Tuesday, June 2, 2015
President tells Israeli TV he understands Israelis’ ‘concerns and fears,’ but only a ‘verifiable, tough agreement’ can thwart Iran’s nuclear drive
U.S President Barack Obama told Israeli television that the emerging deal between Iran and world powers is the only way to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and that “a military solution will not fix it.”
In an excerpt aired Monday on Channel 2 of an interview with veteran journalist Ilana Dayan, Obama said that military action against Iran would not deter its nuclear ambitions and that he could prove that a “verifiable” agreement with Iran was the best way forward.
“I can, I think, demonstrate, not based on any hope but on facts and evidence and analysis, that the best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is a verifiable, tough agreement,” he said.
“A military solution will not fix it. Even if the United States participates, it would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program but it will not eliminate it,” Obama added.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday rejected Obama’s comments, warning that the emerging deal would “pave the way” for Iran to attain a nuclear arsenal. He said the deal would also see Iran’s economy boosted and thus enable it to engage in further terrorist activity.
Touching on the deeply uneasy relationship between Obama and Netanyahu on the issue, Dayan asked the president about the possibility of Israel striking Iran without informing the US in advance.
“I won’t speculate on that,” he said. “What I can say is, to the Israeli people: I understand your concerns and I understand your fears.”
Obama has led the diplomatic initiative to try to end a 12-year international standoff between Tehran and the West, and put a nuclear bomb beyond Iran’s reach.
Netanyahu has long decried the emerging deal as dangerous, saying it will “pave the way” to an Iranian bomb, and has repeatedly warned that the easing of sanctions would enable the Iranian government to continue sponsoring terrorism and fomenting unrest across the region.
On Sunday, Netanyahu told German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that Iran is “the greatest threat to Israel’s security, to the stability of the region and to the peace of the world.”
Obama’s interview came less than a month before the June 30 deadline for a finalized deal between Iran and the six world powers led by the US. The emerging agreement aims to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment and put in place a stricter inspections regime, in exchange for an easing of punishing economic sanctions.
The full interview with the US president is scheduled to air during Channel 2’s “Uvda” investigative news program on Tuesday evening.
Monday, June 1, 2015
After meeting with German foreign minister, PM reiterates need for ‘better’ nuclear deal, Palestinian state that recognizes Israel as Jewish state
BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF |May 31, 2015, 4:41 pm | The Times of Israel|
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday decried Iranian “aggression” across the Middle East, telling German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that an emerging nuclear deal should take into account not only Tehran’s alleged nuclear ambition but also its regional aspirations.
After noting that “the greatest threat to Israel’s security, to the stability of the region and to the peace of the world” was Iran’s alleged quest for nuclear weapons, Netanyahu pointed to an Iranian “campaign of aggression across the entire Middle East, in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, around our borders on the Golan.”
Speaking at a press conference after his meeting with Steinmeier, the prime minister added, “Today, Iran is sponsoring terrorism across the globe beyond the Middle East, in the Middle East, but also in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas. Iran is building a vast infrastructure of terror.”
He said Iran is “conducting an unprecedented, I would say, conventional arms build-up. It’s developing a huge arms industry, which includes drones, rockets, precision guided missiles, submarines and satellites as well.”
Netanyahu said that he and Steinmeier had discussed “at some length” the stalled peace process with the Palestinians.
“I think the only way to move that is through direct negotiations,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority has moved away from these negotiations, but I believe, I remain committed to the idea that the only way we can achieve a lasting peace is through the concept of two states for two peoples — a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish nation-state of Israel.”
After meeting with Netanyahu, the German foreign minister met with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.
Picking up where they had left off during Rivlin’s official visit to Germany two weeks ago, the two men spoke about current developments in the region and bilateral ties between Germany and Israel.
During the meeting, Rivlin spoke of the international concern over the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the need for the resumption of talks.
“We do not need to be pressured,” he told the German foreign minister. “The need to rebuild Gaza and the renewal of direct negotiations is very clear to us. The Palestinians’ unilateral actions as we saw for example on Friday in Zurich are unnecessary and a bizarre twist on history — that the successors of those who murdered athletes in Munich should now be promoting a boycott of Israel goes against the ideas of humanity and justice.”
