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« Reply #3105 on: Nov 21, 2012, 07:33 AM »

November 21, 2012

Cease-Fire Deal Elusive in Gaza Conflict as U.S. Widens Its Role

By ETHAN BRONNER and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
IHT

JERUSALEM — To a backdrop of air strikes and mounting casualties, American efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in the latest Gaza fighting between Israel and Hamas continued onWednesday but the struggle to achieve even a brief pause in the fighting emphasized the obstacles to finding any lasting solution.

Israeli airstrikes overnight continued into Wednesday morning, hitting government buildings, the smuggling tunnels under the southern Rafah border crossing, and a bridge on the beach road that is one of three linking Gaza City to the central area of the strip. The Hamas healthy ministry said the Palestinian death toll stood at 140 at noon, with 1,100 injured. At least a third of those killed are believed to have been militants.

The eight-day conflict in the Gaza Strip also appeared to have spilled onto the streets of Tel Aviv on Wednesday with what police described as a bomb blast aboard a civilian bus. Eleven people were injured, one of them seriously.

The latest exchanges, which included the interception of at least two rockets fired from Gaza, came as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was reported to have held talks with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Israeli leaders in Jerusalem. She was scheduled to fly on Wednesday to Cairo where Egyptian-brokered ceasefire talks have thus far been inconclusive.

Around noon on Wednesday in the Gaza Strip, according to the Hamas government media office, a bomb hit the house of Issam Da’alis, an adviser to Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister. The house had been evacuated. Earlier, a predawn airstrike near a mosque in the Jabaliya Refugee Camp killed a 30-year-old militant, a spokesman said, and F-16 bombs destroyed two houses in the central Gaza Strip.

There were 23 punishing strikes against the southern tunnels that are used to bring weapons as well as construction material, cars and other commercial goods into Gaza from the Sinai peninsula.

Within Gaza City, Abu Khadra, the largest government office complex, was obliterated overnight. Damage was also caused to shops, including two banks and a tourism office, and electricity cables fell on the ground and were covered in dust.

Separately, an F-16 bomb created a 20-foot crater in an open area in a stretch of hotels occupied by foreign journalists. Several of the hotels had windows blown out by the strike around 2 a.m., but no one was reported injured. By morning, the hole in the ground had filled with sludgy water, apparently from a burst pipe, appearing almost like a forgotten swimming hole with walls made of sand and cracked cinder block.

Surveying damage near a government complex, Raji Sourani of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said Gaza civilians were “in the eye of the storm,” accusing Israel of “inflicting pain and terror” on them. Israeli officials accuse Hamas of locating military sites in or close to civilian areas.

Overnight, as the conflict entered its eighth day, the Israeli military said in Twitter feeds that “more than 100 terror sites were targeted, of which approximately 50 were underground rocket launchers.” The targets included the Ministry of Internal Security in Gaza, described as “one of the Hamas’ main command and control centers.”

While there was no immediate or formal claim of responsibility for the bus bombing in Tel Aviv, a message on a Twitter account in the name of the Al Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip, declared: “We told you IDF that our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are, ‘You opened the Gates of Hell on Yourselves.’” The letters IDF refer to the Israel Defense Forces.

On several occasions since the latest conflagration seized Gaza last week, militants have aimed rockets at Tel Aviv but they have either fallen short, landed in the sea or been intercepted. Hundreds of rockets fired by militants in Gaza have struck other targets.

But the bombing seemed to mark the first time in the current fighting that violence had spread directly onto the streets of Tel Aviv.

On Tuesday — the deadliest day of fighting in the conflict — Secretary of State Clinton arrived hurriedly in Jerusalem and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to push for a truce. Her planned visit to Cairo on Wednesday to consult with Egyptian officials in contact with Hamas placed her and the Obama administration at the center of a fraught process with multiple parties, interests and demands.

Before leaving for Cairo, news reports said, Mrs. Clinton headed to the West Bank to meet Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, which is estranged from the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip and has increasingly strained ties with Israel over a contentious attempt to upgrade the Palestinian status at the United Nations to that of a nonmember state. Mrs. Clinton was to meet again with Mr. Netanyahu before heading for Egypt, the reports said.

Mr. Abbas’s faction is favored by the United States, but it is not directly involved in either the fighting in Gaza or the effort in Cairo to end it. Like Israel and much of the West, the United States regards Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Officials on all sides had raised expectations that a cease-fire would begin around midnight, followed by negotiations for a longer-term agreement. But by the end of Tuesday, officials with Hamas, the militant Islamist group that governs Gaza, said any announcement would not come at least until Wednesday.

The Israelis, who have amassed tens of thousands of troops on the Gaza border and have threatened to invade for a second time in four years to end the rocket fire, never publicly backed the idea of a short break in fighting. They said they were open to a diplomatic accord but were looking for something more enduring.

“If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem through diplomatic means, we prefer that,” Mr. Netanyahu said before meeting with Mrs. Clinton at his office. “But if not, I’m sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever actions necessary to defend its people.”

Mrs. Clinton spoke of the need for “a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.” It was unclear whether she was starting a complex task of shuttle diplomacy or whether she expected to achieve a pause in the hostilities and then head home.

The diplomatic moves came as the antagonists on both sides stepped up their attacks. Israeli aerial and naval forces assaulted several Gaza targets in multiple strikes, including a suspected rocket-launching site near Al Shifa Hospital. On Wednesday, the Israeli military said that “800 rockets fired from Gaza hit Israel in the past week — 162 during the last day alone.”

A delegation visiting from the Arab League canceled a news conference at the hospital because of the Israeli aerial assaults as wailing ambulances brought victims in, some of them decapitated.

On Tuesday, militants in Gaza fired a barrage of at least 200 rockets into Israel, killing an Israeli soldier — the first military casualty on the Israeli side since the hostilities broke out. The Israeli military said the soldier, identified as Yosef Fartuk, 18, had died from a rocket strike that hit an area near Gaza. Israeli officials said a civilian military contractor working near the Gaza border had also been killed, bringing the number of fatalities in Israel from the week of rocket mayhem to five.

Other Palestinian rockets hit the southern Israeli cities of Beersheba and Ashdod, and longer-range rockets were fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Neither main city was struck, and no casualties were reported. One Gaza rocket hit a building in Rishon LeZion, just south of Tel Aviv, wounding one person and wrecking the top three floors.

Senior Egyptian officials in Cairo said Israel and Hamas were “very close” to a cease-fire agreement. “We have not received final approval, but I hope to receive it any moment,” said Essam el-Haddad, President Mohamed Morsi’s top foreign affairs adviser.

Foreign diplomats who were briefed on the outlines of a tentative agreement said it had been structured in stages — first, an announcement of a cease-fire, followed by its implementation for 48 hours. That would allow time for Mrs. Clinton to involve herself in the process here and create a window for negotiators to agree on conditions for a longer-term cessation of hostilities.

But it seemed that each side had steep demands of a longer-term deal that the other side would reject.

Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, said in Cairo that Israel needed to end its blockade of Gaza. Israel says the blockade keeps arms from entering the coastal strip.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu, said Israel saw no point in an arrangement that offered Hamas what he called “a timeout to regroup” without long-term guarantees involving the United States and Egypt. Some Israeli officials have spoken of a bigger buffer zone along the Gaza border.

American officials said Washington was betting on the pragmatism of Mr. Morsi, Egypt’s new president. He is a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement with which Hamas is affiliated.

While President Obama publicly emphasized Israel’s right to self-defense because of domestic political concerns, officials said the administration had also decided to take an understanding approach to Mr. Morsi’s need to denounce Israel in order to appeal to his domestic audience.

Officials of Mr. Morsi’s government acknowledged that the Gaza battle had put them in a bind. As Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mr. Morsi must respond to a public deeply angry at Israel and eager to rally behind the Palestinians. “But if he responds fully to public opinion, he risks what we have been trying to do for peace and stability in the region,” a senior official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Indeed, despite the Egyptian government’s caustic statements about Israel and noisy solidarity with Hamas, several American officials said Mr. Morsi and the new Islamist government needed no encouragement in their efforts to push for an end not only to the Israeli bombing but also to Hamas’s missile fire.

But Israel wants guarantees that Egypt will actively stop the flow of arms into Gaza from Sinai, and that seems a tall order. Egypt has been unable to control Sinai and would not want to be seen in the role of Israeli enforcer. Egypt is hoping Hamas will restrain itself on missile imports, but it is far from clear that Hamas wants to or can, given the range of forces in Gaza vying for power, including the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad.

Within Hamas itself, there are divisions and fractured views on the truce negotiations. In Gaza on Tuesday, Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said that “we hold absolutely no hope of Hillary Clinton” helping to resolve the conflict.

“We hold no hope in Obama or Hillary Clinton to do anything, just to save the occupation in their crisis,” Mr. Barhoum said in an interview outside Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. “Just support the occupation so it can do more and more massacres.”

Ethan Bronner reported from Jerusalem, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo. Reporting was contributed by Jodi Rudoren and Fares Akram from Gaza; Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem; Alan Cowell from London; Peter Baker from Phnom Penh, Cambodia; David E. Sanger and Mark Landler from Washington; Andrea Bruce from Rafah, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

************

November 20, 2012

Obama, Showing Support for Israel, Gains New Leverage Over Netanyahu

By HELENE COOPER and MARK LANDLER
NYT

WASHINGTON — In the fractious relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, the shoe may have just shifted to the other foot.

After more than a year of Mr. Obama needing — and not getting — much support from his Israeli counterpart in his efforts to woo American Jewish voters at home ahead of his re-election, it is now Mr. Netanyahu, Israel experts say, who needs Mr. Obama to help shore up his support at home.

The Israeli leader is facing an election in January, and if there is one thing that Israeli voters do not like, scholars say, it is any kind of daylight between their prime minister and the American president in times of strife.

After a year in which Mr. Netanyahu made no secret of his support for Mitt Romney, now might seem a perfect time for Mr. Obama to return the favor. And yet, as Israel and Hamas — and their proxies, the United States and Egypt — struggle to agree on a cease-fire in the fighting in Gaza, he has not done so.

Instead, Mr. Obama has sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to help seal a cease-fire agreement. He has been steadfast in his public support for Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks from Gaza. And he has made no mention of the need for “restraint” from Israel in its bombing campaign, which would be interpreted as an American effort to pressure Israel.

Mr. Obama has struck as vigorous a pro-Israel stance as President George W. Bush did when he faced similar crises, in Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah in 2006 and in its last Gaza incursion, in 2008.

The president has been on the phone almost daily with Mr. Netanyahu, and even more often with President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader whom Mr. Obama has been leaning on to broker a cease-fire. And it is Mr. Obama who has provided financing for the Iron Dome missile defense system, which has prevented hundreds of rockets from hitting Israeli targets.

All of this, Middle East experts say, means that Mr. Obama may have buttressed his own standing with the Israeli public, and is now in a far better position to start pressing Mr. Netanyahu on issues from the Israeli siege of Gaza to Iran to the dormant Middle East peace process, where he has had little leverage.

For the moment, diplomats and analysts said, Mr. Obama is unlikely to press Mr. Netanyahu too hard. But as negotiations over a cease-fire take shape, the president could use his new leverage on issues like lifting Israel’s blockade of Gaza and allowing greater freedom of movement for Palestinians and their goods across borders.

“There’s been a reversal of the balance between Bibi and Obama,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel and an author of “Bending History,” a study of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy.

“Bibi backed the wrong horse,” Mr. Indyk said. “Now the Israeli public is appreciating Obama’s support in a way that they never have before. So Bibi cannot position himself as saying no to the president of the United States.”

Robert Malley, program director for the Middle East and North Africa with the International Crisis Group, said, “When the president decides he’s going to engage on the other side of the peace equation, does he try to cash in, and get something in exchange for the support he showed for Israel at this stage?”

