Israel coordinates transfer of lion cubs from Gaza


Israel coordinated the transfer of a pair of lion cubs from Gaza to a wildlife sanctuary in Jordan.

The cubs, Max and Mona, were transferred to Israel from Gaza on Sunday through the Erez crossing and then taken to a sanctuary near Amman, where they arrived on Sunday evening.

They first arrived at Erez on Friday after the Israeli side of the crossing had closed, and without any prior coordination. Hours later they were allowed back into Gaza and stayed until Sunday morning in a Gaza hotel.

The cubs had been purchased when they were a month old last summer from a zoo in the border town of Rafah, that was seriously damaged during the Israel-Gaza war and was concerned it would not be able to feed them as they grew, the Associated Press reported. They were raised as family pets at a private home in Rafah.

The British charity Four Paws International convinced the al-Jamal family to give up the animals and arranged for their new home.

Jerusalem tension leaves Jordan more exposed to Mideast turmoil


As Jordan joins a military campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria, tensions in Jerusalem pose a potentially bigger risk to a nation only slightly scathed by the turmoil sweeping the Middle East.

The U.S. ally has been alarmed and angered by recent Israeli actions at the sacred al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, where tensions are raising the prospect of a new Palestinian uprising that would add to the crises at Jordan's borders and may even spill into the kingdom.

For Jordanian King Abdullah, a majority of whose 7 million subjects are Palestinian, a one-day closure of al-Aqsa last week amounted to a personal affront: his Hashemite dynasty derives part of its legitimacy from its custodianship of the holy site.

“One of the major things that angers the Jordanian state and people is the Israeli behaviour in Jerusalem. On the one hand we are trying to combat terrorism and extremism, and on the other hand we are confronted with this reckless behaviour,” said Mohammad Al-Momani, minister of state and government spokesman.

While Israel says it is sensitive to Jordan's views and blames extremists for stirring up trouble at the site, Amman is responding in unusually tough terms. It has even suggested the crisis could imperil the countries' 1994 peace treaty – an idea not heard from Amman during much bloodier Israeli-Palestinian flare-ups such as the July-August Gaza war.

This underlines just how seriously King Abdullah views a crisis that complicates his bid to keep his kingdom free from the type of turmoil that has toppled other Arab leaders and produced numerous civil wars in the region since 2011.

The timing could not be worse for Jordan, less than two months after it joined the air strikes on Syria that radical Islamists – including some in Jordan – are portraying as an attack on Islam rather than the Islamic State group.

Some Jordanians are not convinced by the logic of joining that U.S.-led war, fearing it could draw retaliation from Islamic militants in Jordan where – like elsewhere in the Muslim world – Islamic State is finding sympathisers and recruits.

The Jerusalem situation will provide King Abdullah's Islamist opponents, who range from jihadists to the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood, with new grounds to criticise the Western-backed leader unless he is seen to take a tough stance.

Jordan on Wednesday recalled its ambassador to Israel in protest, the first time it has done so since they made peace in 1994 though the post was also vacant for two periods since then.

“WATERED” WITH JORDANIAN BLOOD

Jordanian stewardship of the al-Aqsa compound was recognised in the 1994 peace treaty with Israel but dates back to 1924 when Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem granted custodianship to King Abdullah's great grandfather, Sharif Hussein.

The custodianship was reaffirmed in an agreement signed last year between the Palestinian Authority and King Abdullah. The area, which is also home to the Dome of the Rock, is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

A tinder-box for Israeli-Palestian conflict, it is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism. Several hundred Jordanian civil servants run the site. They allow Jews to visit, but not to pray there.

Israel closed the site last Thursday in response to the shooting of an Israeli-American far-right religious activist who has led a campaign for Jews to be allowed to pray there. It was reopened the next day after what Jordanian officials have described as a personal intervention by King Abdullah.

It was the first such closure at the site since 2000 – the year a visit to the site by the then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon helped to ignite the second Palestinian Intifada.

King Abdullah has used unusually harsh language in recent criticism of Israel. He recently likened Islamic extremists to Zionist extremists.

