Jewish extremists suspected of vandalizing Jerusalem monastery

JERUSALEM -- As several thousand Christians from around the world gathered in Jerusalem on Tuesday for an annual pro-Israel conference, Jewish extremists are believed to have vandalized a Mt. Zion monastery, the latest in a string of attacks against churches in Israel.

Police said the Monastery of St. Francis, located near where Christians believe the Last Supper was held, was spray-painted with graffiti written in Hebrew expressing support for Jewish settlers in the West Bank and using obscenities to refer to Jesus Christ.

Both Israeli and Palestinian officials condemned the attack, which police suspected was carried out by Jewish extremists. It was the second case of vandalism against a Christian institution in a month.

In September, a Trappist monastery in Latrun near Jerusalem was attacked by vandals who set the front door on fire and spray-painted “Jesus is a monkey" on the outside walls.

Israeli President Shimon Peres said such attacks were counter to the Jewish religion. “Holy sites must not be harmed," he said in a statement.

The attack comes as more than 3,000 Christian visitors gathered in Jerusalem’s convention center for the annual chairman’s conference of the Israel Allies Caucus Foundation, co-sponsored by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. This year’s event, which seeks to galvanize Christian support for Israel, included lawmakers and government officials from around the world.


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-- Edmund Sanders

Iran calls Netanyahu's warnings on nuclear program 'baseless'

TEHRAN -- Iranian officials fired back against the dire warnings of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the United Nations, calling them “baseless and absurd allegations" against its "exclusively peaceful" nuclear program.

In a written statement, the Iranian delegation to the United Nations General Assembly complained that “an unfounded and imaginary graph was used to justify a threat” against Iran, an apparent reference to the drawing of a bomb that Netanyahu held up during his speech.

Netanyahu has called for world powers to draw a “red line” to prompt military action against Iran if it continues to move forward with its nuclear development  program. During his Thursday speech, he argued that Iran could be poised to create an atomic weapon next year.

Iran's deputy ambassador to the U.N., Eshagh Habib, nonetheless warned in the statement that his country was strong enough to defend itself and would retaliate with full force if attacked. Habib asserted that Israel had a “totally dark record” of violence and criticized it for not signing an international nuclear disarmament treaty.

The Iranian statement went on to say that Israel had admitted to having atomic weapons. Israel has never publicly acknowledged having such weapons, though it is widely believed that it does.

Iranian newspapers are not printed on Fridays, but Iranian media quoted foreign news coverage of the Netanyahu speech on their websites, focusing on remarks that ridiculed and criticized his bomb diagram as confusing. Revolutionary Guards deputy commander Hamid Moqaddamfar said the "Zionist regime" would not dare to attack Iran and called rumors of such an attack "empty balloons," state media reported.

While leading Friday prayers in Tehran, Ayatollah Imam Kashani did not mention the speech but called for unity of all Iranian political factions against enemies.

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Palestinian official criticizes U.S. position on U.N. recognition

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- A Palestinian official Friday criticized President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for opposing Palestinians' bid for statehood recognition in the United Nations, and failing to give the issue more attention in their speeches this week before the international body.

"By ignoring us, the Palestinian question is not going to go away," said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday at the U.N. General Assembly that consultations have begun with various nations on drafting a resolution that will be submitted before the end of the assembly's current session, calling for upgrading the status of the Palestinian territories from observer to non-member state.

The upgrade would allow the Palestinian Authority to join all U.N. organizations, but not to vote.

Ashrawi said no specific date has been set for a vote on the proposed resolution, but several nations have strongly suggested submitting it on Nov. 29, the U.N.-adopted International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. That is also is the anniversary of a 1947 U.N. resolution partitioning the region into Arab and Jewish states.

She said the U.S. was already working behind the scenes to discourage other nations from supporting the proposal, as it did a year ago when Palestinians attempted to gain full U.N. membership.


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"Bibi's Bomb": Netanyahu uses a picture to make his point

Greyhound bus makes one of its last overnight trips across Britain

-- Maher Abukhater



'Bibi's Bomb': Netanyahu uses a picture to make his point


For weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged the United States to draw a clear “red line” to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Today, Netanyahu showed them how.


Warning the United Nations General Assembly that the world must act quickly to halt Iran, Netanyahu brandished a red marker and drew his own clear red line atop a drawing of a bomb.

