WEEK OF APRIL 24 THROUGH APRIL 30
Hamas to PLO: Rescind Recognition of Israel
(Hamas makes its position clear: Group leader Haniyeh says Israeli presence 'on our land illegal, cannot be recognized.')
April 30….(YNET) Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh urged the PLO Friday to rescind its recognition of Israel in response to the Jewish state's objection to the Palestinian unity agreement. Haniyeh said that there was no justification for recognizing the "Israeli entity" in wake of Israel's objection to Palestinian rights and unity. "Their presence on our land is illegal and cannot be recognized," the Hamas leader said. Earlier, Haniyeh stressed that the temporary Palestinian government to be established following the unity deal will not embark on negotiations with Israel. He also made it clear that his group had no intention of recognizing the Jewish state. Speaking on Friday, Haniyeh downplayed Israeli threats to thwart Palestinian reconciliation efforts. "We move forward on what serves the interest of the Palestinian people, and the Israeli positions are of no interest to us," he said.
Meanwhile, Israel is attempting to score diplomatic points in the wake of the Palestinian unity deal. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke with Europe's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, and told her Israel expects the EU to adopt a cautious approach in respect to the Fatah-Hamas agreement. Lieberman told Ashton that Europe must demand that Hamas comply with International Quartet terms, which Europe itself helped formulate: Reorganization of Israel, annulment of the clause calling for Israel's destruction in Hamas' charter, an end to terror against Israel and the honoring of past agreements with the Jewish state. Lieberman added that Hamas must be urged to allow the Red Cross to visit abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Endorsing the Palestinian unity deal without insisting that Hamas adhere to the terms will convey the message that terrorism pays off, thereby minimizing the chances for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, the foreign minister said. He added that the Gaza scenario may be repeated in the West Bank, with Hamas taking over the region and proceeding to directing missile and suicide terror at Israeli civilians.
62 Killed in Syrian Pro-Democracy Protests'
April 30….(Jerusalem Post) At least 62 civilians were killed in pro-democracy demonstrations in Syria on Friday, including 13 in the town of Rastan north of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. A resident of Rastan told Reuters by telephone that military security, secret police and gunmen loyal to President Bashar Assad attacked a large crowd of demonstrators in the town calling for the "downfall of the regime" and fired at them, killing 13 people and injuring 45. Earlier on Friday, a medical source said that Syrian forces killed 15 people when they fired on thousands of protesters trying to enter the southern city of Deraa, the heart of a six week uprising against Assad. The bloodshed occurred as demonstrations again erupted across the country, defying heavy military deployments, mass arrests and a ruthless crackdown on the biggest popular challenge to 48 years of authoritarian Baath Party rule. The medical source in Tafas, 12 km (8 miles) north-west of Deraa, said the local hospital received 15 bullet-riddled bodies, and 38 wounded villagers after the clash near Deraa. Assad's violent repression has brought growing condemnation from Western countries which for several years had sought to engage Damascus and loosen its close alliance with Iran and move towards a peace deal with Israel.
In Shift, Egypt Warms to Iran and Hamas, Israel’s Foes
April 30….(New York Times) Egypt is charting a new course in its foreign policy that has already begun shaking up the established order in the Middle East, planning to open the blockaded border with Gaza and normalizing relations with two of Israel and the West’s Islamist foes, Hamas and Iran. Egyptian officials, emboldened by the revolution and with an eye on coming elections, say that they are moving toward policies that more accurately reflect public opinion. In the process they are seeking to reclaim the influence over the region that waned as their country became a predictable ally of Washington and the Israelis in the years since the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. The first major display of this new tack was the deal Egypt brokered Wednesday to reconcile the secular Palestinian party Fatah with its rival Hamas. “We are opening a new page,” said Ambassador Menha Bakhoum, spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry. “Egypt is resuming its role that was once abdicated.”
Egypt’s shifts are likely to alter the balance of power in the region, allowing Iran new access to a previously implacable foe and creating distance between itself and Israel, which has been watching the changes with some alarm. “We are troubled by some of the recent actions coming out of Egypt,” said one senior Israeli official, citing a “rapprochement between Iran and Egypt” as well as “an upgrading of the relationship between Egypt and Hamas.” “These developments could have strategic implications on Israel’s security,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the issues were still under discussion in diplomatic channels. “In the past Hamas was able to rearm when Egypt was making efforts to prevent that. How much more can they build their terrorist machine in Gaza if Egypt were to stop obstructing such efforts?”
Israel had relied on Egypt’s help to police the border with Gaza, where arms and other contraband were smuggled to Hamas through tunnels. Ambassador Bakhoum said that the blockade of the border with Gaza and Egypt’s previous enforcement of it were both “shameful,” and that Egypt intended soon to open up the border “completely.” At the same time, she said, Egypt is also in the process of normalizing its relations with Iran, a regional power that the United States considers a dangerous pariah. “All the world has diplomatic relations with Iran with the exception of the United States and Israel,” Ambassador Bakhoum said. “We look at Iran as a neighbor in the region that we should have normal relations with. Iran is not perceived as an enemy as it was under the previous regime, and it is not perceived as a friend.” Several former diplomats and analysts said that by staking out a more independent path, Egypt would also regain a measure of power that came with the flexibility to bestow or withhold support.
If Egypt believes Israel’s refusal to halt settlements in the West Bank is the obstacle to peace, for example, then “cooperating with the Israelis by closing the border to Gaza did not make sense, as much as one may differ with what Hamas has done,” argued Nabil Fahmy, dean of the public affairs school at the American University in Cairo and a former Egyptian ambassador to the United States. Many Egyptian analysts, including some former officials and diplomats who served under then-President Hosni Mubarak, say they are thrilled with the shift. “This is the new feeling in Egypt, that Egypt needs to be respected as a regional power,” said Emad Gad, a foreign policy expert on relations with Israel at the official Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
The deal between the Palestinian factions capitalized on the forces unleashed around the region by Egypt’s revolution. In its aftermath, Hamas found its main sponsor, the Assad government of Syria, shaken by its own popular protest movement, while the Fatah government in the West Bank faced throngs of young people adapting the chants of the Egyptian uprising to the cause of Palestinian unity. Egypt had laid out a proposal virtually identical to the current deal for both sides as early as 2009, several participants from all sides said. But the turning point came in late March, about six weeks after the revolution. For the first time in years of talks the Hamas leaders were invited to the headquarters of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs instead of merely meeting at a hotel or the intelligence agency, a signal that Egypt was now prepared to treat Hamas as a diplomatic partner rather than a security risk. They also met with Egypt’s interim head of state, Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the leader of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Mubarak’s longtime defense minister.
Gingrich: US Has Abandoned Christianity for Secularism
April 29….(Newsmax) Christianity is being driven out of US culture, says former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who insists that he’s not happy about it. Europe started the trend with a “crisis of secularism” that created a “government-favored culture to replace Christianity,” Gingrich said at the National Catholic Prayer breakfast in Washington, Politico reports. Christianity is being banished in America, while secularism and Socialism are the philosophies that have firmly established themselves in the United States, Gingrich said. “The American elites are guided by their desire to emulate the European elites. And as a result, anti-religious values and principles are coming to dominate the academic, news media and judicial class in America,” he said. Gingrich specifically criticized the replacement of Anno Domini (AD) with the Common Era (CE) in many texts, the banning of school prayer, and the withdrawal of “one nation under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.
US to Reconsider PA Funding Following Unity Deal
April 29….(JPOST) Palestinian gov't remains in place despite a reconciliation deal, State Department says; however US lawmakers say after meeting Netanyahu that "US funding can't flow to gov't with group still on foreign terrorist list." The Palestinian government remains in place despite a reconciliation deal between the two main Palestinian factions and US aid continues to flow to it, US State Department spokeswoman Heide Bronke-Fulton said on Thursday, saying it would review aid if a new one is formed. However, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers said on Thursday after a meeting in Tel Aviv with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that "the Palestinian Authority has chosen an alliance with violence and extremism over the democratic values that Israel represents." Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Washington warned US funding could not flow to a government that includes a group still on the US list of foreign terrorist organizations. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the powerful Republican chairwoman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and a staunch defender of Israel, said US law required a halt to support for the Palestinian Authority. "US taxpayer funds should not and must not be used to support those who threaten US security, our interests and our vital ally, Israel," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. Nita Lowey, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee that approves foreign assistance, said any Palestinian unity deal with an unreformed Hamas "will be a death blow to the peace process." The Obama administration reacted coolly to the Hamas-Fatah announcement, saying any future Palestinian government must renounce violence, respect past peace agreements and recognize Israel's right to exist. The United States has given an average of about $400 million per year to the Palestinian Authority headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, much of it aimed at strengthening governance and security in preparation for eventual statehood. Total US assistance since 1994 has topped $3.5 billion. A Congressional Research Service report last year said a potential unity government could drop the development and reform objectives set by the Fayyad administration, which are used as major justifications for current US aid levels.
Egypt FM: Gaza Border Crossing to be Permanently Opened
(Egyptian FM tells Al-Jazeera that preparations are already underway to permanently open Rafah border crossing, which would allow goods and people in and out of Gaza with no Israeli supervision.)
April 29….(Ha Aretz) Egypt's foreign minister said in an interview with Al-Jazeera on Thursday that preparations were underway to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis. Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi told Al-Jazeera that within seven to 10 days, steps will be taken in order to alleviate the "blockade and suffering of the Palestinian nation." The announcement indicates a significant change in the policy on Gaza, which before Egypt's uprising, was operated in conjunction with Israel. The opening of Rafah will allow the flow of people and goods in and out of Gaza without Israeli permission or supervision, which has not been the case up until now. Israel's blockade on Gaza has been a policy used in conjunction with Egyptian police to weaken Hamas, which has ruled over the strip since 2007. The policy also aims to reduce Hamas' popularity among Gazans by creating economic hardship in the Strip. Rafah's opening would be a violation of an agreement reached in 2005 between the United States, Israel, Egypt, and the European Union, which gives EU monitors access to the crossing. The monitors were to reassure Israel that weapons and militants wouldn't get into Gaza after its pullout from the territory in the fall of 2005. Before Egypt's uprising and ousting of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, the border between Egypt and Gaza had been sealed.
Palestinians Throw Away Another Chance in Peace Process
April 29….(Israel Today) A year ago, the Palestinian Authority defeated American efforts to kick-start the peace process by refusing to sit at the negotiating table with Israel. Since the start of this year, the Palestinians have been laying the groundwork for a unilateral declaration of independence backed by the UN General Assembly. Now, the regime of so-called Palestinian "moderate" Mahmoud Abbas is determined to put the final nail in the coffin of the peace process by reconciling with blood-soaked terrorist organization Hamas. On Wednesday, Hamas and Abbas' own Fatah faction signed a preliminary reconciliation agreement brokered by the interim government in Egypt. The document is meant to be a first step toward a Hamas-Fatah unity government. If the two groups come together, the US Congress is threatening to cut off American financial aid to the Palestinians. US law forbids granting financial aid to recognized terrorist organizations.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says the move will effectively kill any chances of a bilateral peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Hamas agrees. "Our plan does not involve negotiations with Israel or recognizing it," Hamas delegation leader Mahmoud Zahar told The Jerusalem Post. "It will be impossible for an interim government to take part in the peace process with Israel." World powers had previously expressed willingness to accept Hamas as part of the peace process, but only if it recognized Israel's right to exist. It should be remembered that Hamas actually holds a majority in the Palestinian parliament after being overwhelmingly voted into power by the Palestinian public in 2006.
Egyptians Favor Abandoning Peace With Israel
April 29….(In The Days) Most Egyptians are in favor of annulling a peace treaty with Israel, according to a Pew Research Center poll released on Monday. The US-based think tank polled 1,000 adults throughout Egypt between March 24 and April 7, finding that only 36 percent would maintain peace. The percentage of Egyptians who support annulling the treaty (54%) does not vary amongst those who sympathize with Islamic fundamentalists and those who do not. However, those with lower incomes are less likely to support the peace with Israel than those with higher incomes. The Pew survey also showed that only 22% of Egyptians said the US has had a positive impact on the political change in their country, while 52% disapprove of the American response to general Middle East upheaval. In addition, 80% have an unfavorable opinion of the US, and 60% say they do not have confidence in US President Barack Obama.
The most popular agent of change in Egypt today is Ruling Council chief Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who received a 90% positive rating, closely followed by Arab League chief and Egyptian presidential hopeful Amr Moussa with 89%. The Muslim Brotherhood has a 75% positive rating, while former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was ranked positively by only 13% of those polled. Most Egyptians (57%) are optimistic about the country’s future, and 65% are satisfied with the way things are going, as opposed to 28% who were satisfied in 2010. Only 41% think that it is very likely that the next election will be free and fair. More Egyptians say that better economic conditions (82%) and maintaining law and order (63%) are more important than fair elections (55%)
The Oslo Peace Process Is Dead
April 29….(Arutz) Yesha Council Chairman Danny Dayan called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to cancel his upcoming Bar-Ilan II speech and annex Area C in Judea and Samaria. "The prime minister must cancel Bar-Ilan II and say one thing," Dayan said. "That Bar-Ilan I is off the table, a Palestinian state cannot be allowed to arise." Bar Ilan I is a reference to a speech given by Netanyahu at Bar Ilan University in June 2009 which he laid out his criteria for the creation of a PA state. Among those criteria were the exclusion and destruction of Hamas, defensible borders for Israel, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and Jerusalem as Israel's united capital. On Wednesday PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas agreed to admit Hamas to the PA, and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the PA would begin moving unilaterally to make eastern Jerusalem its capital.
Netanyahu's upcoming speech at Bar Ilan, dubbed Bar Ilan II by pundits, was expected to be an updated installment of his original Bar Ilan speech for the Israeli public before Netanyahu travels to the US where he will address Congress. But Israeli politicians and pundits alike have been left guessing about the content of his Bar Ilan II speech as it comes after two years of stalled talks and the PA decision to abrogate the Oslo Accords and seek a unilateral declaration of PA statehood by the United Nations in September. Dayan says he hopes Netanyahu will seize the maximum benefit from new developments. "There are now two crises," Dayan said. "The PA has chosen to cancel all agreements with Israel and go to the UN and they also decided to admit Hamas to their ranks. Every crisis is also an opportunity. The prime minister should say he no longer consents to a PA state, that we are released from Oslo, and move to fulfull Zionist dreams."
Dayan believes the annexation of Area C is now a required step. "It's not enough for Israel say she no longer consents to a Palestinian state, but it's time to exert Israeli sovereignty and annex the open spaces and Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. It is time we become citizens with equal rights like citizens in any other place in the country. The Palestinians launched a political war against us, but it's not strong enough in real terms to win." Dayan called on politicians to restore the confidence and sense of security of Israelis in Judea and Samaria, who he says were often abandoned to the PA police under Oslo.
Fatah-Hamas Accord by-product of Turkish, Syrian Crisis
April 29….(DEBKAfile Exclusive Report) The deal initialed by the two rival Palestinian factions, Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah and the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip in Cairo Wednesday, April 27, hailed by the Israeli media as "historic," drew an instantaneous critical response from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: "You can't have peace both with Israel and Hamas," he warned the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. It raises concerns about the Palestinian Authority's weakness and a possible Hamas takeover of Judea and Samaria like the coup it staged in the Gaza Strip, he said. "Hamas aspires to destroy the state of Israel and is quite open about it. Hamas shoots rockets at Israeli cities and our children," he added.
At least three Fatah-Hamas reconciliation pacts have been signed with loud acclaim in the past, only to crash into oblivion. Netanyahu has himself to blame if the latest draft accord which caught him by surprise survives Palestinian fractiousness and actually produces a transitional government and elections a year hence. This time, the interests of both Palestinian factions are served: It fulfills PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas' ambition to appear before the UN General Assembly in September demanding recognition of Palestinian statehood within the 1967 borders on behalf of a united people. Hamas' political chief Khaled Meshaal is looking for a new address for his Damascus headquarters away from President Bashar Assad's bloody crackdown on dissent.
But the deal struck in Cairo Wednesday was galvanized most of all by Netanyahu's secret track with Washington and Ankara for patching up the Israeli-Turkish quarrel. Debkafile's sources report that in quiet shuttles between the offices of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Netanyahu, unofficial American figures obtained Ankara's consent to postponing the Gaza-bound flotillas due to sail in the coming months. They are now parked on the Israeli leader's doorstep for the quid pro quo demanded by the Turks. The comment by the Hamas official Abu Marzuk on April 14 about a fresh mediation channel for negotiating the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit was in fact a signal from Ankara that Turkey could be helpful on that sensitive issue as well.
While Netanyahu and his advisers believed that their exchanges with the Turkish government had gone unnoticed behind the sound and fury of the Arab revolt, they missed two intent observers: the new Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Alaraby and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The two decided to work together on what they reckoned would be the most effective scheme for pulling the rug from under the US-Turkish-Israeli track, which left them out in the cold. It entailed a rapid move for getting Fatah-Hamas reconciliation in the bag before anyone realized what was happening. To attain this goal, Abbas was pressed into major concessions to Hamas. If the initialed pact is finalized and he eventually delivers on those concessions, his dominant position and that of his Fatah on the West Bank will be seriously compromised, not to mention Israeli security interests.
Its terms provide for the two factions to establish a supreme security council with final authority on matters of security. It would override the Palestinian-Israeli coordinating panel operating under US supervision because neither Washington nor Jerusalem would agree to Hamas oversight, even if only indirect, of their security and undercover activity. Abu Mazen agreed to a full exchange of prisoners, meaning all the Hamas operatives jailed on the West Bank would go free, especially those captured in the last two years as a result of two years of US-Israel-Palestinian counter-terror operations on the West Bank. Their release will make it harder than ever for Netanyahu to argue that he can't release all the dangerous terrorists Hamas is demanding in return for Gilead Shalit.
Hamas also beat Abbas down on a critical point at issue, that within a year of signing a formal agreement, elections are held for all the Palestinian institutions including the presidency, the legislative council (the Palestinian parliament) and also for PLO institutions. Hamas will final gain membership of the PLO after being shut out for many years.
Since any Israel-Palestinian peace accord would be with the PLO rather than the Palestinian Authority, the way is opened for the Oslo Interim Peace Accords to be revoked in the same ways as future elections in Egypt would enable a future legislature and administration to revoke the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel. The draft initialed in Cairo provides for the establishment of a joint transitional government of apolitical technocrats to serve until elections. Ministerial appointments from prime minister down would be subject to the approval of both parties. In other words, Hamas will have veto power over these appointments, which places the continued tenure of the incumbent Prime Minister Salem Fayad in great doubt.
Debkafile's intelligence sources report that neither Washington nor Ankara, and especially Jerusalem, had the slightest inkling that a Palestinian accord was in the works or achievable at such high speed. They were all caught napping as a result of overconfidence, the absence of strategic forethought and planning and failed intelligence.
Substantial adjustments will have to be made in the three capitals to prepare for the pictures to be broadcast from Cairo next week of Abbas and Khaled Meshal kissing and embracing with Egyptian Foreign Minister al-Arabi, after affixing their signatures to the final version of their accord.
Angry Over Libya, Russia Warns West on Ally Syria
April 29….(Zawya) Russia is refusing to cooperate with the West over the unrest in Syria as it does not want to wreck ties with a traditional ally and feels let down by the Western military action in Libya, analysts said. On Wednesday, Moscow clashed with the West at the United Nations over Syria's deadly crackdown on opposition protests, with Russia and China blocking a proposed Security Council statement condemning the Syria violence. The position stands in contrast to its more cooperative stance last month when President Dmitry Medvedev ordered Russia to abstain from the UN Security Council resolution on Libya that essentially authorized military action. Medvedev, who seeks better ties with Washington, risked worsening his relationship with his senior partner in the ruling tandem Vladimir Putin, who is known for his uncompromising position on the use of force in crises. But now the Kremlin feels cheated by the West, accusing it of exceeding the UN mandate and getting entangled in a military operation in Libya.
