News in Brief: Withdraw From West Bank: Israeli Diplomat
- Withdraw From West Bank: Israeli Diplomat
Fri. Apr. 24, 2009
CAIRO — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nominee for ambassador to the US has called for unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and dismantle settlements to help establish peace with the Palestinians, Haaretz reported on Friday, April 24.
"The only alternative for Israel to save itself as a Jewish state is by unilaterally withdrawing from the West Bank and evacuating most of the settlements," Michael Oren told a lecture.
"I may be the last of the standing unilateralists," he added.
Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the 1967 Middle East war.
But it unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in September 2005 under then prime minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan.
Israel insists on annexing major settlement blocs in the West Bank under any peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Since 1967, Israel has built more than 164 Jewish-only settlements on the occupied West Bank, eating up more than 40 percent of the occupied territory and inhabited by as many as half a million settlers.
The international community considers all Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land illegal.
Oren said that achieving peace between the Palestinians and Israel is an issue of "generations'.
"Peace as a solution is not a question of next week but a generational issue," he said.
He said that any peace negotiations should tackle the root causes of the conflict.
"[To] better manage the conflict, to relieve tensions and ameliorate the conditions under which people live to ensure against future flare ups.
To achieve this, the diplomat said that Israelis must be convinced that they would be getting "absolute peace" and the "end of the conflict."
"One of the lessons that the failed Oslo process has taught us is that peace must be built from the bottom up.
"We cannot impose peace from the top down, it doesn't percolate from the top down," he said.
Under the Oslo Accords, Israel is obliged not to take unilateral steps to alter the situation in the occupied Palestinian lands before a final peace settlement.
But Israel has never met these obligations.
Defying international laws, Israel is building a separation wall — a mix of electronic fences and concrete — which will eventually snake some 900 kilometers (540 miles) along the West Bank and leave even larger swathes of its territory on the Israeli side.
It has spurned a landmark ruling by the International Court of Justice and a demand by the UN General Assembly to tear down the wall and compensate the Palestinians affected. Tel Aviv argues that the wall is necessary for its protection.
But the Palestinians see the wall as a new land grab and an attempt to pre-empt the borders of their much-hoped future state
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UN report discloses Sri Lanka dead
Nearly 6,500 civilians have been killed and 13,000 wounded in fighting in Sri Lanka over the past three months, according to a UN report.
The release of the document on Friday comes two days after Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said in Brussels he was sending a team of humanitarian experts to the country as part of efforts to "try to do whatever we can to protect the civilian population".
According to the UN figures, 6,432 civilians have been killed in the fighting since 20 January and another 13,946 wounded.
Speaking in New York, Catherine Bragg, the UN assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said the organisation continued to receive reports that "heavy weaponry is being used ... and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) is preventing people form leaving that area and using the civilians as human shields".
Pakistan First AIDS Marriage
KARACHI — Though they are moving to death with every passing day, they still want to enjoy the remaining moments of their life.
"This might be weird for many people, but I'm very happy as I'm going to begin a new life," Mohammad Iqbal, an HIV/AIDS patient, told IslamOnline.net on Saturday, April 25.
The 32 year-old is planning to tie the knot next week with Rozina, , 31, diagnosed with AIDS, in the southern port city of Karachi.
"I want to live happily and make life happy for her (Rozina)."
Iqbal tested positive to the killer disease ten months ago because of drug addiction.
As he used to clash with family members over his drug addiction, Iqbal left his home a year and a half ago.
"I used to live on footpaths in different areas," he said.
He later worked as an assistant in Pakistan Society, an NGO providing treatment and care to drug addicts in Karachi.
"A friend of mine informed me about this organization some ten months back. He brought me here for free treatment."
There, Iqbal came to know his would-be wife.
"We have been colleagues here for last six months," said Iqbal.
"Now we have decided to get married and begin a new life."
According to official estimates, there are over 3,000 AIDS patients in Pakistan. But
experts estimate the number at over 80,000.
Religion No Crucial in India Polls
NASHIK, India — Unlike previous elections in the multi-faith South Asian country, Indian political parties are shying away from playing the religion card to lure voters.
"The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not able to exploit religious identity as much as in the past," Asghar Ali Engineer, a Muslim scholar and champion of interreligious cooperation who heads the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, told Reuters Friday, April 24.
Being aware that playing the religion card in this year's election could backfire, the BJP has toned down its religious pitch.
"The BJP leadership has to exercise caution – if they're seen as extremists, they will not be voted to power," Engineer said.
