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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.

On the same day however, Iran suffered a diplomatic setback when the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain expelled an Iranian diplomat, Hujatullah Rahmani, the second secretary at the Iranian embassy in Manama. The action was taken as part of an escalating war of words between Iran and the Sunni dominated Arab countries of the Persian Gulf region.

The moves also follow the dispatch of a Saudi led contingent of paramilitary troops from GCC countries to assist the Bahraini government in containing unrest by Shi'ite groups which the government fears are being supported by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Tehran denies this and has roundly denounced the GCC intervention force, which Saudi Arabia recently announced would be a semi-permanent phenomenon.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf was in Kuwait on Tuesday, where he attempted to alleviate fears that the transitional government in Cairo's own warming relations with Iran will come at the expense of its Arab brethren. The visit comes after a month in which several Iranian and Egyptian officials declared their intentions to open up a new era of closer cooperation between the two countries, leading to dismay in several Arab capitals, as well as in Washington and Jerusalem.

Inside Iran, officials have denied that a growing wave of strikes and protests by disgruntled workers is going on, despite massive crowds gathering almost daily in front of government buildings to demand back wages and other promised benefits.

"Because the authorities do not want to confirm strikes at factories, they refuse to answer questions about why workers were dismissed or arrested for protesting," said Javanmir Moradi, head of the Electrical and Metal Workers' Trade Union in the western city of Kermanshah.

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.

The US and UK have both indicated their willingness to implement sanctions against the Assad regime, and several other countries are reportedly considering the move. Efforts are also being made to get the UN to condemn the crackdown, a possible precursor to a UN mandate for armed intervention such as UNSCR 1973 authorizing the use of force to protect civilians in Libya.

Military and security units loyal to Assad have shown little notice of the diplomatic manuevers, raining heavy barrages of artillery down on the southern city of Daraa and infantry units backed by armored vehicles and helicopters moved into neighborhoods in several other Syrian cities. The death toll was reportedly over 400 on Wednesday as leaders of expat opposition communities in Turkey and Europe begged the world to help their countryman.

Meanwhile, a US State Department spokesman announced on Tuesday that the US has quietly discontinued pressuring Israel to work towards a peace deal with the Assad regime in Syria, having decided in light of recent events that it is not a reliable partner for peace.

"The weakening of Syria, of the regime, is a blow for Iran and this, from a strategic point of view, is a positive development not only for Israel but for Jordan and for other forces," said Michael Eppel, a Middle East expert at the University of Haifa. "But there is always the possibility, and this you cannot predict, that maybe there will be a temptation to bring a crisis to Gaza or southern Lebanon in order to divert public opinion."

Elsewhere in the Arab world, the military stalemate in Libya showed few signs of change on Wednesday.

"Militarily, the fact is, the situation is not much different from what it was at the very beginning of the war," said French strategic analyst Francois Heisbourg. "Qadhafi is essentially controlling the same territory as he was at the beginning of the war, so he is not likely to leave power readily as part of a negotiated deal. So from the standpoint of the coalition it's not a great result."

Finally, officials in Yemen announced on Tuesday that a plan put forward by the Gulf Cooperation Council for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to give up power could be finalized within a week, leading to hopes that the shattered but strategically important country might soon be able to start putting itself back together.

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.

"The Palestinian leadership won't back down unless real and serious peace negotiations are launched on the basis of the 1967 borders," Abed Rabbo told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, adding that the PA was also prepared to make a deal that would include a land, and not a population, swap with Israel.

"Without this, we will go to the UN, and after winning recognition [for a state] we will demand that Israeli military and settler presence [in the West Bank] be considered an act of aggression on the sovereignty of a full member of the UN," he added. "We don't have a third option."

PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are both scheduled to make trips to Europe in the coming months to lobby for acceptance and denial, respectively, of the idea by the major democracies. The US and Germany have already come out publically against a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in September.

The PA has been joined by its rival, the Iranian backed Islamist terror militia Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip, in sharply criticizing Obama and flatly rejecting the idea recently put forth for a Palestinian State with eastern Jerusalem as its capital but without guaranteeing the right of millions of Palestinians to "return" to the homes of their parents and grandparents in pre-1948 Israel.

Relations between Israel and the PA took a big hit on Sunday when a PA police officer shot and killed a Jewish man after praying at Joseph's Tomb in Nablus. Four other Jewish worshippers were also wounded in the shooting attack on their vehicle which took place as they were leaving Nablus.

Ben Yosef Livnat (Yeshiva World News)The killed man was Ben Yosef Livnat, 24, father of four and nephew of Minister of Culture and Sports Limor Livnat (Likud). Of the four wounded, two were in serious condition on Tuesday. After the shooting, a crowd gathered and vandalized the Tomb.

The IDF said that the group of Breslov Hassidim worshippers had entered Nablus, which is in Area A and under the security jurisdiction of the PA, without permission of the authorities and the PA police claimed that they had refused to obey instructions and tried to run through a roadblock. The Breslov group has a history of disregarding the instructions of the IDF in regards to visiting sites of historical and/or theological significance in the West Bank. But Gershon Mesika, head of the Samaria regional council, told Army Radio that precisely because the PA police knew this and knew that the worshippers were unarmed they should have known that there was no reason to use deadly force.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu sharply condemns the murder of Ben-Yosef Livnat and demands that the PA take tough steps against the perpetrators of this criminal act against Jews who were on their way to pray," the Prime Minister's Office said in the statement.

The PA has admitted that the officer "fired erroneously" and has expressed embarrassment over the incident but so far they have refused to transfer custody of the officer to Israel.


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