Change Region:ICEJ


Arab League condemns crackdowns on protesters

The Arab League on Tuesday condemned the use of force against pro-democracy protesters in several Arab countries. "The people's demands for freedom and democracy are demands that require support ... not bullets in the chests of demonstrators," the Arab League said in the statement. "We call on Arab regimes and governments to commit to and speed up reforms, immediately stop using force against demonstrators and spare their citizens bloodshed." The 22-member league rarely issues such statements and it is even more rare for it to express criticism of Arab countries, spending most of its time and resources bashing Israel.

Obama Administration in bid to avert Palestinian UN action
The Obama Administration has launched a new diplomatic initiative with Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at avoiding a PA threat to take its case for statehood to the UN in September, but PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo declared on Monday that the PA was determined to go ahead with the plan regardless of what Israel or the US does.
Assad orders brutal crackdown in Syria
Syrian infantry backed by tanks and artillery were deployed in Daraa and several other cities over the weekend as the regime of President Bashar Assad attempted to crush protests, the latest flare up of violence in the so-called "Arab Spring."

Iran hit by another cyberattack
Military officials in Iran confirmed on Monday that the Islamic Republic's renegade nuclear program has been hit by a new computer virus attack. The virus, named "Stars" comes even as Teheran's nuclear facilities are still grappling with problems caused by the "Stuxnet" worm, an attack widely accredited to the US and Israel. Analysts have warned that the attacks could lead to Iranian retaliation against Western websites and networks, even as the number of industrial 'accidents' in Iran being blamed on sabotage, both cyber and the old fashioned kind, continues to rise. Nearly a dozen natural gas pipeline explosions have occurred in Iran in the last 18 months. In related news, Kuwaiti newspaper al Kabas reported on Sunday that GCC countries are growing increasingly alarmed at the apparent warming of relations between Iran and the transitional government in Egypt.

Netanyahu to give regular YouTube interviews
The Prime Minister's office recently announced that Benjamin Netanyahu will be regularly publishing YouTube interviews in order to please the many web surfers worldwide who are interested in Israel, following the success of a recent experimental broadcast. "Direct links with the Facebook generation around the world, but especially from the Arab world, are very important for becoming directly familiar with the true Israel," Netanyahu declared. Over 1 million viewers watched Netanyahu's interview which was aired on the YouTube's World View channel in the end of March, in which he answered questions sent to him via email and social media from all over the world.

Israeli designed electric cars to be marketed in the US
After launching their project in both Israel and Denmark, Better Place, the Israeli electric car company, will soon open up shop in Hawaii. 10 charging stations have already been set up across the island of Oahu and seven cars are expected to shortly arrive to the island. Hawaii is currently importing 90% of its oil and has set as an objective of reaching 70 percent renewable power before 2030. "Better Place's electric vehicle network is an innovative approach to integrating electric vehicles into our island grids," said US Sen. Daniel Inouye. Better Place, which already got over 1000 charging docks all over Israel are next expected to launch an electric taxi project in California.

Australian local councils abandon BDS campaign
The Marrickville Council of Australia made headlines earlier this year when they decided to boycott Israeli products including cultural and academic ties. Last week the local Council ended their Israeli boycott project after the federal government criticized the council for handling political areas outside their local jurisdiction. "The backlash has been quite strong and unanimous from the wider populace and from the Australian federal government and the New South Wales government," said Yair Miller president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies.

Poll: Majority of Egyptians want to end peace with Israel
The Pew Research Center recently published a report about Egyptian attitudes towards Jews and Israel. 56% of respondents were in favor of annulling the 1979 Israeli Egyptian peace treaty. The current leader of Egypt's interim government Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi were the most popular of the Egyptian leaders shortly followed by the chief of the Arab League Amr Moussa. Only 41% of the respondents believed that the upcoming election would be free and fair, while 75% were positive towards the Muslim Brotherhood.

Oren essay sets off academic debate
An essay written by Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren entitled "The Ultimate Ally" and published on Monday on the website of Foreign Policy has set off a firestorm of debate, with several rebuttals being published by other regular contributors to the website. So far, Oren's article has received over 1,300 'likes' on Facebook while the rebuttal arguments have received substantially less. Highlights from the essay include Oren's assertion that "On an ideological level, an ally is a country that shares America's values, reflects its founding spirit, and resonates with its people's beliefs. Tactically, an ally stands with the U.S. through multiple conflicts and promotes its global vision. An ally enhances American intelligence and defense capabilities, and provides ports and training for U.S. forces. An ally assists in saving American lives on and off the battlefield. And an ally stimulates the U.S. economy through trade, technological innovation, and job creation. Israel is certainly one of the few countries that fit this description."

