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December 18, 2008

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Palestinians Got $1.7 Billion in Aid in 2008 (AFP)
    The international community has given $1.7 billion in aid to the Palestinian Authority over the last year, the French Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
    The amount was $600 million more than was promised at a major donor conference held last December in Paris, spokesman Frederic Desagneaux said.

Death Sentences Surge in West Bank, Gaza (Human Rights Watch)
    In 2008, Palestinian civil and military courts have sentenced 11 people to death.
    Seven of the 11 death sentences were issued by military courts, in breach of a commitment made by Mahmoud Abbas in June 2005 to refer all death penalty cases to civilian courts.
    Palestinian military and state security courts do not meet international fair trial standards. In two of the cases, before military courts in Jenin and Hebron, the trials lasted just one day.

Egyptian Court Says No to Gas Exports to Israel - Jonathan Wright (Reuters)
    A Cairo court on Tuesday overruled the Egyptian government's decision to allow exports of natural gas to Israel and said the constitution gave parliament the right to decide on sales of natural resources.
    A senior Egyptian official said the verdict did not require immediate implementation and the government would appeal against it.
    Judicial sources said the government could ignore the ruling, as it has done in many past cases.
    Gas started flowing to Israel through a pipeline for the first time in May under an agreement signed in 2005 for the supply of 1.7 billion cubic meters a year over 20 years.

French Muslim Leaders in Israel to Promote Understanding - Brenda Gazzar (Jerusalem Post)
    Fifteen French Muslim leaders are visiting Israel this week on a tour organized by the Washington-based Project Interchange, an institute of the American Jewish Committee.
    Combating anti-Semitic acts is a top priority among police officers in France, said Muhammad Douhane, a police commander in the Paris District and a French Muslim of Algerian descent.
    In recent years, the French government has launched programs to promote diversity and help France's Muslim youth identify as French citizens, so they understand that when they assault a Jew, they are assaulting a fellow French citizen.

