Clinton warns Russia, Iran of Syria conflict spreading


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Iran and Russia on Thursday to rethink their support for Syria, saying the most dire scenarios of the conflict spilling beyond its borders could come to pass.

Clinton told reporters there are signs Iran is sending more people and increasingly sophisticated weaponry to support Syrian President Bashar Assad in his 22-month battle against rebels seeking to end his family's four-decades of authoritarian rule.

Speaking on the eve of her State Department departure, Clinton also said Russia continues aid to the Syrian government, including financially, and she appeared skeptical that Moscow was easing in its opposition to Assad's departure.

Clinton declined comment on reports Israel had bombed Syria on Wednesday but she voiced fears that the conflict, in which more than 60,000 people are believed to have died, may worsen internally and spread.

“I personally have been warning for quite some time of the dangers associated with an increasingly lethal civil war and a potential proxy war,” Clinton told a small group of reporters a day before she is to be replaced by Senator John Kerry.

“Therefore, I think it's incumbent on those nations that have refused to be constructive players to reconsider their positions because the worst kind of predictions of what could happen internally and spilling over the borders of Syria are certainly within the realm of the possible now,” she added.

Diplomats, Syrian rebels and security sources said Israeli jets bombed a convoy near the Lebanese border on Wednesday, apparently hitting weapons destined for Hezbollah. Syria denied the reports, saying the target was a military research center northwest of Damascus and 8 miles from the border.

Syria warned of a possible “surprise” response to Israel over the reported attack while Hezbollah, an Iranian ally that also supports Assad, said Israel was trying to thwart Arab military power and vowed to stand by its ally.

PRAISE FOR ALKHATIB

Clinton said that the United States was worried that Iran had recently increased its support for Assad.

“It appears that they may be increasing that involvement and that is a matter of great concern to us,” she said.

“I think the numbers (of people) have increased,” she added. “There is a lot of concern that they are increasing the quality of the weapons, because Assad is using up his weaponry. So it's numbers and it's materiel.”

She made similar comments about Russia.

“We have reason to believe that the Russians continue to supply financial and military assistance in the form of equipment,” she said. “They are doing it in the recent past.”

Russia has been Assad's most important ally throughout the 22-month-old Syrian conflict, which began with peaceful street protests and evolved into an armed uprising against his rule.

Moscow has blocked three Security Council resolutions aimed at pushing him out or pressuring him to end the bloodshed. But Russia has also distanced itself from Assad by saying it is not trying to prop him up and will not offer him asylum.

Clinton appeared skeptical Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's comment this week that Assad's chances of staying in power were growing “smaller and smaller” might herald a fundamental shift in Russia's stance.

“On the Russians, Medvedev included, we have heard rhetoric before over the last now nearly two years that we thought provided an opening … unfortunately, all of that rhetoric has failed to translate into changes in Russian policy,” she said.

Clinton praised the head of Syria's main opposition coalition, Mouaz Alkhatib, for saying this week that he was ready to hold talks with Assad representatives outside Syria if authorities released tens of thousands of detainees.

“I thought he was not only courageous but smart in saying that if certain conditions are met we will begin discussing a political transition because you have to you know make it clear that there will be something other than hardened fighters when this conflict finally ends,” Clinton said. “Otherwise, it might not ever end in the foreseeable future.”

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Lisa Shumaker

Obama vows justice after U.S. envoy killed in Libya


President Barack Obama vowed on Wednesday to bring to justice the killers of the U.S. ambassador and three other diplomats in Libya as he sought to avoid election-year fallout from an attack that cast a spotlight on his administration's handling of “Arab Spring” unrest.

Standing in the White House Rose Garden, Obama condemned the attack in Benghazi as “outrageous and shocking” but insisted it would not threaten relations with Libya's new elected government, which took power in July after rebel forces backed by NATO air power overthrew Muammar Gaddafi.