Referring to the fact that Steinmeier would be traveling to the Palestinian Authority later Sunday for a meeting with the PA president, Rivlin said, “We hope that in your meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, you will be able to stress the idea that, for both people, the only way we will be able to bring an end to the conflict is through direct negotiations.”
The German foreign minister thanked Rivlin for his warm welcome, and said, “I remember that when we have met in the past, we often spoke about the crisis in your region, and today we are also discussing the crisis in our region. The calming of the situation in the eastern Ukraine is still very difficult and the ceasefire is still very fragile.
“At the same time, I know that the situation in your region is much more complicated. I just had the opportunity to discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu the number of crisis regions here — Syria, Iran, and the Palestinians. I still believe in the need to return to negotiations for a two-state solution. The troubled situation in Gaza demands of us to think about concrete steps to improve daily life there — without which, I am afraid, the situation is escalating.”
Steinmeier said during the meeting that he wished to promote concrete measures for the reconstruction of Gaza in order to build confidence between both sides, adding that the discussion had to focus on Gaza as well as on the West Bank.
Both men affirmed that Europe had an important role to play in mediating an end to the conflict
Friday, May 29, 2015
By HERB KEINON \05/28/2015 22:21| The Jerusalem Post|
Israel is in early discussion with the US about a new 10-year defense assistance program, but this is not “compensation” for the possible signing of a possible nuclear deal with Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday.
Netanyahu, during a briefing with Israel’s diplomatic correspondents, did not say how much Israel was requesting. With the current 10-year, $30 billion US defense assistance agreement set to expire in 2017, the two sides are negotiating the terms of a 10-year deal that according to a recent report in Defense News could be worth up to $45b.
The prime minister said this package is not a “quid pro quo” for the Iranian nuclear deal, which he said Israel continues to adamantly oppose.
The previous defense assistance memorandum of understanding was signed in August 2007 with the Bush administration, and outlined a 10-year framework of military assistance that called for incremental yearly increases that reached $3.1b. this year. Of that money, 74¢ of every dollar is spent in the US.
According to the Defense News report, this does not include US war stocks prepositioned in Israel and available for Israel’s emergency use, and nearly $500m. annually in money for joint research and development of rocket defense systems, like Iron Dome.
US President Barack Obama has not only honored that agreement, but – as Netanyahu pointed out – said during his visit to Israel in March that the US would continue to provide Israel with multi-year commitments of military aid subject to the approval of Congress.
One of the chief architects of the previous framework was Ron Dermer, Israel’s current ambassador to Washington, who at the time was Israel’s economic attaché to Washington.
He said then that “the most important part of the agreement is the message that it sends to Israel’s enemies that America remains fully committed to Israel’s security.”
According to Defense News, this package would be independent of increased military aid the US might offer Israel if a deal with Iran is signed.
Thursday, May 28, 2015
Iran and Europeans willing to work past June 30 target date; Kerry and Zarif to meet Saturday in Geneva
BY AP, TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF AND AFP
May 27, 2015, 11:51 pm| The Times of Israel|
The US State Department is not planning on extending nuclear talks past its June 30 deadline, a spokesman said Wednesday.
European and Iranian officials have suggested the talks may require more time.
However, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the US isn’t considering an extension and that the goal remains to make progress toward an agreement by the end of June deadline.
“We’re not contemplating any extension beyond June 30,” Rathke told reporters Wednesday.
Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi, quoted by state news agency IRNA, said Wednesday the two sides were “not bound by the schedule.”
“We are not at the point where we can say that negotiations will be completed quickly — they will continue until the deadline and could continue beyond that,” he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will hold talks Saturday in Geneva.
Iran and world powers signed a framework accord on April 2 and aim to agree on a final deal by the end of June to prevent Iran from developing an atomic bomb, in exchange for an easing of crippling economic sanctions.
Meanwhile, the level of international access to Iranian military sites has emerged as a potential deal breaker, with Iran’s supreme leader staunchly opposed, and France insistent.
Iranian hardliners have accused negotiators of having accepted demands for international inspections of Iran’s military sites, a position which Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has ruled out.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned on Wednesday that France would oppose a final nuclear accord unless it allowed inspections of military sites.
An agreement “will not be accepted by France if it is not clear that verifications can be made at all Iranian facilities, including military sites,” Fabius told parliament.
