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Report: Iran Deployed Missile Launchers


Iran's Revolutionary Guards deployed surface-to-air and surface-to-sea mobile missiles launchers in the Strait of Hormuz and other Gulf locations last week, according to a report in the Saudi daily Al-Watan.

The paper anonymously quotes an Iranian official who said the moves were a response to information that the United States and Israel were preparing a military strike against nuclear targets in the country.

Pope Pledges Support for Palestinian Statehood

By Luis Ramirez (VOA-Bethlehem, West Bank) &

Pope Benedict has traveled into the West Bank, spending the day in Bethlehem, the place Christians venerate the birthplace of Jesus. The pope urged young Palestinians not to resort to violence or terrorism, and pledged his support for the creation of Palestinian state. The pontiff also had words of comfort for the people of the war-torn Gaza Strip.

Benedict got a first-hand view of the restrictions that millions of Palestinians live with when his motorcade crossed through an imposing concrete wall that is part of Israel's security barrier and is meant to keep bombers from the West Bank from carrying out attacks in Israel.

In Bethlehem, the cradle of Christianity, hundreds of people chanted, "Long Live the pope," and "Long Live Palestine," as his vehicle made its way through the narrow, ancient streets to the town's Manger Square.

The pope met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to whom he pledged the Vatican's support for the right of a sovereign homeland for the Palestinians in the land of their forefathers. The statement puts the Vatican at odds with Israel's new Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who does not support the establishment of a Palestinian state.

At a Mass on Manger Square, the head of the Roman Catholic Church drew applause when he delivered a special message in his homily for the people who were allowed to come to the Mass from the Gaza Strip, where Israeli forces staged a massive offensive against terrorists four months ago.

"In a special way, my heart goes out to the pilgrims from war-torn Gaza. I ask you to bring back to your families and your communities my warm embrace, and my sorrow for the loss, the hardship, and the hardship, and the suffering you have had to endure," he said.

Israel granted permits to about 100 Christians to leave the Gaza Strip and attend the Mass in Bethlehem.

The enclave is under tight restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt on the movement of people and goods, by land, air, and sea. The embargo, which Israel says is due to security reasons, has resulted in shortages of supplies, including construction materials needed to rebuild from the recent war. In his homily, the pope said he is praying for an end to the closure.

The pope's schedule included a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem that is home to thousands of people whose families were forced from their lands in 1948 upon the creation of the State of Israel.

On Thursday, the pope - who says he has come as pilgrim of peace - travels to the northern Israeli city of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. The city, like others in the Holy Land, has seen its population of Christian residents drop dramatically in recent decades.

However, the pontiff did not address rampant Muslim persecution of Christians and stood by as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas lied about the real reason behind local Christians fleeing.

"Mr. President, the Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders," Benedict said upon his arrival in Bethlehem, standing alongside Abbas.

He said nothing, however, of the suffering of Gaza's 3,000 Christians since Hamas took over that territory in 2007. Neither did Benedict renounce the Islamic violence in Bethlehem. Instead, the pope stood beside Abbas as the Palestinian leader deceptively pointed to a concrete separation barrier in Bethlehem and blamed that barrier, as well as Israeli "occupation," for the plight of Christians.

"In this Holy Land, the occupation still continues building separation walls," Abbas said. "Instead of building the bridge that can link us, they are using the force of occupation to force Muslims and Christians to emigrate."

It should be respectfully pointed out to the pope that Abbas was dangerously fabricating history. Actually, it was Abbas' own Fatah party that is causing Christians to flee.

Bethlehem consisted of upwards of 80 percent Christians when Israel was founded in 1948, but since Yasir Arafat got his hands on it, the city's Christian population dropped to its current 23 percent. And that statistic is considered generous since it includes the satellite towns of Beit Sahour and Beit Jala. Some estimates place Bethlehem's actual Christian population as low as 12 percent, with hundreds of Christians leaving every year.

As soon as he took over Bethlehem, Arafat unilaterally fired the city's Christian politicians and replaced them with Muslim cronies. He appointed a Muslim governor, Muhammed Rashad A-Jabar and unilaterally disbanded Bethlehem's city council, which had nine Christians and two Muslims, reducing the number of Christians councilors to a 50-50 split.

Arafat then converted a Greek Orthodox monastery next to the Church of Nativity, the believed birthplace of Jesus, into his official Bethlehem residence.

Some Christian leaders said one of the most significant problems facing Christians in Bethlehem is the rampant confiscation of land by Muslim gangs. "There are many cases where Christians have their land stolen by the [Muslim] mafia," said Samir Qumsiyeh, a Bethlehem Christian leader and owner of the Beit Sahour-based private Al-Mahd (Nativity) TV station.

