|Southwest Asia News Digest
U.S. Issues New Warnings to Iran on Its Nuclear Program
White House spokesman Scott McClellan on July 14 demanded "objective guarantees" on Iran's program, adding, "which means there needs to be a permanent end to their uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities."
Iranian negotiator Hassan Rowhani, meanwhile, hinted that Iran could stiffen its position on this issue. "I think that nobody is hostile to the continuation of negotiations, but differences are possible on the question of the suspension, and it is possible that these differences are implemented," he said to Sargh newspaper in Iran. This would imply that Iran would resume enrichment-related activities. A day earlier, President-elect Ahmadinejad had spoken of "new measures" he would pursue in this context.
And, rumors continue to fly about a possible replacement for Rowhani, who, like all ministers, will end his mandate on Aug. 3, when the new President comes in. One name bandied about is Ali Larijani, former boss of IRIB, and also a Presidential candidate, backed by Ayatollah Khamenei.
Sharon Demands $2.2 Billion and Chunks of West Bank For Gaza Withdrawal
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent envoys to Washington during the week of July 11 to demand $2.2 billion from the U.S. to cover the costs of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. It is the latest in a series of demands and delays, which may again put off the projected date from the already delayed mid-August. At the same time, plans have accelerated for Sharon's "Berlin Wall" in the West Bank, which has been extended to cut off 55,000 Palestinians from access to Jerusalem, where they have jobs and relatives, and from which they receive services like electricity.
On July 11, Palestinian President Abu Mazen denounced the latest announcements regarding Sharon's Wall.
"The approval of the fence route in the Jerusalem region could bring about an end to the relations between the two sides," Abu Mazen said. "Such measures will not help serve the peace nor will they serve the security of Israel, which places obstacles on the road to dialogue between the sides."
The new wall route aims to cut an entire neighborhood of predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem off from the city. This means that some 55,000 Palestinian East Jerusalemites, who up until now had Israeli residence permits, with jobs in the city, whose children go to school in the city, and enjoy municipal serviceselectricity, water, garbage removalwill be cut off. When Sharon's government made this decision, it said it was based on "demographics"i.e., ridding the city of non-Jews without regard to the effect it will have on them. The fact is that the situation in the West Bank is so terrible, that the Palestinian National Authority has no ability to take care of another 55,000 people on such short notice.
Other parts of the new wall, called the "Jerusalem envelope," will incorporate West Bank settlements that have never been part of Jerusalem, thereby grabbing more Palestinian land in the process.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat denounced the wall, saying it is bringing "catastrophe" upon the Palestinians. "We have exerted every possible effort with the Israelis themselves, the Americans, the international community, but the only thing that is happening is that the wall is being completed."
Sharon has announced that the wall, of which only one-third of a proposed 680 kilometers has been built, will be completed within two years.
The announcements about the wall came at the same time that a delegation led by Ilan Cohen, the director-general of the Prime Minister's office, left for Washington, where they will ask the Bush Administration for $2.2 billion. Cohen, along with Israeli Finance Ministry director Yossi Bachar, was scheduled to meet Elliott Abrams, the Deputy National Security Advisor for the Middle East.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Demands UN Act on Sharon's Wall
Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser Al Kidwa on July 11 demanded that the United Nations act to stop the construction of the West Bank wall, especially around Jerusalem. The building of the wall, with its unilateral seizures of Palestinian properties, including farms and homes, was judged to be illegal by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, but Israel has refused to recognize the judgment.
"We want to see some concrete measures," Kidwa said, reported Ha'aretz on July 12. "We are proposing completely punitive measures against entities, companies and individuals that contribute to the construction of the wall and other illegal activities in occupied Palestinian territory."
Kidwa mentioned the American Caterpillar company as one such company, whose products, bulldozers, are being used to construct the wall.
"You cannot talk of peace and at the same time colonize Palestinian land; to construct the wall and continue to build settlements. This will destroy the present and future of the Palestinians."
Meanwhile the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, criticized Israel for building the wall.
Solana, who just arrived in Israel to hold meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials, said, "We think that Israel has the right to defend itself, but we think the fence which will stand outside the territory of Israel, is not legally proper, and it creates also humanitarian problems."
Targetted Assassinations Officially Announced by Israel After Suicide Bombings
The Israeli military assassinated Mohammed Alasi, a 24-year-old member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, in Nablus in the West Bank on July 14. The assassination took place while he was being interviewed by a British journalist, a 60-year-old woman, who is now in a state of shock.
The targetted assassinations policy was publicly announced, following two suicide bombings claimed by Islami Jihad, despite the fact that Palestinian President Abu Mazen denounced the bombings in the strongest terms.
Following the incident in Netanya, where two Israelis were killed, Abu Mazen declared, "This was a crime against the Palestinian people, and those who were behind it must be working against our people's interest and must be punished."
"There is no rational Palestinian who can conduct such an act at the time Israel was withdrawing from settlements, starting in Gaza and moving to the West Bank," he added.
Israeli commentators, and rightwing extremists who oppose the Gaza withdrawal, and any moves for a Palestinian independent state, are claiming the suicide bombing reflects Abu Mazen's weakness in dealing with Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility for the bombing, and which refuses to accept the ceasefire imposed by the Palestinian Authority. The ceasefire called for refraining from attacking Israeli targets.
Israel's killing of a member of a totally separate Palestinian group, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, is an obvious move to show that the Israeli hardliners will impose "collective punishment" on the Palestinians, and will refuse to distinguish among militant groups. Such tactics in 2003 were used by Israel to bring down Abu Mazen when he served as Prime Minister to President Yasser Arafat.
Since his visit to the U.S. in April, 2005, Sharon has been trying to brand Abu Mazen as a "non-partner," and have him ostracized as Bush treated Arafat. Now, with the date of the Gaza withdrawal only weeks away, the Sharon government appears to be enacting the policies that will spark retaliatory violence, and use it as an excuse to delayindefinitelythe Gaza withdrawal.
Well-informed Israeli intelligence sources have previously told EIR that Sharon will not abandon the Gaza withdrawalhe will simply find a new excuse to delay every time the deadline draws near.
Meanwhile, Palestinian ministers have been holding meetings with Palestinian Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is being held in an Israeli prison, reported the Israeli and Palestinian press. Barghouti has been considered by veteran Israeli peace advocates to be the only Palestinian leader who has the credibility to lead the Palestinian Authority, with enough strength to bring all factions to accept a PA policy. It has been suggested by American statesmen Lyndon LaRouche, as well as by former Secretary of State James Baker III, that the Israeli government release him. The Israelis have as of now refused.
Among those who have visited Barghouti in the recent period are Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Minister Sufyan Abu Zaydeh, former Palestinian Minister Hisham Abd Al Raziq, and Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayad. The fact that Fayad has been visiting Barghouti is noteworthy, since Fayad is the one Palestinian leader with the best connections in Washington, and is reported to be just about the only leader the Bush Administration listens to.