Nominations for the presidency

Egypt will open nominations for the presidency in mid-April and follow with a presidential vote in late June, according to a military official and political leader.

General Mohsen Fangary, a member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, said in a television interview that the nominations for the first presidential election since the end of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign will open on April 15.

Last week, Sayed el-Badawi, the head of the conservative secular Wafd Party, said that political groups had decided to hold a presidential vote on June 20, roughly a month after a new, parliament-drafted constitution is brought to referendum.

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Gaza needs 100,000 housing units

JEDDAH, (PIC)– The Gaza Strip is in need of 100000 new housing units following the Israeli war on the coastal enclave, the organization of Islamic cooperation (OIC) said in its monthly report on the humanitarian condition in Gaza on Sunday.

The organization called on member countries to expedite assistance to the reconstruction of devastated homes in Gaza and the construction of new units, pointing to the six years of Israeli siege, which, it said, contributed to the worsening of the housing shortage in the Strip.

Thousands of families are still homeless, the report said, adding that 350 housing units were rebuilt while 600 others are under construction.

The OIC pointed out that even before the Israeli war on Gaza three years ago 3600 housing units were destroyed in previous incursions and raids on the Strip, adding that the owners are either living with their relatives or in rented houses.

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Monetary authority transfers funds to Gaza Strip

Transferring currency to the coastal strip requires coordination with the Israeli military authorities and a shortage of bills has held up public sector employees’ wages in recent months.
GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — The Palestinian Monetary Authority delivered a shipment of money to bank branches in Gaza on Sunday in order to ease a cash crisis in the coastal enclave.

The authority told Ma’an that they have been working hard to ease the financial crisis in Gaza.

Governor of the authority, Jihad al-Wazir, said earlier in January that a shortage of currency had held up payment of public sector employees’ wages in recent months and the deficit of shekels was increasing the price of the dollar in the coastal strip.

Under a stringent Israeli blockade since 2007, transferring currency to the coastal strip requires coordination with the Israeli military authorities.

Experts in Gaza say that the siege is being tightened after Western Union stopped its services to many currency exchange stores in the Gaza Strip over concerns about money laundering in recent weeks.

Professor of economy at Gaza City’s Al-Azhar University Samir Abu Mudallala said Saturday that the Western Union was vital for Palestinians to transfer money in and out of the Gaza Strip safely.

Currency exchange offices will also be hit, he said, as they have already paid considerable sums to the money transfer company for the service.

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UN chief urges end to Israeli occupation

BEIRUT — UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Sunday called for an end to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, saying the illegal building of settlements worked against a two-state solution.

“The Israeli occupation of Arab and Palestinian territories must end. So must violence against civilians,” Ban said in a keynote address at a conference in Beirut on democracy in the Arab world.

“Settlements, new and old, are illegal. They work against the emergence of a viable Palestinian state,” said the UN secretary general.

“A two-state solution is long overdue. The status quo offers only the guarantee of future conflict.”

Ban arrived in Beirut on Friday to attend a conference entitled “Reform and Transitions to Democracy” organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

Among the conference speakers are Egyptian presidential hopeful and former Arab League chief Amr Mussa and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose country has emerged as a key regional player in the Middle East.

The Israeli foreign ministry responded to Ban’s comments by saying ongoing talks between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators were the best way to address the concerns raised by the UN chief.

“The only thing I can say at this point is that the most important thing is to keep negotiations going in view of solving all of the issues including those mentioned by the secretary general,” said ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

“The most important thing now is not to jeopardise the talks that are under way.”

Palestinian and Israeli negotiators have so far held three rounds of “exploratory” talks in Jordan to discuss the possibility of resuming negotiations that have been on hold since late September 2010.

But a deep divide continues to separate the two sides in the talks, held under the auspices of Jordan and the peacemaking Quartet.

“There is still a wide gap between us on all positions because the Israeli side has not presented anything new and continues to hinder the resumption of negotiations,” a Palestinian official close to the negotiations told AFP in Ramallah.

Israel accused the Palestinians of trying to scupper peace talks.

“The Netanyahu government has always said that it is ready to sit at the table and discuss these subjects,” strategic affairs minister Moshe Yaalon told Israeli public radio on Sunday.

Yaalon said Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was “endlessly adding preconditions”.

