Monday, April 28, 2008

What's the best way to celebrate Israel's 60th birthday?

I'll Be Back on May 14!

Iran's prosecutor warns of 'negative impact' of Barbie, Batman, Harry Potter and Spiderman

Teheran -April 27- Iran's prosecutor general on Sunday warned of the 'negative impact' which Western toys could have for Iranian children, ISNA news agency reported.

Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi said the mainly illegally-imported toys such as Barbie, Batman, Harry Potter and Spiderman might cause 'irreparable (cultural) damage.'
In a letter to Vice President Parviz Davoudi, the ultra- conservative cleric called on the government to find alternatives for what he called the 'cultural offensive.'
Iranian clergy have warned in the last three decades of a 'Western cultural invasion' in the form of movies, music andr fashion, and tried to confront it - so far with little success.

In an effort to counter highly popular Barbie dolls, Iran in 1996 began producing an Islamic version named Sarah and her brother Dara, but these found little resonance among Iranian children.
The Institute for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults at that time even compared Barbie dolls with the 'Wooden Horse of Troy, with many cultural invading soldiers inside it'.

Despite the counter-measures, Western articles - especially music CDs and DVDs of US movies - have boomed in Iran, especially on the black market where they are available at prices ranging between one and two US dollars. Iran's prosecutor general on Sunday warned of the 'negative impact' which Western toys could have for Iranian children, ISNA news agency reported.
Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi said the mainly illegally-imported toys such as Barbie, Batman, Harry Potter and Spiderman might cause 'irreparable (cultural) damage.'
In a letter to Vice President Parviz Davoudi, the ultra- conservative cleric called on the government to find alternatives for what he called the 'cultural offensive.'
Iranian clergy have warned in the last three decades of a 'Western cultural invasion' in the form of movies, music and fashion, and tried to confront it - so far with little success.
In an effort to counter highly popular Barbie dolls, Iran in 1996 began producing an Islamic version named Sarah and her brother Dara, but these found little resonance among Iranian children.

The Institute for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults at that time even compared Barbie dolls with the 'Wooden Horse of Troy, with many cultural invading soldiers inside it'.
Despite the counter-measures, Western articles - especially music CDs and DVDs of US movies - have boomed in Iran, especially on the black market where they are available at prices ranging between one and two US dollars. (M&C)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Iran denies detention of five British hostages

TEHRAN, April 27 (KUNA) -- Spokesman of the Iranian Foreign Ministry Mohammad Ali Hosseini on Sunday denied that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had detained five British hostages kidnapped in Iraq nearly a year ago. Hosseini told reporters in response to a report published by the British "Sunday Times" newspaper in this regard that this newspaper is one of the newspapers that advocate the pro-Zionist entity and usually broadcasts such false news. He added that the newspaper did not refer to any reliable source, adding that some western countries are behind the abduction of people and holding them in illegal detention centers; therefore Iran can not be accused of committing such acts. The "Sunday Times" newspaper had said in a report published recently that the abducters of British hostages in Iraq last November handed them over to Iranian Revolutionary Guard and are currently being detained in the western Hamedan province of Iran.

Iran compiles Persian Gulf Encyclopedia: will Abu Musa still be Iranian?

TEHRAN, April. 27 (ISNA)-Iran has started compiling Persian Gulf Encyclopedia.

Do not forget when compiling your Encyclopedia that Abu Musa and the two Tunb Islands belong to the UAE (link)!

The encyclopedia will be compiled in 8 volumes during 4 years. It will look into different areas of knowledge in regard to Persian Gulf including history, geography, geology, ecology, political and legal issues, industry, agriculture, anthropology and sociology.

Also a site is going to be operated to provide researchers with historical maps of the region and articles to be used in the encyclopedia.

Read also my "The non nuclear case against Iran" (link)

Assad: "Read my lips: I'm not worried"

Hariri Probe Doesn't Worry Syria, President Tells Newspaper

DOHA, Qatar (AFP)--Syria isn't worried by the international tribunal investigation into the killing of Lebanon's former premier Rafiq Hariri, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview published Sunday.
"This question does not concern us. Some people insist that this subject worries Syria... but this is not true," he was quoted by the Qatari daily Al- Watan as saying.
Damascus has been accused by the Lebanese anti-Syrian majority of ordering the killing of the millionaire businessman in a massive car bomb attack in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005.
Assad also said that "France must clarify" the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of a key Syrian witness into the Hariri probe, Mohammed Zuheir al- Saddiq, who vanished in March after leaving his home in a Paris suburb.
Saddiq, a former member of Syria's security services, had said that the pro- Syrian former president Emile Lahoud of Lebanon and Assad had ordered Hariri's assassination.
But Assad said he had "no information" about the witness and made it clear that Paris was aware of the circumstances regarding his disappearance.
"He disappeared in known, not mysterious, circumstances," he added.
Saddiq earlier told Kuwaiti daily Al-Seyassah that he was the target of three assassination attempts and that he would remain in hiding until an international tribunal opened to try Hariri's suspected killers.
A U.N. probe has implicated senior Syrian officials in assassination. Syria, which for three decades was the power broker in its smaller neighbor, has vehemently denied any involvement. (END) Dow Jones Newswires
Copyright (c) 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Spokesman for the French Socialist Party detained and interrogated by Hizbullah

Poster showing Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah along the highway towards Beirut airport

Hezbollah armed men allegedly interrogate French dignitary

Sunday, 27 April, 2008

Beirut, Lebanon - Armed men suspected to be members of Hezbollah, detained and interrogated a delegate from France in the party's stronghold in south Beirut.

The French delegate, (who) was attending the Socialist International meeting in Beirut, was touring the capital in a convertible car, (and) was at the time taking pictures of posters showing Hezbollah "martyrs" who died in combat.

The incident was reported by a senior member of Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party, Wael Abou Faour.
French delegate Karim Pakzad was on the airport road when a motorcyclist followed by a four wheel-drive car carrying armed men stopped him and interrogated him, Abou Faour said.

The road leading to the airport is in a zone dominated by Hizbullah.
Jumblatt, a key leader of the anti-Syrian majority, plans to hold a press conference early Sunday to explain the circumstances surrounding the incident, Abou Faour said.
The Socialist International was holding a two-day conference in Beirut for its Mediterranean Committee. In its final statement, the committee called for the immediate election of a president. (YaLibnan)


BEIRUT, April 27, 2008 (AFP) - A French delegate to a Socialist International meeting in Beirut said on Sunday that he had been briefly detained the previous day by armed men linked to Hezbollah. Delegate Karim Pakzad told a Beirut news conference that he was stopped on Saturday by armed men who "spoke on behalf of Hezbollah" -- Lebanon's powerful Shiite militant movement -- who questioned him for five hours before freeing him. Pakzad said it happened as he was touring the capital in an open-top car with a Lebanese friend and taking pictures of a mosque along the airport road, near Hezbollah's stronghold in Beirut's southern suburbs. "Armed men asked us 'why do you have a camera' and 'what are you doing here,'" before viewing the pictures he had taken with his digital camera, Pakzad said. He was taken blindfolded to an unidentified location where he was kept isolated for five hours, adding that his captors took away his cell phone, wallet and medicine. Contacted by AFP, Hezbollah said it had no immediate information about the incident. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is Israel's public enemy number one and the movement operates stringent security measures in its Beirut stronghold requiring even press photographers to seek prior permission.

