Israel will go ahead with its candidacy for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2019 despite Germany's determination to run against it. Both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni brought up in separate meetings on Friday with visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle the announcement by Berlin that it will seek a seat on the council in 2019, badly weakening Israel's chances to win a first-ever seat on the Security Council. Westerwelle's response, according to diplomatic officials, "did not leave us optimistic." According to the officials, Westerwelle said that Germany would be glad to support an Israeli bid to sit on the council if there was a chance that it could garner the 128 seats in the General Assembly necessary to win a seat. But since Berlin considered those chances slim, it decided to put forward its candidacy.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid says that reaching a final peace agreement with the Palestinians is unrealistic at the current time and the sides should instead pursue an interim arrangement. Lapid's assessment, delivered in a published interview Sunday just days before the arrival of US Secretary of State John Kerry, throws a contentious idea into the mix as the US searches for ways to restart peace talks It remains unclear whether the idea of a temporary arrangement will be raised during Kerry's visit later this week. In March, American officials confirmed that an interim arrangement, while not their preference, was one of the ideas being explored. With the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians on many key issues seemingly unbridgeable, pursuing a Palestinian state with temporary borders has emerged as an option in recent months, particularly among Israelis searching for a way out of the status quo. The Palestinians have repeatedly rejected this option, fearing an interim deal that falls short of their hopes will become permanent.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a government report Saturday, presenting the findings of a special governmental inquiry committee into the death of Muhammad al-Dura during the al-Aqsa Intifada. The report focuses on the controversial September 2000 France 2 broadcast – in which the boy is seen hiding behind his father while the two were under IDF gunfire – and conclude that al-Dura was still alive at the end of the video. According to the committee findings, in contrary to what had been published before, there was no evidence that the boy or his father were injured at the time the video was shot, thereby noting there was reasonable doubt regarding IDF's responsibility to the boy's death.Upon receiving the committee's findings, Netanyahu said that "focusing on this incident is important as it slandered Israel and serves as an example for the delegitimization Israel constantly faces. "There is only one way to fight lies," the prime minister concluded, "and that is with the truth." According to the committee, France 2 framed the story as if at the time of its broadcast there was concrete evidence supporting the claim that the boy had died as a result of IDF gunfire, despite the fact that at the time, the responsibility for Al-Dura's death was still disputed, thus putting into question the entire credibility of the news report. The committee, formed in 2012, was first headed by now Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, and concluded its inquiry recently under the chairmanship of Yuval Steinitz. Steinitz also commented on the report saying "This was a blood-libel against Israel. The French report was simply false." "So they're basically saying that Muhammad is alive?" Muhammad's father, Jamal al-Dura, asked ironically during a Sunday phone-interview with Ynet. "If Muhammad wasn’t hurt by the bullets, then who shot at me and injured me? When the Israeli army shot and hit us, Israel admitted to have done it. Why does it keep changing its version?" "If Israel is willing to form an international inquiry committee that will prove how Muhammad died, I will cooperate with it."
