Western Intelligence Sources Confirm Syria's Use of Paralyzing Chemical Agents - Ron Ben-Yishai (Ynet News)
Over the past few months Syrian rebels have been reporting on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. A few weeks ago Western intelligence sources learned that the rebels' reports were accurate.
A close examination of footage and other material by experts in the West proved that the regime's army has in fact been using paralyzing chemical agents for a few months now against the rebels and civilians who support them.
These gases do not necessarily cause death and are not as lethal as gases that are classified as chemical weapons.
In addition, the Scud missiles fired toward rebel-controlled areas were aimed at army camps the rebels had attacked or seized, not at civilians, as the rebels claimed.
The Scuds were also meant to destroy weapons the Syrian army had left behind, mainly anti-aircraft missiles.
Israeli Doctors in Africa Treat Obama's Grandmother - Adiv Sterman (Times of Israel)
President Barack Obama's step-grandmother Sarah Onyango Obama, the president's father's third wife, who lives in the Kenyan village of Nyang'oma Kogelo, underwent emergency eye surgery in an Israeli-run hospital in Equatorial Guinea last week.
The procedure was successful and Obama is making a full recovery, Yediot Ahronot reported on Sunday.
"All of Africa is talking about your hospital and of the fact that you don't need to fly to Europe to get medical treatment," said Obama following her operation.
The Shalom Hospital, located in the Guinean capital city of Malabo, is serviced by over 100 Israeli doctors, nurses and staff, providing medical treatment for underprivileged residents of Equatorial Guinea and other neighboring African countries.
East Jerusalem Arabs Are Adapting to Israel - Nir Hasson (Ha'aretz)
Along with nationalist radicalization and widespread support for Hamas, far-reaching changes are taking place among Arabs in east Jerusalem that can be described as "Israelization," "normalization" or just plain adaptation.
Examples of this trend include increasing numbers of applications for an Israeli ID card; more high-school students taking the Israeli matriculation exams; greater numbers enrolling in Israeli academic institutions; a decline in the birthrate; more requests for building permits; a rising number of youth volunteering for national service; and surveys showing that in a final settlement more east Jerusalem Arabs would prefer to remain under Israeli rule.
There are now about 10 colleges in east Jerusalem that specialize in preparing students for Israeli universities.
Eid Abu Ramila, who teaches civics, explains, "If you go to school in Bethlehem or to Al-Quds University, the only place you'll be able to find work after you graduate is at the PA, for NIS 2,000 ($525) a month. So everyone is now flocking to Israel."
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- 400 Killed in Single Day in Syrian Civil War - Carol Morello
As many as 400 people were killed in Syria on Saturday, including in a massacre in Deir Balbah, outside the city of Homs.
Walid Faris, a spokesman for the Revolutionary Council of Homs, said government troops rounded up 150 to 180 people and took them to a petrochemical university where they were executed.
See also Syria's Descent into Hell - Sens. John McCain, Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham (Washington Post)
- Russia Says Syria's Assad Won't Resign
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "has repeatedly said publicly and privately, including in his meeting with [UN envoy] Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus not long ago, that he does not intend to leave for anywhere, that he will stay to the end in his post, that he will, as he expressed it, defend the Syrian people, Syrian sovereignty and so forth....There's no possibility to change this position."
Lavrov said Russia would continue to oppose any UN resolution for international sanctions against Assad or foreign intervention in Syria. While he again emphasized that Russia "isn't holding on to Bashar Assad," he added that Moscow continues to believe the opposition demand for his resignation as a precondition for peace talks is "counterproductive."
Georgy Mirsky, a leading Mideast expert with the Institute for World Economy and International Relations in Moscow, said that President Putin's stand on Syria is rooted in fear that joining international calls for Assad's resignation "would look like an inadmissible concession to America, a virtual surrender."
He said that Putin is resigned to Assad's eventual collapse and the loss of any Russian influence in a future Syria, but by firmly opposing international sanctions, Putin is able to tell his domestic audience that Russia has defended its ally until the end against overwhelming odds. (AP-Wall Street Journal)
See also Assad Isolated, Fearful as Regime Faces Collapse - Joby Warrick and Colum Lynch
Accounts of conditions inside the Syrian regime in recent days depict Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad as isolated and fearful as his regime crumbles around him after nearly two years of civil war. Assad all but vanished from public view in recent weeks, restricting contacts to a small circle of family members and trusted advisers. Syrian media and activists describe the president increasing his security detail, moving to a different bedroom each night and tightening controls over food preparation to thwart would-be assassins. (Washington Post)
- French Diplomat: "Iran Responded to Sanctions by Speeding Up Work on Bomb" - Jim Hoagland
"Iran has responded to the toughening of sanctions by speeding up its work on a bomb, not slowing it down," says Jean-David Levitte, former French ambassador to Washington and, until May, then-President Nicolas Sarkozy's diplomatic adviser. "We now have only a relatively few months to act before Iran's nuclear effort becomes irreversible."
