Moscow rejects Saudi offer to drop Assad for arms deal

Russia’s Vladimir Putin (R) meets Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud in Astrakhan.

BEIRUT (AFP) — Moscow has rejected a Saudi proposal to abandon Syria’s president in return for a huge arms deal and a pledge to boost Russian influence in the Arab world, diplomats told AFP.

On July 31, President Vladimir Putin, a strong backer of Syrian leader Bashar Assad, met Saudi Arabia’s influential intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, after which both Moscow and Riyadh kept a lid on the substance of the talks.

“Every two years, Bandar bin Sultan meets his Russian counterparts, but this time, he wanted to meet the head of state,” said a European diplomat who shuttles between Beirut and Damascus.

“During the meeting at the Kremlin, the Saudi official explained to his interlocutor that Riyadh is ready to help Moscow play a bigger role in the Middle East at a time when the United States is disengaging from the region.”

Bandar proposed that Saudi Arabia buy $15 billion of weapons from Russia and invest “considerably in the country,” the source said.

The Saudi prince also reassured Putin that “whatever regime comes after” Assad, it will be “completely” in the Saudis’ hands and will not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian gas exports, the diplomat said.

In 2009, Assad refused to sign an agreement with Qatar for an overland pipeline running from the Gulf to Europe via Syria to protect the interests of its Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas.

An Arab diplomat with contacts in Moscow said: “President Putin listened politely to his interlocutor and let him know that his country would not change its strategy.”

“Bandar bin Sultan then let the Russians know that the only option left in Syria was military and that they should forget about Geneva because the opposition would not attend.”

Russia and the United States have been trying for months to organize an international peace conference between Assad’s regime and the opposition to take place in Geneva, but so far to no avail.

Asked about the Putin-Bandar meeting, a Syrian politician said: “As was the case before with Qatar and Lavrov (in talks), Saudi Arabia thinks that politics is a simple matter of buying people or countries. It doesn’t understand that Russia is a major power and that this is not how it draws up policy.”

“Syria and Russia have had close ties for over half a century in all fields and it’s not Saudi rials that will change this fact,” he added.

The meeting between Bandar and Putin came amid tension between Moscow and Riyadh over the conflict in Syria, as Russia has accused the Saudis of “financing and arming terrorists and extremist groups” in the war which has killed more than 100,000 people since March 2011.

While there was no official reaction to the meeting, Russian experts also said Putin had apparently turned down the Saudi offer.

According to military expert Alexander Goltz from online opposition newspaper Ejednevny, “such an agreement seems extremely improbable.”

“Support for Assad is a matter of principle for Vladimir Putin,” he said. “Even the bait of $15 billion, a huge sum that represents two years’ turnover for Rosoboronexport (Russia’s arms exporting agency), will have no effect.”

Independent security expert Andrei Soldatov, who runs the website said: “This disinformation is aimed more at destabilizing Assad and his entourage.

“Assad’s position is growing stronger and stronger, and the Kremlin knows this. Turning against them in this situation would be very stupid … And don’t forget that in general the Saudis take years to keep their promises.”

(Source / 08.08.13)

U.S.: Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to resume Aug. 14

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni at a press conference, July 30.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will resume peace talk in Jerusalem on Aug. 14, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.

“Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians will be resuming Aug. 14 in Jerusalem and will be followed by a meeting in Jericho (in the West Bank),” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a briefing.

The sides held their first peace negotiations in nearly three years in Washington on July 30 in U.S.-mediated efforts to end the conflict of more than six decades.

Psaki said U.S. envoys Martin Indyk and Frank Lowenstein will travel to the region to help facilitate the negotiations.

She signaled that no major breakthroughs were likely at the meeting, saying: “Secretary Kerry does not expect to make any announcements in the aftermath of this round of talks.”

The announcement came as Israel said it had given preliminary approval for the construction of more than 800 new homes in Jewish settlements on occupied West Bank land, a move that would complicate peace negotiations.

Psaki said Washington had taken up the issue with the Israelis.

“The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity and opposes any efforts to legitimize settlement outpost,” Psaki said.

