Am gestrigen Abend werden bei einem Luftangriff auf ein fahrendes Auto in dem sich drei Mitglieder der al-Aqsa-Brigaden befanden die zuvor eine Qassam-Rekete auf Sderot abgeschossen hatten getötet.
Alistar Lyon, "Assasination pulls Lebanon army into power game": The assassination of a man poised to become Lebanon's army chief risks drawing the military into a wider political battle already being waged over the presidency. The army under General Michel Suleiman, who could be elected president by parliament on Monday if rival leaders can agree on the details, has stayed neutral during three years of political tumult involving Lebanon's pro- and anti-Syrian factions. But ultimately the Western-backed ruling majority would like a strengthened army to take full charge of defending Lebanon's borders, once Hezbollah and Palestinian militias are disarmed. This is anathema to Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, which says its weapons are vital to deter Israeli aggression as long as Lebanon's armed forces remain weak and under-equipped. + Lebanese army investigators searched for clues on Thursday in the assassination of a top general who had been tipped to become the next army chief.
Deborah Amos: Syria and the United States are weighing a new relationship after years of mutual distrust. The fragile opening came last month, when the Bush administration invited Syria to attend a U.S.-sponsored conference to revive negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis. + Syrian President Bashar Assad rejected claims that Syria's alliance with Iran had been weakened by Damascus' participation in last month's US-sponsored Mideast peace conference, saying Thursday that the two countries' ties will never be shaken. Assad made the comments as he inaugurated two joint Syrian-Iranian industrial projects - factories for cars and cement. He was joined at the ceremonies by the Iranian industry and housing ministers. + Israel accepts "most" of US-intelligence on Iran: Israeli, U.S. officials to meet over differing assessments of Iran's progress toward achieving nuclear arms. + European diplomats here promised "robust" action from the European Union on Iran and said the EU will enact its own sanctions if the UN Security Council approves a weak third resolution, despite a US intelligence report saying Iran halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago. Emissaries from Britain, France and Germany, speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Thursday, said the intelligence assessment would do virtually nothing to change European policy toward Iran and that the EU would soon be indicating continued commitment to preventing a nuclear Iran. .. Hans-Peter Hinrichsen, first secretary for political affairs at the German Embassy in Washington, said he wouldn't speculate too much on the details of a resolution still under negotiation, but did say, "The impression is that it will be more than the last Security Council resolution. It will not simply be a repetition." He said the Europeans expected it to pass at some point, but added that if it didn't or if it was unsatisfactory, they would take their own steps. "We don't want EU sanctions to damage the United Nations Security Council process. But if we see that process is not effective, or we don't see a Security Council resolution," he said, "or in case it should be too weak or whatever, the EU will take decisions how it will enact and react to that. And I think there is a certain amount of consensus that the EU will have to go further then and to act on its own." + Livni: Peace talks with Syria impossible given its current conduct
Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided on Thursday evening to declare a "special situation" in Sderot and in other communities bordering the Gaza Strip, due to constant Qassam rocket attacks from the coastal territory. The decision will go before the government for approval during its next meeting, and then before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The declaration means that the Israel Defense Forces and the Home Front Command will cooperate in decisions pertaining to the management of Sderot and the other affected communities. .. Barak's recommendation came a few hours after he convinced Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal to remain in his post, after the latter submitted his resignation the day before, according to sources close to him.
The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that began Wednesday with mutual recriminations need to be divorced from "current events," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told EU ambassadors at a meeting Thursday. Livni, according to one of the meeting's participants, stressed that both sides started the bilateral negotiation process on the assumption that negotiations needed to take place regardless of the situation on the ground. .. Livni reportedly said that negotiations with the PA would come to an end if Fatah decided to reestablish a unity government with Hamas. Livni also met Thursday with Robert Serry of the Netherlands, who in January is to formally become the UN's Middle East envoy. + Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will criticize Israel for its settlement policy in the territories and demand that it stop building in East Jerusalem, according to a draft of the speech he is to deliver at the donor states' conference in Paris next week. The draft has been seen by Haaretz. + Two Housing Ministry bureaucrats unintentionaly set off a crisis between Israel and the Palestinian Authority - as well as international condemnation of Israel - when they signed a tender last week for the construction of 307 housing units in East Jerusalem's Har Homa neighborhood, Israeli officials said Thursday. "This affair has sabotaged negotiations and cast a shadow on the international donor states meeting next week," a senior government official told Haaretz. "Because of a miserably timed, rash bureaucratic decision, we must prove anew that we are serious." Officials said that civil servants Sarah Zimmerman and Dubi Gal, who had approved the tender, had no idea it would provoke such a row. + On the eve of the donors conference in Paris, which is expected to discuss ways of strengthening the Palestinian Authority, PA officials admitted Thursday that they still have a long way to go in reforming their security forces - a key condition set by the international community for funding the government of Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. Meanwhile, PA Civil Police commander Gen. Kamal al-Sheikh revealed that more than 600 Fatah-affiliated policemen helped Hamas take control of the Gaza Strip last June. "Out of 13,000 policemen in the Gaza Strip, only 612 participated in the Hamas coup against the Palestinian Authority," Sheikh said during a tour of Bethlehem. Downplaying the significance of the move, he noted that this constituted only an estimated 4.5 percent of the entire police force. This is the first time that a senior PA security official has spoken about the involvement of Fatah-affiliated policemen in the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. Sheikh did not say what kind of role the rebellious policemen played during the coup, but pointed out that the PA leadership had dismissed them and was no longer paying them. + Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad said on Thursday that he was unable to get a guarantee from Defense Minister Ehud Barak that Israel would remove roadblocks in the West Bank.