And if the West expects Russia's cooperation on Syria, Kremlin goodwill will be in short supply, analysts said. "Russia has seen what happened in Libya. It would be logical to assume that Russia's stance on Syria would be more clear-cut that that on Libya," said Alexander Filonik, head of the Arab Studies Center at the Institute of Oriental Studies. "There is concern that events in Syria could develop according to the Libyan scenario," he told AFP. Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Institute of the Middle East, struck a similar note. "Russia's position on Libya was simple, run around this minefield yourself. On Syria it will be even simpler," he told AFP. "The logic calls for Russia to say 'no'."
Mindful of accusations of human rights violations at home, Russia has traditionally been sensitive about UN interference in what it considers the domestic affairs of sovereign nations. Nerves are especially frayed ahead of presidential polls next March amid frenzied speculation over whether Medvedev or Putin will stand. Putin last month famously called the UN resolution on Libya a "medieval call to crusade" and this week again slammed the West over its action in Africa. "Are we going to bomb and carry out rocket attacks everywhere? What, was there a trial?" he said. Russia's deputy UN ambassador Alexander Pankin has warned against "taking sides" in Syria and other Arab countries, saying "such approaches lead to a never-ending circle of violence."
On Thursday, the foreign ministry called on Syria to conduct a thorough probe into those responsible for killing civilians during the country's month-long uprising and reiterated that the conflict should be resolved peacefully. In seeking to distance itself from the events in Syria, Moscow also shows that it does not want to jeopardise its ties with a traditional Soviet-era ally, which was one of the few countries to back Moscow in its war with Georgia in 2008. Medvedev last May became the first ever Russian or Soviet head of state to travel to Damascus where he promised President Bashar al-Assad help in developing Syria's oil and gas infrastructure and voiced readiness to build a nuclear power station in the country.
Russia is keen to promote itself as a major power broker in the Middle East and Moscow's influence there largely depends on its ties with Syria, an increasingly important regional player with ties to Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. "The fall of the Syrian regime will mean the disappearance of Russia's last partner in conducting Soviet-style policies in the Middle East whose essence in many ways boiled down to countering the United States," Middle East analyst Alexander Shumilin wrote in the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
Hamas: We Absolutely Will Not Negotiate Peace with Israel
April 29….(YNET) Mahmoud al-Zahar says peace with Israel not on new Palestinian government's agenda. Meanwhile, Fatah and Hamas officials outline terms of reconciliation agreement, stress deal is first step on the way to establish independent state, in joint press conference in Cairo. The Palestinian factions have reconciled in the hopes of establishing an independent state, they said in a press conference on Wednesday. Fatah Central Committee Member and chief negotiator Azzam al-Ahmed said, "The agreement is the beginning and we shall take quick steps to end the occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state." Al-Ahmed said that the Palestinian people have waited for the agreement for many years, adding that the prayers of Palestinian youth have been answered. He accused Israel of using the division to "shirk its international responsibilities" and added that the US also abandoned its responsibility for ending "the longest occupation in history." "We as Palestinians have learned a hard lesson for the past three years in our struggle against the occupation. The occupation exploited the division to Judaise Jerusalem, complete the fence and seize lands in the West Bank," al-Ahmed said. "We felt a need to end the division to end the occupation." The Fatah official stated that Israel had warned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the consequences of such an agreement. "When Abu Mazen (Abbas) presented his initiative, Netanyahu warned him, but Abu Mazen answered him from Moscow, Hamas comes first. Hamas is part of Palestinian life, it is the forefront of the struggle. Our unity is our best weapon against the occupation." Hamas' deputy politburo chief Moussa Abu Marzouk announced during the press conference of the coming of a "new age" and said that all Palestinian factions will meet over the weekend to sign the agreement. "This is not the end of the dialogue," he said. "After all the factions sign the understandings with Fatah and Hamas we shall form a new government and embark on a new era in the Palestinian struggle, in order to obtain our rights and preserve the Palestinian people's national rights."
'Peace with Israel not on our agenda'
Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader who participated in the talks said that peace with Israel was not on the table. "Our program does not include negotiations with Israel or recognizing it," Zahhar said in Cairo. "It will not be possible for the interim national government to participate or bet on or work on the peace process with Israel." Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad welcomed the agreement in a message posted on his Facebook page. Fayyad said that the deal is a vital step towards unity and would lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders with Jerusalem as capital. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu congratulated Abbas on reaching the agreement.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh received similar messages from Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badia. Khalil Assaf, independent Palestinian figures assembly representative in the West Bank, said the agreement was "the most important thing to happen to the Palestinians in 2011." Earlier on Wednesday, Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar revealed additional details of the historic pact, including the release of political prisoners and the establishment of a joint security higher committee. Following the announcement on the unity pact, Palestinians residents across the West Bank and Gaza Strip went out on the streets to celebrate the dramatic reconciliation between the longtime foes. "It is a positive step for our national unity," said Gaza resident Yusuf Lafy, adding, "It brings us one step closer to liberating our occupied territories, because it will garner international legitimacy."
Cool response from Washington
The United States reacted coolly on Wednesday to the reconciliation annoucement, calling Hamas a "terrorist" group and saying any Palestinian government must renounce violence. "The United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace. Hamas, however, is a terrorist organization which targets civilians," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.
Fatah, Hamas Reach Egyptian-brokered Reconciliation Deal
April 28….(Jerusalem Post) Following a series of secret meetings in Cairo and Damascus over the past few weeks, Hamas and Fatah announced on Wednesday that they have struck a deal to form a “national unity” government and hold elections after one year. The agreement, which has been hailed by both sides as “historic,” was reached under the auspices of the Egypt’s Foreign Ministry and General Intelligence Force. Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby said that the agreement was aimed at paving the way for the Palestinians to seek UN recognition of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 lines in September. “Palestinian divisions can’t continue while efforts are being made to ensure recognition of a Palestinian state,” Elaraby said, adding that we was planning on visiting Ramallah soon for talks with Palestinian Authority officials on this and other matters. Representatives of the rival parties signed initial letters of an Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation agreement, said Izat Risheq, member of the Hamas delegation that held talks in Cairo with Fatah officials. He said that Egypt would invite leaders of all Palestinian factions to attend the signing ceremony of the formal reconciliation agreement between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’s Khaled Mashaal.
The Hamas delegation to the reconciliation talks was headed by Mashaal’s deputy, Moussa Abu Marzouk, while the Fatah team was headed by Azzam al-Ahmed. Mahmoud Zahar, member of the Hamas delegation to the Cairo discussions, said that the accord calls for the formation of an interim unity government that would consist of “professional” figures and reviving the work of the Palestinian parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council, which has been paralyzed because of the Hamas-Fatah dispute. The two parties have also agreed to release Hamas and Fatah prisoners held in each other’s jails and the establishment of a joint security committee, Zahar added. Ahmed said that the two sides have reached agreement on all points of contention, including the make-up of the unity government, fixing a date for presidential and parliamentary elections and restructuring the PLO. He said that next week the Egyptians would summon representatives of all Palestinian factions to Cairo to hear their observations about the Hamas-Fatah deal. Ahmed said that the Egyptian authorities have been holding secret contacts with Hamas and Fatah in the past few weeks in a bid to end the dispute between them. Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, dismissed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s warning to the PA that it must choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas.
Abu Rudaineh said that Netanyahu must choose between a just and comprehensive peace with a unified Palestinian people and settlements. “The agreement between Fatah and Hamas is an internal issue and Israel has nothing to do with it and it’s not a party to it,” the spokesman said. “The agreement enhances the unity of the Palestinian people and their just struggle to establish a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.” This was not the first time that the Egyptians had announced an agreement between Hamas and Fatah. In late 2009, the two parties were close to signing a deal in Cairo, but the ceremony was cancelled in the last minute after Hamas backtracked in protest against Abbas’s failure to support a motion at the UN Human Rights Council that would have endorsed the Goldstone report into Operation Cast Lead. In February 2007 Hamas and Fatah signed the first unity government agreement in Mecca. However, the agreement collapsed a few months later when Hamas seized full control over the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu to PA : Peace With Hamas Means No Peace With Israel
April 28….(Arutz) Israel's Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, responded to reports Wednesday of a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation with an ultimatum for PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. In a recorded video message Netanyahu said the "Palestinian Authority needs to choose between peace with the people of Israel and peace with Hamas. You cannot have peace with both, because Hamas aspires to destroy the State of Israel, and I'll say it openly." "Hamas fires rockets at our cities and anti-tank missiles at our children," Netanyahu said. "I think the mere idea of reconciliation demonstrates the Palestinian Authority's weakness, and brings up the question of whether Hamas will take over Judea and Samaria as it did Gaza." Netanyahu added: "I hope the PA makes the right choice, to choose peace with Israel. The choice is theirs." Netanyahu has made similar statements in the past. Netanyahu's sentiment has been increasingly shared by officials in Jerusalem. “Abbas has to choose whether he wants peace with Israel, or peace with Hamas,” one official said several weeks ago. “He can’t have both. If he chooses peace with Hamas it will bury the peace process.” Netanyahu's objection to Hamas participation in PA government is based on the organizations refusal to foreswear violence, recognize Israel, and accept standing PA-Israel agreements, the criteria laid down by the Quartet for Hamas' admittance.
Poll: Egyptians Don't Want Peace with Israel
April 27….(Israel Today) The results of a public opinion poll conducted in Egypt following the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak show that the majority of Egyptians want to annul their nation's peace treaty with neighboring Israel. Conducted by the Pew Research Center, the survey revealed that 54 percent of Egyptians don't want peace with Israel, and will support a candidate who advocates annulling the Camp David Accords. That percentage was the same among both secular Egyptians and those affiliated with Islamic organizations. The poll also found that Egyptians don't think too highly of America or US President Barack Obama. Eighty percent of respondents said they have an unfavorable view of the US in general, and 60 percent said they don't trust Obama. Only 22 percent of Egyptians said America has made a positive impact on recent political changes in their country. The survey further showed that the Obama White House has been wrong about the direction in which Egypt is heading. Obama and his staff previously insisted that the participation of Islamic radicals like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's revolution was a fringe phenomenon that would have no bearing on the nation's future. But the Pew poll shows that today the Muslim Brotherhood enjoys a 75 percent approval rating among all Egyptians, giving the group a very good chance of claiming control of the parliament in upcoming elections.
Obama dodges action against Syria by turning to Turkish leader
April 27…. (DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis) US President Barack Obama continues to avoid direct action against Bashar Assad's increasingly savage crackdown on dissidents by cultivating a partnership with Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After talking on the phone early Tuesday April 26, the two leaders voiced "deep concern over the unacceptable use of violence" in Syria and went on to say: "The leaders agreed that the Syrian government must end the use of violence now and promptly enact meaningful reforms that respect the democratic aspirations of Syrian citizens." There was no condemnation of Bashar Assad, his brother Maher Assad or their use of tank artillery and troops to pound entire city blocks, shoot civilians at random or mass arrests. Early Tuesday, Washington recalled nonessential US embassy staff and diplomats' families from Damascus. These actions, rather than reining in the Syrian ruler, will have told him he has at another 48-72 hours at least to use the army for polishing off his violent purge of protesters in towns where they have swept up entire districts. In the coming hours, those towns will be condemned to the same fate as the southern city of Daraa, the first to rise up against the Assad regime last month, where Monday, tanks and snipers began massacring the population after shutting down its electricity and telephone communications with the outside world.
Obama and Erdogan have therefore given the Assads a precious lease of life for reasserting their grip on power by brute force. Debkafile's Washington sources report that Obama's decision to engage Assad through the Turkish leader did not come out of the blue. He has been in continuous discreet dialogue with Erdogan by phone since the first protesters took the streets of Syria almost six weeks ago. President Obama was well aware that Erdogan was also on the phone almost daily to Bashar Assad to transmit enormously valuable information: The state of affairs in Syrian towns based on data coming in from Turkish National Intelligence (MIT) undercover agents in the field. He also kept Assad abreast of where the White House stood on different Middle East issues, including Syria. The secret three-way channel linking Washington, Ankara and Damascus was first uncovered by DEBKA-Net-Weekly 488 on April 8. It then came to light without stirring much notice on April 17 when the Turkish MIT chief Hakan Fidan visited Damascus and was received by the Syrian president.
But the Obama-Erdogan bid to keep the Syrian pot under control blew up under twin pressures: the explosion of long pent-up popular resentment of life in a police state and the extremes to which its heads were willing to go to crush any internal threat to their survival. The opposition was not impressed by Assad's show of abolishing the 48-year old emergency laws on April 19 because it was not a genuine concession to demands for reform but a meaningless gesture meant only to get the US and Turkish leaders off his back. The midnight arrests and street shootings of demonstrators went on regardless, with or without the draconian regulations. After getting away with that charade, Assad felt free Sunday night, April 24 to unleash his tank columns against the populace. And now, the Obama-Erdogan statement gives him more leeway for following through on his bloody crackdown for at least another couple of days until his regime is safe and its opponents crushed. According to Debkafile's intelligence sources President Obama knew the Syrian ruler was about to deploy his entire army against the protest movement. He could have tried to hold his hand with a stern official warning of serious consequences, even without Erdogan. But the US president chose to cement his partnership with the Turkish prime minister rather than try seriously to stem the violence against Syria's pro-democratic movement. The Obama-Erdogan statement on Syria oddly contained two unrelated elements: It called on Muammar Qaddafi to "step down and leave Libya permanently" and expressed a hope for better Turkish-Israeli relations.
UN Statehood Statement Seen as Wedge Among Allies
Suggestion for Palestinian declaration raising alarms
April 27….(WND) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has received positive signals from European leaders in his campaign for a unilaterally imposed United Nations declaration of statehood for him and his followers. But that development would put Europe at odds with the United States over how to go about that creation. The United States has told Abbas that it would not support such a UN-imposed declaration without the Palestinians first reaching a peace accord with Israel. Peace talks stopped almost as soon as they began when Israelis resumed settlement construction in the disputed territories.
The Palestinian leadership has been buoyed by European support to press for unilateral UN recognition of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders to include the West bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. Like the US, Israel also opposes a UN declaration creating the Palestinian state. Washington had opposed a renewed European effort to jump-start talks by offering the outlines of a final peace deal to include security and borders. Abbas also had sought a UN resolution that would have condemned Israeli settlement construction that resumed earlier this year. While the Europeans supported it, Washington vetoed it in the UN Security Council. But the Europeans also had issued a statement after the vote condemning continued Israeli construction in those regions. They also said they'd look for a way to restart peace talks. Abbas also has received a vote of confidence from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, both of which have determined that his Palestinian Authority could govern a new Palestinian state.
US Mulls Syria Sanctions
(Obama reportedly considering pressure on Assad, amid brutal Syrian crackdown)
April 26….(YNET) The Obama administration is considering a range of options against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including possible sanctions on senior officials, to pressure it to halt a violent crackdown, a US official said on Monday. The measures could include a freeze on assets and a ban on business dealings in the United States, the official said. There was no immediate word on when such sanctions might be imposed. The White House later said that the US was considering "targeted sanctions" against the Syrian regime. "The brutal violence used by the government of Syria against its people is completely deplorable," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. "The United States is pursuing a range of possible policy options, including targeted sanctions, to respond to the crackdown and make clear that this behavior is unacceptable." The remarks followed a major crackdown by Syrian forces Monday that saw snipers and tanks entering hotbeds of resistance against the Syrian regime and randomly firing at civilians.
Syrian troops and tanks poured into Deraa, the epicenter of protest in Syria, seeking to crush resistance in the city where a month-long uprising against the autocratic 11-year rule of President Bashar al-Assad first erupted. At least 25 people were reportedly killed in the town Monday, as security forces continued to pound the city. Abdallah Abazid, a human rights activist, told AFP by phone "at least 25 martyrs" were killed by gunfire and heavy artillery.
'Savage war on democracy movement'
A witness in Deraa told Reuters he could see bodies lying in a main street near the Omari mosque after eight tanks and two armored vehicles deployed in the old quarter of the city. "People are taking cover in homes. I could see two bodies near the mosque and no one was able to go out and drag them away," the witness said. Snipers were posted on government buildings, and security forces in army fatigues had been shooting at random at houses since the tanks moved in just after dawn prayers, he said. Tanks at the main entry points to Deraa also shelled targets in the city, a resident named Mohsen told Al Jazeera, which showed a cloud of black smoke hanging over buildings. "People can't move from one street to another because of the shelling." A leading human rights campaigner said security forces, which also swept into the restive Damascus suburb of Douma, were waging "a savage war designed to annihilate Syria's democrats." Security forces have killed more than 350 civilians since unrest broke out in Deraa, rights groups say. A third of the victims were shot in the past three days as the scale and breadth of a popular revolt against Assad grew.
Assad is ’World’s Most Dangerous Man’
April 26….(Arutz) Syrian President Bashar Assad is the world’s “most dangerous man,” according to Pulitzer Prize winner journalist Joel Brinkley, who added that the Obama government has “delusional views” of the dictator. Writing for Tribune Media Services, Brinkley said Assad overshadows Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for being dangerous because the “duplicitous dictator has duped presidents and prime ministers into believing he is their indispensable friend, even as he facilitates the killing of American troops, collects weapons of mass destruction and serves as the supply master for terrorist groups.” After the Muslim uprisings spread to Syria last month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton labeled Assad a "reformer,” a remark that Brinkley branded as “absurd.” “Even now, as his own people have at last taken to the streets to challenge his rule, prompting him to shoot and kill scores of them, Washington's criticism remains equivocal,” Brinkley wrote. “A few days ago, President Obama remarked, ‘I strongly condemn the abhorrent violence committed" by the Syrian government but then added, ‘I also condemn any use of violence by protesters.’ So both sides are equal offenders?” The love affair between Syria and the United States, which sees Assad as the key to a regional peace and the eventual possessor of the strategic Golan Heights in Israel, goes back for decades.
Then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once remarked, "There can be no war without Egypt and no peace without Syria,” Brinkley recalled, and added, “Last month, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said she told Assad, ‘The road to Damascus is the road to peace.’” Brinkley said the Obama administration's views of Assad are “delusional” when considering that “since the Iraq war's beginning, Assad has been the best friend of Islamic extremists transiting into Iraq. They've crossed the Syrian border by the busload, in full view of US spy satellites. “He sells missiles to Hizbullah, the terrorist group in southern Lebanon that is the avowed enemy of Israel and the United States. “Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas leader, actually lives in Damascus and does his murderous business openly from a storefront. American intelligence shows that Syria has a vast store of chemical weapons. Assad pursued a secret nuclear-weapons development program until Israel bombed it in 2007. More recent intelligence suggests that he is back at it, though this time the program is better hidden.” Brinkley added his name to countless analysts who have questioned why President Obama backed the ouster of American ally Hosni Mubarak while trying to work with Assad, “who has openly worked against Washington.” The journalist pointed out that the day after President Obama sent a new ambassador to Damascus, Assad hosted a state visit by Ahmadinejad. “The timing was no accident,” Brinkley concluded.