“Of course we are not ready to start with the border and security arrangements,” he added.

The Quartet, comprising the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia, has urged both sides to present comprehensive proposals on borders and security before January 26 with a view to resuming talks shortly afterwards.

While only the Palestinians have done so so far, Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was considering submitting proposals on borders and security in March.

But the plan is unlikely to win favour with the Palestinians, who have made it clear they will not continue meeting beyond January 26 without a settlement freeze and clear parameters for talks.

Abbas is currently seeking full state membership at the UN and at the weekend said he would press on with the campaign no matter the outcome of the talks.

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Veteran Israeli settler says democracy is obstacle

In this Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012 photo, veteran settler leader Benny Katzover gestures during an interview with The Associated Press at his house in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Elon Moreh near Nablus. Israel's democracy was long a point of pride, setting it apart in a region of autocratic governments. But Katzover says democracy is getting in the way of what he believes is a higher purpose. Katzover has been at the forefront of a religiously inspired movement to take over the West Bank hilltop by hilltop, helping build a network of settlements over four decades that are now home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis.In this Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012 photo, veteran settler leader Benny Katzover gestures during an interview with The Associated Press at his house in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Elon Moreh near Nablus. Israel’s democracy was long a point of pride, setting it apart in a region of autocratic governments. But Katzover says democracy is getting in the way of what he believes is a higher purpose. Katzover has been at the forefront of a religiously inspired movement to take over the West Bank hilltop by hilltop, helping build a network of settlements over four decades that are now home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis.
ELON MOREH, West Bank—Israel’s democracy has long been a point of pride for its citizens — setting the country apart in a region of autocratic governments. But veteran settler leader Benny Katzover says democracy is getting in the way of what he believes is a higher purpose.

Katzover has been at the forefront of a religiously inspired movement to take over the West Bank, hilltop by hilltop, helping build a network of settlements over four decades that are now home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis.

Today he argues that democratic principles, such as equality before the law, have become an obstacle to deepening Jewish control over all of the biblical Land of Israel — though he stops short of calling for dismantling Israel’s democratic institutions. They are disintegrating on their own, he says, and losing legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

“We didn’t come here to establish a democratic state,” Katzover said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We came here to return the Jewish people to their land.”

Katzover’s comments appear to reflect a growing radicalization among some right-wing religious groups. They come at a time of a rise in attacks on Palestinians by vigilante settlers and an increase in complaints by liberal Israelis that the country’s right-wing parliament and government have launched an unprecedented attack on the pillars of democracy. Israel has preserved its democratic system through decades of turmoil, though it never extended it to Palestinians in occupied lands.

Katzover, 64, led the first group of settlers into the northern West Bank in the 1970s and helped establish the settlement of Elon Moreh in 1980. Like other prominent settlers, he has been a confidant and informal adviser to a string of prime ministers over the years.

Katzover remains influential among hardcore activists and heads the Committee of Samaria Settlers, a group that tries to block government attempts to raze any of the about 100 unauthorized settlement outposts or uproot settlers as part of a future — and for now very remote — partition deal with the Palestinians.

“Across the country, these ideas, that democracy needs dramatic change, if not dismantling then at least dramatic change, these ideas are very widespread,” he said in his modest home in Elon Moreh, a settlement of 2,000 people with a sweeping view of the West Bank hills the Palestinians want as the core of their future state.

The mainstream settlers’ umbrella group, the Yesha Council, distanced itself from Katzover’s comments, first made in a small ultra-Orthodox publication and picked up by Israel’s liberal Haaretz daily earlier this month. The Yesha Council is firmly committed to democratic principles, said its chairman, Dani Dayan. But Katzover claims he’s expressing publicly what many others, including more mainstream settler leaders, think privately.

Yair Sheleg of the Israel Democracy Institute said the radicalization of hardline settlers accelerated after Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Israel uprooted nearly two dozen settlements, including four in the northern West Bank, and the operation was deeply traumatic for the settler movement.

Sheleg said he was surprised by Katzover’s tough tone, if not the content of his remarks.

“We should be very worried,” he said. “Benny Katzover was considered to be historically one of the mainstream leaders of the settler movement, and this really illustrates the way, the very far way, those mainstream settler leaders went.”