Indian Elections… Muslim Perspective
The Hindu party has recently distanced itself from the anti-Muslim remarks last month by BJP member Varun Gandhi, an estranged member of India's powerful Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
Gandhi has threatened to cut off the hands of anyone harming Hindus and comparing a Muslim rival to Osama bin Laden.
Seeking to lure moderate middle class voters who are unmoved by communal politics, the BJP turned to the more appealing local issues.
"Local problems have assumed a greater importance," Engineer said.
Indians are voting in a month-long, five-stage elections, with its once red-hot economy feeling the strain of the global downturn.
Hindus make up 80 percent of India's 1.1 billion population, followed by Muslims at 13 percent, Christians at 2.3 percent, Sikhs at 1.8 percent and Buddhists at 0.8 percent.
Muslim leader Imam Mohammad Ismael said interfaith relations at the grass roots level were better than campaign rhetoric suggested.
"The politicians make problems before every election," Ismael said at his Nashik mosque.
"After the elections, it's calm again."
Coming only months after the Mumbai terror attacks that killed 166 people, the election campaigns could have been overshadowed by communal demagoguery.
But with calm prevailing, faith now competes for voters' attention with caste, class and local loyalties.
"There was no 'Mumbai effect' here," said Pradnyasagar, chairman of a Buddhist temple in Nashik, a major Hindu pilgrimage centre northeast of Mumbai.
The shifting loyalties are also playing a significant role in sidelining the religion card.
The Hindu vote is now split among two national and several regional parties while Muslims are no longer the "vote bank" they once were for the governing Congress Party.
"The Muslim vote is no more a monolithic object to be had by one party," said political scientist S.A.M. Pasha at Jamia Milia Islamia university.
"Muslims now vote for whichever party they think will safeguard their interest in that particular region."
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Adrian Hamilton: Walking out on Ahmadinejad was just plain childish
Isn't it time western diplomats just grew up and stopped these infantile games over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? All that this play-acting over boycotting of conferences because of his presence and walking out because of his words achieves is to flatter his ego, boost his poll ratings at home and play into the hands of an Israel that is desperate to prove Iran the gravest threat to its existence.
True, Iran's President is not the world's most endearing character. Some of the things he says are certainly contentious. But he is far from the most offensive leader on the block at the moment. With Silvio Berlusconi sounding off about women and sex, and Nicolas Sarkozy sounding off about everything from the quality of his fellow leaders to the unsuitability of Muslims to join the civilised nations, and a Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, giving his views on gays, Europe could claim its fair share of premiers who should not be allowed out in public.
Read Ahmadinejad's address at the UN conference on racism in Geneva this week and there is little to surprise and a certain amount to be agreed with. His accusations against the imperial powers for what they did with colonial rule and the business of slavery is pretty much part of the school curriculum now. His anger at the way the economic crisis originated in the West but has hit worst the innocent of the developing world would find a ready echo (and did) among most of the delegates.
It was not for this, however, that the countries of Europe and North America gathered up their skirts and walked out of Ahmadinejad's peroration. The UK's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Peter Gooderham, rather gave the game away when he said afterwards: "As soon as President Ahmadinejad started talking about Israel, that was the cue for us to walk out. We agreed in advance that if there was any such rhetoric there would be no tolerance for it." The Iranian leader, he went on to say, was guilty of anti-Semitisim.
Just how you can accuse a man of anti-Semitisim when you haven't stayed to hear him talk is one of those questions which the Foreign Office no doubt trains its diplomats to explain. But what basically was our representative trying to say here? That any mention of the word Israel is barred from international discussions? That the mere mention of it is enough to have the Western governments combine to still it? In fact, Ahmadinejad's speech was not anti-Semitic, not in the strict sense of the word. Nowhere in his speech did he mention his oft-quoted suggestion that Israel be expunged from the map of the world. At no point did he mention the word "Jews", only "Zionists", and then specifically in an Israeli context. Nor did he repeat his infamous Holocaust denials, although he did reportedly refer to it slightingly as "ambiguous" in its evidence.
Instead, he launched the time-honoured Middle Eastern accusation that Israel was an alien country imposed on the local population by the West, out of its own guilt for the genocide; that it was supported by a Zionist take-over of Western politics and that it pursued racist policies towards the Palestinians. Now you may find these calls offensive or far-fetched (if there is a Zionist world conspiracy, it is making a singularly bad job of it) but it is pretty much the standard view in the Muslim world. Western support of Israel is seen as a conspiracy, and it is not just prejudice. There are now books by Western academics arguing that the pro-Israeli lobby wields an influence in the US out of all proportion to its numbers. If the Western walkout in Geneva did nothing else, it rather proved the point.
