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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Yair Lapid asks what's wrong with Israel

As Israel's 60th birthday draws near, a chorus of complaints about the country's failures, large and small, is being heard throughout the land. Columnist Yair Lapid cataloged some leading criticisms and took issue with them in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israeli's largest-circulation daily newspaper. A translation of Lapid's column appeared April 26 on Ynetnews, Yedioth's English-language website.

Is Israel really that bad?

Yair Lapid has a few questions for Israelis who think that things are so bad around here

by Yair Lapid

Published: 04.26.08, 15:14,7340,L-3536046,00.html

If the state of education is so bad here, academia is in a freefall, and the brain-drain is in full force, how do you explain the fact that our high-tech sector is so successful, that the number of scientific publications is the highest in the world per capita (just like the number of patents,) and that we invented the disk-on-key and cell phone text messages?

If we don’t care about anything anymore and have no interest in what’s happening in the country, how do you explain the fact that Rabin Square gets filled up by protestors five times a year, that the evening newscasts are the most watched TV shows, and that most arguments around here are about politics?

If the public lost its faith in the IDF, our mutual responsibility is fading, and the number of draft-dodgers is skyrocketing, how do you explain the fact that all of us are so preoccupied with the fate of our captives, and that the round of recruitment that enlisted to the IDF immediately after the Second Lebanon War broke an all-time record after 70.8% of new recruits asked to join combat units?

If government corruption is everywhere and the law is a joke, how do you explain the fact that the son of a former prime minister is in jail, the former Labor minister was recently convicted over a bribe, and that our prime minister is constantly under investigation?

If our press has became silly like in America, yellow like in England, and irresponsible like in Italy, how do you explain the fact that newspapers last week cast aside all our supermodels to make room for publishing a chapter from David Grossman’s new book?

If the economy is collapsing, the concern for the poor is constantly declining, and the Treasury has been taken over by a gang of neo-conservatives who do whatever they feel like, how do you explain the fact that the number of poor Israelis has declined for the second year in a row, that the Wisconsin Plan appears to be a success story, and that not even one person has died of hunger in the history of our country?

If every ultra-Orthodox family has 10 children and more people are becoming religious, how do you explain the fact that the ultra-Orthodox have remained 8% of the population, exactly as they were when Israel was established?

Life expectancy high, unemployment low

If the Russian immigrants are failing to integrate, prefer to live in their own ghettos, read Russian newspapers, watch Russian television, and shop at their own shops, how do you explain the fact that all of them learned Hebrew, that their children are joining the IDF en masse, that about 80% of them own their apartment (a higher percentage than the general population), and that they show no intention of returning to Moscow?

If our youths are violent and detached, drink too much alcohol, and only care about going to clubs and stabbing each other, how do you explain the fact that close to 250,000 children are members of youth groups, and that tens of thousands choose to embark on a year of social service or join groups that help the needy?

If our immigration police is facing collapse because of the burden, the Agriculture Ministry brings here masses of Thai workers, every elderly Israeli has a Filipino nurse, and thousands of Palestinians come here to work every day, how do you explain the fact that unemployment in the first quarter of the year dropped to 6.5%, a 15-year low?

If our healthcare system is collapsing, our doctors are leaving, and extra health insurance coverage costs a fortune, how do you explain the fact that our per capita national expenditure dedicated to healthcare is only 7.8% of our GDP, roughly half of what it is in the US, and only two thirds of what it is in Germany and France? And how do you explain the fact that life expectancy here is higher than in all the abovementioned countries?

If President Bush is the best friend Israel ever had, Italy’s Berlusconi declares that he is warmly pro-Zionist, France’s Sarkozy decided to include Holocaust studies at every school in the country, Germany’s Angela Merkel ended the support for the Palestinian Authority and visited the Knesset to tell us how much she loves us, and Tony Blair appointed himself as a peace ambassador, how do you explain the fact that we feel like everyone hates us?

If our personal safety is declining, crime is skyrocketing, and we no longer can leave the house for fear that someone will rob us, how do you explain the fact that in a particularly broad national poll 81% of Israelis said that they are satisfied with their neighborhood and 75% said that “they feel safe when they walk alone on the street at night?”

If girls here have bad taste in clothing, every third girl gets a piercing in her belly button, half of them are tattooed like an Irish sailor, and the sweat wipes off their makeup three minutes after they leave the house, how do you explain the fact that every tourist who arrives here immediately declares that Israeli women are the most beautiful in the world?

If we have turned into a bunch of uncultured barbarians who yell on the street, swear, show contempt to academia and the arts, and only watch television, how do you explain the fact that we are number one in the world when it comes to museums per capita, number two in the world when it comes to reading books, that the percentage of Israelis who go to the theater (41%) is double the percentage of those who go to soccer games, and that one of four Israelis attended a classical music performance this year?

If we suffer so much, a plane ticket on sale is only $240, and Canada is happy to let us in, how do you explain the fact that we’re still here?


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Israel's 12 tribes, per Bradley Burston

Bradley Burston, the Haaretz columnist, sums up Israel as 12 latter-day tribes comprising "the magnificent muck-up that's now about to hit 60." His piece presupposes some familiarity with Israeli politics. Like much of his work, it is amusing and insightful.

Haaretz / Last update - 09:20 25/04/2008
The new tribes of Israel
By Bradley Burston

My life partner and I once found ourselves on a remote part of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. We got to talking with a calm, perceptive and unusually grounded woman who told us she lived there. When she then asked us where we called home, and we told her Israel, she responded with what seemed to her to be the logical, natural, next question: "Oh ... what tribe are you?"

While we, taken aback, groped for an answer, she told us in a manner as matter-of-fact as an observation about the weather, that she was of the Tribe of Ephraim. Everyone at her church, she continued, knew which tribe they belonged to.

Perhaps the question is harder for us to answer because we no longer see ourselves, as the first 12 Tribes did, as the children of the children of Jacob. The tribes that make up the latter-day State of Israel are, in fact, the remnants of revolution, of a surfeit of concurrent revolutions, in fact. Together those revolutions have built and battered Israel into the magnificent muck-up that's now about to hit 60.

