Israel shakes down China
The New York Times revealed yesterday why the Chinese changed their mind about yet another UN Security Council resolution that imposes new sanctions against Iran.
The resolution passed with 12 votes in favour, two against and one abstention is the fourth of its kind.
Like the Brazilians and the Turks, the Chinese leaned towards diplomacy and doubted the efficacy of another round of sanctions.
Along with Russia, China opposed tougher sanctions that would hurt Iranians and push Tehran into a corner.
Analysts believe Beijing and Moscow came on board after direct intervention by Barack Obama, the US president, and a pledge to water down the resolution and possibly other concessions some of which might be kept secret for long.
The end result is UNSC resolution 1929 that focuses primarily on the nuclear domain, avoids targeting the Iranian society, and dispels use of force as a means for resolution.
But in a rather humiliating revelation, the Israelis tried on the day of the vote to set the record straight by speaking to the US "paper of the record" about their meeting with the Chinese.
According to The New York Times, "In February, a high-level Israeli delegation travelled to Beijing to present classified evidence of Iran’s atomic ambitions.
Then they unveiled the ostensible purpose of their visit: to explain in sobering detail the economic impact to China from an Israeli strike on Iran — an attack Israel has suggested is all but inevitable should the international community fail to stop Iran from assembling a nuclear weapon.
“The Chinese didn’t seem too surprised by the evidence we showed them, but they really sat up in their chairs when we described what a pre-emptive attack would do to the region and on oil supplies they have come to depend on ...”
To add insult to injury, the Israeli official who chose to reveal this nugget asked the paper for anonymity so as not to upset his Chinese counterparts!
In fact, the Israelis do not want to hide their chutzpah.
The official who was permitted to speak to the press seems proud of Israel's audacity to shake down Beijing when the rest of the world is trying to gain China's favour as one of the of the world's two superpowers.
According to the US newspaper," ... the episode demonstrates how Israel — a small country with limited influence on China — has found ways to engage an emerging superpower whose geopolitical heft is increasingly vital to the Jewish state."
China depends on the Gulf region for half of its oil imports and has being trying to defuse tensions that could hamper its energy supplies.
When dealing with world superpowers, Israel has long played a double game whenever its relationship with the US permitted it.
In the 1990s it tried to help China out of its global isolation following the Tiananmen massacre. It even tried to lobby Washington for Chinese interests.
In fact, the Israelis have long boasted of lobbying the US, its White House, Congress and media in favour of countries of little importance to the US; have poor human rights record; or merely need US support.
After the Cold War, East European countries and former Soviet republics along with many other Asian countries were offered access to Washington in favour of normalisation of relations.
One wonders if boasting that its lobby has major influence in Washington doesn't indirectly fuel anti-Semitic claims of Jewish influence and control.
Eventually many tapped Israel and its US lobby for help in return of better relations with a country long considered an international pariah.
But when Israel tried to transfer US technology and sophisticated weapons to China worth billions of dollars a decade ago, Washington shot it down and Israel had no choice but to comply.
Recently Israel has found it more and more difficult to lobby the Obama administration, whose new foreign policy philosophy favors dialogue with allies and nemesis alike, as underlined in its new National Security Strategy released last month.
And with both the US and China charting new ways of dealing with the Muslim world, based on more interaction, trade and normalization of relations, Israel feels increasingly left out in the cold.
The Netanyahu government's aggressive policies and settlement expansion in occupied Palestinian lands, following his predecessor's war on Lebanon and Gaza, is driving Israel further to isolation.
Paradoxically, the only regional issue that has kept Israel in the loop is the Iranian nuclear issue.
Its threat to use military force against Iran couldn't be ignored by those in the region or voting in the UN Security Council. The morning after UNSC passed Resolution 1929, Israel expressed displeasure at its weakness and demanded sanctions with more bite.
So I ask: Would Israel dare shake down China without a green light from Washington? Or, has the US used Israel as an attack dog against those unwilling to support more sanctions against Iran?
Or has the US done everything to pass a UNSC resolution to avoid a potential Israeli military strike against Iran...?
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Pressure on Israel to lift Gaza blockade
The three-year Israeli embargo on goods going into Gaza is 'unacceptable and counterproductive', says a report by the Quartet.
