Archive | May 27th, 2011

Russia wary of UN resolution on Syria, after being ‘burned’ by agreeing to Libya campaign





DEAUVILLE, France — A Russian diplomat says his country does not want tough U.N. action against Syria’s crackdown on protesters because Moscow felt it was “burned” by agreeing to an international military campaign in Libya.

Alexander Orlov, Russia’s ambassador to France, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the NATO-led campaign in Libya has gone beyond what the original U.N. resolution envisaged. He is attending a G-8 summit in France.

The U.N. resolution was aimed at protecting Libyan civilians, but Russia has bristled at the increasing use of force aimed at Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

As a result, Orlov said that Russia doesn’t want a “rubbery resolution” on Syria. He said Russia condemns violence against demonstrators in Syria but that “we will be very careful” before approving any new resolution.

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G8 leaders expected to back Obama on 1967 borders



In draft statement, world leaders call on Israel and the Palestinians to return to negotiations in order to reach an agreement on final status issues, AFP reports.


Group of Eight leaders will give “strong support” to U.S. President Barack Obama’s call for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal to be based on the 1967 borders, the French Press Agency AFP reported on Friday.

In a draft statement formulated at the G8 summit in France, leaders called on both parties “to return to substantive talks with a view to concluding a framework agreement on all final status issues”.

“Aspirations of the peoples in the region need to be heeded including that of the Palestinians for a viable and sovereign state and that of Israelis for security and regional integration,” the statement quoted by AFP read.

The G8 leaders urged both sides to abstain from unilateral steps and called “for the easing of the situation in Gaza.”

In a Middle East policy speech last week, Obama said a future Palestinian state must be based in territories captured by Israel in the Six Day War in 1967, with minor adjustments reached through negotiations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the idea of 1967 borders, calling them “indefensible.”

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IsraHell denies helping Ofer brothers in Iran dealings case



Alleged business with Iran was done by the Singapore-based Tanker Pacific, one of the world’s largest shipping companies and an Ofer Brothers subsidiary.


The Israeli Foreign Ministry said yesterday it was not helping Ofer Brothers Group get get its name off the Americans’ blacklist for alleged dealings with Iran, as the firm had led the media to believe.

On Tuesday the U.S. State Department shocked the Israeli business community with its announcement that the Ofer Brothers shipping company had violated economic sanctions against Iran. At the heart of the matter was an oil tanker named Raffles Park, which had been owned by the Ofer Brothers Group and eventually found its way into the hands of the Iranian national shipping company – the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

“The American decision relates to a private company, and the handling of the issue is between the company and the U.S. authorities,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman. The ministry is in contact with the U.S. authorities to receive more information on the case.

The Defense Ministry said it is not involved in any way in negotiating with the Americans; in any case, that’s the fief of the Foreign Ministry, said the Defense Ministry.

As far as the Americans are concerned, such a sale supports the Iranian energy industry, whose profits are used in part to develop the Iranian nuclear program.

A state department spokesman, Mark Toner, replied to the Ofers’ claims at a press conference on Wednesday.

“We did considerable due diligence in checking out these claims. And what we found is that Ofer Holdings Group is the parent of a company called Tanker Pacific, and that’s the company that actually sold this tanker to the Iranians,” Toner said.

Tanker Pacific did not reply by press time.

Toner said Tanker Pacific and its subsidiary had “failed to do proper due diligence and to prevent this transaction. So they’re responsible – I guess my point is that they’d be responsible for the conduct of their subsidiary.”

In addition, the oil tanker has a history with Iran, according to Equasis, a major shipping information database. The Raffles Park anchored a number of times in Iranian ports while it was owned by the Ofer brothers.

Equasis was founded when the European Commission and the French Maritime Administration decided to cooperate in developing an information system collating existing safety-related information on ships from both public and private sources and making it available on the Internet.

Equasis’ data reveals that the ship visited Iran four times from September 2002 to January 2010 – but the current sanctions were not in place at the time. Nonetheless, Iran was – and still is – defined as an enemy country according to Israeli law, and trade by Israelis with Iran is forbidden.

