octubre 22, 2008

Shas leaders think Livni can't give them what they want

Shas leaders think Livni can't give them what they want

By Yair Ettinger

The political and rabbinic elite of Shas, nearly everyone from party mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, plus ministers and party leaders and a few city chief rabbis, donned their festival best and turned out at the President's Residence in Jerusalem yesterday.

When the spiritual leader entered, the audience, mostly residents of Sderot, stood up and received him in song, while their host, President Shimon Peres, treated Rabbi Yosef as one would a king.

The Shas ministers strode around the garden of the President's Residence like grooms on their wedding day. Will they meet here again for the group picture of the new Livni cabinet, if and when it is formed?

"The way it looks now, no," Shas chairman Eli Yishai said after the ceremony, sounding more decisive than ever. Shas came to the President's Residence to participate in the presentation to Peres of a new Torah scroll, which was donated to the synagogue at the President's Residence by a well-known Sderot contractor, Moshe Peretz. The scroll was dedicated in the memory of Sderot resident Oshri Oz, who was killed by a Qassam rocket.

Iran's threats are not based on any proven capability

Iran's threats are not based on any proven capability
Even though the senior Iranian official was speaking to a closed forum, it would not be at all surprising if his words were actually intended for an Israeli audience. Alongside the public diplomatic struggle - and Israel's secret military preparations - against the Iranian nuclear projects, there is also a war of threats and oratory going on between the two nations.
The announcements of Ayatollah Seyed G. Safavi look to be another stage in the Iranian attempt to create a balance of fear and deterrence with Israel.
The past two years, whether because of Iranian progress toward acquiring nuclear capability, or because of the absence of Ariel Sharon from the political helm, have seen a gradual escalation in Israeli pronouncements about Iran. The end of the primary season in Kadima may have reined in slightly the enthusiasm for public declarations, but even responsible Israeli statesmen such as Defense Minister Ehud Barak, speaking most recently on the matter last Sunday, take care to emphasize that the military option, as a last resort, is still on the table.
Last week MK Isaac Ben-Israel (Kadima), a former major general and someone very close to prime minister-designate Tzipi Livni, said Israel will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons, but that there was still time to prevent that eventuality. "It's not like we're going to bomb them in another three months," said Ben-Israel.
When Iranian experts dissect the Israeli declarations, the question is what do they emphasize, the threat ("We will not permit"), or the reservation ("Not now"). The reasonable assumption is that Safawi, similar to the Israeli and international media, does not really know what Israel is planning in the short term. But Teheran is interested in warning Jerusalem that as far as it is concerned, all options are open.

Underground cattle trade thrives in Gaza smuggling tunnels

Underground cattle trade thrives in Gaza smuggling tunnels

By Reuters
14:04 22/10/2008

When the calves were hauled out of the tunnel from Egypt Tuesday they could hardly stand up.

After a terrifying, one-kilometer underground trip into the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, what the young cattle wanted most was a long drink of cool water.

Underground livestock smuggling has increased dramatically ahead of Id Al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice, due December 10, when Muslims the world over slaughter animals and feed the poor to seek God's forgiveness.

"Even if we brought in animals every day we would not meet the demand for the Id," said a tunnel operator who identified himself as Abu Luqaib. Hundreds of Gaza merchants throng around the border area of Rafah every day to pick up merchandise coming to Gaza from Egypt via subterranean passages that have created a flourishing trade zone.

"It's an industrial zone here," said the 23-year-old tunnel operator as his crew pulled a bawling calf up the deep shaft by a simple rope around its middle. No livestock harness was used.

Gaza has suffered galloping unemployment since Israel tightened its blockade on the territory in 2007 to try to weaken its Palestinian rulers, Hamas, an Islamist group sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state. Goods are scarce in Gaza markets because of Israeli restrictions on what Gaza may and may not import. The tunnel network handles all sorts of readily portable merchandise including fuel, automobile parts, computers and clothes.

Hamas supports Egypt plan for Palestine unity

Hamas supports Egypt plan for Palestine unity

Hamas gave its tentative support Tuesday to an Egyptian plan to reconcile the Islamist movement and the rival Fateh faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas amid a looming constitutional crisis.

