Sunday, March 31, 2013

Just More Of The Same?

"The first strike of the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will blow up the U.S. bases for aggression in its mainland and in the Pacific operational theatres including Hawaii and Guam."
Statement: Korean Central News Agency
A statement that is clearly measured in its conciliatory tone, geared to foster understanding between nations, and respect for the patient restraint exhibited by the Democtric People's Republic of Korea. Dignity must be recognized and indulged. Honour is at stake. One does not take lightly the offhand treatment of a serious contender to world-power status.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is unhappy. Pyongyang will not tolerate its dignity being imposed upon. North Korea is a peaceful country and strives toward peace. It is dissatisfied with the state of the relationship it shares with South Korea. A state of non-war through a temporary, 60-year-old armistice maintained within a Demilitarized War Zone is no way to befriend a former enemy.

The uncertainty that North Korea feels about its relationship with its national cousin is a cause of great anguish. South Korea's relationship with the United States, a country that North Korea is demonstrably convinced bears it ill will and is determined to follow through on a plan to destroy the North, is intolerable. Since South Korea has chosen the U.S. over North Korea with whom to forge a compact, the South is rejected.

No one but China feels the pain of North Korea. Difficult as it is to believe, this is the line of reasoning that some have forwarded as a reasonable explanation of the bellicose threats that have rumbled forth on cue, resulted from the UN's latest round of sanctions and the latest annual rendition of the combined U.S.-South Korea war games. These issues have prodded the North into its latest incendiary declarations of intent.

The well-advertised presence and employment of two nuclear-capable U.S. B-2 bombers dropping harmless munitions as part of joint drills simply lit the firecracker of raging irritation. The drills are rehearsals, and North Korea is obviously slated for invasion; nothing routine about them, they are offensive in nature and not defensive as claimed.

The irascible tinder-dry temperament of Pyongyang has had its chain yanked once too often. On the other hand, this is a country on the brink of financial collapse, just as it is on the brink of technological success in engineering advanced nuclear-tipped missiles. The danger of the verbal clashes escalating to physical attacks are clear and present.

Of course there is also the little matter, a not inconsiderable one, of the Kaesong Industrial Park, funded and operated by South Korea to the great financial and employment benefit of North Korea.
Over $92-million in wages for 53,400 North Koreans employed at the complex is funnelled through Kaesong. The free movement of South Koreans across the demilitarized zone into the complex continues unabated as yet.

All the furiously-engaged Dear Leader really is asking for is that the United States recognize the imperial importance of Kim Jong Un, his rule and the magnificence of his country's scientific-technological accomplishments, and their right to possess nuclear arms. For it is those nuclear arms that in fact guarantee the North's security. They stand as assurance the South will not invade, the U.S. will not attack.

North Korea, after all, looks for nothing more, nothing less than its rightful due. Is anyone listening?

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Value For Expenditure

"There's a sense that we are turning the corner, but unfortunately, the legacy of these wars, because of (the) decision about the way we fought and funded these wars, means we will be paying the costs for a long time to come."
"We may be mentally turning the page, but we are certainly not from a budgetary and financial perspective."
Linda J. Bilmes, Harvard University working paper

Those two wars, arriving hard on the blistering heels of the 9/11 atrocities in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, have cost the United States dearly. Not they alone, needless to say, since Washington called in its IOUs from its international partners appalled at the audacity and butchery of that attack on American soil. But fundamentally, it is the U.S. that has picked up the lion's share of the battle.

The battle, after all, waged by radical Islamists engaged in Islamic jihad against the infidels. All infidels, but the United States of America as the world's most powerful nation, represents the pinnacle of debased Islamic-values-and-principles-denials of all Western societies; it is the democratic guide of all others, their mentor and protector. When it is destroyed the rest will follow.

The steady infiltration of Muslim immigrants into Europe have managed to undermine through less violent means the traditions and values and heritage of Western culture. This has been a multiple-pronged attack; what occurred with the attacks on 9/11 simply the violent end of the stick that conquest-heritaged Islam wields; the other is a willow-branch that castigates the reluctance of Westerners to leave their sinful ways behind and surrender.

Americans are now bearing the financial costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, a cost reputed to be reaching toward $6-trillion, paid for through borrowed money on war loans. Every American household is burdened to the tune of $75,000 on that debt. "There will be no peace dividend" concludes the 22-page report from the Kennedy School of Government, "and the legacy of (the) Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be costs that persist for decades."

The long-term cost of treating veterans who seek treatment for war-related afflictions from amputations to post-traumatic stress disorders have not yet been adequately figured into the equation. Setting aside the enormous cost in anguish, pain and misery left to the families of those American military personnel who did not return alive.

"More than half of the 1.56 million troops who have been discharged to date have received medical treatment ... and been granted benefits for the rest of their lives"... pointed out the report. The full costs will not be known for decades into the future. $2-trillion was added to the U.S. national debt representing 20% of total debt, through borrowing for that war effort.

Former President George W. Bush's chief economic adviser in 2002, Lawrence Lindsey, had estimated that the "upperbound" costs of war in Iraq would come out to around $200-billion. Like all seemingly casual estimates of sacrifice, treasury, timelines, endurance and casualties relating to the Iraq war, let alone the ongoing cooperation in funding Afghan infrastructure and training its troops beyond 2014, the numbers were vastly understated.

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Gatestone Institute

Jihadis' Exploitation of Muslim Girls

What is disturbing is that many Arab and Islamic human rights organizations have remained silent about the crimes committed against Muslim women throughout the Arab and Muslim world. By contrast, these organizations are often quick to denounce Westerners for "insulting" Islam by depicting the Prophet Mohammed. If anyone is really insulting Islam, it is the Muslim fundamentalists and jihadis who show no respect for Muslim girls and treat them as sex slaves.
What are the Muslim jihadis in Syria doing when they are not fighting against Bashar Assad's army?

According to reports in a number of Arab media outlets, the jihadis are importing Muslim girls to satisfy their sexual needs.

The sexual exploitation of girls was revealed after several Tunisian families reported that their teenage daughters had gone missing in recent months.

It later transpired that the girls had been dispatched to serve to Syria on "jihad marriages." In other words, the girls had been sent to Syria to satisfy the sexual needs of the anti-Assad jihadis.

The jihadis, some of whom are affiliated with Al-Qaeda, are probably not getting enough weapons from Arabs and Westerners to fight against Assad's forces. But what is evident is that they are in the meantime getting enough supplies of young girls to satisfy their sexual needs.

The phenomenon apparently began after a Saudi religious scholar, Mohamed al-Arifi, reportedly issued a fatwa [religious decree] allowing Muslim girls to go on "jihad marriages" in Syria. Al-Arifi has since denied issuing the fatwa.