Israel's cabinet meets today under the heaviest international pressure yet – in the aftermath of its lethal naval commando assault on a pro-Palestinian flotilla a fortnight ago – to relax the three-year economic embargo on Gaza.
Western diplomats are hoping that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, will give the first indication this morning of a major rethink of Gaza policy, under which a wide range of civilian goods would be admitted to start reviving the paralysed commercial life of the besieged territory. The international Middle East envoy, Tony Blair, met Mr Netanyahu for the third time in eight days on Friday to press him to end the heavily restrictive list of "allowed" civilian goods and produce one for those that are to be banned instead, as a first step towards reviving commerce and allowing postwar reconstruction.
The seemingly technical change would have potentially far-reaching consequences since it would require Mr Netanyahu to agree the general authorisation of civilian imports to Gaza – including raw materials needed for manufacturing and subsequent exports – other than those agreed to pose a clear threat to Israel's security.
Report: Saudis to help raid on Iran
A British newspaper has claimed that Saudi Arabia intends to allow Israeli fighter jets to use its airspace in any bombing raid on Iran's nuclear facilities.
The Times newspaper reported on Saturday that Saudi Arabia has conducted tests to stand down its air defences for Israel for such a scenario.
"The Saudis have given their permission for the Israelis to pass over and they will look the other way," a US defence source in the area was quoted as saying.
"They have already done tests to make sure their own jets aren't scrambled and no one gets shot down. This has all been done with the agreement of the [US] state department."
Israel, which regards Iran as its principal threat, has refused to rule out using military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Iran says its nuclear programme is aimed solely at power generation.
The Times said Riyadh, which views Iran as a regional threat, had agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance in the event of any bombing raid on Iran.
A source in Saudi Arabia was quoted by the newspaper as saying that the arrangement was common knowledge within defence circles in the kingdom.
"We all know this. We will let them [the Israelis] through and see nothing," he said.
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Russia turns down Kyrgyz troop plea
Russia has ruled out a military intervention in Kyrgyzstan "for now", after the Central Asian nation's interim government appealed for help to stop ethnic violence.
A spokesman for the Russian president has said that the unrest, which has left at least 75 people dead and 900 more injured in Kyrgyzstan's south, is an internal conflict.
"It is an internal conflict and for now Russia does not see the conditions for taking part in its resolution," Natalya Timakova was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency on Saturday.
Roza Otunbayeva, the Kyrgyz interim leader, had earlier in the day called on Moscow to send troops to control the fighting between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek groups in Osh, the country's second-biggest city.
The interim government, which seized power after anti-government protests toppled the government of Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April, said it was powerless to stop armed gangs from burning down the homes and businesses of ethnic Uzbeks in Osh.
"Since yesterday [Friday], the situation has gotten out of control. We need outside military forces to halt the situation," Otunbayeva, an ethnic Kyrgyz, said.
"We have appealed to Russia for help and I have already signed such a letter for [Russian] President Dmitry Medvedev."
Kyrgyzstan declares state of emergency as 45 killed
Kyrgyzstan today sent soldiers and armoured troop carriers on to the streets of the second city, Osh, after clashes between two ethnic groups killed at least 45 people and left at least 637 injured.
Egypt targets marriages to Israelis
Egypt's supreme court has upheld a decision to strip citizenship from Egyptian men who wed Israeli women if the marriage poses a threat to national security.
With ties between the two countries strained, particularly over the situation in the Gaza Strip, Saturday's verdict is being seen as a reflection of Egyptian sentiment towards Israel.
Mohammed al-Husseini, a judge with the supreme administrative court, said Egypt's interior ministry must ask the country's cabinet to take the necessary steps to strip Egyptian men married to Israeli women, and their children, of citizenship.
"The court asks the ministry of interior to present all the marriages to the cabinet to examine ... Each case should be investigated separately and with consideration to personal freedoms and the nation's security," he said.
Nabil al-Wahsh, a lawyer in the case, said he wanted to prevent the creation of a generation who are "disloyal to Egypt and the Arab world".
The children of such marriages "should not be allowed to perform their military service", he said.