Hamas making bomb-carrying drones

Apr 27, 2008 (PostChronicle)

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood questioned by Egyptian intelligence have said Hamas is trying to make drones to carry bombs, an Egyptian newspaper reported.
Al-Ahram said the detainees told interrogators they were working with Hamas, and that equipment and operatives with technical know-how have been moved to Gaza.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said the story is a big lie, the Jerusalem Post reported. He accused al-Ahram and other newspapers of a disinformation campaign aimed at the Palestinians.
A report by an Israeli research group said this month that Hamas had built up a fighting force of 20,000 men since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and that more weapons were smuggled into Gaza during the breach of the Rafah crossing in January. (c) UPI

UN International Conference on Palestine Refugees

The Displacement of Jews From Arab Countries: 1948-2005 (Justiceforjews)

to be held in Paris, 29 - 30 April

The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People will convene the United Nations International Conference on Palestine Refugees at United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Headquarters in Paris on 29 and 30 April, in accordance with General Assembly resolutions 62/80 and 62/81 of 10 December 2007.

The objective of the Conference is to assess the present situation of Palestine refugees and examine the role of the United Nations in alleviating their plight. It will also examine efforts at finding an agreed, just and fair solution to the refugee issue in keeping with relevant United Nations resolutions as a prerequisite for resolving the question of Palestine and achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. Invited to the Conference are experts on the Palestine refugee issue, including Israeli and Palestinian, representatives of United Nations Member States and Observers, intergovernmental organizations and United Nations agencies, parliamentarians, members of the academic community and representatives of civil society organizations, as well as the media.

The opening session will take place on Tuesday, 29 April, at 10 a.m. in Conference Room IV. It will open with a message by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, followed by a message by Director-General of UNESCO Koïchiro Matsuura. Statements will also be made by Paul Badji, Chairman of the Committee, and Zakaria Al-Agha, Member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Head of the PLO Refugees Department, representative of Palestine. The opening session will be followed by the screening of a documentary on Palestine refugees at 1:45 p.m., also in Conference Room IV.

Plenary I will start at 3 p.m. in the same room and will discuss the theme “ Palestine refugees -- the longest running humanitarian problem in today’s world”. Among the confirmed speakers are Michael Fischbach, Professor of History, Randolph-Macon College, Salman Abu-Sitta, researcher and former Palestine National Council member; Daud Abdullah, Researcher, Palestine ReturnCentre, London; Souheil El-Natour, Head, Humanitarian Development Center for Palestinians, Beirut; and Wajih Atallah, Secretary, Union of Youth Activity Centres in the West Bank and Gaza, Qalandia.
Plenary II, entitled “The United Nations and Palestine refugees”, will begin at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 30 April, also in Conference Room IV. Among the confirmed speakers are Susan Akram, Professor, Boston University School of Law; Mazen Masri, lecturer, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto; Lex Takkenberg, General Counsel and Ethics Officer, Department of Legal Affairs, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Jerusalem; Rasmi Khader Almallah, Jordanian Senator; Sylviane de Wangen, a lawyer with the French Platform of NGOs for Palestine; and Usama Halabi, lawyer and law researcher.
Plenary II will be followed at 1 p.m. by a press conference given by the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the InalienableRights of the Palestinian People, Ambassador Badji, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations in New York, and Ambassador Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations in New York, also in Conference Room IV.
Plenary III will start at 3 p.m. Presentations on the theme of “International and regional efforts to promote a solution of the Palestine refugee issue” will be made by Michaél Chiller-Glaus, journalist and author, Neue Zürcher Zeitung; Menachem Klein, Professor of Political Science, Bar-Ilan University, Israel; Géraud de la Pradelle, Professor of International Law, University of Paris X – Nanterre; and Terry Rempel, research fellow, University of Exeter, and founding member of the BADIL Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. The closing session, which will begin at 5:30 p.m. with the introduction of the final document, will conclude the Conference.

All media representatives without regular UNESCO identification are requested to obtain badges by presenting media identification cards prior to entering the Conference Room. A registration desk at the Monaco lobby of the UNESCO building, entrance: 125 avenue de Suffren, will be operating from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on 28 April. On 29 April, registration starts at 9 a.m. If you arrive at any other time, please contact the Information Desk in the foyer. Kindly take advantage of the advance registration in order to avoid delays on Tuesday morning.
The report of the Conference will be issued as a publication of the Division in due course. (Link)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ahmadinejad in Dire Straits

Sat Apr 26

TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran's judiciary chief has become the latest figure to criticise President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his attacks on opponents, accusing him of "exaggeration and sloganeering," reports said on Saturday.

The comments by Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi come just over week after Ahmadinejad launched his most bitter attack yet on his rivals, accusing them of forming mafias of political and economic corruption.
The president's accusations, made in a speech in the clerical city of Qom, unleashed new controversy and the heads of two judiciary bodies have already denounced his comments as lacking any factual basis.
"Fighting economic corruption is a fundamental factor in making society healthy," said Shahroudi, in comments reported by much of the Iranian press including the Tehran daily Hamshahri.
"But if instead of using legitimate procedures one falls into exaggeration, unrealistic campaigning and sloganeering, then
this fundamental factor will be forgotten," he said, in a reference to Ahmadinejad's speech.
"And therefore it becomes an instrument to be used to sideline rivals."
Shahroudi, who is appointed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and is renowned for his knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), seldom speaks out on political issues.
His last such intervention was in August 2007, when he vehemently criticised Ahmadinejad's mass changing of mid-ranking managers.
In his angry Qom speech on April 16, Ahmadinejad lashed out at a judiciary body and also accused an unnamed leading Iranian official of managing a huge cigarette-smuggling racket.
"I will go to the end to change and uproot all these corrupt people or who show a lack of determination. I fear nothing," Ahmadinejad said.
In the aftermath of the speech, the president also became embroiled in a bitter public row with parliament speaker Gholam Ali Hadad Adel over the implementation of legislation.
He then sacked his economy minister, who hit back with an angry attack accusing the president of busying himself with peripheral issues. Three leading ayatollahs have also criticised Ahmadinejad's economic policies.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Oil jumps past $119 on U.S.-Iran tensions

LONDON, April 25 (Reuters) - Oil jumped more than $3 to over $119 a barrel on Friday on Nigerian and North Sea supply disruptions and rising tensions between the United States and Iran.
U.S. crude futures surged $3.44 to $119.50 a barrel by 1248 p.m. EDT (1648 GMT), near the all-time peak of $119.90 reached on Tuesday.
London Brent crude traded $3.12 higher at $117.46 a barrel, after hitting a new record of $117.56 earlier.
A cargo ship hired by the U.S. military fired warning shots at boats suspected to be Iranian, the U.S. Navy said on Friday, underscoring tension in the Gulf as the Pentagon sharpened its warnings to Tehran.
Iran denied there had been any confrontation between its forces and a U.S. ship in the Gulf, Iranian media reported. (Reuters Africa)

Saudi women have no Human Rights

Fri, 25 Apr 2008

Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship of women and policies of sex segregation stop women from enjoying their basic rights, the group Human Rights Watch said in a report released this week. Saudi women often must obtain permission from a guardian (a father, husband, or even a son) to work, travel, study, marry, or even access health care.
The Saudi government sacrifices basic human rights to maintain male control over women. Saudi women won’t make any progress until the government ends the abuses that stem from these misguided policies.