“We will agree to the draft of the agreement and will not reject it,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP, but he added that the plan would require some “modification” before it could be implemented.

“The draft contains positive elements, but also has some points that need modification and some points that need clarification from the Egyptian leadership.”

The two main Palestinian movements have been bitterly divided since Hamas drove Abbas’ security forces from the Gaza Strip in a week of fierce street clashes in June 2007, cleaving the territories into hostile rival camps.

Representatives from both sides have been invited to meet in Cairo on November 9 to discuss the Egyptian plan, which is aimed at restoring unity amid a looming constitutional crisis that threatens to deepen the internal rift.

Hamas has said that Abbas - who was elected in January 2005 - will cease to be president when his constitutionally mandated four-year term ends in January and that a new presidential election will have to be held.

Abbas loyalists, citing a separate clause in the constitution, say that presidential and parliamentary elections must be held at the same time, which would extend his term to 2010.
The Egyptian plan includes Abbas’ proposal for forming a “national consensus government” to lift the international blockade of Gaza and prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections.

The plan also calls for the rehabilitation of independent Palestinian security forces with assistance from Arab states and the incorporation of Hamas and the hardline Islamic Jihad into the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) headed by Abbas, which is responsible for negotiations with Israel.

Lights turn red on Lebanese traffic offences

Lights turn red on Lebanese traffic offences

by Jocelyne Zablit
Published: October 22, 2008

BEIRUT (AFP) Something of a revolution is taking place on Lebanon's notoriously dangerous roads. Drivers are beginning to stop at red lights, to wear seat belts and no longer have their cell phones glued to their ears.

All thanks to a crackdown ordered by the country's new no-holds-barred Interior Minister Ziad Baroud who has unleashed a small army of traffic cops to impose law and order in a country where rules appear made to be broken.

"The laws concerning seat belts, cell phone use, speed, wearing a helmet while driving a motorbike and respecting traffic lights have been on the books for years," said Major Hanna Laham, in charge of traffic in one Beirut district.

"But in view of the high number of accidents we have started applying them more strictly."
According to police figures, some 500 people die and more than 6,000 are injured annually in traffic-related accidents in Lebanon, which has a population of four million.

Ziad Akl, founder of the Youth Association for Social Awareness (YASA), an organisation that lobbies for road safety, said the true fatality rate is closer to 870 a year as authorities don't keep count of people who die of their injuries several days after a car crash.

"The numbers have been going up steadily because of the chaotic situation in the country for the past three years which is also reflected on the roads," Akl told AFP, referring to political unrest which largely paralysed the government until the election of a new president in May.

octubre 21, 2008

Saudi official presents new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan

Saudi official presents new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan

By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent

Turki al-Faisal, the former Saudi intelligence director and a member of the royal family, presented a proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace at a conference yesterday. Arab, Palestinian and Israeli political figures attended the conference, organized by the Oxford Research Group, which seeks to promote the Saudi Peace Initiative of 2002. Al-Faisal, who heads the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, expressed the kingdom's support for a comprehensive peace and the rights of the Palestinian people.

Al-Faisal also said that both sides must condemn violence together, and called on Israel to stop targeted assassinations and arrests, the construction of the West Bank security barrier and the expansion of settlements and separate roads. The Palestinians, he said, must stop all suicide bombings and rocket fire at Israel. He also called on Israel to release all Palestinian prisoners, and for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to be released from the Gaza Strip. Among the participants in the conference were Nabil Fahmy, Egypt's former ambassador to Washington; Hisham Youssef, the Arab League secretary-general's chief of staff; and former Palestinian national security adviser Jibril Rajoub. The Israeli delegation included Avi Gil, former director general of the Prime Minister's Office and Foreign Ministry, as well as several other former government figures and academics. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that Israeli leaders have recently discussed pursuing the Saudi peace plan. Peres to press peace concerns with Egypt President Shimon Peres will meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday to discuss regional peace efforts and Egyptian-mediated contacts to extend a Gaza truce, a government official said on Monday. Mubarak invited Peres by telephone and the two will meet in the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, the official said. There was no immediate comment from Cairo. The official said Peres wants to explore the possibility of extending a June truce between Israel and Gaza militants that that has largely calmed the volatile border with the Hamas-ruled coastal terrority. Hamas says the deal mediated by Egypt could expire in December. Peres also plans to propose widening the circle of Israel's peace talks beyond the Palestinians and Syria to include other Arab countries, the official said. Peres envisages negotiating a comprehensive deal with Arab countries rather than pursuing separate agreements with either the Palestinians or Syria, with which Israel has held some indirect talks in the past year, the official said. Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, followed by Jordan in 1994. The talks at Sharm el-Sheihk come at a transitional phase for Israel. Outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert is presently serving in a caretaker capacity since he resigned last month in the shadows of a corruption probe.

