A summary of news stories published this week in the Arab English language press- December 19, 2008
Palestinian militants fire rockets at southern Israel
Renewed rocket fire from the Gaza Strip targeted Israel yesterday amid concern that violence could flare up further as a six-month truce in and around the Palestinian territory ends this week. The Israeli army said 10 rockets were fired at southern Israel from the tiny coastal strip, causing no casualties or damage. Islamic Jihad said its armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, fired five rockets in retaliation for Monday’s killing by Israeli force of one of its members in the occupied West Bank. The radical movement had claimed similar attacks on Monday, which prompted two air Israeli air strikes in Gaza. In a statement claiming responsibility for the rocket attacks, Islamic Jihad reiterated its opposition to any renewal of the truce that ends this week. – Kuwait Times, December 19.
Iran-Egypt political rift widens
Egypt has cancelled a scheduled visit of an Iranian delegation to Cairo, further escalating a political row between the two nations. Egypt’s Parliament Speaker Dr Ahmad Fathi Sorour announced the cancellation of an Iranian visit, which was supposed to arrange the final preparations toward a scheduled conference of the Islamic Parliament’s (IP) troika later this week. The IP’s troika is comprised of Egypt, which currently occupies the parliament’s chairmanship, Iran, where the IP headquarters are based, and Indonesia, which will head the next IP session.” The Iranian leaders’ hostile statements toward Egypt do not allow a serious preparation for conference,” said Sorour, according to the London-based daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. Sorour was referring to a statement made last week by ‘Ali Akbar Rafsanjani – former Iranian president and head of Iran’s Expediency Council – which criticized Egypt for closing its border with the Gaza Strip. “Islamic countries will one day be held accountable for their actions,” Rafsanjani was quoted as saying by the Iranian daily Tehran Times. – Daily News, Egypt, December 16.
Top security official warns Iran against involving GCC in nuclear conflict
A top security officer warned Iran against involving the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council States) in any conflict with the West, saying that the GCC will react strongly to any threat against its stability. In a rare reaction to Iranian leader’s threats, Lt.Col Dahi Khalfan Tamim, Commander-in-Chief of Dubai Police, told Gulf News that Gulf countries respect Iran as a neighbouring Muslim country, but will not accept any hostility that has direct impact on the lives of people in the region.”Our strong relations with Iranians don’t mean that government in the GCC will not react strongly to any work that will endanger its social stability and economic prosperity,” he warned. He also acknowledged that Iran might have sleeping agents in the region. “My advice to them [is to] keep them sleepy because it is not in the interests of Iranians in the region to destabilize host countries,” he said. -Gulfnews December 16.
Barak backs purposeful US-Iran dialogue
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed his qualified support for the prospect of an American-Iranian dialogue over Tehran’s nuclear program, the daily Yediot Ahronot reported yesterday. “There is sense in brief and purposeful dialogue with Iran, on condition that if it turns out that it (Iran) continues to deceive the world and is producing nuclear weapons, there will be a way out of this obligation” Yediot quoted Barak as saying at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University on Wednesday. – Arab News, December 19.
Printemps Explosives an Afghan Message to Paris?
French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday called for caution and firmness in confronting terrorism after police found explosives at the giant Printemps department store in Paris. The explosives were found after a group calling itself the Afghan Revolutionary Front sent a warning to the French news agency, AFP, that bombs were placed in the men’s toilets in the third floor of the busy department store located in the ninth district, demanding that France withdraw its 2,600 troops from Afghanistan by the end of February. – Middle East Times, December 17.
From Russia with love: Murr extracts promised gift of 10 fighter-bombers to Lebanon
Russia will deliver 10 MiG-29 fighter-bombers to the Lebanese Armed Forces, Defense Minister Elias Murr said on Tuesday after a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, in Moscow. According to Georges Soulage, a senior adviser to the defense minister, Murr announced after talks with Serdyukov that Russia would provide the 10 fighter planes to Lebanon and expressed the hope that the countries’ bilateral military cooperation would continue to grow. “This visit is the most important one that I have made since my appointment as defense minister,” Murr said. “It carries more than one meaning on the technical, military and political levels.” It is the start of a friendship as well as a professional military relationship between Lebanon and Russia,” he added. – The Daily Star, December 17.
Abbas to schedule elections soon
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday he will “very soon” schedule Palestinian elections in the absence of reconciliation with the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip. “We will very soon call presidential and legislative elections within the Palestinian Authority here in the West Bank and in Gaza,” Abbas told journalists. The Western-backed Palestinian president had earlier given the Islamist Hamas movement until the end of the year to accept reconciliation talks, warning he would otherwise call snap elections. – Gulf Times, December 16.
Pressure on Iran to continue, Arab states told
United Nations: Ministers from six major powers kicked off a rare meeting with several Arab countries here on Tuesday to assure them that they will maintain pressure on Iran to scale down its nuclear ambitions. The so-called P5-plus-1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council members (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) plus Germany – huddled behind closed doors with top representatives of Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Gulf Cooperation Council member states. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who on Monday said he would attend the gathering, did not show up and was represented by the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergei Kisliak. –Gulfnews, December 16.
Al Assad submits boundary plan for Golan Heights
Syria has drafted a document defining the boundaries of the occupied Golan Heights and was waiting for an Israeli reply through Turkish mediators, sources familiar with the talks said this week. President Bashar Al Assad recently told Western officials that Damascus wants Israel to take a clear position on the territorial problem between the two countries before agreeing to push stalled peace talks forward. The Syrian document sets the boundaries with reference to six geographical points, the sources said. “The president was clear that Syria wants to know the Israeli view about what constitutes occupied Syrian territory before progress could be made,” one of the sources said. “According to Syrian thinking, Israeli agreement on the six (geographical) points could help seal a peace deal next year. But Israel may not be able to provide a response any time soon, when it is in such political turmoil,” a second source said. –Gulfnews December 16.
Tehran demonstrations touch a raw nerve in Cairo
Egyptian officials and media have reacted with anger to recent demonstrations held by Islamist students outside the Egyptian embassy in Tehran. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry summoned the head of Iran’s interest section in Cairo to protest against the demonstrations and anti-Egyptian articles published in Iranian newspapers. Hundreds of Iranian students attacked the office of the Egyptian interest section in Tehran on December 9. They also chanted slogans against President Hosni Mubarak to condemn what they described as Egypt’s cooperation with Israel in imposing a blockade on Palestinians in Gaza. “What has Iran really offered to advocate the Palestinian rights?” said Nabeel Abdul Fatah of Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “The political sabre-rattling adopted by Iran exposes its officials’ lack of political maturity,” he told Gulf News. Diplomatic ties between Egypt and Iran were severed in 1979 after Cairo recognised Israel and signed a peace treaty with it. –Gulfnews, December 17.
(Photo credit: Palestinian militants fire rockets into southern Israel- Kuwait Times)