“The Secretary has made clear that he believes both the negotiating teams are at the table in good faith and are committed to making progress,” she added.

Kerry has said the sides have given themselves about nine months to try to reach an agreement.

The United States is seeking to broker an agreement on a two-state solution, in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a new Palestinian state created in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, lands partly occupied by Israel since a 1967 war.

The latest direct talks collapsed in late 2010 over Israel’s building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

(Source / 08.08.2013)

Israel blocked me from going to my own wedding

Man sitting on couch holds photo of him and young woman embracing

Mohammed Kartoum and his fiancée Marjan were supposed to marry in Palestine this weekend.

When I was a small child, I moved from the US to Palestine. I moved to my father’s village of Kufr Malik, near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

My father has a Palestinian identity card or hawiyye. My mother, however, was born inJordan to a Palestinian refugee family, so she carries a Jordanian and a US passport.

My parents both decided early on that they wanted to raise me and my three younger siblings in our homeland to ensure that we maintain our language and culture. Up until 2006, Palestine was my home.

In early 2006, our family came to the US for better job and education opportunities. We planned to keep our house in Palestine and come back for the summers, at least.

But when I tried to visit Palestine in the summer of 2008, I was denied entry and banned for five years. This was because of a technicality — the Israeli airport security personnel apparently found in their system that my mother at one point overstayed her visa when she was in Palestine trying to raise me and my three siblings.

I was being punished for something I had no idea about as a child.

In 2012, I finally attempted to try and enter the country again. Fortunately, I was allowed in.

It was during this visit when I met Marjan, who I fell in love with. She eventually became my fiancée.

Throughout the past two years, Marjan and I planned to have a beautiful wedding celebration with our family and friends in Palestine on 11 August this year. I planned on bringing her with me back to Chicago after the wedding.

Back in the US and working to save up for our wedding, I was excited to come to Palestine this summer to marry Marjan. My mother, youngest brother Wael and younger sister Yasmin were set to go to Palestine ahead of me to help us with wedding preparations.

Unfortunately, my mother was denied entry, even though it was her first time coming in seven years. During interrogation in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, Yasmin was put into a different room than my mother and Wael.

Yasmin was questioned about why she was visiting Israel, and she told them she was coming for my wedding. After a short interrogation, she was allowed in.

But my mother and Wael were not allowed in. When airport security officials found out that my youngest brother was born in Palestine and was eligible to get his hawiyye, they informed my mother they were not going to let them in.


They said they did not believe my mother was there for a wedding because she did not provide a wedding invitation as proof. They then drove her and Wael to an Israeli jail, where they stayed for the night until they were flown back to the US the next morning.

My mother and Wael were told they can come in next time, if they provide an invitation. The fact that they let my sister in so easily because she had a different interrogator shows that it all depends on the mood of the interrogator.

There is no clear system. It is arbitrary. In any case, my mother and Wael were not going to give up and planned on attempting to come in again so they could be there for my wedding.

I was confident that it would be different for me. I thought I would be allowed in because I had no problems when I entered in 2012.

I also was clearly not going to be there for long, as my return flight was set for 29 August. But when I got to the airport I was taken into the interrogation room and questioned for five hours. The officials asked me what seemed to be the same questions over and over.

“Who are you going to see?”

“Where exactly are you visiting?”

“How long will you be staying?”

“What do you do in the US? What’s your number? What’s your email address?”

“What’s your father’s name? What does your father do for a living?”

“What is your mother’s name? What does your mother do?”

“What’s your sister’s name? What does your sister do?”

“What are your brothers’ names? What do they do?”


They also tore apart everything in my luggage, even a bag of chips, to inspect it.

After five hours, they informed me that I would not be allowed into the country. I was shocked and confused. I asked them why.

What did I do wrong? All I wanted was to get married.

They told me: “This is security business. We can’t tell you why, but you have to go home.”

They also informed me that they put a new policy into place and that everyone denied entry cannot return for ten years.

Devastated, I was put on the next flight back to the US. I stopped in Philadelphia on the way to Chicago for my connecting flight.

In the US, an official asked me why I was back after only a day of being overseas. I told him that I was denied entry by Israel. He told me the Israelis should have provided me with paperwork explaining why.