Administration officials said it was too soon to talk about making demands of Israel; until the Gaza crisis is settled, they say, Mr. Obama’s focus is on preventing further loss of life in both Israel and Gaza. But one official said the president was intent on restarting the moribund peace process between Israelis and Palestinians in his second term. That may be easier said than done. Mr. Malley points out that even if Mr. Obama tries to restart peace talks, so much has happened that “the ground has shifted.”

For one thing, the Hamas militant group, which controls Gaza and with whom the United States does not talk, has increased its standing as a representative of the Palestinian people, while the Palestinian Authority — America’s preferred partner — has become increasingly sidelined in the West Bank.

Moreover, neither side has shown much interest in moving from entrenched positions on the “final status” issues that have bedeviled peace negotiators for more than 30 years. Mr. Obama, so far, has been unwilling to invest the kind of political capital and negotiating muscle it will take to force a peace deal on the Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs in the region.

As Mr. Obama weighs his approach, he can draw from history. American presidents have not hesitated to weigh in on Israeli elections — not unlike what Mr. Netanyahu did to Mr. Obama — and with similarly dismal results.

In 1995, for instance, after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the White House of President Bill Clinton was open about its preference for Shimon Peres over his election rival, Mr. Netanyahu, former officials recall, in part because it believed Mr. Peres would carry on Mr. Rabin’s commitment to the peace process.

But even after Mr. Clinton championed Mr. Peres’s proposals at a conference in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition won the election in May 1996, and Mr. Clinton was left to deal with an antagonistic partner.

“We are terrible at this, and it makes no sense,” said Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East negotiator who is now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Mr. Miller, who described the relationship between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu as “the most dysfunctional I’ve ever seen,” said that by saving his political ammunition now, Mr. Obama would have “the leeway, latitude and influence later to cajole him on Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian issue.”

In their conversations during the crisis, there has already been a perceptible change in the tone between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu, according to officials. “There’s a real sense of how important these conversations have been,” said Dennis B. Ross, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama on the Middle East.

Assuming that Mr. Netanyahu stays in power after January, Mr. Ross said that the prime minister and Mr. Obama would have a chance to bring a new perspective to their relationship — in a Middle East landscape transformed by the Arab Spring.

“They know they’re going to be together,” Mr. Ross said. “And they know that some of the political considerations which seemed important will no longer be as important.”

*************

UN chief urges halt to rocket attacks on Israel

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 8:01 EST

UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate halt to rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip, after talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on Wednesday.

“I reiterate my call for an immediate cessation of indiscriminate rocket attacks by Palestinian militants targeting Israeli populated centres. This is unacceptable,” he told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

“Now is the time for diplomacy and stopping the violence,” he said, a week into deadly Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip from which militants have been firing hundreds of rockets at the Jewish state.

***********

U.S. blocks UN Council statement on Gaza

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 20, 2012 18:34 EST

UNITED NATIONS — The United States on Tuesday blocked a UN Security Council statement on the Gaza conflict, arguing that it would have been “counter-productive” amid efforts to reach a ceasefire.

Russia had threatened to press for a full council resolution on the conflict if the Arab-proposed statement was blocked. That could have led to a veto clash with the United States.

But, with Egyptian-led truce efforts gathering pace, diplomats said Moscow’s initiative would be dropped, though the Russian mission made no immediate announcement.

The United States sent a letter to the 14 other council missions just before a Tuesday deadline for the statement to take effect, diplomats told AFP.

Diplomats quoted the US letter as saying the proposed resolution “failed to address the root cause” of the showdown between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, which it said was rocket attacks into Israel.

The US letter called the statement “counter-productive” and added that it was “failing to contribute to diplomacy.”

Israel has said its six-day old series of strikes in which more than 120 Palestinians have been killed is a response to the rocket attacks for the six day offensive. Three Israelis have been killed in a rocket attack from Gaza.

Hamas has indicated that a truce could start later Tuesday, which reduces the pressure for Security Council action, but Israel has not confirmed this.

Russia had said Monday that if the Security Council failed to agree a statement by Tuesday then it would put a resolution — a stronger move by the council than a statement — to a vote.

The resolution would call for an end to hostilities, support regional efforts to broker peace and call for renewed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Some diplomats said the United States would probably use its power as a permanent member of the Security Council to veto the resolution.

The United States generally blocks any resolution criticizing its Israeli ally at the Security Council.

Palestinian and some Arab diplomats have strongly criticized the council for failing to speak on the Gaza crisis. The council held an emergency meeting last Wednesday but took no action.

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Clinton: U.S. commitment to Israeli security ‘rock solid’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 20, 2012 19:00 EST

JERUSALEM — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Jerusalem on Tuesday during Israel’s conflict in Gaza that Washington’s commitment to the Jewish state’s security remains “rock solid.”

But the top US diplomat also stressed that Washington expected a quick de-escalation to a seven-day conflict that has shaken the already volatile region and now threatens to spill over into an all-out ground war.

“The American commitment to Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering,” Clinton said at a brief press appearance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the two entered closed-door talks.

“That is why we believe it is essential to de-escalate the situation” in the Palestinian territory, said Clinton, who welcomed Egyptian mediation efforts.

Clinton was speaking only moments into a regional tour that will also take her on Wednesday to the West Bank city of Ramallah and on to Cairo for talks with Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi.

Her arrival in Jerusalem coincided with furious speculation that a Gaza truce announcement by the two sides was in the works and could come as early as Tuesday night.

But Clinton made no reference to an agreement to end hostilities and indicated that she expected negotiations to stretch over several days.

“In these days ahead, the United States will work with our partners here in Israel and across the region for an outcome that bolsters security for the peace of Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people of the region,” said Clinton.

She also reaffirmed Washington’s message that much of the onus rested on a Hamas leadership which rules Gaza but is officially branded a terrorist network by the United States.

“The rocket attacks from terrorist organisations inside Gaza on these (Israeli) cities and towns must end and a broader calm restored,” said Clinton.

“The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Netanyahu for his part said he was ready to agree to a “long-term solution” as long as the rocket attacks from Gaza stopped.

“If there’s a possibility of achieving a long-term solution for this problem by diplomatic means, we prefer it. But if not, I’m sure you understand that Israel will have to take every action necessary to defend its people,” he said.

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/21/2012 01:14 PM

The PR War over Gaza: Israel Battles to Influence Global Opinion

By Raniah Salloum in Erez

The Israeli government appears to have learned from its public relations disaster during the 2008 Gaza war. This time around, the country is seeking to court journalists with a charm offensive -- a tactic that seems to be working. The new face of the army is more international and is doing a better job of liaising with the foreign media.

Major Arye Sharuz Shalicar seems genuinely concerned. "Please go inside the building. If rockets come, you will be safe there," he tells international journalists gathered at the small army post at the Erez border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Erez is the Western media's gateway to Gaza -- and Shalicar is the door man. As he himself says, he's the "only person in Israel who has the authority to allow civilians into the Gaza Strip." He then smiles and apologizes if that sounds a little arrogant. It is almost impossible not to find the 35-year-old charming. Indeed, he seems to have been perfectly moulded for the job as Israeli army spokesman.

Israel, it would seem, has learned a lesson from the media debacle during the last war the Gaza Strip in 2008. Four years ago, the government forbade journalists from traveling to the Palestinian region and only a handful of reporters were present during the offensive. Furthermore, the New York Times reported that Israel also blocked mobile phone traffic so as to prevent the transmission of photos from Gaza. Such heavy-handed measures, though, didn't prevent the world from learning that thousands of civilians died in the war and Israel came across like a criminal caught in the act. Although Israel may have won the war, international resistance to the country's policies in the Palestinian territories increased.

This time around, the situation is much different. The doors have been opened for Western journalists and it feels like the red carpet has been rolled out as well. Shalicar says that hundreds of journalists have traveled into the Gaza Strip in recent days. Journalists who arrive in Jerusalem to get their press accreditation for the region are even offered coffee and tea. "You learn from your mistakes," says Shalicar. "It's not just a matter of what happens on the battlefield, but also the 'Dat Kahal,' the public opinion."

'We're Like Germany '

Shalicar got hired as army spokesman six months after the last Gaza war because of his ability to liaise between foreign journalists and Jerusalem. Originally from Berlin, he is in a unique position to help Westerners understand Israel. "We're like Germany, " he says. The meaning -- that Israel is part of the West -- is clear.

The Israeli major didn't always consider Germany to be a country Israel should strive to emulate. Shalicar was born and raised in the immigrant Wedding district of Berlin, the son of Iranian emigres. As a teenager, he got into trouble for petty crime before succeeding in finishing his high school education. He says he didn't feel accepted anywhere. To the Germans, he was a foreigner. To the youth of Turkish or Arab origin in Wedding, he was Jewish. He even wrote a book about his experiences growing up there.

Then, a visit to a kibbutz changed Shalicar's life -- and he finally found a place where he felt accepted. At 22, Shalicar decided to emigrate to Israel, becoming the only member of his family to do so. Shalicar had already performed his mandatory service in Germany's military, but he then decided to serve a second time in the Israeli military, as well. While in the military, he continued to study, learned Hebrew and eventually landed a job as Army spokesman.

"In my European department, we have mother-tongue Danish, Norwegian, English, French and German speakers -- and these are all important languages for us," Shalicar says. Like him, they are all young immigrants. "You need soldiers who don't just speak the language, but also understand the culture," he says.

Success on the Media Front

Israel's new media strategy takes into account the cultural differences and tries to make sure that nothing gets lost in translation. And the name of the latest Gaza offensive alone, Pillar of Defense, is already easier to process than the chunkier official title, Operation Amud Anan, a biblical reference to the pillar of cloud that God transformed himself into in order to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and protect them from the Pharoah's army.

When asked to comment on the root of the conflict or on Israel's Gaza Strip blockade policies, Shalicar says only, "I'm not a politician." Presently, the Israelis are focusing their PR strategy entirely on the course of the current offensive. Anything beyond that is being pushed aside -- lost in a flood of videos, tweets and briefings addressing the most recent rocket attacks.

So far, Israel hasn't been faring badly on the media front. Some 120 Palestinians have already been killed and another thousand injured, most of them civilians, but the kind of international outrage seen in 2008 hasn't materialized.

Indeed, it has been difficult this time around for Hamas to play a role in the propaganda war. Its members have had to go underground as a result of the Israeli bombings while journalists are free to move around within the Gaza Strip.

Often, it is a single image that determines how a war is remembered. But for the current Gaza conflict, no obvious photo has emerged as a candidate. Will it be images of women and children who have been injured in the bombings? Or will it be the suspected traitors who have been executed by Hamas and dragged through the streets?

Shalicar, for his part, hopes that Israel will ultimately profit from its new openness. Whether it will, remains to be seen.

**************

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/20/2012 06:28 PM

Weakened But Unbroken: Hamas Can Replenish Arsenal -- If Egypt Lets It

By Ulrike Putz in Beirut

Hamas has fired some 1,000 rockets at Israel. Its arsenal includes missiles made in Iran and China as well as the homemade Qassam rockets. Israel says it has destroyed most of them. But as long as fresh supplies keep coming through Egypt, the power of Hamas will be unbroken.

The arsenal of Hamas in the Gaza Strip has been under constant fire recently. For six days the Israeli air force -- which claims to be the best in the world -- has bombed targets in the area until the ceasefire, which is due take effect on Tuesday night. So it's almost astonishing that there are any missiles left that can still be fired at Israel. But in Ashkelon and other Israeli cities near the coastal strip ruled by the Islamists, the air raid sirens sounded again earlier on Tuesday.

It seems that the military power of Hamas has only been weakened, not broken. Some of their rocket positions appear to be so well concealed that the Israeli air force hasn't been able to destroy them. The Israeli government says some 1,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza since last Wednesday. The air force has said it destroyed several times more on the ground, but some -- presumably underground -- rocket launchers were still working on Tuesday.

