Reuters: U.N. Middle East envoy Michael Williams called on Israel on Wednesday to take more far-reaching steps to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, saying he was concerned not enough was being done to sustain the momentum. While he described Israel's release of some 250 Palestinian prisoners and transfer of frozen tax funds to Abbas as "positive signs" following Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip in June, Williams told reporters: "I'm concerned that we haven't seen further steps. I'd like to see further steps." Williams suggested these steps include easing travel restrictions for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. He also urged Israel to release more prisoners and move forward on long-stalled plans to uproot Jewish outposts. Senior Abbas aides say Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has yet to deliver on a promise he made on August 6 to approve the removal of some of the hundreds of roadblocks that impede Palestinian travel in the West Bank. Zu möglicherweise erfolgreichen Verhandlungen sagt er: "I think it is possible to make a deal," Williams said. But he added: "Any deal would have to be put to the Palestinian people as a whole and then it would be for them to decide in a referendum whether this is something they want to support or whether they don't support it."
Deportation of 50 Africans sparks concern ++++ Gaza's public employees are getting paid on one condition: Stay home. ++++ Globe and Mail: Muslim movement offers alternative to Hamas
Längliche Zusammenfassung über die Libanon-Lage [nichts Neues, aber Übersichtlich. Immerhin gelang es der March14 Einigkeit zu demonstrieren.]: Newly appointed French charge d'affaires Andre Baran revealed on Monday that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his envoy to Lebanon Jean-Claude Cousseran might return to Beirut "in the next few days or the upcoming weeks." "France is committed to helping Lebanon preserve its sovereignty and independence, and will not interrupt its efforts to solve the current political impasse in Lebanon," Baran told reporters following a meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at the latter's residence in Ain al-Tineh. Barran said he discussed with Berri recent developments on the Lebanese political scene, in addition to imminent presidential elections, which the French diplomat hoped, "would take place within constitutional deadlines." Baran succeeds to former French Ambassador to Lebanon Bernard Emie as head of the French diplomacy in Lebanon. He still holds the status of charge d'affaires rather than ambassador because he still hasn't presented his letter of credence to President Emile Lahoud, as stipulated by diplomatic protocol. France has boycotted Lahoud since his term was extended in 2004. Zeitgleich: Christian members of the March 14 Forces consecrated themselves as the best Christian authority to decide on the identity of Lebanon's next president. "The March 14 Christians form a Christian authority that would have a basic and active role in electing a new president for Lebanon," Lebanese Forces (LF) MP Elie Kayrouz, who read the meeting's minutes, told reporters after six consecutive hours of deliberations. The large-scale meeting of 29 Christian March 14 members was held at the residence of LF leader Samir Geagea in Maarab to examine the September 25 presidential election, in addition to name the official March 14 Forces candidate, and the formation of a committee responsible of discussing the election with other Lebanese groups, including the opposition. Three members from the March 14 Forces, MPs Butros Harb, Robert Ghanem and former MP Nassib Lahoud have already announced their candidacy. In a quick chat with reporters, Geagea said the meeting was aimed at "countering all efforts by foreign intelligence to choose a president for Lebanon." "It is crucial that the Lebanese be made aware of the importance of the presidential election this year," Geagea said, "This is the first time in long years that the Lebanese exclusively will be able to elect their president." "The era of foreign influence in Lebanon, when presidents were appointed, is long gone, and we will be electing a new president to Lebanon at any cost before the constitutional deadline on November 24 expires," he added. He said Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri should expect "ample surprises if anyone attempts to hinder presidential elections." Berri said last week that he would show a "whole new attitude" if the March 14 forces decide to elect the new president by absolute majority [Opposition 2/3]. While the opposition considers the formation of a national unity government as a key step toward solving pending issues, including the presidential election, the ruling coalition sees the presidential election as the sole gate toward solving all pending matters. Information made available to the Central News Agency on Monday said the opposition considered the meeting in Maarab as an attempt to "thwart" Berri's soon-to be declared initiative to solve the deadlock in Lebanon. Geagea revealed that contacts have been made with Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun concerning the presidential election. "However," he added, "Aoun has not shown any cooperation." While various members of the opposition have declared on several occasions that Aoun was the opposition's candidate for the presidential election, such a stand is yet official. Aoun lashed out on Monday at the government of Premier Fouad Siniora saying it was "illegitimate" and accusing it of "committing illegal acts, including the support of terrorist cells." In a letter addressed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Aoun accused the international community of "taking sides and interfering in strictly Lebanese concerns." "We urge you to tackle the situation in Lebanon with more objectivity and start dialogue with various Lebanese groups," he told Ban, adding that the only solution to Lebanon's continuing stalemate was "to respect the constitution." Echoing Geagea's stance on foreign intervention in Lebanese domestic affairs, head of the Democratic Gathering MP Walid Jumblatt lashed out at Syria describing it as a "regime that promotes intellectual, political, and democratic paralysis." In his weekly interview with Al-Anbaa magazine, Jumblatt also accused the detractors of the Saudi role in Lebanese politics of "trying to hamper Saudi Arabia's incessant efforts to limit Syrian intervention in Lebanese internal concerns."