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Iran’s leaders foresee end of Israel, ‘Islamic awakening’

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Hamas chief Khaled Mashal last week that the world is slowly becoming more favorable to a Palestinian state and the bid for statehood at the UN Opening Assembly in two weeks will mark the beginning of the end of Israel. Ahmadinejad also praised the Arab Spring, even as Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, referred to it as an "Islamic Awakening." Ahmadinejad is expected to show up once again in New York for the annual fall opening of the UN General Assembly and deliver speeches full of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic diatribes.

Nevertheless, former CIA director Leon Panetta said on Tuesday that it was only a matter of time before the revolutionary spirit sweeping the Middle East would reach Iran as well. “The Iranian reform movement is learning from the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria,” he said. “The fact is when people decide that that moment has come, that's a moment when tremendous change is about to happen, and I think it's true, not only in the Middle East. It's going to be true in Iran as well."

In related news, the hard-line regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad continues to crack down on civilians demanding democratic and social reforms and even his ouster. On Monday, Syrian forces killed seven civilians in the city of Homs. According to human rights groups active within Syria, forces loyal to Assad have clamped down on at least three neighborhoods in the city, which is located some 165 km north of the capital Damascus.

Meanwhile, a group of Syrian Kurds recently met in Stockholm, home to a large community of Syrian Kurds, in order to unite behind a strategy to help speed the removal of Assad. So far, the 1.7 million-strong Syrian Kurdish population still living in the country have stayed out of the mass protests against Assad’s regime, fearing it would be used as an excuse to devastate the minority community. Since he came to power, Assad has continued his father Hafez Assad’s policy of suppressing the Kurdish population, depriving them of their land and rights to full citizenship. It is estimated that Syria’s Kurdish population makes up roughly 10% of the country’s 17 million citizens.

Israel’s tent protests not folding up yet

Thousands of tent protesters who have spent the summer camped out in public places across Israel are not yet ready to fold up their movement for social reforms and will continue this autumn to demand urgent government action on stemming the high costs of living and lack of affordable housing.

On Tuesday, activists behind the movement held a press conference in Jerusalem where they laid out the way forward after their protest movement peaked last weekend with the “March of the Million.” The numbers were not that high, but an impressive 400,000 Israelis gathered for demonstrations in several large cities on Saturday evening, with Tel Aviv drawing the largest crowd and Jerusalem recording a respectable 50,000 demonstrators in Paris Square.

With most of the country settling back into the normal routine of work and school following the summer break, the tent protesters are looking for other ways to keep the momentum for social reform going. One method presented on Tuesday is to focus on the 2012 state budget, and make sure that the government earmarks enough funds for important issues such as housing, education and health care. This coming Saturday, a new approach called “1000 round tables” will be tried out, as a thousand tables will be set up all across Israel for people to sit down and discuss the way forward.

Barak Segel, a lead activist in the social protest movement, was satisfied with the large number of demonstrators this weekend. “The entire people of Israel have stepped out of their houses to protest. This is one small step for the people of Israel, one giant step for the country,” he said.

“From my point of view, the atmosphere is amazing here,” added Roee Neumann, an informal spokesman for the tent protesters. “It could be that the campsites become more concentrated and consolidated, but they won’t be folded up. The protest will keep on going and only get stronger until our demands are met.” He also noted that while the mass protests may not be sustainable, there are many different ways to get the message across, such as boycotts.

While many of the tent protesters were typically portrayed as carefree young adults, the events on Saturday evening drew a wide mix of people from different age groups and cultural backgrounds, including teenagers, mothers, and grandparents, along with both religious and secular Israelis.

A special committee has been set up by the Netanyahu government to hear public complaints, study the growing gap in rich and poor, and recommend to the cabinet within the next couple weeks what actions need to be taken to bring down the spiraling costs of living and put more affordable housing on the market. Meantime, even many Arab commentators have been noting how peaceful the Israeli democratic protests were in comparison to the mass protests and rioting in the Arab world this year.