The targeting of U.S. diplomats in deadly militant violence sparked by a U.S.-made film seen as insulting the Prophet Mohammad, could raise questions about Obama's policy toward Libya in the post-Gaddafi era as he seeks re-election in November.

Obama, apparently seeking to seize the initiative in the aftermath of the attack, pledged to work with the Libyan government to “see that justice is done for this terrible act.”

“And make no mistake: justice will be done,” Obama said, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at his side. He ordered increased security at U.S. embassies around the world, and a Marine anti-terrorist team was dispatched to boost security for U.S. personnel in Libya.

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three embassy staff were killed late on Tuesday when Islamist gun attacked the Benghazi consulate and a safe house refuge in the eastern city of Benghazi, the cradle of last year's uprising against Gaddafi's 42-year rule. Another assault was mounted on the U.S. embassy in Cairo.

Stevens, a 21-year veteran of the foreign service, was one of the first American officials on the ground in Benghazi during the uprising against Gaddafi last year.

Sean Smith, a foreign service information management officer, was identified as one of the diplomats killed. The names of the two others were withheld while the government notified their families.

LIBYA POLICY, CAMPAIGN IMPACT

Obama had hailed Libya's election in July as a milestone in its post-Gaddafi democratic transition and pledged that the United States would act as a partner even as he cautioned that there would still be difficult challenges ahead.

In the series of Arab Spring uprisings that shook the Middle East last year, Obama opted for a cautious strategy that steered clear of a dominant role for the U.S. military and drew criticism from Republican opponents at home for what was described as “leading from behind.”

Before the full death toll and details of the Libya attack were known, Obama's Republican presidential challenger, Mitt Romney criticized the Obama administration's initial response and he repeated the charge on Wednesday.

“It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” Romney told reporters in Florida.

Pushing back hard, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt criticized Romney for making a “political attack” at a time when the country was “confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya,” and Obama then reiterated condemnation of insults to the beliefs of others.

“We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” he said. “But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence.”

Immediately after his speech, Obama, who was due to leave later in the day on a campaign trip to Nevada, visited the State Department to express solidarity with U.S. diplomats around the world.

The Libya crisis has come at a time when the spotlight was already on the Middle East amid escalating tensions between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how to deal with Iran's nuclear program.

Clinton said the Benghazi attack was the work of a “small and savage group” and that U.S.-Libyan ties would not suffer.

But she seemed to take note that Americans might resent such an attack on U.S. personnel in a North African country they helped to bring out from under long authoritarian rule.

“I ask myself, how could this happen? How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction?” Clinton said. “This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be.”

Additional reporting by Margaret Chadbourn, Mark Felsenthal, Paul Eckert, Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Bill Trott and David Brunnstrom

Discouraging S. African visits to Israel constitutes boycott, envoy says


Israel’s envoy to South Africa said a government minister’s statement that South Africans would be “discouraged” from visiting Israel represents a boycott of his country.

“The cat is out of the bag,” said Dov Segev-Steinberg, Israel’s ambassador to South Africa.

Taken together with the government proposal that goods emanating from the West Bank be labeled as coming from occupied territories instead of Israel, he said it was clear the intention was to boycott Israel.

Describing South Africa’s stance as “very regrettable,” Segev-Steinberg said that “Instead of using the South African way of dialogue to promote peace, this is completely the opposite.”

South Africa’s deputy minister of international relations, Ebrahim Ebrahim, at a news conference Tuesday confirmed his controversial statements published in a local newspaper over the weekend but denied that the policy constituted a boycott of Israel.

“We do not prevent them. We say we discourage them,” Ebrahim said, according to the Cape Times. “The decision is left to the individual or the organization that is invited to visit Israel. There has been a policy of discouraging because we believe Israel is an occupying power and is doing all sorts of things in the Palestine-occupied territory which has been condemned by the entire international community.”