Also Wednesday, Yukiya Amano, the head of the UN’s atomic watchdog, said Iran had agreed to implementing the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that allows for snap inspections.
“When we find inconsistency or when we have doubts, we can request access to the undeclared location for example, and this could include military sites,” the Japanese diplomat told AFP.
“Some consideration is needed because of the sensitiveness of the site, but the International Atomic Energy Agency has the right to request access at all locations, including military ones.”
Zarif has said the protocol allows “some access” but not inspections of military sites, in order to protect national “military or economic secrets”
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
UN nuclear agency chief Yukiya Amano says months needed to assess military apects of Iranian nuclear sites
PARIS, France (AFP) — If Iran signs a nuclear deal with world powers it will have to accept inspections of its military sites, the head of the UN’s atomic watchdog Yukiya Amano told AFP in an interview.
The question of inspections is shaping up to be one of the thorniest issues as world powers try to finalize a deal by June 30 to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.
Amano said Tehran has agreed to implementing the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that allows for snap inspections of its nuclear facilities, and if required, military sites.
However, differences have emerged over the interpretation of the protocol and the issue is far from resolved.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last week ruled out allowing nuclear inspectors to visit military sites or the questioning of scientists.
And Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said the protocol allows “some access” but not inspections of military sites, in order to protect national “military or economic secrets.”
In an interview with AFP and French daily Le Monde, Amano said that if a deal is reached, Iran will face the same inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as any of the 120 countries implementing the additional protocol.
“When we find inconsistency or when we have doubts we can request access to the undeclared location for example, and this could include military sites,” said the Japanese diplomat.
“Some consideration is needed because of the sensitiveness of the site, but the IAEA has the right to request access at all locations, including military ones.”
Iran and the so-called P5+1 group — Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States plus Germany — have been engaged for nearly two years in negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear drive.
The deal is aimed at preventing Iran from developing the atomic bomb in exchange for an easing of crippling economic sanctions.
The two sides signed a framework agreement on April 2 and began meeting in Vienna on Wednesday to start finalizing a deal which is due by June 30.
Possible military dimension
Iran has long asserted its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes, and that international concern about it seeking a nuclear bomb is misplaced.
According to the United States, Iran has agreed to cut the number of its centrifuges, used for enriching uranium, by two thirds from 19,000 to about 6,000, and will put excess nuclear equipment into storage monitored by the IAEA.
Iran has also reportedly agreed not to build any new facilities for enriching uranium for 15 years, cut back its stockpile of enriched uranium and mothball some of its plants.
However, Tehran is sensitive over the IAEA’s stringent oversight demands as the agency is at the same time trying to probe allegations that Iran tried to develop nuclear weapons prior to 2003, and possibly since.
Iran denies the allegations, saying they are based on hostile intelligence provided by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Israel’s Mossad.
Western officials stress that these claims of “possible military dimensions” need to be cleared up before sanctions can be lifted, but the IAEA’s probe has been stalled since last August.
‘A huge operation’
Amano said that once there is a deal, “several months will be needed” to investigate whether there were any military dimensions to Iran’s research.
“It depends very much on the pace and the intensiveness of the cooperation from Iran. We have identified 12 areas to clarify.”
One notable area the IAEA is interested in is the Parchin military base, where they suspect tests relating to the development of nuclear weapons have taken place.
The IAEA has already visited the sprawling military base near Tehran but wants to return for another look.
Amano said it could take years “to give the credible assurance that all activities in Iran have a peaceful purpose”.
If a deal is reached with the P5+1, the IAEA will be charged with overseeing it and reporting back to the UN Security Council.
“This will be the most extensive safeguard operation of the IAEA. We need to prepare well, we need to plan well, it is a huge operation,” said Amano.
Currently the watchdog has between four and 10 inspectors in Iran at any given time, and if a deal is reached at least 10 will need to be on the ground daily.
The agency will also need to install cameras and seals on sensitive equipment.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
By: Yaakov Lappin| 5/25/2015| 15:33
Diplomats involved in efforts to set up a regional dialogue over weapons of mass destruction helped it avoid a bad outcome during a UN conference last week, arms control expert Emily Landau said on Monday.
In recent day, the US vetoed an Egyptian-led drive for a Middle East nuclear weapons ban at a UN Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference in Manhattan.