The fatwa purportedly allows the jihadis, who abandoned their wives to fight against Assad's regime, to marry girls for a few hours to satisfy their sexual needs.

But even if there never were such a fatwa, as the Saudi scholar says, what is evident is that Tunisian girls are being sexually exploited by the jihadis in Syria.

Tunisian Minister for Religious Affairs, Noor Eddin al-Khadimi, said that Tunisians should not abide by the fatwa.

Salma al-Raqiq, a Tunisian opposition figure, said that the "jihad marriages" were a disgrace for the Tunisians.

She also called on the authorities to start dealing with the increasing phenomenon of Tunisian jihadis heading to Syria to join radical Islamist groups.

Al-Raqiq told United Press International that the phenomenon was a dangerous one. She said that young girls, including minors, have been sent to Syria to "marry" jihadis for a few hours.
The reports about "jihad marriages" follow charges that Muslim men have been exploiting the plight of Syrian refugees by "marrying" their young daughters.

Reports in the Jordanian media revealed that Muslim men from various countries have been converging on Jordan to pick young Syrian girls residing in a temporary refugee camp near the border with Syria. Nearly one million Syrians have fled to Jordan since the beginning of the crisis in their country two years ago.

A report on Channel 4 revealed this week that Syrian girls in Jordan were being kidnapped, sexually harassed and raped.

What is disturbing is that many Arab and Islamic human rights organizations have remained silent about the crimes committed against Muslim women throughout the Arab and Muslim world. By contrast, these organizations are often quick to denounce Westerners for "insulting" Islam by publishing photos depicting the Prophet Mohamed.

If anyone is really insulting Islam, it those the Muslim fundamentalists and jihadis who show no respect for Muslim girls and treat them as sex slaves.
Related Topics: Syria | Khaled Abu Toameh

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Short of Money, Egypt Sees Crisis on Fuel and Food

The New York Times - 31 March 2013
Tara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times
Egyptians in a gas line on Saturday in the city of Luxor. Fuel shortages are plaguing the nation.
    QALYUBEYA, Egypt — A fuel shortage has helped send food prices soaring. Electricity is blacking out even before the summer. And gas-line gunfights have killed at least five people and wounded dozens over the past two weeks.
    Tara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times      A farmer in his field outside Cairo. Farmers already lack fuel for the pumps that irrigate their fields, and they say they fear they will not have enough for the tractors. 
    The root of the crisis, economists say, is that Egypt is running out of the hard currency it needs for fuel imports. The shortage is raising questions about Egypt’s ability to keep importing wheat that is essential to subsidized bread supplies, stirring fears of an economic catastrophe at a time when the government is already struggling to quell violent protests by its political rivals. 

    Farmers already lack fuel for the pumps that irrigate their fields, and they say they fear they will not have enough for the tractors to reap their wheat next month before it rots in the fields. 

    United States officials warn of disaster unless Egypt soon carries out a package of tax increases and subsidy cuts tied to a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. That would persuade other lenders that Egypt was creditworthy enough to obtain billions more in additional loans needed to meet its yawning deficit. But fearful of a public reaction at a time when the streets are already near boiling, the government of President Mohamed Morsi has so far resisted an I.M.F. deal, insisting that Egypt can wait. 

    Those who say Egypt cannot afford enough fuel are “trying to make problems for Dr. Morsi and his party,” said Naser el-Farash, the spokesman for the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade and a fellow member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm. 

    Mr. Farash placed blame for the shortage of fuel on corruption left over from the government of Hosni Mubarak, combined with hoarding inspired by fear-mongering in the private news media. “They are against the revolution,” he said. 

    Independent analysts say that the growing shortage of fuel and the fear about wheat imports now pose the gravest threats to Egypt’s fragile stability. “It has the potential to make things very, very bad,” said Yasser el-Shimy, an analyst for the International Crisis Group. 

    Egypt has held two years of unsuccessful talks with the I.M.F., and the current government is still balking at the politically painful package of overhauls — even as rising prices and unemployment make those measures more difficult with each passing day. 

    “They are operating on the notion that Egypt is too big to be allowed to fail, that the U.S. and the West will step in,” Mr. Shimy said. “They think Egypt has a right to get the loan, and I think they will probably keep pushing all the way.” 

    Officials of the Morsi government have indicated that they prefer to wait until the election of a new Parliament, which might demonstrate broader public agreement on the need for changes. But a court decision striking down the election law has postponed the vote until at least the fall, and many economists say Egypt cannot endure the delay. 

    “The situation is pretty urgent, because the deterioration accelerates,” a Western diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity under diplomatic protocols. Shortages, the diplomat said, are already leading to layoffs. 

    Energy subsidies make up as much as 30 percent of Egypt’s government spending, said Ragui Assaad, of the Economic Research Forum here. The country imports much of its fuel, and for the first time last year it was forced to import some of the natural gas used to generate electricity — the reason for the recent blackouts. Egypt also imports about 75 percent of its wheat, mixing the superior foreign wheat with lower-quality domestic supplies to improve its subsidized bread. 

    But the two years of mayhem in the streets since the ouster of Mr. Mubarak have decimated tourism and foreign investment, crippling the economy. The government’s reserve of hard currency has fallen to about $13 billion from $36 billion two years ago. 

    About half of its currency reserves are in illiquid forms like gold, economists say, while billions more are owed to the foreign companies that operate Egypt’s oil and gas fields. And as a result of the outflows of hard currency, the value of the Egyptian pound has also been falling. 

    Diesel fuel is the crux of the crisis, in part because Egypt has a very limited capacity to refine it. Diesel is also essential to much of the economy. Not only do farmers use it to power machinery for irrigation and harvesting, diesel truck fuel contributes to the price of almost everything shipped. 

    Mr. Farash, of the supply ministry, insisted that Egypt was still importing just as much fuel as it did three years ago before the revolution, and he blamed the leaky distribution system for the perception of a crisis. Tanker trucks sell diesel on the black market before reaching gas stations, he said, and thieves run phantom gas stations that exist only on official maps. 

    “Did you hear about the donkey who drank diesel and died?” Mr. Farash asked, suggesting that anxious farmers had filled barns with fuel. “There is enough,” he said, “but people are behaving like there will not be enough, and a large part of the problem is the behavior of the people.” 

    He said the Morsi government was installing a “smart card” system for tanker trucks, to track the supply of fuel and ensure that full shipments reached their destination. “In one week or two weeks the problem will be solved,” he said. 

    As for wheat — used for subsidized bread that the government says sustains 16 million families — Mr. Farash said Egypt had enough on hand to last through the end of the fiscal year in June. Contrary to news reports here, he said, the government sees no need to ration it. 

