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Babylon & Beyond

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Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Palestinians

ISRAEL: Trying classic, digital and celebrity diplomacy

The Palestinian plan to ask the United Nations for statehood recognition has preoccupied Israel's leaders and news media for months, making "September" a code word for trouble ahead. Public officials have sounded dire warnings, each with a metaphor describing what awaits, including "tsunami" (Defense Minister Ehud Barak), "iceberg" (lawmaker Isaac Herzog) and "wall" (President Shimon Peres).

Last-minute efforts continue to reach a compromise that could keep Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from making what some commentators call a game-changing move, and spare the U.S. from resorting to exercising its veto power in the Security Council. One way or another other, "September" is here.

If classic diplomacy has limits, there's always Internet diplomacy. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon is one of the country's most social-media-minded officials. This summer he posted on the Web a video titled "The Israel-Palestinian Conflict: The Truth About The Peace Process." It gained plenty of views but not so much traction. 

Now lay practitioners of hasbara, or public outreach, are joining the ranks of the digital diplomats. The latest video making the rounds to illustrate Israel's position is "Israel Wants Peace - Friend Request Pending" (above).  We're in a Facebook era, "like" it or not. Not everyone will agree with the video's message but most will understand its language.

While Netanyahu intends to present "Israel's truth" at the U.N., clever Internet presentations try to show Israel's softer face. And just for fun (and for art, for art!) mass-nude photographer Spencer Tunick showed some other parts over the weekend.

Joining the classic and the digital, there's "celebrity diplomacy" too.Americasvoices

The America's Voices in Israel program brings media and entertainment personalities to Israel for first-hand experiences, sight-seeing and briefings with government officials, to see for themselves and spread the word back home that Israel's a country, not just a conflict. Actor Miguel Ferrer, a member of the program's latest delegation, said he'd commit to offering positive messages on behalf of the people of Israel. "Twilight" star Kellan Lutz, visiting for the second time, noted that people are "not really informed" about Israel.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.

Video: "Israel Wants Peace- Friend Request Pending." Credit: YouTube

Photo: Kellan Lutz, left, Miguel Ferrer, Carolina La O and Didier Hernendez visiting Jerusalem. Credit: Yissachar Ruas

WEST BANK: U.S. envoys' paper emboldens Abbas to go before U.N.

A paper special U.S. peace envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross presented to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday that was supposed to sway him away from going to the United Nations was what caused Abbas to take a final stand in favor of going, according to Nabil Shaath, a member of Abbas’ Fatah Central Committee.

Abbas told the Palestinian people on Friday that he is going to the Security Council to ask for membership in spite of strong U.S. objections and attempts to have him change his mind.

Shaath, speaking in Ramallah on Saturday, said the U.S. paper Hale and Ross had presented to Abbas when they met him at his headquarters and that was supposed to get him to decide against going to the U.N. has actually increased his resolve to go.

“It was the last straw” that got Abbas to take the decision in favor of going to the U.N. to ask for membership, Shaath said. “It seems that it [the paper] was designed to be rejected,” he said.

The American paper, Shaath said, was worse than a statement the U.S. had wanted the Middle East quartet -- the U.S., the U.N., Russia and the European Union -- to adopt two months ago and which the quartet members had then rejected.

The U.S. paper, he said, referred to the controversial settlements Israel had been building on Palestinian land occupied since 1967 as “demographic changes.” This, he said, would actually legalize the settlements, which the entire world, including the U.S., had so far considered as illegal.

Abbas is going to submit his membership application to the Security Council as soon as he finishes his speech, which he plans to make at the U.N. General Assembly on Friday.

Shaath said it may take a few days to bring it up for discussion and then a vote.

However, he said, if the application was delayed for whatever reason beyond reasonable time, the Palestinian Authority may then go to the U.N. General Assembly to ask for nonmember state.

In his speech to Palestinians Friday, Abbas said that he was going only to the Security Council without saying what would his next step be in case the U.S. vetoes the Palestinian application, as it has already said it would do. He only said that he will hold consultations on the next move.