The instability rocking Syria has caused three critical security arenas – Lebanon, Syria and Iran – to become more closely intertwined than ever before. As has been widely reported, Hezbollah, acting on Iranian orders, has mobilized a significant portion of its fighting force to Syria to help secure a turnaround for the regime of President Bashar Assad. Bolstered by highly trained Hezbollah fighters and Iranian support, Assad’s army has of late been making gains against the Sunni rebels – gains that could be seen most recently on Sunday in the town of al-Qusayr, near the border with Lebanon, where the Syrian regime began a new offensive. Hezbollah will be seeking “rewards” for its contributions to Assad’s survival in the form of advanced Syrian and Iranian weapons. These include sophisticated air defense systems such as the SA-17 surface- to-air missile – a convoy of which, according to foreign sources, Israel bombed in Syria in January. Also in Hezbollah’s sights are missiles such as Iran’s guided Fateh-110, several of which were reportedly destroyed in Damascus by Israel on two occasions in the past few weeks. The strikes as reported were surgical, and thanks to Israeli deterrence, have not resulted in retaliation. But the situation remains fluid, and what has held true until now may not necessarily hold up in the case of future strikes on weapons shipments. Iran is seeking to exploit the Syrian chaos to continue to arm Hezbollah, because it knows that in any future potential clash with Jerusalem over Tehran’s military nuclear program, Hezbollah will be called in and ordered to turn its enormous rocket arsenal against targets deep in Israel. Hence, Jerusalem has now drawn red lines over the proliferation of strategic arms to Hezbollah in order to protect its home front in a possible future clash. Syria, Iran or Hezbollah could, at any time, decide to test these red lines again, even though a gamble of that kind would endanger Assad’s recent gains against the rebels. All of these factors have made the region a tinderbox, a situation in which one spark has the potential to trigger a multi-arena escalation. Such a deterioration is by no means inevitable – or even likely – due to the Israeli deterrence that remains in effect against all parties concerned. But it cannot be ruled out either. And the evaluations above have not even touched upon the deeply sensitive issue of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. For many months now, the IDF has been preparing itself for this type of multiple-front scenario to ensure that it is ready for the unexpected.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanayhu says Israel is acting to prevent Syrian weapons reaching Lebanon's Hezbollah and will continue to do so. Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said the Middle East is going through its most sensitive period for decades, with the conflict in Syria at the center of the turmoil. "We are closely following developments and changes there, and we are prepared for any scenario," he said. He added, "the government of Israel is acting in a responsible, determined and prudent manner to ensure the supreme interest of the state of Israel, which is the security of its citizens according to the policy we set: to prevent as far as possible leakage of advanced weapons to Hezbollah and terrorist elements."Senior American officials have apologized to Israeli counterparts for the leak confirming that Israel was behind the airstrike on the Damascus airport earlier this month. A Kol Yisrael reporter says the US sources stressed that the leak came from lower ranks at the Pentagon, and the matter is being investigated. Sources in Israel said that as a result of the leak pointing the finger at Israel, Syrian President Bashar Assad was forced to sharpen is reaction to the strike. The Sunday Times is reporting that Syria has put its most advanced missiles on standby with orders to hit Tel Aviv if Israel launches another raid on its territory. Reconnaissance satellites have been monitoring preparations by the Syrian army to deploy surface-to-surface Tishreen missiles. Those missiles are capable of carrying half ton payload.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened the cabinet ministers on Sunday afternoon for an update regarding the rising tension to the north of Israel, following an alleged Israeli Air Force strike in Damascus on Sunday morning. After the meeting, one senior official told Ynet: "We have no wish to escalate the current situation. We estimate that the Syrians will not retaliate, and we're now waiting to see what happens. "Israeli policy will remain as it was. We'll act according to the need and the red lines set in place," he said. Meanwhile, Israel has enjoyed a relative diplomatic calm, and though two days have passed since the first alleged air strike into Syria took place, so far no condemnations were issued from non-Muslim or Arab countries. But the Foreign Ministry is skeptical the calm will continue, and is preparing for a possibel barrage of condmenation after the Easter holiday ends on Monday. Israel is mostly concerned with the response from Russia, which has previously severely condemned Israel for attacks alleged to it in Syria. Video courtesy of jn1.tv A Foreign Ministry official said: "We should remember that the Russians were angry the last time it was claimed Israel attacked. They said Israel is violating the UN charter. "It's possible they won't say anything this time, since apparently no Russian equipment was destroyed, but if they can do so at the expense of the Americans – they'll criticize us," he added. Though Britain has supported Israel earlier on Sunday, citing its right to defend itself, it is still unclear how western European countries will respond – mainly Germany and France. According to diplomatic circles, the international community, reluctant to intervene in Syria despite the large casualty rate, is worried the situation may deteriorate further. But despite the importance of European powers in the international arena, the United States is still the main player whose response counts the most. On Saturday, US President Barack Obama expressed his support for Israel's right for self defense and to prevent weapons trickling to terror groups, but in Jerusalem some believe the US may signal Israel not to stretch the rope too far and escalate the Syrian situation.