Archive for the Middle East Category
JERUSALEM — Under mounting American pressure to define his intentions regarding peace efforts, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said Sunday that he would make a major policy speech next week mapping out the government’s “principles for achieving peace and security.”
The announcement came against the background of rising tensions with the Obama administration, which has demanded that Israel freeze all settlement construction in the West Bank. The Netanyahu government insists that construction within existing settlements should continue.
In another point of contention, Mr. Netanyahu has refused to endorse explicitly the notion of establishing an independent Palestinian state, a cornerstone of American and European policy on the Middle East.
On a stopover in Oslo, Mr. Mitchell said Monday that Washington wants “immediate” talks between the Palestinians and Israel to forge a comprehensive peace agreement. Reuters quoted him as saying that the aim of such talks was “a comprehensive peace and normalization of relations” between Israel and its neighbors, which would also serve “the security interests of the United States.”
“The president has told me to exert all efforts to create the circumstance when the parties can begin immediate discussions,” Mr. Mitchell was quoted as telling a Palestinian donors’ conference in the Norwegian capital.
“It’s important that there is a building of institutions and governmental capacity so that at an early time there can be an independent and viable Palestinian state,” he said.
On Sunday, in comments at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Mr. Netanyahu said, “We want to achieve peace with the Palestinians and with the countries of the Arab world, while attempting to reach maximum understanding with the United States and our friends around the world.”
His government, led by the conservative Likud Party, was sworn in nine weeks ago. Mr. Netanyahu says he has been reformulating Israeli peace policy. Some Israeli commentators have wondered how Mr. Netanyahu, whose last government fell apart in 1999, seemingly returned to office without a clear agenda.
Ben Caspit, a columnist, wrote Sunday in the newspaper Maariv that Mr. Netanyahu, “who opted to squander his period of grace on meaningless ‘reassessment’ meetings, is now going to have to be particularly creative if he wants to renew trust between the United States and Israel.”
Israeli officials say they expect the Obama administration to respect understandings they say were reached — some written and some oral — with the Bush administration on building within existing settlements.
The Obama administration has bluntly dismissed Israel’s argument. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that “there is no memorialization of any informal and oral agreements” on construction in settlements. “If they did occur, which, of course, people say they did, they did not become part of the official position of the United States government,” she said.
Both clarifying and complicating the issue on Sunday, Dov Weissglas, who was a senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when some of the understandings were reached early in the decade and was his liaison with American officials, said the written understanding on development within the settlements was “part of a host of understandings around the road map.”
The road map, a 2003 peace plan, called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity and on the Palestinians to dismantle terrorist networks. The goal was the creation of a Palestinian state.
“In other words,” Mr. Weissglas told Israel Radio, “whoever does not accept the road map cannot demand rights without taking on the obligations.”
Mr. Netanyahu has said his government will abide by signed agreements, but he has not publicly endorsed the road map. Israeli officials emphasize that the Palestinians and Arab parties, and not only Israel, have obligations to fulfill, a point also made by President Obama on Friday.
In Germany, Mr. Obama said the Palestinians “have to continue to make progress on security in the West Bank” and deal with “corruption and mismanagement” within the Palestinian Authority.
JERUSALEM — Israel’s air force held a large-scale exercise simulating war on several fronts with enemies that include Iran, Israeli defense officials said Friday.
The practice this week involved Israel’s entire air arm and was meant to prepare for an all-out war, including missile attacks aimed at Israeli cities, the officials said. It lasted four days, ending Thursday.
Israel periodically conducts such exercises. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the details of the exercise were not made public.
The military said it was part of its annual training program, using the word “routine” twice in a brief statement sent to reporters.
But it comes at a time of increasing friction surrounding Iran’s nuclear program, which Israel believes is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon it sees as an existential threat.
Israel has said it prefers to block the Iranian threat through diplomacy, but will not rule out a military strike.
The military said the exercise included both regular army personnel and reservists, releasing no further information. Israel plans a nationwide exercise next month simulating missile attacks aimed at civilians.
Iran test-fired a solid-fuel missile capable of reaching Israel or US bases in the Middle East today, drawing rebukes from western governments and forcing the abrupt cancellation of a diplomatic mission by Italy‘s foreign minister.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the launch of the Sajjil-2 surface-to-surface missile in Semnan province, in northern Iran, claiming it landed “precisely on target”. The defence minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, said the missile was “equipped with a new navigation system as well as precise and sophisticated sensors”.
Western officials confirmed the launch and said the Sajjil appeared to be a two-stage solid-fuel missile with a range of about 1,250 miles (2,000km). The Foreign Office said it “underlines profound concerns about Iran’s intentions and sends exactly the wrong signal to the region and the world at a time the international community is trying to engage Iran”.
