Thursday, December 26, 2013

From Ian:

Khaled Abu Toameh: No Christmas spirit in the West Bank: Israeli journalists banned from celebrations
The Palestinian Authority said on Tuesday that it expelled Israeli journalists who came to Bethlehem to cover Christmas celebrations.
The PA Ministry of Information said the decision was taken at the request of Palestinian journalists, who protested against the presence of their Israeli colleagues at Manger Square in the city.
The journalists who were kicked out of Bethlehem worked for Haaretz, i-24 News, Channel 1 and Arutz Sheva, the ministry said.
Palestinian journalists praised the PA police for ordering the Israelis out of the city.
Arafat died of natural causes, Russian experts say
The conclusion came was in line with findings by French experts who earlier this month ruled out the possibility that Arafat died of poisoning, as some had suspected.
“Yasser Arafat died not from the effects of radiation but of natural causes,” Vladimir Uiba, head of the Federal Medico-Biological Agency (FMBA), said according to the Russian Interfax news service. (Broken on EOZ first!)
Turkish Local Court Rejects Mavi Marmara Compensation Suit
A local Turkish court in the city of Kayseri rejected a compensation suit filed over the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, the Herriyet Daily News reported Wednesday.
Relatives of Furkan Doğan, one of the Turkish citizens killed in the raid, had requested 4 million Turkish Liras of compensation from Israel. However, the court rejected the claim, stating that Israel cannot be tried in a Turkish court.
Jerusalem plays down Turkish report that 'Mavi Marmara' compensation deal 'almost' complete
While there has been progress in talks to normalize relations with Turkey over the last few weeks, diplomatic officials stopped well short of confirming a Turkish newspaper report Wednesday that compensation talks between the countries over the Mavi Marmara incident were “nearly finalized.”
“There has been progress,” said one official informed of the talks, adding however that reports of an imminent deal were “premature.”
The daily Hurriyet quoted a Turkish diplomat Wednesday as saying that compensation talks for the Mavi Marmara have been “almost finalized” at a meeting last week in Istanbul.
None hurt after Kassam fired at Ashkelon area
Red alert sirens wailed through the region before the missile hit, for the second time this week.
The rocket came amid heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians following a string of attacks against Israeli civilians, police officers and soldiers, and Israeli retaliatory strikes against Gaza on Tuesday.
Earlier Wednesday, the IDF deployed an Iron Dome missile interception battery to the area near the southern cities of Beersheba and Sderot, and on Thursday put a third battery near Ashdod.
IDF commander: We know an attack from Gaza will involve multiple threats
Operating under the southern Gaza territorial division, the Company, established in 2003, is equipped with a range of heavy armored vehicles, such as D-9 armored bulldozers, armored personnel carriers, and drilling equipment.
Its members join infantry and armored units, and act as trailblazers for military forces, clearing paths in areas with bombs in them, exposing and destroying attack tunnels, and joining daily border patrols.
“We practiced all of the potential scenarios. We understand that if we come under attack, it will be a complex event involving multiple, combined threats, rather than one pinpoint attack,” Levi said. “We could be dealing with an explosives incident while coming under full attack from projectiles and gunfire. We could face an attempted kidnapping.”
Demonstration at Spot where Cop was Stabbed
Dozens of residents of the community of Adam, just north of Jerusalem, held a protest rally Tuesday night at Adam Roundabout, near the community of Adam, following the stabbing of a policeman there on Monday. The policeman, officer Rami Ravid, has lost a kidney as a result of the stabbing.
The head of the Binyamin Regional Council, Avi Roeh, said at the rally: “We call upon the government of Israel and the prime minister from here, to snap out of it and defeat the terrorism. This situation cannot go on. The government of Israel must bring back security to the residents.”
Gilad Shalit calls for release of Jonathan Pollard
Former captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit wrote in an open letter Wednesday that all Israelis should demand that the United States free jailed American-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, joining 106 Knesset members in calling for his release after 28 years of incarceration.
“After Israel has released terrorists with blood on their hands as a gesture to the Palestinians, a return gesture is all that is being requested,” Shalit said in his open letter, published on Ynet.
Report: Hamas attack thwarted by Egyptian army
Egyptian security forces arrested "a Palestinian belonging to Hamas who illegally entered Egypt... in a car with North Sinai license plate," according to Ali.
He added that during interrogations, the suspect "confessed he planned to blow up (his car) in front of a strategic security building,"
Egypt's army says militants from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip have staged joint attacks with hardline Islamists in North Sinai, where the government has ramped up security operations after a surge of violence set off by deposed President Mohamed Morsi's ouster in July.
Explosion hits bus in Egyptian capital
Security officials said an explosion has hit a public bus in the Egyptian capital Cairo, wounding five people.
There were also unconfirmed reports of one death, according to Egyptian news site al-Ahram.
The officials said the blast went off Thursday morning as the bus passed through Cairo’s eastern Nasr City district. They said the cause was still uncertain but they suspected an explosive device was thrown at the bus or set nearby.
Pentagon to Israel: Sway Congress against Egypt cuts
An Israeli request to US legislators to restore all American military aid to Egypt was orchestrated at the behest of high-ranking US officials in the Pentagon and the US State Department.
According to a report in Maariv on Wednesday, the Israeli effort came about after US officials, including some who are close to US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, urged Jerusalem to help influence Congress against the cuts.