Israel hopes for the best, prepares for the worst

The IDF is currently preparing for possible scenarios related to the call for the third Intifada predicted to take place on 15, May. One scenario is the possibility of having thousands of Palestinians marching towards the check points on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. "We are preparing for a large number of scenarios, the Palestinians feel that they have legitimacy for these peaceful demonstrations, especially now following the creation of a new government and ahead of the declaration of statehood," a senior commander of IDF's Southern Command said. Meanwhile, the IDF continues to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority despite the fact that they earlier this week announced the formation of a unity government with Hamas. "At the moment, this is an agreement on paper. If Hamas members join Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank, that will mark the end of PA-Israel security cooperation in the West Bank," said Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland.

Analysts project massive Middle East arms race
Defense Industry analysis firm Frost & Sullivan issued a report Wednesday which included numbers indicating that Air Forces in the Persian Gulf are set to buy large numbers of new planes and related air defense equipment in the coming years, taking the regional arms race to new heights. The biggest spenders are projected to be Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, three countries very worried about the growing power and aggression of Iran who are set to spend close to $60 billion by the end of the decade. "The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are moving towards an integrated air defense network to include air platforms, air defense batteries and air surveillance systems under the 'Peninsular Shield' initiative; but the progress has been slow," notes the report. "The use of networked force by the US and European forces in the Gulf War and the latest Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been a startling revelation for Middle Eastern MODs who are now keen on acquiring these capabilities."

Terrorist bomb in Morocco kills 15, including one Israeli
On Thursday a bomb exploded at a café in the popular Moroccan tourist city of Marrakesh, killing 15 people according to the country's Interior Ministry. Only three of the victims were of Moroccan origin while the rest were foreigners from France, Holland and Britain as well as Jewish couple residing in Shanghai. The Jewish couple, Massoud Zikri and Israeli born Michal Weizman, who was expecting their second child, was in Morocco to celebrate Passover with the husband's family.

Dispute threatens fragile calm in Sudan
Sudanese President Omar Bashir gave a speech in the southern Kordofan state recently, saying that he will not recognize the newly independent country of South Sudan if it continues to claim that the disputed border town of Abyei is the source of tensions between north and south. Southern Sudan is scheduled to gain its independence from Moslem dominated northern Sudan on 9 June. The international community is in the meantime pressing on both sides to come to an agreement regarding Abyei. "It is important that both sides, those in Khartoum and those in Juba, focus intensely on trying to resolve the key issues," said assistant US Secretary of State Johnnie Carson.

Better Place and China Power Grid partnership
Israeli-owned electric car infrastructure company Better Place signed an agreement on Wednesday with officials from China Southern Power Grid Co. to open a battery switch station and joint education center in China. The Israeli group sees China as a future significant player in the automotive market and this collaboration "opens the door to new opportunities for switchable battery electric cars made by Chinese manufacturers for the domestic and export markets", said Better Place CEO and founder Shai Agassi. China Power Grid and Better Place hope to develop their relationship further by expanding the battery-switch, network model.

Egypt plans to permanently open Gaza border crossing
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby told Al-Jazeera during an interview on Thursday that the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza could be permanently opened within seven to ten days. Opened for the first time since January 30, 2011, the Rafah border will allow greater freedom of movement for people on both sides of the border, as well as goods in and out of Gaza without Israeli permission."Egypt has decided to reopen the border and it will allow up to 300 people from the Gaza Strip to exit each day," said Hamas official Ghazi Hamad. In related news, Egypt's former envoy to Israel, Mohamed Bassiouni, said on Thursday that the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt has achieved significant gains for both nations and that it should not be annulled. "It's win-win - we both gain from the treaty", Bassiouni said. However, a recent survey by the Pew Research showed that over half of Egyptians favor overturning the treaty.

UNHCR pays rare attention to Syria

The UN Human Rights Council, notorious for its historical bias against Israel, will hold a rare session to examine the conduct of another Middle Eastern state on Friday when it will convene to urge Syria to desist from attacking civilian protesters.

The special session was requested by the US, whose ambassador, , Eileen Donahoe, declared on Wednesday that "the international community has been shocked by the killing of hundreds of civilians in connection with peaceful political protests [in Syria] in the past week."

The UNHRC suspended Libya's membership on 1, March and are set to vote in a few weeks on Syria's bid to become a member.

Witnesses reported a major escalation of the Assad regimes crackdown on protesters Thursday, as heavy machine gun fire was heard in the southern city of Daraa and tanks rumbled into the coastal city of Latakia and infantry backed by armor and artillery deployed on the outskirts of several other cities, including suburbs of Damascus. Protest leaders have called for another "Day of Rage" after prayers on Friday - one that could prove to be the largest yet.

