Thursday, April 29, 2010

Israel’s Dog & Pony Show

By: Sherine Tadros

Source: Al Jazeera

I recently jumped at the chance to take an all expenses paid helicopter ride over Israel and part of the West Bank.

The trip was courtesy of The Israel Project (TIP) which describes itself as a non-profit, non-partisan group working to impact world opinion for the sake of Israel's security.

The helicopter ride is meant as an "educational tour" for journalists and was inspired by George Bush, the former US president, who took a similar ride and reportedly said it opened his eyes to just how vulnerable Israel is.

The tour operates twice a month and has taken up over 1,400 journalists.
We (AJE cameraman Brad McLennan and I) met our guide and fellow journalists early in the morning, were bussed to an airport near Tel Aviv, treated to breakfast, and (after a security check that happened only to involve Brad and I and not the other two Israeli journalists) were taken up on a civilian helicopter for 45 minutes.
In mid air, an information pack was given to each of us - a neat little 80-page handbook explaining why we were really here.

To boil it down - Israel, the argument goes, is small and under threat from every side so the borders they have imposed are out of necessity not choice.

Hence the name of the tour nicely laminated on the front of the pack - "Defencible Borders: Strategic Options for Israel's Security".
Don't look down
Throughout the flight, our tour guide used a variety of maps, statistics, pie charts, drawings and graphs to explain the reason for the separation wall (deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice).

We have all heard the reasoning that it prevents terrorist attacks but what our guide was trying to explain was that it has swallowed up Palestinian land only in areas which would have exposed Israel and posed a security threat.
The wall has in fact taken 12 per cent of Palestinian land and drastically changed the landscape of Jerusalem creating a de facto border where Israel would like to see one and not where international law deems one should be.

If we were looking down we would have witnessed this reality, but instead most in the helicopter were busy looking at the diagrams.
What is amazing is that in our 45-minute ride we managed to avoid flying over any of the 120 illegal Jewish settlements that have been built on Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Not a word was said by our guide about these settlements - neither does it get a mention in our info pack.

Below is a taster of what we did see - the town of Modi'in which sits next to the settlement of Modi'in Illit (which I couldn't film because of the route we took).
The other argument made by our guide was that the separation wall (which he points out will be six per cent concrete and 94 per cent electronic wire fence when finished) was not a permanent international border but rather a defensive one.

Plans, he said, are being made for electronic key cards so that Palestinian farmers left outside the wall can access their lands now on the "Israeli" side.

When I asked our guide why Israel is making long-term plans for a border he just finished telling us was only temporary, he answered "because one day it will be permanent".

It's a simple strategy and one Israel uses unapologetically - creating facts on the ground they call temporary (because in theory they are still negotiating over these facts) while carrying out actions that would make a final settlement based on anything other than what they have already created almost impossible.
The middle of the tour involved landing in the southern Israeli town of Sderot. Here the guide explained how it was in fact Hamas that has imposed the siege in Gaza, a point I challenged him on ...
The Israel Project do not hide their aim - shaping media coverage of the conflict. This is after all is a battle for land where the court of public opinion matters.

To preserve Israel's interests (to secure a Jewish state with borders of its choosing) an effort must be made to explain and justify to the world the process by which that state is being created.

But the changes happening come at the expense of Palestinian statehood, and that is clear to see for all those who choose to look down

US oil leak 'worse than thought'

Source: Al Jazeera

The southern US state of Louisiana is seeking emergency help after reports that an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico was five times worse than previously thought.

Rear Admiral Mary Landry of the US coast guard said on Wednesday that the leak from an underwater oil well owned by British energy company BP was dumping 5,000 barrels, or nearly 80,000 litres, of oil a day into the Gulf.

"BP has just briefed me of a new location of an additional breach in the riser of the deep underwater well," Landry said.

She said the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration came up with the new estimate - up from 1,000 barrels a day - based on that information, aerial surveys and a study of the leak's trajectory.

The oil leak began on April 20 after an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig left 11 workers dead and led to its sinking two days later.

A massive oil slick has been created by the leak, sparking fears of an environmental disaster along the US Gulf coast, which could threaten wildlife as well as economically important fishing grounds and oyster beds.

Louisiana appeal

The slick was previously expected to reach Louisiana's shoreline sometime on Friday, but could now hit the state's coast sometime on Thursday.

Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, made an appeal to the federal government for emergency assistance to help protect its fragile coast.

"Our top priority is to protect our citizens and the environment. These resources are critical to mitigating the impact of the oil spill on our coast," Jindal said on Wednesday.

He also said he had spoken with Janet Napolitano, secretary of homeland security, to "outline the state's needs as we brace for the impact of the oil spill on our coast".

Specifically, Louisiana is requesting additional containment booms to cover coastal areas and block the slick from impacting fisheries.

Clean-up crews have been struggling to control the slick, with a fleet of vessels dispatched earlier in the week hampered by strong winds and high seas.

On Wednesday, BP engineers working with the coast guard set fire to parts of the slick, testing a technique to burn off some of the oil and slow its spread. Burning tests were expected to resume on Thursday.

Leaking well

Neither the US coast guard nor BP offered any new information on efforts to seal off the underwater well head that has caused the massive oil slick.

Four remote-controlled robotic submarines deployed to the leak site earlier in the week have so far failed to activate a shutoff device, called a "blowout preventer", at the head of the well.

As an emergency back-up, BP engineers are also working to construct a giant dome to place over the leaking well to contain it. Collected oil could then be pumped out of the structure.

Prentice Danner, a spokesman for the US coast guard, said that option will take between two to four weeks, and is so far an untested one.

A more sustainable plan to stem the oil flow - drilling a relief well to take the pressure off the initial one - is due to commence on Thursday, but BP has said that effort could take up to three months to complete.

US to probe confession under torture

Source: PressTV§ionid=3510203

A United States military court has held hearings to determine whether Guantanamo prison guards tortured a teenage Canadian suspect into confession.

A teenage Canadian citizen, Omar Khadr was captured in July 2002 after being accused of killing a US soldier in Afghanistan. He, eventually, admitted to the alleged offense.

Khadr's lawyers insist that his confessions to interrogators were the illegal outcome of torture tactics practiced by US interrogators, Reuters reported.

However, FBI agent Robert Fuller claimed Wednesday that Khadr's interrogation sessions were friendly, comfortable, and 'even included snacks and bathroom breaks'.

Fuller reportedly questioned Khadr seven times while he was held at the Bagram US airbase in Afghanistan eight years ago.

Fuller was one of more than 30 US interrogators who questioned Khadr in at least 142 sessions at Bagram and at the Guantanamo Bay, according to Khadr's defense lawyers.

A military judge agreed to review a sworn statement from Khadr, in which he insists on being forced to provide false confessions after being beaten, doused in freezing water, spat on, chained in painful positions, forced to urinate on himself and then used as a human mop, terrorized by barking dogs and subjected to sleep deprivation and rape threats.