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the South African Zionist Federation and the Office of the Chief Rabbi said in a joint statement that it “deplored” Ebrahim’s statement and that his stance was “grossly discriminatory, counter-productive and wholly inconsistent with how South Africa normally conducts its international relations and contradicts its official policy of having full diplomatic ties with Israel.”

In other areas of diplomacy, the country has always emphasized the need for dialogue and engagement, but it appears that its policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to prevent the Israeli case from being heard, the statement said.

Ebrahim said that visits to Israel “would somehow endorse the occupation of Palestinian territory, and we think a message should be sent to the Israelis that they have to end the occupation of Palestinian territory.”

South Africa’s department of trade and industry indicated recently its intention to introduce legislation that would require all goods from the West Bank to be labeled as such.

Non-Aligned meeting in Ramallah canceled after Israel stops some envoys


A meeting of representatives of the Non-Aligned Movement of countries was canceled after Israel would not allow the states with which it has no diplomatic relations to enter.

Israel would not allow delegates from Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Cuba to travel from Israel to the West Bank city of Ramallah, the site of the meeting, on Sunday.

“We have cleared entry for representatives of countries which have diplomatic relations with Israel and we have not cleared those which do not,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told Reuters.

The Ramallah meeting had been scheduled to take place right after a preliminary meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement-Palestine Committee in Jordan, which was held to prepare for the Non-Aligned Movement summit meeting scheduled for Aug. 26 in Tehran.

South Africa, which is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement and has diplomatic relations with Israel, slammed Israel’s decision, saying in a statement that it was “a flagrant violation of the principles of international law and of Israel’s obligations as the Occupying Power.” The statement reiterated South Africa’s “strong support for the Palestinian cause.”

U.S. says Syria envoy’s defection shows Assad losing grip


The White House said on Thursday that the defection of a Syrian ambassador showed that desperation was growing within President Bashar Assad’s government and was a further sign that he was losing his grip on power.

“Those around him, both in his inner circle and more broadly in the military and governmental leadership are beginning to assess Assad’s chances of remaining in power … and making the choice that they will abandon him in favor of the Syrian people,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

Nawaf al-Fares, who was Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, posted a video statement on Facebook that called on the army to “turn your guns on the criminals” of the government. Carney said he could not confirm reports that Fares was now in Qatar.

Reporting By Matt Spetalnick

JFNA rabbis talk Israel with U.N. envoys


A cadre of 60 rabbis from the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America discussed Israel’s treatment at the United Nations with delegations from 12 countries.

The Cabinet’s annual meeting, which took place last week in New York, included talks with U.N. representatives from Canada, Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary, among others.

The meetings touched on topics pertaining to Israel, the peace process and Iran.

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, the chairman of the Cabinet and the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac. Md., told supporters in an email that the ambassadors with whom the delegation met “were extremely receptive and interested in hearing from American rabbis” on those key issues.

“Our goal was to express our dissatisfaction with the poor and unjust treatment of Israel at the United Nations,” Weinblatt said in a statement. “We sought to highlight the unique way in which Israel is treated, resulting in the inexcusable ignoring of serious problems and egregious human rights violations elsewhere. No other nation is singled out in the way that Israel is.”

He said the nations selected for meetings included Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and the Vatican.

“We met with representatives of nations primarily in the Eastern European bloc because they have often voted neutral or abstained on resolutions pertaining to Israel, and they appear to be interested in improving their relations with Israel,” Weinblatt said. “If a significant number of countries who abstain on votes against Israel would change their votes, many of the resolutions singling out Israel would not pass.”

Richard Schifter, who in the Reagan administration was the U.S. envoy to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, advised the JFNA Rabbinical Cabinet, which was also briefed by officials of the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International.

In addition, the group was addressed by Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, and Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Israel summons South African envoy over product labeling


Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned the South African ambassador to Israel over the publication of a notice announcing a ban on labeling as Israeli products that originate from the West Bank.

Ismail Coovadia was scheduled to visit the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on Monday; no announcement was made by that night on whether such a meeting had taken place.