There are also reports of dissention and even mutiny among some army units, as Sunni troops have been reluctant to open fire on their co-religionists on the orders of their Alawite officers.

Also on Thursday, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, announced that the site in northern Syria destroyed by an Israeli airstrike five years ago was definitely a nuclear reactor which Syria had attempted to build in violation of its obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Other UN officials have demanded that Syria allow access to Daraa and other cities so that investigations into reports of human rights violations can be conducted, but so far the Assad regime has not responded.

Elsewhere in the Arab world, witnesses reported that intense battles have continued between protesters and troops loyal to different factions in Yemen and in Libya NATO aircraft have continued strikes against forces loyal to dictator Moammar Gadaffi, who have also intensified their artillery and missile attacks against rebels and civilian neighborhoods in rebel held cities.

Abbas: 'PA will still negotiate with Israel'

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared on Thursday that negotiations with Israel remain possible, despite the Wednesday's announcment that Fatah and Hamas agreed to form a national unity interim government.

Abbas added assurance that the PLO will remain in charge of politics and negotiations with Israel, and "will continue our policy of one authority, one gun and the rule of law as long as I am president." He also said that the main priorities of the new Palestinian government would be rebuilding the Gaza Strip and planning the upcoming elections.

"I heard that Netanyahu said that Abu Mazen [Abbas] should choose between Israel and Hamas," Abbas continued. "I heard this for a few months and I made the answer that Hamas is part of the Palestinian people. I can't exclude them. Like or dislike, agree or disagree, they are part of our people. You, Mr. Netanyahu, are our partner. We can't exclude you, so we have to take both sides - not to choose between this and that. But please, Mr. Netanyahu, you have to choose between settlement activities and peace."

Netanyahu (Israel GPO)Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a visiting US Congressional delegation that the Hamas-Fatah government would be a "great setback to peace," while Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared that Israel would not negotiate with a Fatah-Hamas government as long as Hamas continues terrorist attacks against Israel.

"This is seen not as a tactical change, but rather a strategic one - a game changer," said another Israeli official. "How can the Palestinian leadership say they want peace with Israel, and at the same time embrace the most extreme, violent enemies of peace?"

For their part, Hamas representatives went out of their way on Wednesday to tell reporters that the new agreement does not require them to accept the two-state solution or to engage in peace talks with Israel. Fatah officials have also been reticent to comment on what effect the new agreement would have on security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank, widely seen as crucial to the relative quiet there in recent years. Israel is also concerned that the PA might release Hamas prisoners as part of the new arrangement.

Elsewhere, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee declared on Thursday that US law would prevent the US from sending its annual $500 million assistance to the PA if Hamas was part of the unity government because the PA must recognize Israel's right to exist in order to receive the funding. These sentiments were echoed by other Congressional leaders as well as the Obama Administration. EU lawmakers have also voiced concern over the arrangement.

However, UN Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry said on Thursday that he supports the initiative, adding that Palestinian "reunification is essential for achieving a two-state solution that should be reached through negotiations," while cautioning that he hopes "reconciliation will now take place in a manner that promotes the cause of peace."

Palestinian leaders from both factions have been especially warm in their praise of Egypt in helping to broker the new initiative and credited recent events in the region including the removal of Western backed governments in Egypt and other Arab countries as being instrumental in paving the way for the deal.

Baath apparatchiks abandon Assad as bloody crackdown escalates

203 members of Syria's ruling Baath Party announced their resignations on Wednesday, protesting the recent bloody crackdown on protesters. The resignations are a major emberresment to the Assad regime, which has unleashed security forces in a rampage which has killed over 500 Syrians in six weeks.

"The security services have demolished the values with which we grew up. We denounce and condemn everything that has taken place and announce with regret our resignation from the party," the resigning members said in a statement. "Practices of the security services against our unarmed citizens... are against all human values and the slogans of the party."

The internal pressure on the regime is likely to exacerbate the regimes increasingly isolated international diplomatic position, as the EU and several individual European governments have joined the US in calling for diplomatic and economic sanctions against members of the ruling elite as well as several state owned business interests. Meanwhile, an umbrella group of over 150 anti-government activists and opposition groups calling itself the National Initiative for Change (NIC) warned Assad to institute real democratic reforms or risk "violence, chaos and civil war."

Elsewhere in the Arab world, protesters gathered in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo on Wednesday demanding an end to the 1979 Camp David Accords and a return to the state of belligerency between Israel and Egypt.