    But he said the government was cracking down on corruption at the bakeries, too. Instead of subsidizing flour, he said, the supply ministry is testing another system of smart cards to pay bakers based on the number of discounted loaves they sell, to prevent them from reselling deeply discounted flour. Hundreds of angry bakers protesting in Cairo have already closed streets downtown. 

    “Some of the bakers want to continue the old system because it is better for them,” Mr. Farash said, “but it is illegal.” 

    At diesel lines in Cairo, though, truck and bus drivers say that cracking down on corruption offers little consolation. 

    “How can we make enough money to feed our families?” asked Ibrahim Hussein Ibrahim, 31, who had waited in line in his bulldozer for more than four hours on Thursday morning. He said he usually earned the equivalent of about $10 a day in construction, but employers were telling him they could pay him only half as much because he spent half the day waiting for fuel. 

    Diesel now sells on the thriving black market for more than twice the official subsidized price — though the black market price is still less than $2 a gallon, less than half the price in the United States, reflecting Egypt’s heavy subsidies. 

    Here in the Nile Delta, Ali Mehrous al-Dairy, the patriarch of a farming family, said that even though his four sons waited in line at four different gas stations overnight to fill jerrycans, in the past two weeks they had more frequently all come home empty. Fuel is now hard to come by even on the black market, he said, and black market fuel is often so diluted with water it damages engines. 

    “By God, I don’t know what we are going to do,” he said, looking over motionless irrigation pumps empty of fuel. 

    If diesel is still scarce next month when the harvest begins, “There will be a revolution of the hungry,” said Adbel Moneim Abdel Hady, 40, another wheat farmer. 

    At the empty Mobil gas station in town, attendants said profiteers, hoarders and desperate farmers were already threatening them with knives, clubs and shotguns. At harvest time, “People are going to kill each other,” said Hamdy Hassan, 37, a truck driver hanging out at the shuttered station.
    Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.

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    North Korea vows to double down on nuclear arsenal one day after declaring it’s in a ‘state of war’

    Foster Klug, Associated Press | 13/03/31 | Last Updated: 13/03/31 10:42 AM ET
    In a photo released by the Korean Central News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un waves at military officers after inspecting the Wolnae Islet Defence Detachment, North Korea, near the western sea border with South Korea.
    AP Photo/KCNA via KNS, File     In a photo released by the Korean Central News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un waves at military officers after inspecting the Wolnae Islet Defence Detachment, North Korea, near the western sea border with South Korea. 
    SEOUL, South Korea — A top North Korean decision-making body issued a pointed warning Sunday, saying that nuclear weapons are “the nation’s life” and will not be traded even for “billions of dollars.”

    The comments came in a statement released after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over the plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party. The meeting, which set a “new strategic line” calling for building both a stronger economy and nuclear arsenal, comes amid a series of near-daily threats from Pyongyang in recent weeks, including a vow to launch nuclear strikes on the United States and a warning Saturday that the Korean Peninsula was in a “state of war.”

    Pyongyang is angry over annual U.S.-South Korean military drills and a new round of U.N. sanctions that followed its Feb. 12 nuclear test, the country’s third. Analysts see a full-scale North Korean attack as unlikely and say the threats are more likely efforts to provoke softer policies toward Pyongyang from a new government in Seoul, to win diplomatic talks with Washington that could get the North more aid, and to solidify the young North Korean leader’s image and military credentials at home.

    North Korea made reference to those outside views in the statement it released through the official Korean Central News Agency following the plenary meeting.

    North Korea’s nuclear weapons are a “treasure” not to be traded for “billions of dollars,” the statement said. They “are neither a political bargaining chip nor a thing for economic dealings to be presented to the place of dialogue or be put on the table of negotiations aimed at forcing [Pyongyang] to disarm itself,” it said.

    North Korea’s “nuclear armed forces represent the nation’s life, which can never be abandoned as long as the imperialists and nuclear threats exist on earth,” the statement said.

    North Korea has called the U.S. nuclear arsenal a threat to its existence since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula still technically at war. Pyongyang justifies its own nuclear pursuit in large part on that perceived U.S. threat.

    While analysts call North Korea’s threats largely brinkmanship, there is some fear that a localized skirmish might escalate. Seoul has vowed to respond harshly should North Korea provoke its military. Naval skirmishes in disputed Yellow Sea waters off the Korean coast have led to bloody battles several times over the years. Attacks blamed on Pyongyang in 2010 killed 50 South Koreans.

    AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
    AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon     South Korean Army soldiers patrol along a barbed-wire fence near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Sunday.
    The plenary statement also called for strengthening the moribund economy, which Kim has put an emphasis on in his public statements since taking power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in late 2011. The United Nations says two-thirds of the country’s 24 million people face regular food shortages.

    The statement called for diversified foreign trade and investment, and a focus on agriculture, light industry and a “self-reliant nuclear power industry,” including a light water reactor. There was also a call for “the development of space science and technology,” including more satellite launches. North Korea put a satellite into orbit on a long-range rocket in December. The United Nations called the launch a cover for a banned test of ballistic missile technology and increased sanctions on the North.

    Ahn Young-joon/The Associated Press
    Ahn Young-joon/The Associated Press     South Koreans at Seoul Railway Station watch a news report showing North Korean army tanks, Saturday, March 30, 2013.
    The central committee is a top decision-making body of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party. The committee is tasked with organizing and guiding the party’s major projects, and its plenary meeting is usually convened once a year, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry. South Korean media said the last plenary session was held in 2010 and that this was the first time Kim Jong Un had presided over the meeting.

    The White House says the United States is taking North Korea’s threats seriously, but has also noted Pyongyang’s history of “bellicose rhetoric.”

    On Thursday, U.S. military officials revealed that two B-2 stealth bombers dropped dummy munitions on an uninhabited South Korean island as part of annual defense drills that Pyongyang sees as rehearsals for invasion. Hours later, Kim ordered his generals to put rockets on standby and threatened to strike American targets if provoked.

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    Jordan’s king, Palestinian leader ink deal to ‘defend’ Jerusalem

    Jordan’s King Abdullah II (R) and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas (R) signed an agreement confirming their “common goal to defending” Jerusalem. (AFP) 
    AFP, Amman - Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas signed on Sunday an agreement confirming their “common goal to defending” Jerusalem and its sacred sites against attempts to Judaise the Holy City.

    A statement by the palace said the deal confirms Jordan’s historic role as custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, particularly the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, and outlines coordination between the two sides.

    “In this historic agreement, Abbas reiterated that the king is the custodian of holy sites in Jerusalem and that he has the right to exert all legal efforts to preserve them, especially Al-Aqsa mosque,” the statement said.

