Israel to build 1,285 housing units over Green Line


JERUSALEM -- Israel on Tuesday published tenders for the construction of 1,285 new units of Jewish housing in the Jerusalem area and the West Bank settlement of Ariel, all on land seized by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war, according to the anti-settlement group Peace Now.

The new housing proposals, one of the biggest tender offers in months, includes 607 units in Pisgat Zeev and 606 units in Ramot, both located on land that Israel annexed into Jerusalem but that Palestinians claim for their state.

Another 72 units will be built in Ariel, a large Jewish settlement built deep in the West Bank near Nablus.

Plans for the units were previously announced and approved by the government. The tender offer represents one of the final stages before construction can break ground.

Peace Now officials criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for expanding settlements beyond the Green Line that marks land seized in 1967 and accused the Housing Ministry of trying to hide the last announcement by releasing it on a day that attention was focused on U.S. elections.


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Photo: The Jewish neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev in East Jerusalem is seen in 2009 with the Shuafat refugee camp in the background and Israel's separation barrier running between them. Israel said Tuesday that it was pushing forward with construction of more than 1,200 new homes in Pisgat Zeev and another Jewish enclave in east Jerusalem as well as Ariel, a large Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Credit: Sebastian Scheine / Associated Press

Car bombs, aerial attacks pummel Syria

BEIRUT — A car bomb exploded Monday in a district of Damascus that is home to many security personnel and members of President Bashar Assad’s Alawite sect, killing 11 people and wounding dozens of others, the official state news media reported.

The attack was part of a wave of violence reported Monday across Syria, including a massive car bombing apparently targeting a military post in the central province of Hama and aerial bombardment of rebel-held towns in northwestern Syria. Scores were reported killed.

Monday’s car bombing in Damascus’ Mazzeh Jabal 86 district, which has a large concentration of Alawites, is the latest in a series of explosions in the Syrian capital that could inflame sectarian tensions. Mostly Sunni Muslim rebels have been fighting to oust Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of the Shiite branch of Islam.

Other Damascus-area bombings in recent weeks have hit near a revered Shiite shrine, Sayyida Zainab, and in the Bab Touma district, a historic Christian neighborhood in Damascus’ Old City.

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Report: Israel leaders ordered preparedness for Iran strike in 2010

NetanyahuJERUSALEM — Israel's prime minister and defense minister tried to move their country closer to an attack on Iran in 2010 but military and security chiefs resisted, an Israeli television program reported Monday.

The Channel 2 television magazine “Fact” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the military to enter a level of preparedness termed P Plus, reportedly code for preparing for a military strike.

It remained unclear whether they intended to follow through with a strike or just wanted to signal that Israel was prepared to make such a move. Ultimately the instructions to the military were dropped.

In a taped interview that followed the segment, Netanyahu told “Fact” that he was “not eager to go to war” and would be “very happy” to see international sanctions force Iran to rein in its nuclear program, which Tehran says is peaceful in intent but Israel, the U.S. and others fear will produce a nuclear weapon.

“At the end of the day, as prime minister of the Jewish state, the responsibility is mine to prevent the threat to our existence,” Netanyahu said.

In the feature, which aired Monday night, veteran investigative journalist Ilana Dayan reported that the order was given somewhat casually, at the end of a ministerial forum convened on a different matter.

But Gabi Ashkenazi and Meir Dagan, then army chief of staff and head of Mossad, respectively, resisted the instruction, said Dayan's report. Ashkenazi reportedly said the army wasn't ready; Dagan contended that only the security Cabinet could authorize such a step because it might lead to war. Both men have since left their posts.

The report highlights the continuing disagreement between Netanyahu and some of his top security officials on the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear program, a topic that in recent years has become a permanent fixture on the agenda in Israel.

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Two killed in Bahrain 'terrorist' explosions, authorities say


Two foreigners were killed and a third injured when a series of explosions rocked Bahrain, government officials said Monday, a new eruption of violence that authorities labeled as terrorist acts bent on destabilizing the divided country.