Chanting, "the people demand the cancellation of normalization" and "the gas must stop!" they also demanded that Egyptian supplies of natural gas to the Jewish State be discontinued.

Next door, NATO air strikes have made some progress in lifting the siege on the Western city of Misrata, but thousands of civilians are still trapped in the city and reportedly taking heavy fire from troops loyal to dictator Moammar Gadaffi. An aid ship took advantage of a brief lull in fighting to evacuate wounded civilians.

"Despite heavy shelling of the port area... about 935 migrants and Libyans have been rescued and are now safely en route to Benghazi," the International Organization for Migration said.

In Yemen, several people were reported killed in ongoing internecine violence Thursday as factions begin to stake out positions ahead of the imminent departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Palestinian factions announce unity government

The rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas overcame their ideological differences and announced on Wednesday that they will form a government of national unity for the Palestinian populations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, causing alarm in Israel and dismay in the US and Europe.

Although the deal has not been signed and there are still details for both sides to work out, Hamas has already announced that by joining with Fatah, which dominates the Western backed Palestinian Authority, they are not joining in the recognition of Israel or participation in peace negotiations with the Jewish State.

"Palestinian divisions can't continue while efforts are being made to ensure recognition of a Palestinian state," agreed Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby, who helped broker the deal.

Later on Thursday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, indicated that he was still theoretically interested in negotiations with Israel.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the PA needed to choose between a peace deal with Israel and one with Hamas.

"Peace with both is impossible, because Hamas aims to destroy the State of Israel and says that openly," Netanyahu said. "It fires missiles at our cities and at our children. He added that the current situation led to questions as to "whether Hamas will gain control over Judea and Samaria, the way it did over the Gaza Strip (but) I hope that the Palestinian Authority will make the right choice - that it will choose peace with Israel. The choice is in its hands."

Other Israeli officials cautioned that such deals have been announced before and fell apart before they could be fully implemented, so it's best to wait and see what develops.

Elsewhere, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi declared on Thursday that the unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah is a "blessed, positive line with the Palestinian nation's historic objectives (including) resistance against the Zionist occupiers."

He also praised the new Egyptian government's role in mediating between the two factions and added that he hoped the agreement would "lead to acceleration of the developments in the Palestine region and to acquiring great victories in confrontations with the ruthless occupiers."

In Washington, several members of Congress denounced the deal and declared their intention of reviewing US aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) declared the deal to be "a recipe for failure, mixed with violence, leading to disaster."

Iranian ties with Arab states has Israel worried

In a sign of warming relations between Iran and its former enemy Iraq, Justice Ministers from the two countries signed an extradition agreement on Monday in Teheran, a move sure to cause unease among other Arab governments worried about the growing power and aggression of the Islamic Republic.

On the same day however, Iran suffered a diplomatic setback when the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain expelled an Iranian diplomat, Hujatullah Rahmani, the second secretary at the Iranian embassy in Manama. The action was taken as part of an escalating war of words between Iran and the Sunni dominated Arab countries of the Persian Gulf region.

The moves also follow the dispatch of a Saudi led contingent of paramilitary troops from GCC countries to assist the Bahraini government in containing unrest by Shi'ite groups which the government fears are being supported by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Tehran denies this and has roundly denounced the GCC intervention force, which Saudi Arabia recently announced would be a semi-permanent phenomenon.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf was in Kuwait on Tuesday, where he attempted to alleviate fears that the transitional government in Cairo's own warming relations with Iran will come at the expense of its Arab brethren. The visit comes after a month in which several Iranian and Egyptian officials declared their intentions to open up a new era of closer cooperation between the two countries, leading to dismay in several Arab capitals, as well as in Washington and Jerusalem.

Inside Iran, officials have denied that a growing wave of strikes and protests by disgruntled workers is going on, despite massive crowds gathering almost daily in front of government buildings to demand back wages and other promised benefits.

"Because the authorities do not want to confirm strikes at factories, they refuse to answer questions about why workers were dismissed or arrested for protesting," said Javanmir Moradi, head of the Electrical and Metal Workers' Trade Union in the western city of Kermanshah.

Bloody crackdown continues in Syria despite sanctions

An increasingly violent government crackdown on anti-regime protesters in Syria has resulted in widespread condemnation as leaders from major powers as well as the UN and the Arab League called on President Bashar Assad to halt the escalating use of force and implement reforms.

The US and UK have both indicated their willingness to implement sanctions against the Assad regime, and several other countries are reportedly considering the move. Efforts are also being made to get the UN to condemn the crackdown, a possible precursor to a UN mandate for armed intervention such as UNSCR 1973 authorizing the use of force to protect civilians in Libya.