A field guide:

The Tribe of Beitar
Tribal lore blends Polish-Jewish culture of nursing grievances as a way of life, with multigenerational Mizrahi rage at the ghost of Mapai (see below).

Political orientation: Raucously hawkish, but once in power, tends to give away occupied land (for example, Sinai, Gaza, most of Hebron).

Religious orientation: Beitar-odox, a fundamentalist belief in Beitar Jerusalem and the redemptive power of soccer. Sabbath observance may include participation in Orthodox minyan, followed by a chain-smoking convoy drive - yellow-and-black Beitar scarf flying from car windows - to the match of the week.

The Tribe of Mapai
Once the proudly dominant clan, running everything from the Israel Defense Forces to health care to steel production. Now splintered, anemic, rudderless, vestigial, yuppified - barely an extended dysfunctional family.

Political orientation: Once strongly social-democratic. Once strongly dovish.

Identifying characteristics: Equivocation. Nostalgia.

The Tribe of Maran
Named for tribal elder Maran (Revered Rabbi) Ovadia Yosef.

Aim: To restore pride to Jews of Mediterranean and Mideast origin, who often faced discrimination and humiliation at the hands of Mapai.

Political orientation: Tough on religious issues, hard-line though occasionally flexible on matters of defense and diplomacy.

Identifying characteristics: By far the best dressed (and groomed) among the ultra-Orthodox. Not to be confused with the Ashkenazi Tribe of Mamaloshen, too varied (think pro-Gush Emunim to pro-Ahmadinejad) to be detailed here.

The Tribe of Tech
One of the newer clans. Believes in the redemptive power of long hours, innovative ideas, Nasdaq and eventual sale of the company to a global corporation for mega-millions.

Political orientation: Vaguely centrist. Believes in stability and furtherance of peace talks as good for investment and the economy.

Identifying characteristics: Bluetooth implant, polo shirt, car with company logo on back fender and bumper sticker reading "How's my driving?" - but with phone number too small to read when vehicle is traveling at warp speed.

The Tribe of Yesha
Includes many of the some quarter-million Jewish residents of the West Bank, plus a huge number of settler would-have-beens in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Modi'in, Brooklyn and elsewhere.

Political orientation: Vanguard of the religious right, but drifting. Youth are having second thoughts. The disengagement from Gaza shattered faith in the government, the state, the Yesha Council and national Orthodoxy, giving rise to the hardal - the Haredi Leumi amalgam.

The Tribe of Bil'in
A small, poorly organized but vocal clan, with offshoots in South Tel Aviv lofts and elsewhere. Signature ritual is protest against West Bank fence near village of Bi'lin.

Religious orientation: Personal anarchism. Antipathy to Israeli governmental institutions and policies. Antipathy may extend to Zionism as a philosophy, and/or to bourgeois parents.

The Tribe of Kach
The rightist version of the Bil'inist. Feels compulsion to spend all Jewish holidays in Hebron. Feels compulsion to spray-paint "Kahane was right" on all available bus stops.

Political orientation: Far right. Fervent belief in expelling Arabs from Greater Israel. Often characterized by excessive interest in and carrying of large handguns. Tribe has many fellow travelers, notably Women in Green.

Identifying characteristics: Oversized kippot. Oversized earlocks. Oversized sidearms.

The Tribe of Tibi
Israel's Arab minority, perhaps the most difficult grouping to typify, as it is made up of numerous minorities and clans of diverse religions, cultures, and political and social attitudes.

These include Christians, Muslims and Druze, Negev and Galilee Bedouin, IDF officers and firebrand Islamists. Their position also makes them vulnerable to the simultaneous suspicions of fellow Israelis and neighboring Palestinians.

The Tribes of Sheinkin and Bombamela

Two sides of a similar coin, this group - largely native-born Ashkenazi in origin - may tend toward artistic/New Age/yuppie commercial ventures on the one hand, and patchouli-flavored hippie dropout status on the other.

The Tribe of Vesty
More than a million strong, "the Russians," as immigrants from ex-Soviet lands are collectively known, have created a subculture of their own. In some disciplines, notably music, they have brought a level of formality and seriousness, which may put them at odds with the more offhand approach of the native-born.

P.S. After almost two decades here, I still have little idea which tribe is truly mine. Perhaps a little perspective is in order. Perhaps another visit to Kauai.

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Text of arrest announcement in Kadish spy case

Here is the text of a U.S. Justice Department press release April 22 announcing the arrest of Ben-Ami Kadish, a U.S. citizen, on charges of spying for Israel. The statement mentions a co-conspirator, identified only as "CC-1." This person evidently is Yosef Yagur, an Israeli who served at Israel's consulate in New York in 1980-85.
Department of Justice
(202) 514-2007
TDD (202) 514-1888
Man Arrested for Disclosing National Defense Information to Israel

MANHATTAN — Michael J. Garcia, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Mark J. Mershon, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and Weysan Dun, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the Newark Office of the FBI, in conjunction with the U.S. Army, announced today the arrest of Ben-Ami Kadish on charges that he participated in a conspiracy to disclose to the Government of Israel documents related to the national defense of the United States and, in connection with that unauthorized disclosure, that he participated in a conspiracy to act as an agent of the Government of Israel. According to the Complaint filed in Manhattan federal court:

From about 1979 through 1985, Kadish, a citizen of the United States, was a mechanical engineer, employed at the U.S. Army’s Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center at the Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, New Jersey (the “Arsenal”). The Arsenal kept a library of documents with classified information related to the national defense of the United States (the “Library”).

On numerous occasions during this time period, Kadish borrowed classified documents (the “Classified Documents”) from the Library and took the Classified Documents to his residence in New Jersey (the “Residence”). At the Residence, Kadish would then provide the Classified Documents to a co-conspirator not named herein as a defendant (“CC-1”), who would photograph the Classified Documents in the basement of the Residence.

From at least 1980 through 1985, CC-1, a citizen of Israel, was employed by the Government of Israel as the Consul for Science Affairs at the Israeli Consulate General in Manhattan and directed Kadish to provide the Classified Documents to him (CC-1).

One of the Classified Documents that Kadish provided to CC-1 contained information concerning nuclear weaponry and was classified as “Restricted Data,” a specific designation by the U.S. Department of Energy, because the document contained atomic-related information.