The 23-year-old Khadr is the youngest, among the 183 captives held without charge, in the notorious Guantanamo detention center.

Israeli troops kill Gazan protester

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020202

Israeli soldiers have shot and killed a 20-year old Palestinian during a protest in the besieged Gaza Strip, along the heavily-guarded border with Israel.

Ahmed Salim was shot on Wednesday morning as dozens of Palestinians held a peaceful demonstration against a decision by Israel to build a buffer zone in the area.

Israeli soldiers opened fire on protesters to disperse the crowd which was estimated at a few hundreds.

"Ahmed was shot in the abdomen and moved to the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. He, however, died in the afternoon due to bullet injuries he had suffered,” the head of Gaza's emergency services Mo'aweya Hassanein told reporters.

Gazans have held numerous demonstrations in recent weeks against a newly-declared 300-meter no-go zone. Tel Aviv claims that the buffer zone is being constructed to prevent Palestinian resistance fighters from launching homemade rockets at Israel.

Palestinians maintain that the aim of the peaceful protests is to halt the establishment of the zone since it prevents them from reaching their farmland.

Al-Quds mayor denies settlement halt

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020202

Israeli authorities dismiss recent media reports announcing a settlement freeze had been ordered in East Jerusalem (al-Quds).

The Israeli media reported earlier in the week a direct order from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against new construction in East al-Quds under US pressure for a settlement freeze on occupied Palestinian lands.

However, the Israeli mayor of al-Quds, Nir Barkat, issued an uncompromising message on the issue in a Washington visit, dashing hopes of any halt to the settlement expansion plans.

"There's no freeze," he said during his tour of the US Congress on Wednesday. "There's a demand from Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem to build, and we're not going to stop it. It's illegal to stop it."

He acknowledged a "slowdown" in construction works amid widespread condemnation from the international community which came as a result of Israel's approval of plans for 1,600 new settlement units in East al-Quds in March.

Washington had a major share of the criticism as the Israeli Interior Ministry's announcement came during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden, who was in the region to help promote indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Republican congressmen, Barkat said East al-Quds construction has been paused out of respect for the US, adding that workers were now "back to business."

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee plans to convene a meeting next week, its first since the start of the settlement row in March.

Israel has so far ignored calls by Palestinians and the US for a halt to settlement activities in the West Bank and, in particular, al-Quds, which it claims as its "eternal, indivisible" capital.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Israeli warships fire on Gazan boats

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020202

Israeli navy warships have once again opened fire on Palestinian fishermen along the shore of the Gaza Strip, inflicting damage on their boats.

The Tuesday fire drove the Gazan fishermen away though they had stayed close to the coastline, the International Middle East Media Center reported.

The fire caused no casualties, it added.

Marine life and agriculture remain two of the Gaza Strip's staple sources of livelihood ever since mid-June 2007, when Tel Aviv subjected the coastal sliver to an all-out embargo, tightening the restrictions it had already put in place.

The coastline has, however, been polluted with sewage which Gaza has nowhere else to dump, given its broken waste disposal system.

The Israeli navy also carries out regular patrols of the shore to prevent the fishermen from sailing deep into the sea where they can net quality fish.

Israel has, meanwhile, declared 20 percent of the arable lands in Gaza a no-go area. Israeli forces would keep surveillance of the area and attack any farmer who might approach the “buffer zone.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chaos marks Ukraine base debate

Source: Al Jazeera

A government move to extend leasing rights for a Russian naval base in Ukraine has been ratified by the country's parliament amid angry protests by the opposition.

Opponents hurled eggs and detonated smoke bombs inside the parliament chamber, disrupting Tuesday's debate over the agreement.

Thousands of protesters also gathered outside the parliament building to demonstrate against the deal, which will allow Russia to keep its Black Sea fleet in Ukraine until 2042.

The chamber of the parliament filled with smoke as smoke bombs were released and Volodymyr Litvyn, the speaker, took shelter under his umbrella as eggs rained down on him.

But despite the disruption, the chamber managed to pass the agreement. Russia's state Duma also ratified the deal in a unanimous vote.

The approvals came a week after Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, and Viktor Yanukovych, his Ukranian counterpart, signed the deal over the navy base in Ukraine's Crimea region.

But Ukraine's opposition has criticised the renewal of the lease as a historic surrender of sovereignty.

Betrayal of interests

Ukrainian nationalists led by Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister, and Viktor Yushchenko, the former president, regard the base deal as a betrayal of Ukraine's national interests.

They wanted to remove it when the existing lease runs out in 2017.

Several politicians shouted "Shame, shame!" during Tuesday's debate as the parliament ratified the pact, with some 236 of the 450 seat chamber voting in favour.

Deputies also started fighting over a large Ukrainian flag in the middle of the chamber, twisting and distorting the yellow-and-blue banner as smoke continued to billow in the chamber.

Amid the chaos, some deputies tried to carry on with their business, with speakers taking to the floor.

Outside the building, thousands of supporters of Ukraine's former pro-Western government condemned the decision, shouting "Death to Traitors" and "Crimea is Ours".

A counter-rally was also staged, with demonstrators brandishing banners with slogans such as "Ukraine and Russia: Strategic Partners".

Russian gas deal

The fleet deal makes Ukraine eligible to receive a 30 per cent discount on gas imports in return for extending the lease on the base in Crimea.

It marks a dramatic turnaround in the country's ties with Russia, which had refused to do business with Ukraine's previous government.

Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister, held talks earlier on Tuesday with Ukraine's leadership, offering an unprecedented nuclear co-operation deal and admitting the gas deal had hurt the Russian budget.

"It's going to be a burden, of course. And a major one," Putin said of the gas deal after talks with Yanukovych and Mykola Azarov, Ukraine's prime minister.

"The amount that this has cost us is really something else. For this kind of money I could have eaten Yanukovych and your prime minister together."

Iran to sign oil deals with Europeans

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020103

An Iranian oil official says Tehran will sign new contracts with European oil firms despite the US-led sanctions against its oil and gas industry.

"The names of the European firms (with whom Iran is to sign contracts) will be announced only after the agreements are finalized," Hojatollah Ghanimifard, vice-president for investment affairs at the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) said Monday during a press conference at the Tehran International Oil and Gas Fair.

He noted that one of the companies interested in such a contract is French.

"The fact that some European firms have not signed any agreements with Iran this year is tied to the financial crisis in the respective countries," Ghanimifard said.

On Friday, Iranian Oil Minister Masoud Mirkazemi said Iran has become "quite an expert in tackling sanctions imposed by Western countries" over the past three decades.

Sources close to a congressional survey argue that Washington cannot afford to tighten the leash on Iran's foreign fuel suppliers as it would seriously damage US economy.

In a survey published on Thursday, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified more than 41 foreign companies that helped Iran develop its oil and gas sector over the past five years, the New York Times reported.