The Foreign Ministry was unable to call in Coovadia on Sunday because he turned off his cell phone, according to reports.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor called the South African decision to affix special labels on West Bank goods “racist.”

‘‘This is singling Israel out on a clearly political and national basis. This decision has racist characteristics,” Palmor said. “The government of South Africa does not clarify in the new regulation what is defined as made in Judea and Samaria. The European Union has a list and clear criteria to distinguish between products made in Israeli settlements and those that are not. The vague phrasing in the South African regulation shows that there are no clear criteria and therefore it will hurt Israeli products in general. “

Palmor added that Israel has not received any information on the matter from the South African authorities.

A spokesman from the South African Department of International Relations refused to comment on the issue, saying only that the ambassador would visit the Foreign
Ministry in Jerusalem for consultations. ‘‘This is a notice issued by the trade ministry, therefore the matter lies within their responsibility,’’ the spokesman emphasized.

Mary Kluk, national chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, issued a statement Monday saying that South African Trade Minister Rob Davies’ decision has transformed a technical trade issue into a political one.

‘‘This decision was taken by the minister based on his communications with lobby groups that have a pronounced anti-Israel political agenda,” Kluk said. “He has repeatedly declined to meet with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies in this regard.”

Kluk told JTA on Sunday that the Jewish community plans to submit its reservations on the proposal in the coming days. Jewish community leaders are deliberating with a legal team and intend to pursue the matter vigorously, she said.

Israel’s Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat spoke with the heads of the Jewish community in South Africa and encouraged them to act on the matter, and to pressure other members of the government to distance themselves from the trade minister’s decision.

Livnat visited South Africa two months ago and met with her counterpart, Paul Mashatile. The minister told Livnat that his country will not promote sanctions against Israel.

Druze professor appointed Israeli envoy to New Zealand


A Druze professor was appointed Israel’s chief diplomat in New Zealand.

Naim Araidi, who teaches Hebrew literature at Haifa University and Bar-Ilan University, was named to the post by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Yediot Achronot reported.

“After years of representing the State of Israel unofficially, it would be a great privilege for me to do so in an official capacity and show Israel’s beautiful side, as well as the coexistence that despite all the hardships can only be maintained in a true democracy,” the newspaper reported Araidi, 62, as saying.

Araidi is expected to replace Shemi Tzur later this year. Tzur was appointed in 2009, the first Israeli diplomat in New Zealand since 2002, when Israel’s embassy in Wellington was closed as part of global cost-cutting measures by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Lieberman said Araidi’s appointment “represents the beautiful face of Israel, in which a talented person, irrespective of religion or sector, can reach the highest places on merit, and be an inspiration for all Israelis.”

A native of Kfar Marrar in the Galilee, Araidi won the Prime Minister’s Award for Hebrew Literature in 2008. He received his doctorate in Hebrew literature from Bar-Ilan. His poems have been published in more than a dozen languages.

Some 7,000 Jews live in New Zealand, mainly in Auckland and Wellington.

Araidi is not Israel’s first Druze ambassador; Walid Mansour was posted to Vietnam and Reda Mansour served in Ecuador.

Remove Israeli envoy, stop gas exports, Egyptian parliament demands


The Egyptian parliament voted unanimously on a statement calling for the deportation of Israel’s ambassador and stopping gas exports to Israel.

The People’s Assembly passed the resolution Monday night stating that the halting of gas exports is in protest against attacks by Israel on Gaza.

The measure also called for the withdrawal of the Egyptian ambassador from Tel Aviv, according to Al Masry Al Youm (the Egypt Independent) daily newspaper and a renewal of the Arab boycott against Israel.

“Egypt after the revolution will never be a friend of the Zionist entity, the first enemy of Egypt and the Arab nation,” the resolution reportedly said, and demanded that the Egyptian government review all its relations and agreements with that “enemy,” according to Al Masry.