Another one of the Classified Documents that Kadish provided CC-1 contained information concerning a major weapons system -- a modified version of an F-15 fighter jet that the United States had sold to another country. This document was classified by the Department of Defense as “Secret” and was further restricted as “Noforn,” or “Not Releasable to Foreign Nationals.”

Another one of the Classified Documents borrowed by Kadish from the Arsenal Library contained information concerning a major weapons system and major element of defense strategy -- the U.S. Patriot missile air defense system. This document was classified by the Department of Defense as “Secret.”

On March 20, 2008, Kadish and CC-1 had a telephone conversation, during which CC-1 instructed Kadish to lie to federal law enforcement officials. The following day, during an interview with the FBI, Kadish denied having had the telephone conversation with CC-1.

Kadish is charged with four counts: one count of conspiring to disclose documents related to the national defense of the United States to the Government of Israel; one count of conspiring to act as an agent of the Government of Israel; one count of conspiring to hinder a communication to a law enforcement officer; and one count of conspiring to make a materially false statement to a law enforcement officer.

Kadish is scheduled to appear this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Douglas F. Eaton in Manhattan federal court.

Mr. Garcia praised the FBI and the U.S. Army for their efforts in this continuing investigation.

This prosecution is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Iris Lan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and Trial Attorney Kathleen Kedian of the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

The charges and allegations contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.



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White House statement on bombed Syrian reactor

Here is the text of a statement from the White House press office about the Syrian installation which Israeli aircraft destroyed last year. The White House states, "We have good reason to believe that reactor, which was damaged beyond repair on Sept. 6 of last year, was not intended for peaceful purposes."

The statement doesn't mention Israel.

The White House
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 24, 2008

Statement by the Press Secretary

Today, administration officials have briefed select Congressional
committees on an issue of great international concern. Until Sept. 6,
2007, the Syrian regime was building a covert nuclear reactor in its
eastern desert capable of producing plutonium. We are convinced, based
on a variety of information, that North Korea assisted Syria's covert
nuclear activities. We have good reason to believe that reactor, which
was damaged beyond repair on Sept. 6 of last year, was not intended for
peaceful purposes. Carefully hidden from view, the reactor was not
configured for such purposes. In defiance of its international
obligations, Syria did not inform the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) of the construction of the reactor, and, after it was destroyed,
the regime moved quickly to bury evidence of its existence. This
cover-up only served to reinforce our confidence that this reactor was
not intended for peaceful activities.

We are briefing the IAEA on this intelligence. The Syrian regime must
come clean before the world regarding its illicit nuclear activities.
The Syrian regime supports terrorism, takes action that destabilizes
Lebanon, allows the transit of some foreign fighters into Iraq, and
represses its own people. If Syria wants better relations with the
international community, it should put an end to these activities.

We have long been seriously concerned about North Korea's nuclear
weapons program and its proliferation activities. North Korea's
clandestine nuclear cooperation with Syria is a dangerous manifestation
of those activities. One way we have chosen to deal with this problem is
through the Six Party Framework. Through this process we are working
with our partners to achieve the verifiable denuclearization of the
Korean Peninsula. The United States is also committed to ensuring that
North Korea does not further engage in proliferation activities. We will
work with our partners to establish in the Six Party Framework a
rigorous verification mechanism to ensure that such conduct and other
nuclear activities have ceased.

The construction of this reactor was a dangerous and potentially
destabilizing development for the region and the world. This is
particularly true because it was done covertly and in violation of the
very procedures designed to reassure the world of the peaceful intent of
nuclear activities. This development also serves as a reminder that
often the same regimes that sponsor proliferation also sponsor terrorism
and foster instability, and cooperate with one another in doing so. This
underscores that the international community is right to be very
concerned about the nuclear activities of Iran and the risks those
activities pose to the stability of the Middle East. To confront this
challenge, the international community must take further steps,
beginning with the full implementation of the United Nations Security
Council resolutions dealing with Iranian nuclear activities. The United
States calls upon the international community to redouble our common
efforts to ending these activities and preventing the spread of weapons
of mass destruction in this critical region.

# # #

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

WQXR (NYT Radio Station) refused Sderot commercial

What is troubling to me, is that this item got relatively little coverage, so here is a bit more...
By Marc Perelman
Tue. Apr 08, 2008

For the legions of commentators and bloggers who try to discern the Middle Eastern bias of the New York Times, this week offered two contradictory pieces of evidence.
On the Gray Lady's front page April 5, there was a story describing the plight of the residents of Sderot, the Israel town under fire from Gaza. The article, which cast a sympathetic eye on Israel, lent support to those who see a pro-Israel bias at the paper.
But then, news came out that a Times-owned radio station, WQXR, had rejected an advertisement about Sderot from the American Jewish Committee. The station said the ad was problematic, partly because it did not mention Israeli military reprisals.
In response, the AJCommittee canceled its advertising campaign on the radio station. Kenneth Bandler, the head of its communications department, said that after this decision was made, the president of New York Times Radio, Tom Bartunek, called him and explained that the radio station does not run ads with sirens or gunshots, nor does it carry spots about "hemorrhoid cream or sexual-potency pills."
"I am sure the people of Sderot will be pleased by the comparison," Bandler told the Forward.
Bartunek, general manager of WQXR, did not respond to a request for comment. Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for the Times, told the Forward in an e-mail that Bartunek's intention was "to provide general background on the station's advertising review policy and examples of the many reasons that spots do not meet the acceptability standards of WQXR."
She said the management of WQXR makes advertising decisions independently of the Times.
The same week as the WQXR dispute, the AJCommittee dropped an ad campaign with Bloomberg Radio after the station rejected a separate ad spot about incitement in Palestinian textbooks.
After initially failing to provide any justification, Bandler said the radio station called the AJCommittee on Tuesday to apologize. Bloomberg Radio also asked the AJCommittee to restart the ad campaign, which began in January. Judith Czelusniak, a Bloomberg spokeswoman, said the station had called the AJCommittee but was told it was too late.
"We hope they'll advertise with us again," she added.
Bandler said no decision had been made.
In the case of The New York Times's radio station, the 60-second AJCommittee spots began running on WQXR in January. For the week of March 31, the ad was a 15-second countdown describing the angst of Sderot inhabitants coming under missile fire and running to the shelters.
Bartunek explained in an internal memo that in addition to his perception that the tone of the message and the countdown device were unecessarily fueling anxiety, he claimed that "reasonable people might be troubled by the absence of any acknowledgement of reciprocal Israeli military actions."
This was not the first time the AJCommittee and WQXR squared off over Middle Eastern-related ads. Six years ago, the classical music station yanked an AJCommittee ad about incitement in Saudi and Pakistani textbooks. The AJCommittee simply stopped placing its ads with the station but decided to stay mum about the incident. This time, it decided to go public — full-bore.
In a blog posting on The Jerusalem Post Web site, David Harris, the AJCommittee's executive director, wrote that according to the station's logic, "the only way to broadcast the plight of Sderot's residents over the airwaves is to equate Israel's right of self-defense with Hamas's and Islamic Jihad's right to strike Israel at will."

