Report: Kerry Returning to Region to Push for Renewal of Peace Talks - Barak Ravid (Ha'aretz)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to return to Israel on Saturday night as part of American efforts to kick-start the long-stalled peace process.
Kerry plans to travel between Jerusalem and Ramallah in an effort to find a formula that would enable direct talks.
Turkish Trucks Pass through Israel to Reach the Gulf - Guven Sak (Hurriyet-Turkey)
With the ongoing Syrian crisis, Turkish trucks carrying containers have not been able to get to the Gulf.
Iraq was not safe and then Syria became unsafe too. The unrest in Port Said and the continuing security problems in Sinai after the fall of Mubarak did not allow Turkish containers to follow the Iskenderun-Port Said-Sinai-Aqaba route.
However, thanks to a private Turkish-Israeli-Jordanian initiative, the Israeli government has allowed Turkish trucks to enter Israel from Haifa and then travel to Jordan. This is a cheaper and safer route.
Today, about a hundred trucks a week use this route. The potential is for around 500 trucks per week.
Sorting Out the Syrian Opposition - David Ignatius (Washington Post)
Most of the major rebel groups in Syria have strong Islamic roots and backing from Muslim neighbors.
The disorganized, Muslim-dominated opposition prompts several conclusions: First, the U.S. will have limited influence, even if it steps up covert involvement over the next few months.
Second, the post-Assad situation may be as chaotic and dangerous as the civil war itself as the Muslim rebel groups try to claim control of Assad's powerful arsenal, including chemical weapons.
The biggest group is the Saudi-backed Jabhat al-Tahrir al-Souriya al-Islamiya with 37,000 fighters.
Hard-core Salafist Muslims dominate Jabhat al-Islamiya al-Tahrir al-Souriya, financed by wealthy Saudi, Kuwaiti and other Gulf Arab individuals, with 13,000 fighters. Ahfad al-Rasoul, funded by Qatar, has 15,000 fighters.
Jabhat al-Nusra, an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, has grown to 6,000 fighters.
The Free Syrian Army commands about 50,000 fighters.
Berlin Wants Hizbullah on EU Terrorist Group List (Der Spiegel-Germany)
The German government wants to push for Hizbullah to be added to the EU list of terrorist organizations. German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said he favored banning the group in Europe.
If it's confirmed that Hizbullah was implicated in the bombing of a bus in Bulgaria last year in which five Israeli tourists were killed, there would be a strong case for adding Hizbullah to the list, said a spokesman for Friedrich. The German Foreign Ministry takes a similar view.
However, France is vehemently opposed to an EU-wide ban of Hizbullah because several ministers in the Lebanese government belong to the movement.
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- UN Nuke Chief: Iran May Be Continuing Work on Bomb
International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano expressed concern Tuesday that Iran may be secretly continuing work on nuclear weapons.
"We have information indicating that Iran was engaged in activities relevant to the development of nuclear explosive devices in the past and now," he said.
While not going into detail, Amano said the IAEA's information was "cross checked...so we have concerns." Amano also said there was "some possibility" that Iran may already be constructing additional sites to enrich uranium at locations unknown to the agency." (AP-Washington Post)
- U.S., Jordan Stepping Up Training of Syrian Opposition - Taylor Luck
The U.S. and Jordan have stepped up training of Syrian opposition forces that may be used to establish a buffer zone along Syria's southern border, according to U.S. and Jordanian officials.
Training begun last year has been expanded and accelerated after rebel gains in the south, including capture of the country's main border crossing with Jordan.
Officials cited growing concern that moderate rebel forces, who have fought effectively in the south and around Damascus, would be overtaken by extremist Islamic fighters who have become dominant in northern areas under rebel control.
"The last thing anyone wants to see is al-Qaeda gaining a foothold in southern Syria next to Israel. That is a doomsday scenario," said a U.S. diplomat in Jordan.