The motion is largely symbolic, according to The Associated Press, because only the ruling Military Council, the country’s current government, can make such decisions.

People’s Assembly Speaker Saad al-Katatny asked a special parliamentary committee to take the demands to the government, according to Al Masry.

Israel taps first Ethiopia-born envoy


Israel has appointed its first Ethiopia-born ambassador.

The appointment of Belaynesh Zevadia as Israel’s envoy to Ethiopia was announced Tuesday.

Zevadia also was the first Ethiopian Foreign Ministry cadet. She made aliyah at the age of 17 and studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and African studies and a master’s degree in African studies. She has worked as a diplomat in Chicago and Houston.

“This is proof that in Israel, opportunity is available to everyone—native Israelis and new immigrants alike,” Zevadia said.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement that Zevadia’s appointment “conveys an important message to Israeli society, which is currently dealing with the issue of racism towards Ethiopians in Israel.” He added, “I am certain that she will represent the state with honor and be a source of pride to all Ethiopian Israelis.”

U.S., Israel coordinated on steps against Iran, U.S. envoy says


The United States and Israel are coordinated on steps being taken to combat Iran’s perceived nuclear threat and the two allies have been planning to ensure “all other options” are available, the U.S. ambassador to Israel said on Thursday.

Ambassador Dan Shapiro said both countries were hoping the economic sanctions in place would persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, and they were having a “significant effect” but had not yet achieved their goal.

“It is clear that Iran is under significant economic strain … (but the sanctions have) not yet achieved the goal, which is to get that nuclear program stopped … for both us and for Israel this is the preferred strategy, to achieve that all-important objective,” he told U.S.-Jewish community leaders.

Shapiro added: “It’s also true, as the president has said … we are coordinated with our Israeli partners … that other options, all other options, are on the table to achieve that goal … the necessary planning has been done to ensure that those options are actually available if at any time they become necessary.”

Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, although a U.N. nuclear watchdog mission ended in failure this week when the Islamic Republic denied officials permission to visit a site suspected of housing a facility to test explosives.

COORDINATION

The failure of the visit by the officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency could hamper any resumption of wider nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers – the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.

Shapiro said a constant stream of visits by senior U.S. officials to Israel and vice versa were ensuring both administrations remained coordinated on how to tackle Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Washington early next month and will meet President Barack Obama on March 5 with Iran set to top the agenda.

The Obama administration has shown signs of being increasingly concerned about the lack of any assurance from Israel it would consult Washington before launching strikes on Iran’s nuclear sites.

But Shapiro indicated U.S.-Israel coordination was intimate and productive.

“It’s the kind of dialogue, I assure you, you would want two allies facing a common security challenge to be having. It is that quality, it’s that detail, it’s that (intimacy) and it’s exactly what should be happening. It will continue when Prime Minister Netanyahu visits Washington,” Shapiro said.

Palestinian official in Canada apologizes for offensive tweet


The Palestinian envoy in Ottowa has apologized for tweeting a link to a video that was deemed offensive to Jews.

“I regret the unfortunate incident and it was a retweet unintentional and very unfortunate,” Linda Sobeh Ali, the charge d’affaires of the Palestinian delegation in Ottawa, said in a statement released Tuesday, the CBC reported.

Ali, who reportedly has agreed to be reassigned, also said that the incident was “intentionally magnified and misinterpreted by certain lobbying groups.”

Officials in the foreign affairs department called in Ali for an official rebuke. Ottawa also has lodged a formal complaint with the Palestinian Authority, and has decided to “limit communication” with Ali until a replacement arrives, The Globe and Mail newspaper reported Tuesday.

Earlier this month, the Globe reported, Ali tweeted a link to a YouTube video showing a Palestinian girl in tears reciting a poem in Arabic. The English subtitles on the video include a passage in which millions are called “to a war that raze[s] the injustice and oppression and destroy[s] the Jews.”