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

 

WEST BANK: 18 years after Oslo, Palestinians try a new tack

On Sept. 13, 1993, current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and current Israeli President Shimon Peres signed at the While House the so-called Oslo Accords, ushering in a new era and hopes of peace in the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The agreement was signed in the presence of President Bill Clinton, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

At a news conference in Ramallah in the West Bank on Tuesday to talk about the Palestinians' latest U.N. statehood bid, Palestinian Authority negotiator Muhammad Shtayeh made reference to that agreement.

“The Oslo Accords was an interim agreement that should have reached a conclusion on May 4, 1999,” he said. “It was supposed to bring results through bilateral Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.”

However, 18 years later, as the Israeli occupation that was supposed to end more than 10 years ago remains in place and an independent Palestinian state is far from being a reality, the Palestinian Authority decided to try another course of action, asking the United Nations' 193 member states to recognize “Palestine” as member No. 194, based on the 1967 borders.

“The bilateral arrangement of Oslo is now taking us to the multilateral road, which is the U.N.,” said Shtayeh.

Whether the Palestinians will succeed in changing their fate remains to be seen when the Palestinian Authority formally asks the U.N. Security Council for recognition in a couple of weeks.

But as the date for submitting that application gets closer, Palestinians are coming under intense direct and indirect pressure from the U.S. and Europe to withdraw their initiative.

Well informed sources said the pressure seems to have made headway with at least some Arab countries upon which the Palestinians were counting for support in their bid.

Abbas traveled to Cairo on Monday to ask Arab foreign ministers meeting there for their support for the Palestinian application. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, was also there for the exact opposite goal: to ask the Arabs to dissuade the Palestinians from proceeding with their move.

According to the sources, the U.S. and European pressure have persuaded some allies to discourage Abbas from proceeding with his U.N. adventure.

At his last news conference in Ramallah before traveling to New York to join the Palestinian delegation there to prepare the final documents for the statehood application, Shtayeh denied what he called “rumors” that the Palestinian Authority was backing down under Arab pressure.

He insisted that the plan was still on, and with the Security Council, not the General Assembly. He said Abbas was going to submit the application to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a couple of days before speaks before the General Assembly on Sept. 23. In that speech, said Shtayeh, Abbas would "ask the member states to recognize Palestine as a state on the 1967 borders."

However, as the U.S. has already announced that it would veto such a proposal if it comes up for discussion at the Security Council, Shtayeh said that this initiative was not a one-time effort. The Palestinians may resubmit the application a second, third or tenth time until it finally succeeds, he said.

That process, as in Oslo, may take years.

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

WEST BANK: Palestinians start pro-U.N. bid activities

Mahmoud Abbas The Palestinian support group for the United Nations bid to gain statehood recognition announced Saturday a series of activities that would reach a peak when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 23.

Abbas said on Thursday that he will be arriving in New York on Sept. 19 and that soon after he gets there he will meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to hand him the Palestinian application seeking full membership in the U.N.

The application will go first to the U.N. Security Council, which is supposed to make the recommendation for the U.N. General Assembly for accepting Palestine as a member state. However, the U.S. has already officially announced that it will veto it, which means the application will be quickly buried.

Abbas did not say what will be his next step, but he is expected to be going for U.N. nonmember state, which should be easy to get at the General Assembly where the U.S. does not have veto power, and which would allow him to join all sorts of U.N. organizations, including the International Criminal Court, UNESCO, UNICEF, the Human Right Council, and many, many others.

The State Department’s expected announcement did not dampen Palestinian spirit to show support for their leaders as they fight for U.N. recognition and membership.

The popular support group, Palestine State 194, in reference to becoming the U.N. member state No. 194 if it succeeds, called on Palestinians everywhere to raise the Palestinian flag on their cars and homes and on everything within their reach starting Sunday.