The Foreign Ministry said it supports international efforts to apply effective economic pressure on Iran. The ministry has known of the investigation against the Ofer Brothers for some time, as has the company.

The alleged business with Iran was done by the Singapore-based Tanker Pacific, one of the world’s largest shipping companies and an Ofer Brothers subsidiary. It operates a fleet of 45 huge tankers that transport crude oil worldwide, with branches in India, Britain and China.

Tanker Pacific bought Raffles Park in 2000. Until it was sold last September, the tanker carried crude oil under a Liberian flag. Liberia gives ships the right to use its flag to conceal their real ownership, as is customary in the shipping business, in exchange for foreign currency.

The tanker was sold for $8.65 million, a relatively low price, in a deal brokered by the Monaco-based company Shipping Brokerage Associated. This company, which declined to comment on the situation, located the company Coral Light Corporation of Panama, registered in Panama, which ended up under ownership of the company Crystal Shipping of Sharjah. This shipping company appears on the UN Security Council’s blacklisted corporations. It is forbidden to trade with these corporations because of their involvement in transporting equipment and materials for Iran’s missile and nuclear programs.

Sharjah is a small emirate in the Persian Gulf and is known for its connections with Iran, in particular with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Crystal Shipping was the company that bought the Ofer Brothers’ tanker. Another company, registered in Dubai, Noah Ship Management, provides managing services for the purchased tanker. Crystal is not on the blacklist. The ship’s name was changed to Emma.

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday that several companies involved in the deal served as a front to hide the fact that the Iranian national shipping company was behind it. This firm appears on the UN Security Council’s roster of blacklisted companies. It is forbidden to trade with these companies because of their involvement in transporting equipment and materials for Iran’s missile and nuclear programs.

While the investigation was underway, before the announcement was made, the Ofer Brothers Group tried to convince the Americans that it knew nothing of the sale by Crystal to the Iranians, but the Americans were not convinced.

It is possible the Americans have additional, secret information on the matter.

The company was given a semi-official hearing by the Americans in January, but the Ofers never informed the Israeli Foreign Ministry of the matter.

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Canada takes pro-Zionist line at G8 summit



Canadian delegation blocks mention of 1967 lines in Group of Eight leaders’ joint statement calling Israel, Palestinians to return to peace talks


Group of Eight leaders had to soften a statement urging Israel and the Palestinians to return to negotiations because Canada objected to a specific mention of 1967 borders, diplomats said on Friday.

Canada’s right-leaning Conservative government has adopted a staunchly pro-Israel position in international negotiations since coming to power in 2006, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying Canada will back Israel whatever the cost.

Diplomats involved in Middle East discussions at the G8 summit said Ottawa had insisted that no mention of Israel’s pre-1967 borders be made in the leaders’ final communiqué, even though most of the other leaders wanted a mention.

“The Canadians were really very adamant, even though Obama expressly referred to 1967 borders in his speech last week,” one European diplomat said.

A spokesman for Harper would not comment on the line Canada had taken, saying only that the final communiqué would make positions clear.

In the final communiqué, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, the leaders call for the immediate resumption of peace talks but do not mention 1967, the year Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza from Jordan and Egypt during the Six-Day War.

“Negotiations are the only way toward a comprehensive and lasting resolution to the conflict,” the communiqué said.

“The framework for these negotiations is well known. We urge both parties to return to substantive talks with a view to concluding a framework agreement on all final status issues.

“To that effect, we express our strong support for the vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace outlined by President Obama on May 19, 2011.”

In his speech last week, Obama said pre-1967 borders should be a basis of talks to achieve a negotiated settlement, although he also acknowledged any agreement would ultimately involve land swaps on either side of the border.

That position was rejected by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said Israel would be indefensible if it returned entirely to the borders that existed before 1967.

Canada’s strong backing for Israel was cited by diplomats last year as one reason why Ottawa failed to win a rotating two-year seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Harper has made is position on Israel very clear, saying last year: “When Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack, is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand.”