    “It is also emphasizing the historical principles agreed by Jordan and Palestine to exert joint efforts to protect the city and holy sites from Israeli judaization attempts.”

    “It also reaffirms the historic principles upon which Jordan and Palestine are in agreement as regards Jerusalem and their common goal of defending Jerusalem together, especially at such critical time, when the city is facing dramatic challenges and daily illegal changes to its authenticity and original identity.”

    Al-Aqsa compound, known to Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif, is Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, and houses the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques.

    But it is also Judaism’s most sacred place of worship, venerated by Jews as Temple Mount, the site where King Herod’s temple stood before it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

    It is one of the most sensitive sites in Jerusalem, and clashes frequently break out between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

    “Jerusalem is currently facing major challenges and attempts to change its Arab, Muslim and Christian identity,” the palace said.

    Israel captured the eastern half of the city during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized internationally, but the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as capital of their future state.

    Jordan, which has a 1994 peace treaty with Israeli, administers the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem through its ministry of Awqaf and religious affairs.

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    Eve of Holiday, Muslims Hurl Rocks at Jews on Temple Mount

    Extremist Muslims tried on the 7th day of Passover but failed to prevent Jews from accessing the holiest site in Judaism, the Temple Mount.

    By Hana Levi Julian -- Arutz Sheva 7
    First Publish: 3/31/2013, 12:13 PM

    The Temple Mount
    The Temple Mount
    Israel news photo: Flash 90
    Once again, extremist Muslims tried but failed to prevent Jews from accessing the holiest site in the Jewish faith, with the threat of attacks.

    Dozens of Arab teens hurled rocks Sunday morning at groups of Jews who were touring the Temple Mount.

    The site was open on the eve of the final day of the Passover holiday in the morning from 7:30 a.m to 11:00 a.m and scheduled to reopen from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon.

    But a crowd of “at least 30" Arab rioters gathered at about 10:30 a.m. and began hurling rocks at the Jewish visitors when they reached the site, the most sacred place in the world in Judaism.

    All the groups were accompanied by a police escort, according to Israel Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld, who told Arutz Sheva that six rioters were arrested in connection with the incident.
    No one was injured in the attack, he said.

    According to Rosenfeld, the site remained open to Jews and other non-Muslim visitors until the end of “regularly-scheduled visiting hours, and then closed on time at 11:00 a.m.”
    Rosenfeld assured Arutz Sheva the site would reopen for visitors at 1:00 p.m.

    A spokesperson for The Temple Mount Movement said he was not surprised by the incident and called on police to keep the sacred site open to Jewish worshipers on a constant basis.

    There have been numerous attempts by Muslim extremists to prevent Jews from accessing the Temple Mount, which is also the location of the Al Aqsa Mosque and considered the third holiest site in Islam. The site is administered by the Waqf -- the Islamic Religious Authority -- with the agreement and cooperation of the Israeli government.

    Although not mentioned in the Qur'an, within Temple Mount is the site of the Holy Temple's "holy of holies" mentioned numerous times in the Torah, central to Jewish worship.

    There are numerous Jewish laws connected with the manner of ascending to and treading upon the grounds of the Temple Mount, and because the precise location of the "holy of holies" is no longer known, exquisite care is taken by educated, observant Jews who visit the area.

    More on this topic

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    Pope Francis delivers Easter plea for peace

    BBC News online -- 31 March 2013
    Pope Francis: "We ask the risen Jesus... to change hatred into love"
    Pope Francis has delivered a passionate plea for peace in his first Easter Sunday message since being elected.

    Francis used his "Urbi et Orbi" address to call for peace in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and across the globe.

    He singled out "dear Syria", saying: "How much blood has been shed! And how much suffering must there still be before a political solution is found?"

    Easter is the most important festival in the Christian calendar and pilgrims have attended church across the world.


    In past years there have been two parts to the Pope's Easter message - a heartfelt appeal for peace in the world's trouble spots, and multilingual greetings to the crowds thronging St Peter's Square.
    There were 250,000 people from more than 100 countries present this morning.
    But Pope Francis decided to cut the vernacular greetings.
    He is, of course, most comfortable speaking his native Spanish, and he is also completely fluent in Italian as his family is from Piedmont in northern Italy.
    Pope Francis was, however, almost incomprehensible when he tried out a few words in English to the crowds in St Peter's Square last week.
    So he decided not to read out the "Happy Easter" greetings that had been prepared for him in 65 different languages including difficult-to-pronounce oriental tongues.
    Popes John Paul II and Benedict used to struggle to pronounce even a short phrase in Burmese, Chinese or Korean, Pope Francis chose not even to try.
    But his body language spoke volumes. He was completely at ease saluting families, kissing babies and tenderly embracing a young disabled man, as the Pope was driven in an open jeep around the packed square.
    Pope Francis also speaks when he remains silent.
    • In Iraq, Catholics flocked to churches amid tight security. Some 200 worshippers celebrated Mass at St Joseph Chaldean Church in Baghdad
    • In South Africa, many congregations included ailing former President Nelson Mandela in their prayers
    • In a message for Easter, UK Prime Minister David Cameron praised the "incredible role" played by Christian churches and organisations in Britain and around the globe
    Pope Francis, formerly Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected on 13 March, becoming the first non-European pope for almost 1,300 years.

    He replaced Benedict XVI, who held the office for eight years and became the first pontiff in more than 700 years to resign, saying he no longer had the physical strength to continue.

    In his Urbi et Orbi (To the city and the world) speech, Pope Francis began with a simple "Happy Easter!"

    The 76-year-old Pope, who has begun his tenure by emphasising humility, went on: "Christ has risen! What a joy it is for me to announce this message... I would like it to go out to every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons."

    Later in his speech, Pope Francis said: "We ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace."

    The Pope then mentioned troubled regions of the world in turn.

    Christians attend church in Baghdad, Iraq, 31 March
    "Peace for the Middle East, and particularly between Israelis and Palestinians, who struggle to find the road of agreement, that they may willingly and courageously resume negotiations to end a conflict that has lasted all too long.

    "Peace in Iraq, that every act of violence may end, and above all for dear Syria, for its people torn by conflict and for the many refugees who await help and comfort."

    For Africa, the Pope referred to Mali, Nigeria - "where attacks sadly continue" - the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

    He added: "Peace in Asia, above all on the Korean peninsula: may disagreements be overcome and a renewed spirit of reconciliation grow."

