Ahmadinejad declares his continued defiance

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad gave another firebrand speech on Thursday denouncing as "futile" the European Union's new sanctions targeting Iranian oil exports, adding that the Iranian people, who attempted to replace him as president two years ago but were violently prevented from doing so by his security apparatus, has always managed to overcome conspiracies from outside aggressors. He also reiterated an earlier commitment to resume talks with the P5+1 powers(Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US) on the Islamic Republic’s renegade nuclear program, although he added the usual caveats and equivocations which have always prevented those talks from proceeding. He recently got some support from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, which criticized the EU sanctions as "not constructive" echoing similar comments by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Meanwhile, former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi told a security conference in Tel Aviv on Thursday that “In comparison to 10 years ago, the possibility of a conflict (with Iran) is not something that we just need to talk about. We also need to prepare for it. Our mission now needs to be to slow down the clock and to speed up the clock of sanctions and hope that it works.” He added that a strategy including “everything that can be done under the radar” (a reference to covert action) with “painful and crippling sanctions,” were good options for now, but “due to the current pressure being put on it, Iran won't engage in negotiations. Everyone, therefore, must keep the military option on the table, especially Israel."

Also on Thursday, US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Martin Dempsey reiterated Washington’s commitment to preventing Iran from deploying nuclear weapons in an interview with the National Journal.

"I do think the path we're on—the economic sanctions and the diplomatic pressure—does seem to me to be having an effect," Dempsey said. "I just think that it's premature to be deciding that the economic and diplomatic approach is inadequate. A conflict with Iran would be really destabilizing, and I'm not just talking from the security perspective. It would be economically destabilizing.

Commenting on his recent visit to Israel, Dempsey said;

"We have to acknowledge that they ... see that threat differently than we do. Its existential to them. My intervention with them was not to try to persuade them to my thinking or allow them to persuade me to theirs, but rather to acknowledge the complexity and commit to seeking creative solutions, not simple solutions."

Iranian terror plot in Azerbaijan broken up

Reports surfaced in recent days of two Azerbaijani citizens, Rasim Farail Aliyev and Ali Huseynov, who have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in a plot to assassinate the Israeli ambassador in Baku, Michael Lotem, with plans to also attack a Jewish school in the city. A third suspect, Balaqardash Dadashov, an Azerbaijani citizen and resident of the nearby Iranian city of Ardabil, is still at large. Azerbaijan's Security Ministry announced that he had reason to beleive Iranian intelligence agencies offered the three Azerbaijanis $150,000 to carry out the plot. Israeli President Shimon Peres thanked his Azerbaijani counterpart on Wednesday for successfully foiling the attack. Aliyev, according to Peres' office, said the plot showed "to what degree we are in a difficult and dangerous neighborhood.”

Hamas seeks move to Jordan as Syria loses appeal
PA breaks off talks in Amman

Hamas chief Khaled Mishaal, who recently announced that he will step down from his position at the end of his current term, will reportedly visit Jordan next week as a guest of King Abdullah, as rumors fly about the pressure the King is under from the Jordanian branch of the Moslem Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian branch. The visit, which will include meetings with several Jordanian officials, is being treated like an official state visit, and a source in Hamas told the Jordan Times that it would include a request for Hamas to have a “permanent presence” in Jordan, stopping short requesting to re-open an official political office in Amman. The reports have fueled speculation that the Islamist terror militia is looking for a new home as its position in Damascus deteriorates. In related news, the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority being conducted in Amman had an anticlimactic ending Wednesday evening, as the PA refused to budge from its demands for Israel to freeze building in settlements before holding any further contact with Israel.

Palestinian students seek to study at Israeli tech school
A group of Palestinian educators from the West Bank has requested to send students to Israel to study agricultural techniques. Arava Research and Development, near Hatzeva, is a large complex which houses the most up-to-date research and technology for teaching such techniques. It is funded and run by the Israeli government and the Jewish National Fund, providing 10-month courses for hundreds of students from Israel, as well as many countries around the world. “We are trying to see how we can create a joint venture with these guys, in order to send Palestinian students…to get training here,” said Ibrahim Barakat, member of the board of directors of the Ramallah and Gaza based firm Harvest Export.