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Santa Monica jumps on the male circumcision ban bandwagon



Bill to ban male circumcision under the age of 18 has already made it to the San Francisco ballot; if the measure passes it will become a misdemeanor offense.


A week after it was announced that a bill to ban male circumcision made it on the November 2011 ballot in San Francisco, a similar campaign was proposed on Wednesday in Santa Monica.

The group MGM Bill wants the anti-circumcision measure on the November ballot in Santa Monica. The San Diego group got more than 7,700 valid signatures from city residents, meaning voters will be asked to weigh in on what until now has been a private family matter.

MGM stands for male genital mutilation.

MGM Bill founder Matthew Hess told the Los Angeles Times that California law prohibits female genital mutilation and boys should get the same protection. He said circumcision removes nerve endings and is a painful and unnecessary procedure.

Circumcision of male infants is a religious requirement in Judaism and some say a ban would be a violation of 1st Amendment prohibition against government interference with a person’s practice of religion.

Last week, San Francisco elections officials confirmed that the initiative had received enough signatures to appear on the ballot.

If the measure passes, circumcision would be prohibited among males under the age of 18. The practice would become a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. There would be no religious exemptions.

The San Francisco initiative was the first of its kind in the country to make it to the ballot, though a larger national debate over the health benefits of circumcision has been going on for many years. Banning circumcision would almost certainly prompt a flurry of legal challenges alleging violations of the First Amendment’s guarantee of the freedom to exercise one’s religious beliefs.

International health organizations have promoted circumcision as an important strategy for reducing the spread of the AIDS virus. That’s based on studies that showed it can prevent AIDS among heterosexual men in Africa.

For years, federal health officials have been working on recommendations regarding circumcision. The effort was sparked by studies that found circumcision is partially effective in preventing the virus’ spread between women and men. The recommendations are still being developed, and there is no date set for their release, said a spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Costly Arab Spring to yield bumper harvest for bankers (and IsraHell isn’t complaining either)





From the G8 summit, Reuters reports:

The external financing needs of oil-importing countries in the Middle East and North Africa will exceed $160 billion over the next three years and donor countries must step in to help, the International Monetary Fund said on Thursday.

In a report to the Group of Eight meeting in Deauville, France, the IMF urged G8 industrial nations and rich Arab partners to develop an action plan that lays out what help they could provide countries in need.

“The region needs to prepare for a fundamental transformation of its economic model,” Masood Ahmed, in charge of Middle East and Africa at the IMF, told journalists on the sidelines of a Group of Eight meeting in northern France.

“This will be greatly facilitated if international players including the G8 can enter into strategic partnership with these countries…where incentives are linked to a social agenda.”

Supporting the IMF’s call for deeper indebtedness to support the supposedly threatening democratic upheaval in the region, U.S. President Barack Obama said:

First, we’ve asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G8 summit for what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt. Together, we must help them recover from the disruptions of their democratic upheaval, and support the governments that will be elected later this year. And we are urging other countries to help Egypt and Tunisia meet its near-term financial needs.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron:

Leading nations’ financial support for the so-called Arab Spring will reduce extremism and immigration, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said. The UK is giving £110m over four years for political and economic development in North Africa and the Middle East. At the two-day G8 summit in France, the UK and US are pushing for other pledges of financial support. Mr Cameron said the summit should send a message to the countries of the Arab Spring that “we are on your side”.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said it is critical that Group of Eight leaders deliver firm commitments to help Tunisia and Egypt during their two-day summit in France. Speaking at a press conference, G8 summit host – French President Nicolas Sarkozy – said it is critical that the popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt succeed. He said mobilizing “considerable aid” is among the central goals of the G8 meeting here in Deauville.

Lest anyone think the three leaders’ putting taxpayers’ money where their mouths are in support of Arab democracy might be a betrayal of the West’s “unwavering ally” in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured a sycophantic U.S. Congress that the “Arab Spring” is kosher:

Fifteen years ago, I stood at this very podium. By the way, it hasn’t changed. (Laughter.) I stood here and I said that democracy must start to take root in the Arab world. Well, it’s begun to take root, and this beginning holds the promise of a brilliant future of peace and prosperity, because I believe that a Middle East that is genuinely democratic will be a Middle East truly at peace.