Barak: Israel giving serious thought to Saudi peace plan

Barak: Israel giving serious thought to Saudi peace plan

By Haaretz Service and The Associated Press

Defense Minister and Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak said Sunday that Israeli leaders have been discussing pursuing a comprehensive Saudi peace plan, an initiative touted by the moderate Arab elements across the Middle East. Barak told Army Radio on Sunday that with individual negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians making little headway, it may be time to pursue an overall peace deal for the region. "There is room in the Israeli coalition for the Saudi initiative," he said. "We have a mutual interest with moderate Arab elements on the issues of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas."

The defense minister President Shimon Peres is in agreement with such consideration and he has spoken about the matter with Prime Minister-designate Tzipi Livni about the matter as well. While outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, has welcomed the Saudi plan, he and other leaders want to keep small parts of the territories captured in the 1967 Six Day War. Israel also objects to language in the Saudi plan that appears to endorse a large-scale return of Palestinian refugees to lands inside Israel. Israel says a massive influx of Palestinians would destroy the country's Jewish character. Peres proposed merging Israel's various peace talks into one track last month at the United Nations. In a speech to the General Assembly, he called on Saudi King Abdullah to further his initiative. He has since been pushing the idea in meeting with Israeli, Arab and Western officials, his office said. In Sunday's interview, Barak said he was in full agreement with Peres, and had discussed the peace plan with Livni as well. "I had the impression that there is indeed an openness to explore any path, including this one," he said of his talks with Livni. Barak said Israel had to tread lightly, though, so as not to appear to be coming from a position of patronage to the entire Arab world. "We are one of the players and it is proper that we introduce an initiative," he said. Livni's office refused to comment on her talks with Barak. The Saudi peace initiative was first proposed in 2002. It offers pan-Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from Arab lands captured in 1967. Erekat: Plan doesn't necessarily undermine Israel-PA talks Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat noted that pursuing the Saudi peace initiative did not necessarily undermine the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians and he encouraged Israel to pursue this track. "I think Israel should have done this since 2002. It is the most strategic initiative that came from the Arab world since 1948," he said. "I urge them to revisit this initiative and to go with it because it will shorten the way to peace." Analyst Ghassan Khatib, a former minister in the Palestinian Cabinet, said that although the Israeli interest in the six-year-old plan was a little bit late the plan was still valid and offered the most promising potential way forward. "I strongly believe that the Arab initiative is the best approach to peace between the Arabs and the Israelis," he told The Associated Press. "It fulfills all the legitimate objectives of Israel and those of the Palestinians and at the same time it has this regional dimension and it reflects one of the rare issues on which Arabs have consensus." Yuval Steinitz, an MK from the conservative opposition Likud Party and a member of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that for Israel the Saudi plan is a non-starter. "It doesn't recognize Israel's right to defensible borders... [and] demands Palestinian refugees settle in the Jewish state as well as the Palestinian state, which is totally unacceptable and contradicts the essence of the two state solution," he told the AP. "That's why I am really surprised that Barak made these remarks, it was strictly an empty political gesture." Arab foreign ministers reendorsed the proposal at an Arab League summit in Damascus in March. The ratification included the declaration that advabcement of the plans would depend on whether Israel fulfill its commitment to international agreements. "The continuation by the Arab side to present the Arab peace initiative is tied to Israel executing its commitments in the framework of international resolutions to achieve peace in the region," a Damascus declaration said. Arab officials have said that withdrawing the peace plan is not an option and in public they have not proposed alternatives.