He went and spoke to others in his department. He came back and told me, “You’re not the only one who Israel has been denying entry to. There have been apparently twenty others the past week alone.”

He apologized that I had to go through that.

Now that I’m back home, we have to figure out a way to bring Marjan to the US so we can have our wedding here instead. Israel’s discriminatory and unpredictable denial of entry to Palestinian Americans has stopped us from getting married as planned, and now I must ask my fiancée to get married here in Chicago, far away from her family and friends.

(Source / 08.08.2013)

Do Israelis want a real Palestinian state? The polls say no

The settlement of Ariel

It’s peace process time again–and with it comes the trope that Israelis are ready for a two-state solution. That sentiment is accompanied by polls showing the same: that Israelis support the principle of two states for two peoples. But an examination of Israeli polls shows that nothing like a viable Palestinian state that would be acceptable to the Palestinian population is on the table.

With the peace process in overdrive, media consumers have been treated to a lot of hopeful thinking. In the past month, journalists and analysts have lined up to say that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has the support of the Israeli people to make a peace deal–if he would just go ahead and buck his right-wing coalition.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Brent Sasley says that there is “majority support, including among Jewish-Israelis, for talks and for a final settlement. One recent pollfound that 62 percent of Israelis support a two-state solution.”

In a piece on why there’s hope for a two-state deal, The New Republic’s Ben Birnbaum writes that “two-thirds of Israelis—including a majority of Likud and Jewish Home (!) voters—would support a peace deal that gave the Palestinians a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (with land swaps) with its capital in East Jerusalem.”

The Guardian’s Michael Cohen similarly writes that “Israelis strongly support a two-state solution.”

All three of those analysts link to articles in Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post that provide details on the same poll: a December 2012 study conducted by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace showing that right-wing Israelis would support a Palestinian state. The polls–there were two in total commissioned by the center–surveyed Habayit Hayehudi and Likud voters, and found that the majority of them would support a Palestinian state. Conflict solved!

Not so fast. The devil is in the details when it comes to a Palestinian state.

As Haaretz’s Barak Ravid reports, the Palestinian state accepted by these right-wingers would be demilitarized–and the kicker is that Israel keeps all of the settlement blocs in this imagined deal. That means the settlements of Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel–two settlement “blocs” that are considered “consensus” settlements, or settlements that Israelis believe they will keep in a permanent peace agreement. Both Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel slice and dice the West Bank into pieces that take a viable Palestinian state off the table. And that’s just talking territory. Never mind the discussion about a demilitarized state.

“Ma’aleh Adumim was established to break Palestinian contiguity,” Benny Kashriel, the mayor of the settlement, said in 2004.

And even the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, who have shown themselves willing to give Israel a lot, were resistant to a deal that would keep Ariel in the hands of the Israelis, as the Palestine Papers showed. The same goes for the Palestinian population at large–especially since Ariel sits on top of major water resources that were once in Palestinian hands.

A more recent poll conducted in June 2013 and cited by Sasley found that 62% of Israelis would support a two-state solution. But the same poll states that about 54% oppose dismantling most of the West Bank settlements, though the specifics of which settlements Israelis oppose dismantling are missing from the polling data.

It may be, as Sasley wrote, that “public opinion in Israel has historically followed leaders’ efforts when they’ve pushed major decisions on war and peace.” But when you have a leader like Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed that Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim will remain in Israeli hands forever, there isn’t much cause for optimism.

And a brand new poll concludes that 63% of Israeli Jews are opposed to withdrawing to the 1967 borders. The poll also shows 58% of Israelis opposing a peace agreement in which Israel has to dismantle some of its settlements but gets to retain Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim.

Taken together, the polling data shows that Israelis are decidedly not interested in a peace deal that would give Palestinians a viable state of their own. It’s a depressing fact that steadfast believers in the peace process refuse to acknowledge. If they did, they’d have to concede that Israeli society is too wedded to the continuing colonization of Palestine for a Palestinian state to come into being.

(Source / 08.08.2013)

Saudi Arabia says terror arrests linked to Western embassy closures

Saudi interior ministry said the two suspects were in contact with al-Qaeda leaders abroad.