Al Jazeera pulling out of Syria

Qatar-based satellite channel Al Jazeera announced on Thursday that it was suspending some operations in Syria after members of its staff were attacked while covering anti-government demonstrations. The Arabic language network, whose coverage has helped define the "Arab Spring" uprisings to the world, is one of the few networks still operating in Syria. But network officials complained that authorities in Syria have tried to use their journalists to tell their side of the story while attempting to force them to ignore protesters and even threatening them with violence if they did not cooperate.
Headlines

Internal power struggle rocks Iran
Speculation of a political crisis in Iran was rampant on Wednesday as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's missed his second Cabinet meeting in a week and extending his absence from the public eye which began last Friday, shortly after his failed attempt to get Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi to resign. Moslehi had submitted his resignation and Ahmadinejad accepted it, but the move was blocked by supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Iranian blogsphere was brewing with speculation as to what might be going on behind the scenes, with the emerging consensus being that Ahmadinejad has simply gone on strike until Khamenei agrees to be more flexible. The power struggle between the two has blown hot and cold for years and this latest episode has the potential to boil over into other areas of Iranian governance as supporters and enemies of the two men stake out their own positions.

Civilians will receive SMS during civil defense drill
The IDF Home Front Command will held its annual defense drill June 19-23, simulating hundreds of rocket attacks on Israel from multiple fronts. Air raid sirens will sound on June 22 and the Home Front Command will use the new cellphone alert system to send text messages to civilians warning them of an incoming rocket attack, as well as testing other systems. In related news, a Syrian official recently boasted that in the event of war between Israel, Syria and the Shi'ite terror militia Hizbullah, there would be a competition on who would be able to launch its first missile on Tel Aviv.

Yad Vashem collects personal items from Holocaust
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, has launched a campaign called 'Gathering the Fragments' to collect personal artifacts related to the Holocaust in anticipation of Holocaust Remembrance Day on Monday. The campaign encourages people to donate letters, photographs, art or anything else related to the period before, during and directly after the Holocaust. The campaign represents an effort to collect the pieces of the puzzle before the story is lost to the passage of time 'because these are the details that tell the story in depth' said the director of the Archives Division at Yad Vashem, Dr. Haim Gertner. Yad Vashem has collected around 100 items in the past two weeks since the campaign was officially announced.
 

PM prepares for another Gaza-bound flotilla
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with his inner cabinet on Wednesday to prepare for the expected launch of another Gaza-bound flotilla after the Turkish elections on June 12. Netanyahu told the Foreign Ministry to continue its diplomatic efforts to stop the flotilla, and instructed the IDF to prepare the plans to implement the naval blockade on the Gaza strip that is intended to "prevent arms smuggling to terrorist elements in Gaza and prevent attacks on Israeli communities and residents." Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu urged Israel on Monday "not to repeat the same mistake" it made last year when the IDF intercepted the Mavi Marmara flotilla in an event which became a major public relations debacle for the Jewish State.

Egypt-Israel Gas pipeline sabotaged

An Egyptian pipeline supplying natural gas to Israel was sabotaged Wednesday near the northern Sinai town of El-Arish. "An unknown armed gang attacked the gas pipeline," a security source said. "Authorities closed the main source of gas supplying the pipeline and are working to extinguish the fire." Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon declared that Israel must work towards supplying its own energy needs. "In light of regional instability, we must accelerate the production of Israeli natural gas in order to reach energy independence," Ayalon said. Other officials echoed the call to speed production at the recently discovered Leviathan and Tamar gas fields off Israel's northwest coast. Israel receives 40% of its natural gas from Egypt, a key component of the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries. Most of Israel's electricity is produced by plants that run on natural gas and when the supply is disrupted they must use other sources of fuel that produce substantially more pollution.