In an e-mail to the newspaper, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said that “Canada expects the Palestinian Authority to appropriately deal with this serious transgression. We have taken the decision to limit communication with this official until a replacement is selected.”

Salah Basalamah of the University of Ottawa’s School of Translation and Interpretation said the English subtitle of “to a war that raze[s] the injustice and oppression and destroy[s] the Jews” is a mistranslation of the Arabic. Basalamah said the correct translation is “to a war that is destroying oppression and kill[s] the soul of Zionism.”

But Shimon Fogel, chief executive officer of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, who sent Ali’s video tweet to Baird’s office, said both versions are unfit to be circulated by a Palestinian diplomat. Fogel said he “doesn’t see a difference” between the two versions because calling for the destruction of Zionism is a denial of Israel’s right to exist.

Jordanians protest at Israeli embassy in Amman


Several hundred Jordanian protesters on Thursday called on their government to close the Israeli embassy in Amman and scrap an unpopular peace treaty with the Jewish state.

Dozens of demonstrators chanting: “No Zionist embassy on Arab land” gathered near a mosque in the Rabia district of the Jordanian capital close to the Israeli embassy.

Scores of police blocked roads to the embassy complex to prevent protesters from marching to the heavily protected mission.

The protesters, a mix of leftist, liberal and Islamist opposition activists, chanted slogans urging the authorities to sever diplomatic ties with neighbouring Israel.

“The people want to bring down the Wadi Araba peace treaty,” said a protester, referring to the country’s peace accord with Israel signed in 1994, the second that was concluded by an Arab country with Israel after Egypt’s own deal in 1979.

Jordan has long maintained close security cooperation with Israel but has been critical of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians and fears a spillover of violence if Israel does not broker peace with the Palestinians.

The call for large scale protests organised on Facebook this week prompted Israel to temporarily withdraw its ambassador to Jordan. Israeli diplomatic sources said Ambassador Daniel Nevo and his senior staff, who routinely spend weekends in Israel, were brought back early .

In Egypt, the Israeli embassy was stormed by demonstrators on Saturday, forcing its evacuation. The countries are in talks on reactivating the Cairo mission.

Most of Jordan’s seven million citizens are of Palestinian origin and have close family ties with their kin on the other side of the Jordan River.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Editing by Rosalind Russell

Anti-Semitism envoy speaks to U.S. Muslim group


Hannah Rosenthal, the Obama administration’s anti-Semitism envoy, in an address to a U.S. Shia Muslim umbrella group said the Jewish and Muslim communities have much in common.

“While we Jews and Muslims may have highly educated communities, we also have fears about perceptions that others hold of our traditions,” Rosenthal said in a Sept. 2 address to a conference of the Islamic Information Center, a group that disseminates information on Shia Islam to non-Muslims.

“According to a recent report, Muslims and Jews are more likely than adherents of any other tradition to conceal our religious identity. Sixty percent of Muslim Americans polled say they experience prejudice against Muslims. The fact that Muslims experience prejudice here in America concerns me as an American, as a Jew and as a U.S. government official.”

Rosenthal outlined her efforts to combat anti-Semitism, and not, among other phenomena, Holocaust denial in Iran and the blurring of lines between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism.

Egypt is not withdrawing Israel envoy, diplomat says


Egypt is not preparing to withdraw its ambassador to Israel, an Egyptian diplomat said on Tuesday, playing down an earlier threat to bring home the envoy in protest at the killing of five Egyptian security personnel near the Israeli border.

The deaths, which Egypt blamed on Israel, sparked the deepest crisis in their relations since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February and four days of angry protests near the Israeli embassy in Cairo.

Egypt’s cabinet posted an online statement on Saturday—which it then withdrew—saying the killing of the Egyptians was a breach of Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel and it would withdraw its envoy in protest.

Low-key talks followed, with expressions of regret from Israel over the Egyptian deaths and meetings with top U.S. and United Nations diplomats.

By Tuesday, Egypt’s threat appeared to have been dropped.