Landau, head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told The Jerusalem Post, “Much of the media commentary is focusing on the fact that the US did this for Israel, and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has thanked [Secretary of State John] Kerry.
Thanks to the US are certainly in order as it stood by Israel and its principles in a very noteworthy manner. But in addition, I would highlight that US support this time was made easier because of the cooperative approach that Israel had adopted over the past few years.”
Israel, which is not a signatory to the NPT, has nevertheless spent the past two years cooperating with UN attempts, led by the Finnish diplomat Jaakko Laajava, to establish a regional dialogue on weapons of mass destruction, using the opportunity to share its concerns during a series of meetings, and through the submission of a paper.
“Had Israel remained unwilling to cooperate with Laajava’s efforts, it would have been more difficult to defend. But US officials over the past year had praised Israel’s cooperation regarding the informal meetings, and this most likely strengthened their ability to argue against the new resolution that was changing the terms mid-course,” Landau said.
“At the end of the day, by overplaying its hand, Egypt lost out,” she added.
Cairo’s failure to push through a resolution that would have called on Israel to join the NPT mean that the “conference is at least temporarily suspended, and with it the progress that had been made. There are no terms in the framework of the NPT for continuing at this point. For Israel this is certainly good news – substantively, and in terms of the expression of US support,” Landau said.
A draft proposal submitted for final vote at the NPT Review Conference “was much better than the Arab [Egyptian] proposal submitted in the first days of the conference, but it still had problematic elements,” Landau said.
Those elements included a commitment to holding a weapons of mass destruction free zone conference by March 2016, and placing all of the authority in the hands of the UN secretary-general, rather than conveners such as the US and Britain.
Had it been passed, the draft resolution “would have basically fired Jaakko Laajava, which it seems was one of Egypt’s objectives. It mandated the secretary- general to appoint a new facilitator. Why do that when Laajava had spent so much time and energy learning the issues and carving out a path with the regional parties?” Landau asked.
“It seems that all of these elements were directed toward convening a conference by March whether Israel likes it or not,” she added. “What incentive would the Arab states have had to work seriously with Israel when they would have had the guarantee that a conference would be convened by next March, no matter what?” Earlier in May, Landau reported that the international arms control community has come to the defense of contacts between Israel and UN diplomats, who are engaged in talks aimed at including Jerusalem in a forum on weapons of mass destruction.
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY: JEFFREY BARKEN| MAY 21, 2015 10:40 AM| The Algemeiner|
JNS.org – Recent ordeals for Jews on college campuses include being probedon their religious identity in student government hearings, seeingswastikas sprayed on fraternity houses, and the presence of astudent-initiated course accused of anti-Semitism. Pro-Israel voices are fighting back, but who is winning this war of ideas? An episode at Columbia University, a historic hotbed of anti-Zionism, illustrates the complex dynamics at play.
Last month, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), America’s largest pro-Israel organization with more than 2 million members, planned a lecture at Columbia concerning the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his support for Israel. CUFI says that the school administration meddled with the event in a way that unfairly singled out the pro-Israel group. The university imposed an “unprecedented level of bureaucratic scrutiny in an effort to intimidate,” says David Walker, CUFI’s national campus coordinator.
Walker tells JNS.org that the university moved the lecture to a much smaller venue at the last minute, demanded to know the names of all off-campus individuals expected to attend, and denied the general public entry as evidence of “bureaucratic bullying.” Some organizations partnering with CUFI on the event proceeded to withdraw their support in the aftermath of the administration’s actions.
Despite the obstacles, CUFI’s diversity outreach coordinator, Pastor Dumisani Washington, was permitted to speak at Columbia during the April 30 event. He began by refuting a statement issued by the Columbia Black Students Organization (BSO) in which the group condemned Aryeh, a pro-Israel student organization at Columbia, for using “the image and words” of Martin Luther King to promote Zionist views and co-opting “the black liberation struggle for the purposes of genocide and oppression.”
“When I see black students saying these things I know there is a great deal of confusion,” Washington says. His lecture offered a history of the civil rights movement in the U.S., demonstrating how King and his closest followers were always aligned with Israel, both spiritually and politically. By citing the shared experience of slavery as epochs uniting Jews and blacks, recalling songs about Moses, and highlighting excerpts from New Testament and Old Testament psalms that figure prominently in King’s speeches, Washington defended Christian Zionism and King’s legacy as a pro-Israel voice.
