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Monday, December 20, 2010

Israeli-Cypriot deal,Turkey angry;Erdogan talks;Del Ponte:NATO&KLA;S.Ossetia "new" currency;START;9/11 Bill;Levant Christians

Turkey's Foreign Ministry summoned Ambassador Gaby Levy for a sharp rebuke over an offshore gas and oil exploration agreement that Israel and Cyprus signed Friday, reports “IDF Radio" (Galei Zahal) reports that and other media outlets. Minister of National Infrastructures Uzi Landau and Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs Markos Kyprianou signed the agreement delineating the two countries' exclusive economic zones. Turkey does not recognize the Cypriot government, and is the only country to recognize the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The summons came as Israel is trying to rebuild relations with Turkey, and after Turkey sent firefighters to help battle the Carmel fire earlier this month. Friday's agreement enables Israel and Cyprus to pursue development of their energy sources in the deepwater East Mediterranean Basin. Cyprus has already signed similar agreements with Egypt and Lebanon, and Turkey has asked both countries to put the agreements on hold.

Turkish Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] also says Israel must "apologize to the Turkish republic" for the "murder" of 9 Turkish citizens on Gaza flotilla raid. Erdogan said on Monday that while there were recently high level talks between the Turkish Foreign Ministry and Israel in Geneva, there were no changes in Turkish demands regarding the "Israeli aggression against the humanitarian aid ships in Gaza" and the "murder" of nine Turkish citizens. The statements came as part of an interview to SANA in which Erdogan discussed the Ankara-Damascus relationship, tensions between Turkey and Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian and the Israeli-Syrian peace talks, and on Turkish aspirations to lead the way in "achieving peace and stability in the Middle East." On the growing tensions between Turkey and Israel, Erdogan told SANA that the return of relations with Israel to their normal state is linked to Israel "apologizing to the Turkish republic and paying compensations." Erdogan also criticized the US and EU for their stance at the Human Rights Council regarding the Flotilla saying, "we expressed our utmost regret over this stance… we expected a different stance from these countries that claim to be pioneers of basic freedom and defend human rights, seeking to appear as the only one struggling for these values and rights."...

Former Chief Hague Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte told the Swiss Le Temps newspaper that NATO was an ally of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Her compatriot Dick Marty, the Swiss senator appointed as CoE rapporteur, last week unveiled a damning report linking KLA to kidnappings of Serbs and other civilians in Kosovo and black market trade in their body parts. Kosovo Albanian PM Hashim Thaci was named as the leader of a KLA group responsible for these and other serious crimes. The Serbian investigation, known informally as the Yellow House case, picked up in early 2008, after excerpts from Del Ponte's book were leaked to the media. "I am grateful to the Council of Europe and Dick Marty for deepening suspicions about the organ trade and publishing information that we did not possess. The EULEX mission has a basis to move forward," the former Hague prosecutor said. Asked about the evidence that was obtained by the Hague Tribunal, Del Ponte said that the court had testimonies of persons who transported prisoners from one prison camp to anther, and to a hospital, and that those were "very serious testimonies... We also knew there were mass pits (graves) in Albania, where we perhaps could have recovered bodies that missed organs," she said. Del Ponte explained in the interview that The Hague-based UN war crimes court investigated disappearances of 400 persons and that there were indications that a group of about ten might have been the victim of organ trafficking. "But witnesses were intimidated and refused to repeat their statements before the Hague Tribunal. The traces of the crime were in Albania, but Albanian authorities refused to conduct an investigation, saying they already did so unsuccessfully. These events took place during the summer of 1999, after the hostilities. At that time the Hague Tribunal's expertise was doubted. UNMIK (UN mission in Kosovo) could have taken over the investigation, but did not do so," she was further quoted as saying. "We (the Hague) investigated many crimes against humanity. We did not have NATO's support because they were allies of the KLA. UNMIK did not give us documents that we needed. That was a huge problem," said Del Ponte. She added that "justice must be done, there cannot be talk about stability without justice, or acceptance of a criminal president", adding that she "hoped justice would be done".

The former Georgian republic of South Ossetia will remove the Georgian lari from circulation in one district as of January 10, the republic's information committee said on Monday. "The administration of South Ossetia's Leningorsk region has taken the decision to take the Georgian currency out of circulation," an official said, adding that residents of the republic have long been aware of the project. The Russian ruble, formerly used alongside the lari, will become the republic's sole currency. Russia recognized South Ossetia and another former Georgian republic, Abkhazia, two weeks after a five-day war with Georgia over the latter in August 2008. The war began after Georgia attacked South Ossetia in an attempt to bring it back under central control.