The incident came two days after Barack Obama warned Iran had until the end of the year to respond to his diplomatic overtures and enter into serious, “good faith” negotiations over its nuclear programme. Iran insists the programme is for energy-generation purposes, but the UN security council has demanded Tehran suspend enrichment of uranium on the grounds that Iran has so far failed to convince the international community that its intentions are peaceful.
The launch led to the cancellation of a two-day visit to Iran by Italy’s Franco Frattini, who was close to boarding a plane to Tehran when he heard that Ahmadinejad insisted on meeting him in Semnan, the site of the launch.
The minister called off the whole trip, fearing Ahmadinejad would use it as a propaganda coup ahead of presidential elections next month.
The president and three challengers were officially approved today to take part in the vote by the electoral watchdog, the Guardian Council, out of 475 hopefuls.
The planned Frattini visit had been the source of considerable tension within Europe. The British and French governments had urged him not to go, arguing that it would help Ahmadinejad electorally and show a lack of western unity.
An earlier version of the Sajjil was tested in November last year.The Sajjil-2 appears to have a slightly longer range than the prototype. Mark Fitzpatrick, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the development of the Sajjil missile was significant because of the type of fuel it used, rather than its range.
“To be able to build a solid-fuel missile of medium range represents a significant technological breakthrough,” Fitzpatrick said. “It is technically more difficult than a liquid-fuel missile, and militarily more significant because it is not as vulnerable to attack while being fuelled.”
What a shock that the current Catholic Pope supports Muslims and not Israel. For those who don’t recall, the Catholic “Church” and Pope also supported Hitler and Nazi Germany while millions of Jews were driven from their homes to suffer and die.
Speaking in Bethlehem, where he delivered his most sensitive speech yet of an eight-day tour of the Holy Land, Benedict XVI acknowledged the suffering of the Palestinian people following the establishment of Israel in 1948.
But he also urged moderation, telling Palestinians they should not use violence to further their cause.
Speaking later at the Aida refugee camp, he criticised the concrete security wall “towering over us”, saying it was “tragic” to see barriers erected between the two communities.
The Pope, who also celebrated mass in Manger Square in front of the ancient Church of the Nativity, believed to mark the birthplace of Jesus, sent a message of solidarity with moderate Palestinians such as Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader and president of the Palestinian national authority, when he gave his support to proposals for a “two-state solution”.
“The Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbours, within internationally recognised borders,” the Pope said.
“I know how much you have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of the turmoil that has afflicted this land for decades,” the Pope said.
“It is my earnest hope that the serious concerns involving security in Israel and the Palestinian territories will soon be allayed sufficiently to allow greater freedom of movement, especially with regard to contact between family members and access to the holy places.”
In remarks aimed at the many militant groups within the Palestinian community, the Pope said they should “resist temptations to resort to acts of violence”.
Israel was nominally behind the two-state plan until the recent election of a Right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu which has said it is reviewing its position on the issue. The Pope is due to meet the Israeli prime minister on Thursday.
After two days in Israel the Pope had to cross into the occupied West Bank where Bethlehem is located.
This meant he had to pass through the 10-yard-high concrete wall built by Israel around Bethlehem.
Deemed illegal under international law, Israel has nevertheless pressed on with its construction on the grounds that it deters suicide bombings and other security threats.
In the afternoon he spoke at the Aida refugee camp, one of several housing Palestinian families driven from their homes through the creation of Israel in the second half of the 20th century.
Israel had forced the organisers of the event at Aida to move the stage so it would not be dominated by the security wall but this did not stop the pontiff criticising the barrier.
“Towering over us … is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached – the wall,” the Pope said.
“In a world where more and more borders are being opened up – to trade, to travel, to movement of peoples, to cultural exchanges – it is tragic to see walls still being erected.”
Speaking after his visit, he issued a message of hope. “I have seen, adjoining the camp and overshadowing much of Bethlehem, the wall that intrudes into your territories, separating neighbours and dividing families,” he said.
“Although walls can easily be built, we all know that they do not last for ever. They can be taken down.”
Don’t believe me? Read some of their links –
For years, I’ve decried–on this site and elsewhere–the use of the term “pirates” in connection with the Somalians who seize ships off the coast of Africa and demand ransom. They are violent, they are Muslim, and they are tied to Al-Qaeda.
And, yes, they are TERRORISTS. Islamic terrorists. You know, the “Religion of Peace.”
Now, they’ve seized a ship with mostly American crew members on board. And maybe now, we’ll actually call them what they are. (By the way, so much for Obama’s butt-kissing of Islam in Europe, this week. Look how the Muslims “repaid” us the compliment.)
Just because they let most people live and accept money for their thuggery instead of lives, doesn’t make them any less terrorist than the ones who murdered 3,000 Americans on 9/11. The ultimate end of their actions is a distinction without a difference from their not so random violence, kidnapping, and threats. It has no relevance to whether or not they are terrorists that they let their victims live.