Russia reiterates resistance to ‘interference’ in Syria
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov issued a statement after meeting his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu in Moscow on Wednesday that “we are open to constructive proposals that go in line with the set task of ending violence,” in Syria. Lavrov made clear, however, that Russia would not allow any UN Security Council action which left the door open for “outside interference” in Syria, such as what occurred last summer in Libya. Even as Lavrov spoke, reports surfaced of a fierce bombardment by troops loyal to Syrian president Bashar Assad on the historic city of Hama. Opposition groups spoke of Assad loyalists using heavy weapons to fire into residential neighborhoods in a live-fire reenactment of the massacre which Assad’s father carried out in the city in 1982.

German funders of +972 Blog criticized
On Wednesday, the Jerusalem-based media-watchdog group NGO Monitor criticized a powerful leftist research foundation in Germany headed by Green Party political activist Heinrich Böll for funding the online magazine +972, which takes its name from Israel’s international calling code number. “Heinrich Böll’s decision to support +972 fulfills no humanitarian purpose and does not foster peace and mutual understanding,” Professor Gerald Steinberg, head of NGO Monitor, told The Jerusalem Post. “This funding helps provide a platform used to demonize Israel. Why is German taxpayer funding going to this counterproductive activity?” A spokesperson for the Böll Foundation replied that it didn’t agree with everything on the site, it didn’t want to interfere in freedom of the press.

Netanyahu thanks Ashton for Iran sanctions

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton in Jerusalem on Wednesday and thanked her for the EU’s recent strengthening of sanctions on Iran over the Islamic Republic’s renegade nuclear program. Also on Wednesday, the Washington DC based Institute for Science and International Security issued a report assessing that "Iran is unlikely to decide to dash toward making nuclear weapons as long as its uranium enrichment capability remains as limited as it is today." Part of the argument the report makes is that a combination of sanctions and the threat of military forces have deterred Iran’s leaders, seeming to confirm a long held position of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The reports main author, the respected nuclear expert David Albright, said that he hoped the data presented in the report, which largely agrees with other US government assessments, would serve to lower the temperature on the white hit debate on what to do about Iran.

Other assessments, however, point out Iran’s pursuit of equipment, technology and expertise that could be used either for a weapons program or a civilian energy program, keeping Teheran’s options open and adding to an atmosphere of ambiguity which complicates the situation for Israel and the West.

Elsewhere, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York on Wednesday that it was time for all sides in the dispute to tone down their rhetoric.

"There is no alternative to a peaceful resolution of this," Ban told reporters in New York. "At the same time I have been urging the parties to first of all try to defuse the tension. These rhetorics are not helpful."

Regarding Teheran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 per cent of the world's oil shipments flows each year, he added, "this is a very important area for international trade and commerce, the Strait of Hormuz. The free passage of any ships in open seas should be respected and protected."

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued a report on Wednesday warning that global oil prices could jump as much as 30% if Iran halts oil exports as a result of US and European Union sanctions. The concerns have several countries scrambling for alternative sources of oil. India declared on Wednesday that for now, it is continuing to purchase Iranian oil. Sanctions have also had a severe impact on Iran’s domestic economy, with foreign currency reserves nearly disappearing from many banks and the local currency, the Rial, losing over half its value since the first of the year.

Egyptian celebrate the anniversary of their revolt

Marking the one year anniversary of the beginning of Egypt’s anti-Mubarak uprising, a massive crowd of Egyptians gathered Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Wednesday, joined by smaller crowds in other Egyptian cities. Even as the celebrations united protesters for a few hours, doubts and divisions continued to haunt the largest Arab country, where many have grown weary of the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and many more, particularly the Coptic Christian minority, are fearful of what will happen next now that elections have brought an Islamist dominated legislature to power. Meanwhile, Moslem Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghazlan told London’s Asharq Alawsat daily that “Our group is not prepared to conduct dialogue with Israel – that is our decision. Our position is consistent and clear, and is not up for discussion. We will reject any request from the Israeli embassy to meet with leaders of the group.”

For a closer look at the one year anniversary of the “Arab Spring,” click HERE (PDF)

Meanwhile, US Undersecretary of State Robert Hormats, part of a US delegation that held unprecedented talks last week with the Brotherhood, announced on Wednesday that the US would be speeding up the timetable for delivering aid to Egypt.

"During this period, we want to be as supportive as we can,” Hormats said. “This is an historic moment. Egypt's a country of enormous importance. Whether it's an increase or whether it's reprioritizing existing assistance, we're still working this out. It's unfortunate the juxtaposition, that our budgetary constraints comes at the same time that you have this enormously hopeful series of changes in the region."