The three men, all Asians, were victims of homemade bombs, one man dying after kicking a device and another killed near a movie theater, Bahraini police told state media.

The third man, a cleaner, was reported to be in serious condition. Like many Gulf countries, Bahrain brings in a large number of foreign laborers from Asia, including many workers from Pakistan and elsewhere in South Asia.

“The culprits who committed these heinous crimes will be dealt with severely and pursued and legal actions will be taken against them in compliance with provision of the anti-terror law,” the Bahrain News Agency said in a statement attributed to Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Khalifa.

The main opposition party, Wefaq, condemned the reported attacks but questioned what had happened. “Due to absence of independent human rights and media parties, it is difficult to clearly detect the truth behind incidents that are said to have occurred,” it said in a statement.

The reported explosions in the heart of Manama mark a new kind of violence in the island nation. Until now, clashes have largely been confined to the villages outside the capital.

Bahrain has been enmeshed in turmoil for more than a year and a half, as dissidents push for greater democracy and a stronger voice for Shiite Muslims in the Sunni monarchy. Though the Bahraini government has agreed to some reforms after an independent commission called for change, human rights groups and opposition activists say abuses and suppression of dissent have persisted.

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Israel complains about Syrian tanks along Golan Heights border

JERUSALEM –- Three Syrian tanks entered a demilitarized zone Saturday afternoon along the border with the Golan Heights, spurring Israel to file a complaint with the United Nations, Israeli officials said.

Although the tanks did not enter the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel officials said the Syrian military presence is restricted from the border area under a U.N.-monitored cease-fire agreement.
The Syrian tanks were battling Syrian rebel forces when the fighting moved into the demilitarized area, Israeli media reported.

Israeli officials said they did not view the tanks as a provocation or an attempt to draw Israel into the fighting in Syria, where an uprising against President Bashar Assad has devolved into a civil war.

It’s not the first time violence from Syria’s war has drifted into the Golan Heights. In September, errant mortars struck the region.

Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East War and announced in 1981 that it was annexing the region, though the move was not recognized by the international community.


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Deadly Syrian stalemate spurs new diplomacy, little hope

Syrian rebel amid rubble of recent battle near Aleppo
Galvanized by a Syrian death toll that has doubled to 36,000 in little more than a month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called for a new rebel hierarchy to direct the fighting against President Bashar Assad and steer Syria back to peaceful ethnic and religious coexistence.

GlobalFocusThe latest proposal for halting Syria's 19-month-old civil war brings little new strategy to the crisis. Rather, it vents frustration with the international community’s own "divisions, dysfunctionality and powerlessness," as the International Crisis Group recently noted, that have prevented brokering an end to the bloodshed.

Like European leaders before her, Clinton acknowledged this week that the West’s reliance on out-of-touch exiles within the Paris-based Syrian National Council has done more harm than good in the effort to have opposition forces speak with one voice on their plans for a post-Assad future.

Clinton told reporters accompanying her on a trip to North Africa and the Balkans on Wednesday that the Obama administration will be suggesting names and organizations it believes should play prominent roles in a reconfigured rebel alliance that Western diplomats hope to see emerge from Arab League-sponsored talks next week in the Qatari capital, Doha.

But the U.S. push to get the opposition’s act together also exudes desperation. In the two months since a failed rebel campaign to take strategic ground around major cities, fighting has ground down to a bloody impasse, giving neither Assad nor his opponents hope of imminent victory on the battlefields.

The rebels’ summer offensive also exposed the widening role of Islamic extremists who have entered the fight, bringing arms and combat experience to the side of Assad’s fractured opponents. But the Islamic militants’ alignment with Syrians trying to topple Assad also gives weight to the regime’s claims to be fighting off terrorists, not domestic political foes.