By the middle of next year, Netanyahu argued, Iran could have enough enriched uranium to make a weapon within “a few months, possibly a few weeks.” His red line landed just below the “final stage” on the diagram.

The gambit grabbed as much attention as his dire message: The image of Netanyahu drawing that “red line” was irresistible to the media after photo after dull photo of suited diplomats at the U.N. If cartoonish, it was unforgettable. If simplistic, it was easily grasped. Some saw it as a brilliant stroke of political stagecraft.

“Bibi's use of that chart was one of the most effective, gripping uses of a chart I've ever seen. Is the world listening??” former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted.

In a rarity for the sober world of international diplomacy, “Bibi’s bomb” went viral, as Internet users competed to get in the best quips.

But illustrating the tense and serious issue with a cartoon fell flat with others watching the speech. Some said that the act made Netanyahu himself look cartoonish, an image that didn’t spell out the threat so much as conjure up animated villains.

“It is precisely because Iran's nuclear program is such a threat to Israel that turning to cartoon bombs to explain the issue is a lousy idea,” tweeted Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent with the Atlantic.

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Israel leader demands 'red line' to stop Iran nuclear program


UNITED NATIONS -– Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the United Nations that Iran’s progress toward a nuclear bomb will be irreversible by next spring or summer, a more specific time frame than he has publicly argued before, and demanded that world powers draw a “red line” to trigger military action if Tehran refuses to stop before then.

Holding up a crude cartoon drawing of a bomb with a burning fuse, Netanyahu told the General Assembly that at its current rate, he believes Iran will have produced enough sufficiently enriched uranium by mid-2013 that it could turn its attention to building an actual weapon within “a few months, possibly a few weeks.”

He did not threaten to attack Iran, however, and said he was still working with the Obama administration to find a way to curb Iran’s nuclear development without war. He emphasized Israel’s close ties to the United States in what appeared to be an attempt to ease public concern of a rift between the two allies over the immediacy of the nuclear threat.

In his 30-minute address, Netanyahu drew a bright red line through the cartoon bomb to make his point that unless the world stops Iran, it will become an existential threat to Israel and a terrorist threat to the entire world, comparing a nuclear-armed Iran to a nuclear-armed Al Qaeda.

“The relevant question is not when Iran will get the bomb,” he said. “It is at what stage we can stop Iran from getting the bomb.”

Iran insists it is enriching uranium for civilian purposes, such as power generation, as is its right under international agreements, and that it is not seeking to build a nuclear weapon.

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Palestinians pursuing U.N. recognition as nonmember state

Mahmoud Abbas at UN General Assembly
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday that he has opened talks with the world body on obtaining recognition of Palestine as a nonmember state.

The recognition campaign, to be formally launched Nov. 29 to avoid becoming an issue in the U.S. presidential election, seeks a status that would grant the Palestinian territories associate membership in U.N. organizations and representation in some of its bodies.

The bid, if successful, would allow the Palestinians to sign treaties and participate in some world body activities. But it represents a significant step down in ambitions to join the United Nations as a full-fledged member, a move made at last year's General Assembly that failed in the face of fierce U.S. and Israeli opposition.

U.S. law mandates that the government cease funding any U.N. agencies granting the Palestinian Authority full member-state status, said Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations. He noted that U.S. funding for the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was cut last year after the agency admitted Palestine into its ranks. 

"We have begun intensive consultations with various regional organizations and member states aimed at having the General Assembly adopt a resolution considering the state of Palestine as a nonmember state of the United Nations during this session," Abbas said in his address to the annual gathering. Nonmember state status requires only a majority vote of the assembly.

"In our endeavor, we do not seek to delegitimize an existing state, that is Israel, but rather to assert the state that must be realized, that is Palestine," Abbas said.

He lashed out at Israel in the same address, though, for "the catastrophic danger of the racist Israeli settlement of our country," referring to the building of housing for Jewish Israelis in the areas of Jerusalem claimed by the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who followed Abbas at the General Assembly podium, warned that the two states will never resolve their differences "with libelous speeches at the U.N."


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U.S.-led sanctions having impact in Iran, Israeli report says

-- Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles

Photo: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday. Credit: John Moore / Getty Images

U.S.-led sanctions having impact in Iran, Israeli report says

Israel says sanctions having impact in Iran

JERUSALEM -- While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed for the United States to take a harder line to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, an Israeli government report says existing measures have had an impact inside Iran, a less pessimistic take on the results of U.S.-led sanctions.