Such clues are the only way to assess the size of the rocket arsenal of Hamas, the types of rockets and the quality of the concealment. The Palestinian radicals boast about their military capabilities and have in the past given journalists tours of workshops where young men built Qassam rockets -- but for tactical reasons, Hamas wants to leave Israel and the rest of the world in the dark about how many rockets it can fire at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Weapons From Iran and China

One can only speculate about the firepower Hamas and other extremists in Gaza have at their disposal in this unequal battle against Israel. Israeli sources believe that the arsenal was well-stocked with domestic and foreign makes at the start of the current conflict.

The Islamists are believed to have had some 100 Iranian Fajr 5 rockets and rocket launchers. The Fajr 5 is six-and-a-half to seven meters long and the warhead weighs over 175 kilos. It has a range of up to 75 kilometers, which puts Tel Aviv and Jerusalem within range.

Several Chinese WS-1E rockets are believed to have been in its arsenals as well. They have a range of some 40 kilometers.

Hamas is also known to have several hundred Grad rockets of various types. They can be equipped with different warheads and have a range of 20 to 40 kilometers. The Grads too are believed to have come from Iran.

In addition to the imported weapons, Hamas has thousands of rockets produced in Gaza. The mortar rounds and primitive Qassam rockets made with fertilizer and explosives smuggled into Gaza have a range of just 10 to 15 kilometers. Iranian engineers are believed to have been advising the weapons builders for some time, and better models with bigger ranges are being built.

The ample weapons stocks were thanks to one man: Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari. His killing in an Israeli missile strike last Wednesday triggered the current conflict. Jabari knew how to exploit the changed political situation in the Middle East. After the Muslim Brotherhood, the mother organization of Hamas, came to power in the Arab Spring, the path was clear for the delivery of heavy weapons to Gaza.

Observers say the Fajr 5 has been smuggled to Gaza in the last 18 months, flown from Iran to Sudan and driven by trucks through the Egyptian desert to the border with Gaza. It seems inconceivable that this happened without the knowledge and tacit approval of Egyptian officials. The launchers are more than 10 meters long and the weapons system weighs 1.5 tons. Once they had arrived at the border, the rockets and launchers are believed to have been dismantled and brought to Gaza through tunnels. There are also reports that weapons from plundered arsenals of former Libyan dictator Muammar Ghadafi found their way into the Gaza strip.

Israeli Strikes Against Arms Smuggling

Israel had tried to put a stop to the arms build-up before its current campaign. At the end of October, there was mystery air raid on a weapons factory in Sudan that is believed to have been carried out by Israel. Before that in April 2011, an air raid killed a Palestinian man in Sudan. He is reported to have been the successor of the weapons procurer of Hamas, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was killed by Mossad in Dubai in early 2010.

In March 2011, Israel is also reported to have attacked a weapons convoy in Sudan. In addition, the Israeli air force has mounted repeated bombing raids against tunnels used to smuggle goods and weapons into Gaza. Rocket launch sites have also been repeatedly attacked in recent months. But Israel's attacks have also targeted the men who procure and fire the rockets. Jabari was the most prominent weapons specialist of Hamas. But in the months before, Israel had killed dozens of men who it suspected of belonging to the rocket militia.

There is no doubt that the military capabilities of Hamas have been severely curtailed. But the attacks haven't broken the organization's power. As long as the supply route Iran-Sudan-Egypt remains intact, the Islamists' arsenals will soon be replenished.

But it will be hard to persuade Cairo to put a stop to the weapons smuggling through its territory. It will take long, extensive negotiations. The Palestinians and Egypt will demand that Israel and the United States make concessions. The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is only the start.

**************

Children pay high price for Gaza war

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 7:00 EST

Thirteen-year-old Tasneem al-Nahal lies in the morgue of Gaza City’s Shifa hospital, dressed in the pink-and-blue tracksuit she was wearing when an Israeli air raid killed her.

A few hours earlier, she was by the sea, playing with neighbours under a brilliantly blue sky.

But when the air strike hit, pieces of shrapnel pierced her skull, spilling her bright red blood onto the pavement in front of her house.

The six-day conflict between Israel and Gaza militant groups has claimed the lives of at least 23 children, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, innocents cut down in a battle they barely understand.

Hundreds more have been injured. And for those children who escape the physical toll of the war, there is a heavy psychological price to be paid.

Many are traumatised by what they see and hear, terrified of a relentless air campaign, and unable to process the violence and death that surrounds them.

In Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood, just before noon, a funeral procession moves towards a mosque, where prayers will be said over the bodies of the Dallu family.

At least eight members of the family were killed in a single strike on Sunday, the deadliest of the conflict so far.

The bodies of the Dallu children, wrapped in Palestinian flags, their greying faces exposed, are carried by relatives at the head of a chanting crowd of men and boys.

“Do children fire rockets?” screamed a man through a loudspeaker. “No!” the crowd chanted back.

Inside the mosque, the bodies are laid out while prayers are performed, and curious children try to squeeze between adults to see the corpses.

One wide-eyed boy is pushed back by an adult, who tries to keep him from the macabre scene. On one body, relatives have pinned a photograph of the smiling girl who used to be.

Outside, gangs of children mill around, some holding green Hamas flags they have been given to wave.

As they wait for the prayers to end, a sudden screech fills the air, prompting both children and adults to duck. The sound is of two rockets fired towards Israel, which leave white smoke trails in the sky.

“We don’t want the war, it’s scary and awful,” says 12-year-old Mohammed Radwan shyly. “We want peace, we want a truce.

“When I hear the bombing I get onto the sofa and cover myself with pillows to try to be safe. I try to hide myself as much as possible.

“Sometimes I go over to my mum and hold onto her too,” he adds, slapping another boy who teases him for the admission.

Thirteen-year-old Ezzedine Hussein is full of bravado at first, talking over the other boys, glaring with his green-blue eyes.

“We want to say to the Jews: We’re not scared, we are defending our land and we want our rights,” he says.

But questioned further, he acknowledges the explosions that rumble through Gaza’s nights do shake him.

“The war scares us, of course, it’s killing children and we see what happens to our friends,” he says.

“I do get scared but I try to calm myself down. I pray and I ask God to protect us.”

Mohammed’s brother, Rushi, who looks younger than the 15 years he claims, says his family knew the Dallus children.

“It’s so sad when we see them, it makes me want to cry because I knew them, they were from our area,” he says.

Psychologist Hassan Zeyada, who has worked with the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme since 1991, says the territory’s children are those most at risk during war.

“All the things that can help adults — social networks, previous experiences and so on — are not available to children,” he told AFP.

The trauma manifests itself in multiple ways, he says, with children becoming terrified to be left alone, experiencing sleep disorders, becoming aggressive or uncommunicative, and losing the ability to concentrate.

For many of Gaza’s children, the current round of violence will be the second war they have lived through, after Operation Cast Lead, the 22-day campaign Israel launched at the end of December 2008 in a bid to stamp out persistent cross-border rocket fire.

“They will re-experience a lot of the trauma they have from the past,” he said.

Zeyada’s organisation plans to send out crisis intervention teams when the violence is over, but their work, he says, will be difficult.

“The problem here in Gaza is that we are living in a high level of stress and ongoing trauma. No one can guarantee that this will not happen again.”

************

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/20/2012 12:38 PM

Erractic Rockets: How Hamas Terror Works Along the Israeli Border

By Raniah Salloum in Sderot, Israel

Hamas is firing rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip each day, bringing normal life to a halt for Israelis living near the border. Each time the sirens wail, residents are forced to flee into shelters. Many feel that any kind of retaliation is justified if it helps ease their fears.

Life slowly comes to a standstill the closer one gets to Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. In Ashkelon, some 15 kilometers (around nine miles) from Gaza, the playgrounds and beaches are empty, but there are still some signs of daily life -- with a handful of people and cars on the streets.

Drive further south, however, and the three-lane motorway suddenly becomes completely deserted. For minutes at a time, no other people are to be found. Through the open car window, the sirens are sounding again. They wail each time a rocket approaches from Gaza. In cities in the region like Ashkelon, they warn residents about a dozen times a day that the unseen rockets are on their way. Their message is that within 15 to 30 seconds, the rocket will hit somewhere in the vicinity.

Israelis who live near the Gaza Strip have the drill down perfectly. The siren means that they must quickly head to a shelter. Given that most people would only know how to get to safety that hastily within their own homes, almost everyone is staying in these days. Once it became clear that the war wouldn't be over within a day or two, a number of other people packed their bags on Friday and went to stay with relatives further north.

But the likelihood of being hit by a rocket attack is low in Israel, despite the frequent trips residents in target cities take to shelters. About one-third of the rockets are destroyed in the air by Israeli missile defense systems. Besides, Hamas' homemade bombs don't appear to have much explosive power. They may damage homes, but they rarely destroy an entire building. Still, anyone living within reach of hostile missiles has little use for the theory of probability.

Weighing the Value of Human Lives

Along the roadside a military bus comes into view, having pulled over due to the siren. Some 20 reserve troops, young people in uniforms, are stretched out next to the vehicle in the roadside ditch. A few minutes further down the road lies Sderot. Located only two kilometers from Gaza, it has become a ghost town.

Standing on a hill outside Sderot with two friends, Sharon can see Gaza. The young Israeli with a three-day beard doesn't want to be photographed there next to an old sofa watching the bombs hit Gaza with binoculars, a scene he fears will make him seem callous. He admits he's a bit afraid, but he would also like to see some "action."

"There isn't anything else to do," he adds. "Everything is closed. We're at war."

From a military perspective, the rockets coming out of Gaza are pinpricks. But they are pinpricks that no country would tolerate. Three Israelis have been killed by rocket attacks this year -- and all three of the deaths occurred during the Gaza offensive on Thursday in the city of Kiryat Malakhi, when their apartment was hit.

This element of random chance is what creates the sense of terror. It could happen to anyone. And when fear is at play, the rules of statistics and logics don't apply.

"We don't want war, but there is no other choice," Sharon says. "We aren't the bad guys. We also don't want Palestinian children to die. But when it comes down to your own children or someone else's, the choice is clear."

At least 111 Palestinians, including 56 civilians, have been killed in the last seven days by Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Some 840 have been wounded, Gaza health officials are reporting. During the Gaza War in 2008, some 1,000 Palestinian civilians were killed. But the losses of human lives on either side don't cancel each other out. Sharon is still making calculations, though.

"No Israeli wants Palestinian children to die, but after the Gaza War we had a few months of quiet," he says. "If there are two or three months when no rockets fly, then it's worth it."

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« Reply #3106 on: Nov 21, 2012, 07:34 AM »

November 20, 2012

Turkey Finds It Is Sidelined as Broker in Mideast

By TIM ARANGO
IHT

ISTANBUL — After prayers last Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped outside a mosque on the banks of the Bosphorous here and dismissed a suggestion that Turkey should talk directly with its onetime ally, Israel, to attempt to resolve the crisis unfolding in Gaza.

“We do not have any connections in terms of dialogue with Israel,” he said.

But by Tuesday, Turkey seemed to indicate that while its strident anti-Israel posture has been popular among Arabs, it has been at its own expense, undermining its ability to play the role of regional power broker by leaving it with little leverage to intercede in the Gaza conflict. As he headed to Gaza with an Arab League delegation on Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, suggested to reporters that back-channel discussions had been opened with Israeli authorities.

“Turkey’s new foreign policy has but one premise, to become a regional actor,” said Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “To this end, Ankara needs to have persuasive power on all countries of the region. In the past decade, Ankara has won that power with the Arabs but lost it with the Israelis.”