In a 50-page report, “Perpetual Minors: Human Rights Abuses Stemming from Male Guardianship and Sex Segregation in Saudi Arabia,” (link) Human Rights Watch draws on more than 100 interviews with Saudi women to document the effects of these discriminatory policies on woman’s most basic rights. “The Saudi government sacrifices basic human rights to maintain male control over women,” said Farida Deif, women’s rights researcher for the Middle East at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi women won’t make any progress until the government ends the abuses that stem from these misguided policies.”
The authorities essentially treat adult women like legal minors who are not entitled to authority over their lives and well-being. Saudi women are similarly denied the legal right to make even trivial decisions for their children. Women cannot open bank accounts for children, enroll them in school, obtain school files, or travel with their children without written permission from the child’s father.

Saudi women are prevented from accessing government agencies that have not established female sections unless they have a male representative. The need to establish separate office spaces for women is a disincentive to hiring female employees, and female students are often relegated to unequal facilities with unequal academic opportunities.
Male guardianship over adult women also contributes to their risk of confronting family violence, making it difficult for survivors of violence to avail themselves of protection or redress. Social workers, physicians, and lawyers told Human Rights Watch about the near impossibility of removing guardianship even from male guardians who are abusive. (Source)

Saudi Arabia: Religious leaders attack Playstation video games

Riyadh, 25 April (AKI) - Saudi religious leaders have attacked a popular video game, used mainly by children. According to the Arab TV network al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia's minister of Islamic affairs has sent a newsletter to all imams in the country, warning about the 'dangers' that could result from using the popular Playstation video game.

"They are dangerous games, because they teach the wrong thing to children," read the newsletter. "They have a negative influence on the personality of children, and thus from an Islamic point of view, it is not acceptable to waste time in this manner."

Imams will have to ask parents to be more attentive with regard to their children's education and urged them to supervise them, so they do not become "victims" of these games. "These games cause mental problems in children," said Badel Muhsin ibn Uthman Bin Baz, a professor from the Imam Saud university, according to Saudi daily al-Riyadh.

"Nazarenes and Jews are the terrorists": Islamist video responds to Dutch film

DUBAI (Reuters)-Fri Apr 25, 2008
An al Qaeda-linked website has posted a 10-minute film showing civilians killed or maimed in U.S. and Israeli air strikes as an answer to an anti-Koran film released by Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders last month.

The video, billed as a "response to the film called 'fitna' produced by the hateful crusader Wilders", is dedicated more to criticizing the U.S.-led "war on terror" than Wilders himself.
Wilders' film, titled "fitna" or "strife" in Arabic, warns that Muslim immigration is undermining Western values and urges Muslims to tear out "hate-filled" verses from the Koran. It mixes images of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and other bombings with quotations from Islam's holy book.
Muslim nations condemned Wilders' film as offensive and the Dutch government distanced itself from him to avert the kind of backlash Denmark faced over the publication of cartoons lampooning Islam's Prophet Mohammad.

The response, posted on an al Qaeda-linked website that has carried videos from Osama bin Laden, paints U.S.-led wars as modern-day Crusades led by President George W. Bush, a devout Christian whose two terms in office were won with strong backing from the religious right.
One in four U.S. adults count themselves as evangelical or "born again", giving them political clout in the United States.
The film was described as an Al-Muraiqib production but its makers did not identify themselves further. It opens with marching soldiers before cutting to a poster reading "Jesus Camp: America is born again".
The first half is a compilation mixing clips of bombs hurtling down from U.S. military planes with images of mangled corpses or wounded children in countries from Iraq to the Palestinian territories, Afghanistan and Vietnam.
In a swipe at the U.S. president, it shows an image of a Crusader knight dubbed with Bush's comment about "this crusade" against terrorism. The remark, made after the September 11 attacks, evoked for many Muslims the military campaigns by medieval Christians against Islam.

"Nazarenes and Jews are the terrorists and their past and their present bear witness to this," read a statement presenting the film. "The true enemy of Islam is the Crusader Pope, God curse him, and the leader of the Crusader campaign Bush."
The film's second half quotes intellectuals from Mahatma Ghandi to Leo Tolstoy and George Bernard Shaw praising the Prophet.
Wilders, leader of the right-wing Freedom Party (PVV), posted his short video on the Internet in March.
His film starts and ends with a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb in his turban. Caricatures of the Prophet, first published in Danish papers, ignited violent protests around the world in 2006.
(Editing by Catherine Evans)

Thousands of Palestinians gather on the Gaza side of the border with Egypt after Friday prayers

Date: 25 Apr 2008

Egypt sends police reinforcements to Gaza border

ISMAILIA, Egypt, April 25 (Reuters) - Egypt sent hundreds of police officers to the sealed Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip on Friday to boost security and prevent any attempt by Palestinians to breach the frontier, security sources said.
They said Egypt was responding to information it received that thousands of Palestinians planned to gather on the Gaza side of the border after Muslim Friday prayers to protest an Israeli-led blockade.

"The strengthening of security comes as a precautionary measure to prevent any operation by the Palestinian side to storm Egyptian territory," one of the sources said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.
"Hundreds of policemen concentrated in Rafah and some armoured vehicles were sent to inside the Rafah crossing and in front of its gate," the source added.
Gaza militants blasted open the border in January in a move that allowed hundreds of thousands of Gazans to stream across the frontier at Rafah to stock up on food and fuel for 10 days before the frontier was resealed. Egypt wants to prevent a repeat of that incident.
Security sources put the number of police sent to the crossing on Friday at between 300 to 400, and identified them as officers already in Rafah town who had been on standby to go to the border. The sources said there was no specific threat to the frontier.
The move came as Israel dismissed a proposal by Palestinian militant group Hamas for a six-month Gaza truce during which an embargo on the territory would be lifted, saying that the Gaza Islamists wanted to prepare for more fighting rather than peace.
The Hamas offer, issued on Thursday following talks with Egyptian mediators, departed from previous demands by the group that any ceasefire apply simultaneously in Hamas-run Gaza and the occupied West Bank.
Israel, which controls Gaza's borders, has restricted the passage of goods and fuel in a bid to maintain pressure on Hamas Islamists opposed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's peace moves toward the Jewish state.
Israeli leaders have said Gazans should not expect to be able to lead normal lives while militant groups in the Hamas-run strip continue to fire rockets at Israel. But they have promised to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
(Reporting by Yusri Mohamed; Writing by Cynthia Johnston)

Israel's Ambassador to the UN: Jimmy Carter 'A Bigot'

NEW YORK (AP) -- Israel's ambassador to the United Nations has called former President Jimmy Carter "a bigot" for meeting with the leader of the militant Hamas movement in Syria. Ambassador Dan Gillerman said Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner from Georgia "went to the region with soiled hands and came back with bloody hands after shaking the hand of Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas." The ambassador was speaking yesterday at a luncheon briefing for reporters. The ambassador's harsh words for Carter came days after the ex-president met with Mashaal for seven hours in Damascus, Syria, to negotiate a cease-fire with Gaza's Hamas rulers. (Source)