    Pope Francis

    • Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on 17 December 1936 (age 76) in Buenos Aires, of Italian descent
    • Ordained as a Jesuit in 1969
    • Studied in Argentina, Chile and Germany
    • Became Cardinal of Buenos Aires in 1998
    • Seen as orthodox on sexual matters but strong on social justice
    • First Latin American and first Jesuit to become pope, the 266th to lead the Church
    Pope Francis concluded by saying: "Peace in the whole world, still divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by the selfishness which threatens human life and the family, selfishness that continues in human trafficking, the most extensive form of slavery in this 21st Century."

    BBC Rome correspondent, Alan Johnston, says the Pope has reinforced his image as a man of simple, down-to-earth tastes, not wearing the more ostentatious of papal costumes and, for the moment, not moving into the grandiose papal apartments.

    One pilgrim in Rome on Sunday, Briton Tina Hughes, said that Francis represented a "new beginning".

    "I think he brings something special. He connects with people. I feel good about him," she told Reuters.

    In the days before Easter, the Pope had reached out to women and Muslims.

    During a Holy Thursday Mass at a youth detention centre he washed and kissed the feet of 12 people, including two girls and two Muslims, and in a Good Friday procession referred to the "friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters" in the Middle East.

    Belarusian Catholics celebrate in Minsk, 31 March Belarusian Catholics celebrate in Minsk
    But our correspondent says that, after Easter, the Pope will have to begin tackling the key issues facing the Catholic Church, such as reforming a Vatican bureaucracy riven by infighting and allegations of corruption, and tackling the issue of clerical sexual abuse.

    Vatican watchers will also be keeping a keen eye on new appointments to key positions.
    In his Easter homily, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, invited the Pope to visit.

    The patriarch, the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, also urged the international community to take "concrete and effective decisions to find a balanced and just solution for the Palestinian cause, which lies at the heart of all the Middle East's troubles".

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    Saturday, March 30, 2013

    Divided and Self Destructive

    "If you go to Homs now, you will find that it has become three areas: the Alawi area, the Sunni area and the Christian area.
    "The head of the SARC (Syrian Arab Red Cross) branch in the Sunni area was not allowed to serve the Alawite area because they could not go there, and so on."
    Dr. Abdul Rahman Attar, head, Syrian Arab Red Crescent
    Dr. Abdul Rahman Attar was speaking from the head office of the Canadian Red Cross in Ottawa. The connection between himself, Syria and Canada is that Dr. Attar has dual citizenship. He is a citizen of Canada and has been since 1986, having worked as a Canadian trade officer in Syria in the 1970s.

    He is urging Canada, along with the rest of the international community to apply pressure to all those involved in the conflict to respect international humanitarian law.

    He would ideally like, in other words, for the West to transform the Middle East from tribal antagonisms, dictatorial regimes and sectarian bitterness -- cultural traditions that have always plagued the geography, to a reflection of the values that obtain outside the Middle East. And that is the game long played by Western powers to little avail.

    It is a game, in aid of the proliferation of democracy, that has mired the West and the United States in particular for far too long in Arab/Muslim conflicts. A situation where desperate and oppressed people see immediate salvation in the removal of their tyrants, only to have the iron control of their suppressed society lifted, when the heritage of tribal antipathies spring back to life through mass slaughters.

    What is playing out in Syria at the moment is precisely that sinister drama. It has been seen previously in Lebanon, Iraq and in Afghanistan; is plaguing Libya, Pakistan and Tunisia, along with Somalia, Sudan and Mali, and is destined to spread its hateful malevolence where fanatical Islamism is on the rise, and that is throughout the Muslim world.

    The Syrian Arab Red Crescent finds itself caught between warring factions in a cataclysm of ongoing violence that has claimed over 70,000 Syrian lives and made migrants of four million Syrians desperate to escape the spectre of death. Death strikes them through the auspices of the regime that has for so long oppressed them, and from the disparate militias that now include jihadists.

    Safe passage for humanitarian aid workers like the SARC staff anxious to give assistance where it is most needed, is difficult through what are called "hot areas". "It takes us a long time because you cannot enter these areas unless you get permission from both sides. And inside the hot areas, there is more than one faction."

    The north of the country is underserved by the SARC, where rebels and their Islamist partners opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's rule have staked their claim to control of the area. "Some people were a bit unhappy with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent because they have been unable to go to the north part of Syria."

    And the legend of the SARC being sympathetic to the Alawite regime and working on its behalf arose from that difficulty, according to Dr. Attar. SARC staff, Dr. Attar attested, on the other hand, as a better reflection of reality, are being held in prison - including until recently the head of the agency's first aid response team.

    Canada has been offering its financing of humanitarian aid for Syria within the broader international Red Cross and Red Crescent movement. Some of that $48-million does end up supporting the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and its activities. Dr. Attar would like to encourage a re-think of that arrangement. He doesn't feel peace is imminent.

    "Last week I heard they have opened up a dialogue. I don't know. We must wait to see what the dialogue brings, but I don't see that", he said. The country has become too sharply divided along religious lines, he believes. As though this is a refreshingly unique and perhaps readily solvable problem that has just recently arisen.

    One that the international community must respond to. So that the Arab Middle East can once again clamour their rage that they cannot be left in peace to get on with their destiny as they are meant to do, just like any other ordinary and entitled community of communities.

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    Thinking the Unthinkable: Can Israel Remove Syria's Assad?

    For two years, the world has watched Syria bleed, hoping that the community of nations might come together and take action to restore order there. In March 2012, Kofi Annan offered a six-point peace plan, which fell flat. Since then, united military action has been a vain hope, and the bloodshed has continued.

    On Tuesday, 27 March 2013, the 22 nations of the Arab League authorized a resolution to approve supplying arms to the rebel forces, and yet, there is no plan for concerted action and internal divisions paralyze the League.

    Meanwhile, on the same day, NATO refused a request by Syrian rebel leader Moaz al-Khatib for Patriot missiles to shoot down Syrian planes. The U.S. is overcompensating for its mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and without American consent the “lions” of Europe are unlikely to arm the opposition.

    Without sufficient weaponry for the rebels, Assad’s forces will continue to command military superiority, kill more Syrians, and maintain this civil war.

    And so the fighting continues: As a million Syrians forage for food in makeshift shelters across the Middle East, the International Rescue Committee reports that border camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq are swollen with more than 650,000 refugees, most of them women and children. Meanwhile, the UN’s latest tally since the hostilities began in April 2011 is 70, 000 fatalities.