According to congressional investigators, the companies have enabled Iran to increase energy production and profits by offering expertise, equipment and financing as well as assistance with the construction of domestic oil and gas pipelines.

However, sources close to the survey said on condition of anonymity that imposing sanctions on the 41 companies will most likely damage the US economy since some of them are major global companies, prominent Japanese daily Yomiuri reported on Saturday.

The report comes at a time when Washington is preparing broad-based sanctions against companies supplying Iran with gasoline or helping it expand its refineries.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Iran calls for collective security treaty

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020101

With eyes fixed on foreign military presence in the Persian Gulf region, an Iranian lawmaker calls for a collective security treaty among Mideast countries.

“The continued presence of foreign military forces in the region has stoked insecurity and instability in our region,” said Kazem Jalali, Rapporteur of the Parliament (Majlis) National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, on Sunday.

"Under these conditions, Middle Eastern countries, particularly those along the Persian Gulf, should join one another in a collective security treaty to ensure regional safety," he added.

Iran has emerged as a vocal critic of the presence of foreign forces in the Persian Gulf region, notably the US military, which has bases in several Mideast countries including Iraq.

Arab states in the Persian Gulf have a long history of housing US military bases and combat equipments.

Kuwait plays host to US Patriots missiles, while the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet headquarters.

Qatar is also known to have a US air operations center that has played a central role in the US wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.

'US responsible for Iraq violence'

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020201

Iraq's Sadr movement holds US forces responsible for the recent wave of violence and insecurity in Iraq that has left numbers of people dead.

A leading Sadrist condemned Friday's bloody attacks on mosques in Baghdad.

Talal al-Sa'adi accused the occupation forces of launching terrorist attacks in order to weaken the government. He said that the United States does not want Iraq to have a strong government made up of different political parties because such a government would not be in Washington's best interest.

On Friday, a string of bombings rocked a market in central Baghdad and the capital's suburban district of Sadr City, leaving over 70 dead and more than 200 injured.

The blasts across the Iraqi capital are one of the deadliest waves of attacks to date, taking its toll on Shia mosques among other places.

Israel, Palestinians clash in al-Quds

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020202

Israeli police have clashed with Palestinians in East Jerusalem (al-Quds) ahead of an Israeli planned march through the Palestinian Silwan neighborhood.

Palestinians reported four people were injured by "stinking water" police used to disperse the demonstrators.

The violence broke out early Sunday ahead of an Israeli right-wing march, in what organizers say is an attempt to show Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem (al-Quds).

Israeli extremists demand the demolition of over 200 Palesinian homes in the area. The march's organizers say it's an attempt to show Israel's sovereignty over all of al-Quds.

Israel occupied the West Bank and al-Quds in 1967. The move has not been recognized by the international community.

Islamic Jihad ready to counter Israel

Source: PressTV

The Islamic Jihad resistance movement has announced that it is completely ready to defend the Palestinians against any Israeli aggressions.

"The Palestinian resistance has been supplied with better means to counter any Israeli aggressions," Islamic Jihad's deputy general secretary, Ziad Nakhla, said on Saturday.

Nakhla further highlighted the significance of unifying the Palestinian armed resistance movements, including Jihad and Hamas, against Israel.

Meanwhile, a group of Palestinian demonstrators gathered in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday to protest the illegal confiscation of their land by Israeli forces for the creation of a 'security buffer zone' along the northern border between Gaza and Israel.

The demonstrators also said that they were protesting the ongoing siege and attacks against the residents and their property.

During the demonstration, Israeli troops opened fire on the protesters, wounding five Palestinians and an international peace activist.

Syria responds to 'Stone Age' threats

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020206

Syria has threatened to strike back at Israel with missiles in response to a recent Israeli threat about sending Syria back "to the Stone Age," a Kuwait newspaper reports.

After an Israeli official said that Israel could send Syria back to the Stone Age, a source close to decision-makers in Damascus told the Kuwaiti Manbar Al Rai newspaper on Saturday that Syria could send Israel "back to prehistoric times" if the Israelis attacked with unconventional weapons.

Last week, an unidentified Israeli minister was quoted in London's Sunday Times as saying, "We'll return Syria to the Stone Age by crippling its power stations, ports, fuel storage and every bit of strategic infrastructure if [Hezbollah] dares to launch ballistic missiles against us."

"In a message, sent earlier this month, Israel made it clear that it now regards Hezbollah as a division of the Syrian army and that reprisal against Syria will be fast and devastating," the newspaper quoted the Israeli official as saying.

The article went on to say that the warning, which was conveyed to Damascus by a third party, was aimed at reinforcing an earlier statement by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has said that if war breaks out, "the Assad dynasty will lose its power and will cease to reign in Syria."

The threats came after Israel alleged that Syria had recently provided Lebanon's Hezbollah with medium-range Scud missiles. On Thursday Damascus strongly denied the accusations of delivering Scud missiles to the group.

"For some time now, Israel has been running a campaign claiming that Syria has been supplying Hezbollah with Scud missiles in Lebanon," a Syrian foreign ministry statement said.

"Syria strongly denies these allegations which are an attempt by Israel to raise tensions in the region," it added.

"Israel is seeking to create a climate that will pave the way for an eventual Israeli attack to avoid responding to the demands of a just and comprehensive peace," it concluded.

Afghan anti-US protest turns violent

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020403

A crowd of hundreds block a highway in central Afghanistan and have torched five NATO fuel tankers to protest the killing of three people by US-led forces.

US and Afghan troops raided a house in Puli Alam, capital of Lugar Province south of Kabul, killing three men and arresting two others on Saturday. This is while the Afghans assert the occupants of the house were innocent civilians.

Early Sunday, hundreds of local residents blocked the main highway linking the capital city to the southeastern provinces, Din Mohammad Darwish, spokesman for the provincial governor, told a Press TV correspondent.

"The protestors burned five tankers that were transporting fuel to NATO forces in the province," he said, adding that they were dispersed by police.

Demonstrators chanted anti-US and anti-government slogans, asking for an independent investigation into the killings.

"Most of the protesters are relatives of the three dead men," Darwish said, adding that the provincial governor had assigned a team to investigate the incident.

The protest came two days after another demonstration in the same area by residents slamming the US forces for killing five civilians during a raid on Thursday.

Dozen NATO tankers burn in Pakistan

Source: PressTV

Militants have killed at least four police officers in a gun battle following an attack on a NATO fuel cargo in eastern Pakistan which left a dozen tankers ablaze.

Unknown gunmen attacked oil tankers bound for a US base in neighboring Afghanistan near Kawal Village on Talagang-Mianwali road in eastern Punjab Province, local police officials told a Press TV correspondent late on Saturday.

The militants targeted 12 tankers parked at a petrol pump, drawing a large police contingent, who cordoned off the area.

Four police officers were killed and two others were injured in an exchange of fire that ensued.