Nor is it far-fetched to charge Israel with being a racist state. As the only country in the world that defines itself and its immigrants on racial grounds, it could be regarded as fair comment. And if you doubt that this founding principle leads Israel into racist attitudes to non-Israelis, then you only have to read the comments of its new Foreign Secretary, Avigdor Lieberman, to disabuse you.
Of course, Ahamadinejad was playing to his home audience. He is a politician facing re-election at a time when his domestic economic record makes him vulnerable. Most of the educated class are fed up with his cavorting on the world stage while his country goes from wrack to ruin. And, of course, international conferences of this sort, intended to spread sweetness and light, are not the most appropriate forums for such tirades.
But on these issues he does speak for the majority not just in Iran but in the region. Deny that view a hearing and you will only increase the resentment and the sense of a Western world set up against them. Which is precisely what our oh-so-sanctimonious representatives achieved this week.
Israel's military says it fought Gaza war in line with international law
Israel's military today defended its conduct in the war in Gaza, saying internal investigations showed it fought "in accordance with international law".
The announcement comes after weeks of criticism of Israel's fighting in the three-week war in January, with leading human rights groups accusing both the Israeli military and Palestinian militants of serious violations of international law and possible war crimes. Two UN investigations into the war are still under way.
The Israeli military said five internal inquiries, each led by a separate Israeli colonel, looked into damage to UN property, firing on medical facilities, harming civilians, using white phosphorous weapons and damaging or destroying buildings during the three-week war in January.
The Israel Defence Force said the inquiries found "a very small number of incidents" that involved "intelligence or operational errors", although it did not say what those cases involved. "These unfortunate incidents were unavoidable and occur in all combat situations," it said in a three-page statement.
The fighting left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead, of whom around 900 were civilians, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. Today's report did not give a civilian death toll, although the Israeli military has always maintained it was lower than 900.
Opposition wins north Cyprus vote
The opposition in northern Cyprus has won a landslide victory in elections that some analysts say will jeapordise efforts to reunite the ethnically divided island.
With 100 per cent of the ballot counted, the right wing National Unity Party (UBP) clinched 44.06 per cent of the vote, giving it by provisional accounts a majority in the 50 seat parliament.
It was a stinging defeat for the ruling Republican Turkish Party (CTP), a key ally of Mehmet Ali Talat, the Turkish Cypriot leader.
The CTP, which bore the brunt of public discontent over a faltering economy and continued international isolation of the breakaway territory, took 29.25 per cent of the vote.
About 162,000 people were eligible to vote for the 50-seat parliament in the breakaway territory, the administration of which is only recognised by Turkey.
The election outcome would not directly affect Talat, who began unity talks with Greek Cypriots in September.
But victory for the UBP is likely to limit Talat's ability to negotiate a settlement.
Dam of Awe to be Afghan national park
• Kabul puts beauty spot on tourist trail, 36 years late
• Visitors face perilous trip to see natural wonder
The two-day, bone-rattling journey to Band-i-Amir may be littered with landmines and the odd village of Taliban sympathisers, but if the Afghan government gets its way a collection of five sapphire-blue lakes will one day become one of Central Asia's hottest international tourist destinations.
A first significant step was taken yesterday when Afghanistan declared that one of its most astonishing natural features will become the country's first national park - 36 years after a previous attempt to do so was interrupted by political strife and decades of war.
Few people would deny that the crystal-clear lakes in the country's mountainous centre, which are ringed with pink cliffs, deserve their new designation, which still needs to be ratified by parliament.
Nancy Hatch Dupree, in her classic 1970 guide to Afghanistan, wrote that a full description of such a place would "rob the uninitiated of the wonder and amazement it produces on all who gaze upon it".
According to local lore the huge natural dams of slow-growing mineral deposits that hold the lakes in place were thrown into position by Hazrat Ali, the prophet Muhammad's son-in-law, during the reign of the infidel king Barbar.
Today the mineral-rich water bubbles through the cracks of the Dam of the Slaves, the Groom's Dam, the Mint Dam and the Dam of Cheese and surrounding wetlands. But it is the Dam of Awe, or Band-i-Haibat, that attracts most visitors and where the government hopes tourist facilities including guesthouses and shops can be established. About two miles long and 1,500 feet wide, the waters are supposed to have healing properties for anyone who braves temperatures that remain icy all year round in an area just under 3,000 metres above sea level.
For those who prefer not to swim, weirdly incongruous pink, blue and yellow swan-shaped pedaloes can be hired for less than a dollar for an hour of floating about on the placid waters.
The central highlands, dominated by the Hazara ethnic group, which has no truck with the Pashtun-dominated Taliban insurgency, is relatively safe and boasts other tourist magnets including the valley of Bamiyan, famous for the giant Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban in late 2001.