Turkey’s stature in the Middle East has soared in recent years as it became a vocal defender of Palestinian rights and an outspoken critic of Israel and pursued a foreign policy whose intent was to become a decisive power in regional affairs. But as Gaza and Israel were once again shooting at each other, Turkey found that it had to take a back seat to Egypt on the stage of high diplomacy. The heavy lifting unfolded in Cairo under the inexperienced hand of Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, whose political roots lie in the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni Islamist movement that helped found Hamas.

“Egypt can talk with both Hamas and Israel,” said Ersin Kalaycioglu, a professor of international politics at Istanbul’s Sabanci University. “Turkey, therefore, is pretty much left with a position to support what Egypt foresees, but nothing more.”

Turkey finds itself largely shut out of the central and defining Arab-Israeli conflict. On Monday, Mr. Erdogan helped seal that reality speaking at an Islamic conference in Istanbul when he called Israel a “terrorist state.” At a parliamentary meeting on Tuesday that was broadcast on Turkish television, he said Israel was guilty of “ethnic cleansing.” Moreover, Mr. Erdogan’s stance continues to play well with his domestic constituency of conservative Muslims, making a reconciliation with Israel even more difficult, even if he were interested in winning back Turkey’s seat at the negotiation table, said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East security expert at Georgetown University.

In the past, Turkey could be relied upon by the West and the United States as an effective mediator in the Middle East peace process, but the relations between Turkey and Israel fractured after the last Gaza war in 2008.

A year later, Mr. Erdogan walked off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, after exchanging bitter words with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres. The relationship shattered in 2010 after Israeli commandos raided an aid ship bound from Turkey to Gaza, which is under an economic blockade, resulting in the deaths of several Turkish citizens.

But as the Gaza crisis has laid bare the effect that Turkey’s harsh stance on Israel is having on Turkey’s regional ambitions, some Turks are calling for a reappraisal of the country’s policy toward Israel and urging a reopening of dialogue, if for no other reason than to help empower Turkey.

“Which Turkey is more valuable in the eyes of regional and global actors, including Hamas, in achieving an immediate cease-fire with the Israeli operation on Gaza in its sixth day?” Kadri Gursel, a columnist in the Turkish daily newspaper Milliyet wrote on Monday. “Turkey that has maintained enough distance to talk to Israel, or a Turkey that has no communication with Israel? Which of the two would be a more influential actor in its region? Of course, the first one. Turkey that can talk to Israel. Turkey, however, cannot talk to Israel.”

Bulent Arinc, a senior government official and member of Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, suggested publicly last week that Turkey should resume dialogue with Israel as part of an effort to end the fighting in Gaza.

Mr. Erdogan dismissed the suggestion when asked by a reporter after Friday Prayer what effect the Gaza war would have on relations between Turkey and Israel.

“Which relations are you asking about?” he said.

From the beginning of outbreak of violence in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, Mr. Erdogan was notably slow to speak out publicly. As the violence erupted last week, Mr. Erdogan was touring a factory that makes tanks and was initially silent on the unfolding crisis.

“While most of the region’s leaders rushed to the nearest microphone to condemn Israel, the normally loquacious prime minister was atypically mute,” wrote Aaron Stein, a researcher at the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, a research center based in Istanbul, in an online column. “While Erdogan was out touring the production facility for Turkey’s first homemade tank, Egyptian President Morsi had already put his stamp on world reaction by kicking out the Israeli ambassador and dispatching his prime minister to visit Gaza.”

Last weekend Mr. Erdogan visited Cairo on a previously planned trip to secure economic cooperation agreements and showcase a growing alliance between the two countries that some predict could become a regional anchor and help shape the Middle East for generations to come. With its relative prosperity and its melding of democratic and Islamic values, Turkey was seen as the leading partner. But Mr. Erdogan’s visit, overshadowed as it was by the Gaza crisis and Egypt’s role in trying to solve it, displayed the limits to Turkish influence in the region.

Mr. Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said the Gaza crisis represented the litmus test of the notion of a “rising Turkey.”

“Can Ankara now find a sympathetic ear with Arabs and Israelis alike?” he asked. The answer, analysts said, was for now, at least, no.

Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting.
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« Reply #3107 on: Nov 21, 2012, 07:38 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/20/2012 04:37 PM

Thirst for Revenge: Syrian Rebels Have Lost Their Innocence

By Christoph Reuter

The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has perpetrated brutal attacks on both rebel fighters and civilians alike. Lately, though, the spotlight of world attention has been on alleged atrocities committed by those attempting to overthrow Assad. Moral standards may be shifting as the civil war drags on.

The rebels didn't hesitate long after capturing a checkpoint near Sarakib, southwest of Aleppo, on Nov. 1. They rounded up the surviving soldiers and militia members fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, made them lie on the ground and shot them to death. At least eight men -- or 11, according to other sources -- were killed.

The "Syrian Observatory for Human Rights," a small human rights group based in Great Britain that is trying to keep track of the dead on both sides, called the act a "massacre." But the victims weren't the only Assad supporters to be murdered by rebels.

When the Syrian opposition established a new coalition last week, Amnesty International sent an appeal to its political leadership urging them to prevent more possible war crimes like the killings in Sarakib. There is also disagreement over the issue within rebel groups. "Revenge is the religion of cowards," said opposition members from the city of Masyaf, in an indictment of their brutal comrades from Sarakib. "That's not why we began the revolution. This behavior is disgusting."

The perpetrators, though, would seem unlikely to agree, as the manner in which the world learned of the apparent executions shows: The rebels filmed themselves and subsequently posted the video on YouTube. The comments on the video include both sharp criticism and approval.

The Sarakib murders highlight paradoxical developments underway as the war drags on. On the one hand, rebel units belonging to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are becoming increasingly organized. At the same time, new, unmonitored rebel groups are giving free rein to their hatred in desolate, sparsely populated parts of the country. While committees of lawyers are beginning to routinely monitor the FSA-run prisons, other rebels are simply shooting their prisoners on the side of the road. Incidents of growing brutality exist alongside equally numerous attempts by the rebels to avoid becoming like the Assad regime they are fighting.

Thrown from the Roof

The circumstances are rarely as clear as with the Sarakib massacre. What began as a peaceful uprising against the dictatorship in Syria has turned into an extremely brutal war, in which only a handful of foreign journalists are able to observe what is actually happening. Nevertheless, the web is filled with thousands of videos and mobile phone photos, often gruesome, and almost always blurred and shaky. They can be used to support any assumption and any cliché, because no one can verify what exactly the videos show.

Even when serviceable recordings exist, it is often difficult to clarify the events depicted. In mid-August, for example, a shaky video surfaced on the web that showed a group of people cheering as bodies were thrown from the roof of a multistory building. The video was made in al-Bab, a small town in Aleppo Province.

It is a horrific document, one Russian broadcaster Russia Today used it to demonstrate why Moscow must support the Assad regime. It seemed to clearly show rebels killing government employees. As Russia Today portrayed the incident, the bodies that were being thrown from the roof of the post office building were those of innocent postal workers.

The building was indeed the postal service headquarters, the tallest structure in the small city. But the bodies being thrown from the roof were in fact those of several snipers who had terrorized residents for weeks from their perch high above the town. This, at least, was the outcome of an on-site investigation conducted by Human Rights Watch.

Shifting Moral Standards

Only at the end of the fighting for al-Bab did rebels manage to surround the snipers, kill them and throw their bodies from the roof. It was still barbaric, but it wasn't what the Russian television producers were trying to lead their viewers to believe.

The monstrosity of the regime, it would seem, has shifted moral standards. Assad's units often massacre the residents of entire blocks, as they did in late August in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, where hundreds of bodies were recovered. Some of Assad's men have now taken to cutting off their victims' ears as trophies. Many Syrians have thus begun to find it normal and understandable for rebels to take an eye-for-an-eye approach, abusing members of the brutal Shabiha militias, in particular, and killing those who have already killed others.

This helps explain why many rebels were unable to comprehend the overseas outrage triggered by a video similar to the one from Sarakib that appeared on the web on July 31. It shows rebels shooting and killing at least four men belonging to the Berri clan in Aleppo, a mafia family which had assembled a pro-Assad militia. Immediately prior to the assault on his fortress-like estate, clan leader Saino Berri had broken a previously negotiated cease-fire with the FSA by killing 15 rebels.

Killing the Berri fighters "was certainly a mistake," General Abdel Jabbar Al Okaidi, one of the FSA commanders in Aleppo, later admitted in an interview. "We shot the gangsters who had previously murdered dozens of people. But how does that compare to the bombardments and the thousands of dead?"

No Longer News

Western reporting on the fighting in Syria has lost its symmetry. Because both sides are shooting at each other, the feeling that each party to the violence must be assessed in the same way has become widespread. In a report published on the situation in the country in September, for example, Amnesty International sharply criticized the large-scale air strikes and the shelling of villages and cities with tanks and mortars perpetrated by the Assad regime. But then, in a single paragraph, the report accused rebels of using poor-precision weapons in residential areas and thus endangering civilians. The report gave rise to the following headline on the website tagesschau.de: "Amnesty Levels Serious Charges against Both Sides."

Moreover, the fighting in Syria has already been going on for so long that the regime's brutality is simply no longer seen as news. For months, the army and the air force have been bombing 60 to 200 towns and villages a day, and hundreds of civilians die every week. Last week, more than 40 people were reportedly executed by firing squads in the suburbs of Damascus alone.

But with each passing day and each person killed, the risk of a storm of revenge grows. Only after the regime has been overthrown will it become clear who gains the upper hand among the rebels: those who demand reprisals for their dead, or those who, at a demonstration following the Daraya massacre, held up a sign with the message: "No revenge! Stay on course! We will put everyone on trial!"

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

****************

November 20, 2012

Citing a ‘Credible Alternative’ to Assad, Britain Recognizes Syrian Rebel Group

By NEIL MacFARQUHAR and HANIA MOURTADA
IHT

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Making diplomatic and military advances, a Syrian opposition coalition gained official recognition from Britain on Tuesday and showed off one of its largest hauls of heavy weapons from a captured government base inside Syria.

The developments came against a backdrop of steadily increasing violence in the capital, Damascus, with expectations growing of a full conflagration there.

In London, Foreign Secretary William Hague told Parliament that Britain had decided to recognize the recently formed coalition as the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”

The coalition, whose official name is the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, has already been recognized by France, Turkey and the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

There has been some hesitation in recognizing the new coalition before it proves it can unite the exiled opposition groups with those fighting inside Syria, as well as organize much-needed humanitarian relief.

But the countries that have extended early diplomatic recognition are making a calculation that backing the coalition now will help make it credible and bolster its chances of becoming a legitimate alternative to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

The previous attempt, the Syrian National Council, got lost in a thicket of personal bickering.

Supporters of the opposition feared that the political forces in exile were growing increasingly irrelevant while jihadist fighters gradually took on a more prominent role in the uprising against the government.

“It is strongly in the interests of Syria, of the wider region and of the United Kingdom that we support them and deny space to extremist groups,” Mr. Hague said.

He added that a “credible alternative” to the Assad government was emerging, but that if a political and diplomatic solution was not found, Britain “will not rule out any option in accordance with international law that might save innocent lives in Syria.”

Questions swirled around a video posted online on Sunday appearing to show several Islamist groups disavowing the coalition. But at least two of the groups named in the video later said it did not reflect their opinion, reinforcing the murky details surrounding the groups fighting the Syrian government.

In Ankara, the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said NATO states had signed off on deploying an advanced Patriot missile system to Turkey to defend against Syrian attacks. Talks over the deployment are in their final stage, he said.

The missiles, which could come from the United States, were meant for defensive purposes. But the agreement still represented another notch in hardening Western positions toward military action against Syria. Fighting along the Syrian border has repeatedly spilled over, with artillery and mortar fire landing inside Turkish territory.

But in an apparent opposition victory, rebels captured a large military base near Aleppo over the weekend, helping solidify their control over a growing strip of land along the border that many opposition supporters hope will become fully liberated.