Mass rallies are planned in West Bank city centers on Sept. 21, when the General Assembly opens, and Sept. 23, when Abbas is scheduled to make his plea for world recognition before the world body.

But before that, and on Friday, protest marches have been called for in the West Bank villages were Palestinians and their international and Israeli supporters hold weekly protests against Israel’s construction of sections of a barrier that goes right through their village land to separate them from Jewish settlements built on Palestinian-owned land.

The next day, Saturday, calls were made on Palestinians to join the women's movement and march to the Israeli army-controlled Qalandia checkpoint, half way between Ramallah and Jerusalem, also in a show of protest against the Israeli occupation.

In the Thursday meeting at his Ramallah headquarters with members of the foreign press in Israel, Abbas made it clear that he will not tolerate any act of violence by Palestinians during their rallies in support of his effort to get U.N. recognition.

“We will hold rallies in the city centers,” he said. “But we will not allow any one to reach contact points with the Israelis. This will not be tolerated. Even if Israel comes to our cities, we will not fight back.”

Abbas’ turn-the-other-cheek approach is supposed to convince the international community that he wants freedom and liberation for his people Gandhi-style.

While he said he can guarantee that there will not be any act of violence by Palestinians, he could not guarantee that there will not be acts of violence by Israelis, whether from soldiers or settlers, against Palestinians.

Jewish settlers in the West Bank have been carrying out almost daily attacks against Palestinians on West Bank roads and in their villages.

Settlers have set fire to a mosque in the northern West Bank, wrote anti-Islam hate graffiti on mosques and university walls, attacked fields, setting fully grown olive trees on fire or cutting them down as the olive harvest season nears when thousands of Palestinian families earn their entire year’s living from the olive harvest, and threw rocks at Palestinians commuting on West Bank roads, damaging cars.

The U.S., on Friday, joined world condemnation of escalated settlers’ violence. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland described these acts as “dangerous and provocative attacks.” She said that “such hateful actions are never justified,” stating that “those responsible should be arrested and subject to the full force of the law.”

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-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

Photo: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee in the West Bank. Credit: Majdi Mohammed / Associated Press

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Legal opinion muddies U.N. statehood bid

Palestinian-activists

As the Palestinian Authority is getting ready to ask the United Nations to accept the West Bank and Gaza Strip within the 1967 borders as a member state, a legal opinion by an Oxford University international-law professor has provoked second thoughts about the move among many Palestinians.

In the opinion, Guy Goodwin-Gill, a member of the legal team that argued in the International Court of Justice against Israel's construction of a wall in the West Bank, warned that a state in the West Bank and Gaza would not be able to represent Palestinians everywhere, nor would it have the legal status the Palestine Liberation Organization has achieved at the U.N. since it was accepted as an observer in 1974.

"Until such a time as a final settlement is agreed, the putative State of Palestine will have no territory over which it exercises effective sovereignty, its borders will be indeterminate or disputed, its population, actual and potential, undetermined and many of them continuing to live under occupation or in states of refuge," he wrote.

This state, he said, "will fall short of meeting the internationally agreed criteria of statehood, with serious implications for Palestinians at large, particularly as concerns the popular representation of those not currently present in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."

In conclusion, he wrote: "The interests of the Palestinian people are at risk of prejudice and fragmentation, unless steps are taken to ensure and maintain their representation through the Palestinian Liberation Organization, until such time as there is in place a State competent and fully able to assume these responsibilities towards the people at large."

Responding to this opinion, University of Illinois professor of international law Francis A. Boyle, who describes himself as a legal advisor to the PLO and former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said Goodwin-Gill's argument is "based upon most erroneous assumptions," describing it as a "doomsday scenario."

He said the Executive Committee of the PLO was set up as the provisional government for the proposed state, which means that it would continue to represent the interests of all Palestinians around the world if the proposed state becomes a U.N. member.

