-FROM CANADA to the Middle East: A weekly roundup of news

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING 

From Canada to the Middle East. A weekly roundup of  news for Friday, March 20, 2009.

 

Canada ending funding to Arab group

(Canadian) Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is making no apologies for ending funding to the Canadian Arab Federation. He says the organization has expressed support for terror groups. In a speech to University of Toronto students, Kenney said federation president Khaled Mouamar believes Canada should regard Hamas and Hezbollah as “legitimate organizations.” Both Hamas and Hezbollah are on Canada’s list of groups “associated with terrorism,” according to the Public Safety Department’s website. A Toronto newspaper reports Kenney added that people in Canada “need to exercise freedom of expression responsibly” and should be wary of the rise of a new form of antisemitism. The federation’s executive director, Mohamed Boudjenane, was surprised by Kenney’s comments, noting they have a government contract to provide English to newcomers that runs until March 2010. “I don’t know what he is talking about,” Boudjenane said. Immigration Department officials in Ottawa say the CAF has two contracts with them – a LINC (language instruction for newcomers to Canada) contract for $2.1 million that ends March 31, 2009, and another for about $475,000 that runs until March 31, 2010. Neither will be renewed, said director of communications Alykhan Velshi in an e-mail. – London Free Press (Canada) March 19, 2009

 

 France keen to interact with Iran: official

TEHRAN (FNA) – A senior French official on Tuesday stressed his country’s eagerness to interact with the Islamic Republic of Iran. “The French policy is based on dialogue, so the country’s officials are interested in talks and exchange of views with the Islamic Republic of Iran on bilateral relations and regional developments,” the France Foreign Ministry’s Director for Middle-East and North African Affairs Patrice Paoli noted in a meeting in Tehran with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for European Affairs Mehdi Safari. During the meeting, the two sides discussed bilateral relations and regional developments, Afghanistan in particular. Paoli, who is currently on a daylong visit to Tehran, further underlined the two countries’ cooperation for establishment of peace and security, and asked for continued contacts between Tehran and Paris. Safari, for his part, stressed Iran’s significant role in establishing peace and security in the region, and described his consultations with the French officials as “positive”. – Tehran Times, March 18, 2009.

 Lebanon at a dangerous crossroad

 With parliamentary elections in Lebanon just around the corner, scheduled for next June, the country finds itself at a perilous political crossroad. One road will take the country toward a fair and democratic environment while the other could embark the nation on the road to political and social chaos. The choice is for the Lebanese to make. It’s true that other states in the region have their word to say; no election in Lebanon has ever taken place without Syria having to throw in its two piasters, and then some. The same can be said now of Iran which controls a good part of the Lebanese polity, through its strong influence with Hezbollah, a group they support with money and materiel – and now allied with Syria, the Big Brother next door. And Saudi Arabia has its word to say, as it has influence with the Hariri group, a prominent factor in the pro-democracy March 14 Movement, often referred to as anti-Syrian. That is somewhat of a misnomer. The collection of parties that make up the March 14 Movement, composed of Christians, Muslims and Druze, are not so much anti-Syrian as more pro-Lebanese, pro an independent Lebanon. Syria is a reality in Lebanon’s political life, one that the Lebanese have to live with. Even if there is no great love between the two countries, they are nevertheless destined to coexist as neighbours. So the sooner they accept each other as neighbours, the better off both countries will be. – Middle East Times, March 19, 2009.

Iraqi Army Besieges MKO Camp

The Iraqi Army force have besieged a camp housing Iranian rebel organization that opposes the Iranian Islamic regime in Iraq, an Interior Ministry source said on Monday. . . The Iraqi soldiers are allowing people or other supplies to enter or leave the camp, according to instructions made by Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, the Iraqi National Security Advisor, the source said. During his visit to Iran in January, Rubaie pledged to shut the camp within two months, saying “Camp Ashraf would be part of history within two months.” On March 2, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani also said that he intended to expel the Iranian organization of Mujahideen Khalq (MKO) from Iraq. Talabani’s comments came during a joint news conference with Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of Iran’s Expediency Council, who was visiting Iraq. – Iran News, March 20, 2009.

Iraq’s hard cash reserves estimated at more than $70 billion, minister says

Iraq could stash away up to $70 billion dollars from its oil sales in the past two years, Finance Minister Baqer Jaber Solagh said. The minister said the money was saved when oil prices surged and hovered at $150 for several months. Iraq’s exports have averaged 1.9 million barrels a day and despite the sharp drop in prices recently the country is working hard to boost output and exports. “Without these savings our conditions would have aggravated amid the drastic fall in oil prices and the current financial crisis,” Solagh said. He said Iraq has hard cash deposits of about $44 billion in the Central Bank and up to $30 billion in a fund the finance ministry administers. The minister made the remarks in response to reports that Iraq was facing a severe financial crisis due to the drop in oil prices. “Our conditions would have been similar to other oil-producing countries such as Venezuela if we had not set this money aside,” the minister said. Oil revenues make up 94% of Iraq’s hard cash revenues. – Azzaman (UK), March 18, 2009.