So far no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistan is the main supply route for the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan who receive up to 80 percent of their supplies via routes that pass through Khyber region in the northwestern Pakistan and the southwestern Chaman border crossing in Balochistan.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Erekat: Israel incites settler violence

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020202

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has blasted Tel Aviv for inciting a new wave of Israeli settler violence as part of a culture of vandalism and extremism.

"Settler violence and the wanton destruction of Palestinian property replicate what is being done on a much larger scale by Israel as it pushes ahead with illegal settlement construction across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem (al-Quds)," Erekat said in a statement on Wednesday.

"They bring into full view the violence that underpins Israel's policy of illegal settlement construction and the cost to Palestinians," he added.

The Palestinian official described Israeli settlers as the direct beneficiaries of Tel Aviv's policy which encourages occupying Palestinians' land and demolishing their houses to further expand its "apartheid system that promotes settlements by stripping Palestinians of their basic rights and freedoms."

"The result is a culture of violence, hatred and extremism in which Israeli settlers, often accompanied by Israeli soldiers, run riot across the West Bank," Erekat noted.

The remarks come a day after a group of residents from the Israeli settlement of Givat Hayovel uprooted 250 olive tree seedlings planted by Palestinian farmers in the village of Qaryut to mark Earth Day.

On Monday, settlers attacked the General Union of Palestinian Workers' housing complex in Ein Sinyia, north of Ramallah, destroying water tanks and nearby property.

Israeli settlers also vandalized a mosque in the village of Huwwara last week and painted racist slogans on its walls. They also torched two cars and damaged more than 300 olive trees.

Erekat charged Israeli officials with encouraging extremists "to intimidate and destroy at will, armed with the absurd notion that they have a divine right to steal, to vandalize and to persecute another people."

He reiterated his criticism of Israel's refusal to halt expansion of illegal West Bank settlements as "the major obstacle to peace and the greatest threat to the two-state solution."

The settlements "are a black hole in which hopes of peace are fast disappearing," he warned.

'Blackwater/Xe behind Pakistan unrest'

Source: PressTV

The former leader of Pakistan's opposition party Jamaat-e-Islami has accused the US security firm Blackwater/Xe of being behind the unrest in the country.

Speaking to reporters in Peshawar, Qazi Hussain Ahmad said that the situation in the country would never improve if the government in Islamabad continued to be the frontline ally of Washington.

"The rulers have been fighting the US war in our own streets, which is fanning unrest," he added.

On Wednesday, Jamaat-e-Islami chief Syed Munawar Hassan told Press TV that Pakistan's alliance with the US was the main reason behind a surge in bomb attacks across the country.

"The notorious Blackwater agents are behind the bomb and suicide attacks in our country as the US wants to destabilize Pakistan… after invading neighboring Afghanistan," he said.

The people of Pakistan are united against the US and are ready to force the government to end its alliance with Washington on the so-called war against terror, he added.

Gazans unify in anti-Israel protest

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020202

Demonstrators have taken to the streets in the northern Gaza Strip to protest the expulsion of Palestinians without Israeli documents from the West Bank.

More than 1,500 activists from different Palestinian factions, including Hamas, Fatah and the Islamic Jihad movement, joined protestors who marched to the Erez border crossing on Wednesday.

The demonstrators shouted anti-Israeli slogans and called for unity among Palestinian factions.

"We have all come together to show political rift does not stop us from standing up to the racist Israeli regime," said Ismail Radwan, a senior Hamas official, quoted by a Press TV correspondent in the Gaza Strip.

In the rival Fatah party, acting Palestinian Authority chief has also lashed out at the expulsion of Palestinians from West Bank by the Israeli army, describing it as a provocation by Tel Aviv.

The Palestinian Authority has warned to lodge a complaint with the UN Security Council.

The remarks come amid mounting calls from impatient Palestinians who have been demanding that feuding factions put away their differences and form a united front against the Israeli aggression.

"We must reconcile in order for our people to be steadfast and strong in the face of powers who want to erase the Palestinian cause," Hesham Abdel Rezaq, a Fatah official, said.

Khalid al-Batsh from the Islamic Jihad movement highlighted the significance of armed resistance against the Israeli enemy and called on Muslim and Arab nations to support the Palestinian cause.

Israel has expelled some 200 Palestinians from the West Bank in the past week.

NASA unveils dramatic new Sun images

Source: PressTV§ionid=3510208

NASA has recently unveiled the first images and videos captured by its Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) to unlock mysteries of the Sun to scientists.

NASA's February-launched SDO took the pictures and videos exclusively for illustrating the full range of the Sun's magnetic activity in unparalleled detail.

The spacecraft's images show never-before-seen detail of material streaming outward and away from sunspots and extreme close-ups of activity on the sun's surface.

Its high-resolution measurements of solar flares in a broad range of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths offer unprecedented capability to scientists.

"These initial images show a dynamic sun that I had never seen in more than 40 years of solar research,” said Richard Fisher, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

During its five-year mission, it will examine the sun's magnetic field and also provide a better understanding of the role the sun plays in Earth's atmospheric chemistry and climate.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

IMF proposes global bank tax plans

Source: PressTV§ionid=3510213

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has proposed new taxes on financial institutions to cover the costs of future potential bailouts, leaked documents show.

According to the IMF proposals circulated to the Group of 20 advanced and developing countries on Tuesday, the measures would see all institutions pay a bank levy as well as a further tax on profits and pay.

The IMF further explained that unrecovered costs of bank rescues in the most affected G20 states represent 4 to 5 percent of their GDP.

G20 finance ministers this weekend are to discuss the proposals that were meant to be kept confidential, but were leaked to the BBC.

Different governments have already offered several proposals aimed at covering the costs of future economic rescue packages.

British Finance Minister Alistair Darling welcomed the contents of the leaked IMF proposals on Tuesday.

"The recognition that banks should make a contribution to the society in which they operate is right," Darling said.

Meanwhile, the British Bankers' Association (BBA) said it had expected a tax or a levy.

“It appears it might be both. We must wait to see what is actually being proposed and how it will be calculated, but at first sight it appears wider than expected,” Angela Knight, the BBA chief executive, stated.

Hezbollah warns of Israeli invasion

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020203

Recent breaches of the Lebanese border and rising violations of the country's airspace by Israeli forces have prompted warnings of renewed Israeli aggression.

"The Israeli enemy is going too far with its aggressive and provocative acts," said Hezbollah official Ali Fayyad, who also represents Marjayoun and Hasbaya in the Lebanese parliament.

Fayyad called on the Beirut government to file a complaint against the rising intensity of Israeli provocations and violations of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

The remarks come after the Lebanon accused the Israeli army of dropping a number of flare-bombs over the village of Abbasiyah late on Saturday.

"This is construed as further provocation by the enemy who has been pushing the line of attack further and further on Lebanon," the Lebanese army said in a statement the next day.

Israeli warplanes also violated Lebanon's airspace and performed maneuvers in the skies above Beirut, Baabda, Naqoura and large parts of the south, the statement added.

