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January 24, 2011

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U.S. Scientists: Iran Has Boosted Atomic Bomb Ability (AFP)
    Leading American scientists Friday warned against Western complacency over Iran's nuclear drive, saying in a study that Tehran last year boosted its capacity to build an atomic bomb.
    The Washington-based Federation of American Scientists said that the gas centrifuges at Iran's main enrichment plant in Natanz became more efficient in 2010.
    "Despite a drop in centrifuge numbers during 2010, the total enrichment capacity of Iran's main facility has increased relative to previous years," said the study authored by Ivanka Barzashka.
    "Contrary to statements by U.S. officials and many experts, Iran clearly does not appear to be slowing down its nuclear drive. On the contrary, it has a greater enrichment capacity and seems to be more efficient at enrichment."

Egypt: Palestinian Group Linked to Al-Qaeda Behind Attack on Alexandria Coptic Church (AFP)
    Egyptian Interior Minister Habib al-Adly on Sunday accused a Palestinian group of masterminding the New Year's church attack in Alexandria that killed 23 people.
    "The Palestinian Islamic Army, which has links to al-Qaeda, is behind the attack on the al-Qiddissin church in Alexandria," Adly said.
    An Egyptian security official told AFP that five Egyptians were arrested around ten days ago in Alexandria in connection with the attack. "During questioning, the members of this group said that the planning of the attack had come from abroad."