Saudi Arabia’s arrest of two men suspected of plotting terror attacks is connected to the recent closure of Western embassies in the regions, Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki told Al Arabiya on Thursday.

The interior ministry had said the surveillance of messages exchanged through social media led to the arrest of the two suspects, who hail from Yemen and Chad.

Maj. Gen. al-Turki said the Chadian suspect was previously deported but returned to the kingdom using a different passport
Initial investigation revealed that the two individuals were plotting suicide attacks, the interior ministry said, adding that computer hardware, electronic devices and mobile phones were seized with the suspected.

“The security authorities through monitoring and follow up of published messages of incitement and hatred through social networks managed at the beginning of the last ten days of the holy month of Ramadan to arrest two expatriates,” the ministry added, in a statement published by the official state news agency SPA.

“The two recruited themselves for the service of deviant thought, as evidenced by their seized items which included computer hardware, electronic media and mobile phones and which indicated their communication with the deviant group abroad either by electronic encrypted messages or through identities via the social networks (such as Abu Alfidaa, Hspouy, Muawiya Almadani, Rasasah fi Qusasah, and Abu El Feda Aldokulai) so as to exchange information about impending suicide operations in the region,” the statement added.

The official said investigation with the suspects was still ongoing.

Hundreds of al-Qaeda militants have been arrested in Saudi Arabia over the past 10 years. Acts of terrorism have been rare in the kingdom since a 2006 domestic campaign that dealt a blow to the terror network.

(Source / 08.08.2013)


By Peter Clifford         ©           (

international news channels and both Opposition and Assad Loyalist websites are awash this morning, Thursday, with reports of a claimed attack on a convoy taking President Bashar Assad earlier today to attend prayers celebrating the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid al-Fitr, a 3 day holiday.

Assad at Prayer Today or 2012?

What is known and confirmed by residents is that at least 7 Opposition mortar shells fell early this morning on the up-market Damascus area of Malki where the President and his family live.

The timing seems to be an attempt to target his motorcade which would normally be transporting him to Eid prayers at the Anas Bin Malek Mosque.

After the alleged attack, roads into the Malki area and around the mosque were blocked off by the army and activists released this video of smoke (but little else) arising from the Malki district, HERE:

Islam Alloush of the Opposition Liwa al-Islam Brigade originally claimed that rockets hit the president’s motorcade as it drove to the mosque in the Syrian capital for the Eid prayers and that “there are casualties”.

Countering the claims, the Syrian Information Minister, Omran Zoabi, said in a statement that the claims of an attack on the convoy were, “wholly untrue” and “dreams and illusions” by the Opposition.

Zoabi even later claimed that, “The president was driving his car himself, he attended the prayer and greeted people… everything is normal.”

But something is not normal. SANA, the Syrian state media, always makes great play of any speech or appearance in public of President Assad. Early this morning it had merely posted:

“SANA: Aug 08, 2013

Damascus, (SANA)- President Bashar al-Assad performed Thursday Eid al-Fitr Prayer at Anas Bin Malek Mosque in Damascus.”

But since the “attack” reports it has expanded this into several paragraphs.

Assad Praying with Grand Mufti. 2012 or 2013?

As the reports emerged, Syrian TV ran footage of what it claimed was “Live” coverage of Assad attending the mosque for prayers this morning, though the “Live” tag later disappeared.

You can see today’s “live footage” in this AL Jazeera report. Stop the video at 0.28, HERE:  (and then watch carefully from there)

Then take a look at this video of Assad attending Eid prayers in 2012, which was broadcast live. Stop this one at 1.11,HERE:

Note that Assad and his companions to his right and left (the Grand Mufti) are all wearing the same suits in both shots. Plus Assad and his companion to his right are wearing exactly the same (lucky?) ties.

Coincidence or not?

That Assad was injured in the attack is unlikely, but whether it was enough to scare him off from visiting the mosque and the Syrian Government PR machine has gone into overdrive to reassure its supporters, is another matter.

(EDITOR: Its up to you to make up your own mind)

More News Follows Later …….