In his presentation, Washington also included a short video that illustrates BSO’s “confusion.” The video recalls the 1975 United Nations General Assembly resolution that declared Zionism as racism. Noting the maxim “follow the money,” the video connects the dots of a complicated political strategy devised by the former Soviet Union. At the height of the Cold War, the USSR sought to manipulate and intimidate poorer member states (mostly African) into passing anti-Israel resolutions. The real target of this strategy was not Israel, but rather America, the Soviets’ chief rival. Since the U.S. and Israel are close allies, the Soviets reasoned, any discrediting of Israel’s reputation as a humane democracy reflected negatively on the U.S., creating ideological conflicts of interest.
With CUFI’s event going on planned, the pro-Israel side at Columbia University managed to have its voice and narrative heard—at least for that day. Columbia, as it turns out, sits atop a recently published list of 10 American college campuses where anti-Semitism is most rampant. The list was compiled by JewHatredOnCampus.org, an initiative launched earlier this year whose mission is to engage directly with students at institutions of higher learning where pro-Palestinian student groups are using school funding to launch aggressive anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda campaigns. The new website publishes a regular newsletter and provides a portal for reporting anti-Semitic incidents.
“Fifty-four percent of Jewish students on college campuses feel they’ve witnessed anti-Semitism,” says well-known conservative writer David Horowitz, the founder of JewHatredOnCampus.org. “The problem is that Jews aren’t fighting back.”
But how should they fight back? A 2010 incident involving Horowitz sheds light on the activist’s strategy of choice. In a post-lecture Q&A session hosted by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Horowitz asked a UCSD Muslim student, Jumanah Imad Albahri, to condemn Hamas and Hezbollah as genocidal terrorist organizations. Albarhi’s answer shocked the audience, and the video of their heated exchange quickly went viral.
In the video, Albarhi asks Horowitz “to explain the purported connection” between UCSD’s Muslim Student Association chapter and “jihadist terrorist networks.” Horowitz doesn’t answer directly. Instead, he counters by pressing Albarhi to refute the documented statement by the head of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, expressing his desire for Jews to gather in Israel so that “it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.” Albarhi appears rattled. She worries that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will label her a terrorist if she sides with Hezbollah, but denies that pro-Palestinian organizations are aligned with doctrines of hate.
“For it or against it?” Horowitz persists, demanding an answer regarding Albarhi’s opinion on Hezbollah’s rhetoric. Finally, Albarhi leans toward the microphone and says decisively, “For it.” (Though Albarhi later denied supporting Nasrallah’s comments.)
Indeed, similar YouTube clips and social media debates reveal the intensity of student opinions regarding Israel, as well as the animosity directed at Jewish students and professors. Horowitz believes that one common Israeli public relations strategy—the spotlighting of “all the wonderful things Israel has accomplished, from medical inventions and agricultural advances to being tolerant of gays”—falls short as a proper defense of the Jewish state’s policies. From his perspective, history is what provides a legitimate justification for Israel to exist under its present borders. He cites the original Palestinian Liberation Organization slogan declaring a fundamental intention to “push [the Jews] into the sea” as clear-cut evidence that Israel does not have a partner for peace.
“You have to call it what it is,” Horowitz tells JNS.org. “You cannot make peace with people who want to kill you. These are literally Nazis… planning another Holocaust openly.”
Against the backdrop of that sense of urgency, Horowitz advocates a robust and unapologetic public relations campaign on the part of pro-Israel advocates as the only way to repair the damage done to Israel’s image by its enemies. The press release that launched hisJewHatredOnCampus.org initiative lists anti-Jewish acts such as “Israeli Apartheid Week” (the annual anti-Israel showcase on campuses around the world), the interruption of university activities by staging mock “checkpoints” on campus, the hosting of speakers on campus that call for the destruction of the Jewish state, and harassment and violence against Jewish and pro-Israel students.
