PM Netanyahu: Israel agreed to new settlement freeze, but U.S. retracted offer

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a meeting with the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee at the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in Jerusalem on January 3, 2011. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

PM blames Palestinians for deadlock in peace talks, says U.S. officials due to arrive in Israel to push forward talks on core issues.

January 03, 2011 (KATAKAMI / HAARETZ) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he had agreed to the U.S. suggestion of a three-month extension to the West Bank settlement freeze, but the Americans were the ones who retracted the offer.

“The United States asked us to consider extending the freeze by three months, and the truth is that we were prepared to do so,” Netanyahu said while speaking before the Knessets Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Netanyahu said that contrary to what was reported, Israel did not refuse extending the freeze on West Bank settlements by three months, saying it was eventually the “United States who decided against that direction, rightfully, in my opinion.”

In early December, the Obama administration announced that Washington was “ending the contacts to try to achieve another moratorium” after months of heavy negotiations to offer Israel a series of U.S. guarantees in exchange for the freeze.

“I told Obama that I am prepared to go with this to the cabinet and that I will be able to enforce the move, but then I received the surprising phone call from the Americans who said they no longer demand that Israel extends the freeze,” Netanyahu explained.

“The Americans were right in saying that the settlement freeze will lead to a dead end, in which we would have entered an endless path of settlement freezes, but despite it all I agreed to go through with it,” he emphasized.

Netanyahu told MKs that U.S. officials will arrive in Israel in mid-January in order to push forward the peace process and discuss core issues in talks with Palestinians.

Moreover, Netanyahu again reiterated his stance that the Palestinians were responsible for the deadlock in peace talks.

“During the cabinet meeting on Sunday, I called on Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas], to hold direct negotiations, but I got no answer,” he said.

“We took many actions in order to move the peace process forward but the Palestinians did not even advance one millimeter despite the settlement freeze. The Palestinians entered talks only toward the end of the freeze and the only subject they wanted to discuss was an extension of the freeze.”

Netanyahu also noted the Palestinians attempts to pursue unilateral statehood, saying that these moves will fail and will not yield any results.

“We are aware of their steps – even the congress opposed these unilateral steps and it seems that the Americans will not be partners to a forced agreement,” he said.  (*)


Iran invites EU, Russia and China to tour nuclear sites

Senior Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh

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January 04, 2011 (KATAKAMI / TELEGRAPH.CO.UK) — Iran has invited Russia, China, the EU and its allies to tour its nuclear sites, in an apparent move to gain support ahead of a new round of talks with six world powers.

In a letter seen by The Associated Press, senior Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh suggests the weekend of Jan. 15 and 16 and says that meetings “with high ranking officials” are envisaged.

The offer comes weeks before Iran and the six powers follow up on recent talks that ended with agreement on little else but to meet again. The US was not among those invited to tour the sites.


FILE : Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (L) shakes hands with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Baku, November 18, 2010. World powers should stop threatening Iran if they want to achieve results at talks on Tehran's nuclear programme, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday. REUTERS/Dmitry Astakhov/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

The new round between Tehran, and the permanent UN Security Council members (USA, Russia, China, Britain and France) plus Germany, is tentatively due to take place in Turkey in late January.

It is meant to explore whether there is common ground for more substantive talks on Iran’s nuclear program, viewed by the US and its allies as a cover for secret plans to make nuclear arms – something Tehran denies.

Instead, the Islamic Republic insists its uranium enrichment and other programs are meant only to generate fuel for a future network of nuclear reactors.

The offer of a visit comes more than three years after six diplomats from developing nations accredited to the IAEA visited Iran’s uranium ore conversion site at Isfahan, which turns raw uranium into the feedstock gas that is then enriched. Participants then saids they could not make an assessment of Iran’s nuclear aims based on that visit to that facility in central Iran.

But the new offer appeared more wide ranging, both as far as nations or groups invited and sites to be visited. (*)


Indonesia Condemns Terrorist Attack at A Church in Alexandria, Egypt

Egyptian Christians hold a bloodstained portrait of Jesus Christ during a protest outside Al-Qiddissine (The Saints) Church in Alexandria, following a New Years Eve car-bomb attack at the Coptic church


January 04, 2011 (KATAKAMI / KOMPAS) — Indonesia strongly condemns the inhuman terrorist attack at a church in Alexandria, Egypt, on January 1 that has left 21 dead and 79 others wounded, the foreign ministry said in a statement received here on Monday.

It said the Indonesian government expressed its deep condolences and sympathy to the Egyptian government and people as well as families of the victims. A car bomb which exploded outside a Coptic church in the tourist city of Alexandria, 141 kilometers north of Cairo, clearly proved that terrorism remains a threat to people and therefore continuous monitoring and cooperation from all parties need to be done to overcome it, it said.