EU Pushes UN Security Council to Condemn Syria
April 26….(Jerusalem Post) US considers sanctions against Assad's regime following day of violence in which activists claim gov't forces kill at least 25 people in Deraa; Syrian Army says actions meant to protect citizens from terrorists. Britain, France, Germany and Portugal are asking the UN Security Council to condemn Syria's violent crackdown against protesters and urge restraint by the government, council diplomats said on Monday. But it was unclear whether Russia and China would support the idea. The two permanent veto-wielding council members have become increasingly critical of the UN-backed intervention to protect civilians in Libya, which UN diplomats say Moscow and Beijing worry aims at ousting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. "We would like council members to condemn the violence in Syria and to urge restraint," a diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. The Obama administration is considering "targeted sanctions" against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad in response to the violent crackdown on protesters, the White House said on Monday. "The brutal violence used by the government of Syria against its people is completely deplorable," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. "The United States is pursuing a range of possible policy options, including targeted sanctions, to respond to the crackdown and make clear that this behavior is unacceptable." A US official said earlier that the measures under consideration included a freeze on assets and a ban on US business dealings. The talk of US sanctions came as Syrian troops and tanks stormed Deraa on Monday, seeking to crush resistance in the city where a month-long uprising against the autocratic 11-year rule of Assad first erupted. Various media reports quoted human rights activists as saying at least 25 people were killed in violence on Monday.
Also Monday, Syria closed all its land border crossings with neighboring Jordan, Jordanian officials said, following the deployment of Syrian army tanks in the southern border city of Deraa. A spokesman in Damascus denied the closure, but photos of the sealed border were published in the world's media shortly after. A senior diplomat in the Jordanian capital confirmed that the two main Syrian crossings at Deraa and Nassib on the Syrian side were closed to traffic. An official told Reuters the "timing is related to what appears to be a major security operation that is taking place right now."
A leading Syrian human rights campaigner said security forces, which also swept into the restive Damascus suburb of Douma, were waging "a savage war designed to annihilate Syria's democrats". The Syrian Army claimed that they entered Deraa in response to calls from citizens to put an end to killings and vandalism by extremist terrorist groups, official Syrian news agency Sana reported. The army entered the city to restore tranquility, security and a normal life to citizens, the source added. According to the report, the Syrian Army, in conjunction with state security services, has arrested several members of the groups and confiscated large amounts of weapons and ammunition. The raids on Deraa and Douma suggested that Assad, who assumed power when his father died in 2000 after ruling Syria with an iron fist for 30 years, was determined to crush the opposition by force.
Assad Uses Syrian Tanks, Snipers, Commandos to Kill Civilians
April 26….(DEBKAfile Special Report) Bashar Assad has launched all-out war on his people. Tanks firing artillery, APCs, infantry units, commandoes and snipers were deployed for the first time at daybreak Monday, April 25 in cities across Syria for the most brutal assault on any Arab anti-government protest in the four-month uprising. In the first few hours, hundreds are estimated to have been massacred (over and above the 350 shot dead in the last three days) and thousands injured. Denied medical attention, they are left in the streets to die.
Debkafile's military sources report that protest centers in cities with populations of 2-3 million have been stormed by Syrian troops backed by tanks firing automatic 120-mm guns at random, commandoes dropped by helicopter and snipers. The military offensive to break the back of the uprising is led by his younger brother Maher Assad at the head of the Republican Guard and the 4th Division which is made up mostly of the Assad's Alawite clan. Its first target Sunday night was the southern town of Deraa where the protest movement began and the Mediterranean coastal town of Jableh. Syria has shut its land borders to Jordan to conceal the scale of the carnage inflicted on the border town of Deraa from outside eyes. Foreign correspondents have been banned from the country since the uprising began.
Monday, indiscriminate fire was also reported in Duma, a dissident suburb of the capital Damascus. By Monday afternoon, thousands of soldiers had spread out across the North, South and Center of the country, apparently preparing to storm the large cities and protest centers of Hama, Homs, Latakiya and the Kurdish north. While times may have changed, Bashar is his father's son. In 1982, President Hafez Assad turned his artillery on a district of Hama and slaughtered 25-30,000 civilians to smash a Muslim Brotherhood revolt. The operation was commanded by Rifat Assad, Bashar's uncle, today an opposition leader in exile. The incumbent president's killing fields extend not to one but to a score of Syrian cities with unimaginable consequences. And yet no Western power is rushing to help the pro-democracy protesters of Syria who are dying in their hundreds day by day. And the verbal condemnations coming from Washington and European capitals are soon buried under layers of inaction.
Sunday, April 24, Debkafile reported: Bashar Assad's tanks and infantry made their first assaults Sunday night, April 24 on Jableh on the Mediterranean and Daraa in the south, after a 48-hour bloodbath by his security forces claiming up to 350 lives failed break the five-week countrywide uprising against his rule. Video-clips show tanks converging on the two towns with soldiers running in their wake while heavy gunfire continued to resound in Hama, al-Nuaimeh near Daraa and Saraqeb, southwest of Aleppo. The Syrian ruler continues to ignore all the evidence that by massacring civilian protesters he has only magnified their numbers and Sunday decided to press ahead with his last resort for piling on the violence by deploying trained infantry men and tanks in a final attempt to smash the five-week uprising, debkafile's military sources report.
NATO Fails in Bid to Kill Muammar Qaddafi
April 26….(DEBKAfile Special Report) Hours after US and British figures called for "the head of the snake" in Libya to be cut off, NATO warplanes early Monday, April 25, pulverized a building in Muammar Qaddafi's Bab al-Aziziyah working compound in Tripoli. His offices and conference room was wrecked. A government official called the strike an attempt on the Libyan ruler's life which coalition spokesmen did not deny. He did not disclose Qaddafi's whereabouts. About 45 people were hurt in the strike, 15 of them seriously and some still missing. The ruler's son Saif al Islam said such attacks would achieve nothing since the West was losing the war in Libya in any case. There was no word about which nations took part in the Bab al-Aziziyah air strike. Targeting the life of Muammar Qaddafi was not mandated in UN Security Council resolution 1973. However, debkafile's military sources report that coalition leaders are increasingly frustrated by their failure to break the deadlock in the Libyan war and Qaddafi's ability to stand up to whatever they throw at him and even gain ground. West European banking circles confirm that Security Council economic sanctions against the Libyan government are not biting. Qaddafi is using billions of dollars held in funds in the west to bankroll his war although those funds were supposedly frozen.
The pace of coalition bombardments of Tripoli was intensified in recent days when the rebels' celebration of victory in Misratah proved premature. By Monday, it was clear that the rebels were only in control of the port and a few streets, while most of the city remained under the guns and rockets of pro-Qaddafi forces. The rebels moreover faced a 48-hour ultimatum from local tribes to hand in their weapons and surrender. Qaddafi tightened his stranglehold on the opposition facing him in Misratah by the paradoxical maneuver of apparently withdrawing his troops and handing the town over to local tribes loyal to him. This puts NATO in a quandary: The Western allies cannot attack those tribes without laying themselves open to charges of attacking Libyan civilians whom the UN resolution obliges them to defend. Sunday, US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, member of the Armed Services Committee, called for the head of the snake to be cut off. "The people around Qaddafi need to wake up every day wondering, 'Will this be my last.''" UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he would not rule out the use of US Predator drones for assassinating the Libyan ruler.
The drone aircraft the US sent last week to Libya fired for the first time Saturday. Its target was not disclosed then, but shortly after the Hague statement, a NATO headquarters source revealed that the pilot-less aircraft had destroyed a Libyan army rocket launcher. The US, France and Britain have vowed to continue their air campaign until Qaddafi is out of power. However, in Washington, US President Barack Obama faces rising criticism of the inconsistencies in his military policy for Libya. The most common is that America should never have gone in on the side of the rebels in the first place, but once it was launched, the administration should have acted with determination and not seen to be wavering back and forth.
The military commentator Anthony H. Cordesman called the administration's military decisions, starting from a fly zone over Libya up until the deployment of drones, farcical. Other military pundits indicated that the Pentagon's approval for sending the Predators to Libya was only obtained because Defense Security Robert Gates and armed forces chief Adm. Mike Mullen felt the need to obscure the Commander-in-Chief's inability to chart a clear American military course in the Libyan war. Both firmly opposed American military intervention in Libya from the start. But now, they have come to appreciate that Obama's inability to stick to any decision, including the one to bow out and hand over to NATO, is doing American more strategic harm that full intervention would have done. Some Washington sources quote Chinese diplomats as reporting that North Korean interlocutors told them bluntly that if Libya is an example of American prowess, then Pyongyang has nothing to fear from Washington.
Many Born-Again Christians Now Hold Universalist Views
April 25….(Christian Post) One in four born-again Christians hold universalist thoughts when it comes to salvation, according to a new Barna analysis of trend data. Twenty-five percent of born-again Christians said all people are eventually saved or accepted by God. A similar proportion, 26 percent, said a person’s religion does not matter because all faiths teach the same lessons. And an even higher proportion, 40 percent, of born-again Christians said they believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Barna defined universalism as the belief that all human beings will eventually be saved after death. The California-based research and polling firm defines born-again Christians as people who have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today, and who believe they will go to heaven after death because they confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. According to the Barna analysis, 43 percent of Americans in general agreed with the statement “It doesn’t matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons,” while 54 percent disagreed. The report on what Americans believe about universalism and pluralism comes at a time when not only evangelicals, but even prominent secular media, are debating the Christian teachings on salvation and the idea of universalism due to Pastor Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
For many evangelicals, the idea of Christians holding universalist ideas is particularly disturbing because e it nullifies the need for Christ to die on the cross and the message of Jesus that he is the only way, truth and life. Various research firms have reported different data on the prevalence of universalist beliefs among born-again believers and more specifically, evangelicals.
A 2008 Pew Forum survey revealed that 57 percent of evangelicals agreed with the idea that other religions than their own can lead to eternal life. After tweaking the definition of "evangelical," however, LifeWay Research, found that only two out of 10 evangelicals agreed with the statement that eternal life can be obtained through religions other than Christianity. While universalism is nothing new, some believe cultural trends are placing pressure on Christians and their beliefs. Don Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, said at The Gospel Coalition’s national conference last week that many are feeling pressure from the culture "to find universalism attractive." "There are pressures in our culture to reduce the truth content of Scripture and then simply dismiss people by saying that they're intolerant or narrow-minded, or bigoted without actually engaging the truth question at all. And that is really sad and in the long haul, horribly dangerous." Barna’s analysis on beliefs regarding universalism and pluralism is based on data from telephone interviews conducted in the OmniPollSM and from Barna Group’s theolographic TM database from 2005 through 2011.
The Villains From Damascus
April 25….(Mordechai Nisan) Even in our world colored with grays and not only blacks and whites, the fall of the Assad regime in Damascus would be a great blessing for the Middle East and the world. Nonetheless, for some Israelis this would be a hard blow to suffer, because it might signify that Israel will be stuck with the Golan Heights for the long future. The list of Syria’s misdemeanors and crimes is legion. From belligerent Soviet ally to godfather and patron of Palestinian terrorism, Hafez the father and Bashar the son crafted a policy strategy that demonized Israel, betrayed the Arab world, consolidated the regional hegemony of Iran, and perpetuated an Alawite sectarian regime in defiance of the Sunni Muslim majority in the country. Acting against their countrymen, the Assads persecuted the Kurds, intimidated the Druze, and despoiled the tiny Jewish community.
The quest for power whetted the ambition of the mountain family from Qardaha. They reached for rule in the 1960s, grabbed it in 1970, and held it with a vengeance employing a brutal dictatorship, a regime of fear, while waving tattered Arabist anti-Israeli slogans. The invasion of Lebanon in 1976 that culminated in a ruthless and bloodthirsty occupation only seemingly ended in 2005; throughout it was a scandalous violation of Lebanese human rights, national identity, and political independence. A series of Syrian assassinations of key Christian Lebanese personalities did not exclude, we shall never doubt, the former Sunni Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Syrian interventionism also played a destructive role in Iraq to foil America’s goal of fashioning stability in the post-Saddam era on the fractured Baghdadian political landscape.
Israeli sorrows and sufferings from the Assads’ of Syria were far more insidious in comparison to any inflicted upon the Jewish state by any other country. Perhaps this litany of havoc began with the October 1973 Yom Kippur War that continued until May 1974 on the Golan front. Syria’s torturing of Israeli POWs should never be forgotten. The smashing of Lebanon in the 1970s, as in the Hundred Days War in Beirut in 1978, and supporting Palestinian warfare against the Lebanese, including the barbaric massacre of Christian communities, was designed to deny Israel a free Lebanon that would be a friendly neighbor. Syria, allying with Hezbollah from the 1980s and facilitating its armaments pipeline and fighting doctrine bled Israel, demoralized the Jews, and contributed to the reprehensible and reckless IDF withdrawal in May, 2000. When Syria forged intimate ties with Iran, soon after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, it became clear that Khomeini’s jihad was now comfortably pre-positioned on Israel’s northern border regions. Syria worked assiduously to strategically isolate Israel in the Middle East in putting together a politically unorthodox alliance system. Israel’s former regional partner, Sunni non-Arab Turkey, was enticed by its own ambitions to adopt an adversarial anti-Israel position. The Syrian-Turkey connection warmed up, and their joint pro-Palestinian stance emitted a virulent rancor. The Damascene headquarters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad radiated Assad’s centralizing leadership role in the war against Israel. This was no less apparent with Syria’s emerging nuclear program, which Israel confronted in bombing its facility in 2007.
All the while official and non-official Israeli movers and shakers, loyal to their paradigm and disloyal to their people, fantasized that Bashar Assad was really interested in peace with Israel, and but for Jerusalem’s obstinacy a deal would be concluded. This interpretation was divorced from the glaring strategic data and Syrian political connections that had ripened over the years. The fact that the Golan Heights was a tranquil front since 1974 did not prove the Assads’ inclination toward peace with Israel, but rather indicated that the multi-front war Syria was directing against Israel could be superbly effective as an indirect strategy conducted with impunity. When and if the Assad regime falls, the collapse of Iranian hegemony across the region may not be far behind. The Arab Sunni world will rejoice that wayward Syria has been separated from the Tehran Shiite-dominated axis. Losing its strategic hinterland and ideological benefactor, Hezbollah too will suffer a blow which will catalyze re-arranging power relations in the forlorn land of the cedars.
Freedom in Damascus will contribute to the recovery of freedom in Beirut. I believe that the end of Syrian domination of Lebanon is absolutely the moral and reasonable political interest for Israel. A regime change in Damascus opens up the possibility of various domestic options: a Sunni fundamentalist state, a liberal polity, maybe a federated entity based on the geo-ethnic pluralism of the country. Despite turbulence in Syrian streets and politics, Israel’s military might assures her safety as she possesses both deterrent and offensive capabilities that will challenge Syria in the days ahead, regardless of the outcome of the revolutionary changes that now and will confront her. We can now well appreciate the wisdom in the traditional Israeli stance since 1967 of settlement, development, and territorial retention of the Golan Heights. This obvious strategic resource adorned with manifest values of topography and water, a terrain decked with Jewish history and demographic tranquility, would be abandoned only in a fit of mental infirmity. And with the Assads gone, the Middle East as a whole will be able to move to transcend the state of terror and tension with which the Syrian regime poisoned the political atmosphere for over four long decades.
WEEK OF APRIL 17 THROUGH APRIL 23
JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN INDEED
April 23….(Dr. Jerry Newcombe) In the early Church, when one Christian would greet another, often he would say: "He is risen." And the other would respond, "He is risen, indeed!" The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest fact in human history. Yet throughout the centuries to our present time, skeptics have argued against the historical reliability of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Recently, well-known atheist Richard Dawkins said, "Accounts of Jesus' resurrection and ascension are about as well-documented as 'Jack and the Beanstalk.'"
Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing René López, author of the new book The Jesus Family Tomb Examined: Did Jesus Rise Physically? I was surprised when René told me about his background. His life used to be like an episode of Miami Vice. Back in the 1980s, he could well have been one of the bad guys on that show -- selling drugs, using violence, robbing people, etc. Today, he is a Ph.D. candidate, pastor, and author. When I interviewed him about the resurrection of Jesus, he said one reason he believes in the resurrection is the power of the resurrected Christ in his own life. If Jesus could change someone like him, with his 30-plus arrests, and make him a new man from the inside out, then He could walk out of the tomb. René tells his story in his ScriptureUnlocked.com website and is currently working on a book about his conversion. René says this about Dawkins' notion that the resurrection of Jesus is about as historical as "Jack and the Beanstalk": "The gospels are more reliable accounts in ancient history than any other document we have, before and after."
Dr. Sam Lamerson of Knox Theological Seminary says this: "There are so many pieces of evidence for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ that if we reject the truth of the resurrection, I believe, we must then become total historical agnostics and reject virtually everything that we know about ancient history." According to Lamerson, "There is no ancient historical event that is more certainly testified to both by number of witnesses and by evidence than the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Let's consider some of the evidence for the resurrection of Christ. We begin with the empty tomb. "Now, we often overlook the empty tomb," says Dr. Paul Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University. "But I think the empty tomb is very important, because that is something that an ancient historian can get at."
According to Liberty University professor Dr. Gary Habermas, "The fact that women reported the empty tomb is the best reason to believe it, 'cause it's not a scenario anybody would make up." The empty tomb was a fact of history. Another piece of evidence for the bodily resurrection of Christ deals with the first eye-witnesses and the first to testify they had seen Him risen from the dead. René López observes, "If the resurrection was to be a hoax, you would never use women to validate something like the resurrection, if you wanted to lie about it, because in the first century, according to the rabbinic writings, a woman's testimony was as valid as a thief's." Furthermore, the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus appeared to 500 people at one time after His resurrection. Many of these were still alive at the time Paul wrote that. He basically encourages his readers to go talk with them.
Another reason Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead is that the whole Christian movement began in Jerusalem. Dr. Maier points out: "Where did Christianity first begin in terms of the organized proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead? Only one place on earth -- Jerusalem. There, least of all, could Christianity ever have gotten started if the moldering body of Jesus of Nazareth were available any time after Sunday morning. That would have been a wooden stake through the heart of Christianity. There wouldn't have been a Christian church ever organized." Perhaps the most compelling evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is the change in the disciples. Just as René was changed, so also were the disciples. Rene points out: "In the gospels, you have the disciples running scared. They were all hiding, and overnight you have them then making a radical turnaround and then going before the authorities and proclaiming the very resurrection of Jesus Christ." And they were not just changed, but willing to die for what they believed. Dr. Lamerson points out: "According to early church history, those 12 disciples all met horrible deaths, except for John. Judas, of course, went out and committed suicide. But of the remaining 11, every one of them, except for John, met a martyr's death. That is, they were killed because they continued to preach the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. They died because they knew that Jesus really had risen from the dead in history." Finally, René López observes that Christianity itself would have died, along with its Founder, if it all ended at the cross: "Christianity would have died if Christ had not risen from the dead. There's no possible way to explain the growth of the church. That in itself must be answered by the critics today."
Dozens Killed in Bloodiest Day of Protests in Syria
April 23….(YNET) Syrian security forces shot dead dozens of protesters on Friday, rights activists said, the bloodiest day in a month of escalating demonstrations against the rule of President Amnesty International said at least 75 people were killed in unrest which swept the country, mainly from bullet wounds but also from inhaling tear gas. Many more were wounded and around 20 were still missing, activist Ammar Qurabi said.
US State Department spokesman dismisses WikiLeaks' notion that Washington wants to topple Syrian regime; insists Assad 'needs to address 'legitimate aspirations of his people'. "What today proves beyond question is that Syria is the most repressive regime in the Middle East and Assad is the worst dictator,” the British Telegraph quoted one activist as saying. “The people marched peacefully and they were shot in their scores. It is a massacre, a Good Friday Massacre, and a war crime.” The White House on Friday urged the Syrian government to stop its violence against demonstrators and called on Damascus to follow through on promised reforms. White House spokesman Jay Carney, speaking to reporters as President Barack Obama flew back to Washington from California, said, "We deplore the use of violence." He called on the Syrian government to "cease and desist in the use of violence against protesters" and to follow through on promised reforms.