Hormats described the half-dozen Brotherhood officials he met with as "very pragmatic. They understand, they're the majority party now in the parliament. They are going to be the primary political party in Egypt. They need to deliver results. And their focus primarily is on small- and medium-enterprise" as generators of job creation.

"Democracy is not always a smooth or predictable process," he concluded. "We have to understand that and not expect miracles... We have to explain to the American people that patience is needed and support is needed."

“While many challenges remain, Egypt has come a long way in the past year, and we hope that all Egyptians will commemorate this anniversary with the spirit of peace and unity that prevailed last January,” a White House statement said.

PA appointed Mufti investigated for incitement

Israeli Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein moved on Tuesday to open an investigation into remarks made recently by the PA appointed Jerusalem Mufti, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, which the AG suspects could be considered racist and incitement to violence. During a recent event to mark the 47th anniversary of the founding of the Fatah political faction, Hussein quoted a hadith (from a book of teachings of Mohammed) which reads “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, O Muslims, servants of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” The same hadith is incorporated into Article 7 of Hamas’s 1988 Covenant. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement Sunday lamenting the fact that Hussein’s words were largely ignored by the world’s major media outlets and not condemned by any of the governments which routinely condemn Israel for almost any action it takes.

Hamas complains ‘Israel has declared war on us’
The Islamist terror militia Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and has an extensive presence in the Palestinian cities of the West Bank, complained on Tuesday that Israel has declared a war on it by arresting several Palestinian parliamentarians with links to its political wing. “Israel has declared war on Hamas,” officials with the group declared. “But we won’t be deterred and we will continue to fulfill our duties.” Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri echoed the comments and called on human rights groups to intervene and pressure Israel to secure the release of “legislators who were elected by the people in a democratic vote.” In related news, officials of the Palestinian Authority announced on Wednesday that a fifth meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Amman scheduled for later in the day would be the final meeting, despite heavy pressure from the Quartet to continue.

Israel receives reassurance about ‘isolation’
In another blow to efforts to isolate Israel diplomatically and economically, an ambitious plan has been proposed by the global firm Quantum Energy to lay a 2,000 megawatt undersea cable, called the EuroAsia Interconnector project, linking Israel, Cyprus and Greece. The plan would allow the three countries to share energy and economize on natural gas production and use. The 1.5 billion Euro project might be partially financed by an EU development grant. In related news, the US aerospace giant Boeing celebrated the tenth anniversary of its partnership with Israeli Aircraft Industries this week, with Boeing Network & Space Systems President Roger Krone declaring "we are pleased to mark this 10-year milestone by expanding our cooperation on missile defense initiatives with our partner IAI."

Knesset leaders encourages strong ties with Evangelicals
The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense subcommittee on Foreign Policy issued a statement on Tuesday urging their Knesset colleagues to pursue stronger relations with Evangelical Christian supporters of Israel, especially in Latin America. Foreign Ministry representative Shmuel Ben- Shmuel explained that Hispanic Evangelicals are a growing force in the US and in Brazil and many other Latin American countries the revival in Evangelical churches is leading to a shift in political outlook, as the traditionally less supportive Catholic churches lose members and influence. He cautioned, however, that the Evangelical churches in Latin America, because they are a relatively recent phenomenon, are less well organized and politically active than their American counterparts.

Israeli movie receives Oscar nomination
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced in Los Angeles on Tuesday that an Israeli movie, Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote” received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. “With all the expectations, pessimism is a way to survive,” Cedar told The Jerusalem Post. “So I become really pessimistic. And when it turns out it wasn’t justified, it’s such a relief.” Mo Israeli film has ever won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, though ten have been nominated. Footnote,  is about the rivalry between a father and son who are Talmud scholars in Jerusalem. It has previously won Israel’s Ophir Award for Best Picture and the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival last spring.

EJC chief, ‘Sweden a center of anti-Semitism’
European Jewish Congress president Dr. Moshe Kantor told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday night, ahead of a ceremony at the European Parliament in Brussels to commemorate the Holocaust, that “Sweden, previously a calm country where there was no anti-Semitic problem just a few years ago, is a center of anti-Semitism,” adding that it was “unthinkable that in the 21st century Jews need to move from the city of Malmo to Stockholm and elsewhere.” Kantor also lamented the lack of response from the Swedish government to attempts to discuss the issue. “It’s a conspiracy of silence. They apparently think that if they say nothing, the problem will go away but we know it persists,” Kantor said. A spokesperson for the Swedish Prime Minister responded by calling the characterization unfair, citing the “four million Swedish crowns in increased security for the Jewish community” that the government has provided.