Hizbullah: Thank you for your patience

You'll love it if you click on it

Hezbollah rearms
While world attention is focused on the fighting between Israel and the Hamas regime in Gaza, Hezbollah has quietly been rebuilding its military arsenal in Lebanon, much of which was destroyed in the terror group's 2006 war with Israel. Last month U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon issued a report noting without rebuttal Israeli government claims that Hezbollah continues to rearm and has an arsenal containing 10,000 long-range rockets and 20,000 short-range rockets in Southern Lebanon. He also noted that Hezbollah has admitted smuggling weapons from Iran and Syria into Lebanon and expressed concern about threats of open war by the group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

Now, Israel estimates the number of rockets in Hezbollah's possession has climbed to 42,000 — the overwhelming majority of them easily concealed short-range weapons which were used to devastating effect by Hezbollah against Israel in the summer 2006 war. Israel estimates that as many as several hundred of these rockets are Iranian-made long-range weapons with a range of up to 185 miles — enough to reach anywhere in Israel's heavily populated central heartland and targets as far south as Dimona, the location of Israel's nuclear reactor.

For months, Mr. Nasrallah has been warning Israel that Hezbollah has a "surprise" new weapon in its arsenal; many Lebanese believe he is referring to a ground-to-air missile that would challenge for the first time the Israel Air Force's supremacy in the skies over Lebanon. Robert Fisk, a Lebanon-based reporter for The Independent newspaper, reports that in southern Lebanon up to 300 young Lebanese men each month travel to Beirut and on to Tehran. As many as 4,500 of these Hezbollah members have been sent to Iran for three-month military training sessions with rockets and live-fire ammunition since November 2006. The goal is to train a cadre of guerrillas for the next war between Hezbollah and Israel.

The United Nations condemns Israel for violating Lebanon's sovereignty by conducting overflights of Lebanese territory. Israel, for its part, responds that if it did not conduct such surveillance, it would be unable to monitor the continuing smuggling of weapons into Hezbollah from Tehran and Damascus. In recent weeks, Israeli officials have met with officials from European Union and NATO countries to warn them about Iranian efforts to transfer long-range missiles to Hezbollah. In particular, Israel is concerned about efforts to smuggle weapons through Turkish airspace and overland disguised as civilian cargo. Once again, Israel and Iran (through its terrorist surrogates) appear to be on a collision course. (Washington Times-April 25, 2008 )

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The best news in the world for Syria today?

Here it is: " US has video of NKoreans inside Syrian Nuclear site"

A video taken inside a secret Syrian facility last summer convinced the Israeli government and the Bush administration that North Korea was helping to construct a reactor similar to one that produces plutonium for North Korea's nuclear arsenal, according to senior U.S. officials.
The video was shared with members of Congress today in closed committee sessions, but the disclosures brought strong complaints by some that the administration did not share the material more quickly.
The officials said the video of the remote site, code-named Al Kibar by the Syrians, shows North Koreans inside. It played a pivotal role in
Israel's decision to bomb the facility late at night last Sept. 6, a move that was publicly denounced by Damascus but not by Washington.
A top U.S. official told the Associated Press that the reactor was within weeks or months of being functional, but still needed significant testing.
(continues here and here)

Tonight, Bashar Assad & Co will be celebrating the good news! They do have real friends...

For weeks to come, the international community will be debating news as old as Santa Klaus (read it here: "Tuesday, May 18, 2004"), and governments will be focusing again on the Golan Heights and on the eternal question: will Olmert give back the Golan to Syria?

It must be comforting waking up in the morning in Damascus and read the news:

"North Koreans helped the Syrians build nuclear facility".

"Olmert may be prepared to sacrifice the Golan Heights for peace".

As long as the news are fixed on this, Assad and Syria have nothing to fear!

Conclusion: a sad day for those who were expecting "other" news concerning Assad. We are still confident though that the innocent blood spilled on Lebanese soil will soon be avenged and the assassins brought to Justice!

House Intel: Syrian nuclear reactor threatened to spread nuclear weapons technology

WASHINGTON - A top member of the House intelligence committee says an alleged Syrian nuclear reactor built with North Korean help and destroyed last year by Israeli jets threatened to spread nuclear weapons technology.

After receiving a classified briefing for Congress members, Michigan Republican Pete Hoekstra on Thursday called it "a serious proliferation issue, both for the Middle East and the countries that may be involved in Asia."
The committee was briefed on intelligence showing that the destroyed reactor was designed to produce a small amount of plutonium, a highly radioactive substance that can be used to build a powerful nuclear weapon or a radiological bomb.

U.S. officials say the reactor was not complete when Israeli jets bombed it in September 2007. (Source)

Ahmadinejad: US Demise Imminent

TEHRAN (FNA)-2008-04-24
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that no one in the White House nor any of the presidential candidates can save America from its economic "downfall".

Addressing a large crowd in Hamadan on Wednesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the US is doomed to undergo an economic breakdown, press tv said. While the Bush administration refuses to confirm speculations about the US economy, American economists have conceded that the country is in fact in recession. "No politician can be found in the United States who is capable of saving the US economy from this move toward the valley of downfall," continued Ahmadinejad. He then rejected the speculation by "superficial" observers that claim the recession was spawned by the privileged few who wait only to reap the benefits later. "[The recession] will end the hegemony of world powers," Ahmadinejad concluded. In March 2008 alone, US employers cut a whopping 80,000 jobs, the biggest decline in a single month in five years. (FARS)

North Koreans Taped at Syrian Nuclear Site

click on pic to zoom

By VOA News 24 April 2008

U.S. intelligence officials will meet with congressional lawmakers about North Korea's alleged nuclear cooperation with Syria Thursday on Capitol Hill.
High-ranking U.S. officials are telling reporters the lawmakers will be shown video of North Koreans working at a suspected nuclear reactor site in Syria. The video also reportedly shows the reactor's design was identical to the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon.
The suspected reactor site was destroyed by Israeli warplanes last September. Damascus protested the air raid, accusing Israel of aggression. Both Syria and North Korea have denied the allegation.
The briefings are taking place as the Bush administration is trying to reach a deal with Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea agreed with Washington and four other nations (South Korea, Russia, Japan and China) to scrap its nuclear program in exchange for aid and some diplomatic benefits.
The isolated nation was supposed to make a full disclosure of its activities as part of the deal last December, but the U.S. says the list was incomplete.

Danish diplomats relocated over cartoon threats


Denmark, which has moved its embassy staff in Algeria and Afghanistan to secret locations due to threats linked to the Mohammed cartoons row, said Wednesday it could do the same elsewhere.
Denmark closed its embassy offices in Algiers and Kabul this week and staff were placed in secure buildings in secret locations following threats related to the reproduction in February of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in Danish media, the ministry said.
The two embassies were however continuing their operations, conducting business by telephone and email.
"I cannot rule out closing other embassies, because there is a general threat from Al-Qaeda. They have cells and sympathisers around the world who look to carry out attacks," Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller told Danish television station TV2 News.
"We should remain vigilant so that this does not happen, and we need to be more intelligent than they are to ensure they do not attack us, but we also need to remain on site," he said.
This was the price to pay "for a country which does not back down, which promotes freedom of expression, and which is active in Iraq and Afghanistan," Moeller said.
Denmark has advisers and troops deployed in these countries.
A message attributed to Osama bin Laden in March warned Europe of a "reckoning" for the publication of cartoons of the prophet in the Danish dailies. (Middle East online)

Israel to US: Do Not Disclose Classified Details of Attack

click on pic to zoom

Israeli defense officials in Jerusalem have expressed concern that classified details of Israel's bombing of a Syrian nuclear facility last September will be disclosed during U.S. congressional hearings on the incident Thursday in Washington, local daily Ha'aretz reported on its website.
The American administration is slated to provide Thursday extensive details about the nature of the facility destroyed by the Israel Air Force (IAF) on September 6.