In an interview with AFP, Fayyad earlier condemned Washington for echoing Israeli allegations that Syria had been delivering long-range ballistic missiles to Hezbollah, claims that both Damascus and Beirut vehemently rejected.

"With this position, [the Americans] are encouraging Israel to carry out an aggression against Lebanon that they are trying to endorse at the international level," he said.

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri on Monday ridiculed allegations over Hezbollah's arsenal, likening them to false US claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which Washington used as a pretext to invade the country in 2003.

Iran wants nuclear fuel guarantees

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020104

Iran says it is still waiting to receive "tangible assurances" from Western powers on the supply of fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.

A deal US brokered in the UN nuclear watchdog proposed that Iran ship a large proportion of its domestic low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad for conversion into fuel rods for the Tehran research reactor.

Iran dismissed the deal, arguing that the West had failed to provide enough guarantees that the fuel would actually be delivered to Tehran, and instead proposed the simultaneous exchange of the shipment on its own soil.

On Wednesday, the Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi reiterated that while the Tehran government had accepted the basics of the nuclear swap deal, it still wanted cast-iron guarantees from Western countries on the proposal which would include simultaneous fuel swap on Iranian soil.

Salehi added that Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will touch on the issue in meetings with members of the UN Security Council on the side lines of a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review meeting in New York.

He, however, said that "there are alternative methods that the foreign minister will detail them after meeting Security Council members."

Salehi added that "a letter has been written to the International Atomic Energy Agency, asking the UN nuclear watchdog to introduce countries that are able to provide fuel for the Tehran research reactor."

Anti-govt. demos held in Egypt

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020502

Dozens of anti-government protesters have taken to the streets of the Egyptian capital Cairo to demand more political freedom.

The demonstrators slammed calls by politicians and officials loyal to President Hosni Mubarak to use force against anti-government protesters.

They also called for an end to emergency rule that allows indefinite detentions of people under the pretext of national security.

A lawmaker earlier questioned the Interior Ministry for being soft on the protesters. He said anti-government protesters should be shot.

Amnesty International has condemned the MP's outrageous remarks, saying that it was "a clear incitement to excessive force and potentially unlawful killing of protesters."

Mubarak has been the President of Egypt since 1981.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Barak urges end to occupation

Source: Al Jazeera

Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, has said that his country must recognise that the world will not put up with decades more of Israeli rule over the Palestinian people.

Speaking to Israel Radio on Israel's Memorial Day on Monday, Barak acknowledged that there was no way forward in negotiations with the Palestinians other than to meet their aspirations for a state of their own.

"The world is not willing to accept - and we will not change that in 2010 - the expectation that Israel will rule another people for decades more," he said.

"It is something that does not exist anywhere else in the world.

"There is no other way, whether you like it or not, than to let them [the Palestinians] rule themselves."

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled since Israeli forces launched a 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip in December 2008.


Barak heads the Labour Party, the most moderate member of the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and it was not clear if his remarks were his personal opinion or reflecting a changing attitude within the government.

He said that Netanyahu's government had "done things that did not come naturally to it", such as adopting the vision of two states for two peoples and curtailing settlement construction.

"But we also should not delude ourselves. The growing alienation between us and the United States is not good for the state of Israel," he said.

Washington and its long-time ally have been at odds in recent months over Israel's continuing settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Barack Obama, the US president, recently issued a pessimistic assessment of peacemaking prospects, saying that his country could not force its will on the Israelis and Palestinians if they were not interested in making compromises.

The Israeli defence minister said that the way to narrow the gap with the US was to embark on a diplomatic initiative "that does not shy from dealing with all the core issues" dividing Israelis and Palestinians.

Chief among these are the status of Jerusalem, final borders and a solution for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Middle East war.

Meanwhile, in an interview Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America", Netanyahu south to minimise differences with the US and said he would not accept Palestinian demands that Israel stop building in predominantly-Arab East Jerusalem.

He said that the US and Israel "have some outstanding issues. We are trying to resolve them through diplomatic channels in the best way that we can".

Later on Monday, Netanyahu told the audience at the national cemetery that Israel is eager for peace, but is ready to confront its enemies.

"We extend one hand in peace to all our neighbours who wish for peace. Our other hand grasps the sword of David in order to defend our people against those who seek to kill us," he said.

Israel's Memorial Day, which is dedicated to the nearly 23,000 fallen soldiers and civilian victims of attacks, is observed with a two-minute nationwide siren when people stand at attention, traffic is halted and everyday activities come briefly to a standstill.

At sundown on Monday, the sombre Memorial Day will switch to Israel's 62nd Independence Day celebrations.

US to launch secret 'space warplane'

Source: PressTV§ionid=3510203

The United States Air Force has announced that it will launch a secret space plane that has sparked speculation about the militarization of space.

The Pentagon has set April 21 as the date for the launch of the robotic space plane known as the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), which is a reusable unmanned plane capable of long outer space missions at low orbits.

Since the nature of the project is shrouded in mystery, defense analysts allege that the US military is building the first generation of US 'space Predator drones' that will build up the United States' space armada, the Christian Science Monitor wrote in a recent article.

Military experts argue that the US Department of Defense would not have saved NASA's costly X-37B project, which had been scrapped, if it did not have a military application.

They say the US wants to maintain a leading role in space via the development of the new 'space weapon' at a time when other countries like China are expanding their space programs.

However, US military officials maintain that the X-37B will only be used for transporting payloads and facilitating space experiments.

The OTV is capable of supporting a range of tests, the Air Force spokesperson for the project said earlier at the 26th National Space Symposium.

"The first mission will emphasize proving technologies necessary for long duration reusable space vehicles with autonomous reentry and landing capabilities," Angie Blair added.

She went on to say that the "specific details of the OTV capabilities, limitations and vulnerabilities" remain classified.

The X-37B can stay at an orbit between 200 and 800 kilometers for around 270 days before landing automatically at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, reports say.

The location of the mission control center for the Boeing-made space vehicle is also a classified secret, but Blair says that Air Force Space Command's 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron (AFSPC) will run the operation.

Military space specialist Professor Roger Handberg, who is the chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, told that the X-37B project may signify continued U.S. Air Force interest in a rapid response vehicle along the lines of the long-proposed space maneuver vehicle.

He added that the project could be viewed "as the logical extension of the push into unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) where vehicles used for observation have moved into weapon carriers and various other missions, many classified."

"From the perspective of international observers, especially in space-aspiring states such as China, the X-37B program just reinforces their view that the U.S. is pushing to gain first mover advantage in rapid response, including possible weaponization of space using this vehicle or a derivative," Handberg noted.

Political analysts say that the X-37B project could be interpreted as a violation of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 if the space plane is used for military purposes.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967, officially known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, states that the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind; states shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner; the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes; astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind; states shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects; and states shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty states: "A State Party to the Treaty which has reason to believe that an activity or experiment planned by another State Party in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, would cause potentially harmful interference with activities in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, may request consultation concerning the activity or experiment."