Video posted online showed fighters identifying themselves as a brigade belonging to the Free Syrian Army overrunning the base, used by the military’s 46th Regiment, in the Atareb area. They captured at least three tanks and other heavy weapons, along with several trucks and some prisoners.

“We’ll give this booty to our fighters who are trying to topple the regime,” said Gen. Ahmad al-Faj, who belongs to a joint command of rebel brigades, as quoted by The Associated Press. Rebels attacked the base on Saturday and gained full control on Sunday, the general said.

“There has never been a battle before with this much booty,” he said.

In Damascus, fierce fighting rocked many neighborhoods.

In a symbolic strike at a high-profile symbol of the government, two mortar rounds struck the Information Ministry, which also houses the ruling Baath Party’s publication department.

One fell in the parking lot while the other hit the facade of the tall white building along a main thoroughfare in the middle-class Mezze neighborhood. There were no injuries, but there was some material damage, according to a Syrian state television report.

In other fighting, the western suburbs of Damascus endured repeated heavy shelling, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an activist organization, while renewed attempts by government forces to storm the opposition stronghold of Daraya failed.

Clashes continued in and around the central city of Homs. At least nine government soldiers were killed and more than 20 were wounded when a booby-trapped truck exploded near a weapons warehouse in the town of Mheen outside Homs, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group that tracks the fighting from abroad.

Official Syrian news media stopped reporting the toll on the government side in June.

Stephen Castle contributed reporting from London, and Christine Hauser from New York.

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« Reply #3108 on: Nov 21, 2012, 07:39 AM »

November 20, 2012

Congo Rebels Seize Provincial Capital

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN and JOSH KRON
IHT

NAIROBI, Kenya — Rebel fighters seized one of the biggest, most vital cities in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday, setting off riots in several places across the country and raising serious questions about the stability of Congo as a whole.

The rebel forces took Goma, a commercial hub on Congo’s eastern flank, with little resistance from the national army, which simply fled. Witnesses said United Nations peacekeepers sat in their armored personnel carriers and watched. As the news began to filter across the country, protesters in Kinshasa, the capital, and Kisangani, another major city, poured into the streets, some of them burning buildings, furious that their government was so weak.

In many ways, it was history repeating itself in a country with one of the most haunted, blood-soaked histories in Africa. The trouble goes back more than a century, to when the Belgians waded into this lush expanse in the heart of Africa and brutalized the population in order to extract as much rubber and ivory as possible. In the mid-1990s, rebel forces and several foreign African armies swept through Congo, overthrowing the government and snatching enormous tracts of territory rich in copper, timber, diamonds and gold.

Millions of people died in the ensuing chaos, and back then, just like now, the trouble started in the east.

The rebel group that now controls Goma, called the March 23 Movement, or M23, is relatively small, with just a few thousand fighters who United Nations investigators say have received clandestine support from neighboring Rwanda. Still, Goma is symbolic, and its loss could set off a chain reaction.

“The fall of Goma has always been a lodestar,” said Willet Weeks, a political analyst in Nairobi who has been following Congo since the 1970s. “Whether the government can regain any stability in the next few days will be the question.”

Congo’s government has gone into a tailspin, and many analysts believe that the chances are increasing for a military putsch along the lines of what happened in Mali this year, when disaffected officers seized power, citing the government’s fecklessness against rebels. Or, they say, other important areas of Congo, like copper-rich Lubumbashi, may rise up, causing the nation to fragment, fulfilling all the grim prophecies that Congo is simply too vast and too complicated to be one country.

Many Congolese are fed up with the president, Joseph Kabila, who is seen by critics as disengaged, indecisive and incompetent, unable to muster a functioning army or breathe life into any national institutions. The dissatisfaction burst into the open last November, during his re-election campaign, when opposition supporters took to the streets and Mr. Kabila’s troops fired on them.

On Tuesday, Congolese officials sought to blame Goma’s fall on Rwanda, which has meddled in Congo many times before and occupied large parts of the country from the mid-1990s through the early 2000s. Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in Africa and Congo one of the biggest — though the Rwandans field one of the toughest, most disciplined militaries on the continent and the Congolese Army has been a mess for decades.

“We consider Congo as a country that is under foreign occupation,” Lambert Mende, the government spokesman, declared Tuesday.

He said the president was calling on the people to “resist by any means.”

But Goma was relatively quiet on Tuesday, despite the change in power. It is a border town, with a few hundred yards separating chaotic, messy, corrupt Congo from tidy, orderly, stable Rwanda. Many people in Goma speak Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda, and feel more connected to Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, than Kinshasa, nearly 1,000 miles away.

Witnesses said that as the rebel commanders paraded down Goma’s potholed thoroughfares on Tuesday afternoon, some people clapped. Congolese customs officials quietly deserted their posts and congregated at a nearby hotel, leaving the border wide open.

“The M23 is well inside Goma,” said a United Nations military official in Goma on Tuesday afternoon, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the situation was so fluid.

Congo is home to one of the largest, most expensive peacekeeping operations in the world, with more than 1,000 blue-helmeted troops in the Goma area. But they did not confront the rebels on Tuesday. Instead, white United Nations jeeps and armored personnel carriers drove past the occupying rebel troops “like they ignored each other,” one witness said.

United Nations officials defended their actions, saying that fighting the rebels inside Goma could imperil the 500,000 to one million people living in the city and that protecting civilians was the peacekeepers’ mandate.

By midday Tuesday, the rebels had taken control of the area surrounding the airport but not the terminal and other buildings themselves.

Many people inside Goma seemed confused about the situation and how it would evolve in the days ahead.

Just a few days ago, the rebels insisted they had no intention of taking Goma and were fighting the government simply in the hopes of getting a better deal to be integrated into the national army. Many diplomats and others have always suspected, though, that the rebels’ true aim was to carve out a sphere of influence within eastern Congo that would allow them to control the lucrative mineral trade and to stay close to Rwandan business and military contacts.

Rwanda has consistently denied backing the M23 rebels, though some United Nations officials say there is evidence that rebel fighters were recruited inside Rwanda and that the Rwandan government helped funnel weapons. In 2008, when another rebel group marched perilously close to Goma — and the M23 is essentially the recent incarnation of that group, with a vast majority of its troops and commanders the same — Rwandan tanks fired from across the border. At the time, the Congolese Army fled, just as it did on Tuesday. The only thing that kept Goma from falling then was extensive negotiations and Rwandan pressure on the rebels to stop, which they did.

Mr. Kabila is supposed to meet President Paul Kagame of Rwanda for peace talks in the coming days.

The rebels are now threatening to march to Bukavu, the next big eastern Congo town and a gateway to the interior of the country.

Jeffrey Gettleman reported from Nairobi, and Josh Kron from Kampala, Uganda.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 20, 2012

An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the United Nations official who leads the peacekeeping office in North Kivu Province. She is Hiroute Guebre-Selassie, not Guebre-Sellasie.

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« Reply #3109 on: Nov 21, 2012, 07:45 AM »

November 20, 2012

Bahrain Failed to Deliver Promised Changes, Report Says

By KAREEM FAHIM
IHT

CAIRO — Bahrain’s government has failed to put in place changes it promised after cracking down on a popular uprising last year, and it instead has expanded its repression of political opponents, according to a report released Tuesday by Amnesty International.

The group said that the human rights situation had “markedly deteriorated” in recent months. It also warned that the government’s failure to follow through on the reforms, recommended almost a year ago by an independent panel, posed a looming threat to the tiny Persian Gulf nation, which remains deeply polarized, racked by nightly protests and reeling from escalating violence. “Bahrain risks sliding into protracted unrest and instability,” the report said.

Dozens of people have been killed since the uprising began in February 2011 against the Sunni monarchy with protesters demanding political equity and an end to widespread discrimination against the island’s Shiite majority.

In November 2011, a panel of legal and human rights experts who investigated the uprising and its aftermath released a report that found the authorities had used excessive or indiscriminate force, including torture, against the protesters. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain, who commissioned the report, promised to heed its findings.

But the report faulted the government for not transparently investigating allegations of torture, or in many cases simply ignoring accusations of abuse. The cases of several political prisoners who said they had been beaten, sexually harassed or subject to other abuses had not been independently investigated, the group said.

The government had also failed to hold officers accountable for misconduct, Amnesty said, noting the low number of arrests of officers, and the fact that no high-ranking officers have been sentenced for abuse. “Delivering justice appears to be a slogan for the authorities to pacify the population, and for victims and their families justice and reparation remain elusive,” the report said.

The government has repeatedly insisted that it is committed to the changes and is carrying them out, while blaming the violence by some protesters for the country’s increasingly bitter divisions. Bahrain’s rulers have often been unwilling to acknowledge the grievances of the protesters, claiming they have been manipulated by foreign powers.

Amnesty also criticized Bahrain’s allies, especially the United States and Britain, for occasionally criticizing the monarchy without withdrawing any real support. The report called on those countries to “match their condemnation with action, instead of satisfying themselves with the narrative of reform while ignoring the reality of repression.”

The report comes as tensions are rising in Bahrain, which hosts the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet. In recent weeks, the government has banned protests, stripped dissidents of citizenship and announced it was taking legal action against Shiite religious figures for delivering “politicized sermons.”

On Tuesday, the government said it had arrested a “domestic terror cell” that planted fake bombs in crowded places.
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« Reply #3110 on: Nov 21, 2012, 07:47 AM »

Catalonian election: A dangerous leap into the abyss

21 November 2012
El País Madrid   

Central to the Catalonia’s November 25 regional elections will be the question of secession from Spain, with President Artur Mas aiming for an absolute majority that would legitimise a referendum on this issue. But the vehemence of the campaign is such that events could easily spin out of control, worries author

The recent upsurge of secessionist feeling in Catalonia has me perplexed and apprehensive. I have not written about it here, because I assume the readers of this column tend to share my feelings, and why preach to the converted? Yet on the occasion of my recent novel I have been interviewed and asked questions on this point, and have said more or less the following.

I understand why some people are angry and desperate, and think that things could hardly be worse. I can only answer with a certainty and a confession. The certainty is that we could, indeed, be worse off. The confession is that I like adventures, but only in fiction. Not in politics, where I am a fierce partisan of leaden boredom, like that of Swiss or Scandinavian politics.

So when I hear our premier Mas say that the road to independence runs through "unknown terrain," my hair stands on end. Writers and scientists have an obligation to boldly go where none have gone before; but for politicians, this ought to be taboo. If in the dark unknown the writer falls into the abyss, so what? But if a politician falls into the abyss, he takes all the rest of us with him (and the abyss is the abyss of history). I don't know whether I need to add that I am not a Catalan nationalist, nor a secessionist.

Nationalism incompatible with what the left stands for

That's about it. Since I said this, I have been amazed at the number of people who have congratulated me for uttering these words. One historian who specializes in Catalonia reminded me that Pierre Vilar coined the word "unanimism" in reference to those conjunctures when fear silences all dissidence, and creates an illusory sense of unanimity, and confessed to a fear of saying in public that she did not partake of this secessionist fervor.

I was amazed that there are still holes and corners where people fail to understand that nationalism – be it of the Spanish or the regional kind – is incompatible with what the left stands for. And there are holes and corners where it is not understood that one thing is Catalan nationalism, the -ism of a few, and another thing the Catalan language, which belongs to all of us.

I am amazed at the general amazement caused by [José Manuel] Lara when he said that his publishing house, Planeta [Spain’s largest publishing house], would pack up and leave an independent Catalonia; and amazed when the leader of the secessionist party ERC [Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, independentist left party] now says that an independent Catalonia would be bilingual, when they have always insisted that bilingualism leads to the extinction of the Catalan language.