The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that U.S. Congress will hear from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that the facility destroyed in the IAF attack was a nuclear reactor for producing plutonium.

Thursday's briefings of the Senate and House Intelligence committees, as well as the Senate Armed Services Committee, will deal with evidence that Syria was building a nuclear reactor that could be needed to produce plutonium, a U.S. government official familiar with the matter said Tuesday. Learning of the planned U.S. congressional hearings three weeks ago, Israeli defense officials have expressed concerns that publication of classified details about the attack could compel Syria to resort to a violent response, or at any rate reignite tensions between Jerusalem and Damascus.

The information from the U.S. will evidently focus on questions relating to the type of facility that was attacked, the quality of intelligence that Israel and the U.S. had about the Syrian program, Ha'aretz said. The U.S. administration will probably volunteer fewer details about the manner in which the attack was carried out, and the forces and units that participated in it, the daily added. Israel, however, does not intend to break the official silence it has maintained on the matter for the past seven months. Israeli security sources told Ha'aretz on Wednesday night that the government will not go public with new information on the case. Israeli Prime Minister's office declined to comment on the matter Wednesday, and referred to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's statements last week in his Pesach interview with media, in which he said that "the Syrians know what our position is, and we know what their expectations are," Ha'aretz said. (Source)

Football legend Pele to visit Iran

Edison Arantes do Nascimento best known by his nickname Pele, the most popular soccer player worldwide, will visit Iran in May, a member of Iran Football Federation said here on Wednesday.

"A agreement has been signed with the Brazilian Embassy in Tehran in this respect," Mohammad Hadi Ayatollahi said.

The official said that Pele, during his visit, will make himself acquainted with Iran's soccer.

Referring to the presence of the well-known Argentine soccer player, Diego Armando Maradona, in Iran, Ayatollahi noted that so far some negotiations have been conducted in this respect.

He also expressed hope that this would soon materialize. --IRNA

Iran kicked out of international defense show

Thursday 24th April

Iran has been kicked out of an international defense show in Malaysia for exhibiting missile equipment in violation of U.N. rules, an official said Thursday.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said Iranian companies were ordered out of the Defense Services Asia show Tuesday because their exhibition was deemed “offensive.” “Unfortunately, when we came around to inspecting their stand, they displayed equipment that clearly contravened the U.N. resolution—equipment such as missiles and missile systems and others,” Najib told reporters.

“The moment they crossed the line, we had no option but to terminate them,” Najib added. Najib said the exhibit was in defiance of U.N. resolutions that ban Iranian arms exports and forbid countries from providing Iran with technical and financial assistance that could contribute to its alleged nuclear weapons program. Iran is under three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment and meet other council demands designed to ease fears that its civilian nuclear program is a cover for attempts to make atomic arms. Tehran has denied ever trying to make nuclear weapons. The Malaysian defense show, billed as one of the largest of its kind in Asia, began Monday with hundreds of exhibitors from about 50 countries. An Iranian embassy official in Kuala Lumpur, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make public statements, insisted the country’s participation was “not against Malaysian or international laws.” He declined to elaborate. Najib said other countries participating in the show had complained about Iran’s exhibition, but stressed Malaysia’s decision was not due to Western pressure. He did not name the countries. The U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur declined to comment, saying it “doesn’t discuss details of diplomatic exchanges.” Malaysian authorities had informed the Iranian ambassador earlier this week about the exhibition’s rules, Najib said. “We were left in a situation where we did not have any option, since Malaysia is committed to respecting and adhering to the U.N. resolution,” Najib said.___Associated Press writer Sean Yoong contributed to this report.
Copyright 2008/9 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

U.S. condemns Syria court decision

The Associated Press-WASHINGTON -April 23, 2008

The United States said Wednesday that Syria's treatment of political prisoner Kamal Labwani flouts international standards of human rights and the rule of law.
Labwani is among six government critics and human rights campaigners arrested since May and given long prison sentences by a Damascus court. Labwani's was the longest, 12 years; U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack condemned Syria on Wednesday for having a military court add three years to Labwani's sentence for insulting President Bashar Assad.
"This decision, coupled with the Syrian High Court's verdict to uphold Mr. Labwani's earlier 12-year sentence for calling for political reform, demonstrates the Syrian regime's contempt for human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law," McCormack said.
His statement also demanded the immediate release of Labwani and all other political prisoners.

Israeli Soldier Jailed After Classified Material Found on Facebook

(FOXNEWS-April 23, 2008)-An Israeli soldier was sentenced to 19 days in jail Wednesday after classified material turned up on Facebook, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The unidentified soldier, who serves in the Israel Defense Forces' elite 8200 military intelligence unit, was punished for taking photos on a military base without permission, according to the newspaper.
The unit is responsible for code decryption and collecting signal intelligence, and is comparable in function to the United State's National Security Agency, according to the report.
Last week the IDF removed hundreds of classified documents, photos and messages, after The Jerusalem Post reported soldiers had posted photos of interiors and exteriors of bases — including equipment inside, troop exercises and location, as well as pictures of advanced weapons onto Facebook.

I told them two weeks ago! Why don't they ever listen?
(Friday, April 11, 2008-"Israeli Army Puts Limits on Facebook")

Seized nuclear cargo: Iran blames Russia

Thursday, April 24, 2008

TEHRAN: An Iranian official said Russia was responsible for timely delivery of equipment stopped by Azerbaijan when in transit to Iran’s first nuclear power plant, a news agency said on Wednesday. Russian officials said on Monday that Azeri customs and border officials had halted a cargo of Russian heat insulators for Iran’s Bushehr plant, which has faced years of delays. “The issue of stopping a shipment of equipment for Bushehr power plant on the way to Iran is a matter for the Russian contractor,” an unnamed Iranian official was quoted as telling Iran’s students news agency ISNA. The official added that it was up to the contractor to ensure the “transfer of equipment in the specified timetable.” The cargo was detained at Astara, on the border between Azerbaijan and Iran, on March 29, the Russian officials said. Russia has delivered the nuclear fuel to Bushehr, work on which has faced multiple delays since construction first began before the 1979 Islamic revolution. Work stopped completely for years before Russia took over construction. Tehran has most recently said the plant would start up this year. (Daily Times. PK)

Read also my "Trouble in Baku: Iran cargo halted on purpose" (link)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Libya compares Gaza to 'concentration camps': UN envoys walkout from the Security Council

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - France on Wednesday led a walkout of Western envoys from a UN Security Council debate on the Middle East after Libya compared the situation in the besieged Gaza Strip to Nazi "concentration camps," diplomats said.
One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said France's UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert took off his earpiece and walked out, followed by his Western colleagues, after his Libyan counterpart Giadalla Ettalhi made the remarks.
The incident occurred as the 15-member Council was trying to agree on a compromise statement that would have highlighted the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza while also contributing positively to efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.
South Africa's UN Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, the council chairman this month, told reporters that members "could not agree" on the statement.