On the Big Screen, Where All the Arabs Are Israeli - Dan Ephron (Newsweek)
    In HBO's ongoing miniseries "House of Saddam," the lead actor is Yigal Naor. One of his costars is Uri Gavriel, who portrays the depraved Chemical Ali.
    Israeli actors are often preferred, some in the industry say, because their English tends to be good and their acting style is Western - as opposed to the more florid, theatrical technique popular in Arab drama.
    Many Israeli actors grew up hearing Arabic and know something about the culture.
    Still, moviegoers across the Arab world must find it unsettling to see themselves so often depicted by their enemies.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Hamas: "Obama's Positions Are Unacceptable" - Jonathan Ferziger
    Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar said in an interview Tuesday that Arab-Israeli peace negotiations since the 1991 Madrid summit have proven that talks are useless and that Palestinians need to fight to regain their land. Zahar says he doesn't believe peace with Israel is possible. The Hamas charter rejects the Jewish state's right to exist. Zahar said he isn't expecting U.S. policy to change under President-elect Obama. "He is 100 percent pro-Israeli and his positions are unacceptable."
        Mukhemer Abu Sada, a political scientist at Al Azhar University in Gaza City, said Hamas no longer seems willing to restrain its own militants, as well as those from the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. All are itching to step up rocket fire at Sderot, Ashkelon and other nearby Israeli population centers, he said. (Bloomberg)
        See also Gaza Militants Ready for End of Truce with Israel - Diaa Hadid and Ibrahim Barzak
    In Gaza City, masked Palestinian gunmen practice capturing Israeli soldiers, training videos show how to make grenades, and rocket squads fire daily at Israeli border towns. It looks like a warm-up for battle. Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers say a six-month cease-fire with Israel formally ends Friday. During the truce, Hamas has been smuggling weapons through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. Hamas militants are also believed to be burrowing tunnels into Israel to carry out attacks. (AP/Washington Post)
  • Russian Donation of Fighter Jets to Lebanon Raises Suspicions - Wang Yan
    Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr announced Tuesday in Moscow that Russia has agreed to deliver to Lebanon 10 Mig-29 jet fighters. The announcement raises political, military and strategic questions, the Beirut daily As-Safir said Wednesday. The Lebanese air force currently consists of five Hawker Hunter jets from 1950s and 1960s, and a dozen helicopters. The Lebanese army has always been forbidden from acquiring heavy weapons. (Xinhua-China)
        See also Russia, Testing U.S. Sway, Offers Lebanon Ten Warplanes - Robert F. Worth (New York Times)
  • Security Council Extends Probe of Hariri Slaying - Edith M. Lederer
    The UN Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to extend the investigation into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri to Feb. 28, from year's end. Chief investigator Daniel Bellemare of Canada told the Security Council that his team has uncovered fresh information that may link additional individuals to the network responsible for the February 2005 truck bombing that killed Hariri. Four pro-Syria Lebanese generals have been under arrest for more than three years for alleged involvement. The first UN chief investigator, Detlev Mehlis of Germany, has said the plot's complexity suggested that Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services played a role. (AP/Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Rocket Fire from Gaza Wounds Three Israelis - Shmulik Hadad
    Three people were wounded Wednesday as Palestinians fired more than 20 rockets at Israeli communities. One rocket exploded in the parking lot of a large commercial center in Sderot while hundreds of shoppers were at the site. Sderot resident Yair Madmon said: "I arrived at the supermarket...when I stood by the entrance, I heard the loud whistle, and then the explosion, which happened right before my eyes. The rocket landed close to was scary." "Kassams landed in my backyard twice in the past, yet this time it was much scarier," he said. "There was chaos at the site. Products flew off the shelves, people started screaming and running away." (Ynet News)
        See also Sderot Under Fire - Tovah Lazaroff
    The rocket that shattered the front windshield of Pinchas Cohen's yellow hatchback outside the Victory supermarket in Sderot on Wednesday narrowly missed his wife and son. Last year, he said, a rocket fell meters from his Sderot home. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Israel Air Force Responds to Palestinian Rocket Fire - Yanir Yagna
    In response to Palestinian rocket fire, the Israel Air Force struck weapons factories in Jabaliya and Khan Yunis in Gaza on Wednesday night. (Ha'aretz)
  • Jews of Yemen to Be Relocated in Wake of Deadly Attack - Yoav Stern
    President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen is planning to relocate Yemen's Jews from the Amran district and the city of Raidah to the capital, Sana, the rabbi of the Jewish community, Yehi Yaish, said. The community in Raidah, where Moshe Nahari was murdered a few days ago, is estimated to number about 270 Jews. Central government control is weak and many residents carry automatic weapons for protection, including Jews. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israel to Aid Developing Countries - Yitzhak Benhorin
    Israel signed a partnership agreement with the UN Development Program on Thursday to support developing countries, mainly in Africa. Israel will aid developing nations including Senegal and Benin with knowledge and technology in the fields of agriculture, water, food, health, and education. "Israel views sharing the expertise and knowledge we have accumulated with countries in need to be of the highest moral and diplomatic importance," said Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Playing Power Politics with Iran - Ray Takeyh
    Western politicians hope that reduced oil prices will compel Iran to come to terms with the international community on its nuclear infractions. Such perceptions misread Iran's history and the mindset of Tehran's current rulers. The West confronts an Iranian regime that has reconceptualized its national interests - choosing strategic gain over economic growth. Neither economic distress nor additional sanctions are likely to alter Tehran's course.
        Several U.S. administrations have tried, and failed, to achieve Iran's strategic acquiescence by exploiting its economic vulnerabilities. It is time to approach the Iranian conundrum from a power-politics perspective. The Islamic Republic can be offered an opportunity to emerge as a leading regional state so long as it tempers its nuclear ambitions and restrains its destructive regional policies. An Iran that continues to violate its international obligations faces the prospect of isolation and conflict. The writer is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. (Boston Globe)
  • Palestine Divided
    The division between the West Bank and Gaza is set to endure despite the growing number of international actors who acknowledge that without Palestinian unity, a genuine peace process with Israel is unattainable. Prioritizing partisan concerns over the national interest, both Hamas and Fatah see greater cost than reward in compromise. Without regional and international incentives to shift this calculus, Palestine's political-territorial division will only deepen. "The bottom line is that the kind of unity that seemed possible two years ago has become an appreciably more complicated endeavor," states Robert Malley, Director of Crisis Group's Middle East and North Africa Program. (International Crisis Group)
  • Observations:

    Israel to Face Huge Security Challenges in 2009 (Xinhua-China)

    • A senior Israeli army officer warned Tuesday during a background briefing that the Jewish state would face "huge security challenges" in the coming year, listing three major threats to Israel: Iran's long-range attack capability, military organizations in neighboring countries, and asymmetric terrorism activities.
    • The Middle East is divided into two camps: one camp, with the U.S. as its leader, comprises Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; the other consists of Iran, Syria, and the Palestinian Hamas movement.
    • The Israeli officer accused Iran of being "on the way to becoming a nuclear country" and urged the international community to implement "decisive and timely" measures, such as more strict political and economic sanctions, to stop Iran's nuclear program.
    • He cited intelligence reports saying that Iran so far had stockpiled about 300 kg. of low-enriched uranium. "At this pace, Iran will have enough nuclear material in two or three years." Moreover, Iran has long-range missiles including the Shahab 3 which can hit targets in a range of 2,000 kilometers, he warned.
    • The officer predicted that Iran would be likely to provide a nuclear umbrella to military groups like Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon.
    • The Israeli officer stressed that Israel's continual military operations and blockade of Gaza are not punishment but effective defensive measures to prevent attacks. He said some 3,010 rockets and mortar shells have been fired at southern Israel by Palestinians this year.

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