“There are currently no procedures being taken to withdraw the Egyptian ambassador in Israel,” the Egyptian diplomat told Reuters, asking not to be named. He declined to comment further.

An Egyptian cabinet official said, on condition of anonymity, that recalling the ambassador would depend on the Jewish state’s cooperation in a joint investigation of the deaths that Egypt has demanded, and when it would start.

The killings followed an attack near Israel’s Red Sea resort of Eilat on Thursday by armed militants that left eight Israelis dead. Israel said the gunmen were Palestinians from Gaza who went through the Egyptian Sinai before crossing into Israel.

Israel said it was looking into what happened, but its national security adviser said no joint investigation was planned—instead, both sides would share results of their separate inquiries.

“I don’t think there will be a joint investigation in the sense that both sides will sit in front of those officers (involved in the incident),” Yaakov Amidror told Israeli Army Radio.

“But we will carry out our own detailed investigation. They will carry out their own detailed investigation, and we will sit together with the results of the investigations,” he added.

Egypt recalled its ambassador from Israel in 1982 after Israel invaded Lebanon and in 2000 after heavy Israeli shelling of the Gaza Strip.

SINAI RAIDS HALTED

The generals ruling Egypt since Mubarak’s overthrow in a popular uprising are anxious to appease a newly-assertive public among whom resentment of Israel runs deep.

The spat has highlighted a dilemma for the military council, which is trying to show it respects public opinion more than Mubarak, while avoiding a major stand-off with its neighbour.

The army refused to comment on the Israeli security adviser’s statement that no joint investigation was planned.

Egypt’s state news agency MENA cited a report by U.N. peace keepers on the border with Israel saying that Israeli troops had crossed into Egyptian Sinai by land to pursue the gunmen and then fired at Egyptian border guards, killing five and prompting Egyptian forces to clash with them.

The report said the peace keepers examined the boundary where the clashes took place and “recorded two violations by Israeli troops: crossing the border into Egyptian territory and firing bullets at the Egyptian side of the border,” MENA said.

North Sinai security officers said on Tuesday they had halted a security sweep in Sinai to root out armed groups whose numbers there have grown amid the security vacuum left by the uprising against Mubarak.

“We have caught a number of suspects who have carried out armed attacks in Sinai and bombed gas pipelines, but after the border incident many escaped to Halal mountain and we suspect they planted mines to prevent security forces from tracing them,” a security source said.

Israel accuses Egypt’s interim rulers of losing control over the isolated desert peninsula. Egypt rejects the charges, saying Israel is blaming Egypt for its own security failings.

Amidror, who previously headed the research division of the Israeli Military Intelligence, added that “Islamic Jihad concentrations” were in Northern Sinai and that Israel was keen for Egypt to “exert its sovereignty in Sinai more effectively”.

The number of troops Egypt can deploy in the Sinai is limited under the 1979 peace treaty, which followed four wars with Israel since 1948.

Additional reporting by Yusri Mohamed in Ismailia and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem

Haiti legacy project recognizes U.S. anti-Semitism envoy


Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department envoy on anti-Semitism, was recognized for her work by the Haiti Jewish Refugee Legacy Project.

Rosenthal received the project’s Tikkun Olam Award for her efforts to combat hate and intolerance.

The award, which Rosenthal received on Aug. 3, is given to individuals or organizations that have dedicated themselves to Holocaust or World War II research.

The Haiti Jewish Refugee Legacy Project was founded in January 2010 to document and commemorate Haiti’s role in providing refuge to 100 to 300 Jews fleeing Nazi persecution during World War II. The project’s central database collects and memorializes personal reflections and artifacts of Holocaust survivors who sought refuge in Haiti.

New U.S. envoy to Israel: Obama hoping to visit


The new U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, said President Obama hopes to visit the country.

Shapiro, 42, presented his credentials Wednesday to Israeli President Shimon Peres. He was appointed as ambassador in July.