In addition, a proposal has been put forward for a Space Preservation Treaty that would ban all space weapons, but no country has signed the treaty so far.

US demands Chinese action on yuan

Source: PressTV§ionid=3510213

A top US lawmaker has threatened China with trade measures by Washington if Beijing does not raise the value of its currency yuan.

Amid speculations about an ensuing trade war, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander Levin says the Obama administration will try to gain global support to pressure China to revalue its currency.

"If it doesn't work, the US will act. I have no doubt about it. I think the administration will act and I think the Congress will act," the Democratic congressman from Michigan said on Monday.

The warning came a weak after Chinese President Hu Jintao told President Barack Obama that the value of the yuan will neither balance Sino-US trade, nor solve America's unemployment problem. Hu reiterated that China will firmly stick to its own path for yuan's reform.

American industry groups have filed a petition saying China is subsidizing its aluminum exporters by depreciating its currency.

They have asked for steep duties on Chinese imports as well, although the US Commerce Department has declined to probe into similar complaints in 10 previous cases.

The Department says it was nearing a decision on Chinese currency probe.

Levin also gave China an ultimatum to increase the value of its currency before the Group of 20 summit meeting in Canada at the end of June or face further measures.

Beijing has frozen the yuan's exchange rate against the dollar since mid-2008.

Beijing's decision not to deviate from its strategy comes in response to market volatility experienced during the global financial crisis and ongoing uncertainty in international markets.

PA condemns ethnic cleansing plan

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020202

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has condemned Tel Aviv's plan for the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland.

The Israeli military recently announced the measure, according to which anyone caught in the occupied West Bank without an Israeli entry or residency permit would be labeled an "infiltrator."

Acting PA chief Mahmoud Abbas said, "Israel does not have the right to deport any Palestinian, the Palestinian Authority will not allow it," the Ma'an news agency reported on Monday.

“Israel's decision is an act of provocation and was meant to anger Palestinians," he added.

"Our basic agreement with Israel is that the West Bank and Gaza are one geographic entity under the Palestinian Authority,” Abbas asserted, but failed to acknowledge the authority of the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas over the Gaza Strip.

Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip since wining the Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006.

US summons Syrian diplomat

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020203

The US has summoned a Washington-based Syrian diplomat to protest what Israel has claimed to be efforts to supply the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah with missiles.

Based on the allegations that Syria is equipping Hezbollah with Scud missiles, the most senior Syrian diplomat in Washington, Deputy Chief of Mission Zouheir Jabbour was obligated to report to the US Department of State on Tuesday, AFP reported.

The move was to serve as a warning on what the department's deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid called, “Syria's provocative behavior concerning the potential transfer of arms to Hezbollah."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Wednesday that "we are obviously increasingly concerned about the sophisticated weaponry that is allegedly being transferred."

Also on Wednesday, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said, "If [Scuds have been transferred into Lebanon], and we continue to analyze this issue ... clearly it potentially puts Lebanon at significant risk."

Hezbollah-affiliated lawmaker Ali Fayyad on Saturday said Washington is inciting Israel to launch another war on Lebanon by saying it is worried by the alleged transfer.

The United States is "placing itself in a position of complicity in the event of aggression [on Lebanon] and it will have to take responsibility," Fayyad was quoted by AFP as saying.

Earlier in the month, Tel Aviv communicated a threatening message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In the 'secret' message, Israel alleged that Hezbollah may launch an attack on Israel using the projectiles, threatening to engage Syria in a war if such missile offensive by the Lebanese movement materialized.

Turkey backs Iran, restates diplomacy

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020104

Turkey says that it has always supported Iran's stance on its nuclear issue and has reemphasized that any coercive measure against Tehran would prove ineffective.

"Turkey has always supported Iran's stance when it comes to the nuclear program," said visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglo in a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki on Tuesday.

The Turkish official rejected any punitive measures against Iran, saying that the Iranian nuclear issue could best be resolved through diplomatic means.

"We need to resort to diplomatic means to solve the problem and military means, attacks, sanctions or embargoes will not be fruitful," he stated, adding that all nations are entitled to peaceful nuclear energy, but atomic weapons have no place in the world.

"Having access to nuclear energy is the right of all nations but we need to oppose atomic weapons no matter where they are in the world because they endanger the future of mankind and they would create problems."

On a UN-backed deal that would provide fuel for Tehran's research reactor, the top diplomat said that Turkey would be willing to act as a mediator and Ankara would "do its best" to see what it could do for the fuel swap.

Turning to economic cooperation, Davutoglo said that energy cooperation between Iran and Turkey is ongoing and that he hoped it would increase in the near future.

Mottaki, for his part, hailed the growing economic relations between Tehran and Ankara, saying that he hoped the volume of bilateral trade would rise to $20 billion.

Regarding the fuel swap, Mottaki said that it still stands and could act as a "confidence-building" measure for both Iran and the other side.

He added that Iran would stick to its "logical stance" on its nuclear energy program.

More violence grips Kyrgyzstan

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020406

Five people have been reported killed and 13 injured as hundreds of angry protesters clash with landowners just outside Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek.

Amid mystery over the whereabouts of the country's ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, more violence gripped Kyrgyzstan on Monday.

Ethnic Kyrgyz rioters seized plots of land from Russians and Turks in Mayevka, a village outside Bishkek, prompting the country's interim government to send in hundreds of police to quell the unrest.

"The police and internal forces have established order in the village. Forty instigators of the riots have been arrested," the head of the interim government, Roza Otunbayeva, told reporters.

The violence was the latest challenge to the interim government which seized power in Kyrgyzstan this month in the wake of a popular uprising that ousted the president.

So far, the interim government has failed to establish full control over the country, a mountainous former Soviet republic which is home to a US air base used to supply operations in nearby Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, officials in neighboring Kazakhstan say the deposed Kyrgyz president has left for an unknown destination. Bakiyev had sought refuge in Kazakhstan in the aftermath of a bloody uprising in his country last month.

He is wanted by the interim Kyrgyz government in connection with the deaths in the revolt that unseated him on April 7. More than 80 people were killed and hundreds more wounded in the unrest.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Troops return to Bangkok streets

Source: Al Jazeera

Hundreds of Thai troops armed with assault rifles have blocked off Bangkok's financial district, a day after vowing to "punish" anti-government protesters if they march there.

The government had earlier declared Silom Road, a thoroughfare lined with bank headquarters and office buildings, off-limits to the so-called "red shirts" after they said on Saturday that they might take their protest to the financial district this week.

Soldiers and riot police initially blocked entry into the road early on Monday, but then pulled back to protect a key target of the protesters: the headquarters of the Bangkok Bank which was barricaded by barbed wire.

The red shirts claim the bank has close ties to the government and have protested in front of the building on a smaller scale before.

Many of the demonstrators, who had earlier faced-off against the troops across an intersection, also pulled back on Monday.