Bloody crackdown continues in Syria despite sanctions
An increasingly violent government crackdown on anti-regime protesters in Syria has resulted in widespread condemnation as leaders from major powers as well as the UN and the Arab League called on President Bashar Assad to halt the escalating use of force and implement reforms.

Iranian ties with Arab states has Israel worried
In a sign of warming relations between Iran and its former enemy Iraq, Justice Ministers from the two countries signed an extradition agreement on Monday in Teheran, a move sure to cause unease among other Arab governments worried about the growing power and aggression of the Islamic Republic.

Syria up for UNHRC seat despite bloodshed
Syria has a good chance of being elected to the UN Human Rights Council at a meeting on May 20, despite the bloody crackdown on protesters currently taking place there. Geneva based NGO UN Watch has initiated a campaign to raise awareness of the crimes committed by the Assad regime in an effort to prevent its ascension. Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said that even thinking of Syria joining the UNHCR "is a moral outrage." Advancing Human Rights executive director David Keyes added that "if Syria is elected to the UN Human Rights Council, it will be yet one more indication of an organization that has totally lost its moral clarity and betrayed the lofty ideals on which it was founded."

Ties warming between Egypt and Hamas
Musa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas political bureau, is reportedly scheduled to visit Cairo for meetings with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby. His visit to Egypt marks a clear intensification in the relationship between Hamas and the Egyptian interim government only weeks after another high Hamas official met with Egyptian officials. Meanwhile, Egypt recently released several Palestinian prisoners as a sign of cooperation with Hamas and are also considering opening up an unofficial "Hamas embassy" in Cairo. In addition, Hamas Foreign minister Osama Hamdan earlier this week said that there are ongoing discussions whether to open up the Rafah border crossing linking Egypt with the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip.

Michael Douglas helps Jewish General
After a Jewish General Hospital first detected a cancerous tumor in the famous actor Michael Douglas' throat, the celebrity will headline for McGill University's annual Head and Neck Cancer Fundraiser on May 3, as a show of appreciation. Physicians at Jewish General found the tumor after American physicians had proclaimed him healthy. Today, after undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments, the 66-year-old actor says he is cancer-free. Dr. Saul Frenkiel, co-chair of the annual fundraiser, and a head and neck surgeon, said Douglas' help will bring attention to important research in the medical field.

Israel 7th-most thriving country
Results of a Gallup poll released last week indicate that Israel is the world's seventh-most "thriving" country. Gallup classifies respondents' well-being as "thriving," "struggling," or "suffering," according to how they rated their current and future lives on a scale from 0 to 10. Residents  of only 19 countries rated their lives well enough to be classified as thriving. These included Denmark, Canada, Sweden, Australia, Venezuela, Finland, Israel and New Zealand. The US finished twelfth, four percentage points behind Israel. Among Arab nations, the United Arab Emirates ranked highest.

Israel to cooperate on AIDS research
The State of Israel recently signed an agreement with the World Health Organization and UNAIDS in order to help in the fight against the devastating AIDS virus. Both the Foreign Ministry as well as the Health Ministry will contribute with their expertise and the amount of $250,000 to UNAIDS in an effort to battle the disease which is behind the death of several millions of people across the globe. UNAIDS officials expressed excitement and were eager to have Israeli expertise on their team as Israel's health system is seen as one of the best in the world.

Arab League condemns crackdowns on protesters

The Arab League on Tuesday condemned the use of force against pro-democracy protesters in several Arab countries. "The people's demands for freedom and democracy are demands that require support ... not bullets in the chests of demonstrators," the Arab League said in the statement. "We call on Arab regimes and governments to commit to and speed up reforms, immediately stop using force against demonstrators and spare their citizens bloodshed." The 22-member league rarely issues such statements and it is even more rare for it to express criticism of Arab countries, spending most of its time and resources bashing Israel.
Headlines

Obama Administration in bid to avert Palestinian UN action
The Obama Administration has launched a new diplomatic initiative with Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at avoiding a PA threat to take its case for statehood to the UN in September, but PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo declared on Monday that the PA was determined to go ahead with the plan regardless of what Israel or the US does.
 