Egypt reopens border with Gaza for two days

RAFAH: Egypt reopened its Rafah border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Wednesday for two days to enable students and the sick to cross, a security official told AFP. “The border has opened for two days to allow the passage of Palestinian students and the sick who are stuck on the Egyptian side,” the border official said, asking not to be named. Border official Ghazi Hamad says more than 40 trucks carrying medicine and mineral water have crossed into Gaza so far. He says 120 Palestinians who were stranded in Egypt were also able to cross. The border will remain open until Thursday. – Daily News, Egypt, March 18, 2009.

Hamas members stopped from smuggling cash to Gaza

CAIRO: Two Hamas officials returning from Egypt were caught trying to cross the Gaza border Tuesday with nearly $850,000 stuffed into candy tins, an Egyptian security official said. Gaza’s Hamas rulers are dependent on the smuggling of cash and goods to keep their government afloat because the coastal territory has been subject to an embargo since the group took control there in June 2007. The two Hamas members were in Egypt with a delegation taking part in Egypt-mediated reconciliation talks with rival Palestinian factions. The talks have so far failed to produce an agreement on the formation of a unity government that would include Hamas and the more moderate Fatah movement that it ousted from Gaza. In response to the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Israel and Egypt have kept the territory’s borders sealed to all but a trickle of aid and supplies, forcing Hamas to smuggle cash across the border. The Hamas officials stopped Tuesday were traveling in a bus carrying members of different Palestinian factions involved in the reconciliation talks. A search of the bus at the border turned up the tins of sweets stuffed with €454,000 and $260,000 in cash instead of candy, said an Egyptian security official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Under Egyptian law, it is illegal to leave the country with more than $10,000 in cash. Authorities also confiscated two generators, a night vision scope and mobile phones, the official said. – Daily News, Egypt, March 18, 2009.

Israel compensating Kingdom for polluted water

AMMAN – Israel has compensated Jordan with freshwater after polluting the Yarmouk River with oil waste and sewage, contaminating the Kingdom’s already short water supply. “Jordan usually receives 60,000 cubic metres of water daily from Lake Tiberias in March, but following the contamination which caused us the loss of a similar amount, the country has received up to 180,000 cubic metres of water from the lake,” Jordan Valley Authority (JVA) Secretary General Musa Jamaani said yesterday. He told reporters that the Kingdom will receive another 50,000-60,000 cubic metres of water from Lake Tiberias this summer as part of the compensation. “If collected, the water received from Israel after the incident will be a lot more than the water we lost… As a matter of fact, Israel is obliged to cover for the quantity of water it polluted,” Jamaani said at the press conference in which he briefed members of the media on the government’s measures to address the incident, which triggered heated criticism from lawmakers and opposition parties. – Jordan Times, March 19, 2009.

Who said nearly 50 years ago that Israel was an apartheid state?

At the onset of international ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ in solidarity with the embattled Palestinian people, I want to start by quoting a South African who emphatically stated as far back as 1963 that “Israel is an apartheid state.” Those were not the words of Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu or Joe Slovo, but were uttered by none other than the architect of apartheid itself, racist Prime Minister, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd. He was irked by the criticism of apartheid policy and Harold Macmillan’s “Winds of Change” speech, in contrast to the West’s unconditional support for Zionist Israel. To be sure Verwoerd was correct. Both states preached and implemented a policy based on racial ethnicity; the sole claim of Jews in Israel and whites in South Africa to exclusive citizenship; monopolized rights in law regarding the ownership of land, property, business; superior access to education, health, social, sporting and cultural amenities, pensions and municipal services at the expense of the original indigenous population; the virtual monopoly membership of military and security forces, and privileged development along their own racial supremacist lines – even both countries marriage laws designed to safeguard racial “purity”. – Palestine Chronicle, March 18, 2009.

Riyadh likely to go its own way on Iran

Washington: US policymakers should not assume Saudi Arabia will “act in lockstep” with the United States in countering Iran’s influence in the Arab world, a Rand Corp report said on Tuesday. While the Saudis are often viewed as a “confrontational proxy” against Iran, Riyadh has a demonstrated tendency to hedge its bets, the research organisation said. Instead of lining up against Iran, the Saudi kingdom is pursuing a nuanced approach that incorporates elements of accommodation and engagement, the report said. There is a rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran but they also work together on various issues, including economic issues and regional security, said Alireza Nader, one of the authors, in an interview. “It is not a black and white relationship,” Nader said. – Gulf News (UAE), March 18, 2009.

Egypt wants Washington to soften stand towards Hamas

Egypt has sent a senior official to Washington to seek a relaxation of the US conditions for Hamas to join an internationally recognised Palestinian government. Egypt’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was in Washington on Tuesday, an Egyptian source said, amid ongoing Palestinian reconciliation talks in Cairo. Senior delegations from Hamas, Fatah and other groups started work eight days ago in committees formed to resolve their differences. “Egypt is making efforts with foreign parties, notably the US administration, to obtain agreement to a compromise formula that would be acceptable for Hamas and the international community,” Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine delegate Kayed al-Ghoul told AFP. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit is also currently in Brussels for talks with officials including European Union foreign policy chief Xavier Solana – Al Bawaba (Jordan), March 17, 2009.

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