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Syrian Secret Police Defect - Khaled Yacoub Oweis (Reuters)
At least a dozen Syrian secret police have defected from an intelligence compound, activists said Sunday.
A gunfight broke out after the defectors fled the Airforce Intelligence complex in Idlib, northwest of Damascus.
White House Distances Itself from U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Following Comments - Adam Kredo (Washington Jewish Week)
The White House has distanced itself from American Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman following his declaration earlier this week that Israel's treatment of the Palestinians has stoked global anti-Semitism.
"We condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, and there is never any justification for prejudice against the Jewish people or Israel," the White House said in a statement sent to Jewish leaders.
See also Muslim Anti-Semitism Is Not Israel's Fault - Omri Ceren (Commentary)
Gilad Shalit Went on Hunger Strike in Hamas Captivity (Ynet News)
Kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit decided to stop eating while captive and reached a point of malnutrition that put him in a life-threatening situation, Yediot Ahronot revealed on Sunday.
Shalit's hunger strike advanced his release as Hamas senior officials feared for his life.
An intelligence source said that "there were those in Hamas who feared that...he would die on them," and so they compromised over the details of the prisoner exchange deal.
Islamists, Liberals Face Off in Tunisia - Cecile Feuillatre (AFP-Sydney Morning Herald-Australia)
Police fired tear gas as thousands of Islamist supporters swooped on central Tunis on Saturday to confront liberal demonstrators rallying against extremism as MPs were drafting a new constitution for Tunisia.
The protest was partly a response to ongoing demonstrations at a university outside the capital, where Islamists disrupted courses, demanding a stop to mixed-sex classes and for female students to wear the full-face veil, or niqab.
UN Passes Israeli Agricultural Proposal - Jordana Horn (Jerusalem Post)
The UN General Assembly voted on Friday in favor of an Israeli proposal to disseminate agricultural and farming technology to developing African nations.
Arab nations led 35 countries in abstaining from the vote, while 133 states voted in favor of the proposal.
The measure also aims to increase women's access to agricultural technology and know-how. Israel proposed the measure first in 2007.
Israel "Friend Requests" Its Neighbors - Oded Yaron (Ha'aretz)
The Hasbara Fellowships, a pro-Israel campus group, recently posted a video describing the Arab-Israeli conflict taking place within a social network.
Israel's repeated "friend requests" to the Palestinians are answered with suicide bombers and rockets.
View the Video: Israel Wants Peace - Friend Request Pending (Hasbara Fellowships)
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- Iran Blast Seen as Big Setback to Missile Program - David E. Sanger and William J. Broad
The huge explosion that destroyed a major missile-testing site near Tehran three weeks ago was a major setback for Iran's most advanced, solid-fuel, long-range missile program, according to American and Israeli intelligence officials and missile technology experts. Satellite photos show that the base was almost completely leveled in the blast.
Analysts described the Nov. 12 blast which killed Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, the head of Iran's missile program, as a major setback - not just because of the extensive damage to the site but also because of the loss of expertise from the specialists working there.
"Anything that buys us time and delays the day when the Iranians might be able to mount a nuclear weapon on an accurate missile is a small victory," said one Western intelligence official.
(New York Times)
- Panetta: Time for Israel to "Take Bold Action" for Peace
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy on Friday:
"The United States is willing and capable of ensuring that Israel can safeguard its security as it takes the risks needed to pursue peace. Now is the time for Israel to take bold action and to move towards a negotiated two-state solution.
I recognize that there is a view that this is not the time to pursue peace and that the Arab awakening further imperils the dream of a safe and secure, Jewish and democratic Israel. But I disagree with that view."
Asked what steps Israel should take, Panetta replied,
"Just get to the damn table. Just get to the table. The problem right now is we can't get them to the damn table to at least sit down and begin to discuss their differences....If they sit at a table and work through those concerns, and the United States can be of assistance in that process, then I think you have the beginning of what could be a process that would lead to a peace agreement.
But if they aren't there - if they aren't at the table, this will never happen." (U.S. Department of Defense)
See also U.S.: Israel, Palestinians Must Restart Direct Talks - Bradley Klapper
The U.S. says Israel and the Palestinians must start direct talks before there can be any negotiation on borders and security as part of a two-state peace deal. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday the U.S. and other Mideast mediators were pressing Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. (AP)
See also Israel Blames Palestinians for Freeze in Talks
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Saturday the Palestinian leadership is to blame for the deadlock in peace talks. He said Israel remains ready for the resumption of peace talks without preconditions. The Palestinians, he said, are "playing diplomatic games to try to cover their position, which is to boycott Israel and to refuse to enter negotiations." (AP)
See also PA Rejects Direct Talks with Israel - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
See also Panetta's Antagonistic Speech on Israel - Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post)
- Egypt Brotherhood Says Won't Impose Islamic Values - Aya Batrawy
The deputy head of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's new political party, Essam el-Erian, said Saturday, "We want to apply the basics of Sharia law in a fair way that respects human rights and personal rights." "We respect all people in their choice of religion and life," he said. On its English-language Twitter account, the Brotherhood said that its priorities were to fix Egypt's economy and improve the lives of ordinary Egyptians, "not to change (the) face of Egypt into (an) Islamic state."
See also Egypt Salafis Want No Pact with Muslim Brotherhood - Tamim Elyan and Muhammad al-Yamani
Egypt's ultra-conservative Islamist Salafis said they will not water down their views to ally with the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood. Salafi Nour party leader Emad Abdel Ghaffour made it clear he would not play second fiddle to the Brotherhood.
