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Putin to Peres: It's Our Interest to Ensure Peace in Israel


President Shimon Peres held a working meeting on Monday evening with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two discussed strengthening strategic ties between the two countries, the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the Iranian nuclear issue and the events in Syria and neighboring countries in the Middle East.

The Russian President was received at the President's Residence in Jerusalem with a festive welcome ceremony which included an honor guard of soldiers and Hebrew and Russian-speaking children who greeted Putin.

At the start of the meeting, Peres spoke about the Iranian nuclear issue and told Putin, "I know that Russia is against the development of weapons of mass destruction in Iran. It is important that this effort not be weakened. A nuclear Iran is a threat to the security and stability of Iran's neighbors and in fact the whole world. Iran's current leadership openly declares its desire to destroy Israel. We cannot tolerate nuclear weapons in the hands of those who threaten to destroy us. Russia has shown initiative in hosting the latest round of negotiations with Iran in Moscow, while preserving the international unity that is needed. I am confident that under your leadership Russia will fulfill a key role in restoring security and peace."

Putin responded "I want to thank you for your hospitality and for the unveiling of the Red Army monument this morning. The monument emphasizes the fact that we share common humanitarian values -- the most solid foundation for cooperation. The area in which Israel is located largely affects the feeling of the entire international community. It is the Russian national interest to ensure peace and tranquility for Israel."

Peres spoke about the presence of non-conventional weapons in Syria and told Putin, "We do not know what will become of Syria, of the leadership and the army. There is a genuine fear that non-conventional Syrian weapons will leak to the hands of terrorist organizations like Hizbullah and Al-Qaeda. I ask you to please work urgently to prevent this intolerable situation. Assad ceased to be an alternative the moment he started shooting his children. None of us can stand the sight of coffins with children inside them. It's beyond politics."

On the issue of the peace process Peres said that there is a clear majority among Israelis in favor of the principle of two states for two peoples and asked Putin to clarify during his meeting with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that he should immediately return to the negotiating table without preconditions.

Putin responded by saying that serious negotiations for peace cannot be promoted without trust between the parties, adding that it is important to quickly restore trust and return to the negotiating table. He also said that he places an importance on maintaining Israel's security.

Earlier on Monday, Putin met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. In a joint press conference after the meeting, Netanyahu and Putin said that they hoped the two countries could cooperate more closely in a wide range of areas, especially high-tech, agriculture, and science.

Netanyahu said that he and Putin had discussed the Iran issue, and the recent negotiations between Iran and the six powers, including Russia and the U.S. Netanyahu said that the international community needed to demand an immediate end to Iran's nuclear program and an increase of sanctions against Tehran. In his remarks, Putin said that the negotiations had been "detailed and very useful."

Israel Deporting 144 Illegal Migrants to South Sudan

By &

Israel has deported a second planeload of African migrants as it continues a crackdown on what officials have described as "infiltrators." Israel says the deportation of 144 people back to their home country of South Sudan onboard an Ethiopian Airlines flight is aimed at curbing a flood of African migrants. The migrants were brought to Ben-Gurion Airport Monday onboard buses from Arad and from Tel Aviv ahead of their departure.

Immigration officials said all of them – 91 adults and 53 minors – agreed to leave Israel voluntarily and received $500 per child and $100 per adult upon their departure. The departing migrants joined the 127 South Sudan citizens who left Israel last week. Two more flights are expected to head to South Sudan next week.

More than 60,000 Africans have illegally entered Israel from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula since 2005, most from Eritrea and Sudan. They claim to be refugees, but Israel says the vast majority are economic migrants seeking a higher standard of living.

Government spokesman Mark Regev says Israel is the Jewish homeland, and it has no obligation to offer asylum to African migrants. "Israel is a small country. We are 8 million people and geographically, we're the size of New Jersey. We are too small to be the solution of all of Africa's problems."

The Africans have been blamed for a growing wave of violent crimes, including rapes of young Jewish women, prompting a backlash among Israelis who have demanded their expulsion. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has described the migrants as a "national plague," saying they are a threat to security and the Jewish character of the state. But many Israelis are appalled by the expulsions. Critics say Israel is a nation of refugees established in the wake of the Holocaust, and it has a moral obligation to help people in need.

Asaf Weitzen is the legal adviser at the Hotline for Migrant Workers in Israel. "This is not acceptable to create a racist reaction to an entire, huge group of people," said Weitzen. "They are asylum seekers; most of them are refugees or could have been recognized as refugees."

Many of the South Sudanese have been in Israel for years, and they have expressed deep disappointment over the government's decision to expel them. But one deportee told Israel Television that he is resigned to his fate. "There is no way out, you know, I think that we have to go. But you know, we are still saying that there is still danger in South Sudan," he said.

The Strangers Among Us by Naomi Ragen (Commentary)

Our government's unfathomable incompetence in addressing the problem has turned public sentiment against asylum- and job seekers. I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I am looking at the roundup of African asylum-seekers with an equal mixture of heartbreak and relief.

Heartbreak because it goes against something deeply embedded inside every Jew to see a refugee who is seeking a better life jailed and deported; and relief because frankly, this complex situation has just become more than Israel and its citizens can handle.