Indonesia remains committed to cooperating with the government of Egypt to achieve their common goal of overcoming terrorism.  The Indonesian government, it said, also supports efforts by the Egyptian government to bring the perpertrators to justice.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called on all Moslems and Christians on Saturday to prevent terrorism following the bombing early on Saturday. No one has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Al Azhar grand sheikh, Prof Dr Ahmad Al-Tayyeb and Egypt’s national mufti Ali Goumah had also strongly condemned the attack.  The Egyptian Coptic church leader, Baba Shenouda, meanwhile has called on all Christians in that country to remain calm but alert to possible further attacks which were apparently the work of a hardline group. The Christians account for about eight percent of Egypt’s total population of 80 million.  (*)

As Egypt went on high alert ahead of Coptic Christmas, Christians and Muslims demonstrated together in the mixed working class district of Shubra in the capital Cairo on January 3, 2011 to condemn the New Year's Eve car bomb attack on a Coptic church in the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria in which 21 people were killed. (Photo bycredit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

As Egypt went on high alert ahead of Coptic Christmas, Copts holding up pictures of Jesus and Christian saints, were joined by Muslims in a mass protest in the mixed working class district of Shubra in the capital Cairo on January 3, 2011 to condemn the New Year's Eve car bomb attack on a Coptic church in the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria in which 21 people were killed. (Photo by -/AFP/Getty Images)

Egyptian Christian women mourn during Sunday mass on January 2, 2011 at the Al-Qiddissine (The Saints) church in Alexandria which was targeted on New Year's Eve by a car bomb attack in which 21 people were killed. There was no immediate claim for the attack but Al-Qaeda has called for punishment of Egypt's Copts over claims that two priests' wives they say had converted to Islam were being held by the Church against their will. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

Christians protest against what they say is the failure of authorities to protect them, in Cairo January 3, 2011 after a suspected suicide bomber killed 21 people and wounded 97 outside a Coptic church in the Nile delta city of Alexandria during a New Year's midnight service. Egypt is screening people who arrived recently from countries where al-Qaeda is known to recruit after early findings suggested the militant network was behind the bombing, security sources said. Picture taken January 3, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

An Egyptian man cleans blood-staind from the door of the Al-Qiddissine (The Saints) church following an overnight car bomb attack that targeted the church in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria on January 1, 2011 and killed at least 21, hitting Egypt's Christian community, the biggest in the Middle East. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

Blood stains cover steps near the Al-Qiddissine (The Saints) church following an overnight car bomb attack that targeted the church in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria on January 1, 2011 and killed at least 21, hitting Egypt's Christian community, the biggest in the Middle East. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

Egyptian Investigators Suspect 'Foreigners' in Church Bombing

Angry Coptic Christians clashed with police on Sunday as they demanded more protection for Egypt's Christians following a New Year's Day church bombing that killed 21 of their brethren. Cars driven by Muslims were attacked during the clashes, 2 Jan 2011



January 03, 2011 (KATAKAMI / VOA) — Egyptian investigators say they may have uncovered a number of people with possible links to Saturday’s church bombing in Alexandria.  Meanwhile, Egyptian religious leaders are working to maintain a precarious calm between Christians and Muslims after several days of angry demonstrations.

Egyptian security officials say they have identified a number of possible suspects in Saturday’s bloody church bombing in the port city of Alexandria.

Al-Arabiya TV reports Interior Minister Habib al Adli is quoted as saying investigators had uncovered a plot by what was called foreign forces.

Eyewitnesses say a fragile calm prevails after overnight clashes between Coptic Christians and police in front of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, which is the headquarters of Coptic Pope Shenouda III.  Dozens of police and protesters were reportedly wounded in the clashes.

Pope Shenouda is urging the government to take steps to prevent further violence.

He says everyone should reflect on what to do now in order to come to terms and prevent such events from repeating themselves. He stresses that such violence is new to Egypt.

Egyptian security forces have reportedly been deployed in front of many churches across the country to prevent further attacks. Angry Christians have been demanding the government take action to protect them.

Al-Qaida terrorists have threatened more attacks on churches in Egypt, and other Arab countries on Coptic Christmas, this Friday. An al-Qaida website has listed the names of churches that it says may be attacked.

The Sheikh of Egypt’s venerable Islamic Al-Azhar University, Ahmed Tayeb told a gathering that terrorism affects all Egyptians and not just Christians.

He says Muslims and Christians are victims because terrorists have been trained to kill everyone. He insists that what took place at the Alexandria Coptic church may also take place in a mosque next time if terrorism is not nipped in the bud.

University students and staff in major Egyptian cities demostrated to condemn the attack. They chanted anti-terrorism slogans and called for national unity.

Egypt’s Religious Affairs Minister Mahmoud Zaqzoug urged all Egyptians to unite. He says national unity is the goal of everyone since Egyptians are all the same people.

“Some of us pray in a church and some of us in a mosque, but that is a personal matter and should not affect the fraternal relations between Copts and Muslims.”

In Lebanon, former President Amine Gemayel called Saturday’s church-bombing a “premeditated massacre of Christians.” He tells VOA Egypt and other Arab states must coordinate to try to prevent further such violence: “It is very, very sad to hear the news from Alexandria, and I hope the authorities in Egypt would take the required measures to prevent for the future such kind of events and massacres, and I present my deep sympathy to President Mubarak and to Pope Shenouda.”

“We need a strong solidarity among the various Arab leaders, all over the Arab world and the Islamic world to prevent in the future this kind of behavior from the extremists and those people who use political violence to serve I do not know which kind of interests,” Gemayel said.

Egypt’s government daily al-Ahram reported Coptic Pope Shenouda is refusing to call off Coptic Christmas celebrations Friday.   He is quoted as saying, “Not praying would mean that terrorism has prevented us from celebrating the birth of Christ.”  (*)



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