Obama Calls on Assad to CHANGE
April 23….(Ha Aretz) US President Barack Obama called on the Syrian government on Friday to stop using "outrageous" violence against demonstrators and accused President Bashar Assad of seeking help from Iran. "This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now," Obama said in a statement. The US president continued, saying "instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria's citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies." Earlier Friday the White House urged the Syrian government to stop its violence against demonstrators and called on Damascus to follow through on promised reforms. The comments came as Syrian security forces shot to death at least 88 protesters in the bloodiest day in a month of escalating demonstrations against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. White House spokesman Jay Carney, speaking to reporters said, "we deplore the use of violence." He called on the Syrian government to "cease and desist in the use of violence against protesters" and to follow through on promised reforms. Thousands took to the streets after weekly Friday prayers following President Bashar al-Assad's move this week to formally lift a 48-year-old state of emergency. Videos posted online on Friday showed protesters tearing apart posters of al-Assad. Protesters were seen carrying long flags, banners that read "Point your gun to my body as you wish, I will not let go of my demands" and "Syrian media is lying." "To all the demonstrators today, please carry signs with slogans that are clear with the just demands advocated by the revolution," activists urged protesters as they organized rallies using social networking websites. They also called on protesters to remove images and statues along their way, referring to images of al-Assad and his late father spread across the country. Protesters were also asked to document their moves "with pictures and videos that have an appropriate degree of clarity." Christian churches across the country cancelled outdoor Good Friday services and street processions as the country braced for protests that organizers said would be the biggest yet. The planned protests came one day after al-Assad approved lifting the state of emergency, which had been in effect since 1963. It had widely curbed freedoms and the right to assembly by banning unauthorized protests. It also gave the government sweeping powers to crackdown on dissidents.
Assad to Deploy Entire Army Against Demonstrators
April 23….(DEBKAfile Exclusive Report) After the bloodiest day in the month-long uuprising against his regime on Friday, April 22, with at least 75 dead and hundreds wounded by live gunshots, as well as scores of people missing, Saturday threatens even greater violence. Debkafile's reports exclusively that Bashar Assad plans to send his entire army out to stamp hard on the fury accompanying the funerals. The eleven Syrian army divisions are Assad's last card in his fight for survival. Until now, he kept most of them back, sending out to the streets only his trusted security services and 4th Division, both commanded by his younger brother Gen. Maher Assad. But when Friday's bloodbath failed to keep the rising tide of protest from igniting 16 towns from north to south, Hama, Homs, Deir al-Zur, Banias, Daraa and the three Kurdish towns, and encroaching on Damascus, the capital, and second largest Syrian city, Aleppo, the Syrian president decided to go all the way. He ordered his army chiefs to assume control of security in Syria's main towns and districts and divide the country up into thee military regions.
The die was cast by the time the White House issued a statement urging the Syrian government "to cease and desist" its violence against demonstrators and follow through on promised reforms. Assad's orders to the army had already gone out by the time the White House spokesman Jay Carney, speaking to reporters as President Barack Obama flew back to Washington from California, said, "We deplore the use of violence" against the demonstrators. In any case, US President Barack Obama's tardy statement still refrained from addressing Bashar Assad's responsibility for the violence, least of all calling on him to step down to meet the people's demands.
In Daraa, epicenter of the movement in the south, the crowds hoped to reach Washington's ears with slogans shouted in English: "Assad: The game is over! " and "Go and open an eye clinic!" Friday night, our sources report, Syrian army units were already sighted heading towards the cities, joined for the first time by troops normally on duty on at the Syrian-Israel border. Debkafile's military sources disclose their assignments:
Corps No. 1 was given responsibility for the capital Damascus and its outlying towns and districts;
Corps No. 2 took charge of central Syria and the towns of Aleppo, Homs and Hama;
Corps No. 3 spread out in the south and on Jebel Druze.
It was the last straw for Assad when Friday, the strategic town of Katana west of Damascus was drawn into the protest movement and rallied against his regime. Katana houses the main bases of the Syrian armored corps, which is part of the 7th Division, and serves as divisional logistical administration center. Its population is made up mostly of the officers, men and civilian personnel serving at those bases. Having Katana turn against the regime finally persuaded its leaders to throw every resource it had into crushing the uprising. For the Syrian ruler, deploying the entire army is a wild gamble because more than 75 percent of Syria's 220,000-strong rank and file are Sunni Muslims, Kurds and Druzes and therefore drawn from ethnic and religious groups long repressed by the Alawite-dominated regime. Saturday could see uniformed troops flouting orders to shoot live rounds into crowds of protesters who are members of their community or even family. It would start the break-up of the Syrian army amid large-scale defections of officers and men.
Report: 40 Killed in Syria Protests
April 22….(YNET) The protest movement has crossed a significant threshold in recent days, with increasing numbers now seeking the downfall of the regime, not just reforms. The security crackdown has only emboldened protesters, who are enraged over the deaths of more than 200 people over five weeks. Shootings were reported on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, and in the central city of Homs on a day that could be a major test of whether President Bashar Assad's promises of sweeping reform will quell the monthlong uprising. Syrian security forces have fired live bullets and tear gas at tens of thousands of people demonstrating in areas across the country. Human rights activists and opposition organizations said at least 40 people were killed, including an 11-year-old child from the southern city of Daraa. Shootings were reported on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, and in the central city of Homs on a day that could be a major test of whether President Bashar Assad's promises of sweeping reform will quell the monthlong uprising. "Bullets started flying over our heads like heavy rain," said one witness in Izraa, a southern village in Daraa province, the same region where the uprising kicked off in mid-March. The protesters on the outskirts of Damascus on Friday chanted, "The people want the downfall of the regime." It's the same rallying cry that was heard during the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. "We saw two snipers on the building. None of us had weapons. There are casualties, possibly two dead," a human rights campaigner who was at a protest at the city of Homs said. He claimed security forces had tried to prevent protestors from reaching a ruling Baath Party headquarters. Other massive protests were reported in the coastal city of Banias, the northeastern Kurdish region and the southern city of Daraa, where the uprising kicked off more than a month ago. The witness accounts could not be independently confirmed because Syria has expelled journalists and restricted access to trouble spots. Witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. Activists promised that Friday's protests will be the biggest rallies yet against the regime led by Assad, who inherited power from his father 11 years ago in one of the most authoritarian countries in the Middle East.
The president has been trying to defuse the protests by launching a bloody crackdown along with a series of concessions, most recently lifting emergency laws that gave authorities almost boundless powers of surveillance and arrest. He also has fulfilled a decades-old demand by granting citizenship to thousands among Syria's long-ostracized Kurdish minority, fired local officials, released detainees and formed a new government. "The state of emergency was brought down, not lifted," prominent Syrian activist Suhair Atassi, who was arrested several times in the past, wrote on her Twitter page. "It is a victory as a result of demonstrations, protests and the blood of martyrs who called for Syria's freedom." Earlier Friday, witnesses said security forces in uniform and plainclothes set up checkpoints around the Damascus suburb of Douma, checking peoples identity cards and preventing nonresidents from going in. Syria stands in the middle of the most volatile conflicts in region because of its alliances with militant groups like Lebanon's Hezbollah and with Shiite powerhouse Iran. That has given Damascus a pivotal role in most of the flashpoint issues of the region, from the Arab-Israeli peace process to Iran's widening influence. If the regime in Syria wobbles, it also throws into disarray the US push for engagement with Damascus, part of Washington's plan to peel the country away from its allegiance to Hamas, Hezbollah and Tehran.
US Drones for Misratah vs Russian Arms, Chinese Intel for Qaddafi
April 22….(DEBKAfile Exclusive Report) Both of Libya's fighting camps are taking delivery of a surging influx of weapons shipments and military personnel, each hoping to use the extra aid for breaking the military standoff in its own favor, debkafile's military sources report. Thursday, April 21, President Barack Obama authorized a pair of armed Predator drones to help the rebels break breaking the siege of Misratah, while British, French and Italian military officers headed for rebel headquarters in Benghazi, part of a package of arms and military equipment from the US, Britain, France, Italy and Qatar. On the other side of the Libyan divide, China, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Serbia are keeping the pro-Qaddafi camp's arsenals stocked with new hardware along with combat personnel from Eastern Europe and the former Yugoslavia. Building up in Libya is a confrontation that recalls the 1999 war in Yugoslavia (Serbia today) when NATO's four-month Operation Noble Anvil hammered Yugoslav forces to force their retreat from Kosovo. The Serbs too were backed then by clandestine Chinese-Russian support in tactical advice, intelligence, fighting men and arms.
Just like 12 years ago, our military sources report that from mid-March, hundreds of "volunteers" - professional soldiers ranking from colonel down to corporal - have joined the army loyal to Qaddafi. Calling themselves "nationalists" operating in paramilitary organizations without the knowledge of their governments, these foreigners claim they have come "to repulse the Western-Muslim onslaught on Qaddafi's regime."
Of course, they are handsomely paid from Muammar Qaddafi's plentiful war chest. One group says it is in Libya for unfinished business with the West, especially the United States, for their role in the Bosnia and Kosovo conflicts.
China is helping the Libyan ruler with arms, mostly through African neighbors, and intelligence on NATO strikes in order to limit the damage they inflict (a service like that performed for Serbia in the 1990s). Beijing has a stake in helping the Libyan ruler after being informed that the Obama administration seeks to sever Chinese-Libyan oil ties before Beijing sinks tens of billions of dollars in Libya's transformation into its primary oil and gas supplier on the African continent. Hence the pair of armed drones which the US president decided Thursday to contribute to rebel strength in Misratah, the only town the rebels are clinging to in western Libya. The Predators are intended doubly to break Qaddafi's siege of the town and destroy the Chinese electronic intelligence and weapons systems deployed around it. The NATO bombardment of a large ammunition dump near Tripoli on April 14 aimed at destroying the latest Chinese arms arrivals. Echoes of the Balkan Wars were also resurrected by the rebels' determination to hang on in Misratah and replicate the long Sarajevo siege which eventually drew the United States into the conflict. Debkafile's military sources point to four major difficulties still confronting the next, intensified, round of Western coalition operations in Libya:
1. Pushing Qaddafi too hard could split NATO between is West and East European members;
2. The alliance is short of fighter-bombers for blasting the arms convoys destined for government forces in western Libya and lacks the precision bombs and missiles for these attacks. These shortages have forced NATO to limit its air strikes for now. A larger number of US Predators than the two authorized might have altered the balance. However, these armed pilotless aerial vehicles are in short supply owing to their essential role in US operations in the Afghan, Yemeni and Somali war arenas.
3. It is not clear that the UN Security Council resolution mandate extends to this kind of attack. The Russians criticize the Western alliance almost daily for exceeding its mandate.
4. In view of this criticism, Washington, London, Paris and Rome are careful to label their war assistance to Libyan rebels as "non-lethal military aid" and the military personnel helping them as "military advisers," raising memories of the euphemisms used in previous wars.
The trouble is that all the additional military assistance the West is laying on is barely enough, say Debkafile's military experts, to maintain the current stalemate against the Qaddafi regime's boosted capabilities, certainly not sufficient to tip the scales of the war.
Qaddafi holds one major advantage: His army can absorb foreign assistance without delay and almost seamlessly, whereas Western aid drops into a pit of uncertainty with regard to the rebel groups and their chiefs. The military advisers arriving in Benghazi first need to guide the opposition's steps in fighting Qaddafi's forces, then form the rebels into military units and teach them how to use the weapons they are receiving. It could take months for regular units to take shape under the direction of British, French and Italian military personnel who, too, are not necessarily working in harness.
Europe Considering Recognition of Palestine State
April 22….(YNET) France says European states considering recognizing Palestine; Britain echoes sentiment, says 'nothing is off table with regard to recognition in September.' Israel's UN envoy: Peace cannot be imposed from outside. France said Thursday that European nations are considering recognizing a Palestinian state, heightening pressure on the United States and Israel to re-launch the Middle East peace process. Recognition of the state of Palestine is one of the options which France is considering, with its European partners, in a bid to re-launch the peace process," French ambassador Gerard Araud told a Security Council debate on the Middle East. Britain also indicated that state recognition could be considered. "Nothing is off the table with regard to recognition in September," said a British spokesman. "But nor are we specifying what conditions would be necessary, or sufficient, to recognize, or indeed not to recognize - we'll have to look at all relevant factors at the time." Pressure has mounted on US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to break the deadlock in the peace process. Obama will soon make a speech on the Middle East conflict, diplomats said. "We expect that in a couple of weeks the president will have an opportunity to talk in more depth about the Middle East and North Africa," a senior US official said ahead of Thursday's UN Security Council debate.
'Talks remain only path'
At the meeting, US ambassador Susan Rice reinforced US calls for the Palestinian leadership to return to direct talks, frozen since last September amid recriminations over Israeli settlement building. "Negotiations between the parties remain the only path to a solution that resolves all issues and establishes a sovereign state of Palestine alongside a secure state of Israel," Rice told the Security Council, without mentioning Obama's plans. Israel's ambassador Meron Reuben insisted there could only be peace through face-to-face talks. "It cannot be imposed from the outside," Reuben said. "And any lasting peace agreement must be built on the core principles of mutual recognition and security." Obama last year set a target of September 2011 for an accord to set up a Palestinian state. But talks between the rivals ended within weeks after Israel refused to extend a moratorium on settlements.
A Spreading Revolt in Syria
April 21….(Weekly Standard) With the popular uprising in Syria completing its first month, protests against Bashar al-Assad’s regime have spread to encompass most Syrian regions and cities, including now the capital, Damascus. On Friday, April 15, crowds from surrounding suburbs swarmed the city, heading downtown to Abbasiyyin Square where the police fired on protesters and closed all roads and entrances leading toward the square. Now that the protests have hit Damascus, the regime is virtually encircled. Presumably, Bashar and key officials close to him, like his brother Maher, are contemplating when, how, and where to bring enough violence to bear to crush Syria’s Arab Spring. Maybe it’s already too late for the regime. Some observers are wondering why Assad hasn’t delivered the death blow to the uprising. After all, his father Hafez famously killed upward of 20,000 back in 1982 to quell a Sunni uprising in the city of Hama. It’s worth noting that the residents of Hama have gone to the streets again this time, even though almost everything else has changed. Three decades ago, it took several weeks before the news of Hafez’s mass murder reached even Beirut. And as rumor of the violence made that short trip just over the nearby Anti-Lebanon mountain range, the massacre acquired a sort of mythical status: What mere mortals would dare take on these legendary butchers who laid waste to a whole town to prove they would do anything to remain in power? Today it’s different. The advent of cell phones with video capabilities that give virtually everyone the ability to document history makes it far riskier for any regime to fill the streets of a medium-sized Arab city with blood, lest it capture the attention of the international community. To date the Obama administration still seems to be protecting Damascus, regarding it as a central pillar in its Middle East strategy, wedging Syria away from Iran and jump-starting the peace process, but with that kind of bloodshed the White House would be forced to turn on Assad.
Perhaps even more important is the effect that YouTube has on the protesters themselves. Who could have anticipated that the bloodshed captured on video not only would fail to deter the protesters, but rather would help inspire them? Here, it seems, the new social media dovetails perfectly with traditional Arab cultural values. The protests first erupted in the southern city of Dara, where the regime unleashed its brutality on the opposition. However, these tactics failed to quell the uprising. Indeed, subsequent Fridays brought more people to the streets, as did every funeral procession for murdered victims. Dara is in a tribal region, and each murder of one of its sons incurred another blood debt, and mobilized more of the province’s people against the regime, while it also inspired solidarity rallies in other towns, near Dara and beyond.
It was when the protests broke out in cities along the Mediterranean coast that the Assad clan first knew it was in trouble. Latakia, Tartus, and Baniyas are mixed cities in the Alawite heartland, where the Assad family, also Alawite, makes its home. These towns are mixed, with heavy concentrations of Sunnis. If the bloody repression in predominantly Sunni Dara featured the Alawite-dominated security forces killing Sunnis, the uprising in the coastal region would throw into sharp relief the fact the regime can no longer claim the unquestioned support of its very own heartland. The inability to subdue what is essentially the Alawites’ capital could signal that casting off Alawite dominance is a realistic possibility. For an embattled minoritarian clique, deeply paranoid of encirclement, having the protests spread to and take root in its own backyard presented a critical challenge. A line had to be drawn here, and Assad employed a full array of tactics. After the Ministry of Interior issued a statement that there would be “no more room for leniency or tolerance,” Assad ordered Baniyas surrounded with tanks, cut off all food, water, and medical supplies to the town, and unleashed his paramilitary thugs, shabbiha, along with the security forces, who assaulted the protesters, killing and wounding many, and rounding up many more. At the same time, the regime’s propaganda played on the sectarian anxieties of the Alawites as well as those of the Christians, another minority. The regime claimed that in Baniyas a group of Sunni Islamists had declared jihad. As state-owned television showed footage of men dressed in Islamist garb driving around and shooting, security agents posing as scared civilians called in to the station to implore the government to save the city from “terrorists” by sending in the military. The armed forces command issued an ultimatum to the “terrorists” to surrender, or else the army would use “full force.” The echoes of Hama were deliberate. Syrian activists on Twitter were anticipating a major assault by the military. But nothing, no major, Hama-style assault was launched, not yet, anyway. Maybe it’s because, as some speculate, the army is having a hard time managing its own divisions, sectarian and other. There are stories emerging that army officers have been shot for refusing to fire on civilians. In any case, as the regime tailors its self-defense according to the parameters and mores of the social media age, it will have to find a midway point, both brutal and controlled, manifesting the maximum amount of terror with the minimum amount of exposure. But what if it can’t? After all, at a certain point a line was crossed, and the Syrian population not only stopped being afraid but instead drew strength and courage from each other. The Syrian uprising is no longer a regional affair, but a national one. Thus, it is driving the regime into a corner where, fighting for its life, it will have no choice but to pull out all the stops. Nonetheless, it appears that in this post-Hama moment, old-fashioned repression might not work.
PA Still Gunning Unilateral Statehood Support
April 21….(Arutz) The Palestinian Authority is continuing its unilateral track in contravention of the Oslo accords that created it, the Associated Press reports. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet with French President Nicholas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the coming months with the aim of convincing them to recognize a PA state with the 1948 armistice lines as its borders and eastern Jerusalem as its capital. During Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's recent visit to Germany Merkel rejected the notion of unilateral moves on the part of the PA, but also expressed disappointment when the United States cancelled a resumption of talks by the Quartet saying the time was inopportune. PA negotiator Nabil Sha’ath said Tuesday the PA is determined to pursue its efforts to ask the UN Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state in September. In that vein, he said, the PA would continue building state institutions while moving to isolate Israel in the international arena. “By September," Sha'ath predicted for the London-based Asharq Al-Aswat, "We would have won the recognition of two-thirds of the UN members. This will entitle us to go to the Security Council and demand full membership.” He specifically named France, Sweden, and Ireland as western nations who would recognize the PA's unilateral bid for statehood. Sha’ath simultaneously warned that, if the US were to thwart the PA’s moves through a veto, they would take their case to the UN General Assembly. “Then we could become a member with full rights in the General Assembly," Sha'ath said. "Which means that the independent state of Palestine, which is a UN member, would have its territories occupied by another UN member."
PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yusef said the PA is also holding consultations with several of Arab and Islamic countries to present to the Security Council another resolution condemning the settlements as illegal, but noted the US had vetoed a similar move a few weeks ago. Former PLO Chief Negitionator Saeb Erekat said that if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wants peace with the Palestinians, he “must start preparing his people for ending occupation.” A unilateral declaration of statehood circumvents negotiations, compromise and a peace agreement. Erekat said that Netanyahu must tell his people that Israel will have to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines, recognize the state of Palestine with east Jerusalem as its capital and solve the various final status issues if it wants peace with Arabs in Judea and Samaria. Erekat also said he hoped the Quartet would immediately recognize the 1948 armistice lines as the basis for the two-state solution. “There is no political or legal justification for the committee not to take such an important step,” Erekat said. “Recognition of the state of Palestine would contribute to the cause of peace and would be regarded as a victory for international law.” Erekat's reference to Quartet recognition comes as Western diplomats increase pressure on Israel to reach a settlement despite the PA's categorical refusal to come to the negotiating table. One Western diplomat in Israel told the LA Times, "The Israelis are facing a bit of pressure with the way things are proceeding. People are starting to look to the US for some kind of action."
The United States, a key member of the Quartet, has traditionally rejected the 1948 armistice lines as a basis for a peace settlement between the PA and Israel insisting a 'lasting peace' must be based on a negotiated settlement between the two parties and not an externally imposed solution. According to several international observers the US postponed the latest Quartet meeting due to concerns over an EU peace plan. At the same time, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "The status quo between Palestinians and Israelis is no more sustainable than the political systems that have crumbled in recent months." Clinton said she intended to bring pressure on both Israel and the PA to reach a final status agreement.
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently reiterated unilateral moves by the PA would "only unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel's side." He said Sunday the core issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the PA leadership's refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish State even though, as Netanyahu claimed, Israel is ready to recognize a 'Palestinian State.' Netanyahu recently told his cabinet Sunday he would use his upcoming trip to address the US Congress as, "an opportunity to present Israel's political and security principles, following dramatic changes in the region and in light of our national interest to ensure our peaceful and secure future."
Assad's Bloody Crackdown Protest Threatens Sectarian War
April 21….(DEBKAfile Exclusive Report) President Bashar Assad, while abrogating Syria's detested 48-year old emergency laws Tuesday, April 19, immediately replaced them with new draconian measures banning any kind of public protest against his regime and permitting midnight arrests. His bloody showdown with widening circles of protesters is in its final act, Debkafile's Middle East sources report, and threatens to explode into a sectarian war. In the last crucial stage of his fight for survival, Assad has persuaded Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon to seal their borders to stem the smuggling of arms and provocateurs to Syrian opposition groups, a closure planned also to block the flight of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria in the next stage of the crisis. State TV interrupts regular broadcasts to show horrific images of smashed bodies alleged to be of army officers and troops murdered by the protesters. The authorities are gambling on the people rising up against the protesters for laying hands on soldiers. But the risk factor is great because military personnel watching the pictures are just as likely to decide that the better part of wisdom is to save themselves rather than the regime. In any case, Debkafile's military sources report that the decision to deploy the army for cracking down on the protests racing from city to city is a final act of despair because the troops and their officers' loyalty to the president is far from assured. Nonetheless it was taken Tuesday, April 19, after the heads of the regime discovered that some of the arms and fighters smuggled into Syria had been diverted from mixed-bag opposition groups to specific Syrian ethnic, religious and tribal communities who were getting ready for the unrest to change in character and tip over into sectarian warfare. The Lebanese Druzes, for instance, are pumping weapons to their brethren in southern Syria; Lebanese Sunni Muslims are arming Syrian Sunnis in the coastal towns of Banias and Latakia; the Alawites who live mostly in the Aqar district of Lebanon are taking care of their co-religionists on the Syrian side of the border; Christians of the "Lebanese Forces" grouping are smuggling weapons to Syrian Christian villages; while Iraqi and Turkish Kurdish tribes have stepped up their consignments of weapons, fighters and activists to the Kurdish community of northern Syria.
Damascus also accuses Saudi Arabia of keeping the protest movement afloat with smuggled arms and funds. Because his military and security strength cannot be stretched two ways, both to block the smuggling routes and suppress the raging demonstrations, Assad appealed to the King of Jordan, the Lebanese President and the heads of government in Turkey and Iraq for action to "hermetically seal" their borders. Although they obliged by redoubling their guards, it is unlikely that they can stop the arms smuggling altogether. The opening shot for sectarian strife came from the regime itself. Tuesday, shortly after the emergency laws were lifted, Syrian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar characterized the uprising as "an armed revolt by Islamist radicals seeking to establish an Islamic state in Syria."
Thousands in Syria Begin sit-in for Assad's Ouster
April 20….(Ha Aretz) More than 5,000 anti-government protesters in Syria took over the main square of the country's third-largest city Monday, vowing to occupy the site until President Bashar Assad is ousted and defying authorities who warn they will not be forced into reforms. The Egypt-style standoff in the central city of Homs followed funeral processions by more than 10,000 mourners for some of those killed in clashes Sunday that a rights group said left at least 12 people dead. It also brought a high-stakes challenge to security forces over whether to risk more bloodshed, and international backlash, by trying to clear the square. In the past month, Syrian security forces in uniforms and plainclothes have launched a deadly crackdown on demonstrations, killing at least 200 people, according to human rights groups. Many Syrians also say pro-government thugs, known as Shabiha, have terrorized neighborhoods with tactics such as opening fire into the air. In response, the government has blamed armed gangs seeking to stir up unrest for many of the killings. Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, was quoted by the state-run news agency SANA as telling foreign ambassadors Monday that reforms are a "national need" but they cannot be forced through "violence, weapons, sabotage and road closures." In a strong warning, al-Moallem said authorities are facing pressures to restore "security and order" and said it could take all "suitable measures" if demonstrations persist. On Friday, security forces blocked attempts to hold a similar sit-in in the capital Damascus.
Earlier in the day, at least six coffins were carried by the massive funeral procession in Homs, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Damascus, said two witnesses. Security forces stayed away from the mourners in an apparent move to avoid confrontation, said the witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals. The witnesses' accounts could not be independently confirmed because Syria has placed tight restrictions on media outlets and expelled foreign journalists. After the funeral, thousands of people marched to Homs' main Sa'a Jadida Square, or the New Clock Square, where they chanted "people want to bring down the regime" and "peaceful, peaceful," the witnesses said.
As protesters gathered, security personnel arrived in the area. Three tanker trucks, usually used by authorities to spray protesters with water, were also parked nearby. "A sit-in until the regime is brought down," the protesters chanted. Witnesses said the protesters are planning to set up tents and some residents donated water and food. Also Monday, a group of Syrian students said in a statement posted on Facebook they will not attend classes for three days starting Tuesday to protests the recent deaths and last week's attack by security forces at Damascus University, where one student was killed. In the northern city of Banias, about 300 children released balloons with slogans calling on Assad to leave power, witnesses said.
"Leave, uncle criminal," read one balloon. "Leave so that I can enjoy freedom," read another, witnesses added. Ammar Qurabi, head of Syria's National Organization for Human Rights, said the death toll had risen to 12 from the Sunday shootings during protests and a funeral for an anti-government activist. He said eight people died in Homs and a nearby village. He added that four protesters were killed in clashes between security forces and protesters in the northern cities of Latakia and Idlib. Syria's state-run news agency, however, said one policeman was killed and 11 other policemen and security personnel were wounded when an "armed criminal gang" opened fire on them in Talbiseh on Sunday. The latest killings were bound to increase pressure on Assad, who has tried to quell the popular uprising with a mixture of brute force and concessions. On Saturday, he promised to end nearly 50 years of emergency rule this week, a key demand of the protesters. Syria's widely despised emergency laws have been in place since the ruling Baath Party came to power in 1963, giving the regime a free hand to arrest people without charge and extending state authority into virtually every aspect of life. But he warned there will no longer be "an excuse" for organizing protests once Syria lifts emergency rule and implements reforms, which he said will include a new law allowing the formation of political parties.
Quartet May Formally Recognize Palestinian State if Peace Talks not Renewed
April 20….(Ha Aretz) American and European diplomats warned that if peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are not renewed, the Quartet of Mideast peace makers may formally recognize a Palestinian state, the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday. The Quartet, which is comprised of the United States, United Nations, European Union, and Russia, was supposed to meet last week to discuss an initiative by Britain, France and Germany to restart stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks by proposing the outlines of a final settlement to their long conflict. The United States blocked the initiative, with a US official of Barack Obama's administration saying the administration didn't think a Quartet meeting would produce anything useful in terms of getting the talks restarted. "It wasn't the right time," the official said. The Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to Obama's target date of September 2011 for an agreement, but negotiations collapsed weeks after they restarted last September because Israel ended its moratorium on settlement construction. The Palestinians insist they will not resume peace talks until Israel halts settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, which the Palestinians want for their future state. The Palestinians have launched their own initiative aimed at gaining recognition of independent statehood at the UN General Assembly in September. They have succeeded in gaining recognition from several countries in Latin America. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the Palestinian move to secure international recognition for statehood was hindering peace efforts and essentially a bid toward avoiding negotiations. "Palestinians seek to go to an international forum and avoid peace negotiations," Netanyahu said earlier this month. "It pushes peace further back."
Saudis Give Up on US, Instigate Direct Gulf Action Against Iran
April 20….(DEBKAfile Exclusive Report) After giving up on US and Israel ever confronting Iran, Saudi Arabia has gone out on a limb against the Obama administration to place itself at the forefront of an independent Gulf campaign for cutting down the Islamic Republic's drive for a nuclear bomb and its expansionist meddling in Arab countries, debkafile's Middle East sources report. Two US emissaries sent to intercede with Saudi King Abdullah, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on April 6 and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, who arrived in Riyadh six days later, were told that Saudi Arabia had reached a parting-of-the ways with Washington, followed actively by Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. Abdullah said he could not forgive the Americans for throwing former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to the wolves in Cairo and for the unrest they were promoting against Arab regimes. Saudi Arabia was therefore determined to lead the Gulf region on the road to a confrontation with Iran, up to and including military action if necessary, to defend the oil emirates against Iranian conspiracies in the pursuit of which the king accused US-led diplomacy of giving Tehran a clear field.
Monday, April 18, the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC, asked the UN Security Council to take action for stopping Iran's "provocative interference in their countries' domestic affairs." This "flagrant interference" posed a "grave security to, and risked flaring up sectarian strike, in the GCC countries." The resolution went on to state: "The GCC will not hesitate to adopt whatever measures and policies they deem necessary vis-à-vis the foreign interferences in their internal affairs." The phrase "measures and policies deemed necessary" is diplomatic parlance for a military threat. It implies that Saudi Arabia and the rest of the regional group are confident that together, they command the strategic resources and assets necessary for a military strike against Iran. Our military sources report that the Saudis are convinced that their combined missile, air force and naval strength is fully capable of inflicting in-depth damage on mainland Iran. Their message to Washington is that the Gulf nations are now making their own decisions.
Iran has taken two steps in response to the Saudi-led Gulf challenge: Thousands of Iranian students, mobilized by the Revolutionary Guards and Basijj voluntary corps have laid the Saudi embassy in Tehran to siege for most of the past week, launching stone and firebomb assaults from time to time, but so far making no attempt to invade the building.
Then, Saturday, April 16, the Iranian foreign ministry summoned the Pakistani chargé d'affaires to warn him sternly against allowing Saud Arabia and Bahrain to continue conscripting Pakistani military personnel. Tehran claims that by offering exorbitant paychecks, Riyadh has raised 1,000 Pakistani recruits for its military operation in support of the Bahraini king and another 1,500 are on their way to the Gulf. Iran also beefed up its strength along the Pakistani border to warn Islamabad that if it matters come to a clash with Saudi Arabia, Pakistani and its military will not escape punishment.
King Abdullah first defied the Obama administration's policy of support for popular uprisings against autocratic Arab regimes on March 14 by sending Saudi troops into Bahrain to prop up the king against the Shiite-led disturbances organized by Tehran's Lebanese surrogate, Hizballah. This force has been expanded continuously, split now between units suppressing the uprising and the bulk deployed on the island's coast, 320 kilometers from the shore of Iran. Saudi ground-to-ground and anti-air missiles have been transferred to the Bahraini capital of Manama and naval units, including missile vessels, positioned in its harbor.
Monday, April 18, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa announced that Saudi and allied GCC troops would stay in the kingdom until Iran no longer poses a menace. "Gulf force is needed to counter a sustained campaign by Iran in Bahrain," he said. Tehran-Riyadh tensions are rippling into other arenas: On April 11-12, the chronically disaffected Arabs of Ahwaz in the western Iranian province of Khuzestan (1.2 million inhabitants) staged a two-day uprising against the Iranian government. In their first crackdown, government forces killed at least 15 demonstrators before cutting off Ahwaz's links with the outside world. Since incoming flights were cancelled, roads to the town blocked and telephone and Internet communications discontinued, no independent information is coming out of the province. Tehran accuses Saudi and United Arab Emirate undercover agencies of fomenting the unrest in one of its oil centers.
So too does Syrian president Bashar Assad, who claims the spreading revolt against his regime, now entering its second month, was instigated from Riyadh. Debkafile's Gulf sources report that King Abdullah has placed himself at the head of the Saudi-GCC political and military campaign against Iran. His team consists of Interior Minister, second-in-line to the throne Prince Nayef; Director of General Intelligence Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz; National Security Adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan; Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan; and the king's son, Commander of the National Guard Prince Muttab. According to our sources, Riyadh has not just given up on American action against Iran but also despaired of Israel and its passive acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran and the hostile military noose the Islamic Republic is drawing around its borders from Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and Syria. In the view of Saudi policy-makers, the effect of the Stuxnet cyber war on Iran's nuclear facilities and the targeted assassination of some of the program's key executives has been overrated. They characterize the two covert campaigns as causing limited damage at first and then acting as a fillip for accelerating Iran's drive for a nuclear bomb.
Thousands Demand Overthrow of Assad
(Demonstrators call for "overthrow of regime," after Syrian security forces kill eight protesters overnight in Homs)
April 19….(Reuters) Wissam Tarif, a rights activist in contact with people in Syria, said the toll was higher and he had the names of 12 people killed in the city. "From alleyway to alleyway, from house to house, we want to overthrow you, Bashar," the mourners chanted, according to a witness at the funeral. YouTube footage showed thousands of people filling a wide city square. Assad, facing a month of demonstrations against his authoritarian Baath Party rule, said on Saturday that legislation to replace nearly half a century of emergency law should be in place by next week. But his pledge did little to appease protesters calling for greater freedoms in Syria, or curb violence which human rights organizations say has killed at least 200 people. "Homs is boiling. The security forces and the regime thugs have been provoking armed tribes for a month now," a rights activist told Reuters from the city. Civilians who taken to the streets "were shot at in cold blood," he said. Further north in Jisr al-Shughour around 1,000 people called on Monday for "the overthrow of the regime," echoing chants of protesters who overthrew leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, at the funeral of a man they said was killed by security forces. Assad says Syria is the target of a conspiracy and authorities blame the violence on armed gangs and infiltrators supplied with weapons from Lebanon and Iraq. The unrest, which broke out a month ago in the southern city of Deraa, has spread across Syria and presented the gravest challenge yet to Assad, who assumed the presidency in 2000 when his father Hafez al-Assad died after 30 years in power. Western countries have condemned the violence but shown no sign of taking action against Assad, a central player in Middle East politics who consolidated his father's anti-Israel alliance with Iran and supports Islamist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, while holding intermittent, indirect peace talks with Israel.
Protesters call for Assad's overthrow
In the main port city of Latakia, activists reported deaths from clashes overnight. "We heard there were several deaths yesterday," a rights activist from Syria said. "The pattern is repeating itself: protests, killings by security forces, funerals turned into protests, and more killing and vehement slogans against Bashar." Tarif said there had been five deaths in Latakia overnight, when security forces opened fire on protesters. Ammar Qurabi of Syria's National Organization for Human Rights said he had the names of two dead protesters. Addressing his newly formed cabinet on Saturday, Assad said ministers should prepare a law to regulate demonstrations, which are illegal under the emergency law in place for 48 years and which bans gatherings of more than five people. But his statement did nothing to calm the fury of thousands of people at a funeral on Sunday of a conscript whose relatives said had been tortured before he died. At another funeral on Sunday in the town of Talbiseh, north of Homs, two witnesses said security forces killed three mourners when they opened fire on them. State news agency SANA said "armed criminals" had opened fire on security forces, killing a policeman and wounding 11 others. It also said a military unit clashed with gunmen on the highway heading north from Homs, killing three gunmen. "Protesting peacefully is something we respect but blocking roads, sabotage, and carrying out arson is something else and can no longer be ignored," SANA quoted reappointed Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem as saying. Opposition figures say they believe any legislation replacing the emergency rule is likely to retain severe curbs on political freedoms.
Cleansing The Temple
April 19….(Charles Stanley) For the disciples, Palm Sunday must have felt like a dream. As they followed Jesus into the temple grounds, their voices would have been drowned out by the clamor. The Court of Gentiles, the only area that non-Jews could enter, had become an open-air market. The Teacher and His followers pushed through the hordes of customers haggling with merchants and shouting to be heard over livestock and doves used for sacrifices. Other pilgrims crowded around money changers’ tables, protesting unfair rates of exchange for the temple currency. Jesus had seen enough. He stormed through the court, upending tables, overturning traders’ chairs, and driving animals toward the gate, past a throng of people scrambling for scattered money. Finally, He blocked the way so merchandise couldn’t be carried through the temple (Mark 11:16). The disciples must have been astounded. They expected the Messiah to judge their oppressors, not His own people and their temple. Finally, Jesus shouted above the din and reminded them of a scripture they’d apparently forgotten. “Is it not written,” He cried, “‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a robbers’ den” (v. 17). The crowd was amazed. But the religious leaders were offended and began to plan His death (v. 18). Jesus’ actions in the temple emphasized how extravagant the offer of salvation is. He showed that no one should restrain or interfere with those God calls to be saved. This week, consider people you know who need the eternal life Jesus promises. How can you help clear the way for them to worship?
Happy 3,323rd Birthday to People of Israel
April 19….(Arutz) It was none other than Pharaoh whose mention of the “People of Israel” is the first such Biblical reference, 3323 years ago, using calculations based on information in the Torah. Serbian-born Eliezer Shulman, who was exiled to Siberia by the former Soviet Union in the 1930s, recently showed how he was able to calculate it while there, as follows: In the first chapter of Exodus (Shemot), verse 8 states, "And there rose up a new king [pharaoh] over Egypt who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people. ‘Behold, the people of the children of Israel and more numerous and strong than we are.'” Until then, the Bible referred to Jews as the Children of Yaakov (Jacob), who at one point was also named Israel, while the Bible generally continues to refer to him as Yaakov, until the time of Pharaoh. Yaakov left the famine stricken Land of Israel with 11 sons to join his long-lost son Joseph. He had became the most powerful man in Egypt under Pharaoh after having been sold by his brothers and undergoing severe hardships that did not dampen his faith in the Creator. The Passover holiday recalls the days of slavery in Egypt under the new pharaoh and the Exodus to freedom, which is the theme of the traditional Passover Seder. However, the freedom of the Jews also marks their birthday as a people.
Shulman calculated the dates in the Bible while he was in Siberia. Starting with the Creation as year One on the Jewish calendar and adding up the number of years the earlier generations lived, Shulman determined that Noah was born in the year 1056 and died in 2006. The Jewish forefather Avraham was born in the year 1948, and100 years later, Yitzchak was born. After calculating the years of Yitzchak's son Yaakov (Jacob) and the sale of his son Joseph by his brothers to Egypt, Shulman concluded that Joseph died in the year 2309. Yaakov and all of his family “went down” to Egypt in the year 2238, and the People of Israel left in the ”Exodus” in the year 2448. Passover in 2011 falls in the year 5771 on the Jewish calendar.