'Enforce the law'

Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay, reporting from Bangkok, said the red shirts had announced that they would hold a big rally on Tuesday and could possibly move around the city from their base in the main Rachaprasong shopping area.

They had intended to set up another protest site in the financial district, much like their main encampment in the commercial centre.

The red shirts later said they would not take to Silom Road, our correspondent said, but there was still the possibility they would make good on their threat to fan out across the city again to once again raise the level of protest to put more pressure on the government to resign.

There were signs, however, that the military was taking the red shirts seriously, our correspondent said, and government forces said the protesters would not be allowed to move around the city.

Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, a spokesman for the army, said the troops "won't let [protesters] go anywhere further".

He stopped short of using the word "crackdown" but said: "We will not allow people to hurt police officers, soldiers or civilians again - or to seize military vehicles or weapons."

He added that protesters occupying an upscale shopping and hotel district nearby would be dealt with.

"Let's say that we are left with no choice but to enforce the law," Sansern told TNN television.

"Those who do wrong will get their punishment. Taking back the area along with other measures are all included in enforcing the law. All this must be done."

Sansern said security forces would be sent to secure high-rises around the demonstration area to prevent the "third hand" from launching attacks.

At least 25 people were killed, including senior military officers, and more than 800 people were wounded, including about 300 soldiers, in clashes between troops and demonstrators on April 10, the first outbreak of violence in the six-week long protests.

The government accuses "terrorists" or the "third hand" - unknown provocateurs - armed with guns and other weapons of orchestrating the violence and says weapons were stolen from the military.

Yellow shirts' warning

Adding to concerns about further unrest, leaders of the so-called "yellow shirt" movement said on Sunday that they would take action themselves and hold a mass rally unless the government "strictly and efficiently enforces the law" to deal with the crisis.

The yellow shirts, representing royalists, the business elite, aristocrats and urban middle class and led by People's Alliance for Democracy (Pad), are opposed to Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted prime minister whom many of the red shirts support.

They would not reveal their exact plans should the authorities fail to clear the streets of the red shirts, our correspondent said, but they did not rule out direct confrontation with the Thaksin supporters who have occupied Thailand's streets since March 12.

The yellow shirts staged a crippling eight-day blockade of Bangkok's airports in December 2008, which left more than 230,000 tourists stranded, disrupted trade and led to credit rating downgrades for Southeast Asia's second-largest economy.

The siege ended when the then ruling party, aligned with Thaksin, was dissolved for electoral fraud, paving the way for Abhisit Vejjajiva to become prime minister after a parliamentary vote the red shirts say was influenced heavily by the military in a "silent coup".

The red shirts, formally known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, want Abhisit to step down, dissolve parliament and call new elections.

But the prime minister has rejected claims that his government is illegitimate and has refused to step down.

Abhisit failed to deliver his regular televised address on Sunday for a second week and has been uncharacteristically reclusive since last week's clashes.


The red shirts were initially camped in a historic district of Bangkok, and it was a failed attempt by security forces on April 10 to flush them from that neighbourhood that led to the worst political violence Thailand has seen in 18 years.

Since then, there has been an uneasy calm, with few troops on the streets and the protesters consolidating at their "final battleground" in Bangkok's main shopping area in Rachaprasong.

The protests have scared off tourists and rattled the stock market, and in another blow to the vital tourism sector, which accounts for six per cent of the economy, the military declared the main shopping area unsafe on Sunday.

Sansern said military checkpoints were being set up at entry points to the capital and within Bangkok to try to prevent more protesters from reaching the main rally site.

"The protest area is unsafe. Authorities need to control it by sending security personnel into the surrounding high-rise buildings," Sansern told a news conference.

He said soldiers would help "prevent people with ill intentions from infiltrating the area".

But Jatuporn Prompan, one of the red shirt leaders, said on Sunday that "the authorities have always tried to block people from joining us, but still we are getting more people".

The seemingly intractable crisis has fuelled speculation that, with the government and security forces in disarray and concerns about clashes between rival demonstrators, hardliners within the military may decide to stage a coup to end the impasse, a move analysts say would likely backfire.

Israel threatens Syria with war

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020202

Israel has tried to justify a war on Syria, claiming it could be attacked by Syrian-supplied missiles of Lebanon's Hezbollah resistance movement.

Based on allegations that Syria is equipping Hezbollah with Scud missiles, Tel Aviv communicated a menace-laden message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier this month, the British weekly newspaper The Sunday Times reported Sunday.

In the 'secret' message, Israel alleged that Hezbollah may launch an attack on Israel using the projectiles, threatening to engage Syria in a war if such missile offensive by the Lebanese movement materializes.

“We'll return Syria to the Stone Age by crippling its power stations, ports, fuel storage and every bit of strategic infrastructure if Hezbollah dares to launch ballistic missiles against us,” the paper quoted an Israeli minister as saying.

Last week, Syrian Foreign Ministry rejected the Israeli allegations, insisting that the claims were meant to justify military actions against Syria and provide it with the excuse to avoid peace.

Also, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem on Saturday described the Israeli allegations as "cover-up" for its somewhat uneasy ties with the United States and its nuclear arms program.

Both Syria and Lebanon have areas occupied by the Tel Aviv regime and have invariably supported each others' anti-Israeli stance.

Tel Aviv has recently reinforced the verbal aspersions with action by intruding into Lebanese border town of Abbassiyeh and firing flares over southern Lebanon.

Poll: US hit by confidence crisis

Source: PressTV

US President Barack Obama grapples with confidence as opinion polls indicate Americans' trust in his administration stands at a near all-time low.

A survey from the Pew Research Center released on Sunday shows nearly 80 percent of Americans do not trust Washington, compared with only 22-percent who say they can trust the federal government almost always or most of the time.

Nearly half of those surveyed complain that the government negatively affects their daily lives.

The poll points to Americans' discontent with the government's unlimited powers with almost one in every three seeing the government as a major threat to their personal freedoms.

The findings from the survey show the Obama administration's policies, such as his controversial healthcare reform and economic stimulus package, are partly to blame for the rise in anti-government sentiment.

"A dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter, partisan-based backlash and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials," Pew said accounts for what it calls "a perfect storm" of public unrest.

The poll was based on four surveys done from March 11 to April 11 through landlines and cell phones, the largest of which involved 2,500 adults and has a margin of sampling error of 2.5 percentage points.

The other three involved about 1,000 adults each, with a margin of sampling error of 4 percentage points.

Objector/rapper dismissed by US Army

Source: PressTV§ionid=3510203

A soldier who protested at his redeployment through a rap song communicated to the higher-ups has been dismissed by the US Army for misconduct.

Angered by the extension of his service, Marc A. Hall had told his battalion commander that he might shoot or otherwise attack a fellow US soldier, the Associated Press reported on Saturday.

A menace-laden rap song he had recorded and sent to the Army's personnel office in July 2009 attracted considerable attention to his case.