Assad orders brutal crackdown in Syria
Syrian infantry backed by tanks and artillery were deployed in Daraa and several other cities over the weekend as the regime of President Bashar Assad attempted to crush protests, the latest flare up of violence in the so-called "Arab Spring."

Iran hit by another cyberattack
Military officials in Iran confirmed on Monday that the Islamic Republic's renegade nuclear program has been hit by a new computer virus attack. The virus, named "Stars" comes even as Teheran's nuclear facilities are still grappling with problems caused by the "Stuxnet" worm, an attack widely accredited to the US and Israel. Analysts have warned that the attacks could lead to Iranian retaliation against Western websites and networks, even as the number of industrial 'accidents' in Iran being blamed on sabotage, both cyber and the old fashioned kind, continues to rise. Nearly a dozen natural gas pipeline explosions have occurred in Iran in the last 18 months. In related news, Kuwaiti newspaper al Kabas reported on Sunday that GCC countries are growing increasingly alarmed at the apparent warming of relations between Iran and the transitional government in Egypt.

Netanyahu to give regular YouTube interviews
The Prime Minister's office recently announced that Benjamin Netanyahu will be regularly publishing YouTube interviews in order to please the many web surfers worldwide who are interested in Israel, following the success of a recent experimental broadcast. "Direct links with the Facebook generation around the world, but especially from the Arab world, are very important for becoming directly familiar with the true Israel," Netanyahu declared. Over 1 million viewers watched Netanyahu's interview which was aired on the YouTube's World View channel in the end of March, in which he answered questions sent to him via email and social media from all over the world.

Israeli designed electric cars to be marketed in the US
After launching their project in both Israel and Denmark, Better Place, the Israeli electric car company, will soon open up shop in Hawaii. 10 charging stations have already been set up across the island of Oahu and seven cars are expected to shortly arrive to the island. Hawaii is currently importing 90% of its oil and has set as an objective of reaching 70 percent renewable power before 2030. "Better Place's electric vehicle network is an innovative approach to integrating electric vehicles into our island grids," said US Sen. Daniel Inouye. Better Place, which already got over 1000 charging docks all over Israel are next expected to launch an electric taxi project in California.

Australian local councils abandon BDS campaign
The Marrickville Council of Australia made headlines earlier this year when they decided to boycott Israeli products including cultural and academic ties. Last week the local Council ended their Israeli boycott project after the federal government criticized the council for handling political areas outside their local jurisdiction. "The backlash has been quite strong and unanimous from the wider populace and from the Australian federal government and the New South Wales government," said Yair Miller president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies.

Poll: Majority of Egyptians want to end peace with Israel
The Pew Research Center recently published a report about Egyptian attitudes towards Jews and Israel. 56% of respondents were in favor of annulling the 1979 Israeli Egyptian peace treaty. The current leader of Egypt's interim government Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi were the most popular of the Egyptian leaders shortly followed by the chief of the Arab League Amr Moussa. Only 41% of the respondents believed that the upcoming election would be free and fair, while 75% were positive towards the Muslim Brotherhood.

Oren essay sets off academic debate
An essay written by Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren entitled "The Ultimate Ally" and published on Monday on the website of Foreign Policy has set off a firestorm of debate, with several rebuttals being published by other regular contributors to the website. So far, Oren's article has received over 1,300 'likes' on Facebook while the rebuttal arguments have received substantially less. Highlights from the essay include Oren's assertion that "On an ideological level, an ally is a country that shares America's values, reflects its founding spirit, and resonates with its people's beliefs. Tactically, an ally stands with the U.S. through multiple conflicts and promotes its global vision. An ally enhances American intelligence and defense capabilities, and provides ports and training for U.S. forces. An ally assists in saving American lives on and off the battlefield. And an ally stimulates the U.S. economy through trade, technological innovation, and job creation. Israel is certainly one of the few countries that fit this description."