In a speech this week, he said Jerusalem's soil was “watered by the blood and sacrifices of our martyrs” – a reference to Jordanian soldiers killed there fighting Israeli forces in the 1948 war that resulted in the establishment of Israel.

Jordan, which governed the West Bank including East Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967, would confront “through all available means, Israeli unilateral policies and measures in Jerusalem and preserve its Muslim and Christian holy sites”.

“He's very annoyed and worried … Jerusalem is everything,” said a diplomat in Amman. “You can't overstate how important it is. It's the last thing they need. There's enough going on in Syria and Iraq and Jordan is impacted by both,” he said.

“Whenever we have a big bout of extremism in the region then Jordan feels that wind blowing. That's cause for worry but not cause for thinking there will be short-term instability.”

COMBUSTIBLE MIX

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the status quo of the al-Aqsa compound agreed with Jordan after the 1967 war will not be altered. But he is under pressure, even from within his own Likud Party. A far-right Likud member defied Netanyahu's calls for restraint by visiting the site on Sunday.

Netanyahu again assured King Abdullah in a phone call on Thursday that Israel did not intend to change the status, an Israeli statement said. The royal palace quoted King Abdullah as telling Netanyahu in the conversation he rejected any attempt to tamper with the “sanctity of Al Aqsa Mosque, or measures that would endanger it or change the existing status quo.”

Israel says it wants stability in Jordan and is sensitive to its position. “Our greatest fear nowadays is that someone is trying to create disturbances on the Temple Mount in order to ignite the region, in order to harm both Jordan and Israel,” Daniel Nevo, Israel's ambassador to Jordan told Israel Radio in an interview aired on Wednesday.

For Jordan, the spectre of another big flare-up of the conflict between Israel and Palestinians brings risks unlike those arising from the expansion of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Jordan has received waves of Palestinian refugees in the 1948 and 1967 Middle East wars, and restive Palestinian nationalism has been a source of concern for decades.

Add to that socioeconomic malaise – unemployment is running at 11.4 percent but unofficial figures put it at twice that level – and slow pace of political reform, and Jordan faces the same combustible mix that set off the Arab uprisings in 2011.

On a clear night, the lights of Jerusalem can be seen from the Amman outskirts, proximity that also sets the Israeli-Palestinian conflict apart from the wars in Syria and Iraq.

Some of Amman's poorer districts are actually Palestinian refugee camps that with time have become permanent residential areas, home to the descendents of Palestinians forced to flee by wars in 1948 and 1967. Jerusalem means much more to these Palestinian Jordanians than the war against Islamic State.

“In Syria, people are facing injustice and want to be free from injustice. But Palestine and Jerusalem are occupied and usurped land,” said Thaer Dawood, 46, an Amman shopkeeper whose family hail from a village near Ramallah in the West Bank.

“You don't quite know what is going to happen because you have a lot people from the West Bank here. Nobody here will consent to what is happening in Palestine,” he said, speaking at a coffee shop in a mostly Palestinian district of Amman.

Jordan managed to navigate the last two Palestinian uprisings without major instability.

“We are doing a good job in maintaining peace and security,” Momani, the minister, said. “More and more Jordanians are subscribing to the idea that stability and security is the oil of this country. That is why we protect it dearly.”

But combined with Jordan's internal challenges -unemployment, poverty and a lack of political inclusiveness – conflict in Jerusalem will only make it easier for groups like Islamic State to recruit.

“The public protests (over Jerusalem) will be strong, but the frustrations inside individuals will be much stronger,” said Taher al-Masry, a former Jordanian prime minister from a prominent Palestinian family.

“The danger from Daesh (Islamic State) is not from it coming over the borders, but from feelings or frustrations concerning the deteriorating economic conditions.”

Netanyahu, Abdullah met in Amman over Jerusalem violence


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordanian King Abdullah II reportedly met in Amman to discuss tension in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount.

The secret meeting took place Saturday, the Kuwaiti Arabic-language daily Al-Jarida reported Monday, citing “well-informed sources.”

The leaders pledged to work together to ease the tensions in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, according to the report, which also said that Netanyahu’s calls over the weekend for calm and the continuation of the status quo on the Temple Mount were a direct result of the meeting with Abdullah.