"I got a (expletive) magazine with 30 rounds, on a three-round burst, ready to fire down. …Still against the wall, I grab my M-4, spray and watch all the bodies hit the floor," he had rapped in the recording.

However, on Saturday, a support organization for military objectors, called the dismissal a "joyous victory" and said the Army put Hall in custody after he said he could not afford the required mental readiness for combat and used the song as a "pretext."

His civilian lawyer, David Gespass, said, "The song was a way for him to sort of vent."

"He was, I think, less and less happy about the idea even of having a weapon and using it," he added

Qatar says gas prices are unfair

Source: PressTV§ionid=3510213

Qatar's says gas prices should be more closely connected to that of crude oil, refusing however to cut natural gas output to help boost prices.

"Current prices aren't fair. They should be linked to oil prices,” Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah told reporters Sunday in Algerian city of Oran, where the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) ministerial meeting is to kick off.

He added that during the meeting his country intends to "discuss mechanisms to stabilize (gas) prices."

Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko, attending the meeting, said world gas producers should cooperate to limit the impact of spot sales on their long-term deals.

In late March, Algeria proposed countries participating in the forum to reduce gas exports to restore balance in the global gas market.

Algerian energy minister Chakib Khelil has said that current gas prices were too low and should be raised. He has said the ideal price for gas should account for one sixth of the price of a barrel of oil.

Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela are members of the GECF.

The GECF headquarters is situated in Qatar's capital Doha. In December 2009, the GECF elected Russian Leonid Bokhanovsky as its secretary general.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Secret US memo urges war on Iran

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020101

A secret memo by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates urges Washington to consider the use of military force against Iran if diplomacy fails to scrap the country's nuclear program.

In what seems to be a new twist in US efforts to tackle Iran's enrichment activities, The New York Times reveals that a three-page memorandum, which has been circulating in Washington since January, has advocated military action against Tehran.

The classified memorandum, according to unnamed government officials quoted by the Times, warns that Washington lacks an effective policy in dealing with Iran's nuclear program and should therefore come up with new options.

One senior official has said that the memo accuses Iran of weapons development and lays out a set of military alternatives to counter Iran's progress in nuclear science and technology.

Some US officials, however, have played down the significance of the report, saying that the Obama administration has always "anticipated the full range of contingencies" against Iran.

"It is absolutely false that any memo touched off a reassessment of our options," AP quoted National Security Council spokesman Benjamin Rhodes as saying.

"This administration has been planning for all contingencies regarding Iran for many months," he added.

The memo has surfaced at a time when Washington is trying to garner support for a new set of sanctions on Iran over its refusal to give up uranium enrichment.

For years, Washington has accused Iran of having plans to build a secret nuclear weapons program "in the near future."

Iran has rejected the accusations, saying that its nuclear program is intended for energy production, not weapons development.

Ecuador may nationalize oil industry

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020706

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa says that he will introduce legislation under which foreign oil companies may face nationalization.

"We are sending the (Legislative) Assembly a bill that would give me the authority to expropriate oil fields if these oil companies do not want to sign new contracts on the services they are providing," Correa said in his weekly address on Saturday.

Ecuador, which aims to eventually take full state control over the oil industry, currently offers foreign companies the possibility of signing deals under which Quito pays operating expenses and sets the profits that international companies will receive.

Under an old model, prior to Correa's government, foreign firms obtained as much as 80 percent of the crude they pumped.

Ecuador, OPEC's smallest member, pumped 466,000 barrels of crude per day between January and February 2010, 41 percent of which was pumped by foreign companies.

China 'to give $20 bn to Venezuela'

Source: PressTV

Beijing has agreed to give $20 billion to Caracas for long-term industrial and infrastructure projects, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says.

"China is going to give financing to Venezuela ... over the long-term and in large volume of some $20 billion," he said at a Saturday signing ceremony with Chinese officials.

The two sides also inked six more accords covering electricity and oil projects, including ratification of a joint venture to develop a block in the Orinoco crude belt.

The Venezuelan president said the new agreement is in addition to a $12 billion bilateral investment fund, without providing details.

Currently, Venezuela sends China 460,000 barrels a day of crude oil to repay an $8 billion loan that finances infrastructure projects in the country.

As the largest oil producer in Latin America, Venezuela is diversifying its export markets and seeking loans from Russia and Japan in a bid to boost oil output.

Iran wants foreign troops out of ME

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020101

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says the pervasive presence of US-led military forces in the Middle East is the main reason behind regional conflicts.

Ahmadinejad, speaking at a ceremony commemorating Iran's National Army Day on Sunday, said that disunity and strife among Mideast countries stems from the lingering presence of foreign coalition troops and military bases across the region.

"If foreign forces deem themselves capable of promoting security and stability, they should make themselves useful in their own countries," he asserted.

"There is no need, or pretext for foreign forces to prolong their stay in this region," he continued in a reference to the deployment of US and NATO troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Foreign forces should leave this region at once," added the Iranian President. "This is not a request, but a sincere demand of the entire population of the Middle East."

Ahmadinejad singled out Israel as the main instigator of violence and terror in the region.

"The Zionist regime is behind all acts of sedition in the Middle East," he said adding that the regional nations want Israel to be uprooted.

Zionism has begun to collapse under the strain of its "divisive policies in the region," Ahmadinejad added.

The Iranian President also issued a stern warning to foreign powers, saying that while his country has always supported peaceful co-existence with other nations, it is well capable of defending itself in the event of war.

Iran, Lebanon urge Muslim resistance

Source: PressTV

Two senior political figures from Iran and Lebanon have called on Islamic countries to take serious steps to resist Israel's expansionist policies.

Iran's Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and the Lebanese Foreign Minister Ali al-Shami, who met on the sidelines of an international nuclear disarmament conference in Tehran, said all Muslim states must try to prevent Tel Aviv from "implementing its hostile plans."

Larijani described Lebanon as 'the symbol of resistance against Israel,' praising the Lebanese people's determination to fight Israeli occupation.

He also said all Muslims around the world have 'a religious responsibility' to oppose Israeli occupation and its 'insulting attitude' toward believers of other faiths.

"The Muslim ummah must take serious and practical steps against the immeasurable number of atrocities carried out by Israel in various parts of Palestine especially, [Jerusalem] al-Quds," said Larijani.

For his part, Shami said the Lebanese would never forget the support the Iranian people and government have shown Lebanon's resistance movement.

The foreign minister said that Israel policies toward the region and particularly Palestine are focused on expansionist policies.

"Islamic and Arab states in the region and around the world need to take a steadfast stance against Israel's evil policies that include the Judisization of al-Quds," he said.

Drawing a comparison between the Israeli and Iranian nuclear programs, Shami urged the Arab world to seek punitive measures against Israel instead of trying to impose sanctions on Iran.

As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Lebanon has constantly believed that the nature of Iran's nuclear program is peaceful, he said, adding that Tel Aviv, however, was armed with all kinds of atomic weapons.

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