It looks like the proposed arms cut deal with Russia is going down to the wire. It's no surprise that top Senate Republicans Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl vowed this weekend to oppose the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia; but even a potentially supportive Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, expressed reservations about START. "I'm not going to vote for START until I hear from the Russians that they understand we can develop four stages of missile defense, and if we do, they won't withdraw from the treaty," Graham said Sunday on CBS' Face The Nation. The Obama administration needs all the Republican votes it can get; ratifying treaties require 67 Senate votes and there are 58 members of the Democratic caucus... If START spills over into the next congressional session, the Obama administration's hurdle will be higher -- the Senate Democratic caucus will shrink to 53. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has forced a cloture vote for Tuesday, which would clear the way for a final vote later in the week.

New York lawmakers said Sunday they have crafted a scaled-down version of a health-care bill for sick Ground Zero workers that should garner enough Republican support to pass in the waning days of Congress's lame-duck session. "We are on the verge of a Christmas miracle," Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said at a Sunday press conference with her fellow New York Democrat, Sen. Charles Schumer. The measure fell short in a Senate vote earlier this month, which made a successful second vote a long shot. The legislation has languished in Congress for years. Supporters of the bill believe that the smaller price tag—the overall cost was cut to $6.2 billion from $7.4 billion—combined with a different method of paying for the legislation, will be enough to win yes votes from Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, according to people familiar with the discussions. Three other Republicans are also considered possible supporters of the altered version of the bill. Yet by changing the bill, the lawmakers have swapped a set of political hurdles for new, logistical challenges. The Senate is wrestling with a major nuclear-missile treaty, and if that consumes many more days of debate, there may not be time left to vote on the Ground Zero bill before lawmakers leave for the Christmas holiday. And changing the bill to improve its chances of passing the Senate means the House will have to vote on the updated version as well, so Mr. Schumer and Ms. Gillibrand will have to work fast while both sets of lawmakers in Washington. House lawmakers, who passed an earlier version of the bill, are poised to leave early next week after approving a temporary spending measure. "One of our concerns is that someone might try to delay and delay," said Mr. Schumer. The new version of the bill would use an excise tax on government purchases of material overseas instead of corporate taxes to pay for health care and compensation for ill recovery workers and others exposed to toxic dust from the collapsed World Trade Center. It would also continue increased fees on H-1B and L-1 visas for companies that have the majority of their employees on such visas.

Dismissing calls to leave the region amid increased sectarian attacks, Christians in Syria are heeding their clerics and are holding fast to their communities. "Life here in Damascus is more than perfect," Father Gabriel Dawood, a priest at the Syriac Orthodox Church in Damascus told The Media Line. "The good atmosphere here isn't fake like in other places. Here people are united as one." Religious leaders in Syria at a government-sponsored conference called on Christians to remain in the Middle East despite recurring attacks against them, blaming Israel and the West for their suffering. The appeal was made last week at the opening of the Islamic-Christian Fraternity Conference in Damascus. An annual event, the conference was organized by the Ministry of Islamic Endowments and local Syrian churches. A terrorist attack against the Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac church in Baghdad in late October which killed 58 Christians weighed heavy on the minds of participants in the Syrian capital. The church raid was the last in a chain of anti-Christian attacks which have dispersed the once thriving Christian community of Iraq. "I urge Christians of the East, from Palestine and Iraq, to cling to the land of our nation," Patriarch Ignatius Zakka 'Iwas, head of the Syriac Orthodox Church, was quoted as saying by the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai. "What is happening in Palestine and Iraq is the best proof of attempts by the enemies of good to divide our united house in order to control it and plunder its riches, with the support of Western countries," ‘Iwas added... [I]n Damascus, Father Gabriel Dawood said that Christians felt safer in Syria than elsewhere in the Middle East due both to the people's mentality and to policy directed from above. "People here in Syria believe in peace," Father Gabriel said. "In addition, the President has instilled the principle of 'religion is for God, but the nation is for everyone'." Since the start of the war in Iraq, many Iraqi refugees have found haven in neighboring Syria, including an unusually high proportion of Christians. According to Farah Dakhlallah, UNHCR Public Information Officer in Syria, 11% of Iraq's 152,000 refugees living in Syria were Christian. Some 12,000 Christian Iraqi refugees live in and around Damascus. Many Christians view the secular approach of Syria's Ba'ath regime, led by President Bashar Al-Assad, as a guarantee for their religious freedom. The socialist and pan-Arab ideology of Ba'ath was outlined in the early 1940s by its founder Michel Aflaq, himself a Syrian Greek Orthodox Christian. According to the State Department's International Religious Freedom Report for 2010, Christians constitute between 8 and 10 percent of Syria's population of 21 million. Christians reside around the urban centers of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama and Latakia. The largest Christian group is the Greek Orthodox Church....