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Hamas Denies Report of Ceasefire with Israel (Maan News-PA)
Hamas on Thursday denied the report by the Israeli daily Ha'aretz that the party's leader Khalid Mashaal had instructed Hamas militants not to fire at Israel, after reconciliation talks with Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told Maan the report was "worthless" and did not merit a response.
See also Hamas Denies It Is Halting Attacks Against Israel - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
An Israeli official said he had heard of no such order to stop armed attacks against Israel and that the report made him smile in disbelief.
He said the rocket and mortar attacks over the past few days could not have happened without the acquiescence of the Hamas leadership.
See also A Kinder, Gentler Hamas? - Avi Issacharoff (Ha'aretz)
Jordan Discovers New Phosphate Reserves Worth $30 Billion (DPA)
Jordanian geologists have discovered 200 million metric tons of phosphate ores in northeast Jordan worth $30 billion, Bahjat Adwan, chairman of the Jordanian Geologists Association, said Thursday.
Researchers: Stuxnet Weapon Has at Least 4 Cousins - Jim Finkle (Reuters)
The Stuxnet virus that last year damaged Iran's nuclear program was likely one of at least five cyber weapons developed on a single platform whose roots trace back to 2007, according to new research from Russian computer security firm Kaspersky Lab.
Stuxnet has already been linked to the Duqu data-stealing trojan, but Kaspersky's research found that shared components of the two viruses search for at least three other unique registry keys, which suggests that the developers of Stuxnet and Duqu also built at least three other pieces of malware.
Security experts widely believe that the U.S. and Israel were behind Stuxnet.
Honoring All Who Saved Jews - Eva Weisel (New York Times)
In December 1942, when I was 13 years old, German troops occupied my hometown. I soon had a yellow star on my dress. The men of our family were ordered into forced labor.
Luckily, an influential local man knew of our difficult straits and generously offered his protection. One night, he ferried the women, children and old men in our family to a farm he owned about 20 miles outside of town.
My hometown is Mahdia, in Tunisia, and our rescuer, Khaled Abdul Wahab, was an Arab Muslim. (He passed away in 1997.)
Israel's Population Stands at 7.8 Million - Moti Bassok (Ha'aretz)
Israel's population stands at 7.836 million, the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics reported on Thursday.
Jews comprise 75.3% of the population, with 5.9 million, with Arabs comprising 20.5%, or 1.6 million. 4.2%, some 325,000, are non-Arab Christians and others.
2011 saw a 1.8% increase in Israel's population - 141,000 people - a rate comparable to the figures of the last decade.
166,800 new babies were born and 17,500 new immigrants arrived.
Israeli Economy Expanded 4.8 Percent in 2011 - Nadav Shemer (Jerusalem Post)
The Israeli economy grew 4.8% in 2011 despite a gradual slowdown as the year wore on, according to a preliminary report released Thursday by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Most advanced economies are forecast by the International Monetary Fund to grow an average 1.6% this year.
Exports advanced 4.5% in 2011, after gaining 13.4% in 2010. Investment in fixed capital climbed almost 16%.
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- Syria Renews Bloody Crackdown in Homs - Borzou Daragahi and Noah Browning
Syrian security forces Tuesday resumed a violent crackdown on the city of Homs, a day after easing their presence during a visit by an Arab League mission. Activists said that at least 11 people were killed nationwide. "Tanks are still in the city and the security forces are everywhere," said Waleed, an activist in Homs. "The situation today is exactly like it was before."
On the ground, there were signs that the credibility of the Arab League mission was unraveling. One piece of amateur footage posted on the Internet showed a team of Arab League monitors in orange vests shooing away activists trying to speak to them as gunfire and explosions erupted in the distance. In another video, Homs residents place spent artillery shells and the lifeless body of a five-year-old they say was killed by Assad's forces on the bonnet of an Arab League vehicle.
Activists said a Syrian officer from the Fourth Armored Division, which has been accused of leading the crackdown, accompanied the Arab League team visiting the families of victims in Homs. The relatives refused to meet the monitors as long as they were with the officer, so the monitors withdrew from the area. (Financial Times-UK)
- Syria: Arab League Attacked for Ignoring Scale of Violence - Richard Spencer
An Arab League peace mission to Syria has been attacked by opposition activists for failing to get to grips with the scale of the violence there.
Lt. Gen. Mohammed Ahmed Mustapha al-Dabi, head of the mission, described the city of Homs, where it is thought more than 1,000 people have been killed, as being "nothing frightening," although he conceded "some places looked a bit of a mess."