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NATO concerned about Pakistan nukes



An image of Khushab nuclear complex, located about 140 miles south of Islamabad.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has expressed serious concerns about the security of Pakistani nuclear facilities amid growing militancy in the country.

Rasmussen said on Tuesday that NATO has the right to be concerned about the security of the violence-hit country. “I feel confident that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is safe and well protected,” said Rasmussen. “But of course it is a matter of concern and we follow the situation closely.” 

The security of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities has been questioned by the Western military alliance following a recent militant attack on a naval base in southern port city of Karachi.

The militants set off several high intensity explosives and destroyed two surveillance aircraft in Karachi on Sunday night. Fighting continued into Monday morning.

Despite an offensive by the Pakistani government against pro-Taliban militants, they have spread their influence in various regions, killing people and security forces every day.

Western leaders fear Pakistan’s nuclear weapons can fall into the hands of militants.

Senior officials in Islamabad have repeatedly dismissed such concerns, saying Pakistani nukes are in safe hands.

Analysts say the US and its Western allies are preparing the grounds for widespread military presence in Pakistan.

They also believe the US is looking for an excuse to expand its military operations in the troubled southern and central Asian regions to secure bases near Russia and China.

This comes as India and Pakistan have been locked in intense rivalry since they gained independence from Britain in 1947.

India and Pakistan have occasionally tested conventional and unconventional weapons over the past years.

New Delhi conducted its first nuclear test in 1974, followed by five more in 1998. Islamabad conducted its sixth nuclear tests in 1998.

Both neighbors have refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other international treaties that restrict the development or testing of nuclear weapons.

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Syria nabs Zionist-backed terrorist



Muthanna (pictured) is the son of senior Sunni cleric and Iraqi tribal leader Sheikh Harith al-Dhari

Syrian authorities have arrested the son of a senior Sunni cleric and Iraqi tribal leader on charges of involvement in terrorist activities in Iraq and Syria and having ties with the Israeli regime.

Informed sources said on Thursday that Muthanna al-Dhari, son of the Chairman for the Association of Muslim Scholars Sheikh Harith Sulayman al-Dhari, has been arrested for terror activities and links to the Tel Aviv regime.

Damascus charged al-Dhari with involvement in provocative campaigns as well as cooperation with Israeli agents in their terrorist attacks.

The suspect, who has set up a base in Jordan, had reportedly met with a representative of exiled former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam in Jordan and traveled to Syria a day later.

Muthanna, whose father leads Iraqi Sunni Muslim tribe of ‘Zoba’, was also accused of contacts with extremist Salafi figures before his arrest.

Israeli media outlets have repeatedly reported Muthanna al-Dhari’s meetings with Israeli leaders in Tel Aviv while Israeli Channel 2 has broadcast a number of interviews with Khaddam.

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Study: Settlements worth $18.8 billion



Economic center releases report assessing monetary worth of Jewish homes in West Bank in event state will evacuate them. No coincidence report was released following Obama’s call for return to ’67 lines, says manager

A new study by the Macro Center for Political Economics has revealed that West Bank settlements are currently worth $18.8 billion, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday.

The formerly state-funded center, for which the Netanyahu government cut off funding, filed a first report on the monetary worth of West Bank settlements three years ago in order to assess the amount the state may have to pay settlers in the event they are evacuated as part of a peace accord with the Palestinians.

A source from former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government told Yedioth that the report was indeed passed on to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed, however, that it was not funding the Macro Center, which it said receives budgeting from “state-run agencies in Europe that have an interest in the Middle East”.

It is no coincidence that the new report was released so soon after US President Barack Obama called for a return to the 1967 borders, according to Dr. Roby Nathanson, who runs the center.

“I plan to personally send the new report to Netanyahu because I believe it is especially important these days,” he told Yedioth.