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Gaza's boys and girls come out to play
The UN summer games offer the blockaded territory's children a rare chance of fun. But a terrifying warning from hardliners has cast a shadow over this year's event
London 2012 it isn't. But on Sunday a relay of 50 schoolchildren bearing an Olympic-style torch will start from Deir el Balah Elementary Boy's School in central Gaza on the 17km road journey along the Mediterranean coast to the UN compound in Gaza City. There, they will light a flame, less to commemorate the notorious white phosphorus bombardment which razed the main warehouse here during Israel's military offensive in January 2009, than to herald the start of something altogether more cheerful: the fourth annual summer games.
Throughout the summer a total of 250,000 children will be brought together every day – girls and boys in separate groups in deference to Gaza's traditionally conservative culture – for a fortnight by the UN Refugee agency UNRWA for something that John Ging, its Gaza Operations Director, points out is all-too rare in Gaza: "a moment of childhood and happiness".
The children of all ages will enjoy diverse supervised activities including drama, traditional dances like Dabka, swimming, sandcastle building, bouncy castles, volleyball, football, painting and origami. Having last year won a certified Guinness World Record for the most people flying kites at one time, the children will next month attempt another: the largest number – probably more than 6,000 – to bounce basketballs simultaneously.
An uneasy Egyptian-Israeli peace
Egypt and Israel are technically at peace - one of the few diplomatic relationships that exist between the Jewish state and an Arab country - but you would not know it from talking to Egyptians.
The word on the Cairo street regarding Israel is anything but amicable, and incidents like last week's attack on the international aid flotilla serve to further ingrain Egyptians' distrust of and anger toward their northern neighbour.
When asked about the relationship between Egypt and Israel, Magdi Ahmed, a hotel employee, quickly spurted out an expletive while pretending to wipe his hands clean of dirt.
Anger as asylum seekers forcibly returned to Iraq
Ministers faced a wave of anger last night after ordering the forcible return of failed asylum-seekers to Baghdad despite the violence that continues to plague the Iraqi capital.
A flight containing about a dozen Iraqis who had been claiming refuge in this country was due to leave Britain early today for Baghdad. The decision to go ahead with the deportations was taken in the face of United Nations guidelines and despite a Foreign Office warning against all travel to the city.
The returns to Baghdad, which is still suffering suicide bombings and sectarian violence more than seven years after the war, were condemned by human rights and refugee groups.
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How Somalia's civil war became new front in battle against al-Qaida
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports from Mogadishu where presence of US drones reveals western anxiety over country's conflict
On a side street off Mogadishu's Wadnaha Road frontline a young officer is explaining the unwritten rules of the city's intractable civil war as his men exchange fire with an unseen enemy.
The fighters shooting at him are from the Hizb al-Islam, he explains. He knows this because they fight longer than al-Shabab, the other main Islamist group besieging Somalia's tiny government-held enclave, but also because they told him. "We have friends there. They tell us before they leave their base that they are going to attack. When they want to fire mortars they tell us so we can take cover."
If the conflict that has turned Mogadishu into a virtual no-go zone for 19 years occasionally resembles a grim farce, there is nothing farcical about the scene around us.
Nearby lies an array of flip flops in different shapes and sizes and always in singles: blues, reds, purples, tiny plastic ones with flower designs and large leather ones attesting to previous skirmishes, advances and retreats. A jungle of trees and shrubs has taken over the deserted street so that the soldiers have to push the branches with their elbows and guns to make a path. Houses and shops are shattered, empty and riddled with bullet holes.
IAEA turns its attention to Israel
In a sprawling office complex on the edge of Vienna stands the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world's nuclear watchdog.
It has a number of meetings throughout the year, when the 35 nation board of directors get together to discuss the latest reports. It is normally a run-of-the mill affair.
But the meeting that got under way today is important for two reasons.
Firstly, for the first time in 19 years, the gathering will discuss "Israel's nuclear capability".
The item has been forced onto the agenda by the 18 nation Arab block, elevating Israel to the same status as Iran and Syria.
Yukiya Amano, the new director general of the IAEA, is already drawing up a report discussing ways to make Israel open up its facilities to international inspection and sign up to the international non-proliferation treaty, which would commit it to disarmament. That should be delivered in September.
Israel, of course, employs a deliberate policy of ambiguity over its nuclear capabilities; never confirming, never denying.
But the decision to have it on the agenda is a set back not just for Israel but also for its supporters.