    Assad’s brutal war has destabilized a government in Lebanon; drawn Iran’s special forces into Syria, isolated Iraq’s government from its Sunni citizens, forced Israel to enter Syrian territory from the Golan Heights, and sent refugees to Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. The entire region is being affected by Assad’s war, and we all share a moral and political duty to act to remove this warlord in our midst. The message is clear: This is a Middle Eastern problem,

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent apology to the people of Turkey for the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident is a sign of better relations between our two nations. Jerusalem will surely make good on Netanyahu’s promise of compensation to the families of the Turkish dead, and it is certain that when it does so, Turkish-Israeli relations will undergo a renaissance. As the Middle East’s two strongest military and economic powers, these countries should work together to end Russian support for Assad. Erdogan has offered the Russians a naval base in Turkish waters previously and that offer, combined with guarantees that a post-Assad Syria would not mean the end of Russian influence and access to Syria, just might tilt Moscow away from Assad. Keeping America away from the operation also helps reassure Putin that Syria will not become Libya: an American client state.

    Joint involvement of Turkey, Russia, and Israel at this stage of the conflict has distinct political advantages: First, since the Syrian opposition is based in Turkey, it is convenient for Ankara to broker an agreement between the rebels and Russia to ensure that Moscow’s concerns about Christian and Alawite minorities is fully allayed. If that means Russian armed forces wish to set up "safe zones" during a transition period that must be seriously considered. In short, consequences of removing Assad cannot be overlooked. But fear of tomorrow must not stop us from finding creative answers to stop the massacres today.

    Second, unless Turkey and Israel work together to stop the killings in Syria and get more involved at this stage, the Jihadists will continue to grow in strength. As the world watches Syrians being slaughtered by Assad forces, Jihadists come to Syria for the spoils of a new Syria. Turkey nor Israel or other nations can allow that to happen on our borders. Syria cannot become a new Afghanistan.

    The elements, which oppose Assad are up against disciplined troops with sophisticated military hardware. Two years of guerrilla warfare has proven ineffective to dislodge his grip on the Syrian people. If the rebels are to have any reasonable hope of victory, they will require sophisticated weapons and air support. If these components are not forthcoming from anyone, then one of two outcomes will happen: Either the rebels will fail, and Assad will continue his murderous regime, or help will come to the rebels from some other quarter. In the latter event, neither Israel nor Turkey will have any room to complain if extremists come into the picture and take advantage of the disorder there.

    The U.S. and EU will not act. They are not threatened as directly as we are in the region. For all its faults, Israel has the air superiority to neutralize Assad’s air forces. That factor alone would go a long way to tipping the scales in favor of Syrian civilians who are being bombed by their own government

    Assad and his family deserve an exit route to exile. After this record of violence, it is far more expedient to offer him safe asylum than to compel him to choose between continuing his campaign of destruction, and risking the fate, which befell Gaddafi and Mubarak. But a new Syria cannot solve its many domestic problems on its own. Syria and Syrians need their neighbors to help end the conflict and create a Syria that is democratic, pluralistic. The overdue interjection by two regional democracies – Turkey and Israel – helps send a message to Syrian democrats that we helped, forces Jihadists to retreat, and ends Assad’s evil hold over Syria.

    How many more lives need be lost before we put aside our divisions and act in a concerted fashion for the people of Syria?

    Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

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    Muslim "Secret" Courageously Outed

    "As a community, we do have a 'Jewish problem.' There is no point pretending otherwise." — Mehdi Hasan, British Muslim journalist
    How rife is anti-Semitism among Muslims? Well if you poll the so-called "Muslim world, " as Pew and other organizations have done, the answer is: very rife indeed. Take Pakistan for instance. In 2006 only 6% of the population had a "favorable" attitude towards Jews. In 2011 when that question was polled in Pakistan again, favorable attitudes towards Jews had gone down to just 2%.

    Of course if you were to cite this figure, you would get an inevitable set of responses, such as claims that the figure was so worrying because "everyone knows" that Pakistan is a somewhat "challenging" country in that regard.

    So take a nice moderate Arab country such as Jordan, for instance. After all, it has a peace treaty with Israel and everything.

    Alas, the news is not much better. In 2006, just 1% of Jordanians polled had a positive attitude towards Jews. But there is some good news: when they were polled again in 2011, this number had soared to an amazing 2%. So if Pew could just hang in there for another couple of decades, Jordanian attitudes towards Jews might climb to the giddy heights of philo-Semitism enjoyed in Pakistan back in 2006.

    Of course the problem of discussing this, or even mentioning it, is that even just citing the figures is likely to get you condemned for being "Islamophobic." It is the same with everything else in the area. If you mention that a startlingly small number of people think that Arabs, as opposed to Jews, carried out the 9/11 attacks, you will be thought of as at best somebody with startlingly bad manners. Go on to extrapolate the lessons one might draw from all this and you will be treated as some knuckle-dragging racist.

    So how interesting it was this past week that a prominent British Muslim writer, for perhaps the first time – certainly in his own career – attempted to tackle this subject.

    The British Muslim writer, Mehdi Hasan, described anti-Semitism among his Muslim peers in Britain. I use "peers" in both senses of the word: Hasan's piece was a candid response to the discovery, published here last week, that ex-Labour peer Lord Ahmed of Rotherham had been caught on Pakistan television blaming his imprisonment for his having, while driving and texting, run over and killed a man, on "the Jews."

    Exposed on the front-page of the London Times, Ahmed's latest anti-Semitic slur was un-ignorable. Coming from someone who touts himself as "the first Muslim peer," it was undoubtedly a moment of clarity for many in Britain. In perhaps his only meaningful contribution to British public life, Lord Ahmed has revealed, at long-last, the anti-Semitic Muslim elephant in the room -- speaking metaphorically of course.
    Hasan writes:
    "There are thousands of Lord Ahmeds out there: mild-mannered and well-integrated British Muslims who nevertheless harbour deeply anti-Semitic views. It pains me to have to admit this but anti-Semitism isn't just tolerated in some sections of the British Muslim community; it's routine and commonplace. Any Muslims reading this article - if they are honest with themselves - will know instantly what I am referring to."
    Quite a statement. "Any Muslims" reading his article will know what he is talking about.
    He goes on to explain what a large number of the British Muslims with whom he speaks believe: that Princess Diana was murdered because she was going to have a Muslim baby, that 9/11 was not perpetrated by Muslims, and that the Holocaust of European Jews never happened.

    This is a very striking confession. Hasan goes on to say that as he was growing up, he had always assumed that the "Jewish obsession" among British Muslims was a first-generation immigrant problem that would die out. But as he rightly points out, it has not died out. If anything, it has grown. As he says, "In recent years, I've been depressed to discover that there are plenty of 'second-generation' Muslim youths, born and bred in multiracial Britain, who have drunk the anti-Semitic Kool-Aid. I'm often attacked by them for working in the 'Jewish owned media.'"