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Italy to join drive for sanctions against Iran

This change may not be too meaningful, as long as Russia and China do not join in the sanctions.
Last update - 02:32 22/04/2008    
By Haaretz Correspondent and AP , By Barak Ravid 
Italy is expected to join a European Union consensus on Iran's nuclear program, after dropping earlier objections last week, possibly paving the way for new sanctions, a government official in Jerusalem said. Outgoing Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema is expected to announce Rome's new position at an EU Council of Ministers meeting at the end of April, the Israeli said.
"The outgoing government does not want to enable prime minister-designate Silvio Berlusconi to portray it as a government that went against the whole European Union," the official said.
Jerusalem believes that Belusconi's return to office will strengthen the line for imposing additional sanctions on Iran. Israel has held strategic discussions with France, Germany and the U.K. in recent weeks, focusing on Iran's ongoing development of its nuclear program. Apparently, the EU sanctions will be directed mainly against Iranian financial institutions and European bank accounts owned by bodies linked to Tehran's nuclear program.

The sanctions are also expected to limit European companies' export permits to Iran.
Italy was the main European opponent to strengthening sanctions on Iran in the past year. The Italians held up the EU's ratification of a third Security Council resolution regarding Iran. Italy's position was at least partly based on economic interests. About a week ago Italy was cited as Iran's biggest trading partner among EU states, after the trade exchanges between them reached 6 billion euros in 2007. The Italians said they cut their trade with Iran by 19 percent last year. Next came Germany and France, both of which had trade with Iran last year that reached 4.096 billion euros.
An Israeli source said that Italy's objection to widening the sanctions on Iran was also based on the close ties between the outgoing Italian administration and senior Iranian officials. Outgoing Prime Minister Romano Prodi, for example, was the only EU leader to meet Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The UN nuclear agency's deputy chief pushed Iran yesterday for answers about persistent allegations that the Islamic republic is running a covert nuclear weapons program.
International Atomic Energy Agency deputy director general Olli Heinonen's discussions with Iranian officials focused on allegations that Iran is testing powerful explosives and seeking to design a missile re-entry vehicle, both of which could have applications for nuclear weapons.
Iran dismisses the allegations raised by U.S. intelligence agencies and insists its nuclear program is purely peaceful and geared solely toward producing electricity. A prominent Iranian hard-liner and aide to Iran's top leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced his government for hosting Heinonen, saying the trip was part of a joint U.S.-Israeli ploy aimed at strengthening allegations that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.
"It is a trick that looks ridiculous," Hossein Shariatmadari yesterday called Heinonen's trip in his conservative daily Kayhan.
The state news agency IRNA said yesterday was Heinonen's first day of talks with Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's permanent representative to the IAEA.
IRNA said the IAEA delegation would not visit any nuclear facility and would return to Vienna after holding a second day of talks in Tehran today.
Azerbaijan has halted a Russian shipment of equipment intended for Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant. Russian state-run company Atomstroiexport says trucks carrying the equipment were stopped at Azerbaijan's border with Iran two weeks ago. Company spokeswoman Irina Yesipova said Monday that officials were holding talks with both Azerbaijan and Iran.
Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Khazar Ibragim says his country is trying to get more information about the shipment, so that it can determine whether it violates United Nations sanctions in place against Iran.
Iran is paying Russia more than $1 billion to build the light-water reactor, which Tehran hopes to start up later this year.

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US rebuffs Hamas "truce" offer to Carter.