Russia rebuked for arming Syria’s Assad amidst bloodshed

A day before the one year anniversary of the beginning of the so-called “Arab Spring” Russia was rebuked by the US, UK and France on Tuesday for continuing to sell weapons and military equipment to the Assad regime in Syria despite months of bloody repression by the regime which has resulted in the deaths of close to 7,500 people. "It is glaringly obvious that transferring weapons into a volatile and violent situation is irresponsible and will only fuel the bloodshed,”Britain's UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told the Security Council. Russia has refused all calls for UN Security Council action against Assad, but Western diplomats have consulted with Arab governments on a resolution which would be acceptable to all parties in the region.

Meanwhile, Arab League monitors from Gulf Arab states were withdrawn from Syria on Tuesday after Assad rejected a League plan for him to step down and allow a peaceful transition to a new government. The Arab League’s chief, Nabil Al Arabiy, subsequently called on the group to refer Syria to the UN Security Council. The Gulf Cooperation Council states said in a statement they were “certain the bloodshed and killing of innocents would continue, and that the Syrian regime would not abide by the Arab League’s resolutions.”

“Definitely the solution in Syria is not the solution suggested by the Arab League, which we have rejected. They have abandoned their role as the Arab League and we no longer want Arab solutions to the crisis,” said Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. “Heading to the Security Council will be the third stage in their plan, and the only thing left is the last step of internationalization. They can head to New York or to the moon. So long as we are not paying for their tickets it is none of our concern.”

Meanwhile, in Israel’s southern border, Egyptian military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi declared on Tuesday that the country’s decades-old state of emergency will be lifted on Wednesday except where the fight against “thuggery” continues. The move was quickly dismissed by human rights groups as only cosmetic, and meant to placate protesters who are demanding larger reforms.

“For all purposes, the state of emergency has not been lifted,” said Hossam Bahgat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), adding that the term “thuggery “will allow police to use their powers to search and detain anyone suspected of being a thug. ‘Thuggery’ does not refer to any recognizable criminal offence.”

For some thoughts on the future of the “Arab Spring” click HERE (PDF)

Obama reiterates ‘ironclad commitment to Israel’s security’

US President Barak Obama addressed Iran’s renegade nuclear program during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, reiterating that the US is determined to prevent Iran from deploying atomic weapons and will take "no options off the table" to prevent it from achieving that objective. The President added "our ironclad commitment to Israel's security has meant the closest cooperation between our countries in history." Obama stated. Elsewhere, EU officials disclosed on Tuesday that the EU’s recently announced boycott of Iranian oil exports extends to crude purchased by European companies for sale to non-EU destinations, closing a potential loophole in the sanctions. "EU sanctions rules apply to EU citizens and companies registered in the EU, wherever they do business," Ross Denton, partner at law firm Baker & McKenzie, told Reuters.

Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd announced on Tuesday that Canberra would follow the US and EU lead in banning Iranian oil imports. "The actions taken in Brussels yesterday on sanctions by the European Union, we in Australia will undertake precisely the same parallel action for Australia," Rudd said, following talks in London with UK Foreign Minister William Hague. "The reason is very clear -- the message needs to be delivered to the people of Iran, the wider political elites of Iran, as well as the government of Iran, that their behavior is globally unacceptable."

Several Iranian officials gave speeches on Tuesday dismissing the sanctions as insignificant and declaring their belief that they would, in any case, soon be rescinded.

“The West's ineffective sanctions against the Islamic state are not a threat to us. They are opportunities and have already brought lots of benefits to the country," Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi told the official IRNA news agency. "The global economic situation is not one in which a country can be destroyed by imposing sanctions."

Elsewhere, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammad Ben Nawaf, told reporters in London on Tuesday that the region was witnessing "a very difficult and a very tense situation" adding that “we are seeing every day an escalation in the rhetoric and this definitely does not help in stabilizing the area. I think the next couple of weeks will be very critical for the whole region. Hopefully, Iran will adhere to the proposals presented to them."