"Hence all your rights will be preserved: for all Palestinians and for the PLO. No one will be disenfranchised. The PLO will not lose its status," he wrote. "All of your rights have been protected and will be protected by Palestine becoming a member state of the United Nations, including the right of return."

The Palestinian Authority, determined to proceed with its U.N. plan, has tried to ease concerns raised by Goodwin-Gill's opinion.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said state recognition would not affect the status of the PLO or the rights of Palestinian refugees.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to his spokesman, is to address the Palestinian people in the coming days on the implications of going to the U.N. -- and also apparently to ease their fears as more are questioning the wisdom of this move.

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-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

Photo: Activists in the West Bank hold placards asking for United Nations membership for a Palestinian state as they protest against Jewish settlements on Saturday. Credit: Abed Al Hashlamoun / EPA

WEST BANK: Olive Revolution seeks free access to East Jerusalem

 

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When Israeli police and soldiers manning Qalandia checkpoint prevented West Bank Muslims under the age of 50 from crossing into Jerusalem to reach Al-Aqsa Mosque to perform the last Friday of Ramadan prayer, the dozens left behind decided to pray at the checkpoint.

When they finished, they, along with Israeli and international supporters from a movement called Olive Revolution, gathered facing Israeli police and soldiers separated only by cement blocks. They chanted anti-occupation slogans and demanded access to East Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied since June 1967.

Dressed in full riot gear, police and soldiers stood their ground, and so did the Palestinians and their supporters. Nothing happened for a short while until young Palestinians began to throw rocks.

Israeli forces responded with tear gas canisters and stun grenades. The crowds quickly dispersed. Shortly after, the situation at the checkpoint returned to normal with street vendors waiting for the thousands who had already crossed the checkpoint to Jerusalem to return to Ramallah in hopes of selling them something.

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The Olive Revolution wants West Bank residents of all ages to have free access to East Jerusalem and its holy Muslim and Christian places.

“Our presence here is to challenge the concept that Israel has the right to deny people free access to Jerusalem,” said Jonathan Pollak, an Israeli activist and one of the organizers of the Olive Revolution protest.

“We want to create a popular movement that would challenge the system the Israeli occupation has created, and hopefully this will be the start of it,” he said.

Under the slogan “Knocking on Jerusalem’s Gates,” the Olive Revolution, which identifies itself as a popular, humanitarian, non-armed movement against the Israeli occupation, brought its supporters to Qalandia in an attempt to draw international attention to what happens at the checkpoint as people try to reach Jerusalem for worship.

It called on supporters to come to four different checkpoints in the north, south, east and west of Jerusalem to declare that East Jerusalem is part of the territories Israel had occupied in 1967 and that people should be able to reach it freely.

Abdullah Abu Rahmeh, a nonviolent activist who started the popular resistance struggle in his West Bank village of Bilin six years ago, was also at Qalandia.

Normally, he would be in Bilin on Fridays leading the weekly anti-barrier, anti-settlements protest in his village. This time he chose to be at Qalandia, advocating the same message of nonviolent popular resistance.

He did not even think of crossing the checkpoint to Jerusalem to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque because, he said, he would not be allowed since he previously served time in Israeli jails for his role in resisting the occupation.

“The only way I can reach Jerusalem is if I force my way through the checkpoint, not wait for Israeli permission,” he said.

He and members of the Olive Revolution, who numbered in the dozens, tried to push their way through the Israeli police and army lines, but failed.

After the standoff, they called on their supporters to head back to the buses waiting for them to return to Bilin, about 15 miles northwest of Ramallah, to join the protest there.

But by the time they got there, the Israeli soldiers had already broken up the demonstration.

--Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

Photos: (Top) An activist raising a sign as Israeli soldiers look on. (Bottom) The T-shirt of a member of Olive Revolution says,"No to Occupation."/ Credit: Maher Abukhater

GAZA STRIP: Five killed by Israeli strikes as cease-fire cracks

Five Palestinians have been killed over the last two days by Israeli airstrikes, including attacks Wednesday against a sports club and a tunnel at the Gaza-Egypt border, security and medical sources said.