Carter got the same old same old - "We agree to take a state and give you nothing except 10 years of quiet - during which time we gather the means to destroy you."
What is strange about this report is this:
"Mashaal said he made the offer to Carter during talks between the two men on Friday and Saturday in the Syrian capital."
But reports on Saturday said that on Sunday Meshal was to have responded to Carter's offer! So who offered what?
Ami Isseroff
US: Mashaal's truce offer to Carter is meaningless
Former US president Jimmy Carter ended his nine-day trip to the region with a promise from Hamas to offer Israel tacit recognition and a 10-year truce if Israel in turn withdrew to the pre-1967 borders.
Khaled Mashaal, whose group has sworn to destroy Israel, told reporters in Damascus on Monday that Hamas would accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank with Israel as its neighbor, but stressed that his group would not formally recognize it, a move immediately dismissed by the USas meaningless.
"We agree to a (Palestinian) state on pre-67 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital with genuine sovereignty without settlements, but without recognizing
Israel," Mashaal said."We have offered a truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, a truce of 10 years as a proof of recognition."
Mashaal said he made the offer to Carter during talks between the two men on Friday and Saturday in the Syrian capital.
Mashaal used the Arabic word "hudna," meaning truce, which is more concrete than "tahadiyeh" - a period of calm - which Hamas often uses to describe a simple cease-fire. Hudna implies a recognition of the other party's existence.
In Washington, deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey brushed aside Hamas's offer, saying the group's past rhetoric contained "all this language about truces and other kinds of issues. But the bottom line is, Hamas still believes in the destruction of the state of Israel; they don't believe Israel has a right to exist," adding it was clear "that nothing has changed" in Hamas's attitude - including that the group still refuses to explicitly recognize Israel and denounce terrorism.
The statements by Hamas followed Carter's visit to the region, during which he spent time in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
Carter angered both Israel and his own government by meeting with Hamas, which is considered by both countries to be a terrorist organization. It has carried out terror attacks in Israel, and has launched rockets against the country's southern border. It has also held Cpl. Gilad Schalit captive since June 2006.
Top Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, refused to meet with Carter during his stay. But Carter, who ended his visit to the region on Monday, said that it was critical to talk to Hamas.
The former president, who brokered a peace deal between Egypt and Israel in 1979, said repeatedly that in those meetings, as well as in others he held, he was simply on a fact-finding mission for the Carter Center, which he runs in the United States.
But he did more then just receive information. He tried and failed to broker deals regarding a cease-fire with Hamas and the release of Schalit.
He did, however, wrangle a promise from Hamas that it would send a letter from the young man to his parents.
The gesture was acknowledged by Mashaal on Monday, who told reporters in Damascus that he had agreed to this "humanitarian" gesture out of respect for Carter.
Schalit's father, Noam, who, along with his wife, spoke with Carter both before and after his strip to Damascus, said he would wait until receiving the letter before commenting on the gesture.
Speaking to the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, Carter said that Hamas had rejected his proposal for a rapid prisoner exchange that would allow Schalit to be moved to Egypt in exchange for the release of people held by Israel not guilty of violent crimes, including politicians, women and children.
"Hamas considered its negotiations through Egypt to be well advanced," and it had already made promises to the families of prisoners who are on the prisoner list that is already under discussion with Israel, Carter said.
But, he added, Hamas would be willing to move Schalit to Egypt after the first part of that deal brokered with Egypt had been concluded.
Israel has agreed to release 1,000 prisoners in exchange for Schalit, but the hold-up has been the identity of the prisoners on the list.
Ofer Dekel, the official charged by Olmert with dealing with the kidnapped soldiers issue, was reported as saying Monday that he had not received a briefing about Carter's activities in Damascus and his talks with Mashaal, government sources said.
They added it was clear that Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai would brief the government - and Dekel - on what he heard from Carter regarding Schalit.
The two men met both before and after Carter's talks with Mashaal.
Far from knocking Carter's efforts, Yishai had asked Carter to help arrange a meeting between him and Hamas to work on releasing Schalit.
Carter told Yishai that Hamas was interested in such a meeting, but did not want to talk to him at this time, out of fear it would complicate already existing negotiations.
But Carter said he would help Yishai arrange a meeting in Egypt with intelligence chief Omar Sullieman. Yishai also spoke with Carter about his involvement in a conference of Islamic and Jewish religious leaders.
But, while Yishai wanted to work with Carter, one government official said the former US president had done more harm than good, even with the promise of a new letter. The Schalit family had previously received a letter from their son last June.
According to this official, Hamas is dissatisfied that, despite holding Schalit for almost two years, they have not gotten what they want from the Israeli government - the release of high-profile terrorists - for his return.
In an attempt to pressure the Israeli public to pressure the government, Hamas is interested in opening up another negotiating track which bypasses Dekel and the government, and goes directly to the public.
Carter, the official said, serves this purpose, because the impression that things could move much faster if only another channel of communications were tapped is exactly the message Hamas wanted the Israeli public to hear.
The official said it was clear that Hamas was using Carter for its purposes, and that Mashaal, who knew far in advance that Carter was coming to Damascus to meet him, could very well have had a letter to give the former president from Schalit. It's all about shaping Israeli public opinion, the official said.
The official said that Hamas also used Carter to give it legitimization.
The US and European Union position is that Hamas should not be engaged until it accepts three preconditions: recognizing Israel, disavowing terrorism and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
In comes Carter, the official said, and he meets Hamas without its having to pay any price, which is exactly what the organization wants to have happen with the rest of the world.
But, during his Jerusalem speech, Carter defended his actions.
"It was a small step forward to reassure Cpl. Schalit's parents that he is alive and well and will be writing them a letter soon," said Carter.
He also reported that Hamas would accept any deal negotiated by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, even one they disagreed with, as long as it was approved by the Palestinian people through a referendum.
"Let me underscore the significance of the statement. It means that Hamas will not undermine Abbas's efforts to negotiate the agreement," said Carter.
More to the point, if the Palestinian people, through a referendum, agreed to recognize Israel, then Hamas, in effect, would do so as well, he said.
But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza said Hamas's readiness to put a peace deal to a referendum "does not mean that Hamas is going to accept the result of the referendum."
Such a referendum, he said, would have to be voted on by Palestinians living all over the world. They number about 9.3 million, including some 4 million living in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
A spokesman for Carter said the former president had already left the country and had no response to the comment.
But during his speech, Carter acknowledged that he had failed in some respects during his talks with Hamas.
The group had rejected his suggestion for a 30-day unilateral cease-fire, he said.
"They met all day yesterday to consider this proposal. They finally decided that they were dependent on Egypt as an intermediary, and that progress which had been made already with Egypt should prevail. They couldn't terminate unilaterally, because they didn't trust Israel to follow up by lessening their attacks on Gaza and the West Bank," said Carter.
Separately, Carter said that Hamas wants to negotiate an agreement with Abbas to create a government of national consensus with a unified professional security force for the West Bank and Gaza. The cabinet would be composed of technocrats, until another election was held.
Hamas has also proposed that the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza be reopened with the help of EU monitors, as it was in the past, except that this time, Egypt, not Israel, would control it.
With respect to Syria, where Carter met with President Bashar al-Assad and senior officials, Carter said that Syria wants to conclude a peace agreement with Israel as soon as possible.
"I was impressed with their eagerness to complete an agreement on the Golan Heights. He [Assad] said that the only major difference in starting good faith talks was that Israel insisted that there be no public acknowledgement that the talks are going on, whereas Syria insisted that the talks being conducted would not be a secret."
Carter said that 85 percent of the differences had been resolved, including borders, water rights, security zones and the presence of international forces. He chastised the US for opposing talks between Syria and Israel.
Syria wants the US to play strong role, and "I hope that it will be done," said Carter.
He said that he asked the Syrians about the fate of Israeli soldier Guy Hever, who went missing in 1997, while in the area of the Golan Heights. There are those who believe he is being held by Syria.
Carter said the Syrians had no evidence of his whereabouts. They also said they knew nothing about the fate of kidnapped soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, both of whom were abducted by Hizbullah in July 2006.
AP contributed to this report.
This article can also be read at