Speaking at an event marking the signing of the decree turning the area into a national park yesterday, Frank Ricciardone, deputy US ambassador, was bullish in his predictions for the area's future. "You will draw visitors not only from all across Afghanistan, but all across the region and the world."
But although the province's international military base, run by New Zealand, is spending $1.5m on an eco-tourism project there are major obstacles to overcome before the area takes off as an international tourist destination.
According to a 2005 survey by the Asian Development Bank, almost 40,000 domestic tourists visited Band-i-Amir and Bamiyan, as did between 3,000 and 4,000 international visitors, mostly drawn from foreigners working in Kabul. Local officials say numbers dropped off sharply as security nationwide deteriorated.
US-Israel spy case deal denied
A US congresswoman has denied she sought to intervene in a spy case involving two pro-Israel lobbyists.
Jane Harman, a Democrat, was reported to have been recorded in a 2005 wiretap aimed at Israeli espionage as saying she would seek to have charges against the two men reduced.
"If there are tapes out there, bring it on!" Harman said on Tuesday, calling on the US justice department to release transcripts of the tapes to prove her innocence.
The US government is considering dropping the case against Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, US media said on Tuesday, citing anonymous sources.
US media reports have said it appeared Harman agreed to intervene in the case in return for help in getting Democrats to appoint her to lead the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, which she sat on.
Harman did not get the post after Democrats won control of congress in 2006 and left the committee shortly afterwards.
The reports said Harman was not the target of the wiretap.
Alberto Gonzales, the attorney-general under George Bush, the former US president, intervened to stop the investigation involving Harman in order to gain her support for the administration's policy of wiretapping without warrants, the Associated Press reported.
Copenhagen's 'racial' gang wars
already lit by the camera flashes of eager reporters. Officers began to collect forensic evidence and question a crowd of onlookers for witnesses.
This crime scene did not take place on the streets of New York City or Chicago but Copenhagen, the Danish capital, where such incidents have been occurring with increasing frequency.
Al Jazeera was filming nearby when we received a tip about the shooting, the latest in more than 60 that have taken place on Copenhagen's streets in recent months.
Like many of the other shootings, this one happened in Norrebro, an ethnically-mixed part of the capital where a violent gang war has recently raged.
The scene was tense as young immigrants watched police reinforcements descend on the area; three young men were arrested. They had allegedly shot a man in his car, believing him to be a member of a rival gang.
The word on the street about the gang violence mirrors that on the front pages of Denmark's newspapers. They say a war between groups of bikers and ethnic minority youths is being fought out on Copenhagen's streets.
Some say the shootings are part of a turf war over the lucrative hashish trade in the city. Others say it has been inflamed by feelings of alienation and marginalisation among ethnic minority youngsters.
While few seem to know just who is shooting whom or why, the sense of danger has become so severe that the National Night Owls Association, a voluntary public safety group that patrols the streets, has decided to pull out of the area.
"This is the first time the organisation has had to give up on an area," Erik Thorsted, from the association, said.
India launches spy satellite
India has launched an Israeli-built spy satellite to boost its surveillance capabilities after last year's Mumbai attacks exposed glaring holes in its defence apparatus.
The satellite, RISAT 2, was launched from the Sriharikota launch site, 90km north of the southern city of Chennai, on Monday.
"The launch was perfect and the satellite is in orbit," a spokesman for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said.
Monday's launch demonstrated the growing defence ties between India and Israel.
In 2007, Israel replaced France as the second-largest arms supplier to India after Russia.
The new satellite provides India with the capability to monitor its international borders, anticipate any troop build-up or infiltration attempts by armed groups and track incoming ballistic missiles, defence officials said.
Last year, an Israeli satellite launched from an Indian base sparked a controversy as Iran claimed the satellite would be used to take images of Iran. But both India and Israel denied this.
Israel criticism sparks UN walkout
Dozens of delegates have walked out of a UN conference on racism after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, described Israel as a "racist government".
Ahmadinejad told delegates at the summit in Switzerland on Monday that after the Second World War the US and other nations had established a "cruel, oppressive and racist regime in occupied Palestine".
"The UN security council has stabilised this occupation regime and supported it in the last 60 years giving them a free hand to continue their crimes," he said at the Durban Review Conference hall in Geneva.
Dozens of diplomats from countries including Britain and France left the hall in protest as he made the remarks.
Ahmadinejad also asked the conference: "What were the root causes of the US attacks against Iraq or invasion of Afghanistan?
"The Iraqi people have suffered enormous losses ... wasn't the military action against Iraq planned by the Zionists ... in the US administration, in complicity with the arms manufacturing companies?"