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Newsletter : 11fx0209.txt

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Arabs, Leftists Force Bush to Scrap Speech to Swiss Jews


Planned disturbances by Arabs and leftists have forced former President George W. Bush to cancel a speech to the United Israel Appeal in Switzerland due to concerns for his security.

The calls to demonstrate were sliding into dangerous terrain, "Robert Equey, a lawyer for the UIA, told the Swiss daily newspaper Tribune de Genève.

Palestinian Authority Sets Election Date, Hamas Rejects It

By VOA News

The Palestinian Authority has announced plans to hold long-overdue elections for local councils in July, but the plan was quickly rejected by Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib said Tuesday the Cabinet had called for voters go to the polls in the West Bank and Gaza on July 9. The elections would be the first in the Palestinian territories since 2006.

However, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the Authority's call for elections was not valid and Hamas would not participate. He said there could be no voting until the two governments are reconciled.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' four-year term expired in 2009, but has been extended indefinitely. Khatib said the July voting will only take place in the West Bank if Hamas refuses to cooperate. Analysts say anti-government protests in Egypt prompted Palestinian officials to set the election date.

U.S. Faults Egypt VP for Saying Country Isn't Ready for Democracy

By Reuters

The White House faulted Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman for saying his country was not ready for a democracy, calling his comments "unhelpful." White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs made the comment at a daily news briefing on Tuesday.

Despite the comment, Vice President Joe Biden reached out to his Egyptian counterpart on Tuesday with a phone call during which he reiterated U.S. support for an orderly transition of power in Egypt.

Biden also called for the immediate lifting of Egypt's longstanding emergency law and reiterated the U.S. stance that any future Egyptian government "be determined by the Egyptian people," the White House said.

Also on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates praised Egypt's military for its restraint during the country's two-week-long uprising, while the White House criticized its government for harassing protesters and journalists as demonstrations swelled anew.

Egypt's military -- long the backbone of the government in Cairo -- has behaved in "an exemplary fashion" by standing largely on the sidelines during the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule, Gates told a news conference. "I would say that they have made a contribution to the evolution of democracy and what we're seeing in Egypt," he said as Egyptians staged one of their biggest protests yet demanding Mubarak step down immediately.

The praise for the military appeared designed to buttress U.S. ties with a power broker whose role is expected to be key to whatever political order emerges when Mubarak steps down. Under pressure from the protesters, Mubarak has said he will not seek re-election in September but has refused to resign.

U.S. officials do not believe the Egyptian military was responsible for widespread violence against protesters last week, including men on horseback who rode into Cairo's Tahrir Square brandishing whips, although it also failed to stop it.

The U.S. decision to support a transition effort launched by Mubarak's hand-picked vice president, Omar Suleiman, and to stop short of calling for his resignation has angered many demonstrators who want the longtime U.S. ally to leave now.

On Tuesday, the White House repeated its demand the Egyptian government respect civil liberties. "The government has got to stop arresting protesters and journalists, harassment, beatings, detentions of reporters, of activists, of those involved in civil society," Gibbs said. "We would call on all of those prisoners, as we have, to be released immediately."

Suleiman has been talking with opposition groups, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, but the government have refused to give in to demands for the president's immediate ouster.

U.S. officials were concerned that forcing political change too quickly could create more instability in the world's largest Arab country, a key player in the Middle East peace process and important regional counterbalance to Iran.

Egypt's military gets about $1.3 billion in U.S. aid every year, in part for keeping the peace with Israel since the two countries signed a groundbreaking accord in 1979. Washington has made clear there are no plans to review that aid at this crucial juncture.

Jordan Grabs Egyptian Gas, Leaving Lebanon in the Dark


There have been widespread blackouts in Lebanon over the past several days, due to the lack of natural gas in the country, reports in the Arab media said Tuesday. Egypt on Saturday had stopped supplying natural gas to Israel, Lebanon and Jordan when a pipeline in Sinai blew up, and so far Israel has managed to find alternative sources - but Lebanon has not. Blackouts were common throughout the country, except for in Beirut, the reports said.

Gas shipments were partially restored to Jordan and Lebanon this week, using another pipeline that does not run to Israel, but the amount of gas flowing through that pipe is much smaller. The pipeline flows through Jordan, and only then to Lebanon. According to reports on Lebanese websites, the Jordanians have taken all the gas, claiming that they are contractually allowed to do so – leaving none for Lebanon. Electrical output in Lebanon was drastically reduced. Lebanon's main electric company, Electricite du Liban, said that they could not say when full power would be restored.

Ampal, the Israeli partner of Egyptian natural gas provider EMG, said Tuesday that the gas will begin to flow from Egypt to Israel in about a week. The pipeline is being repaired, and if tests show that it is working properly, Israel should begin getting its regular deliveries of gas again beginning a week from Thursday, the company said. Infrastructure Ministry officials said Tuesday that Israel was spending an extra $1.5 million a day for alternative gas sources.

While Egypt officially attributed the blast to a gas leak, Arab media websites report that many in local government in Sinai believe that the blast was a targeted attack. Suspects range from Islamic radicals to involvement of "foreign elements" (meaning Israel). One theory states that the bombing may have been the work of disgruntled Sinai Bedouin; the company responsible for pipeline security recently began building a concrete wall on both sides of the pipeline to protect it, with parts of the wall encroaching on land several Bedouin tribes claim as their own.

But that theory was dismissed by Mohamed Mostafa, a government official. The company relies on Bedouin to protect the line, Mostafa was quoted by Arab media as saying, and he appealed to the tribes to ensure the safety of the pipeline which generates much-needed income for Egypt, adding that to his knowledge, the Bedouin were properly compensated for the loss of the land they claimed.

Meanwhile, a news scandal has broken out in the Arab world as a result of the explosion – over allegations that Qatar has promised to make up to Israel the gas that is no longer flowing from Sinai. Numerous Arabic websites, quoting what they called "informed sources" who said that Qatar made the commitment to increase gas shipments to Israel, based on a deal in which Qatar has sold gas for several years already. There was no comment from Qatari government officials

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