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Inflation in Iran earns criticism of Ahmadinejad

Top Iran clerics criticise president over economy

TEHRAN (AFP) - Three of Iran's top clerics have criticised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over his handling of the economy, which is currently battling 18 per cent inflation, the press reported Saturday.
"We shift problems and faults onto others and in order to say we are innocent we blame others," Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavikani, a former prime minister and leading traditionalist conservative cleric, said in a speech in Tehran.
Ahmadinejad has repeatedly blamed his political rivals and the previous administration of reformist president Mohammad Khatami for stoking inflation and insisted his government is doing all it can to solve the problem.
The comments by Mahdavikani, quoted in the reformist Aftab-e Yazd newspaper, represent an unusually sharp attack on the president's policies by such an eminent religious figure.
He also called on Ahmadinejad not to use top clerics as political instruments to bring out his supporters to vote in elections.
"In my meeting with Mr Ahmadinejad I told him not to use us [clerics] as instruments. We were combatants before the [1979 Islamic] Revolution. We fought against corruption and what was against religion."
Ahmadinejad, in a speech in Iran's clerical epicentre of Qom, on Wednesday launched an extraordinary new attack on his domestic rivals, vowing to "cut their hands" to break networks of economic and political corruption.
Moderates have long have accused Ahmadinejad of injecting excessive cash into the economy to fund local infrastructure projects, causing an increase in money supply growth and directly triggering the inflation spike.
"From different corners of the nation one hears complaints about high prices and inflation," Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, also a traditionalist conservative, was quoted as saying in Qom.
"Especially on the issue of housing, where the people's cries can be heard even louder," he added, referring to the surge in housing prices in Tehran which have priced many middle-income families out of the market.
Taking issue with Ahmadinejad's fiery rhetoric against his opponents, Makarem Shirazi said criticism of the government on the economy should not be stifled.
"Sometimes it is said that if we talk about it [the economic situation], it is weakening the government but no, it is not."
"If the economic problems are not solved then we will have political and cultural problems," he added.
"The recent soaring prices are not a slogan. They are now felt by all walks of life," said moderate Grand Ayatollah Abdolkarim Mossavi Ardebili, who previously served as head of the judiciary.
It is extremely unusual in Iran for leading ayatollahs to speak out so explicitly and in unison over a political issue such as the economy and the comments could further increase pressure on Ahmadinejad.
It was announced earlier this month that the president had asked his Economy Minister Davoud Danesh Jaafari to step down, but that has still not taken place amid rumours Ahmadinejad is reconsidering his decision.
Ahmadinejad has changed almost all of his economic ministers -including oil and industry - since coming to power in 2005 on a platform of bringing oil money to people's tables.
20 April 2008

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Hot Israeli girls - and men

Hey it's just a joke...
New immigrant to Israel tries to discover the secret of Israeli girls' hotness
Benji Lovitt
Published:  04.19.08, 18:26 / Israel Culture
Shalom from Tel Aviv, English-speakers. Here in Israel, we're preparing to kick off the celebration in honor of our first 60 years. This is the time to reflect on what this wonderful nation has offered the world: An inspiring story of national revival, innovative technology, great tourism, and of course, unprecedented Jewish hotness.

Holy cow…have you been to Tel Aviv? Here's what I have to say about Israeli women:


Look, people – there's no other way to say it: They're hot. If this is news to you in the Diaspora, it's time to visit (oh, and there's that Kotel thing too).

When it comes to fashion and being "put together", the women of Tel Aviv are without question as fashionable as those in any American or European city. Walk down the beautiful pedestrian boulevard of Rothschild and you'll immediately know what I'm talking about. Imagine my surprise to learn that women dress for the office like they're going out on the town. When I say "dressed to kill", I'm not talking army uniforms.

Benji: "Hey, Dafna, what's with the revealing outfit…hot date tonight?"
Sexy Jewess: "Ehhhhh….no. Shareholders' meeting. Why?"

Coming soon: The male evolvement
With men, it's a different story. I'm told the men here are pretty attractive as well, but as usual, they have some work to do to meet the standards set by the ladies. With warm weather quickly approaching, here's a quick idiot's guide to dressing like an Israeli male:

Step 1: Shave head.

Step 2: Grow 4 days' worth of scruff. Not three. Not five. (Israeli men all possess the unique talent of always appearing like they just returned from their six month post-army hike in India. Man, they're hot.)
Step 3: Put on at least one of the following articles of clothing:
• Baggy Thai fisherman's pants (never, ever shorts) or tight European jeans
• Flip-flops
• T-shirt with English words which are inappropriate, make no sense, or are sexually suggestive. (Seriously, people here are obsessed with English and put on articles of clothing with a complete cluelessness about what they say. I saw a Russian grandmother wearing a shirt that said "Pimping Ain't Easy". Well, not with a walker it ain't, grandma! These are your golden years! Take a load off!)

Step 4: Dressed? Great – I'll see you at the beach. Or the office.

One great thing about living in Tel Aviv is that dress is so casual. I can't even tell you the last time I wore a tie since moving here, if it's even happened once. This makes for an interesting learning experience at your first Israeli wedding.

"Hey, who let the homeless guy in??? (Pause) Oh, that's the groom??? How's he gonna break the glass wearing Crocs?"

Okay, so maybe that's a bit of a stretch, although I will say that it's extremely hard to find a plain white dress-shirt that doesn't have a dragon or some other design on the back. Future immigrants, bring white shirts with you. Forget the ties.

The secret: Mixing 
Now…you may have heard that high-tech is one of Israel's biggest exports. What about its beauty? Heard of Bar Refaeli? Known by many as Leonardo DiCaprio's girlfriend, she recently graced Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue. How about Galit Gutman, Esti Ginzburg, Moran Atias, or that Natalie actress girl? Did I mention my word limit? I'll leave the Googling to you.

So why are Israelis so good-looking? In a word? Mixing. With immigrants from every corner of the world, Israel is a veritable genetics shmorgasbord of every kind of look and mix of cultures you can imagine.
Jews from Arab lands, the former Soviet Union, South America, Europe, etc. – the diversity in this country is simply unbelievable. I imagine Emeril from The Food Channel in the kitchen: "Two spoons of Ashkenazis...two spoons of Sephardis...a touch of Ethiopian...some olive oil...and BAM! Dizengoff Center!!!"