Shapiro said no details of a visit to Israel have been worked out.

He told Israeli TV stations that the United States wants to revive the Middle East peace talks to short-circuit the Palestinian effort to win recognition for a state from the United Nations in September.

Shapiro is Jewish and speaks fluent Hebrew, as well as some Arabic. He was a part of Obama’s 2008 election campaign and has worked since with Israeli-Palestinian contacts in the president’s administration.

Envoy compares terror in Israel, Norway


Norway’s ambassador to Israel drew distinctions between the Oslo and Utoeya massacres and Palestinian terrorism.

Svein Sevje said in an Israeli newspaper interview Tuesday that while the Norwergian bomb and gun rampages that killed 76 people and Palestinian attacks should both be considered morally unacceptable, he wanted to “outline the similarity and the difference in the two cases.”

Palestinians, the ambassador told Maariv, “are doing this because of a defined goal that is related to the Israeli occupation. There are elements of revenge against Israel and hatred of Israel. To this you can add the religious element to their actions.”

“In the case of the terror attack in Norway, the murderer had an ideology that says that Norway, particularly the Labor Party, is forgoing Norwegian culture,” Sevje said, referring to suspect Anders Breivik, a Christian nativist who is opently anti-Islam and anti-immigration.

Unlike European Union states, Norway has engaged Hamas and often been fiercely critical of Israel, to Jerusalem’s dismay.

While Sevje voiced sympathy for Israeli terror victims, having experienced “the inferno” of such attacks during his posting, he saw little chance of Norway reviewing its Middle East policies.

“We Norwegians consider the occupation to be the cause of the terror against Israel,” he said. “Those who believe this will not change their mind because of the attack in Oslo.”

He added, “Can Israel and the Palestinians solve the problems without Hamas? I don’t think so.”

Israel envoy in Geneva: Gaza flotilla activists linked to terror groups


From HAARETZ.com:

Israel, in the dock at the top United Nations human rights body over its bloody raid on a humanitarian aid flotilla en route to the Gaza Strip, accused the activists on Tuesday of being a “lynch mob” with ties to terror groups including the Islamist Hamas.

But Israel appeared isolated at the UN Human Rights Council, where even its closest ally the United States said it expected a credible, transparent investigation into Monday’s attack in which nine activists died.

Read the full article at HAARETZ.com.

Oren tapped as envoy


Israel’s new government has selected Michael Oren as its ambassador to Washington.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Oren Sunday night to inform him that he had been selected, according to a statement released Monday from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Oren, a dual U.S.-Israel citizen who currently is a visiting professor at Georgetown University in Washington, has earned plaudits for his extensive scholarship on the 1967 Six-Day War. More recently he published a popular history that traced American Zionism to the founders as a rebuke to “realists” who advocate tempering close U.S.-Israel ties.

In an analysis last year, Oren wrote that an Obama administration was likelier to clash with Israel on certain policies than one led by John McCain, then the Republican candidate. Some critics of Israel in recent weeks have depicted the analysis as an attack on Obama, but Oren’s defenders say it was a dispassionate and scholarly assessment of how each candidate’s stated policies would play out.

More recently, Oren has advocated withdrawing from much of the West Bank, a position that Netanyahu has rejected.

Unlike other postings, made at the discretion of the foreign minister, the Washington envoy is usually chosen by the prime minister because of the sensitivity of the post. Oren will replace Sallai Meridor, who was known to be close to Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert.

Palestinian Angst


Despite its propaganda success in the United Nations General Assembly, where 134 countries last weekend denounced Israeli construction on the disputed Har Homa site in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority is in despair over the stagnant peace process.

Despite the fact that the United States was one of only three countries voting against the U.N. resolution (the others were Israel and Micronesia), Palestinian officials still recognize the Clinton administration as their best bet to bring Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whom they accuse of dictating his own terms, back to the table.

The American Middle East peace envoy, Dennis Ross, is expected to