Addressing Iran's threats to block the Strait of Hormuz he said, "it will be very difficult to maintain such a blockade against the export of oil but the ramifications of such a decision would be very grave and definitely would escalate the whole situation and God knows where it would lead. Definitely the Iranians will pay a very heavy price if they gamble and take such a decision."

Islamist dominated Egyptian parliament convenes

Monday saw the opening session of Egypt’s newly elected lower house of parliament, with Islamist parties taking the lead. The first issue taken up was to elect Saad Al Katatni, the secretary general of the Moslem Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, to the post of speaker. “We want to build a new Egypt, a constitutional, democratic and modern Egypt,” Katatni said. “Democracy will be the source of our parliament’s power. “We say to the Egyptian people and to the world that our revolution continues.” Katatni also thanked “the great Egyptian army and the [ruling] Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which stuck to its promise that it would hold elections that the world could boast about.” But not everyone agreed with the sentiment, as many gathered to demand that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces turn over power to an elected government sooner rather than later. Liberal opposition groups have also voiced concerns that between the SCAF and the Islamists their voices have little chance of being heard in the new Egypt.

Israel opens new chapter in relations with EU
In yet another sign of Israel’s continued engagement with the world despite talk of diplomatic “isolation”, Israel’s Ministry of Finance hosted the first meeting of the EU-Israel Sub-Committee on Economic and Financial Matters on Monday, with the EU delegations led by Mr. Andrew Standley, Head of EU Delegation to Israel and including Economic liason officers from the embassies of the UK France, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Romania, and more. The talks focused on the crisis in the EU and how lessons learned by Israel during its own periods of financial difficulties could be applied to the current situation, as well as the effects of the EU’s problems could have on the Israeli economy. In related news, German diplomat Andreas Reinicke was named as the EU’s new envoy to the Middle East peace process on Monday. An EU statement said his task "will be to contribute to achieving the EU's policy objectives in the region, including a comprehensive peace, a two-state solution and a settlement of the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese conflicts."

Israel in need of hospital beds
The Israeli Health Ministry issued its annual Hospitalization Report for 2010 on Tuesday, showing some worrying statistics about the state of health care available to Israelis. In every category, the number of beds available for care in Israel’s hospitals were the lowest per capita in the OECD. The report showed 1.91 hospital beds per 1,000 residents, compared to 2.22 a decade ago. The statistics are even more alarming when considering that Israel’s growing population is at greater risk of needing hospitalization due to age and the likelihood of violence.

Rice reassures AJC about UN Security Council
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told a conference of the American Jewish Committee in New York on Monday that the new arrangement of the Security Council would not make a vote on Palestinian statehood more likely in the near future than it was last year after PA president Mahmoud Abbas first proposed it. Adding that the PA application had "essentially stayed there for the time being" Rice added that "I presume that is because the Palestinians decided that, given the voting likely outcome in the council, it wasn't timely to push it to a vote. The fact is, nobody knows for sure what the Palestinians will choose to do. I think that we are roughly in the same place now as we were last year, and potentially even in a better position." Rice also reaffirmed the oft-stated US position that a Palestinian state would come only through direct negotiations with Israel, not "through a short-cut at the United Nations."

Israel trains ex-rebels in agriculture
A highly successful program run by the Israeli government and the Galilee International Management Institute (formerly the Galilee College) near Nazareth works to rehabilitate criminals and even terrorists from several countries, including Afghanistan and Nigeria, by teaching them modern agricultural skills and techniques so they have an alternative way to support their families.  Speaking of the recent groups of Nigerians who have attended courses at the Institute, Joseph Shevel, president of the Galilee Institute explained “the government granted them amnesty and allocated land to each one of them; they surrendered their weapons to get the land. Since they only know how to shoot and not to be farmers, we have to train them." Shevel added that several Israeli kibbutzim are cooperating in the project, which has successfully hosted people from 160 countries, teaching courses in several languages.

Obama and Netanyahu applaud new EU sanctions on Iran

US President Barack Obama declared on Monday that the recently passed boycott of Iranian oil  and the imposition of a freeze on Iran’s central bank by the EU was exactly what was needed in ongoing efforts "addressing the serious threat presented by Iran's nuclear program." He added that the US “will continue to impose new sanctions to increase the pressure on Iran." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a similar statement calling the move a “step in the right direction” adding that These sanctions must be evaluated according to the results they will bring. Today, Iran continues to develop nuclear weapons with no disruption." Other Israeli officials echoed these statements, with a general agreement that the sanctions would finally force Teheran to make a choice between dismantling its renegade nuclear program or facing economic collapse. Although the new sanctions will not go into effect until 1 July, according to various reports, the economic impact is already being felt on the streets of Iranian cities, with a depressed currency and rising prices for food and consumer goods.