The airstrikes came as a fragile two-day cease-fire appeared to be breaking between Israel and Gaza militants.

Early Tuesday a top Islamic Jihad member and another man were killed in an Israeli airstrike. After the killing, the militant group took credit for several of the rocket and mortar attacks against Israel over the last week.

Gaza militants responded with a volley of rocket attacks against southern Israel, causing some injuries and damage.

Another Israeli airstrike hit a sports club in the town of Biet Lahiya , where two people killed and 15 others were injured.

A tunnel worker was killed in a separate strike and other workers are missing, security sources said.

Dr. Ghazi Hamad, the deputy minister of foreign affairs for Hamas, warned that Hamas -- which controls Gaza -- "cannot stand idle as Israel violates the truce."

-- Rushdi Abu Alouf in Gaza City

WEST BANK: Palestinian Authority accuses Israel of trying to provoke violence

Photo: A Palestinian policeman gestures over the rubble of the local police station in Beit Lahia, in the northern of Gaza Strip, after an Israeli air strike, on Sunday. Credit: Mohammed Abed / AFP / Getty Images

Three days of Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, two days of Israeli military operations in the southern West Bank city of Hebron and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in East Jerusalem have set off alarm bells for the Palestinian Authority.

The authority accused Israel of trying to provoke a violent reaction that might undermine Palestinian efforts to obtain recognition of a Palestinian state by the United Nations.

"These measures will not deter us or stop us from continuing on our road and just struggle to regain the legitimate national rights of our people,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said through a spokesman Sunday.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Monday that the developments would not stop its plan -- opposed by Israel and the U.S. -- to seek U.N. recognition of a state located in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

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WEST BANK: Palestinian officials succeed in taking TV political satire off the air

The worst fears of Imad Farajin, Palestinian actor and author of political satire and TV comedy show "Watan Ala Watar" ("Country on a String"), came true  Wednesday when the Palestinian Authority’s attorney general, Ahmad Mughani, ordered Palestine TV to stop broadcasting the locally produced show.

The show, aired nightly on Palestine TV, started broadcasting on the first day of the Muslim fast month of Ramadan. After a seemingly successful first year, the authors and producers of the short show decided to go for a second season.

However, its harsh and sarcastic criticism of Palestinian officials has upset them all; some decided to sue the show and Palestine TV and others put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to pull if off the air.

After 16 episodes, the attorney general decide to take action and issued an order shutting down the show, claiming it had offensive language and insulted senior officials.

Whether that was within his authority remains to be decided, but the decision was made and Palestine TV pulled the plug on the show.

“Freedom of opinion is guaranteed in the Palestinian law,” said Farajin, who saw the decision coming. “What the attorney general did was an outrageous infringement on freedom of opinion,” he said.

Farajin said he will not take the decision lightly, but will turn it into a public issue. He said he will go to court to challenge the attorney general’s decision, which he said came without even hearing their point of view.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, the official in charge of Palestine TV, grudgingly accepted the attorney general’s decision and immediately pulled the show off the air. He also questioned the legality of Mughani’s ruling.

“We are going to challenge that decision because if it was allowed to hold, it will set a dangerous precedent that could also affect other works, and there are signs this might happen,” he said.

He expressed concern that the attorney general, who appointed himself in charge of artistic works, may take action in the future against any TV show, or play or painting, or a song or even a newspaper article.

“If the attorney general believes he now has the power to stop any artistic or creative work, we will be then facing a major catastrophe that will affect all freedoms,” said Abed Rabbo.

The attorney general defended his decision. “The 1960 criminal law (a Jordanian law) gives the attorney general the right to take proper legal action under the article that talks about slander against the authority,” said Mughani.

“We believe in freedoms and we defend it,” he added. “But this program included obscene language that touched esteemed and respected symbols of the Palestinian people.”