Clinton reiterated the West’s insistence that Assad have no role in Syria’s future. That prompted immediate pushback by Russia and China, which have opposed what they call foreign interference in Syrian domestic affairs.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in Paris for talks with his French counterpart when Clinton announced the Obama administration’s latest initiative. A longtime ally and arms supplier to Syria, Russia has blocked three United Nations Security Council resolutions to censure Assad and, along with China, has rejected Western demands that the Syrian president resign and leave the country.

"If the position of our partners remains the departure of this leader who they do not like, the bloodbath will continue," Lavrov warned.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi registered Beijing’s objections by unveiling a "four-point plan" for bringing peace to Syria that reiterates the communist state’s position that the future of Syria be left for Syrians -- including Assad -- to decide.

Beijing has a solid history of blocking international intervention on human rights grounds, apparently fearing China could become a target of such actions because of its harsh treatment of dissent and political opponents.

For some Middle East experts, the solution to Syria’s crisis lies somewhere between the Russian-Chinese "hands-off" policy and the U.S.-led Western view that only regime change will bring about peace.

"This conflict is for Syrians and their neighbors to resolve, with European and Russian involvement. The U.S. should stay one removed," said Ed Husain, senior fellow in Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

He described Clinton’s appeal for a new rebel leadership structure as "laudable, but a year too late."

"She’s driven by a desire to want to help now, but also to ensure a smooth transition in a post-Assad Syria. Sadly, reality on the ground dictates otherwise,” Husain said, alluding to entrenched battles that portend a long standoff.

Growing fears that extremists are gaining clout with the rebels also complicates diplomacy, as Syria’s Shiite, Christian, Kurdish and other minority sects are wary of how they would fare under a Sunni-dominated government allied with fundamentalist jihadis.

Clinton emphasized that extremist forces should be excluded from any new opposition forum that might emerge from Doha.

"It may seem ironic to call for a broad tent and then say 'except for those guys.' But I think the administration and other countries concerned about the future of Syria know that one of the challenges will be to have an analysis of who is who in the opposition,” said Charles Ries, a career U.S. diplomat now heading Rand Corp.’s Center for Middle East Public Policy.

Ries sees the need for "more movement on the ground in Syria" before Assad or the rebels are ready to submit to negotiations on the country’s future.

He is hesitant to declare the civil war a stalemate or the Russian-Chinese position unchangeable in the long run. But with rebels pinned down in the urban areas they hold and warding off attacks by Assad’s superior armed forces, he said, no one seems to think Assad is in the kind of imminent danger of being ousted that would be the catalyst for negotiation and compromise.


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Photo: A Syrian rebel fighter last month defends territory near Aleppo, one of many urban battlegrounds the opponents of President Bashar Assad are now struggling to hold. Credit: Zac Baillie / AFP/Getty Images

Israel admits responsibility for 1988 assassination

Israel responsible for Khalil Ibrahim Wazir's 1988 assassination
This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

JERUSALEM -- More than 24 years after Palestinian military leader Khalil Ibrahim Wazir was assassinated in Tunisia, Israel acknowledged for the first time that its spy agency Mossad carried out the killing.

Wazir, one of the founders of the Fatah Party and a top aide to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, was viewed by Israel as a terrorist and by Palestinians as a freedom fighter.

After refusing for years to publicly confirm Israel's role in the April 16, 1988, assassination, the nation's military censors on Thursday permitted the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot to publish an interview with the commander who led the secret mission. The article had reportedly been suppressed by censors for more than a decade.

Wazir, also known as Abu Jihad, was believed to have been behind numerous strikes against Israelis, including a 1978 bus-hijacking attack that killed 38 Israelis, and to have helped organize the 1987 Palestinian uprising known as the first Intifada from his base in Tunisia.

The killing was condemned by the United States and international community and was widely believed to have been carried out by Israel.

According to the report, 26 Israeli commandos participated in the attack on Wazir’s heavily guarded home, including two agents who approached the house posing as a vacationing couple but carrying guns with silencers.

[Updated, 11:19 a.m. Nov. 1: The mission’s commander was Nahum Lev, who died in a 2000 motorcycle accident shortly after giving an interview about the operation to Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman.

