Islamic preacher in British jail wins fight against deportation

REPORTING FROM LONDON -- An Islamist  preacher once labeled Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe cannot be deported from Britain to his native Jordan, where he is wanted on charges of terrorism, a European court ruled Tuesday.

The assertion of the preacher, known as Abu Qatada, that he would be subjected to torture by Jordanian interrogators was discounted by Europe’s Human Rights Court because there were “assurances to the [British] government from the Jordanian government,” said Clare Overy, a spokeswoman for the court, which is based in Strasbourg, France.

However, the court “did also find that there is a real risk that the evidence obtained from his co-accused by torture will be used against him at trial,” she said. If such evidence was used it is tantamount to legitimizing torture of suspects, she added, which could “lead to a grossly unfair trial.”

Abu Qatada, a 51-year-old father of five whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, arrived in Britain in 1993 seeking asylum. In 2002, he was arrested for preaching that violence and suicide attacks were justified in the name of Islam.  Britain’s anti-terrorism laws authorize detention without trial for those suspected of inciting or conspiring in terrorist activities.

Bob Quick, a former counterterrorism official, told the BBC he considered Qatada “a most dangerous person” because of his worldwide influence and his contacts.

Replying to Tuesday’s ruling, Home Secretary Theresa May said in a statement: “I am disappointed that the court has made this ruling. This is not the end of the road, and we will now consider all the legal options available to us."

In the meantime, she added, Qatada will remain in detention in Britain. "It is important to note that this ruling does not prevent us seeking to deport other foreign nationals,” May said.

Qatada could apply for release under bail conditions.  


Computer hackers continue assault on Israeli websites

In fog of Syria, observers can't tell what they are seeing

Tensions rise between Iran, Arab states over possible oil embargo

--Janet Stobart

Photo: Abu Qatada in 2005. Credit: British Prison Service

Israeli, Palestinian envoys meet in Jordan, agree to more talks

REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Despite low expectations for a breakthrough in the deadlocked peace process, the first meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in more than a year resulted in modest progress: an agreement to resume talks about the negotiations. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's envoy to the talks, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat met with delegates representing the so-called quartet of Middle East mediators in Jordan and later held a meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

Judeh hosted Tuesday's talks at the initiative of Jordan's King Abdullah, who has a keen interest in the process. He said the meetings were positive and that he found both sides committed to a two-state solution.

"We do not wish to raise the bar of expectations but nor should we underplay the importance of today's meetings," the minister said in a news conference in Amman, the Jordanian capital. Tuesday's meeting will be followed by a series of talks, Judeh said.

Some of the talks are expected to be secret. This will enable both sides to present their positions without having to face internal political criticism, said Oded Granot, a commentator on Israeli TV's Channel 1. "This new format of secret talks in Jordan does not guarantee success, but it preserves the thread of the process, which all three sides need," Granot said, describing Jordan's king as "the big winner" of the day.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders are challenged by internal politics. Netanyahu's conservative, pro-settlement coalition is unlikely to enable a move requiring another settlement freeze. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas faces criticism from all sides, with Hamas assailing the meeting and jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti recently describing the peace process as "dead".

The development won't renew the negotiations just quite yet but will allow the sides to respond to the initiative of the quartet, the Middle East mediators from the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia. After the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership in September, the quartet proposed an outline for renewing negotiations and concluding them by the end of 2012.

The first phase of the outline called on the sides to present proposals on security and territory issues by the end of January. A month ago, the Palestinians submitted to the quartet a detailed proposal including maps accepting a 1.9% land swap. Israel has maintained it will submit proposals only in actual negotiations but reportedly received the Palestinian document Tuesday and said it would be studied.

Despite careful optimism about continuing contacts, the main points of contention are yet to be bridged. The hours before the meeting reflected just this, as Abbas warned of "hard measures" if Tuesday's talks did not lead to renewed negotiations, and Israel's housing ministry issued more tenders for planned construction in East Jerusalem.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was "very much encouraged" about the direct talks and urged both sides to "tackle core issues so that a lasting peace can be achieved in the Middle East."

There was no immediate comment from Israeli or Palestinian officials.

-- Batsheva Sobelman

Israeli, Palestinian negotiators to meet this week in Jordan

REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will meet this week in Jordan with international mediators, Jordanian officials announced Sunday, bringing the two rivals together for their first direct talks in more than a year.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh on Tuesday will host a meeting between the two sides’ negotiators and mediators from the so-called quartet — the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union — Jordan’s Petra news agency reported, citing a Foreign Ministry spokesman. That session will be followed by another meeting between the Israelis and Palestinians.

While not labeled formal negotiations, the talks are seen as a small step forward in a peace effort that has long been stymied.

Israel has repeatedly said it is willing to resume direct negotiations so long as the Palestinians make no preconditions. The Palestinians in turn have repeatedly said that talks cannot resume unless Israel halts settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and agrees to use the borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war as a baseline for negotiations.

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