Neither Israel nor Jordan has confirmed or denied the report. The newspaper has been used in recent years as a way to leak information from the Prime Minister’s Office, Haaretz reported.

Abdullah has publicly criticized Israel in recent weeks over the treatment of Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and has called for protecting Muslim holy sites in the city.

The king also told reporters over the weekend that “Jordan will continue to confront, through all available means, Israeli unilateral policies and measures in Jerusalem, and preserve its Muslim and Christian holy sites until peace is restored to the land of peace.”

Meanwhile, restrictions remained Monday on entrance to the Temple Mount, with men under the age of 40 being prevented from visiting.

Israeli lawmaker Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of the Jewish Home party visited the Temple Mount on Monday and said she was attacked by an Arab woman at the site who yelled at her and then shoved her.  The Muslim woman was arrested.

Several Arab women are seen in a video shouting “Allah Akbar,” or “God is great,” and being chased away from a group of tourists by police.

 

 

Netanyahu discusses peace process with King Abdullah in Amman visit


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an unannounced visit to Amman to meet with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

At Thursday’s meeting, the two leaders discussed the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu stressed the important role played by Jordan in the efforts to arrive at a peace agreement. He also stressed the importance of security arrangements, which also would take Jordan’s interests into consideration in a peace deal.

The meeting comes a week after Abdullah met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and days after a meeting between Abdullah and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Abdullah urged Netanyahu to “build on the opportunity made available by the consolidated efforts of the U.S. secretary of state to achieve tangible progress in the peace negotiations,” according to a statement from the palace cited in news reports.

Abdullah and Netanyahu also “discussed an array of economic cooperation between both countries in a number of fields as well as other regional matters.” according to the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu visited Jordan to meet with Abdullah three times last year.

Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994.

Fleeing conflict, Syrian artists curtail creativity to survive


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Flashing images of corpses under rubble, the pungent stench of cadavers and nagging sounds of gunfire were enough to push Syrian artist Abdel Satar to join a fleet of refugees as they escaped the mayhem of war.

Before the revolution twisted his fate, the young painter was among the rising talent in Al-Qusayr, in the Homs region of Syria.

No longer could he bear to watch his hometown plunge into the abyss of lawlessness and destruction. His paintbrush — his own fingers — would not obey his restless mind.

Satar became an activist at the start of the 2011 revolution, painting to defy the Syrian army.

“I used to write banners and posters against the government, and later, as the war started, I painted to encourage people to fight,” he said.

But when Syrian authorities realized the power of artists to polarize society, people like Satar became prime targets for regime marksmen.

“Despite having snipers shooting at us, I was determined to remain in my town no matter what,” the refugee explained. “But when I saw the army was hell-bent on destroying our city, I had to join my family in Jordan to help them make a living.”

In the frequent blank gazes and twitching, and the heaviness of his voice when describing what he’s witnessed, the emotional toll of the unrest is clear.

Now, the 41-year-old artist works in an art shop in Amman, Jordan’s capital, occasionally painting commercial items and portraits in order to make a living.

At his store, several young Syrian artists peddle their work, while well-known painters use pseudonyms to hawk copies of famous paintings and original portraits, a line of work deemed shameful.

Satar explained the pen names and portraiture: “So they can sell their art cheap and make quick money.”

Two-years into the conflict, more than 110,000 people have been killed; 2 million are registered as refugees; and close to 6 million are displaced within and outside of Syria, with half a million Syrians now living in Jordan.

From doctors and engineers to authors and artists, the exodus of refugees from Syria has brought waves of talent to the Kingdom of Jordan.

Many fleeing professionals see the country as a convenient stopover where they can assess their options before moving on to a third country like Australia, Canada or somewhere in Europe. However, many have found themselves trapped after failed attempts to emigrate further.

Ali Kais, a famous Syrian artist, said Jordan provides the creatively-gifted newcomers with everything they need: security, hospitality and an inspiring atmosphere.

“Yes, I am no longer in my country, but the suffering I have [endured] will live with me forever. I want to show the world what happened to us and how most nations failed to help us,” he explained.

An increasing number of Syrian artists have surfaced in Amman’s art houses and galleries, the majority young, talented men and women eager to show-off their skills. The situation is reminiscent of the flight of creative talent from Iraq during the American-led war that began in 2003.