Israel hopes for the best, prepares for the worst

The IDF is currently preparing for possible scenarios related to the call for the third Intifada predicted to take place on 15, May. One scenario is the possibility of having thousands of Palestinians marching towards the check points on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. "We are preparing for a large number of scenarios, the Palestinians feel that they have legitimacy for these peaceful demonstrations, especially now following the creation of a new government and ahead of the declaration of statehood," a senior commander of IDF's Southern Command said. Meanwhile, the IDF continues to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority despite the fact that they earlier this week announced the formation of a unity government with Hamas. "At the moment, this is an agreement on paper. If Hamas members join Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank, that will mark the end of PA-Israel security cooperation in the West Bank," said Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland.

Analysts project massive Middle East arms race
Defense Industry analysis firm Frost & Sullivan issued a report Wednesday which included numbers indicating that Air Forces in the Persian Gulf are set to buy large numbers of new planes and related air defense equipment in the coming years, taking the regional arms race to new heights. The biggest spenders are projected to be Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, three countries very worried about the growing power and aggression of Iran who are set to spend close to $60 billion by the end of the decade. "The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are moving towards an integrated air defense network to include air platforms, air defense batteries and air surveillance systems under the 'Peninsular Shield' initiative; but the progress has been slow," notes the report. "The use of networked force by the US and European forces in the Gulf War and the latest Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been a startling revelation for Middle Eastern MODs who are now keen on acquiring these capabilities."

Terrorist bomb in Morocco kills 15, including one Israeli
On Thursday a bomb exploded at a café in the popular Moroccan tourist city of Marrakesh, killing 15 people according to the country's Interior Ministry. Only three of the victims were of Moroccan origin while the rest were foreigners from France, Holland and Britain as well as Jewish couple residing in Shanghai. The Jewish couple, Massoud Zikri and Israeli born Michal Weizman, who was expecting their second child, was in Morocco to celebrate Passover with the husband's family.

Dispute threatens fragile calm in Sudan
Sudanese President Omar Bashir gave a speech in the southern Kordofan state recently, saying that he will not recognize the newly independent country of South Sudan if it continues to claim that the disputed border town of Abyei is the source of tensions between north and south. Southern Sudan is scheduled to gain its independence from Moslem dominated northern Sudan on 9 June. The international community is in the meantime pressing on both sides to come to an agreement regarding Abyei. "It is important that both sides, those in Khartoum and those in Juba, focus intensely on trying to resolve the key issues," said assistant US Secretary of State Johnnie Carson.

Better Place and China Power Grid partnership
Israeli-owned electric car infrastructure company Better Place signed an agreement on Wednesday with officials from China Southern Power Grid Co. to open a battery switch station and joint education center in China. The Israeli group sees China as a future significant player in the automotive market and this collaboration "opens the door to new opportunities for switchable battery electric cars made by Chinese manufacturers for the domestic and export markets", said Better Place CEO and founder Shai Agassi. China Power Grid and Better Place hope to develop their relationship further by expanding the battery-switch, network model.

Egypt plans to permanently open Gaza border crossing
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby told Al-Jazeera during an interview on Thursday that the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza could be permanently opened within seven to ten days. Opened for the first time since January 30, 2011, the Rafah border will allow greater freedom of movement for people on both sides of the border, as well as goods in and out of Gaza without Israeli permission."Egypt has decided to reopen the border and it will allow up to 300 people from the Gaza Strip to exit each day," said Hamas official Ghazi Hamad. In related news, Egypt's former envoy to Israel, Mohamed Bassiouni, said on Thursday that the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt has achieved significant gains for both nations and that it should not be annulled. "It's win-win - we both gain from the treaty", Bassiouni said. However, a recent survey by the Pew Research showed that over half of Egyptians favor overturning the treaty.

