Total Pageviews

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Goddess of Love;Israel-Lebanon dispute;Turkish Air Forces;START ratified;Packages explode;Albania-EULEX organs;Bethlehem

She may be the ancient Greek Goddess of Love, but a picture of a nude Aphrodite on the new passport of Cyprus has set more than hearts racing. Cypriot diplomats are furious with the interior ministry for failing to consult with the foreign ministry before issuing passports with a depiction of a naked immortal that might offend conservative foreign cultures. "They are worried that civilians and diplomats could get into trouble, particularly traveling to very conservative Islamic countries," the authoritative Phileleftheros daily newspaper wrote on Thursday. The interior ministry said it was too late to change them, the newspaper said. Local legend says Aphrodite (also known as Venus to the ancient Romans) emerged from the sea on a crest of foam just off the Mediterranean island. The image on the new biometric passports is modeled on a Greek marble statue of a completely naked Aphrodite in the Cyprus Museum located in the capital Nicosia.

The dispute over vast natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean, centered on Israel and Lebanon, has spread to divided Cyprus, which involves longtime rivals Greece and Turkey. Israel's discovery of three large fields containing an estimated 25 trillion cubic feet of gas off its northern coast over the last two years has added a whole new energy dimension to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It has fueled tension between Israel and Lebanon, its northern neighbor, at a time when the Jewish state feels threatened by Iran and its allies, particularly the heavily armed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon. The Beirut government claims that the biggest of the fields, Leviathan, containing up to 16 trillion cubic feet of gas as well as 4.3 billion barrels of oil, extends into Lebanese territorial waters and has warned Israel not to encroach on its turf. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which runs its own state within a state and has the most powerful forces in Lebanon, has threatened military action if Israel taps into what it deems Lebanese energy resources. Israel has vowed to retaliate for any attacks on its gas fields and the energy infrastructure that's expected to be developed over the next couple of years. But the stakes have become much higher. A recent U.S. Geological Survey reported that there's up to 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas off the coasts of Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the Gaza Strip. Further south, Egypt is already producing gas and selling it to Israel. On top of all that, the fields extend westward from the Levantine coastline toward Cyprus -- right into another conflict, albeit confined to the diplomatic arena these days, between Greece and Turkey. Cyprus was dominated by Greek Cypriots until 1974, when Turkey invaded... Turkey captured the northern one-third of the island. It maintains 40,000 troops in the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Only Ankara recognizes the TRNC. The Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia is recognized internationally. On Dec. 17, Cyprus, which has been exploring for offshore oil and gas fields for some time, and Israel signed an agreement in Nicosia dividing the 155 miles of water that separates them down the middle. That defined the maritime border between the island and Israel and delineated their exclusive economic zones, or EEZs, allowing them to move ahead with further exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. Three days later, the Turkish Foreign Ministry tongue-lashed the Israeli ambassador to Ankara, Gaby Levy, and warned, somewhat spuriously, that the agreement undermined efforts to reunify the divided island. The spat deepened a rift between Israel and Turkey... Ankara fears the Greek Cypriots, the majority on the divided island, won't share any wealth they may accrue from offshore gas fields in their 20,400-square-mile EEZ with the Turks in the [so-called] "TRNC"....

Turkish Air Forces stated that China and Greece were not invited to Anatolian Eagle military exercise which would take place between June 13 and 24, 2011. Turkish Air Forces stated in its web-site on Wednesday that several press organs wrote that China and Greece were invited to the Anatolian Eagle which was a military exercise with an international participation. These countries were invited to European Air Chiefs Conference (EURAC) and Global Air Chiefs Conference which would take place in Istanbul between June 1 and 3, 2011 as well as International Air Show which would take place on June 4 and 5, 2011, stated the Air Forces. It added that China and Greece were not taking place in Anatolian Eagle invitation list.

The US Senate on Wednesday voted to ratify the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia, ending weeks of uncertainty over one of President Barack Obama's key foreign policy priorities. The final vote was 71-26, well above the necessary two-thirds majority needed for ratification of New START, with several Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the treaty. Under the accord, Russia and the United States pledge to cut their stockpile of active nuclear warheads to 1,550 within seven years, or about 30 percent from when the first START, signed in 1991, expired a year ago. Both countries would have the right to inspect the other's progress. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed news of the ratification but said that Moscow would need time to "study" the US document wording, noting that there had been a change in the text since its initial draft. German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed the news as an "important milestone in the development of a true partnership with Russia," with the treaty to play a part in NATO's strategic concept. Merkel added that she hoped the treaty would lead to further disarmament. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the decision would make a "significant contribution" to regional security and that it would lead to "progress on conventional and nuclear arms control initiatives." Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who argued in favor of the ratification, said the pact would ultimately help efforts to confront nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea. "I am confident that our nation's security, and that of the world, will be enhanced by ratifying this treaty," he said. The treaty "is not simply an agreement to address the lingering dangers of the old nuclear age. It is an agreement that will give us a crucial tool to combat the threats of this new nuclear age." Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed New START in April after a year of negotiations between diplomats from the two countries. Approval by the Russian Duma is now all but certain.

News reports say a package has exploded at Chile's embassy in Rome following a parcel bombing at Switzerland's embassy earlier in the day. The ANSA news agency says one person was believed to be injured in the blast at the Chilean embassy. Police say the person who opened the package at the Swiss embassy was also seriously injured in his hands.

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha officially called upon EULEX to launch the investigation based on allegations outlined in the Marty report in regard to illegal transplantations of organs of people captured in Kosovo that was carried out in the north of Albania. We are calling upon EULEX to launch the investigation where they will have all required facilities and full cooperation of Albanian authorities, Berisha stated as Pristina media conveyed. He announced that the Albanian Justice Minister will send a letter to the Hague Tribunal and invite the court to carry out the investigation in Albania even though its jurisdiction covers the territory of the former Yugoslavia only.

People in the West Bank may be suffering but Christmas remains a time of joy and celebration for Christians in and around Bethlehem, says one leader. According to Ecumenical News International, Minister for Tourism Khouloud Deibes said the birthplace of Jesus remained the centre of Christian spirituality in spite of the difficulties caused by the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The town’s antiquities attract millions of tourists and pilgrims each year but for Christians living in the region they are places of daily spiritual significance, especially at Christmas. “Christmas is a source of joy and pride for us Palestinians because here it happened … Here we have the time also to celebrate our churches; they are living monuments, not museums,” said Deibes. Christmas, she added, provides an opportunity to highlight the negative impact of the conflict on the Christian presence in the Holy Land. The separation wall and lengthy queues at checkpoints mean that Christians can only travel through the region to visit friends and families with great difficulty. This year, several thousand local Christians were expected to receive special one-month travel permits for the Christmas season, including the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian celebrations. Deibes said: “We are still under occupation, people are still suffering. Christmas is a good occasion to show how the political situation is negatively impacting the Christian presence in the Holy Land.” Vendors and shop owners in Bethlehem are reporting a boost in business after years of uncertainty and hardship during the intifada, with twelve new shops opening up close to Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity in the last 12 months. Tourism, which has risen 60 per cent on last year’s figures, remains vital to the local economy. According to Bloomberg, the Tourism Ministry estimates that as much as 15 per cent of the Palestinians’ gross domestic product has come from the industry this year. Spokesman for the Palestinian Authority Ghassan Khatib was quoted by Bloomberg as saying: “Bethlehem has a huge weight, culturally and religiously, and this is why it is an area receiving great attention from the Palestinian Authority. “Tourism is one of the main sources of income for the future Palestinian state and for Palestinians now, and we are doing our best to utilise this opportunity.”