Iran's ambassador to the IAEA is Ali Asghar Soltanieh. He emerges from the closed door meeting to tell us: "US, Canada and European Union, they preferred not to discuss Israel's nuclear capability, but they joined the consensus because they had no other choice."
Reporter quits over Israel remark
Veteran White House journalist Helen Thomas, who has covered every US president since John F Kennedy, has abruptly retired amid a storm of criticism over her controversial remarks about Israel.
Her retirement on Monday as a Hearst Newspapers columnist came after she was captured on video saying Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine" and that they should go "home" to Germany, Poland or the United States.
The comments drew widespread condemnation with Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, describing her comments as “offensive and reprehensible”.
Thomas, 89, long considered the dean of the White House press correspondents, apologised for the statements she made on May 27.
In a statement issued over the weekend she said: "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognise the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."
US soldier arrested over Iraq video
A US soldier serving in Iraq has been arrested for allegedly leaking a classified combat video to a whistleblower website, Wikileaks, last year.
The video footage from a helicopter cockpit shows a deadly 2007 aerial strike in the Iraqi capital that killed 12 civilians including two journalists from the Reuters news agency.
US Army Specialist Bradley Manning, 22, was arrested last month after he reportedly bragged online about having leaked the information, including the video and US diplomatic cables.
The US military in a statement said Manning, who was deployed at a base near Baghdad, is in "pre-trial confinement for allegedly releasing classified information and is currently confined in Kuwait".
Manning's alleged action of supplying classified video and diplomatic communications to Wikileaks was first reported by Wired.com, the website of technology magazine Wired.
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'Condemned to civil war'
There is a wonderful scene in a 1982 movie called The Verdict. In it, the protagonist, a lawyer played by Paul Newman, makes his final, powerful summation before a jury.
His situation seems hopeless. He knows that if the jury follows its instructions from the judge, his client will lose, and a grave injustice will go unpunished.
And so, in a thinly-veiled effort to convince the jury to ignore the judge and follow their instincts, Newman tells them that the trial they have witnessed, like all trials, is at best a clumsy and imperfect means of producing a fair outcome.
'US missile' used in Yemen strike
The US is facing fresh questions over its role in a deadly attack in late 2009 on an alleged al-Qaeda camp in Yemen, after a rights group published what it said was new evidence of US involvement in the strike.
Photographs released by Amnesty International on Monday apparently show parts of a US cruise missile and cluster munitions gathered from the site of the strike last December in the village of al Ma'jalah in southern Yemen.
55 people, including 14 women and 21 children, died in the attack, which also killed 14 alleged al-Qaeda members.
After the attack, the Yemeni government said that it carried out the strike alone, but reports soon began to emerge that the US military had played a role in the attack on the orders of the White House.
At the time, unidentified US officials told the media that the Pentagon had provided firepower and intelligence to government of Yemen, but US involvement in the strike was never officially confirmed.
The Amnesty photographs appear to show parts of a BGM-109D Tomahawk cruise missile used to deliver a payload of deadly cluster sub-munitions.
"Amnesty International is gravely concerned by evidence that cluster munitions appear to have been used in Yemen," said Mike Lewis, the group's arms control researcher.
"Cluster munitions have indiscriminate effects and unexploded bomblets threaten lives and livelihoods for years afterwards," he said.
Several dead in N Caucasus attacks
Three separate attacks in Russia's restive North Caucasus region have killed at least three people, Russian news agencies said.
Bangladesh mourns fire victims
Bangladesh is observing a day of national mourning for the victims of the country's deadliest blaze that left scores dead in the capital, Dhaka, on Thursday.
The national flag flew at half-mast and people of all faiths joined prayers in mosques, temples and churches across the Muslim-majority country on Saturday for those who perished.
More than 118 people were killed after the fire engulfed several high-rise buildings in the centre of Dhaka.
"Some 40 patients are being treated at two main hospitals. They are in critical condition," Muhibul Haque, Dhaka's district administrator, said.
Haque said the government had launched an investigation into the blaze, which firefighters said was fuelled by an illegal chemicals warehouse.
"The chemicals warehouse was illegally set up in the residential area. We are looking for its owner," Haque said.
The blaze burned for several hours before firefighters were able to bring it under control.