UNHCR pays rare attention to Syria

The UN Human Rights Council, notorious for its historical bias against Israel, will hold a rare session to examine the conduct of another Middle Eastern state on Friday when it will convene to urge Syria to desist from attacking civilian protesters.

The special session was requested by the US, whose ambassador, , Eileen Donahoe, declared on Wednesday that "the international community has been shocked by the killing of hundreds of civilians in connection with peaceful political protests [in Syria] in the past week."

The UNHRC suspended Libya's membership on 1, March and are set to vote in a few weeks on Syria's bid to become a member.

Witnesses reported a major escalation of the Assad regimes crackdown on protesters Thursday, as heavy machine gun fire was heard in the southern city of Daraa and tanks rumbled into the coastal city of Latakia and infantry backed by armor and artillery deployed on the outskirts of several other cities, including suburbs of Damascus. Protest leaders have called for another "Day of Rage" after prayers on Friday - one that could prove to be the largest yet.

There are also reports of dissention and even mutiny among some army units, as Sunni troops have been reluctant to open fire on their co-religionists on the orders of their Alawite officers.

Also on Thursday, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, announced that the site in northern Syria destroyed by an Israeli airstrike five years ago was definitely a nuclear reactor which Syria had attempted to build in violation of its obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Other UN officials have demanded that Syria allow access to Daraa and other cities so that investigations into reports of human rights violations can be conducted, but so far the Assad regime has not responded.

Elsewhere in the Arab world, witnesses reported that intense battles have continued between protesters and troops loyal to different factions in Yemen and in Libya NATO aircraft have continued strikes against forces loyal to dictator Moammar Gadaffi, who have also intensified their artillery and missile attacks against rebels and civilian neighborhoods in rebel held cities.

Abbas: 'PA will still negotiate with Israel'

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared on Thursday that negotiations with Israel remain possible, despite the Wednesday's announcment that Fatah and Hamas agreed to form a national unity interim government.

Abbas added assurance that the PLO will remain in charge of politics and negotiations with Israel, and "will continue our policy of one authority, one gun and the rule of law as long as I am president." He also said that the main priorities of the new Palestinian government would be rebuilding the Gaza Strip and planning the upcoming elections.

"I heard that Netanyahu said that Abu Mazen [Abbas] should choose between Israel and Hamas," Abbas continued. "I heard this for a few months and I made the answer that Hamas is part of the Palestinian people. I can't exclude them. Like or dislike, agree or disagree, they are part of our people. You, Mr. Netanyahu, are our partner. We can't exclude you, so we have to take both sides - not to choose between this and that. But please, Mr. Netanyahu, you have to choose between settlement activities and peace."

Netanyahu (Israel GPO)Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a visiting US Congressional delegation that the Hamas-Fatah government would be a "great setback to peace," while Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared that Israel would not negotiate with a Fatah-Hamas government as long as Hamas continues terrorist attacks against Israel.

"This is seen not as a tactical change, but rather a strategic one - a game changer," said another Israeli official. "How can the Palestinian leadership say they want peace with Israel, and at the same time embrace the most extreme, violent enemies of peace?"

For their part, Hamas representatives went out of their way on Wednesday to tell reporters that the new agreement does not require them to accept the two-state solution or to engage in peace talks with Israel. Fatah officials have also been reticent to comment on what effect the new agreement would have on security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank, widely seen as crucial to the relative quiet there in recent years. Israel is also concerned that the PA might release Hamas prisoners as part of the new arrangement.

Elsewhere, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee declared on Thursday that US law would prevent the US from sending its annual $500 million assistance to the PA if Hamas was part of the unity government because the PA must recognize Israel's right to exist in order to receive the funding. These sentiments were echoed by other Congressional leaders as well as the Obama Administration. EU lawmakers have also voiced concern over the arrangement.

However, UN Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry said on Thursday that he supports the initiative, adding that Palestinian "reunification is essential for achieving a two-state solution that should be reached through negotiations," while cautioning that he hopes "reconciliation will now take place in a manner that promotes the cause of peace."

