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August 8, 2011

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Families of Suicide Bombers Given £5M in British Aid Cash - Matthew Kalman (Daily Mail-UK)
    The Palestinian Authority, which gets £86 million of British aid a year, has authorized payments of almost £5 million to the families of "martyrs."
    Another £3 million has been given to 5,500 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
    According to the official Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, payments to the families of "martyrs" - those killed fighting Israel, including suicide bombers - totaled 3.5% of the PA budget.
    Tory MP Philip Davies called the payments "ludicrous." He added: "People think overseas aid is to try to alleviate terrible poverty in places where they can't afford to look after themselves. But it's being put to these kind of purposes."

Aleppo Seems in Own World Amid Revolt Elsewhere in Syria - Raja Abdulrahim (Los Angeles Times)
    Syria's second-largest city, Aleppo, just held a cultural festival featuring a 3,600-foot-long Syrian flag wrapped around its ancient citadel.
    Families still gather every night on the sidewalks for nighttime picnics. Vendors crowd around selling hookahs, popcorn, sandwiches and coffee.
    The people of Aleppo appear to be going about their lives as if the revolt were in another country.
    Many religious leaders in the city are followers of the country's Sunni Muslim grand mufti, Ahmed Hassoun, who has toed the government line on the uprising, calling protests "mischief."

Gaza Smugglers Thriving after Mubarak (AFP-Asharq-Al-Awsat-UK)
    The swarm of tunnel activity on the Gaza border raises clouds of fine dust, a sure sign of the boom in underground trafficking since the fall of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.
    Trade in cement has risen five-fold since the political shift in Egypt. "Now, 150 tons per day pass through; before it was 20 to 30," said Mohammed, 27, who runs a smuggling tunnel.
    The sudden influx has dramatically slashed prices. "A bag of cement is now worth 25 shekels ($7, five euros)," he said. "Before, the price had risen to 200 shekels."
    "Hamas comes to inspect every week and takes about 20 shekels" per ton of cement, said a man at another tunnel.