Jokes aside, I've always found myself attracted to Israelis and not because of what's on the outside. Growing up in America, I always felt such a strong sense of pride, awe, and amazement towards my Israeli peers. While I spent my college years scarfing down pizzas, memorizing "SportsCenter" catchphrases ("Booyah!"), and generally acting like a doofus (what else is college for?), they were serving in the army and defending the state of Israel while speaking about it all matter-of-factly, as if this type of thing is completely normal and goes without saying (which it pretty much does in Israel).
For all these reasons, there's just nothing more attractive to me than hearing someone speak Hebrew. You can have your Italian or South American accent…I'll take the language of the Jews anytime.

Whatever beauty you're looking for in a partner, this country has it, both inside and out.
Israel: Even the Ugly Ones are Hot. Ministry of Tourism, I'm available for hire.
Benji Lovitt is a stand-up comic and writer. He blogs about his immigrant experiences at You can book him for a show at

Continued (Permanent Link)

IDF commander axed for not confronting militants in fuel depot attack

 Last update - 01:15 22/04/2008

 IDF commander axed for not confronting militants in fuel depot attack 

By Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz Correspondent 

Israel Defense Forces chief Gabi Ashkenazi dismissed the commander of the 9th armor battalion from his post Monday over his failure to confront Gaza militants during their attack on the Nahal Oz fuel depot, which led to the murder of two Israeli civilians.

According to an internal IDF investigation, the battalion was stationed only 150 meters away from the fuel depot, and yet the commander did not order his soldiers to confront the militants.

In the end, it was Givati soldiers who moved in to confront the militants, however they managed to escape back into the Gaza Strip after a gun battle erupted in the area.

Most of them were later killed in counter attacks by air and land force

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Hezbollah's Victory: The gift to Lebanon that keeps on giving

According to a recent survey, Hassan Nasrallah is the most popular figure in the Arab world, and with good reason. Hezbollah's great victory in the summer of 2006 has borne many fruit. Lebanese have buried over a thousand dead, though most were Hezbollah so that was not all bad news. Lebanese have not finished repairing billions of dollars worth of damage from the war. But the best fruit of victory is the gift that keeps on giving - the war scared the tourists away. Lebanese are very grateful to Hezbollah because, as the Daily Star headline tells us :
BEIRUT: The occupancy rate in Beirut hotels was 35 percent in 2007, down from 50 percent in 2006, said the benchmark annual survey of the Middle East hotel sector by Ernst & Young, as reported by Byblos Bank's Lebanon This Week. The occupancy rate in Beirut was the lowest among 19 markets in the region in 2007, as it was in the previous year, and Beirut posted the steepest annual drop in the region, the report said.
The survey said average rate per room at Beirut hotels was $140 last year, ranking the capital's hotels as the 12th-most expensive in the region ahead of Al-Ain in the United Arab Emirates, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, Amman in Jordan and all markets in Egypt.
The average rate per room at Beirut hotels declined by 19 percent year-on-year and posted the second-steepest drop among all markets in the region after Amman, which declined by 28 percent year-on-year.
The average rate per room in Beirut came below the regional average of $196.5, which jumped by 17 percent from $168 in 2006.
Occupancy rates at Beirut hotels were 26.4 percent in January 2007 and 27.8 percent in February, and then rose to 41 percent in March and 56.2 percent in April before dropping to 47 percent in May and 21 percent in June. It increased to 41 percent in July and 47 percent in August, but remained below the normal rates during the peak summer months of June to August.

Occupancy dropped further to 37 percent in September and rose slightly to 40 percent in October before declining to 34 percent in November. But occupancy increased to 47 percent in December due to the peak holiday season, but still came below traditional rates for the time of the year.
Further, revenues per available room were $49 in Beirut in 2007, down from $87 in the previous year, ranking it in 17th place in the region, ahead of only Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. Beirut's revenues were down 43.8 percent from the previous year, posting the sharpest decline among the 19 regional markets, compared to a rise of 16.8 percent across the region.
Beirut, Amman, Doha and Medina were the only markets to report revenue-per-room declines last year. Dubai posted the highest occupancy rate in the Middle East at 88 percent in 2007, while Kuwait posted the region's highest average room rate at $535. - The Daily Star
Hezbollah is also responsible for the permanent deadlock in Lebanese politics, which has left Lebanon without a president. No wonder everyone in the Arab world loves Hassan Nasrallah!
Ami Isseroff

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War this summer?

Waiting for a hot summer in Gaza is just one of many analyses that promise a full scale operation in Gaza after Israeli independence day celebrations are done.
Yaakov Katz explains:
The assessment in the defense establishment is that attacks against the crossings as well as along the border fence - like the one last week in which three Givati soldiers were killed - will continue and possibly escalate in the coming weeks.
Despite this assessment and calls within the IDF to move from a "defensive mode" of repelling Hamas from the border to an "offensive mode" - a widespread invasion into Gaza - defense officials admitted over the weekend that the chances of a large operation were slim to none for at least two months. This is mainly due to May's scheduled visit by US President George W. Bush. There are also the nationwide 60th anniversary celebrations.
After Bush leaves and the last of the fireworks are lit, Israel's hands will be untied. It will also already be the middle of the summer, which is a prime time for a war.
Probably however, the attacks happen because Hamas know they have Israel over a barrel, and that no response will be forthcoming. As soon as the festivities end and everyone goes home, expect that Hamas may be smart enough to quieten things down. Or not - you never can know with them.
Ami Isseroff

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Syrian President confirms third party negotiations with Israel

