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Destruction of First Temple Commemorated with Day of Fasting


The "Three Weeks" of gradually-increasing mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temples and Israel's exile began Tuesday with the fast of the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz.

This is the day on which Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian forces breached the walls of Jerusalem in 422 BCE, after 18 months of siege, on their way to destroying the First Temple.

Israeli Foreign Minister: No Palestinian State by 2012

By VOA News & Ha'aretz

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday there is no chance of establishing an independent Palestinian state within the next two years, adding that he is an "optimistic" person but does not believe there is a possibility of Palestinian statehood by that target date set by international negotiators.

Lieberman's remarks followed a meeting with his Russia counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Russia is part of the "Quartet" of Middle East peace brokers that also includes the United States, United Nations and European Union.

The Palestinians want a state in areas that Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, with East Jerusalem as their capital. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has accepted the idea of a Palestinian state, but with strict conditions, and without Palestinian control of East Jerusalem.

An apparent disagreement broke out between Lieberman and Lavrov during their meeting in Jerusalem over Moscow's increased efforts to include Hamas in Mideast peace talks.

Last Month, the Foreign Ministry criticized Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's call to involve Hamas in the Mideast peace process, likening the organization to the Islamist Chechen rebels.

"Hamas is exactly like the Chechen terrorists and [Hamas chief Khaled] Meshaal is exactly like Chechen leader Shamil Basayev," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "Developed countries cannot separate terrorists into good ones and bad ones based on their geographic location."

In Tuesday's meeting, Lieberman reportedly told Lavrov, who arrived in Israel on an official visit, that Israel opposed Russia's recent advances toward Hamas. Lavrov responded that it was impossible to ignore the Islamist organization's popularity amongst Palestinians, particularly in Gaza.

The reported closed-door disagreement quickly became a public one, as Lavrov openly defended his country's Middle East policy in the ensuing joint press conference with Lieberman, where he said that "Russia is doing the right thing by contacting Hamas," adding that "doing nothing would help no one."

"In all our talks with Hamas we have tried to convince them to switch to the political track, and support the Arab peace initiative," Lavrov said. Lieberman, in turn, dismissed the disagreement, saying that the fact that the two nations were conducting dialogue in the matter was no secret.

The two also reportedly differed on how to proceed with peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, with the Russian FM saying that negotiations must be advanced, adding that the way to do so was to form a joint commission which would also include representatives of the Quartet, and the Arab League."

Also on the subject of future peace talks, Lavrov said that despite obvious obstacles it is necessary to advance the peace process, adding that solutions to facilitate the process have arrived. "In the absence of progress in the political track extremist elements in the Palestinian nation will be strengthened," warned the Russian FM.

Responding to Lavrov's comments, Lieberman defended Israel's efforts to conduct indirect negotiations with the Palestinians as a prelude to direct negotiations. However, he was pessimistic regarding the ability to reach an agreement.

At the close of the meeting Lieberman stated that there is no Israeli intent to continue the 10-month freeze on settlement construction after it expires in September, pointing out that Israel has made countless overtures to the Palestinians and now it is their turn to reciprocate. .

Mossad Spy Chief Gets Boot for Bungled Dubai Hit


In the fallout from the bungled assassination of a Hamas gunrunner in Dubai in January, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is reported to have refused a request by Meir Dagan, hard-charging director of Israel's Mossad intelligence service, to extend his 8-year tenure.

Two years ago, the Russian-born Dagan, was a national hero for his successes against Hizbullah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, including several assassinations attributed to the Mossad. Now he's being booted out, a victim of the Middle East's war of the shadows he has waged for so long.

The portly Dagan was appointed head of the Mossad by his mentor, Ariel Sharon, in 2002. His term was extended by Sharon's successor, Ehud Olmert, and again by Netanyahu after he took office for the second time in 2009.

Dubai's security authorities are convinced the agency was responsible for killing Hamas chieftain Mahmoud al-Mabhouh Jan. 19. They have listed 36 suspects who flew in and out of the Persian Gulf emirate on false non-Israeli passports.

The assassination was carried out with great precision but those involved were caught on closed-circuit video cameras, even going in and out of Mabhouh's hotel room.

The Israeli government and the Mossad have, as usual, made no comment on the accusations. But Britain, Australia and Ireland expelled Israeli diplomats, all suspected Mossad operatives, to protest the forging of their passports.

On June 4, Poland arrested a suspected Mossad agent, identified as Uri Brodsky, after Germany issued a warrant for him on charges of fraudulently obtaining a German passport used in the Mabhouh assassination.

Germany has demanded Brodsky's extradition and since the Polish security service maintains close links with its German counterpart, the BND, he's expected to be handed over, despite official Israeli protests.

Brodsky, who denies any connection with the Mossad, isn't suspected of involvement in the Mabhouh killing and isn't on Dubai's suspects list. But Berlin is incensed by the use of its passports in the assassination and he is likely to face trial in Germany. If convicted, he faces a five-year sentence for obtaining a document by fraud.

Despite Israel's silence on the Dubai killing, the assassination of Mabhouh has caused immense diplomatic and political damage to the Jewish state at a time when it was battered by global condemnation for invading the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and killing 1,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians.

The May 31 killing of nine Turkish peace activists aboard a Turkish-flagged ship carrying humanitarian aid to blockaded Gaza that was intercepted in the Mediterranean by Israel's navy intensified the global outcry and heightened Israel's growing sense of isolation.

In the eyes of the world, Dagan, as head of the Mossad, has been held responsible for the killing in Dubai; although it is the furor over the forged foreign passports that has caused much of the international opprobrium Israel is facing over the incident.

He has been a controversial figure since the early 1970s when he headed an undercover army unit in the Gaza Strip. Sharon was then his commander as head of Israel's southern command.

Dagan's men, who disguised themselves as Arabs, killed dozens of suspected Palestinian terrorists and for a time pacified the Gaza Strip. He later conducted clandestine operations in Lebanon that also allegedly involved a number of assassinations.

When Sharon became prime minister, he put Dagan in charge of the Mossad, whose morale at the time was hitting rock bottom because of failed operations, damaging turf wars within the organization and lackluster leadership.

Netanyahu kept him on. But the prime minister has a poor record in his dealings with the Mossad. During his first term as prime minister he sanctioned an attempt to kill Hamas leader Khaled Metal in Jordan in September 1997 by spraying poison in his ear. Other bungled operations followed.

The agents who carried out the attack made a mess of it and were caught. King Hussein of Jordan, who had signed a peace treaty with Israel several years earlier at some considerable risk to his life and throne, was incensed.

Netanyahu had to very publicly provide an antidote to save Meshaal's life and free dozens of Arab prisoners, including Hamas' founder, the iconic Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in return for his agents' release.

Netanyahu would have had to sanction the Mabhouh plot, as he did with Metal. But it is Dagan paying the political price.

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