An internal review by Israel’s Foreign Ministry, reported Thursday by Haaretz newspaper, found that resentment and frustration is building among the Iranian public.

The review found that Iranians are blaming their government for rising prices on bread, meat and electricity, caused by Western sanctions against Iran’s oil industry and central bank.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said this week the rising pressure was threatening to destabilize the Iranian regime. “There is more and more domestic resentment there," he said. “The Iranian leadership is also feeling this and is therefore escalating its rhetoric.”

Others inside Netanyahu's Likud Party agree the international pressure and U.S. threats to take military action against Iran are working to intimidate the regime.

“The good news is that they haven’t broken out to build a weapon yet," said Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor, adding that he did not believe the Iranian government would do so because “they understand what it means.”

Meanwhile, Israeli citizens remain anxious about a possible regional war that some fear could result from an Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear program. A Tel Aviv University survey this week found that half of Israelis fear for their nation's existence if war with Iran were to break out.


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-- Edmund Sanders

Photo: A visitor looks at portraits of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the exhibition "Faces of Power" by Greek photographer Platon Antoniou in Cologne, Germany. Credit: Martin Meissner / Associated Press

Iran president: Israel short-lived in region, will be eliminated

Iran's Ahmadinejad at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday that Israel is only a short lived presence among the ancient civilizations of the Middle East and would eventually be “eliminated.”

Speaking to a group of journalists in New York ahead of this week’s United Nations General Assembly session, Ahmadinejad said Israel has existed “during a historical phase” to create “minimal disturbances that come into the picture and then are eliminated.”

Israel has been in the Middle East for only 60 to 70 years “with the support and force of the Westerners,” and Iran has existed for 10,000 years, he said.

He also dismissed Israel’s warnings that it was close to unleashing an air attack on Iran to destroy the nuclear complex that Israel and many other countries believe is seeking to develop nuclear bomb-making capability.

“Fundamentally, we do not take seriously the threats of the Israelis,” Ahmadinejad said, according to the Reuters news agency. “We have at our disposal all the means to defend ourselves.”

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Ehud Olmert, ex-Israel leader, gets light sentence for corruption

This post has been updated. See below for details.

JERUSALEM -- Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced Monday to a suspended one-year jail term and a $20,000 fine in the high-profile corruption case that drove him from office nearly four years ago.

Olmert was convicted in July of breaching public trust for using his previous position as trade minister to help a business associate. But an Israeli court cleared him of the most serious charges in the case, including fraud, double-billing for travel expenses and concealing large cash gifts.

Olmert and his supporters praised the sentence, which fell short of prosecutors’ call for six months of community service. The lighter sentence clears the way for Olmert to return to politics if he wishes, though he is still fighting an indictment in a separate bribery case involving a real estate deal during his tenure as Jerusalem mayor.

Some of the former Kadima Party chairman’s backers are urging Olmert to run again for a seat in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, and challenge Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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World of woe, little hope of relief, await U.N. General Assembly

General Assembly session on Syria in August
When 120 world leaders and their entourages gather at the United Nations this week, the woes of the world will be onstage in all their tragic detail: a civil war in Syria, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, reignited ethnic conflicts in Africa and uphill battles against poverty and global warming.

GlobalFocusWhat is likely to be in short supply at the General Assembly are fresh ideas for resolving the kaleidoscope of crises afflicting the planet. The U.N. Security Council has been hamstrung by internal conflicts among its permanent members in devising effective intervention in the Syrian bloodletting, and a colossal conference on sustainable development hosted by the world body three months ago was widely viewed as unproductive.

The Middle East and its myriad security challenges are expected to dominate the marathon of speeches beginning Tuesday, especially against the backdrop of worldwide Muslim outrage over an amateur video made by U.S.-based Christian zealots depicting the Prophet Muhammad as vile and sadistic.

Violent protests over the 14-minute film clip flared earlier this month after a version of "The Innocence of Muslims" was dubbed into Arabic and posted on YouTube. Conservative Islamists, some backed by Al Qaeda-aligned holy warriors, have attacked U.S. and other Western embassies and businesses across the Islamic crescent spanning the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. In the worst of the violence on Sept. 11, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, was killed along with three other Americans at the consulate in Benghazi. On Friday, the Muslim sabbath, enraged demonstrators clashed with police in Pakistan, killing at least 18 people.

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