PA Has Been Torturing Prisoners for Years, UK Group Says - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    The Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank have been using torture on a widespread and systematic basis for several years, according to a report by the Arab Organization for Human Rights in Britain.
    At least six Palestinians have died under torture in PA prisons and many former detainees have permanent physical disabilities, the report found.
    From October 2007 to October 2010, PA security forces in the West Bank detained 8,640 Palestinians at a rate of eight arrests per day. "Every one of those detainees has been subject to humiliating and degrading treatment and stayed in cells for more than 10 days," the report said.
    "The analysis shows that an astonishing 95% of the detainees were subjected to severe torture, others feeling the detrimental effects on their health for varying periods."
    "In order to put pressure on detainees, close relatives, even minors, are brought to the interrogation center, where they may be tortured in front of the detainee in order to try to force a confession of guilt," the report said.
    The Preventive Security Service has 17 detention centers, the General Intelligence Service also has 17, while the Military Intelligence Service has 11. The detention centers "run by the security services are not subject to any judicial control."
    See also Palestinian Reporter Faces Trial for Insulting PA President Abbas on Facebook (AP-Ha'aretz)
    Palestinian reporter Mamdouh Hamamreh said Saturday he faces trial for insulting a public figure after he put a picture on his Facebook page of President Mahmoud Abbas standing next to an actor who plays a villain on a popular Syrian soap opera.
    Hamamreh was detained in September for more than 50 days. Abbas' security forces mined social networks to catch dissenters.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Palestinian Peace Process Documents Revealed - Seumas Milne and Ian Black
    Confidential documents reveal that Palestinian negotiators secretly agreed to accept Israel's annexation of most Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. A cache of thousands of pages of confidential Palestinian records has been obtained by Al-Jazeera and provides an extraordinary and vivid insight into the 20-year peace process. Many of the 1,600 leaked documents were drawn up by PA officials and lawyers working for the British-funded PLO negotiations support unit and include extensive verbatim transcripts of private meetings. (Guardian-UK)
        See also Why Have the "Palestinian Papers" Appeared Now? - Chris McGreal
    Former U.S. Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller said: "You have to ask yourself the question: why have these documents appeared now? The answer is that the Palestinians, as part of a campaign to gain international support and recognition for the legitimacy of Palestinian statehood and to increase pressure not only on the Israelis but the Americans, have chosen to say to the world: look, it's not so hard. Previous Israeli governments were interested in a serious negotiation. So why can't we have one now based on the principles that previous Israeli governments have agreed to?"  (Guardian-UK)
        See also Leaked Revelations: Palestinian Leadership Accepts Most Israeli Settlements - Robin Shepherd
    The uncompromising message that comes out of the revelations on Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations is that the Palestinian leadership itself has long accepted that the vast majority of Israeli settlements can be considered legitimate and would become part of Israel under any reasonable peace agreement. This shows that everyone from the British Foreign Office and the BBC to the European Commission have been adopting a position which was significantly more uncompromising on "settlements" than the Palestinian leadership itself, and also that that same Palestinian leadership had accepted that the so-called 1967 "borders" - the gold standard for practically every anti-Israeli polemic around - are irrelevant to the prospects of a lasting peace.
        Privately and morally, senior Palestinians can see that there is nothing illegitimate or even especially problematic about most of the "settlements." But publicly and politically they cannot sell such concessions to their own people. The writer is Director, International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society in London. (Robin Shepherd)
  • Iran Nuclear Talks Break Down Without an Agreement - Joby Warrick
    Diplomatic efforts to end the eight-year-old impasse over Iran's nuclear program ran aground Saturday in Istanbul after Iranian officials refused to bargain with the U.S. and other world powers unless they first agreed to conditions including an immediate halt to economic sanctions. There was no discussion of further talks in the near future.
        "The Iranians are tough negotiators, and their aim was to test for splits [among the six nations] and to see if they could extract concessions on their preconditions," said a senior Obama administration official. Some security analysts hailed the unanimity of the six world powers as a significant achievement. Iran insisted it would not discuss any measures until Western powers agreed to end all economic sanctions and formally recognize Iran's right to develop a wide range of nuclear technologies, including uranium enrichment. (Washington Post)
  • Lebanon Druze Leader Jumblatt Sides with Hizbullah - Alexandra Sandels and Jeffrey Fleishman
    Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt defected Friday to support Hizbullah, a development considered a blow to Washington in the latest Lebanese government crisis. "The party will stand firm in support of Syria and the resistance," Jumblatt said in Beirut. (Los Angeles Times)
        See also U.S. May Cut Economic Ties with Lebanon if Hizbullah-Linked PM Chosen - Zvi Bar'el
    The U.S. is considering severing its economic ties with Lebanon if a Hizbullah-affiliated prime minister takes over, a U.S. diplomat was quoted as saying in Sunday's Asharq Al Awsat. (Ha'aretz)
        See also "Hizbullah Rule Will Turn Lebanon into Gaza"
    Lebanese Christian leader Samir Geagea on Saturday warned that if the country's new cabinet is led by Hizbullah candidate Omar Karami, the situation "will be similar to Gaza."  (Jerusalem Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel's Gaza Flotilla Probe: IDF Soldiers Acted in Self-Defense - Barak Ravid
    Israeli soldiers who took part in a raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla last May which resulted in the deaths of nine people had acted in self-defense, according to the first part of a report by an Israeli panel of inquiry into the incident, which was released Sunday. The Turkel Commission also determined that Israel's three-and-a-half year blockade of Gaza does not break international law. The Israeli Navy's boarding of the ship did not constitute an offense against international law as there were clear indications that the flotilla intended to break the naval blockade.
        The panel's two foreign observers, Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin of Canada and Lord David Trimble of Northern Ireland, have both signed off on the report's conclusions. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident of 31 May 2010: The Report - Part 1; Report Summary; Foreign Observers Letter (Turkel Commission)
        See also Background to the Turkel Commission (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
        See also below Observations: Turkey, the Global Muslim Brotherhood, and the Gaza Flotilla - Steven G. Merley (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • IDF Commandos on Flotilla Ship: Armed Mob Lynched Us - Attila Somfalvi
    The report released by the Turkel Commission includes testimonies from the naval commandos who took part in the incident, some of whom were taken captive. "Upon landing on the middle deck, I fractured my arm, and a mob of dozens of people attacked me and basically lynched me." So reads the testimony of the first soldier who fast-roped down from the helicopter onto the deck of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara last May.
        "(The assailants were) pulling off my helmet, strangling me, sticking fingers into my eyes to gouge them out of their sockets, pulling my limbs in every direction, striking me in an extremely harsh manner with clubs and metal rods, mostly on my head," recalled soldier no. 1. "I truly felt that I was about to die, way beyond what we define as life-threatening." "I felt that at any moment I would take a blow to the head which would kill me."
        Three soldiers testified to being abducted and taken into the ship's interior. They were held for 40 minutes, during which they were beaten and denied medical attention. (Ynet News)
  • Turkel Commission: Gaza No Longer "Occupied Territory" - Dan Izenberg
    The Turkel Commission report deals with several legal issues. The commission concluded that Israel stopped occupying the Gaza Strip after its unilateral withdrawal in 2005. Those who maintain that Israel still occupies Gaza argue that it has "effective control" over the territory for various reasons. But the commission maintained that one would have to have "an unjustifiably flexible and novel interpretation of the term 'effective control' in order to maintain that position. It would have to be based on acceptance of the fact that two different and opposing powers can exercise effective control simultaneously."  (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Palestine Papers: 99 Percent Hype, 1 Percent News - Noah Pollak
    The reality of the "Palestine Papers" - the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials - turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them, and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?
        The papers show that one of the only areas on which the sides had come close to an agreement was the acceptability of land swaps as a solution to the settlements controversy. Today, at Obama's behest, the Palestinians insist on a complete settlement freeze before they'll even talk - including in areas that just two years ago they had agreed were already de facto Israeli. Thus did Obama turn back the clock on one of the only points of relative consensus and progress between the two sides. (Commentary)
  • Human Rights Advisers Are UN-Fit to Serve - Hillel Neuer
    Why does the UN Human Rights Council turn a blind eye to systematic repression in countries such as Cuba, Iran and Zimbabwe? Here's one reason: Its Advisory Committee is dominated by apologists for the world's worst dictators. First is Halima Warzazi, a former Moroccan diplomat, chosen by her peers last year as chairwoman. In 1988, the precursor to the Advisory Committee was considering a resolution to condemn Saddam Hussein for having gassed thousands of Kurds in Halabja. Warzazi initiated a "no action" motion to kill the resolution - and won the vote. Saddam went on to murder thousands more.
        Then there is Jean Ziegler, who served last year as Warzazi's vice-chair. In 1989, as reported by Time magazine, Ziegler co-founded the Moammar Khadafy International Prize for Human Rights, with $10 million from the Libyan regime. Awardees have included Castro, Hugo Chavez and Louis Farrakhan. In 2002, the prize was given to convicted French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy - and to Ziegler himself. The writer is an international lawyer and executive director of UN Watch in Geneva. (New York Daily News)