Salem Lababidi, an independent curator, believes the arrival of Syrian artists to Jordan and other countries is healthy for the art movement.

“The strong emotions brought by artists from war-stricken countries have distinct and specific flavor. Their emotions are raw and their messages are blunt,” Lababidi told The Media Line.

Yet, with dozens of artists now living in Jordan, the young talents say they are forced to work in the shadows.

“We sell our paintings to art galleries at very low prices in order to provide for our families. Some galleries even change names of painters to make bigger profits,” said Ali Refai, an artist from Damascus.

Creative expression, once tied to protest, has become practical.

“I used to draw to make people feel defiant against a tyrant ruler,” Satar said. “Now, I draw to make a living.”

Dempsey: Israel, U.S. have ‘better military options’ against Iran


Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Israel and the United States have “better military options” against Iran than they did a year ago.

“That’s because we’ve continued to refine them,” Dempsey told The New York Times in an interview from Jordan. “We’ve continued to develop technology, we’ve continued to train and plan.”

Dempsey told the newspaper that he “sensed agreement” that diplomatic initiatives and economic sanctions levied in an effort to halt Iran’s nuclear program were “having an effect” on the Islamic Republic.

Dempsey arrived in Amman on Wednesday after spending several days in Israel meeting with military and political leaders to discuss Iran, as well as the situations in Egypt and Syria.

He told the Times that Israel has security fears regarding the current civil war in Syria, including that the conflict will encourage an arms flow to Israel’s enemies and a growing Iranian influence on Syria.

Jewish leaders meet King Abdullah in Amman


Jordan’s King Abdullah in a meeting in Amman with a delegation of Jewish leaders praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for working to bring the Palestinians to the peace negotiating table.

The delegation of nearly 100 Jewish leaders, participants in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’  annual meeting in Jerusalem, had a “remarkably candid and open exchange” with the king, Presidents Conference Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein told JTA Tuesday evening by phone on a bus returning to Israel from the Jordanian capital.

Hoenlein said Abdullah expressed “appreciation” to Netanyahu for taking steps to help in “creating a climate in which negotiations [with the Palestinians] can move forward.”

The delegation told the king that it appreciated “the role he is playing in trying to bring the Palestinians to direct negotiations” with Israel, Hoenlein said.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met five times in Jordan in January in an attempt to jump-start direct negotiations. The Palestinians have said they will not return to the negotiating table until Israel halts building in all settlements.

Also in their hourlong meeting, Abdullah and the Jewish leaders discussed issues related to Syria and Iran, as well as reforms in Jordan, Hoenlein said.

The delegation also met with the Jordanian foreign minister and the U.S. and Israeli ambassadors to Jordan.

Hoenlein met with Abdullah a month ago in Washington and proposed the Amman meeting with Jewish leaders. The king was receptive to the idea and instructed his staff to work with the Presidents Conference.

Israeli, Palestinian negotiators agree to meet again


Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met face to face for the first time in more than a year and agreed to meet again.

Yitzhak Molcho, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal envoy to the negotiations with the Palestinians, and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat held a meeting Tuesday in Amman, Jordan, with representatives of the Mideast Quartet.

Molcho, an attorney, and Erekat also met with Jordan’s foreign minister, Nasser Judeh. They were to discuss issues such as borders and security, The Associated Press reported.

No statements were issued at the end of the meetings, but the sides reportedly agreed to meet again next week again in Jordan.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday in Ramallah before the start of the Amman meeting that if Israel does not meet his conditions, “we will take new measures.” He said the measures could be “difficult.”

Erekat reportedly told journalists Monday that there will be no progress in the talks unless Israel agrees to halt construction in settlements in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, and agree to the 1967 lines as the border of a Palestinian state. Israel has called for negotiations to resume without preconditions.

The Quartet has set a Jan. 26 deadline for the resumption of direct negotiations. The Palestinians also have called for Israel to meet its conditions and resume negotiations by Jan. 26.

Earlier Tuesday, tenders for 312 apartments in eastern Jerusalem were published by the Israel Lands Authority. The new housing was announced two weeks ago.