"It is a regular phenomenon in Bethlehem. They go to a poor Christian person with a forged power of attorney document, and then they say we have papers proving you're living on our land. If you confront them, many times the Christian is beaten. You can't do anything about it. The Christian loses, and he runs away," Qumsiyeh told me, speaking from his hilltop television station during an interview with WND last year.

Netanyahu to Visit White House Monday

By & AFP

The White House announced Tuesday that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would be meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington next week on Monday. In addition, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is meeting with Obama on May 26th, while PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is meeting with him on May 28th.

White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama hopes for a new level of U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process. "I think one of the things he believes that has been missing from this debate is our continued high-level engagement in working to ensure progress to bring about that long-term peace," he said.

Obama and Netanyahu will likely experience tension in their talks but it is far too early for any US-Israeli crisis, analysts said. In their first meeting since Obama took office in January and Netanyahu came to power in February the pair will likely disagree on how to tackle the perceived nuclear threat from Iran and peace talks with the Palestinians, analysts said.

Netanyahu wants to deal with Iran first as he thinks the Palestinians are not ready for statehood. Obama wants to link progress on negotiations for a future Palestinian state partly as a way to line up Arab states against Iran.

However, for Aaron David Miller, who has served both past Republican and Democratic administrations, the stakes are still too low for a showdown when the pair meets at the White House.

Israel, he said, can give the Obama administration at least a little time to engage with Iran in a bid to halt uranium enrichment; the United States still has neither ongoing talks nor a pending peace deal for Netanyahu to block.

"There is no reason, need ... for a fight," Miller, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told AFP. "You only fight with the Israelis, because in pressing them, you can actually achieve something significant. And right now there's nothing to gain," he said. Neither side wants a breakdown in trust that would flow from a major crisis.

At this point Miller said he has also seen no sign of a "fully-formed" Obama administration strategy to deal with either Iran or the stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. "They don't have their ducks in line," he said.

For example, he said, there is no sign that the administration is promoting a quid pro quo in which the Netanyahu government endorses a two-state solution and the Arabs begin taking steps to normalize ties with Israel.

Elliot Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser in the administration of George W. Bush, told AFP the Obama administration will show a clearer approach after it meets Netanyahu and other key leaders.

David Schenker, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the greatest tension will be over how much time Obama is prepared to give Iran to respond to his call for dialogue to halt uranium enrichment.

Israelis, he said, fear that "the Iranians will want to draw out (the dialogue) as long as possible so they can continue making progress on their nuclear weapons. There may be some difference over how long the Israelis believe the US diplomatic engagement (with Iran) should continue before some type of military action is taken," said Schenker.

The media has been exaggerating alleged differences between Netanyahu and Obama, former U.S. security advisor Dr. James Lindsay said in an address at the University of Haifa. Obama will not be "putting Netanyahu up against the wall" at their meeting in Washington next week, he said.

Lindsay, former advisor to the U.S. Commission on National Security and now on the faculty of the University of Texas, added that Obama likely will express expectations that the Prime Minister would prefer not to hear but that he will not make any hasty decisions on a Middle East peace treaty.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with the American leader less than a month after Jordan's King Abdullah II was welcomed at the White House by the new President.

King Abdullah said after the meeting that Israel faces war if it does not accept the Saudi Arabian 2002 Peace Plan. The White House has not commented on reports that the President requested of Abdullah to tell Arab leaders to fly the Israeli flag over their capitals and that the Palestinian Authority flag should fly over eastern Jerusalem.

Netanyahu is committed to retaining Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and maintaining sovereignty over the entire city.

Israel Wins Place in Eurovision Finals with Jewish-Arab duet

By Ha'aretz

Singers Achinoam Nini and Mira Awad, who are representing Israel in this year's Eurovision Song Contest, are on their way to the competition's finals, scheduled to take place Saturday night in Moscow.

The duo performed the song "There Must be Another Way" in English, Hebrew and Arabic on Tuesday night, when they competed against 17 other artists.

The choice of a Jewish-Arab team to represent Israel at the competition had sparked criticism and debate with a gravity that couldn't be further from the Eurovision competition itself, a festival of flamboyant pop and unapologetic kitsch which draws some 100 million TV viewers every year.

Nini, a regular on the world music scene known internationally as Noa, and Awad, a local actress and singer, were selected by Israel's national broadcasting authority. Their selection came a day after Israel launched its Gaza offensive in December to halt rocket fire by Hamas militants.

Awad, who is the first Arab ever to represent Israel at the competition, was criticized for agreeing to go and became the subject of a petition organized by Israeli Arab artists who said sending her and Nini, a veteran peace activist, was a deliberate attempt to portray Israel as something it is not.

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