Gaza flotilla attack: Turks killed by Israeli soldiers given heroes' funeral
Turks turned out in their thousands yesterday for the funeral of eight of the nine pro-Palestinian activists killed when Israeli commandos stormed a "freedom flotilla" attempting to bring aid to besieged Gaza, as Arab states vowed to use "all means" to break the blockade by Israel.
"Israel is the angel of death," angry crowds chanted as the coffins, draped in Turkish and Palestinian flags, were borne aloft outside Istanbul's Fatih mosque. "We are all soldiers of Hamas," they shouted, referring to the Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.
All nine dead men – eight Turkish nationals and a Turk with a US passport – were aboard the Mavi Marmara when armed commandos boarded it in international waters on Monday. The subsequent shootings by commandos triggered fury at Israel and an international chorus of calls to lift Israel's three-year closure of the coastal territory.
Australian woman accused of al-Qaida link held in Yemen
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An Australian woman who converted to Islam and moved to Yemen to raise her children in a Muslim society is being held in prison in Sana'a in connection with alleged al-Qaida activity.
Shyloh Jayne Giddens, 30, has been held without charge in Sana'a's political security prison since 15 May. She was detained with several other foreigners on suspicion of involvement with the al-Qaida branch responsible for the failed attempt to bomb a US airliner on Christmas Day.
Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian student responsible for that attack, told US investigators after his arrest that there were "many like me" trained by the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP).
US intelligence officials warned in February that al-Qaida was trying to recruit English-speaking westerners, particularly women, who could easily slip past security controls to launch terrorist attacks.
Turkey will 'never forgive' Israel
The Turkish president has said that Israel's military raid on civilian aid ships bound for the Gaza Strip has caused "irreparable" damage to his country's relations with Israel, and will "never" be forgiven.
"From now on, Turkish-Israeli ties will never be the same. This incident has left an irreparable and deep scar," Abdullah Gul said in a televised speech on Thursday, as thousands gathered in the streets of Istanbul to pay their respects to the humanitarian activists killed during the raid.
The raid "is not an issue that can be forgotten... or be covered up... Turkey will never forgive this attack," he said.
Nine people - eight Turks and a US national of Turkish origin- were killed in Monday's pre-dawn raid on the Mavi Mamara, which was carrying aid to Gaza in a bid to break Israel's strangling blockade of the territory.
As their funerals got underway on Thursday, thousands poured onto the streets around the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul, chanting slogans condemning Israel and waving Turkish and Palestinian flags.
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Afghanistan to investigate aid groups for 'spreading Christianity'
Afghan economy ministry says it has formed commission to investigate organisations after church group accused of proselytising
Officials in Afghanistan have begun an investigation into the activities of hundreds of aid groups after a local media report accused a Norwegian organisation of preaching Christianity, a crime punishable by death, the government said on Sunday.
Foreign and Afghan non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are involved in essential humanitarian projects across the country, helping in areas ranging from health to education, but some Afghans remain sceptical about their motives and suspect they could be a front for proselytising.
The Afghan economy ministry – which inherited responsibility for NGOs from its earlier days as the planning ministry – said it had formed a commission to investigate them after a television report accused Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) of promoting Christianity.
"We are very, very serious about this matter," Sediq Amarkhil, a spokesman for the ministry, said.
"If proven that any NGO is operating against the norms and laws of Afghanistan and Islam and is inviting people to Christianity ... we will not only close it down, but will hand it over to the judicial and legal organs of the government."
An NCA official declined to comment, but an aid insider told Reuters the matter was the result of a misunderstanding rooted in the translation of the name of the group.
NGOs have been operating for decades in Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of western troops are fighting Taliban insurgents who have declared jihad, or holy war, against them.
Weeks before being ousted in a US-led invasion, the Taliban detained several western aid workers after accusing them of proselytising. The workers were freed in a raid by US special forces.
In 2007, Taliban insurgents kidnapped 21 South Koreans who were visiting as part of a church charity group and accused them of proselytising.
Two of the hostages were murdered before the rest were released,. The South Korean government denied it had agreed to any ransom demands.
The latest investigation comes weeks after the government ordered 20 foreign aid groups and charities to be closed for failing to provide reports on their work and finances. Around 152 Afghan non-governmental organisations were also ordered to close.
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