Many opposition leaders have called the mission's visit pointless at best and at worst a means for President Assad to play for time while continuing his military assault on rebellious districts. (Telegraph-UK)
See also Syrian Activists Doubt Arab Mission Will Work - Mariam Karouny (Reuters)
- Egypt Police Raid U.S.-Backed Pro-Democracy Groups
Egyptian prosecutors and police raided offices of 17 pro-democracy and human rights groups on Thursday - including several funded by the U.S. - in what rights defenders described as a campaign against them by the military rulers. Egypt's military, which itself accepts $1.3 billion a year in U.S. aid, has vowed to investigate how pro-democracy and human rights organizations are funded and has said repeatedly it will not tolerate foreign interference in the country's affairs.
Among groups targeted were the local offices of the U.S.-based International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI). The NDI and IRI, which are loosely associated with the U.S. Democratic and Republican political parties and receive U.S. government funding, say they foster democracy in Egypt by training members of nascent parties in democratic processes.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- U.S. Reassures Israel over Saudi Fighter Jet Deal
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro told Israel that the $30 billion sale of 84 new F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia will not affect Israel's "qualitative military edge," the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
The U.S. was confident that the Saudi purchase would benefit Israeli security by "bolstering moderate allies in the Gulf," especially in light of Israel and the Gulf country's shared beliefs about the need to curb Iran.
- IDF Thwarts Gaza Rocket Launch
The Israel Air Force struck a group of terrorists attempting to fire rockets into Israel Friday morning, killing one.
Palestinian sources identified the deceased as Muaman Abu Daf, a leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Army of Islam. (Jerusalem Post)
- Israel's Anti-Missile Iron Dome Successful in Downing 75 Percent of Rockets - Yaakov Katz
The Iron Dome counter-rocket defense system has succeeded in intercepting rockets from Gaza 75% of the time it fired interceptors at incoming enemy projectiles, according to an analysis of its performance obtained on Thursday by the Jerusalem Post.
The system was activated in April, August and October against Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza. Israel currently has three Iron Dome batteries in operation and plans to deploy the fourth in the coming months. It plans to deploy a total of nine batteries by mid-2013.
- Iran and the Strait - Editorial
Iran's threat to shut the Strait of Hormuz if the U.S. and Europe press ahead with new sanctions is unacceptable. The Obama administration is right to signal that Washington will not back off if Tehran ever attempts to carry it out. A show of American naval force kept the strait open to oil tankers during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Whether or not Tehran is bluffing (or trying to drive up oil prices), Washington will not back down and Europe should not.
Iran's latest threat to block global oil shipping is a clear sign of its growing economic desperation. Its latest threat should leave no doubt about Tehran's recklessness and its contempt for international law.
More than five years after the UN Security Council ordered it to stop, Iran is still enriching uranium and mastering other technologies that would allow it to build a nuclear weapon. This is not a government any country should want to see acquire nuclear weapons.
(New York Times)
See also Iran's Strait of Hormuz: A Challenge to U.S. Policy - Simon Henderson
A dozen huge tankers exit the Persian Gulf daily through the Strait of Hormuz carrying about 40% of the world's internationally traded oil. Any disruption of shipping would have an immediate impact on world oil prices.
The current fragile economic state of many of the world's democracies means that politicians treat energy-related issues very cautiously. But, ironically, Iran's threats to close the strait may make China, which increasingly depends on oil imports, particularly from the Persian Gulf, a more congenial diplomatic partner in confronting Tehran on its nuclear program. The writer is director of the Gulf and Energy Policy program at The Washington Institute.
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
- A Provocation in Egypt - Editorial
Thursday's raid on 17 foreign NGOs in Egypt represents a frontal provocation by the ruling military council to the Obama administration. The military is blaming domestic disorder on sinister "foreign hands"; it is also seeking to destroy liberal, pro-democracy groups that have resisted its attempts to perpetuate its power indefinitely.
The premise is that civilian groups that receive a few million dollars in U.S. or European funding are traitorous. Unquestioned is the substantial funding that reportedly flows from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arab states to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups, which mounted by far the best-organized campaigns in this month's elections.
It is past time for the administration - and Congress - to stop treating aid to the Egyptian military as inviolate and related only to peace with Israel. The military must get the message that continued funding will depend on whether a full transition to civilian democratic rule takes place in the coming year. That means, among other things, an immediate end to the harassment of pro-democracy and human rights groups.
See also Stomping on Human Rights in Egypt - David J. Kramer (Washington Post)
- Arab Uprisings Bring a Change in Priorities - Michael Young
Assad did not foresee that the narrative he held up as a basis for why he and the Syrian people were in purported harmony - their common embrace of a narrative of resistance to America and Israel above all - would count for little in the face of demands by Syrians for internal transformation.
That's the real message from the Arab world this year. Societies may sympathize with foreign policies opposed to the West, the U.S. and Israel, but they no longer will allow regimes to use foreign antagonisms to validate stifling, sadistic, security-dominated political systems at home. Nor will they tolerate giving foreign matters precedence over their own welfare and that of their children. The writer is opinion editor of the Daily Star in Lebanon.