The report found a significant increase in the settlements’ monetary worth due to expansion. It claims that in 2004 settlements were worth $12,649,111,231, a sum that rose to $18,793,513,125 by May 2011.

The report lists four settlement blocs as cities – Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim, Beitar Elite and Modi’in Elite – and finds Ma’aleh Adumim, largest in size and population, the most expensive city in the West Bank. It is currently worth just a little under $2 billion. Some of the smaller settlements, such as Ofra and Ali, are estimated at about $200 million.

Dr. Nathanson says his center relies on various sources from government offices to settlement websites.

“The way in which Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 led to the conclusion that more professional tools are required for decision-makers to properly plan such moves, which includes the evacuation of settlements,” he said.

“We were asked to perform research on the efficiency of the ‘evacuation-compensation’ law to be offered to settlers and collect data to assess what we are actually ceding.”

But Nathanson says most of the populated settlements are located west of the separation fence that runs through much of the West Bank, though the Netanyahu government attempts to promote construction east of the fence as well, in his opinion.

“Even the settlers realize that in the event of a peace agreement there will be land swaps, and that the area around Jerusalem as well as Gush Etzion and Ariel will probably be included (in Israel’s territory),” he said.

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Payola—Rich nations to offer $20B for Arab Spring



G-8 earmarks billions for Arab countries that have overthrown autocrats, such as Egypt, Tunisia, in order to help establish democracies. IMF also prepared to loan billions, though plans for spending money remain unclear

The Group of Eight rich nations will offer about $20 billion in pledges and commitments for Arab countries that have thrown out autocrats and are struggling to build new democracies, European officials said Friday.

The leaders of Egypt and Tunisia are meeting in this Normandy resort Friday with President Barack Obama and other G-8 and European Union leaders who are debating how and how much to aid the still-unstable Egyptian and Tunisian governments.

European officials say the global figure for pledges of aid will be about $20 billion. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions are still under way.

It is unclear what the money would go for, or whether the figure includes money already promised for the region. US and European officials had said that it’s too early to come up with firm dollar figures but that they would come up with a general plan to encourage investment and growth.

“They said their main problem was the economy. They need some support,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters Friday after meeting the Egyptian and Tunisian leaders. “I think they are ready. Let’s do everything to support the Arab Spring. I think they can succeed.”

The International Monetary Fund told the G-8 leaders it is ready to loan up to $35 billion to oil-importing countries in the Middle East and North Africa, to help the region meet goals on growth, stability, job creation and improving living standards.

The IMF says that Tunisia, Egypt and other non-oil producing countries in the region could need more than $160 billion overall in external financing through 2013.

France on Thursday said it would offer Egypt up to $250 million a year in development aid, and Britain pledged to expand its aid to the Middle East and North Africa to 110 million pounds, in an apparent effort to pressure G-8 partners into coughing up money, too.

The G-8 leaders are also debating how to keep the fighting in Libya from undoing pro-democracy movements that have swept countries around the Middle East and Africa. Escalating violence in Libya worried the leaders of the United States, France, Britain, Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada as much or more than their own debts and joblessness.

Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi “must leave, and Libyans should have a democratic future,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Friday. He spoke alongside Obama after the two met, and said “we agree about the consequences of the Arab revolutions. … On Libya our analysis is the same.”

France however has urged the US to commit more to the NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya.

Obama “is leading that initiative to work with the Russians” on Libya, said Michael McFaul, Russia adviser at the National Security Council. Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, told reporters in Deauville, “Russia has relations, not just in Libya but across most of North Africa. … We can benefit from those types of consultations and contacts with them.”

After the meetings Friday with Egypt and Tunisia, the G-8 summit will open up to leaders of several African countries, for discussions of what rich countries can do to bolster peace and security in Africa.

Heavy security in Deauville and elsewhere in France has so far deterred the kind of mass demonstrations that have disrupted G-8 summits in the past. Paris police stopped one of several protests planned in Paris against the summit, detaining about 50 demonstrators on Thursday.

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