Levitte believes that the six powers conducting nuclear negotiations with Iran have to make a final comprehensive offer. Failing Tehran's quick agreement to such a proposal, the only courses left open will be acceptance of an Iranian bomb or military action to prevent it, he argues.
Levitte suggests that the international community must now go to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with a choice: Iran finally agrees to restrict nuclear enrichment to 5% or less and exports its stockpile of higher-grade enriched uranium. Or the U.S., having made this high-profile final effort, will gain broader international acceptance of an American-led military strike to destroy Iran's nuclear capability at some point in 2013.
- Israel Lets Building Materials Cross into Gaza - Isabel Kershner
Israel on Sunday allowed 20 truckloads of building materials into Gaza for use by the private sector, in the wake of the cease-fire deal reached after eight days of intensive fighting in November. Israeli officials said that construction materials would now be allowed in on a daily basis via the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza. The easing of restrictions on imports is a result of continuing talks in Cairo meant to anchor the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. In return for loosening the movement of goods, Israeli officials say, Egypt is expected to help prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.
Israeli officials have explained the willingness to ease restrictions in terms of trying to ensure the longevity of the cease-fire. They say that the discussions have also provided Israel with a welcome channel of communication with the new Egyptian leadership under President Mohamed Morsi, seen as important for the preservation of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
(New York Times)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Israel: British Condemnation of West Bank College Upgrade "Baseless" - Barak Ravid
Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, reacting to British condemnation of the upgrade of Ariel College in the West Bank to the status of a university, explained Saturday that the university is not an obstacle to peace. The "incitement propagated by the Palestinian education system is the obstacle to peace," he said. "The refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and end the conflict is the obstacle to peace. Palestinian terror is the obstacle to peace."
He also noted that academic institutions in the UK cooperate with Ariel University on a variety of "important studies." (Ha'aretz)
- Arab NGO Accuses Palestinian Authority of Human Rights Violations - Jonny Paul
The London-based Arab Organization for Human Rights accused the Palestinian Authority of inhumane practices and human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in a scathing report published on Friday and called on the UN, Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation to take urgent action.
From June 2007 until the end of 2011, PA security forces detained 13,271 Palestinian citizens and 96% were subjected to various methods of torture, which resulted in the death of six detainees. (Jerusalem Post)
- Is Education a Threat to Peace? - Elliott Abrams
Ariel University in the West Bank was founded in 1982 as a branch of Bar-Ilan University, became independent in 2005, and now has 14,000 students, including the largest group of Ethiopian-born immigrant students in Israel, and hundreds of Israeli Arab students.
Last summer, Israeli Nobel Laureate Robert Aumann, a member of a committee that evaluated the performance of the Ariel University Center, told the BBC that there was "a really strong need" for an upgraded institution in Ariel. "I was very impressed by the quality of the place as an academic institution and I think Israel needs another university....The last time when an additional university was added to the roster of Israeli universities was in 1972. At the time the population was three and a quarter million. The population of Israel today is almost eight million." (Council on Foreign Relations)
- How Israel's Drones Help Minimize Civilian Casualties - Paul Alster
Very little credit has so far been given Israel for the care it took to avoid collateral damage during its recent vicious engagement with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
Major G, the chief instructing officer of the Israeli UAV (Drone) School, contends that most non-combatant deaths were as a result of Palestinian civilians being used as human shields by Hamas. With an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), "I am able to stay above and investigate the target for a long time, clear it of uninvolved civilians, and only when there is a clear path of fire do I call for the F16 or Apache helicopter," said Major G.
"In a lot of cases we have regular houses where in the basement there is a lot of ammunition, bombs and missiles....In cases where there are people inside a house or building we never strike the target without prior warning. We make phone calls, send leaflet flier warnings, and sometimes use a technique called 'Knock on the Roof,' where we fire very, very small, very precise tiny bombs onto the edge of the roof and then they (the family) know that the attack is about to begin and everybody can go outside." (Fox News)
Israel's Iron Dome Saved Palestinian Lives, Too - Matt Gurney (National Post-Canada)
- A senior engineer with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the Israeli company that developed the Iron Dome missile defense system, said that during the conflict in November in Gaza, when the system shot down 421 short-range missiles headed for Israeli cities, after a few days of fighting Israel changed its tactical doctrine.
- Iron Dome used to fire two interceptors at every rocket, in case the first missed. They quickly realized that was a waste. The system was good enough that if it wasn't possible on the first shot, the second wouldn't get it, either. He said as long as the equipment works, they expect to hit their target every time.
- Every day of the conflict, military officers gave his company all of the data collected by Iron Dome computers and military radars for the last 24 hours. Rafael engineers would then work through the night, tweaking the software that controls Iron Dome. "The improvements were measurable," the engineer told me. "We did a little bit better every day."
- He recounted how Israel added another battery of Iron Dome interceptors to Tel Aviv in the middle of the conflict, assembling the disparate components of the full battery in just two days. All previous batteries had taken two weeks to activate.
- Because of Iron Dome, "we didn't have to invade Gaza....And all the interceptors we fired cost less than one day of ground fighting in Gaza." Hamas might not like to admit it, but Iron Dome saved Palestinian lives, too.
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