- The Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab World and Islamic Communities in Western Europe
The Muslim Brotherhood motto: "Allah is our objective, the prophet [Muhammad] is our leader, the Qur'an is our law, jihad is our way, death for the sake of Allah is our most exalted aspiration."
The new Muslim world order includes winning elections and forming a state run according to Islamic law, the liberation of countries of Islam from a foreign yoke, uniting them into one Islamic entity, and spreading Islamic values around the globe on the ruins of the liberal West. How to implement the ideology is subject to broad interpretation, and there are pragmatic, conservative and extremist factions within the movement.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is hostile to Israel. It regards all the land of Palestine as an Islamic endowment (waqf), rejects the State of Israel's right to exist, promotes an uncompromising jihad against Israel, and absolutely rejects peace treaties and normalization with Israel. In addition, it is consistently anti-Semitic. (Intelligence and Terrorism
- Hamas Sees Opportunity in Discontent - Robert Bowker
Hamas is proving adept at riding the strongly Islamist political current. By failing to do so, Hizbullah is losing its credibility with the wider Arab street. Where Hamas has been astutely separating its popular standing from the violence of the Syrian regime against its own citizens, Hizbullah has been simplistic and outspoken in defense of the Assad regime.
As the new mainstream of Arab politics, the Muslim Brotherhood and its regional counterparts will have a reasonable chance of building normalized relations with Europe and even the U.S., especially so long as its private assurances in regard to maintaining stable dealings with Israel are found to be credible.
The writer is adjunct professor in the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University.
- The Narrative of Perpetual Palestinian Victimhood - Shelby Steele
The Arab-Israeli conflict is really a war of the Arabs against the Jews. The Durban conferences, the request for UN recognition of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, and the general animus in the Middle East and elsewhere toward Israel and toward the Jews, what are they really about? Their real interest is to situate the Palestinian people within a narrative of victimization. Supporters of Israel are up against a poetic truth that no facts and no reason can ever penetrate. We keep hitting it with all the facts. We keep hitting it with obvious logic and reason - but it never has an impact.
Who would the Palestinians be if they were not victims? This narrative is the source of their power. It is the source of their money. The idea among Palestinians that they are victims is the centerpiece of their very identity. It is not an idle thing. Our facts and our reason are not going to penetrate easily that definition. The writer is a Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
(Hudson Institute New York)
- Florida Fire Paramedic Rocky Parker Is Ready to Help Israel - Wade Tatangelo
It has nothing to do with politics.
That's the first thing Rocky Parker, a fire lieutenant paramedic at the Longboat Key Fire Rescue Department, said when asked about his involvement with the Emergency Volunteers Project.
"The Emergency Volunteers Project (EVP) is a non-political, non-affiliated organization dedicated to deploying groups of 'first responders' to Israel during times of crisis and national emergency to work with Israel's emergency services in providing essential, life-saving services to Israel's citizens," begins the EVP mission statement.
"I'm not Jewish," he said. "Just a fireman helping other firefighters."
Parker was trained in New York City by Israeli firefighters in Israeli fire tactics and procedures.
"It was probably the most intense training I have ever done in my life," he said. "Two people there are doing what 12 do in the states."
EVP then recently flew Parker to Israel to spend a week and half training and working with Israeli firefighters in their stations to prepare for a national emergency.
"The hospitality in Israel really struck me," Parker said. "People were treating us like rock stars....They thought it was amazing we were doing this."
Parker said there are more than 100 U.S. firefighters involved.
(Bradenton [FL] Herald)
Iran and the Threat to "Close" the Gulf - Anthony H. Cordesman (Center for Strategic and International Studies)
There is nothing new about Iran's threat to close the Gulf. Iran is reshaping its military forces to steadily increase the threat to Gulf shipping and shipping in the Gulf of Oman. It also is gradually increasing its ability to operate in the Indian Ocean.
- This increase in Iranian capability is almost certainly not designed to take the form of a major war with the U.S. and Southern Gulf states, which could result from any Iranian effort to truly close the Gulf. It does, however, give Iran the ability to carry out a wide range of much lower level attacks which could sharply raise the risk to Gulf shipping, and either reduce tanker traffic and shipping or sharply raise the insurance cost of such ship movements.
- Any such Iranian actions do not have to be tied to the Strait of Hormuz. They could occur anywhere in the Gulf and in the Gulf of Oman - and Iran could keep exporting its own oil.
- Moreover, Iran's growing long-range missile forces, and movement towards a nuclear weapons capability, will give it an increasing capability to compensate for its aging and low capability regular naval and air forces with a far more threatening level of deterrence.
See also Video: U.S. Strategic Competition with Iran - Anthony H. Cordesman (Center for Strategic and International Studies)
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