In history nothing is impossible

I am amazed at the ingenuity of Artur Mas, who overnight has caused the Catalans to stop blaming him for their ills, and blame them all on Spain. I am amazed and appalled when a former premier of Extremadura [of the regional government]  says that those originally from the southwest region now living in Catalonia ought to be sent back to Extremadura, as if we were cattle; and when the Catalan premier, whose job it is to make laws and see that they are obeyed, says he would ignore the law.

In this context, it amazes me less to see a writer almost calling for armed insurrection, or a politician [Alejo Vidal Quadras, Popular Party MEP] calling for Catalonia to be placed under the rule of the Civil Guard. But what most amazes me is when apparently reasonable people maintain that the secession of Catalonia would take place in an atmosphere of cordial good feeling and without traumas, and when almost everyone seems to believe it is impossible that the situation might degenerate into violence.

Dear God, have we not yet learned that in history nothing is impossible, and that great changes have almost always happened by means of fire and sword? Have we once again grown so senseless and pusillanimous as to be incapable of finding a civilized way out of this muddle?
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« Reply #3111 on: Nov 21, 2012, 07:50 AM »

Debt crisis: France’s elites are in denial

20 November 2012
Die Welt Berlin

Accused of sticking its head in the sand over the crisis, France has been downgraded by Moody's and become the biggest problem child in Europe. To the political elite in Paris, though, all that doesn’t matter, writes an author from Berlin in the conservative Welt.
Marko Martin

It is rather bizarre: experts on the economy and scientists researching human mentality have been shaking their heads over the countries of southern Europe hit by the crisis for years now, just to share with us their bad news – and each snippet is more troubling than the last. And all the while, the talk doesn’t stop about “core Europe”, kept running by the “Franco-German motor”, which must not be allowed to “splutter”.

Meanwhile, in view of France's steadily declining competitiveness and its horrendous national debt (currently at ninety percent of its GDP), a question comes up: are we dealing here with a naive blindness all round – or with the perhaps final Pyrrhic victory in the French art of throwing smoke?

Why did no one look any closer? One explanation, implicit and given unintentionally, was a statement two weeks ago by the former EADS CEO Louis Gallois, who gave a damming verdict on the French economy and demanded radical reforms. A “confidence shock” is needed, said the man who had made a career for himself out of lucrative government contracts. The tremolo to his voice, afflicted by crisis, was once again half-Bolshevik and half gold-plated, perfectly matching the working range of the declared enemy of globalisation, Arnaud Montebourg, who marches under the banner “Minister for the Restoration of Production.”

Inbred Paris circles

“The style is the man,” Madame de Stael once opined. French society still seems trapped in gab mode. The questions about the state of Nicolas Sarkozy’s marriage were of greater interest during his five years in office than his open disdain for the democratic separation of powers and the scandalous exploitation of the intelligence services to monitor the remaining cohort of critical journalists. (Print and online media in France receive millions of dollars in subsidies – which come with the to-be-expected taboos on what to report on.)

Even in the inbred Paris circles, reporters must observe clear boundaries. Otherwise, it might have been pointed out that, despite mass unemployment, Monsieur Montebourg was most anxious straight off to manhandle his attractive woman into the executive chair of the legendary music magazine “Les Inrocks”. And one could have reminded the acting foreign minister Laurent Fabius of his past as Mitterrand’s Prime Minister, when the state blood transfusion institute was accused of knowingly allowing three thousand French haemophiliacs to be given HIV-contaminated blood; while Fabius and his ministers were acquitted by a judiciary that was probably only partially independent politically, countless victims are now dead.

One certainly need not be an “Anglo-Saxon” (an even greater insult in today’s France than the former “Boche” flung against the Germans) harbouring an intense mistrust of the state to find this denial of past and present highly dangerous and to find a key cause of the crisis in the continuity of the same old incompetent elites.

Most authoritarian of all Western European societies

True alternatives are rare. Unlike in Germany, there are no Christian or Social Democrats [to fall out over the embracing of the market economy], leaving the political left and right free to agree above all in their statism, in keeping private middle-class initiatives small-scale, and in a protectionism that, crossing political divides, shamelessly uses the anti-capitalist rhetoric of “egalité toujours.” Meanwhile, France’s exports are plummeting, youth unemployment is exploding, Muslim Jew-hatred is running rampant in the suburbs, and the social security systems are facing collapse, threatening the state with bankruptcy.

But where are the French economic essayists settling scores with the quasi-socialist character of their country? Where are the political scientists, continually returning to Montesquieu’s separation of powers, who would at some point put the web of inter-institutional relationships under the magnifying glass?

Ironically, the country that saw the greatest turbulence during the student unrest of 1968 has remained the most authoritarian of all Western European societies. The vast majority of young people still dream of becoming a "fonctionnaire" – of a sure-fire job in the loved-hated bureaucracy. Meanwhile, the cinemas continue to show finely tooled sentimental trips down memory lane, in the spirit of the blockbuster “Amélie”: the dreamt-of return to the cloistered garden of the Gallic idyll, where the Beaujolais tastes wonderful forever and even the baguette is subsidised...

Translated from the German by Anton Baer

****************

France: Losing the triple A is good news

Moody’s downgraded its rating last night of French treasury bonds from Aaa to Aa1 – a development that will affect interest rates charged to France on financial markets. “But is it really such bad news?” wonders a Les Echos columnist. “Although it may seem surprisingly paradoxical and cynical, I would like to say that it is quite good news” –

    What is important is that the Moody’s decision will force France to get a move on and adapt. In particular, Moody’s highlighted the declining competitiveness of our economy, the rigidity of the labour, goods and services markets, the budgetary situation and the difficulty we will have in resisting further shocks in the Eurozone because our trade with emerging countries is insufficient. [...] Above and beyond that, it is our inability to keep our promises in the long term (30 years of unemployment and public spending deficits) which has been criticised.

    The government thought it had time, but not any more. It wanted to avoid a shock, now it has had a huge jolt. [...] For ten days, it had been floating on a cloud. There was the positive reception for the Gallois report [on the competitiveness of French industry] and the measures that followed, and a good figure for growth in the third quarter. [...] All of that has come to an end!

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« Reply #3112 on: Nov 21, 2012, 07:51 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/21/2012 12:43 PM

Default vs. Delay: Dangerous Euro Zone-IMF Split Persists over Greek Debt

Euro-zone finance ministers meeting in Brussels this week have been unable to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund on how to ensure that Greece's debt load comes down to manageable levels. Germany and other European countries continue to reject a new debt haircut. The standoff could become dangerous.

In recent years characterized by mammoth euro-zone bailouts and interminable European Union squabbling over the future of the bloc, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has become a master at downplaying differences. On Wednesday morning, after talks aimed at finally overcoming an impasse on efforts to artificially resuscitate Greece collapsed, he once again put his talent on display.

"Because the questions are so complicated, we were unable to find closure," Schäuble said after a 12-hour negotiation marathon. He added that a number of options were discussed.

What he didn't say is that the core of the debate is quite simple -- and highlights the serious, and potentially dangerous, divide which has opened up between the euro-zone member states and the International Monetary Fund. Both sides are eager to see Greece's overall debt load shrink to a level that Athens can shoulder on its own. But whereas the IMF believes that the only sure way to get there is by ushering in another partial Greek default, euro-zone leaders, Germany first among them, would like to avoid such a scenario at all costs.

With Greece having recently been granted two extra years to reach its budget deficit reduction targets, the debate is now focusing on overall debt reduction. The IMF insists that Athens reduce its debt load from a current level of around 170 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to a ratio of 120 percent by 2020. Based on measures in place today and current growth forecasts for the Greek economy -- combined with the two-year budget deficit delay -- that target is likely unreachable. As such, the IMF is insisting that Germany and other creditors forgive a portion of Greece's debt.

Such a move, however, is anathema to Berlin. Indeed, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party on Wednesday once again emphasized its opposition to such a debt haircut. Norbert Barthle, a senior CDU parliamentarian and the party's budgetary spokesman in the Bundestag, told German radio that he "very much hopes" that Germany can ward off a debt haircut. A partial default, he said, "would be a fatal signal to Portugal, Ireland and perhaps even Spain." Such countries, he added, would immediately wonder why they should bother adopting difficult austerity and reform measures in the future.

'Close to a Result'

According to a paper circulated at the euro-zone finance minister talks in Brussels on Tuesday night -- and which Reuters has seen -- measures currently in place would result in a reduction of Greek debt to 144 percent of GDP by 2020 and 133 percent by 2022.

"To bring the debt down further, one needs to take recourse to measures that would entail capital losses or budgetary implications for euro area member states," the document states, according to Reuters. Several possible measures have been discussed, including slashing the interest that Greece must pay on the emergency loans it has thus far received as well as creditor nations handing the profits they have earned on those loans back to Greece.

Euro Group head Jean Claude Juncker was at pains to project optimism after the collapse of the talks. "We are very close to a result," he told reporters on Wednesday morning. "We see no major stumbling block." IMF chief Christine Lagarde was more circumspect. "We have narrowed the positions," is all she would say.

Even if the IMF imposed debt-load target of 120 percent of GDP by 2020 is largely arbitrary, a break between the euro-zone and the IMF would likely be seriously damaging. IMF involvement in bailouts for Greece and other struggling euro-zone countries have lent the effort vital credibility and were Lagarde's organization to back out, it could seriously alarm investors as well as make the bailouts a lot more expensive for Europe.

Greek Frustration

Greece's euro-zone creditors, however, are skeptical of the IMF's debt haircut model. In contrast to the partial Greek default last spring, which primarily affected private investors, any new debt haircut would hit public money this time -- and would mark the first time that countries such as Germany actually lost money in the crisis. With Merkel facing a re-election battle next year, the appetite for such a move in Berlin is extremely limited.

The collapse of the talks, meanwhile, has left Athens in limbo yet again. The country badly needs the next payout of bailout money, but without an agreement on Greece's debt structure, the tranche cannot be disbursed. "Greece has done what it had to and what it had committed to doing," Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in a statement on Wednesday morning. "Our partners, along with the IMF, also must do what they have undertaken."

Despite his frustration, however, he will have to wait. Talks between the EU finance ministers and the IMF are first expected to resume on Monday.
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« Reply #3113 on: Nov 21, 2012, 07:53 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/20/2012 02:57 PM

Britain's EU Wavering: What Cameron Doesn't Know Could Hurt You

A Commentary by Christoph Scheuermann

Does Britain have a future as a member of the European Union? Prime Minister David Cameron doesn't have an answer to that question -- and that is a problem. His threats to veto the EU budget and efforts at securing a special status for his country are both undignified and dangerous.

David Cameron's favorite toy while attending European Union summit meetings is his BlackBerry. He glances at it constantly, almost as though he thinks it can provide him with guidance. Unfortunately, it cannot.

EU heads of state and government are gathering in Brussels this Thursday for talks on the 27-nation club's next budget, set to cover the years from 2014 to 2020. And Cameron, the British prime minister, has threatened to torpedo negotiations if the €1 trillion spending plan submitted by the European Commission isn't drastically cut.

His unequivocal warning is the product of more than just diplomatic ineptitude. Cameron simply doesn't know what he wants from Europe and lacks a strategy. Nor does he have any idea how Great Britain will be situated within the European Union in two, three or five years down the line. Will the country remain on the cusp as it is now? Will London take additional steps outside of the fold? Anything is possible, and Britain's erratic position is increasingly becoming an annoyance for the UK's partners on the other side of the Channel.

Cameron's inability to steer the debate in London over the EU shows just how weak the prime minister has become within his own party. And that is good news only for those Britons who want to see their country withdraw from the EU, a category which includes a majority of Cameron's party allies.

Radical Egotists

Indeed, the more integrated the European club becomes on the Continent, the more Great Britain feels like a gentleman in a swinger club. It's not that the British hate the European Union. But they fear the inevitability with which the Brussels beast is mutating into a monster, and they fear being eaten by that monster.

