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WHO Issues Warning Over SARS-Like Virus

By VOA News

A new coronavirus that has killed 18 people since last year could be passed between people in close contact, according to the World Health Organization. Speaking from Saudi Arabia, WHO Assistant Director General Keiji Fukda said that he's concerned about person to person transmission.

"Of most concern, however, is the fact that the different clusters seen in multiple countries increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact, this novel coronavirus can transmit from person to person," he said.

His comments came after the French Health Ministry confirmed Sunday that a second person in France had been diagnosed with the new respiratory virus. The man, who's in his fifties, had previously shared a hospital room with another patient suffering from the virus - in what seems to be a human-to-human transmission. The Health Ministry said the two were in prolonged and close contact.

Marisol Touraine, France's health minister, said the first patient infected by coronavirus is in a stable, but worrying, situation. The health of the second patient has deteriorated and he has been transferred to intensive care. Both men now are in isolation, and authorities say they're in the process of identifying all those who have been in contact with the second patient.

This new coronavirus was first discovered last year and has killed about 20 people. Cases have emerged in a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar, and also in Europe. Another coronavirus, widely known by its acronym SARS, killed nearly 800 people in 2003. It originated in Asia, but turned into a global epidemic.

Saudis, in Talks with Iran's Salehi, Explore Iranian Options for Syria & Lebanon

By DEBKAfile

Saudi Arabia has decided to explore dialogue with its great regional rival Iran for ending the Syrian conflict and assuring Lebanon's political future, DEBKAfile's Gulf sources report. They have given up on US policy for Syria in view of Russian and Iranian unbending support for Bashar Assad; his battlefield gains aided by Hizbullah and Iranian Bassij forces; and Turkey's inaction after Saturday's terrorist bombings in the town of Reyhanli near the Syrian border which caused 46 deaths.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal took advantage of the Organization of Islamic Conference-OIC, in Jeddah this week on the Mali conflict for getting together Monday with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi who was in attendance.

DEBKAfile's sources report that Riyadh's first priority is to stabilize Lebanon through a Saudi-Iranian entente on political equilibrium in Beirut. The Saudis would next seek an accord with Tehran on the outcome of the Syrian civil conflict.

The Saudi rulers have come to the conclusion, which the West and Israel have been slow to acknowledge, that since the Iranian-Hizbullah-Syrian military alliance is pulling ahead in the Syrian conflict and chalking up victories, they had better look to their interests in Lebanon, which hinge heavily on the Sunni clan headed by Saad Hariri. If they wait till a victorious Hizbullah comes marching home and grabs power in Beirut, protecting Lebanon's Sunni community will be that much harder.

Hizbullah has increased its strategic clout in Lebanon and Syria and its leader Hassan Nasrallah will have a greater say in any deal for Lebanon on the strength of his successful support for Assad. These issues were covered in several hours of discussion between the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers.

Riyadh has little faith in the initiative undertaken by Secretary of State John Kerry to convene an international conference with Russia for ending the Syrian conflict. Obama himself left a big question mark over the conference at his joint White House news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Monday, when he spoke of "lingering suspicions between Russia and the US" left over from the Cold War.

Obama said he didn't know if Russia would cooperate in moves to remove Assad from power, so enabling Washington and Moscow to work together for a solution. The truth is that Putin has staunchly backed the Syrian ruler in the more than two years of the Syrian conflict.

Any Saudi-Iranian deal, if they do come to terms, would run contrary to Obama's perception of the Syrian issue. Riyadh would need to meet Tehran at least halfway on Iranian Hizbullah aspirations, which center on a role for Assad in any future political accommodation fro ending the Syrian war. The Saudis also deeply disapprove of the Turkish role on Syria.

The track they have opened up to Tehran has the additional purpose of outmaneuvering Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan before he reaches the White House Thursday, May 16, to confer with Obama on the Syrian imbroglio.

Israel `Upset' Over German Bid for Coveted Security Council Slot

By The Times of Israel

Israeli officials are reportedly raising hackles with Germany over the fact that the two countries are competing for a spot on the United Nations Security Council. The fact that Berlin is throwing its hat in the ring complicates Jerusalem's chances of ascending to the two-year non-permanent rotation on the council for the first time.

Although Israel has been planning its opportunity to get the seat for several years, Germany only just recently announced its candidacy, which means that three countries — Belgium, Israel, and Germany — are competing for two possible slots. Germany ended a two-year stint as a non veto-wielding member of the panel in December.

Channel 2 news, citing unidentified Israeli officials, reported that Jerusalem was "critical" and "upset" by Germany's decision, and that the issue will be raised during German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle's visit to the region on Friday. An unidentified Israeli source was quoted by the channel saying Germany, of all countries, shouldn't try to deny Israel a spot. Israel sees the seat as a tool to combat delegitimization attempts and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.