    Hasan adds that he long tried to resist writing a column about all this because he knows that, among other things, he will be accused by his peers of having become a "sell-out." He says that he feels as if all this is "dobbing-in" [telling on] the British Muslim community from which he comes. And he knows that his column "will also be held up by some of my fellow Muslims as 'proof' that 'Mehdi Hasan has sold out to the Jews.'" This response certainly came abundantly from other British Muslims online once his article was published: the publication proved its own point swiftly indeed.

    But "The truth is that the virus of anti-Semitism has infected members of the British Muslim community, both young and old," he says. "We're not all anti-Semites," he adds. "But, as a community, we do have a 'Jewish problem'. There is no point pretending otherwise."

    I should stress, incidentally, that the author of the important piece, Mehdi Hasan, is not a friend of mine. We have opposed one another over the years on multiple platforms. Several years ago I wrote about him here, in particular about a notorious video which came out showing him giving a sermon in a British mosque in which he referred to non-Muslims,as "cattle," among other endearments. I do not believe him to be a "moderate" or anything like an ally, but this is what makes his whistle-blowing piece even more striking: he should be congratulated for it.

    Mehdi Hasan has blown the whistle on a "dirty little secret." It is high time that people from the community about which he writes wake up to what he has said and not try to deflect attention from it or aim it elsewhere.

    It is also high time that non-Muslims realize that this view is not a bluff or any kind of exaggeration. What he has described is a problem. The polls and figures have long shown it. Now somebody from inside the community has blown the whistle. If this problem is not addressed, and if the attempt to tackle it from any and all directions continues to be silenced – by calls of being either "racist" or a "sell-out" -- then it is a problem that in the years ahead will only continue to grow.

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    West embargoes arms to Syrian rebels over their resale to al Qaeda

    DEBKAfile Special Report March 30, 2013, 2:45 PM (GMT+02:00)
    Israeli military field hospital springs up on Golan
    Israeli military field hospital springs up on Golan

    The Western arms pipeline to the Syrian rebels fighting Bashar Assad is starting to run dry since the discovery that some of the weapons are being resold and used by al Qaeda in its conquest of southern Syrian and takeover of positions on the Jordanian and Israel borders. French President Francois Hollande for this reason reversed his government’s policy. “We will not do it [send the Syrian rebel arms] as long as we cannot be certain that there is complete control of the situation by the opposition,” he said Friday, March 29.

    That day too, Ankara announced that Turkish authorities had impounded 5,000 shotguns, rifles, starting pistols, gunstocks and 10,000 cartridges in the village of Akcakale before they were sent across into Syria.

    debkafile’s military sources: These steps are effectively putting in place a Western embargo on arms supplies to the Syrian rebels and not only the Assad regime. Saudi Arabia and Qatar remain their only sources of weapons.

    This follows information reaching Washington, Paris, Ankara and Jerusalem in recent weeks that parts of the weapons consignments destined for the Syrian rebels, especially the Free Syrian Army, are being resold to Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamist militia which this week proclaimed itself al Qaeda of Syria amid a major offensive for the occupation of southern Syria.

    The aggressive Al Qaeda push has in fact swept beyond the important plans finalized last week for a US-led campaign to combat the Syrian chemical weapons threat.

    Two weeks ago, high-resolution maps were spread out in Jerusalem, Ankara and Amman, marking out  zones inside Syria for their armies’ operations under the joint command centers the US set up last year in the three countries for combating chemical warfare.

    Those plans and centers switched over last week to operational mode.

    Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu made an unconvincing attempt to separate the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation from the Syrian issue. However, the fact remains that it was Barack Obama, during his trip to the region on March 20-22, who brought Turkey together with Israel and Jordan for the first joint operation in history on the soil of an Arab nation under US command.

    This week, the region finds itself caught up by a menace more immediate even than a chemical war:
    Scarcely noticed by the world and Israeli media (busy celebrating the Passover festival), Jabhat al Nusra is about to overrun southern Syria.

    Using Western- and Arab-supplied arms smuggled in for the Syrian rebels from Turkey and Lebanon, the jihadists are taking up positions on the Israeli and Jordanian borders while also assuming control over the Yarmouk River and its tributaries.

    Water in the Middle East has caused the outbreak of more than one armed conflict. And indeed 50 years ago, Israel and Syria fought a war, including aerial dogfights, to dominate that same Yarmouk River. The dispute was finally resolved when the United States stepped in and brokered an agreement for the distribution of its waters among Syria, Israel and Jordan.

    Alarm over Nusra Front territorial gains has accordingly taken precedence over the chemical threat in the deliberations of the joint US-Israeli, US-Jordanian and US-Turkish command centers.

    Al Qaeda’s Syrian wing has even been able to obtain from Iraqi jihadists its own stock of primitive chemicals - but weapons nonetheless.

    The West hesitated too long before cutting off the supply of arms to the Syria rebels; it is already too late to prevent al Qaeda occupying international border regions and seizing control of an important regional water source. Dislodging them would call for a military offensive proper - which seems to be the rationale for the large military field hospital Israeli set up this week on its Golan border with Syria.

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    King Herod the Great is best known to Christians for trying to kill the infant Jesus. But he also left his mark with stunning architectural achievements, as seen in a new exhibit at the Israel Museum.

    By Staff writer / March 30, 2013
    Archeological excavations at Herodian, West Bank, Thursday, the artificial mountain where Herod the Great built his largest and most lavish palace, yielded much of the material for an immense Herod the Great exhibit at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
    Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor

    Herod the Great may be best known among Christians as the cruel ruler who sought to kill Jesus as an infant, and whose son book-ended Jesus’ earthly travails, mocking him en route to his crucifixion.
    But this shrewd politician, appointed by Rome, left a far broader imprint on history.

    From Corinthian columns to lavish frescoes, Herod etched the latest fashions of the Roman world into the Holy Land in rare and costly colors such as cinnabar. Even rabbinic literature of his day recognized Herod as the greatest builder of the land, though he was controversial among some Jewish subjects who doubted his Judaism and saw him as a puppet of Rome.

    Among the monuments to Herod’s terrific construction are the imposing mountain fortress of Masada, perched on a desert plateau with cliffs on all sides; Caesarea, the largest artificial port of its day, complete with an amphitheater for 10,000 spectators of chariot races; and Herodian, an artificial mountain that punctuates the skyline just south of Jerusalem, a palatial complex which he is believed to have built as his final resting place.

    After decades of excavation at these sites by the late Israeli archeologist Ehud Netzer, The Israel Museum in Jerusalem recently launched a nine-month exhibit, “Herod the Great: The King’s Last Journey.” The exhibit includes more than 30 tons of material, a massive undertaking that required the museum to shore up its foundations and heighten its ceilings.