"We hate being followers," he told Reuters in an interview. "The experiences of other parties who have allied with them in the past are bitter. They always speak of it with reproach." A first-round run-off on Monday will pit 24 Nour members against Brotherhood candidates.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- U.S. Warns Palestinians: Stop Leaking Content of Quartet Talks - Barak Ravid
The U.S. government has asked senior Palestinian officials to refrain from leaking details of talks that took place recently between Middle East Quartet envoys, Israeli representatives and the PA, a senior U.S. official said.
The Palestinians presented the Quartet with two documents relating to the borders of a future Palestinian state and security arrangements with Israel in November, but Quartet representatives told Saeb Erekat, head of the Palestinian negotiating team, that the proposals were not relevant because they had not been presented in direct talks with Israel, the official said. The Obama administration sees the Palestinian strategy of presenting proposals to the Quartet without engaging in direct talks as an attempt to change the rules of the game. (Ha'aretz)
- Hamas: Israel Biggest Loser from Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Win - Khaled Abu Toameh
Israel is the biggest loser from the strong showing of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian parliamentary election, Hamed Bitawi, a top Hamas representative in the West Bank, said on Saturday. Bitawi praised the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood for saying that they were in favor of reconsidering the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. "Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and any victory for the Muslim Brotherhood is a victory for Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza," he said. Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said his movement was also encouraged by the rise of Muslim Brotherhood supporters to power in Tunisia and Morocco.
Observations: Three Egyptian Views on the Peace Treaty with Israel
- Syrians Say They Are Feeling the Grip of Sanctions - Neil MacFarquhar
The walls are suddenly closing in around enterprising young Syrians who bought into the idea of a modernized economy promised by President Bashar al-Assad - their simplest money transfers are blocked, and their credit cards are useless outside Syria as the growing list of international sanctions darkens their financial future.
(New York Times)
See also EU Sanctions Force Shell Oil to Leave Syria - Javier Blas
Royal Dutch Shell said Friday it will "cease" activities in Syria after the EU blacklisted three state-owned Syrian oil companies in an effort to pressure President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Industry officials say they believe that other European oil companies operating in the country, including Total of France and the London-listed Gulfsands Petroleum, will follow. The EU first imposed an embargo on oil exports from Syria in September, forcing the country to reduce production from 380,000 barrels a day to about 250,000 barrels a day one month later.
(Financial Times-UK-Washington Post)
- Syrian Opposition: Iran Contributed to Suppression of Syrian Protests - Mohammed Al Shafey
The Syrian National Council [SNC] claimed on Thursday that the Iranian regime has contributed to the suppression of Syrian protesters.
SNC Executive Committee member Samir al-Nashar said, "The Iranians must correct their position because they have contributed to the suppression of the Syrian people by providing the Syrian regime with information, as well as logistical support."
Al-Nashar claimed that "they [the Iranians] provided the Syrian regime with equipment to spy on Syrian political activists, benefiting from their experience in suppressing the Green Revolution….while they also participated in the planning of field operations against peaceful [Syrian] activists, and we therefore cannot deal with Iran unless it corrects its position with regards to the Syrian revolution." (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
- How Assad Stayed In Power - And How He'll Try to Keep It - Tony Badran
If "Lebanon and Iran are our economic lungs," as one Syrian official recently put it, then "Russia is our political shield." For Russia, with long-established military ties to Damascus, Western pressure on Syria is an encroachment on its traditional sphere of influence. Syria also affords Russia a foothold in the Mediterranean through a shared naval maintenance facility at the Syrian port city of Tartus.
While Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has adopted a strong declaratory anti-Assad policy, Assad is reestablishing relations with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), allowing the group to set up bases on Syrian territory, something he had prohibited as part of a 1998 peace agreement with Turkey.
The writer is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Upstart Egypt Fundamentalist Party Surprises Itself with Strong Turnout - Patrick Martin (Globe and Mail-Canada)
In the poor neighborhoods of Ein Shams, a Cairo suburb, they didn't call themselves Salafists, they were just pious Muslims and never got involved in politics. Figures released Sunday by Egypt's High Electoral Commission show that more than 24% voted for the upstart Salafist Nour Party in their first election ever.
- Nour "campaigned on a trinity of issues: food, shelter and clothing," said Mahmoud, 29.
It was a winning formula.
- "They're the big surprise," says Hisham Kassem, the former publisher of the independent Al Masry al Youm. "No one saw them coming, not to this degree."
- On the delicate issue of relations with Israel, Saad el-Din, 47, said the 1979 peace treaty with the Jewish state would be honored by all Egyptian parties, but a new government "would have the right to fix any unjust part of the treaty, with the consent of both sides."
See also Factbox: Policies of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood's Party - Shaimaa Fayed
The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) gained the most seats in the first round of Egypt's parliamentary elections. Essam el-Erian, deputy FJP leader, referring to Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, said, "It is a fact we have a treaty. We are not going to end it." But he said a new parliament and other new institutions could change attitudes in the future if the other side violated it.
See also Egyptian Journalist: Peace Treaty with Israel Won't Be Revoked - Roee Nahmias
"Tell the Israeli public that they can relax. An Islamic government should not bother them, nor the statements their candidates make on TV - these are only meant to draw public opinion due to the elections," Egyptian academic and journalist Mounir Mahmoud told Ynet on Sunday. Mahmoud stressed that "the peace treaty will not be canceled," adding that "there is not a single decent man in Egypt that says the post-revolution regime would go back on its bilateral agreements and national obligations."
"Egypt's moderate nature will not change; the true understanding that we have is that the Muslim faith is a bridge between God and the people, but not a tool to dictate people's way of life - we cannot digest radicalism," he said.
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