Turkey, the Global Muslim Brotherhood, and the Gaza Flotilla - Steven G. Merley (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) (118 pp., pdf)

  • There is strong evidence of Turkish governmental involvement in the Gaza flotilla incident, with Turkish government support channeled through the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood network.
  • Since 2006, the AKP has allowed key elements of the Global Muslim Brotherhood, and above all the International Union of Muslim Scholars, led by Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, to operate freely on Turkish territory. The IHH was not acting alone but rather was an integral part of a Turkish Muslim Brotherhood network.
  • Some of the IHH's key founders fought in the 1990s in the Mujahidin Brigade of the Bosnian Army. There have been multiple reports of terrorist/jihadist activity by IHH, including allegations that IHH was in possession of weapons and explosives, was recruiting soldiers for jihad and sending them into war zones such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya, and that calls had been made from IHH headquarters to an al-Qaeda guest house.
  • That Turkey and its government have become partners of the Global Muslim Brotherhood has implications for both Turkey and its Western allies, including NATO. The IHH president, Bulent Yildirim, sees the Islamic world in direct conflict with the West. How can Turkey maintain its traditional role as a Western ally while its political leadership is tying it to some of the most virulent anti-Western forces?

        See also Erdogan and Turkish Government Supported IHH - Yaakov Katz
    Information acquired by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) says Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan actively supported the flotilla to Gaza and agreed to its departure while knowing that Israel would prevent it from reaching the Hamas-controlled territory. (Jerusalem Post)

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