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Friday she is worried about mounting tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank after Israel sent conflicting messages regarding settlement activity. "The High Representative is concerned by developments over the past week in East Jerusalem and the West Bank which have increased tensions on the ground and risk undermining current efforts to re-launch peace talks," her office in Brussels said in a statement. "It is important that those concerned exercise maximum restraint and refrain from any actions which could drive the sides to the conflict further apart," the statement added. The communique said Ashton was "disturbed by recent events in East Jerusalem such as those that took place at Orthodox Easter, the unrest in the area of the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount and the temporary detention of the Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine on Wednesday." She underlined that it was "essential that access to the holy sites in Jerusalem for peaceful worship for all denominations is fully respected." She also railed against reports of the approval of Israeli settlement plans for 300 houses near Ramallah in the West Bank. "The EU has repeatedly declared settlements to be illegal under international law and to constitute an obstacle to peace," the statement said. Israel has signed off on plans for nearly 300 new settler homes near Ramallah, angering the Palestinians who accused the Israeli government Thursday of trying to "sabotage" US moves to rekindle peace talks. Thursday's announcement came just days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly ordered a freeze on tenders for new West Bank settler homes to avoid harming efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to bring both sides back to the negotiating table.
Tests on Syrian war casualties arriving in Turkey indicate chemical weapons have been used by Syrian forces, and further tests are being carried out to verify the evidence, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Friday. "We have been making tests and we have some indications regarding chemical weapons being used, but in order to make sure and verify we are continuing these tests and will be sharing these tests with UN agencies," he said in Amman. Turkey confirmed last week that it had begun testing blood samples taken from Syrian casualties brought over its border for treatment to determine whether they were victims of chemical weapons. Davutoglu said the prospect of Syrian President Bashar Assad using chemical weapons had long been a real concern for his country and added that it was not a secret Damascus had stockpiles and had never signed international accords banning the use of such weapons. "We know the Syrian regime has stocks ... And everybody knows the Syrian regime has this capacity," Davutoglu said. "Of course this has been one of our major concerns because chemical weapons are a threat against humanity and a crime." US State Secretary John Kerry said in an internet chat with citizens that the US has conclusive evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his countrymen. President Obama has also mentioned recently that Washington has evidence of chemical weapons' use by Assad's regime and said he views their use in Syria as a "red line." Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Damascus crossed President Barack Obama's "red line" on chemical weapons use long ago, according to an NBC News interview released Thursday. "It is clear that the regime has used chemical weapons and missiles. They used about 200 missiles, according to our intelligence," Erdogan said in the interview with the US television news outlet. The Turkish leader did not make clear whether Turkey believed that all 200 missiles carried chemical weapons and said his government had not determined whether sarin gas was used. Assad's forces and opposing rebels have accused each other of using chemical weapons. Erdogan told NBC he doubted Assad's opponents have used such weapons because they lacked access to them. Turkey's state-run Anatolian news agency said earlier on Thursday that the country has sent eight experts to the border with Syria to test wounded victims of the country's civil war for traces of chemical and biological weapons. At the same time, Twenty-five people were killed in army shelling in the central Syrian town of Halfayeh on Friday after a months-old local truce between the army and rebel fighters broke down, opposition activists said. Halfayeh has been in rebel hands for more than five months and a truce was agreed there between the warring parties in an attempt to protect thousands of citizens, an activist from the region who called himself Safi al-Hamawi said. But Assad's forces issued an ultimatum to the town's elders saying the rebels must leave by Thursday evening and started shelling it heavily as the deadline passed, Hamawi said.