Caught red-handed! Mumbai-based firm shipping nuclear material to Iran

Mumbai-based firm shipping nuclear material to an Iranian firm!

MUMBAI: A Mumbai-based firm supplying nuclear-grade graphite (NGG), a key ingredient of making an atomic bomb, is in trouble because customs authorities have served notice for allegedly attempting to ship a consignment of the material to an Iranian firm.

The notice, according to official sources, was issued to Nickunj Eximp Enterprises on April 9 for alleged violation of the Customs Act and the Foreign Trade Policy.

"However, the firm has not yet filed its reply. We have given it one month to do so," a highly placed official said, adding that the matter has been brought to the notice of other authorities including the Ministry of External Affairs.
NGG is a key material in the manufacture of nuclear bomb and its export to Iran has been prohibited by a UN Security Council resolution. Even the Union Commerce Ministry, in its notification dated September 7, 2007, had listed goods, including the NGG, banned from being exported to Iran. (NewIndPress)

Al-Douri - 'King of Clubs' - arrested

Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, former Iraqi vice-president under Saddam Hussein, has been arrested in the northern province of Salaheddin, the Dubai-based al-Arabiya broadcaster said Wednesday.
It said al-Douri - 'King of Clubs' in the 'most-wanted Iraqi playing cards' gallery presented by US forces after the 2003 invasion of Iraq - had been taken to Baghdad for tests to verify his identity. (M&C)

See also KUNA

The National Lawyers Guild calls on Israel to permit Richard Falk to enter Israel



New U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Barred from Entry.

The National Lawyers Guild calls on Israel to permit Richard Falk, an eminent and widely-respected law professor and scholar, to enter Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories it seized forty years ago and has held illegally ever since.

Professor Falk was recently appointed as the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Israel has barred entry to Professor Falk, claiming he cannot be fair because of his prior condemnation of persistent and pervasive human rights violations carried out by Israel in the Occupied Territories. In fact, Professor Falk made no claims any different from those made by John Dugard, the man he was to replace, in several reports on conditions in the Occupied Territories. The National Lawyers Guild is familiar with the Israeli practice of avoiding criticisms of its practices. The Guild has sent several delegations to the Middle East to investigate conditions there. The Israeli government has refused to meet with the Guild’s delegates because of their claimed hostility to the State of Israel. In fact, Guild delegations, like Professor Falk, are hostile only to violations of human rights and international law.Over the years Israel has sought to deny admission to a host of academics, activists, and political figures, former President Jimmy Carter being the most recent. Others are subjected to long processing delays and humiliating body searches. A 1977 National Lawyers Guild Delegation to the Middle East saw four of its members singled out for strip searches. Many others had research and written materials confiscated either upon entry or leaving the country.Professor Falk is not unlike many others, including Mr. Dugard, who have criticized the horrendous Israeli human rights record that has continued for more than forty years. It is this ongoing and escalating practice of human rights violations which Israel carries out with the blessing of the United States despite condemnation by the rest of the world that Israel must confront. It cannot do so, and should not be permitted to do so, by excluding its critics. Founded in 1937 as an alternative to the American Bar Association, which did not admit people of color, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state. (NLG.ORG)

Jimmy Carter accuses Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of not telling the truth

(IHT-April 23, 2008)
Former President Jimmy Carter on Wednesday accused Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of not telling the truth about warnings she said her department gave Carter not to speak to Hamas before a Middle East trip.
The State Department has said that the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, issued the warning before Carter, a veteran of Middle East diplomacy, went on his trip last week.
Rice said in Kuwait on Tuesday: "We counseled President Carter against going to the region and particularly against having contact with Hamas."
A statement issued by the Carter center in Atlanta said on Wednesday that "President Carter has the greatest respect for" Rice "and believes her to be a truthful person. However, perhaps inadvertently, she is continuing to make a statement that is not true."
"No one in the State Department or any other department of the U.S. government ever asked him to refrain from his recent visit to the Middle East or even suggested that he not meet with Syrian President Assad or leaders of Hamas. (continues here)

Israel Willing to Return Golan Heights to Syria?

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has told Syrian President Bashar Assad that Israel is willing to give up all of the Golan Heights for peace with Syria.

That's according to a government-backed Syrian News agency report from Damascus published this morning.
The agency says Olmert passed this message to Assad through Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

For some time, reports have been circulating that both Syria and Israel have been exchanging messages through Turkish mediation.
Both Assad and Olmert have now publicly admitted to indirect communications.
The Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem refused to confirm or deny today's report.
Spokesman Mark Regev told ABC News, "We don't comment on media reports, but Israel has clearly stated we want peace with Syria. The prime minister has made this very clear in recent interviews. We understand Syria's expectations. The Syrians understand our expectations." (ABCNEWS)

New Lebanon Travel Warning for U.S. Citizens

April 22 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. State Department issued a new travel warning for its nationals in Lebanon, citing political tensions and a threat of attack on American interests.
``The Department of State continues to strongly urge that Americans defer travel to Lebanon and that American citizens in Lebanon consider carefully the risks of remaining,'' it said in a statement posted on its Web site late yesterday. ``The U.S. remains concerned about the threat of terrorist attacks against Western and Lebanese government interests in Lebanon.''
Tensions have risen as a stalemate over the election of a new Lebanese president enters its six month, three years after the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri plunged the country into crisis.
Lebanon hasn't had a president since Syrian-backed Emile Lahoud left office at the end of his term on Nov. 23. The pro- Western government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and pro- Syrian opposition of Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah and Christian politician Michel Aoun have failed to agree on the succession. The dispute has generated the worst political tensions since the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.
The State Department said al-Qaeda and the Palestinian Jund al-Sham group are active in Lebanon and have called for attacks on Western interests. Clashes such as those between Fatah al- Islam, an al-Qaeda-inspired group, and the Lebanese Army in northern Lebanon's Nahr al-Bared refugee camp last year could recur in other Palestinian camps, it said.

Presumed language of Jesus fading away

MALULA, Syria (April 22, 2008): Elias Khoury can still remember the days when old people in this cliffside village spoke only Aramaic, the presumed language of Jesus. Back then the village, linked to the capital, Damascus, only by a long and bumpy bus ride over the mountains, was almost entirely Christian, a vestige of an older and more diverse Middle East that existed before the arrival of Islam.

Now Khoury, 65, gray-haired and bedridden, admits ruefully that he has largely forgotten the language he spoke with his own mother.

"It's disappearing," he said in Arabic, sitting with his wife on a bed in the mud-and-straw house where he grew up. "A lot of the Aramaic vocabulary I don't use anymore, and I've lost it."