Horowitz’s efforts to counter anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric has sparked many contentious debates at the more than 400 college campus visits he says he has made. CUFI speakers are similarly accustomed to meeting fiery opposition. On the same day as the recent Columbia event, CUFI Outreach Coordinator Kasim Hafeez—a British Muslim of Pakistani origin and a jihadist-turned-Zionist—had Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) activists walk out on a speech he gave at the University of Toledo.
Horowitz concedes that the current debate over Israel on campus is a shallow shouting match to which he contributes his own propaganda. He expresses his desire for an “informed scholarly debate,” but says of pro-Palestinian advocates, “I don’t believe there is an honest way for them to argue their cause… [when their] side wants to annihilate the other.”
Thursday, May 21, 2015
BY AFP May 21, 2015, 3:08 pm | The Times of Israel|
The destruction of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra would be an “enormous loss to humanity,” the head of the organization warned Thursday, after Islamic State fighters seized the ancient Syrian city and archaeological site.
“Palmyra is an extraordinary World Heritage site in the desert and any destruction to Palmyra (would be) not just a war crime but … an enormous loss to humanity,” said Irina Bokova in a video published by the Paris-based group.
She added that she was “extremely worried” about recent events there and reiterated an appeal for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of military forces.
“At the end of the day, it’s the birthplace of human civilization. It belongs to the whole of humanity and I think everyone today should be worried about what is happening,” added the UNESCO chief.
Earlier Thursday, Islamic State group jihadists seized full control of the city, putting the world heritage site and its priceless artifacts at risk of destruction.
In the Bible, King Solomon is credited with fortifying the city, and it’s mentioned in other Jewish texts. But it was during the Roman Empire that the ‘pearl of the desert’ rose to prominence
The jihadists, notorious for demolishing archaeological treasures since declaring a “caliphate” last year straddling Iraq and Syria, fought their way into Palmyra on foot after breaking through in the city’s north.
Bokova urged the international community, including the UN Security Council and religious leaders, to launch an appeal to stop the violence.
Before Syria’s crisis began in March 2011, more than 150,000 tourists visited Palmyra every year, admiring its beautiful statues, over 1,000 columns, and formidable necropolis of over 500 tombs.
Palmyra’s richest residents had constructed and sumptuously decorated these monuments to the dead, some of which have been recently looted.
According to the governor of Homs province, the inner city is home to about 35,000 people, including those displaced by fighting nearby. Another 35,000 live in the city’s suburbs.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group counts 100,000 people living in Palmyra and its outskirts.
Hundreds of statues and artifacts from Palmyra’s museum were transferred out of the city before it fell to Islamic State, according to Syria’s antiquities chief Mamoun Abdulkarim.
But many others — including massive tombs — could not be moved.
Palmyra, which means City of Palms, is mentioned in the Bible as Tadmor, the name it goes by in Syria and Israel, and likely a reference to dates.
Its name first appeared on a tablet in the 19th century BCE as a stopping point for caravans traveling on the Silk Road and between the Gulf and the Mediterranean.
In the Bible, King Solomon is credited with fortifying the city, and it’s later mentioned in other Jewish texts as well.
But it was during the Roman Empire — beginning in the first century BCE and lasting another 400 years — that Palmyra, called the “pearl of the desert,” rose to prominence.
Though surrounded by desert dunes, Palmyra developed into a luxurious metropolis thanks to the trade of spices, perfumes, silk and ivory from the east, and statues and glasswork from Phoenicia.
In the year 129 CE, Roman emperor Hadrian declared Palmyra a “free city” within his empire. During the rest of the century, its famous temples — including the Agora and the temple honoring Bel (Baal) — were built.
Before the arrival of Christianity in the second century, Palmyra worshiped the trinity of the Babylonian god Bel, as well Yarhibol (the sun) and Aglibol (the moon).
As the Roman Empire faced internal political instability in the third century, Palmyra took the opportunity to declare its independence.
Palmyrans beat back the Romans in the west and Persian forces in the east in a revolt led by Zenobia, who then became queen.
By 270, Zenobia had conquered all of Syria and parts of Egypt, and had arrived at Asia Minor’s doorstep.
But when Roman emperor Aurelian retook the city, the powerful queen was taken back to Rome and Palmyra began to decline in prominence.