Germany and Israel are part of the UN's Western European and Others regional group, known by the acronym WEOG. Jerusalem became a member in 2000, which paved the way for its possible membership in the Security Council.

In 2005, Israel announced that it would try to obtain the spot in 2019 — the next time both WOEG seats weren't claimed — after prime minister Ariel Sharon pulled out of Gaza, which won Israel kudos in the international arena.

Candidacy to the body requires approval from two-thirds of the UN General Assembly, or 128 countries. Israel, which has repeatedly faced censure from the international body, would have to wage an uphill battle to garner enough support. In 2010, Canada lost a bid for one of the seats, which some blamed on Ottawa's friendly stance toward Israel, among other things. Germany ultimately won that seat, gaining its fifth term on the panel.

Germany is also seeking a permanent seat on the council, along with India, Brazil and Japan. Five countries are currently permanent members: the US, Russia, China, France, and Britain.

Conference Boycotted by Hawking has Hosted Palestinian Speakers Every Year

By The Times of Israel

The Israeli Presidential Conference that Stephen Hawking is boycotting in solidarity with the Palestinians has featured a succession of prominent Palestinian speakers among its participants over the years, including key members of the Palestinian Authority.

This year's conference is again set to include at least one prominent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and the gathering has been attended in each of its previous four years by leading Palestinian figures including top Palestinian Authority officials, negotiators, academics,

The British scientist's announced decision to boycott the Jerusalem conference sponsored by Shimon Peres came just days after the Palestinian minister of health paid an official visit to the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, at the head of a delegation of Palestinian officials. The visit was designed to promote the increased employment of Palestinian medical staff workers and further cooperation between the hospital and the PA's Ministry of Health.

Originally, the University of Cambridge, where Hawking is the research director at the Center for Theoretical Cosmology, cited health reasons as the cause of Hawking's cancellation. However, when presented with the full text of the scientist's letter announcing his boycott, the university corrected its stance and apologized for the confusion.

"I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank," Hawking wrote in the letter, published on Thursday by The Guardian.

"However, I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference. Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster," he wrote.

Daniel Taub, Israel's ambassador to London, called the decision "a great shame," adding that Hawking should have promoted progress and peace instead of caving in to extremists.

On Facebook, pictures proliferated heavily criticizing Hawking's decision, which some said was hypocritical. One meme asked Hawking — who has suffered from a motor neuron disease related to ALS for decades — to act on his beliefs and stop using the Israeli technology he's used to talk and communicate since 1997, since the chip was created at the Intel research and design center in Israel.

An Israeli photojournalist who suffers from ALS, the same disease as Hawking, wrote a letter urging the professor, who he says was his hero, to reconsider his decision to boycott Israel. Esteban Alterman, who photographed Hawking before a lecture he gave at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2006, said the University of Cambridge scientist's decision to cancel his participation in June's fifth annual Presidential Conference in Jerusalem "undermines the battle… to find cures… for our common disease."

"Facing Tomorrow" – the fifth Israeli Presidential Conference under Peres' auspices – is scheduled for June 18-20 in Jerusalem. "As in previous years, the Conference will look at tomorrow and engage the central issues that will influence the face of our future: geopolitics, economics, society, environment, culture, identity, education, new media, and more," the conference website says.

This year's sessions "will give special emphasis to the human factor and its role in shaping our tomorrow. We will ask whether the quality of leadership – in all realms of human activity – can make a difference," the website text goes on, asking, "What is the desired dynamic in relationships between people and leaders in the face of powerful processes of change? To what degree can human beings really be involved in influencing their futures?"

Arab Breaks Chair on Elderly Jew's Head


Another day, another story of a brutal attack by Arabs against Jews. And as usual, most news outlets will not cover this news. A large-bodied Arab man attacked an elderly Jew in Jerusalem's Old City last Saturday. The victim's daughter, Tali Hoffman, told Arutz Sheva that her father was making his way to Shacharit prayers, as he does every Sabbath, from his home in the Muslim Quarter to the Kotel.

When he arrived at HaGay Street, just a few dozen meters from the Kotel, the Arab man stepped out of a falafel shop and tried to knock him down by shoving a chair toward his legs. Having failed to knock down the Jew, the Arab then threw the chair at Hoffman's head.

The chair broke from the force of the blow. Hoffman's father suffered a deep cut in his arm, which he had used to protect his head. The Arab escaped and other Arabs who were present did nothing to help the bleeding Jew. Border Policemen who had been nearby escorted the Jew to the Kishle station, where he received first aid and lodged a complaint.

Hoffman noted that 15 years ago, her husband was murdered close to the spot where the attack took place. Her father lives in the house that his murdered son-in-law had built, in the Muslim Quarter. The house had been a stable and had belonged to Jews. Hoffman said that her father did not want to talk about the incident. She explained that he had experienced the Holocaust and that people of his generation did not like to talk about things of this nature.

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