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

WEST BANK: Israel ramps up housing construction in Ariel

Israeli officials gave the green light Monday to another large housing project on land seized during the 1967 Mideast War, clearing the way for 277 new homes in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

It marked the third announcement this month of controversial new construction projects on land that Palestinians hope to one day make part of their independent state.

Earlier this month Israeli officials approved construction of 900 homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, a Jewish development that critics say is cutting off access between Palestinian-dominated parts of East Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Last week, the Interior Ministry approved 1,600 units in a Jewish housing project known as Ramat Shlomo, also in East Jerusalem.  That project, first unveiled during a visit to Israel last year by Vice President Joe Biden, drew strong criticism from the U.S.

Palestinians say the recent approvals demonstrate that Israel is not serious about reaching a peace deal that would result in a two-state solution.

Palestinians have boycotted peace talks until Israel agrees to halt all settlement construction, including in East Jerusalem. Next month they plan to seek formal statehood recognition from the U.N.

Israeli officials have refused to stop construction, rejecting criticism from the U.S., U.N. and European Union, who have called the projects counter-productive to negotiations.

Ariel, which is located deep inside the West Bank, is a particularly divisive settlement. City officials there have complained that new housing construction has been effectively frozen for several years due to the political sensitivities.

Approval of the 277 units is one of the largest expansions in a single West Bank settlement in recent years.

-- Edmund Sanders in Jerusalem

WEST BANK: Palestinians determined to get more recognition

The Palestinian Authority is doubling its efforts to get as many countries to recognize it before September, when it plans to officially ask the United Nations for recognition and membership.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Malki said on Saturday that “we have made very important breakthroughs, but we need to do more and build on what we have achieved so far.”

Malki was talking about 19 countries in Central America and the Caribbean who still have not made up their mind regarding recognition. He had recently visited most of these countries, including Caribbean Sea islands with a population not exceeding 45,000 people but are nevertheless sovereign U.N. member states, in an attempt to persuade them to recognize Palestine as a state.

He has to wait until the Caribbean Common Market and Community (CARICOM) and the Central American SICA group convene their joint meeting Aug. 19 before he gets their final answer. So far, the situation does not look good since El Salvador, seat of SICA, has refused to place Palestine’s request on its agenda, nor invited the Palestinian Authority to attend the meeting.

But Malki said he would not give up. He would still travel to El Salvador and meet foreign ministers and officials of these countries to sway them to the Palestinian point of view.

The Palestinians need two-thirds of the U.N. member states -- that is at least 129 countries -- to vote in favor of their recognition resolution at the General Assembly if they are to gain membership. But they need first to go through the Security Council, which has to make the membership recommendation to the General Assembly.

If the Security Council adopts that resolution and recommends membership, the two-thirds vote will be needed in case any country asks for a count of vote rather than just applause as was the case with South Sudan.

With the U.S. strongly opposed to the Palestinian step, describing it as a unilateral act, it is expected to veto it once it comes up at the Security Council. If that happens, the resolution will never make it to the General Assembly, deeming the scrambling for two-thirds of the votes pointless.

This would leave the Palestinians with one option: to ask the General Assembly for nonmember state status, which they can get with only a majority of the votes of those present in the session. But that would be far short of their intended goal.

--Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

IRAN: Tehran names street for late U.S. activist Rachel Corrie

Pg-27-rachel-corrie_335079tIran has decided to name a street in honor of Rachel Corrie, an American pro-Palestinian activist who was killed while protesting against the demolition of Palestinian homes in the Gaza strip eight years ago. It's the first time since Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979 that an Iranian street has been named after an American.

On Thursday, an article published in the Iranian newspaper Hamshari, a daily close to the Tehran city council and the mayor of the capital, said the council will name a street in Tehran after Corrie, a 23-year old Olympia, Wash., native who was killed by an Israeli military bulldozer in 2003 when she tried to prevent the Israeli Defense Forces from tearing down a Palestinian home.

The report said the street sign would be put up in central Tehran, but it was not immediately clear when that would happen. 

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