Former prime minister of Egypt arrested
Kandil was appointed prime minister in July 2012.
In July 2013 an appeals court endorsed a ruling that dismissed Kandil from office and sentenced him to a year in prison over a case concerning a state-owned textile company that was sold to a private investor. Morsi, who was president at the time, was removed by a military coup later the same day.
Obama Withdraws Egyptian Ambassador Nominee Under Pressure From Egypt Military
Sources familiar with the matter say that Robert Ford — the highly-respected, Arabic-speaking career diplomat and current ambassador to Syria — was withdrawn from consideration for the Cairo post after some representatives of Egypt’s military regime quietly indicated that they didn’t want him in the job because of his stated willingness to negotiate with some of Syria’s Islamist militants and political groups.
Israel tracks Syria's Western jihadis, worried about their return
Israel is working with allies abroad to track Westerners fighting in Syria, concerned that such militants could attack Israeli or Jewish targets once back home, a senior Israeli official said on Tuesday.
Of an estimated 10,000 foreign combatants among rebels battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, around 20 percent are from the West and that number is rising, the official said.
Syrian Jihadist Leader Targeted UN Workers
The leader of a powerful Al-Qaeda group fighting in Syria sought to kidnap United Nations workers and scrawled out plans for his aides to take over in the event of his death, The Associated Press (AP) reported on Wednesday.
The report is based on excerpts of letters obtained by the news agency. Iraqi intelligence officials offered AP the letters, as well as the first known photograph of the Al-Nusra Front leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani.
Barry Rubin: Obama Administration Iran Deal Cannot Work
For example, revolutionary Islamists do not make concessions. That is not the way they bargain. Islamist Iran will never stop seeking nuclear weapons; it will be patient about it. The real danger to the Iranian regime is economic collapse from sanctions, and the potential gain would be for Iran to achieve its true ambitions–mainly, a Shi'a bloc made of Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq; and the destruction of Israel, which won't work.
Egypt played it tough and will probably be the only Arab state that has gained anything. Nevertheless, the Egyptians have so lost confidence with the United States that they just signed a 2 million dollar agreement to buy weapons from Russia. This takes the world back almost 60 years, to 1955, when Egypt was a Soviet client and was buying all its arms from the Soviet Union. Egypt then managed to obtain Russian arms deals for money and yet a U.S. arms deal for free!
Steinitz: Sunni-Shi’ite nuke race will result if Iranian program isn’t stopped
If Iran remains a nuclear threshold state, there will be a Sunni- Shi’ite nuclear arms race, Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Wednesday.
Any agreement with world powers must dismantle Iran’s nuclear program, he continued at a conference on Regional Upheavals, held by the Israel and Middle East studies department at Ariel University.
“The Middle East has gone mad,” said Steinitz, adding that nobody had expected what has happened in the Middle East over the past few years.
Iranians draft bill to up enrichment to 60 percent
Iranian parliamentarians have proposed a bill to increase uranium enrichment to 60 percent in the event of new Western sanctions, the Iranian Press TV reported Wednesday. In addition to raising the enrichment level significantly, the draft, signed by 100 legislators, would resume activity at the Arak heavy water reactor.
“If the bill is approved, the government will be obliged to complete nuclear infrastructure at the Fordo and Natanz [enrichment facilities] if sanctions [against Iran] are ratcheted up, new sanctions are imposed, the country’s nuclear rights are violated and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s peaceful nuclear rights are ignored by members of the P5+1,” Seyyed Mehdi Mousavinejad, an Iranian lawmaker, said on Wednesday, according to Press TV.
Turkey: Are Erdoğan's Days Numbered?
Long-brewing political struggles within the ruling AK party have also surfaced. They boil down to two radically different views of Islam. In the first, Erdoğan's faction identifies and allies itself with the [Arab] Muslim Brotherhood. This faction was strongly supportive of the ousted Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood President Muhammad Morsi, and also of Syria's fundamentalists. In the second view, supporters of the Fethullah Gülen look down upon "Arab Islam." To them, "real" Islam is "the Islam of the Turks - meaning the people who live in Turkey, Central Asia, and Western China."
To the outsider, these differences might seem to be distinctions without differences: supporters of both views understandably want Islam to be a major part of the political order. But for Turks, these differences are seismic: the question is, do they belong to the Middle Eastern Arab and Muslim political camp, or do they belong to the wider Turkish world?
Erdogan replaces 10 ministers amid corruption scandal
Erdogan replaced Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan, Interior Minister Muammer Guler and Erdogan Bayraktar, the minister for the environment and urban planning. All three men’s sons were detained as part of the corruption investigation. They all deny any wrongdoing.
Erdogan also replaced the minister in charge of relations with the European Union, who was also been implicated in the scandal, but has not resigned.
In all, Erdogan replaced 10 ministers, including three who will contest mayoral elections in March.
Turkey requests Santa Claus’ bones from Pope
The Turkey-based Santa Claus Peace Council has said it has written a letter to Pope Francis, requesting the return of the bones of Saint Nicholas.
Council Chairman Muammer Karabulut said they were expecting Pope Francis to give a positive response to their request to have a meeting on the bones, which are currently in Bari, Italy.

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