistance,” said Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat who often deals with Africa-related issues. “To demonstrate America’s sustained global leadership, he’s going to have to take some stronger action.”

The possibility that four famines could descend on the world at once is thought to be unprecedented. In South Sudan, famine took hold in February and lasted about four months before conditions improved, but the country remains on the brink of a relapse.

That three of the potential famines are driven by manmade conflict also distinguishes the crisis. In Yemen, Saudi Arabia, with U.S. help, is battling Houthi rebels supported by Iran. South Sudan, a country created in 2011, has descended into civil war. And the fight against the Boko Haram militant group in northeast Nigeria has spurred hunger there. The fighting has limited people’s access to food, water and land that they could cultivate. Peace appears remote in all three cases.

Somalia’s struggle has been driven largely by a lack of rainfall and a drop in household purchasing power as food becomes more expensive. Aid workers, meanwhile, point out that even though the risk of famine appears limited to Yemen, Somalia, northeast Nigeria and South Sudan, food insecurity is a problem elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa.

Attempts to muster a robust global response have largely fallen flat.

One United Nations push to raise at least $4.9 billion has drawn just $2.1 billion, or 42 percent, according to the world body. In recent days, the executive director of the U.N.’s World Food Program, David Beasley, has been making high profile pitches to the European Union and other institutions to step up their spending on the crisis. Beasley is a former South Carolina governor who supported Trump, raising hopes among aid groups that he can influence the president’s thinking.

Despite Trump’s seeming callousness on some humanitarian issues, he has at times shown a softer side. The same president who tried to bar Syrian refugees from U.S. shores launched airstrikes against the Syrian regime after being moved by pictures of children killed in chemical attacks. Others in Trump’s orbit, such as his daughter Ivanka, have taken up humanitarian causes. Beasley is reportedly hoping to use Ivanka Trump as a conduit to her father’s heart.

The U.S. has devoted more than $2 billion to anti-famine funding so far this fiscal year.

Trump administration officials, who in April set up an interagency coordination committee just to deal with the famines, acknowledge that the president’s proposed budget cuts for fiscal year 2018 have muddied their messaging efforts. But they stress that those cuts have not yet become a reality, and that even if they do, the United States would still top rankings of overseas relief spending.

The officials expressed frustration that the administration’s anti-famine efforts so far have received little attention. In May, as Trump met with Pope Francis, he announced that his administration would devote $329 million in additional funding to fend off the famines. But news of the $329 million was buried under an avalanche of coverage about other aspects of Trump’s trip, such as what Ivanka Trump and first lady Melania Trump wore when meeting the pontiff.

“If the president was really signaling that our commitment had waned and that we were no longer going to address the needs of people that were suffering, some in extremely dire circumstances, perhaps what we would have seen would have been let’s halt, let’s reduce what we’re doing now — and that’s not what we’re seeing,” one senior administration official said. “What he’s saying is ‘I have a commitment to alleviate human suffering. We know this is happening now. Folks should be coming together to solve the problem for us.’”

Trump’s proposed cuts to the foreign aid budget are not likely to become a reality given strong bipartisan opposition in Congress. Regardless, the administration officials stress said they are committed to finding ways to make U.S. foreign aid spending more efficient. On the famine front, the administration is looking at expanding programs that have helped make vulnerable countries more resistant to famines in the first place. One example: offering livestock insurance programs to help families protect their assets.

In deciding which programs to support where, the new Republican administration is also taking a closer look at which foreign governments have proved to be reliable partners — diplomatically sensitive conversations likely to take place in private.

“The new team came in, and it was really an approach of ‘Let’s take a look at what’s been working and what hasn’t been working, let’s scale up the things that have been working, and we need to either adjust the things that haven’t been working or we need to end them,’” a second administration official said.

Aid experts, former U.S. officials and members of Congress from both the Republican and Democratic parties sympathize with the goal of improving aid efficiency. Coons and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently traveled to Africa to learn first-hand about the famine crisis, and both are promoting legislation to make overseas food aid delivery faster and cheaper for U.S. taxpayers.

Still, some question whether everyone in the Trump administration is on the same page when it comes to the importance of helping the world’s needy.

In mid-May, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, urging him to release $990 million in funds Congress appropriated specifically for famine relief in a fiscal year 2017 budget bill. Mulvaney is a budget hawk believed to be a major driving force behind Trump’s budget plans, and he has stridently defended its proposed cuts to foreign aid. The famine funds were eventually released.

“It shouldn’t have taken as long as it did. It shouldn’t have taken a letter from members of Congress,” a senior Democratic Hill staffer said.

The Trump administration’s slow pace in appointing people to key positions at the State Department and other agencies has undermined America’s ability to take a leadership role on famine relief as well as its hopes of bringing an end to some of the conflicts causing the hunger crisis, several stakeholders said. There is no senior director for Africa yet on the National Security Council; the leadership ranks of the State Department’s African Affairs bureau, too, have been dented.

“You go to these pledging events and you get low-level U.S. staffers reading talking points that are anodyne,” a senior official with a top aid organization said. “When you remove leadership from the occasion and don’t offer a substitute, how can we rally around that?”

“I can’t think of an example where the U.S. has laid down and played dead and others stepped onto the dance floor,” added Bill O’Keefe, a top official with Catholic Relief Services. “If we’re a wallflower, everyone else is a wallflower.”

Aid workers aren't necessarily counting on the administration to step up. Eight leading U.S.-based aid organizations, including Mercy Corps, are planning to launch a mid-July campaign to raise awareness among Americans of the potential famine crisis. The aid groups are working with tech firms and other partners to amplify their appeal.

Even if Trump's appeals come across as half-hearted, the prospect of mass starvation in some of the poorest parts of the world could be enough for other nations to rally around him, said Jeremy Konyndyk, who oversaw major aid programs under Trump’s presidential predecessor, Barack Obama.

“There’s the potential for this to be a good news story for this administration,” he said, “And for millions of starving people.”


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