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Monday, January 17, 2011

Palestinians,UN draft;Kosovo,Serbian plates;S.Ossetia;Piracy threat;Armenia & Turkey;Extinct mammoth;"We must steel ourselves"

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Monday that the Palestinian Authority expected to ask the United Nations Security Council this week to declare Israeli settlements illegal and demand a halt to their construction. Erekat said the request is likely to be submitted by Wednesday, on the day that the Security Council holds its monthly meeting on Middle East issues. As the Palestinians have only observer status at the United Nations, the resolution will be presented by a full member of the council. Erekat says the Palestinians will hold more consultations at the United Nations later Monday, and hope to win the support of 14 of the council's 15 members. Erekat says U.S. officials urged the Palestinians not to go to the Security Council over settlements. He says he does not know whether the U.S. will veto the settlement resolution. He urged the Obama administration not to do so. Weeks of intensive U.S. diplomatic efforts to revive direct peace talks between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu collapsed when Israel refused to extend a 10-month partial building freeze in the West Bank. Nearly 500,000 Jews live on land captured by Israel in the Six-Day War, where the Palestinians want to found a state that would also include the Gaza Strip, separated from the West Bank.

Kosovo police (KPS) has continued to seize new Serbian license plates which have Kosovo cities' letters inscribed on them. Citizens of north Kosovska Mitrovica so far use the new Serbian license plates, while it is impossible to drive vehicles with Serbian plates south of the Ibar River. Kosovo police harassed Saturday at the Končulj administrative line crossing near Bujanovac journalist and member of the Republic Broadcasting Agency (RRA) Živojin Rakočević over new license plates issued by the Serbian Interior Ministry and bearing the letters of the southern Serbian town of Vranje. Rakočević and his family were subjected to humiliation and insults over the new plates, which a KPS officer confiscated and later gave back. He told KiM Radio that he had entered Kosovo on January 4 with the new plates, and that he was leaving the province when police had stopped him for a regular inspection at the administrative crossing. “A policeman come out and immediately started removing the plates without warning. He threw them into the room he had come out from and told me that driving with these plates was forbidden. It was clear he was annoyed by the plates and an officer named Hoti told me ten times that these plates could not be used in the state of Kosovo,” he said. Kosovo Serbs choose to register their vehicles in nearby Vranje and Novi Pazar in southwestern Serbia for safety reasons, because these towns are not perceived as hostile in Kosovo.

South Ossetia will start issuing new passports next month, the president of the former Georgian republic, Eduard Kokoity, said on Monday. A nationwide passport replacement program will be held in February-July 2011. "We will establish a common database with relevant structures in the Russian Federation," Kokoity told the country's government. Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which both split from Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, two weeks after the five-day war with Georgia in August 2008 that broke out after Tbilisi attacked South Ossetia in an attempt to bring it back under central control.

India and Russia discussed ways to increase cooperation in tackling the growing threat of piracy in the Indian Ocean region and the issue of training navy personnel for operating aircraft carrier. The deliberations in this regard were held between Indian Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma and his Russian counterpart Admiral Vladimir Sergeevich Vysotskiy, who arrived on a three-day visit to the country. "Whilst discussing the maritime environment, specific emphasis was laid on the growing threat of piracy in theIndian Ocean Region (IOR) and various possibilities for thetwo navies to co-operate," Navy officials said here. Discussions on ongoing projects included "detailed deliberations on the training of Indian Naval personnel for the operation of aircraft carrier rechristened as INSVikramaditya, scheduled to commence later this year," they said. India has placed orders for the 44,500 tonne Admiral Gosshkov aircraft carrier in 2004 but the delivery schedule of the warship was delayed due to frequent price revision by the Russian side. After the issue related to the purchase was settled last year, the warship is now expected to join the Indian Navy by the end of next year. The two Admirals also held discussions on issues of common interest ranging from the maritime environment in the Indian Ocean Region and operational philosophies of the two navies. They also discussed the ways of enhancing possibilities for regularising Navy-to-Navy interactions with''staff talks'' and the feasibility of enhancing the scope of the INDRA exercises between the Indian and the Russiannavies. During his visit, Vysotskiy will also visit the Mumbai-based Western Naval Command and go on-board INSShivalik, the indigenously built stealth frigate. The two countries share deep historical military relations which have transformed into a strategic partnership with joint developmental projects such as BrahMos and Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft being cases in point.

