What Others Are Saying. February 7, 2014

US grants Iran a seat at the next round of Geneva II conference on Syria – alongside big powers

Debka.com reports: The second round of the Geneva II conference on the Syrian conflict opens Monday, Feb. 10 – this time with a seat at the table for the Iranian delegation provided by Washington, DEBKAfile reports exclusively. Washington relayed this abrupt turnabout from its ban last week on Iranian representatives to the Tehran delegates quietly attending the secret alternative conference taking place unannounced in Bern.

Iran welcomes French business giants in landmark visit

France 24 reports: Iran welcomed the most senior French trade delegation in decades on Monday, with some 100 companies hoping to revive economic ties amid the easing of Western sanctions following a landmark agreement over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme. Semi-official Fars news agency said economic sectors such as information technology and hotel groups, as well as financial, banking and investment, water, aviation, cement, food industry, shipping, insurance and pharmaceutical companies are also represented in the delegation. Among the companies represented on the three-day visit were Safran, Airbus, Total, GDF-Suez, Renault, Alcatel, Alstom, Amundi and L’Oréal. The group of investors is the largest European business delegation to visit the country since the Islamic revolution in 1979. They met private Iranian business leaders on Monday and will attend an Iranian-French business conference on Tuesday. The visit follows similar delegations from the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, South Korea and other countries that have flocked to Iran recently to explore new trade opportunities after Iran reached a historic deal with world powers in Geneva on November 24.

Switzerland eager for closer trade ties with Iran: Envoy

Press TV, Iran reports: Swiss Ambassador to Tehran Giulio Haas says his country is eager to forge closer economic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In a meeting with Head of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (ICCIMA) Gholam Hossein Shafe’ee on Wednesday, Haas described Switzerland as one of the main European trade partners of Iran, noting that Bern-Tehran trade exchanges must further enhance given the existing potentials in both countries. Shafe’ee, for his part, said that Iran is eager to utilize Switzerland’s stable and market-based economy and improve its trade volume with the Central European country.

Turkey Continues Negotiations With Israel

Arab Times, Kuwait reports: Israel has offered Turkey $20 million in compensation to the families of those killed and wounded in its botched 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, Haaretz newspaper reported on Monday. Citing unnamed Western diplomats briefed on ongoing negotiations with Ankara, the daily said Turkey had yet to respond to the Israeli offer. The Turkish foreign ministry said only that the talks were continuing, but Hurriyet newspaper quoted an unnamed diplomatic source as saying there were “positive developments” in the negotiations on compensation. “An agreement is almost ready and is waiting for the finalisation of some minor issues before being submitted to the two countries’ leadership,” the Turkish paper quoted the source as saying.

Syria rebels seize most of Aleppo jail, free hundreds: activists

The Daily Star, Lebanon reports: Syrian rebels launched a new push in the northern province of Aleppo on Thursday to capture key symbols of the government and stormed a major section of a prison there, freeing hundreds of prisoners in the process, activists said. The advance came amid a relentless air campaign by government forces that killed at least 11 people in an opposition held neighborhood of the provincial capital of Aleppo. Activists said government aircraft dropped so-called barrel bombs – containers packed with explosives, fuel and scrap metal that inflict massive damage upon impact. At least 246 people, including 73 children, have died in the past five days alone in similar aerial bombardment of the city, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Iran comments on Holocaust during security conference

Albawaba News Agency, Jordan reports: Iran has backtracked on its previous denial of the extermination of Jews during World War II as part of its efforts to normalize ties with the West since the coming of moderate President Hassan Rouhani to power last year. Addressing an international security conference in Munich on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the killing of Jews by the Nazi regime was “tragically cruel and should not happen again.” “We have nothing against the Jews. We do not feel threatened by anyone,” Zarif added. But he noted that “the rights of the Palestinians have been violated by Israel for 60 years.” In an interview with ABC’s Georgre Stephanopoulos last year September, Zarif condemned the Holocaust as a “heinous crime” and “genocide.” Asked about the phrase “the myth of the massacre of Jews” which appeared in a translation of 2006 speech by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Zarif told Stephanopoulos: “The Holocaust is not a myth. Nobody’s talking about a myth.”