Today, Palmyra bears the scars of Syria’s ongoing war: clashes between armed rebels and government forces in 2013 left collapsed columns and statues in their wake, a harbinger of what Islamic State jihadists might do.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Supreme leader says he won’t allow Iranian scientists to be ‘interrogated’ by foreigners
, AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF May 20, 2015, 1:47 pm | The Times of Israel|
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday ruled out allowing nuclear inspectors to visit military sites or to question scientists, state media reported.
“We have already said that we will not allow any inspections of military sites by foreigners,” the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.
“They also say that we must allow interviews with nuclear scientists. This is interrogation. I will not allow foreigners to come and talk to scientists who have advanced the science to this level,” Khamenei said.
Other Iranian officials have repeatedly claimed that inspectors would not be given freedom of access to nuclear facilities — directly contradicting US officials who tout comprehensive inspections as being a key element of a final deal.
Khamenei’s statements came as experts from Iran and six world powers prepared to launch a new round of negotiations focused on reaching a deal that curbs Iran’s nuclear program.
Diplomats said ahead of Wednesday’s meeting that progress is being made but significant gaps remain on a main document and technical annexes ahead of an end-of-June deadline.
Iran’s team is led by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi. EU official Helga Schmidt is heading the other side. Senior officials from the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany may join in later.
The deal aims for strict limits on Iranian nuclear capabilities that could be used to make weapons. Tehran denies any interest in such arms but is negotiating for a lifting of sanctions.
The diplomats demanded anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the talks.
A framework agreement — reached at the beginning of April and set to be finalized by June 30 — called for a scaling back of Iran’s uranium enrichment program along with comprehensive inspections of its nuclear facilities to ensure it is not developing atomic weapons. In return, Iran demanded that global sanctions that have crippled its economy be lifted.
A fact sheet on the framework accord issued by the State Department at the time said Iran would be required to grant the UN nuclear agency access to any “suspicious sites.”
Iran has questioned that and other language in the fact sheet, notably that sanctions would only be lifted after the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified Tehran’s compliance. Iran’s leaders have said the sanctions should be lifted on the first day of the implementation of the accord.
Less than a week after the framework agreement was reached, Iranian Defense minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehgan made it clear thatinternational inspectors would not be granted access to the state’s military sites under the terms of the deal.
No such agreement has been reached and basically, visiting military centers are among the red lines and no visit to these centers will be allowed,” Dehgan said, according to Iranian media reports quoting a Defense Ministry statement.
Later that month Gen. Hossein Salami, deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard also said that inspectors would be barred from military sites under any nuclear agreement and that allowing such check ups would be tantamount to “selling out.”
Those opposing the deal, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials, have criticized the terms of the framework agreement for not completely removing Iran’s ability to enrich uranium or to work towards producing a nuclear weapon
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
By JPOST.COM STAFF \05/19/2015 13:59| The Jerusalem Post|
The 34th Government of Israel convened at the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem for the presidential reception and to take the official ceremonial photograph.
Standing at the podium alongside President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will make every effort to bring about an agreement with the Palestinians that will maintain Israeli security.
He said that the first task of the new government will be to protect the country against threats from Israel's enemies in the region. Netanyahu also said that lowering the cost of living is a top priority.
Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 20-minister government was sworn in following a slew of problems with Likud cabinet appointments. The Knesset approved the government 61-59 just after 11 p.m.
Netanyahu’s No. 2 in the Likud, MK Gilad Erdan, refused to enter the cabinet, declining the prime minister’s offer to serve as public security minister. He had demanded the Foreign Minister position, which Netanyahu has kept for himself in case he will be able to expand his coalition later on. But Erdan later showed up at the Knesset and voted in favor of the new government, enabling it to be approved.
"The swearing-in of a Likud government is a happy occasion but I am sad personally about the developments with me," Erdan said.
Initially, several ministers also declined Netanyahu’s offers, including new Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, Culture and Sport Minister, Miri Regev, Pensioner Affairs Minister Gila Gamliel and coalition chairman and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi – but they all later relented.
To accept the challenging job of heading a coalition with just 61 MKs, Netanyahu had to promise Hanegbi that after a year he would join the cabinet in place of Ophir Akunis, who is a minister-without-portfolio. Netanyahu wanted Akunis to serve under him in the Communications Ministry, but Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein ruled that two ministers cannot serve in one ministry.
Gill Hoffman contributed to this report