David Ignatius, "Intelligence oversigth in free fall": Whatever else one might say about America's accident-prone intelligence agencies, it seems clear that the system of congressional oversight that was established in the mid-1970s to supervise them isn't working. Right now, we are getting the worst possible mix -- a dearth of adequate congressional scrutiny on the front end that could improve performance and check abuses, and a flood of second-guessing at the back end, after each flap, that further demoralizes and enfeebles the spies. Congress silently blesses the CIA's harsh interrogation tactics, for example, and then denounces the practices when they become public.
Raja Kama, "The MiddleEast needs a lot, but not more weapons": The United States Congress will soon debate the decision of the Bush administration to sell $20 billion in sophisticated weapons to several Arab countries. This package is being presented by the White House as a way of promoting stability in a Middle East threatened by Iran's ambitions and the rise of terrorism. Congress should flatly decline the sale on the grounds that arming the Arab world is neither in the best interest of the region nor that of the US in the long run.
Eric Trager, "Creative approaches needed in MiddleEast talks": The Annapolis Conference heralded a new strategy in Middle East peacemaking. Whereas conventional wisdom held that domestically strong Israeli and Arab leaders were a prerequisite for fruitful negotiations, Annapolis attempted to work backward, using negotiations to strengthen two very weak leaders.
Walid M. Awad, "The return of Arab East-Jerusalem is a pre-requisite for peace": srael's Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon, also believed to be a mouthpiece for Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, has, over the last few months spoken repeatedly about the need for Israel to leave certain Arab parts of Arab East Jerusalem. Addressing the Israeli public, Ramon remarks: why do we need Walajeh, Shufat or Qalandia (neighborhoods in Jerusalem)? This, while in the same breath, asserting to his Jewish audience that Israel needs Jerusalem as a 'Jewish city,' void of its Arab Palestinian indigenous population. Ramon's remarks, insubstantial as they are, are no more than a feeble attempt, perhaps to appease the West and assist his boss Prime Minister Olmert to overcome rightwing circles in Israeli society opposed to 'dividing' Jerusalem. While some may consider Ramon's utterances as a small step in the right direction, to the Palestinians this is not even a starter.
Greg Sheridan: Occasionally you recognise that you are in the presence of human greatness. I had that experience this week in Jerusalem when I went to interview Natan Sharansky.
Bouthaina Shaaban, "The American awakening" + Jihad el-Khazen: The US National Intelligence Report (NIR) was supposed to dispel much of the anxiety over the Iranian nuclear program since it stated that Iran had halted its military program in 2003, but some Gulf ministers and officials expressed the same level of anxiety when I called them in the past two days.
Henri Siegman, "Annapolis, the good, the bad and the ugly": The Annapolis proceedings have taken the Middle East peace process out of its prolonged state of morbidity in three respects. The Annapolis understandings are getting underway negotiations over "all of the core issues, without exception," as stated by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and President George W. Bush. Before Annapolis, Israel refused to consider negotiations for a final status accord before Palestinians implement their obligation under the road map to dismantle "the infrastructures of terror" and disarm Palestinian militants. The demand constituted the mother of all oxymorons, since no Palestinian leader could end violent resistance to the occupation in the face of Israel's refusal to reveal how much Palestinian territory it intended to retain until after negotiations begin. Having lost to Israel fully half the territory recognized by the UN in its partition resolution of 1947 as the legitimate patrimony of the Arab residents of Palestine, Palestinians are not about to renounce the right to fight, if necessary, to retain the 22 percent of Palestine that was left them.