The trend has been accompanied by a sharp rise in settler attacks on Palestinians and their property since 2009, including the torching of mosques, setting fire to fields, cutting down orchards and stoning cars. According to new U.N. figures, there were 412 attacks on property and people in 2011, compared to 168 in 2009.

The attacks are part of a tactic called “price tag.” They are carried out in response to attempts by the Israeli military to raze even parts of settlement outposts set up since the 1990s to prevent a partition deal. Perpetrators are rarely caught or punished, though recent price tag vandalism at an Israeli army base prompted government pledges to be tougher.

The price tag assailants are usually portrayed as young hotheads, or the most radical among the so-called “hilltop youths” that have been setting up the outposts.

The Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, citing internal documents, alleged last week that Katzover’s group is a key force promoting the price tag policy. Katzover denied any involvement, saying he opposes “price tag” attacks as damaging to the settlement cause.

But he refused to denounce the practice, arguing he wants to keep an open line to the most radical in hopes of having a moderating influence.

Katzover is a founder of Gush Emunim, the spearhead of the Jewish settlement movement that sprang up in the 1970s and over the years garnered considerable political clout.

Gush Emunim followers believed even then in the supreme importance of settling the land, including the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and sought by the Palestinians for their state.

Gush Emunim’s original vision of hundreds of thousands of Israelis settling in the West Bank has largely come true, mainly because of massive backing by successive Israeli governments.

Katzover says the accomplishments of the movement, including the establishment of 150 government-sanctioned settlements, “shaped the map” of Israel by preventing a withdrawal to the pre-1967 war frontiers.

Establishment of a Palestinian state, seen by the international community as a cornerstone of Mideast peace, would require the removal of a majority of the settlements or their incorporation into Palestine. As the settler population continues to grow, partition is pushed further out of reach.

There’s now a critical mass to prevent a withdrawal from the West Bank heartland as well, he said. “I don’t believe there is a government that will take upon itself the responsibility to mark 100,000 people for expulsion,” he said

( / 15.01.2012)

Palestinian leader loses VIP status with Israel

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Israel has stripped Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of VIP status and given him a watered-down travel permit that is valid for just two months, Palestinian officials charged Sunday.

The officials said that Abbas complained about the permit at an internal meeting of his Fatah Party last week.

In a speech, Abbas said the new permit, similar to those required for Palestinian laborers entering Israel, was a reflection of Israel’s continued control over the Palestinians, and suggested that Israel was trying to punish him for applying for Palestinian membership in the United Nations.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity Sunday because they were not allowed to brief reporters.

Maj. Guy Inbar, a spokesman for the Israeli agency that issues travel documents to Palestinians, said there has been no change in policy. He said the permit was the result of a technical glitch that should be resolved soon.

“Freedom of movement … remains exactly the same as it was,” Inbar said.

The VIP permit allowed Abbas to travel whenever and wherever he wanted. Palestinian officials acknowledged the new permit has not prevented Abbas, a frequent traveler to world capitals, from moving in and out of the West Bank. On Sunday, Abbas flew to London for talks with British leaders.

Dozens of local Facebook users spread what appeared to be a copy of Abbas’ travel permit, in many cases with sarcastic comments about Abbas’ weakness. “See you at the checkpoint,” wrote one user, identified as Nidal Ahmed.

Adnan Dmiri, spokesman for the Palestinian security forces, said dozens of Palestinian officials have lost VIP cards since the middle of last year — shortly before Abbas’ appeal to the United Nations in September. Israel bitterly opposed the U.N. gambit, saying the Palestinians should be admitted to the world body only as part of a negotiated peace agreement.

“We believe that Israel is using all means to pressure the Palestinian Authority to step away from its political path of resorting to the international community,” Dmiri said.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been stalled for more than three years over the issue of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Early this month, the chief negotiators from the two sides began meeting again in hopes of finding a formula for the formal resumption of talks.

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Court orders Google and Facebook to remove all anti Islamic content

Social websites including Google and Facebook have been ordered by an Indian court to remove all ‘anti-religious’ and ‘anti-social’ content within six weeks.
On Saturday a Delhi Court ordered 22 social networking sites, including Yahoo and Microsoft, to wipe the objectionable and defamatory contents and file compliance reports by February 6, 2012.
Additional Civil Judge Mukesh Kumar passed the order on a suit filed by Mufti Aijaz Arshad Qasmi seeking to restrain the websites from circulating objectionable and defamatory contents.