Radial Islamist Groups Gaining Stranglehold in Egypt
April 19….(Telegraph) The rapid spread of Muslim political parties ahead of September's parliamentary elections has strengthened fears that Egyptian democracy will be dominated by radical Islamic movements. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest Islamic movement and the founder of Hamas, has set up a network of political parties around the country that eclipse the following of the middle class activists that overthrew the regime. On the extreme fringe of the Brotherhood, Islamic groups linked to al-Qeada are organizing from the mosques to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the dictatorship. The military-led government already faces accusations that it is bowing to the surge in support for the Muslim movements, something that David Cameron warned of in February when he said Egyptian democracy would be strongly Islamic. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, warned on Sunday that the direction of Egyptian politics was anti-Israeli. He told diplomats last week that Egyptian officials, including Nabil al-Arabi, the foreign minister, were pandering to political militants by branding Israel as the "enemy". "I am very concerned over some of the voices we've been hearing from Egypt recently," Mr Netanyahu said. "I'm especially concerned over the current Egyptian foreign minster's statements." An Egyptian court on Saturday disbanded the National Democratic Party, which won 80 per cent of seats in parliament in December's rigged election. Hosni Mubarak, the ousted president, and his protégés are under arrest and threatened by prison. Mohammed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader, last week predicted the group's candidates would win 75 per cent of the seats it contested.
Fundamentalist factions have also emerged as parties. Gamaa al-Islamiya, an al-Qaeda linked group that promotes Salafist traditions has used its mosques as a political base for the first time since the 1970s. A scare campaign that a No vote in last months referendum would eliminate Islamic law from the Egyptian constitution ensured a 77 per cent Yes result. But the April 6th movement that spearheaded protests has no clear plan for party politics. Diplomats have warned the demonstrators are not well prepared for elections. "The leadership of the protests was so focused on the street-by-street detail of the revolution, they have no clue what to do in a national election," said a US official involved in the demonstrations. "Now at dinner the protesters can tell me every Cairo street that was important in the revolution but not how they will take power in Egypt." A clean-up campaign, including the laying of fresh grass on the roundabout, has transformed Tahrir Square, the focal point of protests. Last Friday was the first holiday since the outbreak of the uprising that was protest-free at the square. Only the daily gathering of hundreds to perform Islamic prayer ceremonies is a reminder of the protests that toppled Mubarak.
Mahsud Arishie, a teacher visiting the square, said Egypt would be a different country in the wake of the uprising. "Muslims have their own space now where there is no pressure from the government, only a direct connection to the Lord in the sky," he said as he made his way to the prayers. "That does not mean our country will be hostile to the West but it does mean we will do what we want." Although the leading contenders for Egypts presidency are independents, many have begun wooing the Muslim blocs. Front-runner Amr Moussa, the Arab League president, has conceded that its inevitable that Islamic factions will be the bedrock of the political system.
As hardliners compete for street power, Egypt's Christians, who make up 10 per cent of the population are emigrating in growing numbers. Al-Masry al-Youm, an Egyptian newspaper, reported last week that the Canadian embassy had been swamped by visa requests from Coptic Christians. Others are fighting back. Naquib Swiris, a Copt who is one of Egypt's richest men, has formed the Free Egyptians Party as a rallying point for a liberal democracy.
Saudi Arabia Threatens to Recall Envoys from Iran
April 18….(AFP) Saudi Arabia has threatened to recall its diplomats from Iran unless the Islamic republic improves their protection, the kingdom's deputy foreign minister told reporters on Sunday. "I hope we won't be obliged to withdraw our diplomatic mission from Tehran if Iran fails to take the necessary measures to protect it," Prince Turki bin Mohammed told reporters. Iranian students demonstrated on Monday outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran to condemn Riyadh's military intervention in Bahrain and the "murder" of Bahraini citizens, the official IRNA news agency had reported. Iran's Fars news agency, which is close to conservatives, had reported that "six to seven petrol bombs were hurled against the embassy" as students chanted slogans against the ruling Sunni dynasties in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. On Sunday, Prince Turki said: "Shiites in the Gulf are our brothers and have national rights under the umbrella of their loyalty (to their countries) and not to the outside." Iran has repeatedly condemned the dispatch of Saudi troops to Bahrain to support the Bahraini forces' crackdown on demonstrations there by Shiites who form the majority of the population of the country. Iran is predominantly a Shiite Muslim country.
Syrian Protesters Demand 'Freedom'
April 18….(Arutz) Syrian protesters called for greater freedom Sunday as demonstrations spread across the country on its 65th Independence Day. Despite promises by President Bashar Assad to lift the nation's emergency laws, protesters gathered in Syria's second-largest city, Aleppo, as well as the southern city of Suweida, chanting "God, freedom, Syria, that's all." Assad's promises did not include dismantling the government's firm security system. But the president told protesters he would lift the 50-year-old emergency laws by next week, although gave no details as to exactly when. Despite what appear to be nationwide protests, however, it is still not clear as to how much of a threat to Assad's power base the demonstration might constitute. In a population of some 20 million people, protests by several hundred, or even several thousand, may not effect much of a change in the government. Some 200 protesters have been killed in the past month as unrest swept the country, starting March 18 in Dera'a. The first rally began as a protest against the arrest of youths in the town after they were caught spray painting Tunisia rebel-inspired grafitti. Protesters have called for the government to act against corruption. Numerous members of Assad's family hold powerful positions that affect the country's economy. Although Assad has agreed that corruption is an issue, he has not offered any specific remedy for the problem.
Assad's Smuggling Network Commandeered for Arming his Opposition
April 18….(DEBKAfile Exclusive Report) Syrian troops were fanned out Sunday, April 17, along the country's borders with Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to choke off the smuggled arms, funds and foreign agents streaming in recent weeks to the aid of the opposition whose uprising has spread to every corner of the country. Independence Day Sunday was marked by a display by the authorities of a collection of automatic weapons allegedly smuggled through Iraq, as well as processions calling for the president's removal. In Homs, security forces shot dead four protesters and injured more than fifty. Some demonstrators wore shrouds proclaiming: Death is better than shame! Large sections of the Syrian economy have ground to a halt, Debkafile's sources report, because 2,500 supply trucks are backed up on the Lebanese border and 3,000 trucks on the Jordanian and Iraqi frontiers for meticulous, time-consuming searches. The Syrian authorities suspect Saudi Arabia of smuggling weapons to the opposition through Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon, having commandeered the infamous Middle East smuggling ring of which the Assad regime was an organizer and key link - and which has now turned around to bite its master. The searches of convoys have caused the Syrian economy critical damage: Imported foodstuffs and raw materials are withheld from stores and factories and exports are almost at a standstill. Syria's political, business, military and intelligence elites, including the Assad family, amassed personal fortunes by creating and running those networks, whose pathways run from Sudan in the south through Sinai and Jordan up to Iraq in the east and Syria in the northwest.
Debkafile's military sources report that the Syrian regime was also its best customer, using the network to transfer contraband weapons to the Lebanese Hizballah, Palestinian extremists such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip and allied groups on the West Bank, and Sunni terrorists, including al Qaeda, in Iraq. Assad and his security chiefs have now decided that Damascus' role as the smuggling hub of the Levant threatens their hold on power because Saudi Arabia has begun using three network branches for spiriting arms and financial aid to the Syrian opposition:.
1. Jordan: Syrian intelligence suspects Riyadh of establishing a headquarters in Amman headed by Prince Bandar bin Sultan Secretary-General of the Saudi National Security Council for aiding and arming the uprising. The town of Daraa, which leads the protest movement in southern Syria, lies athwart the only overland route linking Syria to Jordan. It is 100 kilometers from Damascus and 88 from Amman. More than 1,500 supply trucks, some from Saudi Arabia, are awaiting Syrian security checks before they can drive through. Syrian tanks and undercover forces also lie in wait for suspect traffic along the Yarmouk River which flows into Jordan.
2. Iraq: Assad suspects the Saudis of pushing into Syria arms, money and provocateurs for stirring up riots with the help of the Sunni militias of the western Iraqi province of Al-Anbar. These locals are familiar with the paths to the Syrian border hidden by the dense wooded vegetation of the Euphrates and Tigris riverbanks between Husaiba in Iraq and Abu Kamal in Syria. The latter is the center of the Shammar tribe whose lands spill over into Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Since the Syrian army closed the only regular border with Iraq at Rabiyaa-Tall Kujik, another 1,500 trucks are piled up awaiting permission to pass through.
3. Lebanon: Syria has clamped its most stringent security measures on its border with Lebanon, especially the goods terminal on the Abboudiyeh border. Damascus accuses Lebanese lawmaker Jamal al-Jarrah, a member of the Mustaqbal Movement headed by Saad Hariri, the Sunni prime minister ousted by Hizballah, of running the Saudi arms and funds route for sustaining the Syrian uprising.
US: Iran Gives Clandestine Assistance to Syria
April 18….(Newsmax) Syria represents one of Iran’s few allies in the Mideast. So it makes perfect sense that Iran would aid that nation in pushing down its own citizens, who are demonstrating against the dictatorship of Iran, Syria, Middle East, Obama AdministrationPresident Bashar al-Assad as they seek democracy. Indeed, US officials tell The Wall Street Journal that Iran is covertly aiding the Assad regime, providing equipment to put down the crowds and technical assistance to sabotage protesters' use of the Internet and cell phones. "We believe that Iran is materially assisting the Syrian government in its efforts to suppress their own people," said an Obama administration official.
Meanwhile, in Bahrain and Yemen, two other nations facing democratic uprisings, Iran is looking at ways to back extremist Shiites who are fighting the regimes, communications intercepted by US spy agencies show. Those countries’ leaders have been allied with the US Iran’s activity hasn’t constituted a major factor so far. In fact, some US officials are surprised the nation hasn’t done more. Iranian "aspirations far outpace their ability to project their influence into these places,” a White House official told The Journal. But the administration is concerned that continuing political upheaval in the region could give Iran an opportunity to play a bigger role. And officials say Iran has secretly pledged to further assist Assad if the protests grow stronger. By publicizing Iran’s activity the Obama administration wants to let its government know the moves aren’t being ignored. "We're keeping an eye on these activities," another White House official said. Going public also helps the US reassure our Arab allies and Israel, who are worried that in its rush to support popular uprisings, the administration is ignoring the involvement of hard-line Shiites and the opportunities for Iran to exploit the chaos.
Major Step Taken Towards Palestinian Statehood
April 18….(ANSA) The meeting of the donor coordination group for the Palestinian Territories (AHLC) yesterday in Brussels represents, in the eyes of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a sort of virtual ''birth certificate'' for a Palestinian state, since it recognizes the recent assessments carried out by the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on the progress made in this direction by the Palestinian Authority (PA). What the PA wants, however, ''is not a virtual State, but a genuine and fully sovereign one''. Fayyad said that ''I think that this meeting is a crucial event, in the sense that those taking part have actually recognised the reality of the Palestinian state'', and went on to note that ''the meeting is a birth certificate for this reality, even if what we are seeking is of course not a virtual state but a genuine and fully sovereign one.'' According to the donor coordination group, however, there is the need to bring together the progress on the ground with that at a political level. Fayyad added that ''it is very important that the (political, Ed) process take advantage of what has been concluded in the meeting in Brussels.'' Tony Blair, the special envoy for the Quartet for the Middle East, said that it was ''urgent that the peace process resume in the next few weeks. If we can bring in a political process along with what is happening on the ground, then that would be a excellent result.'' The next meeting of the donor coordination group for the Palestinian Territories will take place in June in Paris.
U.S. plans new push on Arab-Israeli peace
April 18….(Reuters) The United States plans a new push to promote comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday, suggesting a stronger US hand in trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Barack Obama will lay out US policy toward the Middle East and North Africa in the coming weeks, Clinton told Arab and US policy makers in a speech that placed particular emphasis on Israeli-Palestinian peace. Obama's launch of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks last year went nowhere and he is under pressure to make a new initiative or face the prospect of the Palestinians seeking the UN General Assembly's blessing for a Palestinian state. "The president will be speaking in greater detail about America's policy in the Middle East and North Africa in the coming weeks," Clinton said at the US-Islamic World Forum, a gathering sponsored by Qatar and the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "America's core interests and values have not changed, including our commitment to promote human rights, resolve long-standing conflicts, counter Iran's threats and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies," she added. "This includes renewed pursuit of comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace."
Clinton spoke against the backdrop of the popular revolts that have toppled long-time authoritarian leaders in Tunisia and Egypt this year and spurred public protests in much of the Arab world, including Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen. "The status quo between Palestinians and Israelis is no more sustainable than the political systems that have crumbled in recent months," she said, saying the only way to meet both people's aspirations was through a two-state solution. "And while it is a truism that only the parties themselves can make the hard choices for peace, there is no substitute for continued, active American leadership, and the president and I are committed to that," she added. While Obama came into office saying that settling the six-decade Arab Israeli conflict would be a priority, he has little to show for his effort. Peace talks aimed at ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians broke down last year after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a partial freeze on Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank. The core issues in the conflict include borders, security, the future of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements in territory Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East War, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
Netanyahu is widely expected to visit the United States in may and there have been media reports that he may float fresh ideas on how to get the peace process going again. Speaking at the US-Islamic World Forum earlier on Tuesday, Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested Obama could sketch out a new diplomatic initiative soon. "It is very possible that President Obama will even step out ahead of that (Netanyahu's visit) and possibly, I say possibly, make his own contribution to where he thinks the process ought to go," Kerry said, saying this could lead to "a responsible effort" toward solving the conflict.
WEEK OF APRIL 10 THROUGH APRIL 16
Chinese Christians Say Worship is Worth The Threat of Arrest
April 15….(World Magazine) The leaders of the Shouwang Church in Beijing have a simple explanation for why they’d rather relinquish their freedom than abandon their church services: “Sunday worship is the most basic necessity for Christians in their life of faith.” That conclusion led church members to gather outside for a Sunday morning service on April 10, which ended with police detaining more than 160 Christians armed with Bibles and hymn sheets. Authorities have since released all of the worshippers, though at least two church leaders remain under house arrest, but police may face round two this Sunday: The Christians, who say government officials have cut off access to their indoor meeting place, declare they’ll meet outside for worship again, even if it means facing detention or arrest. And they insist that Chinese authorities should let them worship freely, even if their church isn’t registered with the government. It’s an extraordinary declaration. Bob Fu, director of Texas-based China Aid, said he couldn’t think of another recent example of Christians openly challenging government authorities. “There’s not a group of church members in China that have taken any steps like this before,” he said. “It’s definitely bold.”
Chinese authorities formally require churches to register with the government, but many congregations refuse to submit church practices to the oversight of a government that persecutes Christians. The unregistered “house church” movement includes congregations that meet in homes, office buildings, and other rented spaces, and has exploded in numbers over the last two decades. Authorities have sometimes knowingly allowed house churches to meet, as long as the groups don’t pose a perceived threat. Even the hundreds of members of Shouwang Church in Beijing have managed to meet without government registration. But authorities began cracking down on the church in recent years, and church leaders say officials have interfered with their ability to rent meeting space and blocked access to a building the church purchased more than a year ago. Refusing to break into smaller groups, or meet secretly, church leaders decided to meet outdoors, an action the government deemed illegal. With revolutions and unrest sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa, the Chinese church leaders emphasized in a letter to church members that they aren’t instigating a political demonstration: “We promote outdoor worship simply because we want to worship God.” But the letter also criticizes Chinese officials in the country’s religious affairs department, saying the office has “overstepped its jurisdiction” in preventing Christians from worshipping freely. That’s a bold challenge that the Chinese government isn’t taking lightly, and church leaders say they know that meeting outside again this Sunday could invite more trouble. But the letter encouraged any members detained by authorities to respond with courage and meekness: “Do not resist, let them take us away, just like a lamb to the slaughter. In our hearts, we know we gather for worship, and for the sake of worship, we will pay the price.”
US: Iran Gives Clandestine Assistance to Syria
April 15….(Newsmax) Syria represents one of Iran’s few allies in the Mideast. So it makes perfect sense that Iran would aid that nation in pushing down its own citizens, who are demonstrating against the dictatorship of Iran, Syria, Middle East, Obama Administration President Bashar al-Assad as they seek democracy. Indeed, US officials tell The Wall Street Journal that Iran is covertly aiding the Assad regime, providing equipment to put down the crowds and technical assistance to sabotage protesters' use of the Internet and cell phones. "We believe that Iran is materially assisting the Syrian government in its efforts to suppress their own people," said an Obama administration official.
Meanwhile, in Bahrain and Yemen, two other nations facing democratic uprisings, Iran is looking at ways to back extremist Shiites who are fighting the regimes, communications intercepted by US spy agencies show. Those countries’ leaders have been allied with the US Iran’s activity hasn’t constituted a major factor so far. In fact, some US officials are surprised the nation hasn’t done more. Iranian "aspirations far outpace their ability to project their influence into these places,” a White House official told The Journal. But the administration is concerned that continuing political upheaval in the region could give Iran an opportunity to play a bigger role. And officials say Iran has secretly pledged to further assist Assad if the protests grow stronger. By publicizing Iran’s activity the Obama administration wants to let its government know the moves aren’t being ignored. "We're keeping an eye on these activities," another White House official said. Going public also helps the US reassure our Arab allies and Israel, who are worried that in its rush to support popular uprisings, the administration is ignoring the involvement of hard-line Shiites and the opportunities for Iran to exploit the chaos.
Major Step Taken Towards Palestinian Statehood
April 15….(ANSA) The meeting of the donor coordination group for the Palestinian Territories (AHLC) yesterday in Brussels represents, in the eyes of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a sort of virtual ''birth certificate'' for a Palestinian state, since it recognizes the recent assessments carried out by the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on the progress made in this direction by the Palestinian Authority (PA). What the PA wants, however, ''is not a virtual State, but a genuine and fully sovereign one''. Fayyad said that ''I think that this meeting is a crucial event, in the sense that those taking part have actually recognized the reality of the Palestinian state'', and went on to note that ''the meeting is a birth certificate for this reality, even if what we are seeking is of course not a virtual state but a genuine and fully sovereign one.'' According to the donor coordination group, however, there is the need to bring together the progress on the ground with that at a political level. Fayyad added that ''it is very important that the (political, Ed) process take advantage of what has been concluded in the meeting in Brussels.'' Tony Blair, the special envoy for the Quartet for the Middle East, said that it was ''urgent that the peace process resume in the next few weeks. If we can bring in a political process along with what is happening on the ground, then that would be a excellent result.'' The next meeting of the donor coordination group for the Palestinian Territories will take place in June in Paris.
Temple Mount Activism in Honor of Passover
April 15….(Arutz) As the holiday of Passover (Pesach) nears, interest focuses on the Temple Mount, where the Torah mandates that at least one Paschal sacrifice for the entire nation, and ideally, one for each household, should be offered on Passover. As in previous years, a group of Jews who wish to fulfill the commandment of offering the sacrifice on Passover eve, this coming Monday, have asked for police protection. If the results of previous years’ requests are any guide, the police are expected not only to refuse to provide such protection, but to ban the event from taking place at all. Last year, Rabbi Yehuda Glick and Noam Federman were arrested while on their way to the Temple Mount with sheep for the sacrifice. About ten others who awaited their arrival so that they could participate in the event were left without sheep to offer.