Military and security units loyal to Assad have shown little notice of the diplomatic manuevers, raining heavy barrages of artillery down on the southern city of Daraa and infantry units backed by armored vehicles and helicopters moved into neighborhoods in several other Syrian cities. The death toll was reportedly over 400 on Wednesday as leaders of expat opposition communities in Turkey and Europe begged the world to help their countryman.

Meanwhile, a US State Department spokesman announced on Tuesday that the US has quietly discontinued pressuring Israel to work towards a peace deal with the Assad regime in Syria, having decided in light of recent events that it is not a reliable partner for peace.

"The weakening of Syria, of the regime, is a blow for Iran and this, from a strategic point of view, is a positive development not only for Israel but for Jordan and for other forces," said Michael Eppel, a Middle East expert at the University of Haifa. "But there is always the possibility, and this you cannot predict, that maybe there will be a temptation to bring a crisis to Gaza or southern Lebanon in order to divert public opinion."

Elsewhere in the Arab world, the military stalemate in Libya showed few signs of change on Wednesday.

"Militarily, the fact is, the situation is not much different from what it was at the very beginning of the war," said French strategic analyst Francois Heisbourg. "Qadhafi is essentially controlling the same territory as he was at the beginning of the war, so he is not likely to leave power readily as part of a negotiated deal. So from the standpoint of the coalition it's not a great result."

Finally, officials in Yemen announced on Tuesday that a plan put forward by the Gulf Cooperation Council for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to give up power could be finalized within a week, leading to hopes that the shattered but strategically important country might soon be able to start putting itself back together.

Obama Administration in bid to avert Palestinian UN action

The Obama Administration has launched a new diplomatic initiative with Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at avoiding a PA threat to take its case for statehood to the UN in September, but PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo declared on Monday that the PA was determined to go ahead with the plan regardless of what Israel or the US does.

"The Palestinian leadership won't back down unless real and serious peace negotiations are launched on the basis of the 1967 borders," Abed Rabbo told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, adding that the PA was also prepared to make a deal that would include a land, and not a population, swap with Israel.

"Without this, we will go to the UN, and after winning recognition [for a state] we will demand that Israeli military and settler presence [in the West Bank] be considered an act of aggression on the sovereignty of a full member of the UN," he added. "We don't have a third option."

PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are both scheduled to make trips to Europe in the coming months to lobby for acceptance and denial, respectively, of the idea by the major democracies. The US and Germany have already come out publically against a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in September.

The PA has been joined by its rival, the Iranian backed Islamist terror militia Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip, in sharply criticizing Obama and flatly rejecting the idea recently put forth for a Palestinian State with eastern Jerusalem as its capital but without guaranteeing the right of millions of Palestinians to "return" to the homes of their parents and grandparents in pre-1948 Israel.

Relations between Israel and the PA took a big hit on Sunday when a PA police officer shot and killed a Jewish man after praying at Joseph's Tomb in Nablus. Four other Jewish worshippers were also wounded in the shooting attack on their vehicle which took place as they were leaving Nablus.

Ben Yosef Livnat (Yeshiva World News)The killed man was Ben Yosef Livnat, 24, father of four and nephew of Minister of Culture and Sports Limor Livnat (Likud). Of the four wounded, two were in serious condition on Tuesday. After the shooting, a crowd gathered and vandalized the Tomb.

The IDF said that the group of Breslov Hassidim worshippers had entered Nablus, which is in Area A and under the security jurisdiction of the PA, without permission of the authorities and the PA police claimed that they had refused to obey instructions and tried to run through a roadblock. The Breslov group has a history of disregarding the instructions of the IDF in regards to visiting sites of historical and/or theological significance in the West Bank. But Gershon Mesika, head of the Samaria regional council, told Army Radio that precisely because the PA police knew this and knew that the worshippers were unarmed they should have known that there was no reason to use deadly force.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu sharply condemns the murder of Ben-Yosef Livnat and demands that the PA take tough steps against the perpetrators of this criminal act against Jews who were on their way to pray," the Prime Minister's Office said in the statement.

The PA has admitted that the officer "fired erroneously" and has expressed embarrassment over the incident but so far they have refused to transfer custody of the officer to Israel.

Israel's Friends in the Nations

The video featured here is a recording of ICEJ's USA Director, Susan Michael, speaking on Israeli Night at the Feast of Tabernacles 2009.

Some 1,000 Israeli guests in the auditorium that night were hugely impacted by this message of hope and friendship at a time when many feel they are alone in the world.


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