Malula, along with two smaller neighboring villages where Aramaic is also spoken, is still celebrated in Syria as a unique linguistic island. In the Convent of St. Sergius and Bacchus, on a hill above town, young girls recite the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic to tourists, and booklets about the language are on sale at a gift shop in the town center. But the island has grown smaller over the years, and some local people say they fear it will not last. Once a large population stretching across Syria, Turkey and Iraq, Aramaic-speaking Christians have slowly melted away, some fleeing westward, some converting to Islam. In recent decades, the process has accelerated, with large numbers of Iraqi Christians escaping the violence and chaos of their country.

Yona Sabar, a professor of Semitic languages at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that today, Malula and its neighboring villages, Jabadeen and Bakhaa, represent "the last Mohicans" of Western Aramaic, which was the language Jesus presumably spoke in Palestine two millennia ago.

Malula, with its ancient houses clinging picturesquely to a dramatic cleft in the mountains, was once remote from Damascus, and local people spent their lives here. But now there are few jobs, and young people tend to move to the city for work, Khoury said.

Even if they return, they are less likely to speak Aramaic. Buses to Damascus used to leave once or twice a day; now they leave every 15 minutes, and with better roads the journey takes about an hour. Constant exchange with the big city, not to mention television and the Internet, has eroded Malula's linguistic separateness.

"The young generations have lost interest" in Aramaic, Khoury said sadly.

His granddaughter, a bright-eyed 17-year-old in blue jeans named Katya, offered a few samples of the language: "Awafih" for hello, "alloy a pelach a feethah" for God be with you. She learned Aramaic mostly at a new language school in Malula, established two years ago to keep the language alive. She knows some songs, too, and has started learning to write the language - something even her grandfather never did. Khoury smiles at the words but recalls how in his own childhood 60 years ago, schoolteachers slapped students who reverted to Aramaic in class, enforcing the government's "Arabization" policy.

"Now it's reversed," he says. Families speak Arabic at home and are more likely to learn Aramaic at the language center, where some foreigners also study.
In the town's central intersection, a group of young people outside a market seemed to confirm Khoury's gloomy view. "I speak some Aramaic, but I can barely understand it," said Fathi Mualem, 20.

Malula - Aramaic for "entrance" - derives its name from a legend that evokes the town's separate religious heritage. St. Takla, a beautiful young woman who had studied with St. Paul, is said to have fled from her home in what is now Turkey after her pagan parents persecuted her for her newfound Christian faith. Arriving in Malula, she found her path blocked by a mountain. She prayed, and the rocks divided in two, a stream flowing out from under her feet.

Today, tourists walk up and down the narrow canyon where the saint is said to have fled, with rose-colored rocks rising 30 meters above a well-trod footpath. Nearby, two dozen nuns live at the Convent of St. Takla, presiding over a small orphanage. ("We teach the children the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic," said one black-clad nun, "but everything else is in Arabic.") There is a shrine in the mountainside where St. Takla is said to have lived, with a tree growing horizontally out of it.

But even the town's Christian identity is fading. Muslims have begun replacing the emigrating Christians, and now Malula - once entirely Christian - is almost half Muslim, residents say.
Malula's linguistic heritage stirred some interest after the release of Mel Gibson's 2004 film "The Passion of the Christ," with its mix of Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew dialogue. Virtually everyone in town seems to have seen the film, but few said they understood it.

That was not their fault: it included different dialects of Aramaic, and the actors' pronunciation made it hard to understand anything, Sabar, the Semitic languages professor, said.
Aramaic has also changed over the centuries, taking on features of Syrian Arabic, Sabar said.

But most residents of Malula believe that their town's ancestral language is still the same one Jesus spoke, and will speak again when he returns.
"Our parents and grandparents always spoke to us in this language," said Suhail Milani, a 50-year-old bus driver with a wizened face. "I hope it will not disappear." (IHT)

Read also: "The language of Jesus still spoken in tiny Syrian village" (link)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Trouble in Baku: Iran cargo halted on purpose

April 22, 2008

MOSCOW - The Russian state company building Iran's first nuclear power plant accused Azerbaijan on Tuesday of intentionally obstructing a shipment of cargo for the plant.

Azerbaijani officials said one or two trucks carrying heat-isolating equipment supplied by the company OAO Atomstroiexport were halted at the town of Astara, on the border with Iran, March 29.
Iranian officials have made no comment about the shipment.
Russia delivered the final shipment of uranium fuel in January, and Tehran has said it was hoping the plant would begin operations by summer. The United States initially opposed Russia's building Bushehr but later softened its position.
A top Azerbaijani customs official said that release of the blocked equipment, valued at around $170,000, required special government permission. Officials have said they needed assurance the equipment did not violate United Nations sanctions against Iran.
"This cargo consists of isolating materials and falls under the category of cargo that requires expert control," Aidyn Aliev, the chairman of the Azerbijani government customs committee, said in comments televised Tuesday.

'Thoroughly inspected'

Atomstroiexport spokeswoman Irina Yesipova said the company was baffled by the hold-up. She said the government in Baku had not sent a request for more information.
"We do not understand why officials in Azerbaijan are obstructing the delivery," she said.
"Our cargo has been thoroughly inspected and does not fall under U.N. sanctions," she said.
Yesipova could not give any more details about the use of the equipment. It is the first time Atomstroiexport has tried to send cargo through Azerbaijan, she said.
Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Khazar Ibrahim said a request for information was sent to Russia's embassy soon after the trucks were stopped. He expressed surprise at the company's assertion that it had not received any request. (MSNBC)

U.S. to brief on alleged N.Korea-Syria nuclear link

WASHINGTON, April 22 (Reuters) - The Bush administration plans to brief U.S. lawmakers behind closed doors this week about North Korea's suspected nuclear cooperation with Syria, congressional sources said on Tuesday.
It was not immediately clear why the administration wanted to give the briefings -- which are expected on Thursday -- about a topic the White House has kept under wraps since Israel conducted a mysterious Sept. 6 air strike in Syria.
The New York Times reported last year that the strike was aimed at a site intelligence analysts judged was a partly built nuclear reactor, apparently modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel.
Lawmakers, including two members of U.S. President George W. Bush's Republican party, have argued that the allegations North Korea may have assisted Syria in an effort to develop nuclear expertise deserved a wider airing in Congress.
The issue is particularly of concern as the United States seeks to persuade North Korea to make an overdue declaration of its nuclear programs as part of a multilateral deal under which Pyongyang agreed to abandon all nuclear weapons and programs. (Writing by Arshad Mohammed, editing by Jackie Frank)

The Israeli Army: "Stop kicking your helmets around!"

This is so funny!
The Israeli Army to its soldiers: "Stop kicking your helmets around!"
And not just that...
"Stop also uploading film footage of your fellow soldiers throwing and kicking their helmets around!"

BethlehemMa'an – April 22, 2008

The Israeli army has issued an order that soldiers serving in certain units are banned from having mobile phones with cameras during their military service.

The new directive was issued after some of the soldiers uploaded film footage of their fellow soldiers throwing and kicking their helmets around on the Youtube website.

The Youtube film shows Israeli soldiers competing to kick their helmets the furthest, which the army consider to be denigrating army property.

UNESCO condemns the killing of Palestinian journalist

UNESCO Calls For Better Protection Of Journalists

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has called for improved protection of journalists, after a Palestinian cameraman working for the Reuters news agency in Gaza was killed when a missile hit his vehicle.
"I condemn the killing of Palestinian journalist Fadel Shanaa," declared UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.