In letters to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Police Chief Aharon Franco, Attorney Aviad Visuly of the Land of Israel Task Force explained, “The commandment to offer a Paschal sacrifice on the 14th day of Nisan is a particularly serious one, leading to the punishment of karet for those in Jerusalem who refrain from fulfilling it. As a religious rite, it need not receive a police permit; we therefore request that you simply provide protection.” Netanyahu’s office responded that the matter is something for the security bodies to decide. At the same time, Rabbi Glick is still struggling to be allowed to visit the Temple Mount at all this coming holiday week. After a Jerusalem court judge turned down a police request to ban him from the site, police officer Avi Roif submitted yet another memorandum to the court. Roif claims that Glick’s arrival on the Mount would cause public disturbances and would provide him with yet another chance to violate the regulations, such as "no praying," on the Jewish People’s holiest site in the world. Glick has responded that the affidavit is “full of lies,” and accused Roif of aiding the “Muslim enemy on the Temple Mount.”
Though the Bible forbids entry into the Holy Temple area without proper prior purification procedures, Glick and many others believe that the precise areas of forbidden entry are now known and are easily avoidable. This past week, a letter endorsed by great rabbis, both hareidi-religious and religious-Zionist, and both of this generation and the previous, states that such entry is gravely forbidden. The letter prompted a very sharp response from Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, head of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem. “There are rabbis who are blue-and-white Satmar (a hassidic dynasty that opposes Zionism, ed.) he said with great emotion. “What did they say Hallel [prayer of praise] for in 1967 when the city was unified?! Did they say it because we liberated the Arab market place?! Did they say it for the plaza outside the Western Wall? They said it for the Temple Mount, the site of the Holy Temple, the holiest site in Judaism! How can they say they are Zionists if they turn their backs on Mt. Zion?”
Rabbi Ariel continued, “It is generally assumed that it was Moshe Dayan who returned the keys to the Temple Mount to the Waqf after the Six Day War, but the fact is that it was a big rabbi who actually said the words, ‘Give the keys to the Arabs.’ How did he get himself to utter such words, to give away the place where the Divine Presence dwells, the place of the Holy of Holies, to the Arabs? Such lowliness and degradation, the apex of exile-type thinking, and against the entire Torah. On what Halakhic [Jewish legal] basis is it permitted to allow Arabs to debase this holy site, for which we always pray and cry!
Panic Setting in With Assad Rgime: Syrian Officials Evacuate Families
April 15….(DEBKAfile Exclusive Report) Damascus was alive with rumors Thursday, April 14 that President Bashar Assad and his family were preparing to flee to Saudi Arabia. They were, sparked by the discovery that several high-ranking Syrian officials and army officers were evacuating their families from the capital to Persian Gulf emirates. US intelligence officials also disclosed that Iran was secretly helping Assad crack down on his own people, providing gear to suppress crowds and assistance in blocking and monitoring protesters' Internet and cell phones. Those officials did not refer to the Iran-backed Hizballah's active aid in the government crackdown. However, as the anti-government demonstrations pervade dozens of Syrian towns, even the second largest Aleppo, Assad is relying for survival less on the army and police and increasingly on the 10,000-strong armed Shabbiha gangs drawn from the Assad tribe of the minority Alawite community and trained in urban combat by Hizballah and Iran. In normal times, the Shabbiha are regularly employed by the Iran-Hizballah arms and drug smuggling rings.
Debkafile's sources report increasing signs of desperation at the center of the Assad regime. One was a new allegation claiming that the Saad Hariri, who was ousted as Lebanese prime minister by Hizballah, was deploying armed gangs in Syrian cities to increase the bloodshed by shooting at anti-Assad protesters and security forces alike. Hariri makes an improbable scapegoat; he has neither the ability nor manpower to operate on any scale in Syria. But the Syrian ruler is clearly at his wits' end for means to stem the onrushing threat to his regime after live ammunition failed to deter the protesters and halt the spread of their uprising. Wednesday night, the government banned demonstrations of any kind in the country, but no one expects the decree to be obeyed. For now, Syrian authorities and opposition are bracing for Friday, April 15, when they stage their next major test of strength on the streets of dozens of cities. Bashar Assad's grip on power is clearly loosening under the constant battering of protest. Debkafile reported: The popular uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad is still spreading. Tuesday, April 12, one of the Assad family's own Alawite tribes and the key Sunni city of Aleppo joined the movement demanding the president and his kin's removal. Assad fought back against the expanding threat to his survival by mobilizing all his military and security resources, including the loyal young thugs of the shabbiha gangs. They have orders to shoot to kill and not permit ambulances to collect the wounded. Tanks seal the most restive towns of Teraa, Bania,s Latakia and Hama.
Alawite unrest centers on the impoverished Knaan tribe centered in the village of Bhamra in the mountains of northern Syria. A second immediate danger to the regime comes from Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub, where for the first time more than 10,000 protesters marched. The Druze mountain inhabitants are up in arms. So too are the Kurdish towns of the north such as Kamishli and the Shammar tribes of southeastern Syria around the border town of Abu Kamal. Damascus University has been under siege for four days, although security forces have not been able to breach it. A grave humanitarian crisis is spreading with the unrest. Army outposts and roadblocks have cut off main roads linking the north to southern and central Syria, as well as telephone and internet services and even food deliveries in many places. Mass arrests of thousands take place nightly including, according to debkafile's sources, members of the Syrian ruling establishment for the crime of appealing to Assad to abandon his violent methods of repression and meet some of the protesters demands for reforms. Some are journalists who support the regime but who wrote articles to this effect. They were not published.
For the first time, Debkafile's sources report that the protesters began returning the fire against security forces on Monday, April 11, in a number of places, especially Deraa in the south and Banias in the north. A well-laid ambush was laid on the main coastal road linking Latakia and Banias and nine Syrian officers and troops killed. Debkafile's Middle East and intelligence sources report a three-way shooting war currently in progress in Syria, in which the army and security forces, the protesters, and the shabbiha gangs are taking part. The and bloody mayhem is such that the number of casualties is almost impossible to assess. The troops open fire at protesters as soon as a few people gather in the street without waiting for a demonstration to form. The wounded are denied medical care and allowed to die in the streets as a deterrent to protesters. Tuesday night, the White House finally issued a harsh denunciation of the Syrian "government." The statement read: "We are deeply concerned by reports that Syrians who have been wounded by their government are being denied access to medical care. The escalating repression by the Syrian government is outrageous, and the United States strongly condemns the continued efforts to suppress peaceful protesters. President Assad and the Syrian government must respect the universal rights of the Syrian people, who are rightly demanding the basic freedoms that they have been denied." Debkafile's sources in Washington say that the language used in this statement from the Obama administration continues to skirt the protesters' most pressing demand for the Syrian president to step down, because of the still unresolved internal debate on how to handle Assad. Despite the mounting brutality of the Syrian ruler's methods to crush the revolt against his regime, some White House circles in Washington are warning that Assad's fall would open the door for radical Muslim elements to take over, even suggesting that this would put Israel in "mortal danger."
This argument was never heard in Washington when Hosni Mubarak was toppled in Egypt. And it by no means relates to the Assad regime's eight-year long record as primary accomplice and abettor of radical Muslim organizations such as Al Qaeda, the Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian Hamas. Starting from the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Damascus gave sanctuary and launching-pads for Muslim groups to strike American forces fighting in Iraq, including training camps and logistical aid for smuggling weapons and explosives for that purpose. Syria also facilitates the passage of arms and other support to the Hizballah radicals. The extreme measures to which Assad has resorted as the revolt against him enters its fourth week have led to firefights within the army. Many cases are now reported of Syrian officers opening fire on other Syrian officers, killing them when they refuse to shoot protesters. There have been incidents of Shabbiha gangs shooting two ways, on demonstrators and at times on army forces. In one such incident in Ras al-Naba'a, a quarter of Banias, the irregulars appeared to be goading the soldiers into using more force to disperse the protesters. In others, these pro-Assad street gangs appear to be shooting from demonstrations to make it look as though the protesters were killing the soldiers. Contrary to the image the Assads have always presented that "the Alawites are the ruling class in Syria," it is worth pointing out that they in fact rule Damascus, while the rest of those minority tribes, which number 1.4 million (8 percent of the 26 million population) live in abject poverty with no electricity or running water in their villages and no ties to the Assads. The paradox is that though lacking influence in the capital, their revolt against the regime could be the last straw for Assad. These villages are now rising up for fear of being stigmatized, however unjustly, by the Sunni majority of collaboration with the Assads and targeted for revenge. In any case, they are so penurious and neglected that they have little to lose by the regime's fall. The Shabbiha: This well-armed, roughly organized group derives most of its 9-11,000 members from Assad clans within the Alawite community and its allies. Their fighting skills were imparted by the Lebanese Hizballah or Iranian Revolutionary Guards instructors, but their loyalty to the Assad family is undivided. As smugglers, their strongholds are mostly along the coastal region, some of whose communities rely on the Shabbiha for their livelihood.
Krauthammer: Israel has 'Given Away' Claim to West Bank
April 14….(Jerusalem Post) Charles Krauthammer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist and political commentator, believes Israel has “given away” its claim to the West Bank and may also be 'losing' what he called the “battle to hang on to Jerusalem.” “Israel's diplomacy, unfortunately, tragically, catastrophically ... has given away the legitimacy of its claim on the West Bank,” Krauthammer told “Inside Israel's” Mordechai Twersky in a wide-ranging phone interview, April 12. “Now you have to face reality; now you live in a new world, and you have to accept it.” In a highly controversial column last September titled, “Your Move, Mr. Abbas,” Krauthammer wrote of Israel: “No serious player believes it can hang on forever to the West Bank.” A week later, in her column for the Jerusalem Post, Senior Contributing Editor Caroline Glick assailed Krauthammer for his remarks. “Given Krauthammer’s tremendous influence in shaping public opinion and policy in the US, his arrogant and false portrayal of reality is debilitating,” Glick wrote. But in his interview with Twersky, Krauthammer removed himself from the equation. “Once Israel conceded the Palestinian narrative in Oslo, this is Israeli concessions, this is not me,” said Krauthammer. “This is Israel as a nation. It conceded the legitimacy of the Palestinian revolution; it sort of accepted the Palestinian narrative, denigrated its own narrative of 1948-49. It got the world to accept Palestinian nationalism, nationhood, that's what Oslo did.” he said. Recent events in the Middle East have not changed Krauthammer's view that Israel will have to relinquish parts of the West Bank. “No, I think that nothing has changed in that respect,” said Krauthammer, who also cited the issue of Arab demographics as a key reason. “There's no way there can be a unified Israel-West Bank in the long run when there will be an Arab majority within that area, in time,” he said. “That makes it, from the Israeli point of view, impossible.” In citing his opposition to the Oslo Accords, which he called a “mistake” and a “catastrophe,” Krauthammer said Israel was “deceived, and allowed itself to be deceived into accepting the promises of the Palestinians in return for conceding statehood, essentially.” But Israel, he said, in acting “as a nation,” signed the Accords.
Krauthammer recalled a speech he delivered one month after the Accords were signed in September 1993. “I said the battle for the West Bank is already lost; all that's left is the battle to hang on to Jerusalem, which the Israelis may also be losing as well,” he said. “Once Israel broke the taboo, it opened the floodgates,” Krauthammer continued. “It legitimized the Palestinian state. That was Israel's work, not mine. At this point the entire world expects, and will settle for nothing less, than a Palestinian state on the West Bank. The only question to me that remains is where the borders will be.” As to the status of Jerusalem, Krauthammer called the talks at Camp David in 2000 between President Clinton, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, a turning point. “Even the division of Jerusalem was something that came, not from me, not from the United States, not from anybody in the West,” said Krauthammer. “It came from Israel at Camp David 2000. An Israeli Prime Minister offers to divide Jerusalem, and he broke the taboo. He was the one. After that there was no way the United States could be for a united Jerusalem. You couldn't be more Catholic than the Pope. If the Israelis had given up in an offer to the Palestinians half of Jerusalem, it was a done deal. The rest of the world has now accepted that.” Twersky asked Krauthammer whether Israel, in the face of Palestinian acts of terrorism and clear violations of existing peace accords, is within its right to consider those agreements as non-binding. “Israel has every right to say that Oslo is completely broken, betrayed by the Palestinians,” Krauthammer said. “There's no question about that. In fact, the Second Intifada was a tearing up of Oslo.” But Krauthammer said Israel cannot take on the world. “You're dealing with a world that has already changed its mind, sort of accepted it as a given that there will be a Palestinian state,” he said. “I think Israel has the right to say Oslo is torn up and let's go back to 1992, but you cannot have that in history. That's just not how the world works. If Israel was a great power it could probably enforce that over the world. Israel is a tiny state. It can't enforce it over anyone. And the world will not accept that.
Syrian Revolt Spreads to Ruling Alawite Tribes
April 13….(DEBKAfile Exclusive Report) The popular uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad is still spreading. Tuesday, April 12, one of the Assad family's own Alawite tribes and the key Sunni city of Aleppo joined the movement demanding the president and his kin's removal. Assad fought back against the expanding threat to his survival by mobilizing all his military and security resources, including the loyal young thugs of the shabbiha gangs. They have orders to shoot to kill and not permit ambulances to collect the wounded. Tanks seal the most restive towns of Teraa, Bania,s Latakia and Hama. Alawite unrest centers on the impoverished Knaan tribe centered in the village of Bhamra in the mountains of northern Syria. A second immediate danger to the regime comes from Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub, where for the first time more than 10,000 protesters marched. The Druze mountain inhabitants are up in arms. So too are the Kurdish towns of the north such as Kamishli and the Shammar tribes of southeastern Syria around the border town of Abu Kamal. Damascus University has been under siege for four days, although security forces have not been able to breach it.
A grave humanitarian crisis is spreading with the unrest. Army outposts and roadblocks have cut off main roads linking the north to southern and central Syria, as well as telephone and internet services and even food deliveries in many places. Mass arrests of thousands take place nightly including, according to Debkafile's sources, members of the Syrian ruling establishment for the crime of appealing to Assad to abandon his violent methods of repression and meet some of the protesters demands for reforms. Some are journalists who support the regime but who wrote articles to this effect. They were not published. For the first time protesters began returning the fire against security forces on Monday, April 11, in a number of places, especially Deraa in the south and Banias in the north. A well-laid ambush was laid on the main coastal road linking Latakia and Banias and nine Syrian officers and troops killed. Debkafile's Middle East and intelligence sources report a three-way shooting war currently in progress in Syria, in which the army and security forces, the protesters, and the shabbiha gangs are taking part. The bloody mayhem is such that the number of casualties is almost impossible to assess. The troops open fire at protesters as soon as a few people gather in the street without waiting for a demonstration to form. The wounded are denied medical care and allowed to die in the streets as a deterrent to protesters. Tuesday night, the White House finally issued a harsh denunciation of the Syrian "government." The statement read: "We are deeply concerned by reports that Syrians who have been wounded by their government are being denied access to medical care. The escalating repression by the Syrian government is outrageous, and the United States strongly condemns the continued efforts to suppress peaceful protesters. President Assad and the Syrian government must respect the universal rights of the Syrian people, who are rightly demanding the basic freedoms that they have been denied." debkafile's sources in Washington say that the language used in this statement from the Obama administration continues to skirt the protesters' most pressing demand for the Syrian president to step down, because of the still unresolved internal debate on how to handle Assad.
Despite the mounting brutality of the Syrian ruler's methods to crush the revolt against his regime, some White House circles in Washington are warning that Assad's fall would open the door for radical Muslim elements to take over, even suggesting that this would put Israel in "mortal danger."
This argument was never heard in Washington when Hosni Mubarak was toppled in Egypt. And it by no means relates to the Assad regime's eight-year long record as primary accomplice and abettor of radical Muslim organizations such as Al Qaeda, the Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian Hamas. Starting from the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Damascus gave sanctuary and launching-pads for Muslim groups to strike American forces fighting in Iraq, including training camps and logistical aid for smuggling weapons and explosives for that purpose. Syria also facilitates the passage of arms and other support to the Hizballah radicals. The extreme measures to which Assad has resorted as the revolt against him enters its fourth week have led to firefights within the army. Many cases are now reported of Syrian officers opening fire on other Syrian officers, killing them when they refuse to shoot protesters. There have been incidents of Shabbiha gangs shooting two ways – on demonstrators and at times on army forces. In one such incident in Ras al-Naba'a, a quarter of Banias – the irregulars appeared to be goading the soldiers into using more force to disperse the protesters. In others, these pro-Assad street gangs appear to be shooting from demonstrations to make it look as though the protesters were killing the soldiers. Contrary to the image the Assads have always presented that "the Alawites are the ruling class in Syria," it is worth pointing out that they in fact rule Damascus, while the rest of those minority tribes, which number 1.4 million (8 percent of the 26 million population) live in abject poverty with no electricity or running water in their villages and no ties to the Assads. The paradox is that though lacking influence in the capital, their revolt against the regime could be the last straw for Asad.
These villages are now rising up for fear of being stigmatized, however unjustly, by the Sunni majority of collaboration with the Assads and targeted for revenge. In any case, they are so penurious and neglected that they have little to lose by the regime's fall. The Shabbiha: This well-armed, roughly organized group derives most of its 9-11,000 members from Assad clans within the Alawite community and its allies. Their fighting skills were imparted by the Lebanese Hizballah or Iranian Revolutionary Guards instructors, but their loyalty to the Assad family is undivided. As smugglers, their strongholds are mostly along the coastal region, some of whose communities rely on the Shabbiha for their livelihood.
UN Says PA Ready to Govern Own State
April 12….(YNET) The Palestinian Authority is now largely ready to govern a state, the office of the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process said in a report on Tuesday. "In six areas where the UN is most engaged, governmental functions are now sufficient for a functioning government of a state," said the report, which will be submitted to Palestinian donor nations meeting in Brussels on Wednesday. But the report warned that it would be difficult for the Palestinian Authority to make any additional progress while the Israeli occupation continued and peace talks remained stalled. "The key constraints to the existence and successful functioning of the institutions of a potential state of Palestine arise primarily from the persistence of the occupation and the unresolved issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the report said. "The institutional achievements of the Palestinian state-building agenda are approaching their limits within the political and physical space currently available." The Palestinian Authority (PA) has set itself a September 2011 deadline to be ready for statehood, with the hope of pressuring Israel and the international community to recognize a Palestinian state. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since late 2010 over the issue of Jewish settlement in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. But the Palestinians have said they will seek United Nations recognition for a unilateral declaration of statehood if the talks do not resume, and have touted their state-building efforts as evidence of their readiness for statehood. In a statement accompanying the report, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Robert Serry, praised Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
"This is a decisive period," he said, warning that progress could be retarded or even unraveled without more Israeli cooperation and a return to negotiations. "No-one should underestimate what is at stake now. What we urgently need are further steps on the ground that can enable a broadening of this progress," he said. "I believe Israel needs to roll back measures of occupation to match the PA’s achievements. I also stress the urgent need for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations on a two-state solution to resume." The report also stressed that the continuing divide between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip "deprives the PA of the ability to extend its institutional authority". "The progress that has been achieved by the PA must be more meaningfully connected to all areas of de jure PA responsibility and to all Palestinian citizens." Hamas and Abbas' Fatah party, which dominates the Palestinian Authority, are bitter rivals whose antagonism boiled over in 2007, a year after the Islamist group won legislative elections. After fierce street battles, Hamas routed Fatah fighters from Gaza and seized control of the coastal strip, where it remains in charge. It has not participated in the state-building program championed by Fayyad, and successive rounds of reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah have been unsuccessful.