    While packed with eager visitors during the Passover holiday this week, the Herod exhibit has also received a fair amount of negative attention. Much of the material for the exhibit was taken from Herodian, which is located in an Israeli-controlled part of the West Bank, drawing Palestinian accusations that Israel is using archeology to expand its occupation.

    And Prof. Netzer's excavations and subsequent conclusions are not universally accepted; Herod's presumed sarcophagus, for example, has no inscription proving it was indeed his. Many details of the exhibit have been pieced together based on the writings of 1st century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.

    It is perhaps noteworthy that the exhibit is not controversial among Israelis themselves. But why would the Jewish people seek to honor such a leader, who murdered his own wife and children and was seen by more than a few Jews as a Roman sellout?

    “He was the last great Jewish king here,” responds Ilya Burda, an employee at Herodian.
    As for his more savage exploits, well, that was par for the course in his day, Mr. Burda suggests.
    “He was a great builder, a great administrator, and a great killer, and all these things came together,” he says, taking a break from the busy cash register where crowds of Israelis are waiting for a ticket.

    “In the ancient world, you could not be the great something without killing someone.”

    Herod, who also built a magnificent theater at Herodian before changing his mind and filling it all in, was a key figure in the drama of Roman rule in ancient Israel.

    The son of a Nabatean mother and a father from an influential Idumean family who had converted to Judaism, he was born in 73 BC and was appointed by the Roman senate in 40 BC to be “king of the Jews.” His original patron was Marc Antony, who ruled Syria, Egypt, and Judea, with Herod as his man. But after Antony’s demise with his Egyptian lover Cleopatra, Herod deftly switched his alliance to the victorious Octavian.

    Octavian, later known as Augustus Caesar, accepted Herod’s continued rule and even expanded the borders of his kingdom, which eventually stretched from Gaza up the coast to Caesarea, which Herod named after his new patron. Herod also showed his strong connection to Rome in other ways, such as sending two sons to be educated in Rome.

    Ever conscious of the importance of banquets to forge social and political ties, he sought to reveal to his high-ranking Roman guests “not only his fondness for Roman culture but also that he had good taste and was ‘one of them,’” explains one plaque at The Israel Museum exhibit.

    But there were clear tensions between Herod’s loyalty to Rome and his Jewish subjects, perhaps seen most clearly after 10,000 laborers and 1,000 priests completed Herod’s rebuilding of the Second Temple – a huge feat of ancient stonework, with one stone weighing more than 500 tons.

    “Torn between his desire to show respect for Jewish tradition and an equally compelling desire to please his Roman overlords, he dedicated [the temple] to the God of the Jews but later placed a golden eagle, a symbol of the might of Rome, above the temple gate,” according to the exhibit.

    While the temple was considered the pinnacle of Herod’s architectural achievement, Herodian was the largest and most lavish of his palaces. Set atop a cone-like mountain with the top shaved off, it commands a 360-degree view of Jerusalem and the Judean hills.

    Herod is believed to have created the complex, complete with a large pool with boats and a mausoleum for his burial, as a memorial to himself.

    Today the small peak is surrounded by Palestinian villages and the Israeli settlements of Tekoa and Nokdim, home to former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

    Local Palestinians say they used to frequent the site before the second intifada broke out in 2000, but today there is heightened security.

    “People from [surrounding] neighborhoods could go and sell ice cream and chocolate,” says Eyad Ali, a local whose father and grandfather worked on the archeological excavations. “It’s become more difficult for them to go there now…. It’s like a military zone, because it protects the settlements.”

    The site lies within Area C, which covers 62 percent of the West Bank and has remained under full Israeli control according to the 1993 Oslo Accords. Meant to be merely an interim division of land, the accords are but the latest in a long history of shifting political boundaries in this ancient land.

    After Herod’s death, his kingdom was divided between four of his children. Herod Antipas, who conferred with Roman prefect Pontius Pilate ahead of Jesus’ crucifixion, reigned the longest, until 39 AD. But by then the Herodian kingdom had been overtaken by direct Roman rulers, who destroyed the Second Temple in 70 AD, though much of Herod's stamp on the land can still be seen today.

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    Humanitarian Haven for Terrorists

    "The fact that Mr. Othman is considered to be a dangerous terrorist is not relevant to the issues that are raised on this appeal.
    "A state cannot expel a person to another state where there is a real risk that he will be tried on the basis of evidence, which there is a real possibility may have been obtained by torture."
    Lord Dyson, British Court of Appeal

    "This is not the end of the road and the government remains determined to deport Abu Qatada. We will consider this judgment carefully and plan to seek leave to appeal. In the meantime we continue to work with the Jordanians to address the outstanding legal issues preventing deportation."
    Statement, Government of Britain

    Legal fees have so far cost British taxpayers around $1.5-million to try to have radical cleric Abu Qatada, described once by a Spanish judge as "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe", deported from Britain to Jordan where he has been convicted in absentia of two bombing plots in 1999 and 2000. If and when deported, he would be subject to Jordanian justice through a legal trial.

    It has additionaly cost the state another $7-million for security agents to maintain a close watch over the man since his release on bail last February. These are by no means the only costs to the British taxpayer associated with this man. He, his wife and their five children live gratis, the London Council providing them with fairly lavish living arrangements. He originally was housed with his family in a four-bedroom home, but the owner, discovering who the tenant was, objected, and the family was re-located.

    He and his family are "delighted" with the subsequent move to new accommodation as the new home has more bedrooms, a larger garden and more modern appliances. The costly rent is of little concern to this man and his family since, as he has no income, their accommodation is entirely free of charge, thanks to the generosity of the British welfare system. His brother summed up the situation: "He is really enjoying his new home and so are his family. The inside is very modern and has been done up more nicely."

    The British government has been trying for over a decade to have this man removed from Britain. He first came under suspicion for preaching violent jihad, and was purported to be the spiritual guide to Mohammad Atta of 9/11 infamy. He is a Salafist implicated in violent jihad groups from Algeria to Germany.

    The British government had challenged a November ruling by an immigration panel holding that Mr. Qatada would lose his right to a fair trial under European rights law on return to Jordan.
     Rehoused: Qatada has been handed a more expensive taxpayer-funded home
    Rehoused: Qatada has been handed a more expensive taxpayer-funded home

    "Today's decision is hugely disappointing. Abu Qatada's deportation to Jordan is long overdue, and it's utter madness that we can't get shot of this man", stated London Mayor Boris Johnson.

    British law is quite confident on the matter; it cannot permit the deportation of a radical Islamic known to be a senior operative of al-Qaeda, a "truly dangerous person". Because his human rights might be abridged if information obtained through torture is used to convict him of terrorism charges.

    There appears to be a new single-word spelling for the phrase dysfunctional juridical lunacy: Britain.

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