He told Bergman that he and a male soldier dressed as a woman were the pair who posed as vacationers. The first team killed a bodyguard asleep in his car, while other squads entered the home, killing other guards as well as a gardener who got in the way.

“It was too bad about the gardener,” Lev told the journalist. “But in operations like this, you have to ensure that all potential resistance is neutralized.”

Lev said Wazir was found and shot in an upstairs room as his wife stood nearby. The team escaped without suffering any casualties.]


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Photo: Khalil Ibrahim Wazir, also known as Abu Jihad, the Palestine Liberation Organization's military chief on Feb. 10, 1986, in Amman, Jordan. Credit: John Rice / Associated Press

Two new settler outposts go up in West Bank, activists report


JERUSALEM -- Two new outposts of settlers have gone up in the West Bank in recent months, according to a report by the Israeli anti-settlement organization Peace Now.

The organization noted that unlike the usual makeshift set-up of such outposts, the new ones come complete with paved roads and infrastructure connections to electricity and water, suggesting official support.

"They wouldn't have been able to do this without the authorities' assistance," Hagit Ofran of Peace Now told Israeli media. The group said these are the first outposts to enjoy such official backing since 2005.

Danny Dayan, chairman of the Yesha Council, the settler umbrella group, dismissed the report as "nonsense," saying neither outpost was new or illegal and that both were built inside existing settlement boundaries.

The Civil Administration, a branch of the Israeli military, was aware of the two locations and has begun procedures to stop work on the site and issue demolition orders, according to Israeli media.

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U.S., allies marshaling African proxies for fight against terrorism

Ansar Dine militants in Mali
"A quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing."

That was how British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain saw the Nazi threat against the Czech Sudetenland in 1938, a sentiment freshly evoked among war-weary citizens as the United States and its allies ponder moves to oust Islamic extremists from northern Mali, a country most Americans couldn't find on a map.

GlobalFocusU.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and diplomatic counterparts from France have been shopping around a plan to train and equip West African troops to drive out the Al Qaeda-aligned militants who hold sway over a swath of northern Mali the size of Texas. Ultraorthodox Muslims this year hijacked a long-simmering rebellion by ethnic Tuaregs and began imposing an extreme version of Islamic law once in power. In July, they took axes to "idolatrous" cultural treasures in Timbuktu, provoking worldwide horror at the destruction.

Like Afghanistan before 9/11, when Taliban collusion with Al Qaeda made the country a training ground for terrorism, Mali left in the grip of militant Islamists runs the risk of becoming the next launch pad for attacks on the United States and its allies.

U.S. interest in rooting out Ansar Dine and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb from northern Mali has intensified in the seven weeks since a suspected terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The Al Qaeda affiliates in Mali are believed to have played at least a supportive role in the Benghazi attack.

"The Benghazi event, with the murder of Chris Stevens, has really precipitated American intervention. It's turned the tables in the region," said Ghislaine Lydon, a history professor at UCLA and expert on precolonial Northwest Africa.

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Bahrain bans all protests and rallies, citing security threats

Bahrain has banned all protests and rallies, arguing that a complete stop to such gatherings is needed to maintain security in the island nation.

Interior Minister Sheik Rashid ibn Abdullah Khalifa ordered the move, a sweeping attempt to bring its long-simmering unrest to a halt. An Interior Ministry statement issued Tuesday said “rallies and gatherings were associated with violence, rioting and attacks on public and private property.... They also were a major threat to the safety of the public.”

Anyone calling for rallies or taking part in them would face “legal actions,” the statement said.

Bahrain has been roiled by protests for more than a year by dissidents upset with the Sunni Muslim monarchy over police abuses and the marginalization of Shiite Muslims. While the government has undertaken some reforms, human rights groups and activists say abuses have continued, including the jailing of peaceful protesters. Amnesty International laments many “prisoners of conscience” remain behind bars.

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