Mr. Shanaa, 25, died on 16 April after a missile hit the vehicle in which he and sound engineer Wafa Barbakh were travelling in while filming the actions of Israeli tanks near the Al-Barij refugee camp. Mr. Barbakh was injured in the incident.
The vehicle is reported to have been clearly marked with the word "Press" to indicate it was being used by journalists.
"I trust the Israeli authorities will spare no effort in investigating the circumstances surrounding the attack on Mr Shanaa's vehicle," said Mr. Matsuura. "It is important that due regard be paid to the safety of journalists, at all times and under all circumstances." (Source)

Shame we didn't hear UNESCO saying anything two years ago! Maybe a word of warning would have helped...
Remember this one? "Israeli rocket hits Reuters car" (BBC)

Greek and Armenian priests exchange blows in Christianity's holiest shrine on Palm Sunday (Video)

(video from

JERUSALEM — Dozens of Greek and Armenian priests and worshippers exchanged blows in Christianity's holiest shrine on Palm Sunday, and pummeled police with palm fronds when they tried to break up the brawl.

The fight is part of a growing rivalry over religious rights at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built over the site where tradition says Jesus was buried and resurrected. It erupted when Armenian clergy kicked out a Greek priest from their midst, pushed him to the ground and kicked him, according to witnesses.
Two Armenian worshippers were briefly detained by Israeli police. Scores of Armenian supporters staged a protest outside the police station during the questioning of the two, beating drums and chanting.

The Holy Sepulcher is shared by several Christian denominations according to a centuries-old arrangement known as the "status quo."
Each denomination jealously guards its share of the basilica, and fights over rights of worship at the church have intensified in recent years, particularly between the Armenians and Greeks.
The Eastern Orthodox churches, including the Armenians and Greek Orthodox, follow a different calendar than Western Christians and began Easter Week observances on Sunday.
Father Pakrad, an Armenian priest, said the presence of the Greek priest during the Armenian observances violated the status quo. "Our priests entered the tomb. They kicked the Greek monk out of the Edicule," he said.

Pakrad accused the Greek Orthodox of trying to step on the Armenians' rights. "We are the weak ones, persecuted by them for many centuries."
The Greek Orthodox Patriarch in the Holy Land, Theofilos III, told The Associated Press the Armenians are pushing to change the rules, and try to challenge was he said is the dominance of his church in the Holy Land.
"This behavior is criminal and unacceptable by all means," he said. "They wanted to trespass on the status quo concerning the order that regulates the services between the various communities."

Last year, pre-Christmas cleaning in the Church of the Nativity turned ugly when robed Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests went at each other with brooms and stones.

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem — built over Jesus' traditional birth grotto — also falls under the status quo arrangement.
The status quo divides the Holy Sepulcher among the Armenians, Roman Catholics and the Greek Orthodox who have the largest share. The Coptic, Ethiopian Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox churches also have duties to maintain specific areas. (FOXNEWS)

Al-Qaida No. 2: new audiotape released today

The Associated Press
Tuesday, April 22, 2008; 6:12 AM

CAIRO, Egypt -- Osama bin Laden's chief deputy warns that al-Qaida still has plans to target Western countries involved in the Iraq war in a new audiotape released Tuesday to answer questions posed by followers.

The voice in the lengthy file posted on an Islamic Web site, could not be immediately confirmed as al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri's. But it sounded like past audiotapes from the terror leader.

The tape is billed as the second installment of al-Zawahri's answers to more than 900 questions submitted on extremist Internet sites by al-Qaida supporters, critics and journalists in December.

Asked by one follower if the terror group still had plans to attack Western countries that participated in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and subsequent war, al-Zawahri said: "My answer is: Yes! We think that any country that has joined aggression on Muslims must be deterred."

Asked if there are any women in al-Qaida, the terror leader answered simply: "No."

In another answer, al-Zawahri said it was against Islamic religious law for any Muslim to live permanently in a Western country "under the laws of the infidels."

In his first response to questions earlier this month, al-Zawahri rejected the criticism of attacks by the terror network's followers, which have killed thousands, and maintained that the group does not kill innocent people.

Al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York and Washington in 2001, while its affiliates in Iraq, Afghanistan and Algeria regularly set off bombs in crowded urban areas that have taken thousands of lives.

Al-Qaida's media arm, Al-Sahab, announced in December that al-Zawahri would take questions from the public posted on Islamic militant Web sites and would respond "as soon as possible."

Queries were submitted on the main Islamist Web site until the cutoff date of Jan. 16. After the deadline, the questions disappeared from the site.

According to the questions, self-proclaimed al-Qaida supporters appeared to be as much in the dark about the terror network's operations and intentions as Western analysts and intelligence agencies.

The questioners appeared uncertain whether al-Qaida's central leadership directly controls the multiple, small militant groups around the Middle East that work in its name, or whether those groups operate on their own.

Some asked if al-Qaida had a long-term strategy, while others wanted advice about conducting Islamic holy war. (Washington Post)

Japan freezes assets of Iranian companies, individuals

Tuesday 22nd April

The cabinet on Tuesday approved new sanctions to freeze the assets of 12 organizations and 13 individuals related to Iran’s nuclear development programs, in line with a March 3 U.N. resolution.
Japan has already banned the entry of senior officials of Iran’s nuclear facilities and implemented other measures that did not require cabinet endorsement. Tuesday’s approval brings the total number of sanctions targets to 35 organizations and 40 individuals. (Kyodo News)

U.N. Calls For Disarming Of Hizbullah

(RTTNews) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday called for immediate holding of presidential elections in Lebanon without any external interference and urged Syria and Iran to support efforts to disarm guerilla group Hizbullah.

"Parliament, which has not met in more than a year, must be allowed to convene urgently to fulfill its constitutional duties in order to elect a president...," Ban said. "A free and fair presidential election, without foreign interference or influence must take place immediately. The current situation is no longer sustainable."

In his six-month report to the U.N. Security Council, Ban highlighted the mounting international concern over Lebanon's failure to elect a leader for the country's top post, left vacant after pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud stepped down last November.

The U.N. Chief also warned that Lebanon would not be a fully sovereign, democratic state until Hizbullah is disbanded.

The Secretary-General's report, obtained by The Associated Press, stressed the need for the implementation of a 2004 resolution that calls for presidential elections under the constitution and the disbanding of all militias.

Ban said he is concerned that further delay to elect a president "will complicate the adoption of an electoral law and the holding of Parliamentary elections on time, in spring 2009."

The U.N. Chief urged all concerned actors to cooperate urgently with Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa to immediately implement a plan adopted by Arab foreign ministers in Cairo in January that called for Suleiman's election, formation of a national unity government and the adoption of a new electoral law.

With Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's pro-Western, anti-Syrian government and pro-Syrian opposition factions led by Hizbullah deadlocked over power-sharing and the shape of the future Cabinet, Lebanon's sharply divided parliament has failed to elect Army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman as a consensus president.

Lebanon parliament is scheduled to meet yet again on Tuesday to elect Suleiman as president after 17 postponements since September due to lack of quorum.

The opposition faction led by Hizbullah has been demanding veto power over future government decisions, which the parliamentary majority of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora strongly rejects. (NASDAQ)