- Cyprus Jails Hizbullah Operative for Israel Attacks Plot
A Cypriot court has jailed Hossam Taleb Yaccoub, a Lebanese Swedish national who is a member of Hizbullah, for three years for collecting information on Israeli tourists as part of a plot to attack Israeli targets in Cyprus.
Yaccoub, 24, said he had been asked to record information about Israeli flights arriving on the island, and registration plates of buses carrying tourists from Israel.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- IDF Targets Gaza Terror Sites in Response to Rocket Fire
An Israeli aircraft targeted two extensive terror sites in Gaza Tuesday night in response to several incidents of rocket fire directed at Israel - the third time rockets fired from Gaza have landed in Israeli territory since the fighting in November.
(Israel Defense Forces)
See also Gaza Rockets Explode near Sderot on Wednesday - Neri Brenner (Ynet News)
See also Gaza Rocket Hit Sderot Preschool during Obama Visit - Neri Brenner
During President Obama's visit, a rocket fired from Gaza landed in a Sderot preschool - penetrating the roof.
The rocket was only discovered Tuesday because the school, which usually houses three-year-olds, had been closed for Passover vacation.
- IDF Forces Return Fire from Syria
On Tuesday, shots fired from within Syria struck close to IDF forces in the Golan Heights. IDF forces responded with tank fire to the source of the shooting, from which a number of shooting incidents had been registered. A direct hit struck the target. The IDF informed UN forces of the incident.
Earlier, a mortar shell fired from Syria landed in the Golan Heights.
(Israel Defense Forces)
- Defense Minister Ya'alon: We Won't Allow Drizzle of Rockets - Yaakov Lappin
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Wednesday, "The IDF struck in Gaza last night, as we see Hamas as being responsible for everything that is fired from the Strip at Israel. We won't allow any routine involving a drizzle of rockets at our civilians and forces. In the Golan Heights, our policy too is that we have no intention of ignoring fire from Syria at Israeli territory, whether intentional or not, and we'll respond to every attack." (Jerusalem Post)
- Palestinian Policeman Convicted of Murder of Israeli Man and Baby by Throwing Rocks - Itamar Fleishman
A West Bank military court on Tuesday convicted Waal al-Araja, a member of the Palestinian security forces from Halhoul, for the murder of Asher Palmer and his infant son, Yonatan, in September 2011. Al-Araja, who was throwing rocks from a moving vehicle toward Palmer's car on Route 60, causing the father and son's death, was also convicted in connection with a series of attempted murders of a similar nature.
Al-Araja admitted his actions in both the interrogation and during the trial. In their verdict the judges noted that al-Araja was convicted of murder because it was proven that he intended to kill Jews and that he understood that throwing rocks could cause their deaths.
See also Israeli Arab Paramedic Saved Jewish Baby - Itamar Fleishman
Adele Biton, 3, critically injured in a stoning attack on her family car near Ariel in the West Bank, most likely would not have survived without the quick aid she received from Magen David Adom paramedic Muawiya Qabha. Qabha was an honored guest Monday at the Yakir community's post-Passover Mimouna celebration. Adele remains in critical condition with a severe head injury.
- PA Using Prisoner's Death from Cancer to Keep Up Populist Struggle Against Israel - Amos Harel
The Palestinian Authority knows full well that the prisoner Maysara Abu Hamdiya, who died of cancer on Tuesday, did not become ill because of Israel. Yet PA President Mahmoud Abbas publicly accused Israel of playing a part in his death. The PA leadership sees a need to maintain the popular struggle in the West Bank, and there has been a continuous increase in the number of "populist" incidents (the throwing of rocks and petrol bombs, demonstrations) over the last six months.
See also PA Grandstanding on Prisoners Is Self-Defeating - Khaled Abu Toameh
The PA leadership has set up a ministry for prisoners affairs headed by Issa Qaraqi, who has consistently accused Israel of torturing Palestinian prisoners, conducting experiments on them and stealing their organs. The strong attacks on Israel are primarily aimed at showing the Palestinian public that the PA leadership cares about the prisoners.