Ahmadinejad: ‘A Mideast Without Israel and America Now Possible’
April 11….(Teheran Times) In his first press conference of the new year 1390 [Iranian New Year was on March 21] which took place on Monday evening, April 4th, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asserted that a new Middle East, without the specter of the Zionist regime, America and its proxies, is taking shape. Ahmadinejad warned that the US and its allies plan to partition Jordan under the guise of creating a Palestinian state which is in fact nothing more than an attempt to save the Zionist regime. He cautioned: “The governments and peoples of the region must be vigilant and aware, not to fall pray to the conspiracy and the deception of the US, its allies and the Zionist regime.” Remarking on US foreign policy, Ahmadinejad maintained that both the Bush and Obama administrations actually followed the very same course of action, and added: “If the previous US president left office with his head hanging in shame, his successor will be leaving the political scene with more derision and humiliation.” Quoting Obama’s campaign slogan of change and supporting the rights of people, Ahmadinejad then said: “Behind this attractive appearance lurks the same old criminals, professional and typical thieves, those same slave owners and colonialists and this time their aim is to once again save their own banking system and imperialist interests. The last US administration very openly and publicly rolled out its tanks, cannons, machine guns and bullied its way into the field; the successor who then claimed to be for change has, on the one hand, the arms and military force and, on the other hand, the apparatus of deception and intrigue.”
Then addressing US authorities, Ahmadinejad said: “The time of pillaging and imposition on the peoples of the world is over and these forms of crimes and subterfuge will not save the day anymore.” Returning to his comments, he continued: “I can safely say that they will simply not be able to do anything and that this is the end of the road. With the Lord’s mercy, the people of the region will be victorious and the business of cruelty and malevolence will be shut down forever, and where the just and humane leadership will replace the inhumane and uncivilized authoritarians.”
Egypt Revolution Turning Islamic, More Anti-Israel
April 11….(Israel Today) For those who thought the Egyptian revolution is done and past, think again. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may be gone, but the country is currently being ruled by a temporary military regime, which means there are various forces still vying for future control of the Middle East’s largest military power. And with the world’s attention now diverted elsewhere, the revolution in Cairo is starting to take on a more overtly Islamic and anti-Israel flavor.
Over the weekend, Cairo’s Tahrir Square again filled with angry demonstrators who are still waiting for their full list of demands to be met. Among them was the Muslim Brotherhood, which last week officially announced its intention to take part, as a group, in renewed anti-government protests. As the demonstration turned increasingly hostile, Egyptian soldiers opened fire, reportedly killing two demonstrators and wounding another 15, according to Cairo hospital officials. The army denied firing live ammunition at the crowd. Not content with protesting their own new government, the demonstrators also marched on the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Gathered at the gates of the Israeli mission, the angry mob demanded that Egypt cut all ties to the Jewish state and stop supplying Israel with natural gas. They also wanted the Israeli flag flying atop the embassy to be removed.
Protests Spread to 25 Syrian Towns
April 11….(DEBKAfile Exclusive Report) The pro-democracy, anti-Assad days of rage spread dramatically across Syria Friday, April 8, flaring in 25 cities and seriously shaking Bashar Assad's 11-year old grip on power for the first time since the movement began three weeks ago. At least 50 people were killed, 30 demonstrators and 20 security officers - and hundreds injured, many of them in the southern town of Daraa, the epicenter of the opposition movement. There, around 100,000 protesters gathered from villages around the town and managed to drive Assad's security forces into retreat. Four Damascus suburbs were the scene of demonstrations as well as, for the first time, Tartous, Abu Kemal and Hamma. Kurdish cities were also aflame with protest. To topple Assad, the Sunnis, who are 76 percent of the Syria's population of 26 million, must join the protest movement en masse. Friday, they began hitching their support to the protest movement in sunstantial numbers for the first time.
Outbreaks in Hamma, where 29 years ago Bashar Assad's father put down an uprising by slaughtering 25,000 Sunnis, indicate that the Sunni population has crossed the fear threshold which kept it docile under Assad rule. Until this Friday, the heads of Syrian Revolution 2011, the front established by opposition groups and the Muslim Brotherhood, instigated a campaign of passive resistance. They told the population, for example, to stop paying their electricity bills, an act of protest that has caught on in Syria's big cities. Furthermore, the important port-town of Latakia split down the middle between two opposing camps, the 300,000 members of the ruling Allawite sect fear to venture into the districts populated by the town's 400,000 Sunnis, and vice versa. Army control was reduced to keeping open the road linking the Syria's main import and export port facilities to the highway out of the city. The disturbances Friday did not reach the center of Damascus or Aleppo, a Sunni city of 2.8 million inhabitants which is Syria's economic hub. Major outbreaks there would drive a big crack in Assad's hold on power.
The Syrian ruler has poured substantial armed strength into the city, cutting its Internet links and arresting thousands of people suspected of opposition ties. But he faces a huge problem. He can't trust the Sunni rank and file to obey orders to suppress a large-scale Sunni insurrection in Aleppo, only the Alawite units which owe loyalty to the president and the Assad clan. He must therefore rely on the support of the 4th Army Division and the security and intelligence services and they may be too thin on the ground to shoulder the task. He dare not try and loose Sunni troops on the protesters of Aleppo for fear they join the protesters.
WEEK OF APRIL 03 THROUGH APRIL 09
Iran: Israel's Nuclear Program is Destabilizing the Entire Mideast
(Speaking at meeting of UN Disarmament Commission, Iran envoy says Tehran supports a nuclear-free Mideast, criticizing the lack of supervision of Israel's nuclear facilities.)
April 8….(Ha Aretz) Israel's nuclear program is endangering the entire Middle East, an Iranian official said on Wednesday, adding that Iran had been advocating a nuclear-free region since before 1979's Islamic Revolution. Speaking at the United Nation's Annual Conference of the Disarmament Commission, Iran's envoy to the UN Mohammad Khaza’ie was quoted by Iran's official IRNA news agency as saying that Israel's non-membership in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was destabilizing the region. "Under such conditions that the nuclear program of a non-NPT member Israel is threatening the regional and international peace and security so seriously," Khaza’ie said, adding that "in order to encounter this problem effectively Iran proposed establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the year 1974."
Referring to the prospect of a nuclear-free Middle East, Iran's envoy to the UN said that "efforts aimed at establishing such as region have been unsuccessful due to that regime’s regarding from joining the NPT, and as a result its nuclear facilities, too, have not been under the supervision of the IAEA." "Without intending to belittle the efforts made by this esteemed commission," Khaza’ie said, "it is very unfortunate that all such moves have still not led to disarmament."
The UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on Tehran for refusing to freeze its uranium enrichment program, which Western powers suspect is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon. Iran denies Israeli and Western allegations that it is enriching uranium to produce atomic arms and maintains that its program is for peaceful energy needs. Speaking last month on Iran's contentious nuclear program, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the world must make clear that Iran would face "credible military action" if sanctions do not shut down Tehran's disputed nuclear program. Netanyahu, in an interview on CNN, said it was apparent Iran was pursuing its nuclear ambitions despite international sanctions and was getting significantly closer to obtaining nuclear arms. "They have enriched enough material now almost for three nuclear bombs," he said. "They still have to re-enrich it again but that is what they are doing. "The only thing that will work is if Iran knew that if sanctions fail there will be a credible military option." Asked what would constitute a credible military action, Netanyahu said: "It means action that will knock out their nuclear facility."
US Sends Gates To Desperately Mend Fences With Saudi Arabia
April 7….(New York Times) After a rebuff last month from King Abdullah, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met privately with the Saudi ruler for an hour and a half on Wednesday in an attempt to thaw ice-cold relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Mr. Gates described the one-on-one session to reporters afterward as an “extremely cordial, warm meeting,” but his comments lasted barely a minute before he was whisked away by aides. Mr. Gates did have time to say that he declined to raise with the king one of the most contentious issues separating the two countries: the Saudi decision to ignore President Obama last month and send in Saudi troops to crush an uprising in neighboring Bahrain. No one from the American side was in the one-on-one meeting, and King Abdullah was accompanied only by the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, who served as interpreter for both men. Gates’s aides said beforehand that they expected the meeting to be lengthy and tense, but Gates, a former director of Central Intelligence, had not briefed them on any particulars as of Wednesday night in Riyadh.
Relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia are in their worst state since the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, but the Obama administration is trying to quietly manage the rupture. To that end, Mr. Gates and his aides spoke publicly before and after the meeting of the common ground between the two countries: The fear of an ascendant Iran and Washington’s recent $60 billion arms sale to Riyadh. “I think the relationship is in a good place,” Mr. Gates told reporters. “We talked about developments all over the region. Obviously we talked about Iran.” Both the United States and Saudi Arabia say they are concerned that Iran’s Shiite rulers will take advantage of the revolts sweeping the Middle East to foment Shiite movements against Sunni rulers, as the Saudi royal family fears may happen in Bahrain. “We already have evidence that the Iranians are trying to exploit the situation in Bahrain,” Mr. Gates told reporters, repeating assertions he has made before, although he provided no details. “And we also have evidence that they are talking about what they can do to try and create problems elsewhere as well.” The $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which includes new F-15 fighter jets as well as a wide array of missiles, is in large part intended as a defense against the threat of missiles from Iran.
Despite the arms sale, the United States and Saudi Arabia remain at odds not only over Saudi troops in Bahrain but also President Obama’s decision to support the protest movement in Egypt rather than its president, Hosni Mubarak. In the view of the angry Saudis, Obama abandoned the Egyptian leader. After Mubarak was out of the office, the Saudis cancelled planned visits to Riyadh by Mr. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying the king was not well. But both Pentagon and State Department officials were left wondering if the king was more upset than ill. A subsequent phone call from Obama to the king asking that Saudi troops not enter Bahrain did not go well. An Arab official later said that King Abdullah’s willingness to listen to the Obama administration had “evaporated” since Mubarak was ousted. On Wednesday at his palace, the king, who is in his 80s, looked thin but appeared in good spirits. He recently returned to Saudi Arabia after months of medical treatment in New York and Morocco for an unspecified ailment. Mr. Gates’s aides said the defense secretary did discuss Bahrain with the king in an abbreviated group session before the longer one-on-one meeting, but it was in general terms. The two countries disagree fundamentally on Bahrain. The Saudis believe that a Shiite uprising next door might encourage a similar revolt among Saudi Arabia’s own Shiite minority population, which the Obama administration does not dispute. But the United States wants Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to adopt political reforms that might lead to a larger voice for Shiites under Sunni rule. The disagreement came home to Mr. Gates vividly last month, when he had talks with the ruling family of Bahrain and then asserted that he was confident they were headed toward reform in the face of protests. Within two days, the Saudis had sent in troops.
Obama: Changes in Mideast Make Israel-Palestinian Peace More Urgent than Ever
April 7….(Ha Aretz) United States President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that with the winds of change sweeping the broader Middle East it was "more urgent than ever" to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obama was speaking to reporters after holding White House talks with President Shimon Peres. Following the meet, Peres gave a press conference during which he reiterated Obama's message, saying "both ourselves and the Palestinians think that what is happening in other Arab countries will have a big influence on us and on the Palestinians." "Negotiations can begin from a position of differences," Peres said. "This is a one-time historic opportunity." When asked about the peace plan proposed by former Israeli defense chiefs, academics and businessmen, Peres said he will only speak about the Israeli government's initiative. "I think the Israeli government is ready to renew negotiations," said Peres. "I am not hopeless, I am optimistic. I believe Israel's prime minister is serious and wants to do everything he can to take advantage of the opportunity." The two leaders also discussed the changes which have occurred and are occurring across the Middle East and agreed, according to Peres, that "this is an opportunity to change the region." "This could be an opportunity to put an end to the conflict between us and the Palestinians," Peres said. Neither side intends to force things on one another, the President said about negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. "Negotiations need to come from free will."
Regarding the impending UN vote on the recognition of a Palestinian state in September, Peres rejected any unilateral moves pushed by European states. "The European move will not succeed if there won't be agreement from both sides. A solution cannot be forced," Peres said. "If the Europeans try to do it without approval, without coordinating it with us, they will be left with only one side." The issue of building in Jerusalem was also raised during the conversation, Peres said. He said that on that subject, he told Obama "we will behave the way that we have behaved for the past 40 years."
US to Israel: Stop building in Jerusalem!
April 7….(Israel Today) The Obama Administration has taken to parroting Arab criticism of routine construction in Jewish neighborhood that lie on the eastern side of Jerusalem. The US State Department on Tuesday expressed “deep concern” over the Israeli government’s approval of plans to build 942 new apartment units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. “We’re deeply concerned about the announcement of the approval for these units,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. “We believe that through good-faith direct negotiations the parties should mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties.” Gilo is a neighborhood of tens of thousands of residents. Nearly every Israeli agrees that such neighborhoods will not be emptied of their Jewish residents and handed over to the Palestinians. The Palestinians insist that is precisely what must happen if a final status peace deal is to be signed.
Saudis ‘So Unhappy' With Obama They Sent Emissaries to China, Russia Seeking Enhanced Ties
April 7….(CNSNews.com) Reporting from Baghdad, Iraq yesterday, NBC’s Tom Brokaw said the Saudi Arabian monarchy is “so unhappy with the Obama administration for the way it pushed out President Mubarak of Egypt” that it has sent senior officials to the Peoples' Republic of China and Russia to seek expanded business opportunities with those countries. After remarking on the difficulty of establishing democracy in the Middle East, Brokaw said that Defense Secretary Robert Gates “will face some tough questions in this region about the American intentions going on now with all this new turmoil, especially in an area where the United States has such big stakes politically and economically.” “And a lot of those questions presumably will come from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia,” reported Brokaw on the Nightly News. “I was told on the way in here that the Saudis are so unhappy with the Obama administration for the way it pushed out President Mubarak of Egypt that it sent high level emissaries to China and Russia to tell those two countries that Saudi Arabia now is prepared to do more business with them.”
Israel's Next War
(Paradoxically, UN endorsement of Palestinian state may prompt outbreak of war)
April 7….(YNET) In all likelihood, the Palestinians are going to unilaterally declare statehood in Judea and Samaria within the coming year. This is not a ploy or a desperate attempt on their part but rather a clear, rational decision. By correctly gauging the stark contrast between the massive international support for their cause as opposed to the steadily increasing de-legitimization of Israel the “apartheid state,” the Palestinians have wisely decided to bypass direct negotiations since there is no point in paying for something when you can get if for free. Thus, with country after country pledging its support, the Palestinians are going to take their case to the United Nations. There, the Palestinians have nothing to lose for even if the Security Council rejects their bid for statehood, it will most likely be approved by the General Assembly. Although this is less significant than an endorsement by the Security Council, an approval by the General Assembly does nonetheless have some teeth. Most notably, as many commentators pointed out, there is something known as UNGA Resolution 377 that allows the General Assembly to call for sanctions or even military force against a country that fails to implement its recommendations.
If the “civilized world” helps bring the Palestinian plan to fruition then a very likely result of such actions will be the outbreak of war. Thus, in a world turned upside down it will be the UN, a body formed to help foster peace throughout the world, which will be directly responsible for bringing the next great Arab-Israeli war to the Middle East. Notably, more than 60 years ago the Palestinians rejected a similar state that had been allotted to them by the UN. A few months later when Israel had the "chutzpa" to declare a state, rather than reject one, in the portion they were granted by the UN, several Arab countries attacked the new Jewish state. That was the first war of independence, a result of Arab refusal to receive anything less than 100%. In the following years, nothing has fundamentally changed in this respect, the only difference being that the Arabs have finally learned how to achieve their goal. Thus they're ready to accept what they formally rejected as a means for eventually getting it all. This brings us to today and the quickly approaching second war of independence. Unlike 60 years ago, this time around nearly the entire international community will be aligned with the Palestinians against Israel, making Israel the sole villain.
The war will not break out immediately, but rather, it will slowly escalate. First there will be calls for sanctions against Israel for failing to immediately remove its military and citizens from the new Arab state in Judea and Samaria. Then there will be the predictable eruption of terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria, making life hell for the Jews living there. The attacks will then spill over into the rest of Israel, bringing back memories of the horror of a decade ago. Next up will be rocket attacks from Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north. Thanks to a porous border with Egypt as well as other regional changes, Iran will have no problem constantly rearming its proxies. As the attacks intensify, Israel will be routinely chastised for retaliating and not showing proper restraint, as such Arab attacks will be viewed as somewhat understandable in light of continued Israeli noncompliance. Moreover, Israeli reprisals will probably draw some neighboring countries into the fray as they all begin to sense Israel’s imminent downfall.
If Israel is still obstinate following the sanctions and Arab attacks, then the UN may call for military intervention in order to enforce the will of the international community. Consequently, they will do to Israel what they will never do to Iran. After all, Israel's continued presence in Judea and Samaria, and not Arab violence, terrorism, hatred, anti-Semitism and intransigence, will be considered, like it is today, as being the main reason that peace and harmony is lacking in the region. Following the isolating effect of sanctions and de-legitimization, together with incessant terrorist attacks and missile showers, the threat of military intervention will probably do the trick. Having been cowered by the cumulative effect of all the actions, Israel will be sufficiently pliable to give in on everything, the removal of all Jewish presence from Judea and Samaria, the acceptance of the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, the division and internalization of Jerusalem. Thus, the Palestinian War of Independence, the first stage in the total elimination of the State of Israel, will come to a conclusion. Is this scenario an exaggeration? Perhaps, although one should keep in mind that before the Gaza Disengagement there were those who warned that the Israeli pullout from Gaza would result in missiles landing in nearby Ashkelon. As expected, such voices were ridiculed and ultimately ignored. History of course showed that these "right-wing hawks" erred. They were far too conservative with their predictions as missiles not only exploded in nearby Ashkelon but even reached Beersheba, nearly 50 kilometers to the east. Israel, the tsunami is coming. Wake up!
Israel Set to Build 121 Projects for Gaza Residents
April 5….(ICEF) The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories responsible for providing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip recently approved 121 new projects in order to improve the living standards of the people in Gaza. The majority of the projects are funded by international organizations and it's estimated that the total cost for the projects will reach $100,000,000. 14 of the projects are aimed towards developing the medical infrastructure in the Strip, as well as improving the water sanitation and electricity in the region. Hamas recently reported that they also are planning several projects to improve the living standards for the inhabitants, but the quality and amount of their projects are not coming close to the 121 projects ready to be launched by COGAT.
Japanese Official Praises Israeli Medical Team
April 5….(ICEF) Deputy Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Kikuta toured the IDF medical clinic in the city of Minami-Sanriko on Monday, warmly greeting the staff and saying that she recognized many of their faces from the coverage they have already received on Japanese TV. "Your excellent work here, which was impossible to ignore in media reports throughout Japan, is very much appreciated by us and the Japanese people," Kikuta said. "I will be happy to help you as much as is needed in order to aid the citizens of the disaster area. I was very impressed by the medical staff. Israelis have strong character and I was impressed by the orderly way that you operate."
Amadinejad: UN should stop Western 'interference'
Iranian president tells Ban that US, European "ill will" hinders UNSC, offers to "play an active role in ending regional problems."
April 4….(JPost) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the UN should stop the "interference" of Western governments in Middle Eastern affairs, Iranian news agency ISNA reported on Monday. In a phone call with Ban, Ahmadinejad said: "The time is ripe for the UN Secretary General to play a historic and important role in resovling problems to avoid another catastrophe as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. He added that the UN Security council "is not able to manage regional developments well due to the ill will of the US and some European states." "Added interference of certain European governments as well as the US in regional affairs has made the situation more concerning and complex," Ahmadinejad explained. The Iranian president also said his country "is ready to play an active role in ending regional problems." Ban reportedly said he would do his best to solve problems in the Middle East, and discussed his concerns over the killing of protesters in Yemen and Bahrain.