Armenia's president has accused Turkey of "destroying" a bid to normalize relations between the historic enemies. The neighbouring countries are locked in a bitter dispute over the mass killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I. Serge Sarkisian told Cypriot legislators in a speech Monday that Turkey's "contradictory posture, inconsistent statements and groundless manipulation of the process" scuppered an October 2009 deal to reopen shared borders. Armenia wants the killings recognized as genocide. Turkey says the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest. Turkey also wants Armenian troops withdrawn from Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-occupied enclave in Azerbaijan.

Instead of Jurassic Park, try Pleistocene Park. A team of scientists from Japan, Russia and the United States hopes to clone a mammoth, a symbol of Earth’s ice age that ended 12,000 years ago, according to a report in Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun. The researchers say they hope to produce a baby mammoth within six years. The scientists say they will extract DNA from a mammoth carcass that has been preserved in a Russian laboratory and insert it into the egg cells of an African elephant in hopes of producing a mammoth embryo. The team is being led by Akira Iritani, a professor emeritus at Kyoto University in Japan. He has built upon research from Teruhiko Wakayama of Kobe's Riken Center for Developmental Biology, who successfully cloned a mouse from cells that had been frozen for 16 years, to devise a technique to extract egg nuclei without damaging them, according to the Yomiuri report. The U.S. researchers are in vitro fertilization experts. They, along with Kinki University professor Minoru Miyashita, will be responsible for implanting the mammoth embryo into an African elephant, the report said. "If a cloned embryo can be created, we need to discuss, before transplanting it into the womb, how to breed [the mammoth] and whether to display it to the public," Iritani told Yomiuri. "After the mammoth is born, we'll examine its ecology and genes to study why the species became extinct and other factors."

Some years ago, a Christian but not Orthodox friend of mine asked to accompany me to my parish’s Pascha service. After warning him in advance to wear comfortable shoes and get plenty of rest the night before, we departed. I believe he enjoyed himself; we had, at least, a good time at the communal feast afterward. When later we were talking about Church he made a strange observation. Though he admired the icons of the Eastern Church, he noted that he could not understand why Jesus, even as an infant, looks so decidedly mannish. It was a thought that had never occurred to me, and he was right. Most of our depictions of the child Jesus show him as a little adult. He lacks those chubby cheeks and prominent eyes of real infants. Though miniature and beardless, he hardly appears the child! At the time, I had no really good explanation for this but that it was the stylistic convention. In seminary, studying iconography more formally, I learned something of its significance. Even from his youth, Christ was devoted to a particular end. We know the gospel story as something linear—a narrative spread in orderly fashion from beginning to end. But even at the start of this story, the Nativity we have just celebrated, there is something more important at its heart. The particular end, the noteworthy aim of Christ’s life is His death. For this reason, even His childhood is portrayed as something already mature. Most often even the halo encircling his face bears already the outline of the Cross. This premature maturity and reminder of His end demonstrate the heavy commitment he shouldered from the start, and rather than a child to be coddled he stands formed from the start as a teacher of this new way. “We will die,” He proclaims, “but I have prepared ahead for you, if you will only start to learn how to die today.” So says the little man in Mary’s arms. Pleased or displeased, obsessed or wishing to ignore this, we will die. We had best reconcile ourselves to this, lest we face an unpleasant surprise. This is sometimes why our faith seems heavy, because the athleticism it demands of us is to prepare us for this encounter. We do not pray or fast or give charity because we have a surplus of time or food that tastes too good or money enough not to notice. We do these things to prove to ourselves that we can do without. We do them in imitation of Christ. Like Him, we were born to death. Our challenge, then, is to realize this while we yet breathe and enjoy this life. We were created to enjoy this world with each other and giving due thanks to God. Our inclination, though, is to find such things enough, to be distracted by these blessings of time and strength and means forgetful of their transience. So we must steel ourselves, mature in heart, to remember always the premature Lord of our icons, purposing ourselves to make His way ours.