But these attacks are also intensifying tensions and paving the way for violence, further radicalizing Palestinians and even driving some of them into the open arms of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Thus, when and if the PA leadership decides to resume peace talks with Israel, Abbas will be denounced by many Palestinians as a traitor and collaborator.
- Now Obama Needs to Pressure Turkey - Jonathan Schanzer and Emanuele Ottolenghi
In a surprise development, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu issued an apology to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan over the ill-fated May 2010 flotilla.
Netanyahu's apology was clearly a concession to U.S. President Obama. But if Obama plays his cards right, he should make demands of Erdogan, too - that Turkey cease acting as one of the more troubling epicenters of illicit financial activity.
For one, Turkey has emerged in recent years as one of the primary patrons of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. In December 2011, Erdogan reportedly "instructed the Ministry of Finance to allocate $300 million to be sent to Hamas' government in Gaza."
Iran has been benefiting handsomely from Turkey's Halkbank, which processes payments for Iranian gas with gold. Despite increased scrutiny, the Turkish newspaper Zaman noted in January that the Iranian "gas-for-gold" was still going. From Hizbullah assets to money-changers and gold dealers who do Iran's bidding to government backing of jihadists in Syria, Turkey will remain an illicit finance problem for the foreseeable future.
Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S Department of the Treasury, is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Emanuele Ottolenghi, author of The Pasdaran: Inside Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is a senior fellow.
- Reconciliation with Turkey? Not with Erdogan - Nitzan Nuriel
So long as Erdogan remains prime minister of Turkey, there is no chance for genuine, full reconciliation between the countries. Erdogan does not accept Israel's activities, he has acted defiantly in the past, and his stance with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is known. It is not good for Israel to be in a state of high intensity friction with Turkey. Therefore, measures that are intended to reduce the friction are correct, but we must not be tempted to believe that these will fundamentally change Erdogan's opinions towards Israel. Brig.-Gen. (res.) Nitzan Nuriel is the former head of Israel's Counter Terrorism Bureau.
When There Is No Peace - Zalman Shoval (Jerusalem Post)
- Conventional wisdom in most of the international community regards the "return" of Israel to the pre-1967 armistice lines, a.k.a. the Green Line, with or without minor rectifications, as the key to a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, disregarding such matters as the Jewish people's historical, moral and legal rights in the areas which Israel is asked to relinquish, as well as ignoring Israel's dangerous security situation.
- This reality was expressly recognized by UN Security Council Resolution 242 in its reference to secure borders, as well as by a majority of American presidents since 1967; Ronald Reagan stated that "Israel should never be asked to return to where it was 8 miles wide."
- Though, as is often claimed, all the problems pertaining to the "two-state solution" were addressed in the Clinton Parameters of 2000 (which Yasser Arafat made sure to kill off by unleashing the second intifada), the two sides have not come to an agreement on any of them. There is no acceptable formula on refugees, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, or the concept of taking the Green Line as the basis for the future border.
- If there supposedly is a consensus on the settlement blocs, why do the Palestinians, the U.S. and the Europeans object every time Jews build another house within their perimeters? Furthermore, it is an illusion to assume that any Israeli government could persuade or force the 100,000 or so Israelis who live in the West Bank outside the settlement blocs to evacuate their homes (even evacuating just 8,500 Israelis from Gaza has left an open wound).
- Moshe Dayan, who had extensive contacts with Palestinian leaders and opinion-makers, reached the conclusion that there was no way that Israelis and Palestinians could reach a final, formal peace agreement which would be supported by a majority of people on both sides.
- He, therefore, believed that the best, perhaps the only, way to make progress would be by means of practical on-the-ground arrangements, with the aim of handing the Palestinians almost unlimited authority for running their own lives, but keeping security matters in the hands of Israel, and leaving the question of sovereignty in abeyance.
The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S.
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