For their part, Iranian officials have chosen to ignore the pain of their citizens and dismiss efforts to force a change in their behavior, responding instead with new threats.

The “European Union sanctions on Iranian oil are psychological warfare... Imposing economic sanctions is illogical and unfair but will not stop our nation from obtaining its rights,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast declared on Monday. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi agreed, telling the official news agency IRNA that the more sanctions were imposed on Iran “the more obstacles there will be to solve the (nuclear) issue.”

“The best way is to stop exporting oil ourselves before the end of this six months and before the implementation of the plan,” agreed another Iranian parliamentarian, adding a reiteration of the threat that Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters “I want the pressure of these sanctions to result in negotiations. I want to see Iran come back to the table and either pick up all the ideas that we left on the table... last year... or to come forward with its own ideas.”

"We will be discussing and finalizing additional sanctions [on Iran], particularly focused on the central bank and on oil exports," Ashton said. "But I do want to, again, reiterate that this is part of trying to get a twin-track approach. The pressure of sanctions is designed to try and make sure that Iran takes seriously our request to come to the table and meet."

Meanwhile, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano announced on Monday that the IAEA will send a mission to Iran from 29-31 January “in a constructive spirit, and we trust that Iran will work with us in that same spirit” to "resolve all outstanding substantive issues" regarding the possible military applications of Iran's program.

Israel extends goodwill gestures to PA’s Abbas

As a goodwill gesture to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, Israel is reportedly letting the construction of two PA police stations near Jerusalem pass, despite the fact that it violates previous agreements. One police station is in the village of a-Ram, which lies northeast of the Jerusalem neighborhood Neveh Ya’acov, just outside the capital’s municipal borders. The second station was established in what is known as the Biddu enclave – a group of eight Palestinian villages located near Ramallah and along Road 443. Both are in Area B, which according to the Oslo Accords was designated as being under Israeli security control and Palestinian civilian control. The Israeli gesture is meant to bolster Abbas and the PA against possible moves by the Islamist terror militia Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and threatens the PA’s sovereignty in the Palestinian cities of the West Bank.

“There is something of a blind eye being turned to the establishment of the stations,” a senior official familiar with the issue told the Post. “Israel does not want to have to send its own forces inside, and the Palestinians are looking to extend their reach and authority. In the meantime, everyone benefits.”

Other goodwill gestures include a series of joint environmental projects between the Civil Administration and the PA, including a cardboard and plastic recycling plan, waste cleanup in key locations, authorizing civilians and soldiers in charge of environmental activities, recycling industrial waste from factories and raising awareness. Israel has spent hundreds of thousands of shekels on the projects.

"Environmental awareness is slowly growing among the Judea and Samaria population," said Civil Administration environmental officer, Mr. Benny Elbaz. "This is of great importance and we all understand that the hazard goes beyond borders - our cooperation with the PA on the matter is extremely successful."

Despite the various gestures by Israel, the PA recently reiterated its absolute refusal to negotiate with Israel without a renewal of the freeze on building in settlements, and a senior Hamas official declared categorically that the Islamist terror militia will never give up violence against Israel.

"I confirm that exploratory meetings will come to an end on the date agreed upon [January 26] if Israel does not stop its settlement building in the whole of the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem," a PA official told AFP  on Monday. "No date has been set until now for a new meeting."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, for his part, told Moscow that his "visits in Great Britain, Germany and Russia aimed to discuss what could be done if exploratory meetings in Amman failed," WAFA news agency reported.

Elsewhere, the IDF arrested a fourth Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament Tuesday morning, prompting Hamas to issue a statement denouncing what it called the "arrogant Zionist policy against Hamas figures."

Meanwhile, senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar issued a statement on Monday declaring that his organization will never give up its armed struggled against Israel and denouncing a recent statement by Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Mishaal prioritizing "peaceful resistance."

"We are fighting for our dignity and rights. Jihad is our path, our life, our pride and we will not renounce it no matter the sacrifices," said Zahar, quoted on the website of the Izzeddine Al Qassam Brigades, Hamas' armed wing.


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