Cameron is doing nothing to combat those fears. And his strategy of inaction could very well lead to a situation in which the UK stumbles out of the EU accidentally. Britain's ongoing assessment of EU integration in the search for elements it would rather do without is both undignified and dangerous. The rest of the club should refuse to play London's game.

Europe lives from the passion of its members and from their willingness to accept responsibility and obligation. Radical egotists who are only half-heartedly engaged have the ability to destroy the entire project.
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« Reply #3114 on: Nov 21, 2012, 07:54 AM »


November 20, 2012

Asian Nations Plan Trade Bloc That, Unlike U.S.’s, Invites China

By JANE PERLEZ
IHT

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Ten Southeast Asian nations said Tuesday that they would begin negotiating a sweeping trade pact that would include China and five of the region’s other major trading partners, but not the United States.

The proposal for the new trade bloc, to be known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, is enthusiastically embraced by China. The founding members, who belong to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said at the close of the association’s summit meeting here that the bloc would cover nearly half of the world’s population, starting in 2015.

The new grouping is seen as a rival to a trade initiative of the Obama administration, the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes many of the same countries but excludes China.

The announcement came as China was facing pressure to back down from its hard-line stance in its disputes with four Southeast Asian countries over ownership of islands in the South China Sea.

Five nations at the summit meeting, including Singapore and Indonesia, demanded changes related to the issue in two communiqués that were drafted by Cambodia, the host of the meeting and an ally of China with no claim to the islands, according to a statement issued by Singapore.

The initial draft of one of the communiqués, intended for the association to issue, said that its members, by consensus, did not want the South China Sea issue to be “internationalized” — meaning that the United States and other countries with interests in the security of the sea, one of the world’s busiest trade routes, would have no say in the rules of the body of water.

China said Monday that such a consensus existed. But the Philippines, an ally of the United States, publicly protested China’s position, and was joined Tuesday by Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia and Vietnam. The final text of the communiqué omitted the reference to a consensus, the statement by Singapore said.

The second communiqué, for the concurrent East Asia Summit, left out any mention of the South China Sea in the initial draft, even though the five members wanted the issue to be included. That communiqué, too, was amended.

In a direct criticism of China’s position on the South China Sea, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore said at the East Asia Summit that he hoped the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China would soon start formal talks on a code of conduct that would reduce the risk of conflict over the sea. China has balked at such urgency.

“Talks on a code of conduct will help manage the disputes and prevent conflict which will be bad for everyone,” he said.

The announcement of the proposed trade pact ended the talks on an upbeat note, despite the underlying tensions between the proposal and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was announced last year as part of the Obama administration’s shift of focus toward Asia, the region with the fastest-growing economy.

One of the stops on President Obama’s just-completed trip to Asia was in Thailand, in part to welcome its interest in joining the American-backed trade initiative, which has held more than a dozen rounds of negotiations.

China, on the other hand, has gone out of its way to express its support for the new proposed bloc. Its members would be the 10 countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, plus 6 nations that have free-trade agreements with the association: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

“We uphold regional economic integration, and this is a way to fight against the global financial crisis,” Fu Ying, a Chinese vice minister for foreign affairs, said of the proposal at a briefing in Beijing last week, adding, “We will actively support the negotiating process.”

Some analysts in Asia describe the Obama administration’s trade initiative as one element in a policy to contain China, the world’s largest producer and exporter of manufactured goods.

“China’s exclusion is strange, given its huge economic presence in the Asia-Pacific” region, Amitendu Palit, a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, wrote in a recent edition of East Asia Forum. “This has given rise to views that the United States is driving the Trans-Pacific Partnership with the strategic objective of marginalizing China.”

At the briefing in Beijing, Liang Wentao, an official of the Ministry of Commerce, said that China had studied the proposed bloc backed by the United States and had concluded that the bar for meeting its requirements was “very high.” He said China had not received an invitation to join it.

Mr. Obama alluded to it during a presidential debate, implying that one of its objectives was to set the standards for entry above what China could now meet.

“We’re organizing trade relations with countries other than China so that China starts feeling more pressure about meeting basic international standards,” Mr. Obama said.

One criticism in Washington of the proposal supported by China is that countries need to do little to join and would be allowed to continue practices like protecting state-run enterprises.

Bree Feng contributed reporting.
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« Reply #3115 on: Nov 21, 2012, 07:57 AM »

November 20, 2012

Putin, in Need of Cohesion, Pushes Patriotism

By ELLEN BARRY
IHT

MOSCOW — Over 12 years as the principal leader of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin has brought the same ruthless pragmatism to a wide range of problems — separatist wars, gas wars, rebellious oligarchs and a collapsing ruble.

Now he is facing a problem he has never encountered before, one that is an awkward fit with his skeptical, K.G.B.-trained mind. Six months into his third presidential term, after a wave of unsettling street protests, Mr. Putin needs an ideology — some idea powerful enough to consolidate the country around his rule.

One of the few clear strategies to emerge in recent months is an effort to mobilize conservative elements in society. Cossack militias are being revived, regional officials are scrambling to present “patriotic education” programs and Slavophile discussion clubs have opened in major cities under the slogan “Give us a national idea!”

“Definitely he is thinking about ideology,” Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s press secretary and close aide, said in an interview. “Ideology is very important. Patriotism is very important. Without dedication from people, without the trust of people, you cannot expect a positive impact of what you are doing, of your job.”

Ideas are changing inside the ruling class, as well. The pro-Western, modernizing doctrine of President Dmitri A. Medvedev has been replaced by talk about “post-democracy” and imperial nostalgia. Leading intellectuals are challenging the premise, driven into this country 20 years ago, that Russia should seek to emulate liberal Western institutions. “Western values” are spoken of with disdain.

Every year, scholars from around the world gather for a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, where they sit around an opulent dinner table, peppering Mr. Putin with questions for hours. Mr. Peskov said this year there were few questions about democracy and human rights — because those questions are no longer of interest.

“World experts nowadays are losing their interest in the traditional set of burning points,” he said. “Everyone is sick and tired of this issue of human rights.”

He added, “It’s boringly traditional, boringly traditional, and it’s not on the agenda.”

Events of the last year have breathed life into this anti-Western argument. The debt crisis stripped the euro zone of its attraction as an economic model, and then as a political one. The Arab uprisings have left Russia and the United States divided by an intellectual chasm. The Russian Orthodox Church casts the West as unleashing dangerous turbulence on the world.

Mr. Peskov said that Mr. Putin “understands pretty well that there are no general Western values,” but that he views this as a period of severe historic crisis.

“We have a tremendous collapse of cultures in Europe, less in the States, less in South America,” Mr. Peskov said. “But we have it in Africa and we have it in Europe, and they will be torn apart by these contradictions. Because there is no harmony in coexistence of different cultures, they cannot ensure this harmony.”

“The wave of revolutions in Maghreb, in the Middle East, in the Gulf, in Yemen, it brought disaster,” he said.

While Russia has no intention of drifting from the West in its foreign policy and seeks closer bilateral relationships, Mr. Peskov said, it will no longer tolerate interference by outsiders in its domestic affairs.

This message is unambiguous, but it is difficult to know what concrete changes it may bring in a country whose top political and business figures have homes in Western Europe and send their children to study there.

In September, during a discussion on “nationalizing the elite,” a Kremlin-connected lawmaker proposed barring officials from owning property overseas, saying it makes them beholden to foreign governments and could lead them to betray Russia. The proposal met open resistance, including from Mr. Medvedev, and is now in limbo.

Mr. Peskov said Mr. Putin had mixed feelings about the measure and had not come to a final decision about it.

“If you work for the state — if you are a state employee of a certain level especially — and you have your investment outside, you can be easily influenced from that outside, and it can harm the interests of the state,” he said. “You are not safe, in terms of being firm in defending the state’s interests. But on the other hand, if we are speaking about abroad, it is much cheaper to buy a flat somewhere in Bulgaria than here in Moscow. So there is a huge discussion about that.”

Alexander Rahr, one of the experts who attended the Valdai Discussion Club, said he left with the sense that though Mr. Putin has benefited politically by embracing more conservative language, there is something deeper going on.

“He is preparing Russians more and more for the understanding that Russia does not belong to the West, to Western culture anymore, or to Europe in the way that was discussed during the 1990s,” said Mr. Rahr, the author of a biography of Mr. Putin. “He is preparing Russians for something else. Whatever this means is very difficult to say.”

In public, Mr. Putin has lent his voice to the search for patriotic ideas. At a September meeting that started a national push for “patriotic education,” he said that conflict over “cultural identity, spiritual and moral values and moral codes” had become a field of intense battle between Russia and its foes.

“This is not some kind of phobia, it really is happening,” Mr. Putin said, according to the newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta. “This is at least one of the forms of competitive battles that many countries encounter, just like the battle for mineral resources. Distortion of the national, historic and moral consciousness more than once led the whole state to weakness, collapse and loss of sovereignty.”

That theme was reprised this month, on the 400th anniversary of the uprising that expelled a Polish-Lithuanian occupation, ending what Russians call the “time of troubles.”

The message seemed tailored for this suspicious season, when nonprofit groups that receive financing from outside Russia are being labeled “foreign agents” and the legal definition of treason has been broadened to include providing assistance to international organizations. In a videotaped lecture that will be shown in high school classrooms, one of Mr. Putin’s close allies, Sergei Y. Naryshkin, the speaker of the lower house of Parliament, describes the long ago Western occupiers to the accompaniment of dark orchestral music and images of a dead village girl, blazing wood cabins and a cowering child.

On orders from Moscow, Russia’s state officials are scrambling to come up with their own patriotic programs. In Rostov-on-Don, the Ministry of Education is considering imperial-style 19th-century costume balls. Officials in Novosibirsk proposed a new holiday, “The Day of Overcoming the Troubles.” Volgograd legislators inaugurated a Commission on Questions of Patriotic Education, Ideology and Propaganda.

Sergei A. Karaganov, a dean at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, said he believed that Russia would spend several years in a search for “a unifying set of ideas” under Mr. Putin’s leadership.

“He is a very good operational thinker — he is practical — but at certain points you have to offer a vision,” Mr. Karaganov said. “It is clear what is happening now is the rebuilding of Russia’s ties with its history, which were broken.”

One complication in that project, he noted, is that Russia’s moments of glory and unity have always been associated with an invading force.

“Russia has a fantastic, very strange and very foreign situation — the country has no enemies,” he said. “Your country was formed by a few words in your Constitution. Our country was formed around defense, and all of a sudden there is no threat.”

Anna Kordunsky contributed reporting.
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« Reply #3116 on: Nov 21, 2012, 07:59 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/20/2012 06:12 PM

Far-Right Terror in Poland: Suspect Arrested in Warsaw Parliament Bomb Plot

Polish authorities have arrested a man who was allegedly planning to bomb the parliament building in Warsaw. An investigation into Polish connections with far-right Norwegian mass murder Anders Behring Breivik uncovered the plot, officials said on Tuesday.

A university researcher inspired by far-right extremist ideology has been arrested in Poland for allegedly planning to bomb the country's national parliament building, authorities in Warsaw said Tuesday.

The 45-year-old Polish university researcher's plan was uncovered during an investigation into Polish links to convicted Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said. Breivik, a radical nationalist who killed 77 people when he bombed the Oslo government quarter before continuing on to the Island of Utøya to kill dozens at a political youth camp, bought material for making bombs in Poland, security officials said. Polish television also cited sources close to the investigation saying that the suspect planned to copy Breivik's methods.

Police arrested the suspect, a university researcher, in Krakow on Nov. 9. An employee at the city's University of Agriculture, he had access to chemistry labs and was in illegal possession of explosive materials, guns and munitions. Authorities also found a homemade video of a large test explosion apparently made by the suspect amid his belongings.

"He is a specialist in the field," prosecutor Mariusz Krason said during a press conference in Warsaw.