Jewish groups condemn Greek leftist politician for his anti-Semitic comments

European Jewish Press, Brussels reports: Jewish groups condemned anti-Semitic comments made on Facebook by a Greek politician from the main opposition party who claimed that by lighting candles in a synagogue last year, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was preparing ‘’a new Jewish victory over Greece.’’ The comments came to light this week as Theodoros Karypidis, from the radical left Syriza party, was selected at the weekend as candidate for the post of regional governor of Western Macedonia for the May elections. Karypidis is said to be a sympathiser of Golden Dawn, the Greek extreme-right and anti-Semitic party. On his Facebook page, Karypidis alleged that NERIT, an acronm for the country’s new state broadcaster, is derived from the Hebrew word for candle, “ner,” which he linked to the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, which commemorates the struggle of the Maccabees against the Greeks. “Samaras is lighting the candles in the seven branched candelabra of the Jews and lighting Greece on fire after his visit to the Thessaloniki Synagogue,” Karypidis wrote, adding that “he is organizing a new Hanukkah against the Greeks.”

The Arab region has reached the point of no return

Asharq Al-Awsat, UK reports: It is becoming clear that it is pointless to keep dealing with crises of coexistence in the Mashreq as though they were individual cases. There is only one big picture, albeit with many smaller details. Without having to tediously list the incidents taking place in the region on a daily basis, I presume that any rational person has become aware of the presence of political currents that have swept up the entire Middle East and taken it to the point of no return. Unless they are defeated or reach a dead end, these political currents will continue with their individual projects. So far none of the minor players have realized they have come to a dead end or that they have lost their gambles. Thus, we should expect these minor players to keep destroying their countries in order to benefit the interests of their major backers, who have enough reserves to allow them room to maneuver, and who enjoy adequate space to offer trade-ins and compromises at the expense of their minor dependents. The big picture of the region is one of a Shi’ite-dominated political trend that is both subservient to and controlled by Iran, which is seeking to extend its influence and make as many gains as possible through the use of force. Supporters of this trend justify their forceful approach on the pretext of fighting against the radical, indeed “terrorist,” reactions of the Sunni populations.

Technion- University Health Network to establish center for cardiovascular innovation

Israel 21c reports: The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology has joined forces with Canada’s University Health Network (UHN) to establish the Technion – UHN International Centre for Cardiovascular Innovation (Technion – UHN ICCI). Some C$10 million of the $75 million dollar project budget has been raised. “Heart disease is the major cause of death in OEDC countries, and the second leading cause of death in Israel and Canada. This collaboration holds significant potential for the development of new cardiovascular devices and regenerative medicine therapies, innovations that will benefit not only residents of Canada and Israel, but all mankind,” said Dr. Barry Rubin, the Medical Director of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre in Toronto. Canadian partners in the venture include the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine and the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre. The goal of the new center is to develop “new medical technologies and innovative applications in areas such as medical devices and stem cell therapies – medical innovations with substantial commercial potential, and provide a cure to millions of patients worldwide,” according to a statement. 

Returning Fire: Dutch Jews Boycott Anti-Israel Firm

Israel National News reports: Dutch Jews are making it clear they don’t intend to take the economic assault on Israel quietly. A group of young Jewish activists in the country have started a counter-boycott movement to make local firms feel the pinch for their discrimination against the Jewish state. The Dutch pension asset manager PGGM, one of the largest in the country, announced in early January that it was divesting from five Israeli banks because they finance “Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.” The firm manages about 153 billion euros ($208 billion dollars) in funds. In response, a group of young Dutch Jewish professionals called Tradition is Our Future (TOF) have have launched a boycott of their own. The group, whose goal is to defend Jewish life in the Netherlands, decided to take action after the PGGM divestment while noting a recent wave of anti-Israel fomentation. Some examples of this wave include Vitens, the largest drinking water company in Holland, which declared last December it was cutting ties with the Israeli water company Mekorot due to its presence in Judea and Samaria.

Sochi Ready To Welcome Jewish Guests

Chabad Lubavitch World HQ / News reports: As millions around the world watch national pride on display at the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia this Friday evening, Chabad of Sochi will be marking an olympian challenge of its own. Thousands of Jews—as many as 20,000—will have the opportunity to celebrate Jewish identity as they participate at Shabbat dinners and services hosted by Sochi’s Chabad center. Anticipating the needs that Jewish visitors—among them athletes, journalists and spectators—will bring with them during the two-week period of the Games, Rabbi Ari and Chani Edelkopf, directors of Chabad of Sochi since 2001, have been working at an intense pace to be ready for the rush. Unique to this challenge is that unlike other host cities of past Olympic games, like London and Vancouver that have large Jewish communities, Sochi has but one rabbi in town, and the distance between various sports arenas is considerable. With the guidance of Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, the Edelkopfs have recruited 12 rabbis in training to serve as chaplains; five Jewish information centers—in addition to the permanent Chabad center in Sochi—have been set up in strategic areas of the Olympic village, and Chabad has established three centers in each of the major hubs in Sochi: Sochi Central Synagogue located at Alpiskaya 90A; Krasna Palanya at the Marriott Hotel and one in the Olympic Park.

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