New 5-Star Hotel Opens in Gaza - Diaa Hadid (AP)
    The Gaza Strip's first five-star hotel, the $47 million Al-Mashtal, gleams with marble floors, five luxury restaurants and a breezy cafe overlooking the territory's white sandy beaches and sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea.
    Nearly all of the hotel's 222 rooms are decked out with ornate metal-worked lamps, flat screen televisions, oversized beds and sea views.
    The hotel was opened earlier this month by Padico, a company controlled by Palestinian billionaire Munib al-Masri.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Syrian Army Resumes Shelling Deir al-Zour
    The Syrian army shelled the eastern city of Deir al-Zour for a second day on Monday. At least 50 people died on Sunday after the army launched a pre-dawn assault on Deir al-Zour that began with scores of tanks and armored personnel carriers moving into several parts of the city, while snipers had taken up positions on the rooftops of several buildings. "Private hospitals are closed and people are afraid to send the wounded to state facilities because they are infested with secret police," said a local resident.
        The Arab League issued a statement on Syria for the first time on Sunday. It said it was "alarmed" and called for an end to the violence. Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, is due in Damascus on Tuesday with a "tough" message for Syrian President Assad. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah announced that his country had recalled its ambassador to Damascus for consultations. (BBC News)
  • Iran's Rich Eat Ice Cream Flecked with Gold as Poor Struggle to Survive - Thomas Erdbrink
    Although record oil profits have brought in billions of dollars to the Iranian Revolution, many say the gap in Iran between rich and poor has never seemed wider. Iran's new wealthy class includes children of people with close connections to some of Iran's rulers, as well as families of factory owners and those who managed to get huge loans from state banks at low interest rates. The oil windfall - nearly $500 billion over the past five years - has played a central role in establishing this small group that is visibly enjoying its profits.
        The new wealthy are buying Porsches, getting caviar delivered to late-night parties, and eating $250 ice cream covered in edible gold at what's billed as the highest rotating restaurant in the world, atop Tehran's 1,427-foot-high Milad Tower.
        "Anger over inequality had been the main motivation for people to join the 1979 revolution," said Hossein Raghfar, an economist who recently quit as an adviser to Ahmadinejad's government. Raghfar noted that 2.5 million children are working rather than attending school, and that there has been an increase in legal kidney sales - along with a recent price drop, from $10,000 to $2,000, because so many people are selling their organs for cash.
        In December, Ahmadinejad implemented a radical overhaul of the way state subsidies are handed out. At the same time, prices of food and utilities have been allowed to rise to market levels, at times tripling or more. Now, more than 60 million of Iran's 70 million citizens receive monthly handouts of $40, while inflation has risen 26% in the past year. (Washington Post)
        See also Iran Makes Itself More Vulnerable to Outside Pressure - Patrick Clawson
    On August 2, Tehran distributed a sixth installment of cash payments to 73 million Iranians in lieu of subsidies on fuel, natural gas, electricity, and essential items such as bread. Virginia Tech economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani has estimated that poor Iranians with incomes in the bottom 10% are receiving seven times more than the extra costs they pay due to the removal of subsidies. Not surprisingly, the poor have not objected to this reform.
        As long as its oil income remains high, Tehran should be able to pay for those checks, but if oil prices drop or sanctions impede financial flows, Tehran will have great difficulty paying its promised $45 billion per year, making the regime more susceptible to foreign pressure. The writer is director of research and head of the Iran Security Initiative at The Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Defense Minister: Israel Views Increase in Gaza Rocket Fire Seriously
    "The recent rocket fire against Israel has been carried out by rogue terrorist organizations and Islamic Jihad," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday. He noted that in the past week there were six or seven incidents of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. Barak noted that Israel "views this rocket fire seriously and we responded with airstrikes on a number of targets, including tunnels, positions, facilities and weapons manufacturing sites - the infrastructure of terrorist organizations."  (Israel Defense Forces)
        See also Palestinian Rocket and Mortar Attacks on Israel Since the 2009 Gaza War
    Since the end of the 2009 Gaza War, 393 rockets and 337 mortar shells have been fired by Palestinians in Gaza into Israel. (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
        See also Defense Minister: Gaza Militants May Resume Terror Attacks Against Israel - Barak Ravid
    Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a cabinet meeting Sunday that Israel has been keeping track of "additional attempts beneath the surface [by Palestinians in Gaza] to carry out terror activities, not only via rocket fire, but also by other means."  (Ha'aretz)
  • Israel Sends Condolences over Deaths of 30 U.S. Servicemen in Afghanistan
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday sent his condolences to President Barack Obama and the American people over the deaths of the 30 U.S. Armed Forces personnel who were killed in Afghanistan. "The Israeli people bow their heads in memory of those who fought for freedom and against global terrorism."  (Prime Minister's Office)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Former Israeli UN Diplomat: The Palestinians' UN Bid Could Backfire - Edmund Sanders
    Israel's former ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, who stepped down in October, spoke with the Los Angeles Times about why the Palestinians' UN bid could backfire. "President Obama said they would oppose any anti-Israel resolution [in the UN Security Council]. Though they haven't used the word 'veto' in public, we heard from Palestinian leaders that the Americans are going to use it. So I think the Palestinians instead will go to the General Assembly [where they are expected to upgrade their status from observer to nonmember state]."
        The Palestinians "will not gain anything new except for a little public diplomacy. They already have legitimacy all over the world. They are already recognized by many countries in South America and other places. So they don't really need this kind of declaration. But by doing so, they are risking antagonizing the U.S. and maybe others. I'm not sure that nowadays they want to embarrass the United States, because now it is also a matter of money."  (Los Angeles Times)
  • Mubarak's Trial Is About the Future of Egypt - Zvi Mazel
    Why is the Arab region one of the poorest of the world? Egyptians say there are two main factors that prevent progress: Islam and the feudal/tribal makeup of Arab societies. These two factors froze a medieval way of life and set up a screen between the Arab region and Europe where progress was taking place at a rapid pace. The Arab world was left behind while Europe moved ahead.
        Will Egypt emerge from the January 25 Revolution as a country willing to tackle the main obstacles to progress? If, on the other hand, the trial of Hosni Mubarak - with the image of an old and ailing leader on a stretcher in a cage - becomes the defining event setting Egypt on a new path, then there is nothing to hope for. The writer, a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was ambassador to Egypt from 1996 to 2001. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Cairo Hosts Conference Supporting Terrorism
    The "Founding Conference of the Arab-Islamic Gathering to Support the Option of Resistance" was held in Cairo on July 24-25, attended by representatives from 14 Arab-Muslim countries as well as representatives from Hizbullah, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations, and a representative from the anti-American "resistance" in Iraq. Speeches were given stressing that the "resistance" (i.e., terrorism) was the only option for "liberating Palestine," and material was distributed glorifying terrorist activities against Israel. (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)

The Bizarre Alliance Against Israel - Michael Curtis (American Thinker)

  • The 21 countries of the Arab League are divided by civil wars and religious tensions, as daily displayed in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon. They are beset with Islamist insurgencies, enmity between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and even discord between mainstream and extremist Sunnis.
  • All their governments are non-democratic in character, often corrupt, and are still based on systems that are autocracies, military dictatorships, hereditary family rule, presidencies for life, tribal elders, or edicts of Islamic dignitaries in a theocratic regime.
  • Yet much of the focus of European and American commentators on the Middle East remains concentrated not on the glaring problems of the Arab societies but with Israel.
  • Western radicals have shown more compassion for Arab dictators, especially in Libya, than for democratic Israel. Western feminists and gay and lesbian groups have been silent about the place and treatment of women and homosexuals in Muslim Arab countries.
  • No woman in an Arab country has yet been elected to a prominent position as was Golda Meir in Israel, the first female prime minister elected anywhere who was not the wife or daughter of a previous head of government.

    The writer is a distinguished professor emeritus of political science at Rutgers University.

        See also Is a Palestinian State Viable Today? - Michael Curtis (American Thinker)

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