It began about six years ago with African refugees from war-torn Sudan and poverty-stricken Eritrea desperately crossing the Sinai to find refuge from the horrors of their homelands. Exploited, raped and sometimes murdered by Bedouin who sold their organs, Africans who made it into Israel alive found a sympathetic ear among Israelis.

How could they not? We are the country with the single largest number of Holocaust survivors anywhere in the world; a country that has accepted and integrated millions of refugees fleeing life-threatening oppression. Perhaps that is why when Egyptian border guards were shooting to kill, we Israelis were putting up border camps to provide shelter and medical care to asylum-seekers, and finally, after a brief interrogation, busing them free of charge to Tel Aviv's Levinsky Park, where they were set free.

Now, six years later, that trickle has turned into a flood, the yearly number of asylum-seekers (dubbed "infiltrators") doubling, tripling and quadrupling to close to 1,000 a month, from less than 3,000 a year in 2006. The accumulated total will soon equal the number of those making aliya. However much compassion we have, there is, finally, a widespread realization that if it is allowed to continue, this influx will drastically change the face of the Jewish state forever.

Our sense of the motivation of these new arrivals has also contributed to this change of heart. As Omar from Sudan recently told reporter Lior Avni in Zman Hadarom: "There is no work and no chance for a better life [in Eritrea]. Israel is much more modern. There's much more money here. You can live better." Those interviewed at the initial border absorption facilities echoed these sentiments.

One Sudanese woman said her husband had worked briefly in Egypt where he received 30 NIS a month– the hourly wage in Israel for those taking odd jobs. In Eritrea all they can hope to earn is the equivalent of 120 NIS a month.

Indeed, part of the reason for the growing numbers making it successfully across the border is the well-oiled machine now in place in which Bedouin smugglers receive $3,000 a person, money sent ahead to refugees from earlier arrivals who have earned it working in Israel.

The growing concentration of these refugees in certain areas of the country is making life increasingly difficult for Israelis. While statistics show that the Africans are not responsible for greater incidences of crimes than natives, for any woman walking out in the evening, milling groups of single men are perceived threats, no matter their nationality or color. In Ashdod, women are reportedly afraid to go out at all in the evening anymore. And the recent rape of a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Ashkelon by a Sudanese man who broke into the courtyard of her high school, as well as the gang rape of a young woman near the old Tel Aviv bus station by a group of Eritreans and Sudanese, has further inflamed nerves on edge for a number of much more mundane reasons.

For one thing, immigrants are flooding the rental housing market in certain key areas, paying landlords enormous sums as 20 or 30 share floor space, making it impossible for local housing-seekers to compete. The litter from these dwellings is overloading the city's municipal cleaning and trash-collection squads, leaving squalor in its wake. Labor rooms in hospitals like Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon are overcrowded with African women, most of whom have no medical coverage, straining the city's resources.

But beyond the normal problems of the influx of new residents looking for housing, work and medical care, the Africans pose another problem. According to the US State Department's latest figures, Eritrea, which is the place of origin of three-fourths of all refugees in Israel, is now 50% Muslim. Given the delicate demographics in Israel, can we really afford to add thousands upon thousands of new immigrants, some of them Muslims, from countries like Sudan, which views Israel as its enemy?

Houston (Mr. Netanyahu's government), we have a problem. A serious one, which government non-decisions and incompetence have finally brought to a head. Our belated attempts to solve it have come up with no wonderful solutions.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai, an Orthodox Jew, has further exacerbated the problem by making inflammatory, racist comments about how the asylum seekers "are all involved in crime and deserve to be jailed," adding that he is determined to protect the "Jewish nature" of the state. I'd think the Torah concept of compassion for the stranger would have figured somewhere in his rhetoric, but no.

Nevertheless, I would be a hypocrite if I didn't admit to viewing with relief his initiative not to extend the temporary residence status for asylum-seekers and to return them to their native countries.

In the meantime, Israel is busily building a 200-kilometer barrier along the border with Egypt, which might be the most sensible long-term solution to this insoluble problem that pits our hearts against our heads, our near history against our present circumstances.

Egypt Denies Morsi's Interview with Iranian Agency


The Egyptian presidency on Monday denied that president-elect Mohammed Morsi gave an interview to Iran's Fars news agency in which he pledged to strengthen ties with the Islamic Republic.

A report in AFP quoted a spokesman for the Egyptian presidency as having told the official news agency MENA, "Mr. Morsi did not give any interview to Fars and everything that this agency has published is without foundation." Fars published on Monday what it said was an interview with Morsi, in which he said he will "reconsider the Camp David Accord" with Israel and that he wants closer ties with Tehran to create a "balance" in the Middle East.

In a speech he made Sunday night, shortly after he was declared the winner of the elections, Morsi vowed to "respect all international agreements," presumably meaning the pact with Israel, though he did not mention Israel by name.

In response to Morsi's victory, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said "Israel appreciates the democratic process in Egypt and respects its results. Israel expects the continuation of the cooperation with the Egyptian regime on the basis of the peace treaty between the two countries, which is an interest of both peoples and contributes to the stability of the region."

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