 Last update - 00:39 21/04/2008       
Assad confirms trading messages with Israel
By The Associated Press
DAMASCUS, Syria - Syrian President Bashar Assad said Sunday that he has exchanged messages with Israel through a third party to explore the possibility of resuming peace talks, the country's official news agency SANA reported.
During a meeting with Syria's ruling Baath Party officials, Assad commented on media reports about indirect contact between the two countries.
"There are efforts exerted in this direction," he was quoted as saying.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Haaretz last week in an interview "I know exactly what the Syrians want and I think the Syrians know what the State of Israel and I expect from the peace process."
Assad echoed these comments Sunday, saying "Israel knows well what is accepted and not accepted by Syria."
"Syria rejects secret [direct] talks or contacts with Israel... Anything Syria does in this regard will be announced to the public," Assad was quoted as saying.
Negotiations broke off in 2000 after Syria rejected Israel's offer to return the Golan Heights, which it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed.
Syria wanted Israel to withdraw to the prewar line on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. But Israel wasn't prepared to give up any control of the lake that provides about half of the country's drinking water.
Despite the peace overtures, tensions have been high between the two countries in recent months, largely stemming from a reported Israeli airstrike on a Syrian military facility in September. Some foreign reports have said the target was a nuclear installation Syria was building with North Korean assistance.
Damascus denies having a nuclear program, and North Korea says it was not involved in any such project. Syria did not retaliate for the attack.
Both Syria and Israel have expressed a willingness to renew talks since Israel's war against the Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia in 2006. Olmert has insisted that if Syria is serious about peace, Damascus must withdraw its support for Hezbollah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

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Hamas conditions probably would make peace impossible

 The following is a signal that Hamas is going to object to any peace agreement on the principle that it violates Palestinian "rights" if it allows Isreal to exist or gives Jews any rights in Jerusalem. They will not allow a referendum and will not accept the results:
"The idea of a referendum on any agreement signed with the occupying [Israeli authorities] is rejected by the Hamas movement," Sami Abu Zuhri was quoted by the Qatar-based television network as saying.
"No poll on the basic rights [of Palestinian people]. Is it possible for us to carry out a poll on al-Quds [Jerusalem] if such an agreement affects our rights in al-Quds?" he asked.
Last update - 21:39 20/04/2008       
Report: Hamas rejects Egyptian plan for truce with Israel
By Haaretz Service and Reuters

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri on Sunday rejected an Egyptian plan for a cease-fire agreement with Israel, Al Jazeera reported.
On Friday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit unveiled an Egyptian plan to restore calm in the region. The plan seeks to establish a ceasefire under which the firing of rockets in Gaza Strip has to stop while Israel also stops targeting Palestinians.
Other provisions include exchanging 400 Palestinian prisoners currently held in Israeli jails for captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas in 2006.
Egypt's plan also includes the opening of Gaza's border crossings and to put a peace agreement, if reached this year, to a Palestinian public vote.
"The idea of a referendum on any agreement signed with the occupying [Israeli authorities] is rejected by the Hamas movement," Sami Abu Zuhri was quoted by the Qatar-based television network as saying.
"No poll on the basic rights [of Palestinian people]. Is it possible for us to carry out a poll on al-Quds [Jerusalem] if such an agreement affects our rights in al-Quds?" he asked.
Abu Zuhri also rejected as "unacceptable" remarks by Aboul Gheit, who reportedly said Hamas' participation in a Palestinian national unity government with rival faction Fatah could thwart efforts to reach a peace settlement with Israel.
These comments came as the death toll in Israel Air Force airstrikes in the Gaza Strip climbed to at least six dead Palestinians since Saturday.
On Friday, the Egyptian foreign minister said that Egypt was making "good progress" in efforts to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
Aboul Gheit said his government was speaking with both sides to get a "period of quiet," which would help Israeli and Palestinian negotiators achieve a deal more easily in U.S.-mediated Palestinian statehood talks that exclude Hamas.
"Hamas wants to call it a period of quiet. That suits the Israelis because they do not want to reach a signed, written agreement with Hamas," Gheit said of Egypt's mediation attempts in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington on Friday.
"We are making good progress [mediating] but the difficulty we face is that often, certain trends inside Israel challenge the idea and certain trends inside Gaza challenge the idea and maybe, maybe there could also be a foreign element," he said with a smile, referring to the United States.
Israel and the United States both classify Hamas as a terrorist organization and shun contacts with it, although Washington has quietly given a nod for Egypt to negotiate with the Islamist group to end violence that threatens the statehood talks.
The peace talks only involve Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Olmert. Gheit said if they reached a deal, which Washington wants by the end of the Bush administration's term in January 2009, then Hamas would be under pressure to accept it.

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Syrian Jews celebrate Passover

 Last update - 20:04 20/04/2008       
Syrian Jews celebrate Passover with ritual prayers in Damascus
By The Associated Press
DAMASCUS, Syria - A handful of Syrian Jews celebrated the start of the Jewish Passover holiday Sunday with prayers at Damascus' only synagogue, saying they feel free to openly practice their religion just as Muslims and Christians do.
"There are only about 100 Jews left in Syria, after the late President Hafez Assad permitted Jews to leave the country in 1992," said Albert Qameo, a Jewish community leader in Syria.
Over the past 16 years, some 3,700 Jews have left Syria for Israel and the United States.
The remaining Syrian Jews live in the capital, Damascus, the northern city of Aleppo and in the northeastern city of Qamishli.
"Here I was born, studied and worked. Here is our history, and we have our holy sites that we have to look after," Qameo said.
Qameo, 59, led Sunday's prayers, which were attended by only seven Jews at Al-Feranj Synagogue in the old Jewish quarter in central Damascus.
Jews who worship in the Syrian capital do so without a rabbi, after their chief rabbi left Syria for the U.S. in 1994.
"I'm happy in Syria where I perform my Jewish rituals like Muslims and Christians do," Qameo said, speaking in Arabic. "Marking Passover here in this synagogue is a proof that Jews in Syria are living peacefully and in security."
Another worshipper at Sunday's prayers, Joseph Hamdani, said he lives peacefully in Syria and maintains good relations with his Muslim and Christian neighbors.
"I don't feel like I'm being treated differently," said Hamdani, 41, who also speaks Arabic.
While Syrian Jews celebrate Passover, which commemorates the exodus of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt, their government has no diplomatic relations with Israel.
Syria supports the Palestinian militant group Hamas, as well as Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. Both groups have claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis.
U.S.-sponsored Israel-Syria peace talks broke down in 2000 over final border and peace arrangements. Syria demands the full return of the Golan Heights, the territory seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Continued (Permanent Link)

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