Russia has no 'new' plans to sell Syria an advanced air defense system, its foreign minister said on Friday, denying media reports that it planned such a sale. Itar-Tass news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying Russia would be fulfilling contracts it has already concluded with Damascus, but did not say the S-300 system will not be transferred to Damascus in their course. The statement was given against the backdrop of grave concerns in the West and in Israel that Syrian President Bashar Assad will gain the advanced system, which will make airstrikes in Syria, if necessary, very difficult. On the night between Wednesday and Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked with United States President Barack Obama on the phone and discussed with him the aforementioned defense system and the possibility of Syria acquiring it. The Assad regime already asked the Russians for the S-300 missiles in the last decade. The deal was delayed due to pressures by former President George W. Bush and other Western countries on Russian President Vladimir Putin, but recently concerns have arisen that the deal may be back on track. The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that the US is examining Israeli information to the effect that Russia is renegotiating the S-300 deal. According to the report, the deal was supposed to include six missile launchers and 144 missiles with a range of 200 km, the first shipment to be delivered to Syria within three months. Ynet analyst Ron Ben-Yishai explained on Thursday that Russia's concern that the US and the West are approaching a military intervention in the Syrian civil war is the reason Moscow pulled out its most effective pressure card – the intent to deliver S-300 missiles to Assad's army. Some in the West are of the opinion that Russia intends to reach a deal with the US and NATO, the spirit of which is "You'll not supply arms to the rebels and not intervene in Syria, and we won't supply the Syrians with the system." It seems the Russian wish to deter Israel from further attacks in Syria, like the one attributed to it over the weekend and in January 2013. The S-300 is a Russian system made to intercept aircraft at ranges of over 100 km (60 miles) as well as ballistic missiles. It is unknown exactly which model Russia intends to sell to the Syrians, although it is known that Syria has asked in the past for the model referred to by NATO as the SA10. Israel made clear then to the Russian that having these anti-aircraft missile systems in Syria would neutralize Israel's ability to defend itself since the system would be capable of hitting aircrafts not only above Lebanon and Syria, but also immediately when they take off out of almost every base in the center and north of Israel. Russia accepted the argument. Russian President Putin said on Friday that he and British Prime Minister David Cameron, on a visit to Moscow, agreed they have a "common interest to quickly end the violence and begin a peaceful process" to resolve the Syrian crisis. Cameron said that though his country and Russia's views on the settlement of the crisis differ, they both seek the same goal of ending the conflict in war-torn Syria.
China's President Xi Jinping urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to restart peace talks with the Palestinians as soon as possible, days after he tried to convince Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to revive discussions. Xi's comments to Netanyahu and Abbas this week reflect China's intent to strengthen its diplomatic role in a region where its influence has historically been weak. On Monday, Xi floated China's "four-point proposal" for peace with Abbas, who was visiting China in the same week as Netanyahu. Netanyahu - the first top Israeli leader to visit China since former prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2007 - met Xi on Thursday, part of a five-day visit to China aimed at boosting bilateral trade with China. "I hope the two sides can make joint efforts to take practical measures to gradually build up mutual trust, to restart peace talks as soon as possible and achieve substantive progress," Xi told Netanyahu, according to a statement carried on the website of China's foreign ministry late on Thursday. "Only by protecting the legitimate rights and interests of all countries, having respect for each other's concerns can there be true realization of regional peace and stability," Xi told Netanyahu. Xi, who took office in March, did not outline any specific proposals for the resumption of peace talks to Netanyahu, who did not meet Abbas in China. Netanyahu told Xi that "Israel is well aware of the pain caused by war, welcomes and desires peace, and is willing to achieve peace through negotiations," according to the Chinese foreign ministry. Netanyahu's remarks come amid reports that he has quietly curbed new building projects in Jewish settlements, in an apparent bid to help US efforts to revive peace talks with the Palestinians. China has traditionally had a low profile in Middle East diplomacy, but is keen to assert its role as a force in international politics.