Authorities believe the unnamed man, who had allegedly concocted a sophisticated plan to detonate a four-ton bomb at the parliament building in Warsaw with top leaders and lawmakers inside, was driven by nationalistic and anti-Semitic ideas.

"He believed that the current social and political situation in our country is moving in the wrong direction," said Krason, adding that the suspect thought that those in charge were "not true Poles."

Growing Far-Right Scene

The suspect has confessed to some of the allegations against him, which include the planned attempt to assassinate President Bronislaw Komorowski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, cabinet ministers and members of the lower parliamentary chamber with a car bomb outside the building. "The threat of an attack was real," prosecutor Artur Wrona added.

Two other people working with the suspect were also arrested on weapons charges, while another two were questioned. Prosecutors said the suspect may have been trying to recruit others to help in his cause.

Though the man was not affiliated with a particular political group, his case is likely to focus attention on Poland's far right, which is reportedly growing in the country as political leanings become more polarized. Those on the right allege that Poland has strayed from its Catholic heritage and is allowing too much foreign influence. They're also opposed to Tusk's government.

Tensions have been high between Prime Minister Tusk's center-right government and its big rival, the conservative Law and Justice party. The party's leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has accused Tusk of "murder," alleging that he had some involvement in an assassination plot to orchestrate the plane crash that killed his brother, late President Lech Kaczynski, and 95 others in 2010. An investigation concluded that bad weather and human error caused the accident.

On Tuesday, Tusk said that the thwarted plot showed it's "high time to abandon a language of violence and hatred in public debate."

kla -- with wire reports
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« Reply #3117 on: Nov 21, 2012, 08:01 AM »

Turmoil after Church of England votes against women bishops

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 7:35 EST

Church of England bishops were to host an emergency session on Wednesday after the church narrowly rejected the appointment of women bishops, triggering turmoil and setting back efforts to modernise the mother church of millions of Anglicans worldwide.

Bishops were to consider the vote’s consequences, with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to make a statement afterwards.

In its biggest decision since backing the introduction of women priests 20 years ago, just enough lay members of the church voted against the measure to bring it down, following years of wrangling between traditionalists and liberals.

Williams, the church’s spiritual leader, said the result plunged him into “deep personal sadness”, whilst other bishops worried that the national church risked becoming a “national embarrassment”.

Newspapers were on Wednesday unanimous in their criticism with The Times calling the vote “a terrible failure” that marked “a sad and shameful day” for the church.

Andrew Brown, editor of the Belief section of the Guardian’s comments pages, argued the church was now in danger of complete collapse, saying “I think I have just watched the Church of England commit suicide.”

The legislation needed a two-thirds majority among each of the three houses in the 470-member General Synod, the church’s governing body.

But though the bishops and the clergy comfortably cleared the threshold, the legislation fell short by just six voters among the laity, a razor-thin margin.

The bishops voted 44 in favour and three against, while two abstained (89.8 percent). The clergy voted 148-45 (76.7 percent).

However, the ordinary lay members voted 132 in favour and 74 against (64.1 percent) — six votes shy of the threshold.

The vote was one final setback for liberal theologian Williams, who steps down in December after 10 years of battles to keep the Church’s various factions united.

“Of course I hoped and prayed that this particular business would be at another stage before I left, and course it is a… deep personal sadness that that is not the case,” the leader of the world’s Anglicans said.

The result will also be considered a blow to the authority of Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham who takes over from Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford, told reporters: “I feel enormously sorry for Archbishop Rowan that he has not been supported by the lay people of this Synod and I feel it adds to the challenge of Bishop Justin.”

Welby said he was going to take stock overnight.

The proposals would have allowed a woman bishop to delegate duties to a stand-in male bishop if a parish rejected her authority. Some who back women bishops voted against as they felt this plan was a messy compromise.

The setback left bishops in dismay.

“I’m hugely disappointed,” Cottrell told reporters.

“I don’t think people in the world, in parliament, even in our churches will understand.

“There’s a danger that the national church becomes a bit of a national embarrassment over this.”

He said the irony was that all three houses had clearly backed having women bishops — as had 42 of the 44 church dioceses beforehand.

The vote followed seven hours of debate and passionate speeches at Church House, close by Westminster Abbey.

The Catholic Group in General Synod, a traditionalist body, said the legislation failed “because it was unclear and unfair in its provision for those who, in conscience, are unable to accept the ministry of women as bishops or priests.”

The Church of England will not be able raise the plans again until 2015 when a new General Synod comes in.

However, the “Group of Six”, a body which includes the CofE’s two archbishops, could give special permission to revive it at the next Synod meeting, set for July — though an extraordinary one could be called in February.

A simple majority vote in the Synod would put the plans on the next meeting’s agenda.

The Church of England is the mother church of the 85-million-strong worldwide Anglican communion.

The CofE, which separated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534, claims that more than 40 percent of people in England regard themselves as members.

The wider Anglican communion’s first woman bishop was appointed in the United States in 1989 and there are now 37 Anglican bishops worldwide, in countries including Australia, Canada, Cuba, New Zealand and Swaziland.
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« Reply #3118 on: Nov 21, 2012, 08:06 AM »

Nov 19 2012
Sebastian D'Souza/Mumbai Mirror

India Hangs the Only Surviving Mumbai Attacker

NEW DELHI — Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman from the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai that left 166 people dead, was hanged Wednesday in a surprise action that analysts in both India and Pakistan said was unlikely to derail improving ties.

Mr. Kasab was one of 10 young men who hijacked an Indian fishing boat, killed its captain, took a rubber dinghy into Mumbai and then systematically attacked high-end hotels, a train station, a hospital and a Jewish community center over the course of three chaotic days. The 10 were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani-based terrorist group, and their actions were directed by phone by people in Pakistan. Nine of the attackers were killed by Indian forces, and their bodies were buried in an undisclosed location. Only Mr. Kasab survived.

Pictures of Mr. Kasab wearing a black shirt and carrying an automatic weapon played on television all day on Wednesday in India, where the execution y received blanket coverage. By contrast, news channels in Pakistan gave it considerably less attention, and the Pakistani government offered no official statement.

Tariq Fatemi, a retired Pakistani senior diplomat, said that some extremist groups would be angered by the hanging but that many other Pakistanis, including senior government officials, had been “deeply embarrassed” by Mr. Kasab and the Mumbai attacks.

Mr. Fatemi predicted that the hanging would do little to slow improving ties between the two countries.

“There is a virtual consensus among Pakistan’s mainstream political parties on the importance of keeping the process on the rails and even promoting it,” said Mr. Fatemi, citing recent trade liberalization measures.

Indeed, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan confirmed on Tuesday his country had ratified an agreement with India to allow six-month visitors visas, one of many steps in the two nations’ growing ties.

For months after the attacks, Pakistan denied that Mr. Kasab was one of its citizens. The country finally admitted that he was in 2009. In its fax to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, Indian officials asked that Mr. Kasab’s family be informed of his execution.

The fax was necessary because the government of Pakistan refused to acknowledge the receipt of a letter informing them of the execution, top Indian officials said.

“So we faxed it, therefore our obligation to inform them adequately was fulfilled,” said Salman Kurshid, India’s minster of external affairs.

Since no one had asked for Mr. Kasab’s body, the government buried him at the Yeravada Central Prison in Pune, officials said.

Mr. Kasab was sentenced to hang in May 2010, but executions have become so rare in India — the last was in 2004 — that there had long been speculation about whether Indian officials would commute the sentence and, if not, when it might be carried out.

The secrecy surrounding the timing of the execution was intended to avoid continuing irritation to relations with Pakistan and to forestall lobbying by European governments that oppose the death penalty, according to unnamed officials quoted in the Indian media.

The Indian home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, denied that domestic political considerations played any role in the timing of Mr. Kasab’s hanging.

“There is no question of mileage-taking,” he said. “It was already decided.”

There are hundreds of people on India’s death row, many of whom have filed clemency petitions with India’s president. One of those is Afzal Guru, who was involved in a 2001 attack on India’s Parliament and whose petition would normally be decided before those filed later, including Mr. Kasab’s.

But President Pranab Mukherjee, a veteran of India’s dominant Congress Party, decided on Nov. 5 to reject Mr. Kasab’s petition, beginning a swift process that led to his execution Wednesday. Crucial state elections will be held next month in Gujarat, where anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan sentiments are popular and where the Congress Party is a considerable underdog.

Prakash Javadekar, a spokesman for the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition party in the central government and the dominant party in Gujarat, welcomed the news of Mr. Kasab’s execution and said that other attackers should meet the same fate.

“This is a belated news but still good news,” Mr. Javadekar said. “There can’t be any queue for terrorists, and the mercy petition should be decided early and Afzal Guru should also be hanged.”

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, founder of the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the Mumbai attacks, has become a prominent public figure in Pakistan over the past year, frequently appearing at political rallies and anti-American demonstrations. He often mocks a $10 million American bounty for information leading to his capture.

The trial of seven Lashkar-e-Taiba militants accused of orchestrating the Mumbai attacks from Pakistani soil, including its operational commander, Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, is proceeding slowly. During the last hearing on Nov. 10, five police officials told the court that Lashkar-e-Taiba had shut down many of its militant training camps inside Pakistan. The statements were seen as the first official admission from Pakistan of the existence of such camps in relation with the Mumbai attacks. The next hearing is scheduled for Dec. 1.

Hari Kumar contributed reporting from New Delhi, and Declan Walsh and Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan.
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« Reply #3119 on: Nov 21, 2012, 08:08 AM »

The world won’t end next month, Maya experts insist

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 8:15 EST

Relax doomsayers, the Maya people did not really mark their calendar for the end of the world on December 21, 2012.

As tourists book hotels rooms in Mexico’s Maya Riviera and Guatemalan resorts ahead of next month’s fateful date, experts are busy debunking the doomsday myth.

The apocalyptic prophecy that has inspired authors and filmmakers never appears in the tall T-shaped stone calendar that was carved by the Maya around the year 669 in southeastern Mexico.

In reality, the stone recounts the life and battles of a ruler from that era, experts say. Plus, the last date on the calendar is actually December 23, 2012, not the 21st, and it merely marks the end of a cycle.

So no need to build giant arks, because the terrible floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions depicted in the Hollywood blockbuster “2012″ were not prophesied by the Mayas.

“The Mayas had a cyclical idea of time. They were not preoccupied with the end of the world,” Mexican archeologist Jose Romero told AFP.

The stone, known as Monument 6, was located in El Tortuguero, an archeological site that was discovered in 1915.

Broken in six pieces, the different fragments are exhibited in US and Mexican museums, including Tabasco’s Carlos Pellicer Camara Anthropology Museum and New York’s Metropolitan Museum.

The first study on the stone was published by a German researcher in 1978. Since then, various archeologists have examined its significance and agree that it refers to the December 23 date.

“The last inscription refers to December 23, 2012, but the central theme of Monument 6 is not the date, it’s not the prophecies or the end of the world. It’s the story of (then ruler) Bahlam Ajaw,” Romero said.

The final date represents the end of a cycle in the Mayan long count calendar that began in the year 3114 before Christ. It is the completion of 13 baak t’uunes, a unit of time equivalent to 144,000 days.

“It is not the end of the Mayan long count calendar, which is endless. It’s the beginning of a new cycle, that’s all,” said Mexican historian Erick Velasquez.

Though the Maya made prophecies, they looked at events in the near future and were related to day-to-day concerns like rain, droughts, or harvests.

The belief that the calendar foresees the end of the world comes from Judeo-Christian interpretations, the experts said.

Velasquez warned against giving too much weight to Monument 6, noting that it is just one of more than 5,000 stones from the Mayan culture that have been studied.

The Earth still has a few years left, even in eyes of the ancient Maya: Some stones refer to the year 7000.
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