Palestinian leaders from both factions have been especially warm in their praise of Egypt in helping to broker the new initiative and credited recent events in the region including the removal of Western backed governments in Egypt and other Arab countries as being instrumental in paving the way for the deal.

Baath apparatchiks abandon Assad as bloody crackdown escalates

203 members of Syria's ruling Baath Party announced their resignations on Wednesday, protesting the recent bloody crackdown on protesters. The resignations are a major emberresment to the Assad regime, which has unleashed security forces in a rampage which has killed over 500 Syrians in six weeks.

"The security services have demolished the values with which we grew up. We denounce and condemn everything that has taken place and announce with regret our resignation from the party," the resigning members said in a statement. "Practices of the security services against our unarmed citizens... are against all human values and the slogans of the party."

The internal pressure on the regime is likely to exacerbate the regimes increasingly isolated international diplomatic position, as the EU and several individual European governments have joined the US in calling for diplomatic and economic sanctions against members of the ruling elite as well as several state owned business interests. Meanwhile, an umbrella group of over 150 anti-government activists and opposition groups calling itself the National Initiative for Change (NIC) warned Assad to institute real democratic reforms or risk "violence, chaos and civil war."

Elsewhere in the Arab world, protesters gathered in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo on Wednesday demanding an end to the 1979 Camp David Accords and a return to the state of belligerency between Israel and Egypt.

Chanting, "the people demand the cancellation of normalization" and "the gas must stop!" they also demanded that Egyptian supplies of natural gas to the Jewish State be discontinued.

Next door, NATO air strikes have made some progress in lifting the siege on the Western city of Misrata, but thousands of civilians are still trapped in the city and reportedly taking heavy fire from troops loyal to dictator Moammar Gadaffi. An aid ship took advantage of a brief lull in fighting to evacuate wounded civilians.

"Despite heavy shelling of the port area... about 935 migrants and Libyans have been rescued and are now safely en route to Benghazi," the International Organization for Migration said.

In Yemen, several people were reported killed in ongoing internecine violence Thursday as factions begin to stake out positions ahead of the imminent departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Palestinian factions announce unity government

The rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas overcame their ideological differences and announced on Wednesday that they will form a government of national unity for the Palestinian populations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, causing alarm in Israel and dismay in the US and Europe.

Although the deal has not been signed and there are still details for both sides to work out, Hamas has already announced that by joining with Fatah, which dominates the Western backed Palestinian Authority, they are not joining in the recognition of Israel or participation in peace negotiations with the Jewish State.

"Palestinian divisions can't continue while efforts are being made to ensure recognition of a Palestinian state," agreed Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby, who helped broker the deal.

Later on Thursday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, indicated that he was still theoretically interested in negotiations with Israel.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the PA needed to choose between a peace deal with Israel and one with Hamas.

"Peace with both is impossible, because Hamas aims to destroy the State of Israel and says that openly," Netanyahu said. "It fires missiles at our cities and at our children. He added that the current situation led to questions as to "whether Hamas will gain control over Judea and Samaria, the way it did over the Gaza Strip (but) I hope that the Palestinian Authority will make the right choice - that it will choose peace with Israel. The choice is in its hands."

Other Israeli officials cautioned that such deals have been announced before and fell apart before they could be fully implemented, so it's best to wait and see what develops.

Elsewhere, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi declared on Thursday that the unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah is a "blessed, positive move...in line with the Palestinian nation's historic objectives (including) resistance against the Zionist occupiers."

He also praised the new Egyptian government's role in mediating between the two factions and added that he hoped the agreement would "lead to acceleration of the developments in the Palestine region and to acquiring great victories in confrontations with the ruthless occupiers."

In Washington, several members of Congress denounced the deal and declared their intention of reviewing US aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) declared the deal to be "a recipe for failure, mixed with violence, leading to disaster."

 

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