Qasmi had objected to a number of images on the websites which he complained would cause ‘irreparable loss and injury to the people who are offended by them’.
He argued that some of the images defamed Hindu gods, Prophet Mohammed and other religious figures, India Today website reported.

The order will raise serious questions about how users’ posts and opinions will be edited, censorship and freedom of expression.

On December 22 Judge Kumar had issued summonses to the social networking sites, demanding they remove photographs, videos or texts that might offend religious sentiments, the Hindustan Times website reported.

The order comes a day after a criminal court issued summonses to the sites for facing trial for allegedly webcasting objectionable contents.

Santosh Pandey, appearing for complainant Mufti Aijaz Arshad Qasmi, told The Hindu Times after the court hearing that the websites have to submit a report to the court by February 6 describing the action they had taken to remove the contents from the websites.
Representatives of Yahoo India Pvt Ltd and Microsoft told the court that they had not got copies of the order and complaint against them, but Qasmi’s counsel told the court that he would supply the relevant documents to them, according to the Hindustan Times.

The order comes at a controversial time as IT minister Kapil Sibal had recently discussed with representatives of some of the companies ways to guarantee the offensive contents are not posted.
India Today quoted him as saying: ‘There were some demeaning, degrading, clearly pornographic depictions of gods and goddesses which no reasonable, sensible person anywhere in the world would accept, on any site.

The minister insisted he was not smothering free speech but was suggesting screening possible ‘incendiary’ material.

The Hindu Times reported Facebook India, Facebook, Google India Pvt Ltd, Google Orkut, Youtube, Blogspot, Microsoft India Pvt Ltd, Microsoft, Zombie Time, Exboii, Boardreader, IMC India, My Lot, Shyni Blog and Topix were all given the order.
A Google spokesperson told the website: ‘We comply with valid court orders wherever possible, consistent with our long standing policy.
‘We’re yet to receive the details of this order and can’t comment on this specific case.’

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Protesters’ Molotov cocktails vs police tear gas in Romania

Romanian police fired tear gas and protesters responded with stones and Molotov cocktails during an anti-government protest on Saturday in Bucharest. An unauthorized rally has been staged against proposed health care reforms.

More than 1,000 protesters rallied in Bucharest’s main University Square, blocking traffic, Associated Press reports. Protesters yelled anti-government slogans and called for early elections. They have been waving a Romanian flag with a ripped out center, symbolizing the 1989 anti-communist revolution.

Seven hours later they still refused to leave and clashed with riot police, who then used tear gas. As a result nine people have been injured, among them a TV journalist, who has been injured by a stone thrown by a protester, said local authorities. One police officer sustained head injuries after he was hit by stones.

Police detained 29 people, including soccer hooligans with a previous police record for acts of violence and for disturbing public order.

This was the fourth consecutive day of demonstrations in Romania and the second in the capital against austerity cuts and falling living standards.

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PLO, Israel to meet for fourth round of talks

A boy holds a flag in front of Israeli soldiers.
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Palestinian and Israeli officials have agreed to meet for the fourth time on Jan. 25, after the latest round of talks between the two sides.

Israeli and PLO envoys met on Saturday for the third round of face-to-face meetings this year in the Jordanian capital. Neither side made official statements following the meeting between PLO member Saeb Erekat and Israel’s chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho.

The Palestinian Authority’s official news agency Wafa said, however, that Erekat and Molcho had agreed to a fourth meeting on Jan. 25 in Amman.

Jordan’s foreign minister Nasser Judeh also attended the meeting.

The exploratory discussions began on Jan. 3 and followed a long break in negotiations after President Mahmoud Abbas suspended talks 15 months ago over Israel’s expansion of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The “Quartet” of international peace mediators – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations wants the two sides to state their positions on the borders and security arrangements of a future “two-state solution” by Jan. 26 to help open the door to a resumption of full negotiations.

US officials have signaled that the Jan. 26 target date for the two sides to exchange proposals could slide.

The PLO entered the closed-door talks despite opposition from factions, who point to the failure of decades of negotiations with Israel alongside the expansion of illegal settlements.

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