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The slogan "Jerusalem Is Triumphant" greets Abdullah in Ramallah DEBKAfile August 7, 2017, 2:34 PM (IDT)

Jordanian King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas held one-on-one talks at PA headquarters in Ramallah Monday, after which they refrained from talking to reporters by common consent. The monarch was greeted on arrival with a large placard showing the two leaders under the slogan: "Jerusalem is Triumphant." Ahead of his visit to Ramallah Monday, Jordan's King Abdullah said that a breakthrough in the peace process was conditional on a US commitment to support a solution for the Palestinian issue. "Our success requires us to stand with our Palestinian brothers," he told lawmakers in Amman Sunday. In the Old City of Jerusalem, three Palestinians were detained when Israeli police and Border Guards broke up a riot under a hail of rocks. One police officer was injured.







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Jordan King in Rare West Bank Trip Seen as Message to Israel August 07, 2017 9:58 AM

Associated Press

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with Jordan's King Abdullah II at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Monday, Aug. 7, 2017.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with Jordan's King Abdullah II at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Monday, Aug. 7, 2017.
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RAMALLAH, WEST BANK —

Jordan's king flew by helicopter to the West Bank on Monday - a rare and brief visit seen as a signal to Israel that he is closing ranks with the Palestinians on key issues, such as a contested Jerusalem shrine.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Abdullah II met for about two hours, after a red-carpet welcome for the monarch at the Palestinian government compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The two leaders discussed the recent showdown with Israel over the Muslim-administered shrine, including confronting alleged Israeli attempts to expand its role there, said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki.

"This evaluation is very important for us to prepare for the coming stage we expect from Israel and from (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu personally," Malki said.

Israel has denied allegations by Muslims that it was trying to encroach on their rights at the holy site, which is also revered by Jews.

Abdullah's visit to the West Bank, his first in five years, came at a time of rising Israeli-Jordanian and Israeli-Palestinian tensions over the shrine, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

The crisis erupted when Israel installed metal detectors at gates to the compound after Arab gunmen killed two Israeli policemen there in mid-July. The measures triggered protests by Muslims.

Israel removed the devices after a few days, after intervention from the United States, Jordan and others. The step was seen by many in Israel as a capitulation and by Palestinians and the Arab world as a victory.

The shrine, a sprawling 37-acre (15-hectare) esplanade rising from Jerusalem's walled Old City, is the third holiest site of Islam and the most sacred one in Judaism. It is central to rival Israeli and Palestinian religious and national narratives and has triggered major confrontations in the past.

Jordan serves as the Muslim custodian of the site, home to the Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques. Jordan's ruling Hashemite dynasty has drawn much of its legitimacy from that role.

On Sunday, Abdullah told lawmakers in Jordan that "without the Hashemite custodianship and the steadfastness of the Jerusalemites, the holy sites would have been lost many years ago."

"Our success requires one stand with the Palestinian brothers, so that our cause wouldn't be weakened and our rights would be maintained," he said.

However, the monarch's role in the standoff with Israel was complicated by a July 23 shooting in which an Israeli guard at the Israeli Embassy in Jordan killed two Jordanians after one attacked him with a screwdriver.

The guard was released by Jordan the next day, after a phone call between the king and Netanyahu. A few hours later, the metal detectors were dismantled.

The guard's release, though in line with diplomatic protocol, has inflamed Jordanian public opinion, especially after the shooter was given a hero's welcome by Netanyahu. The king blasted the prime minister's actions as "provocative."

Israeli authorities have since said they would investigate the embassy shootings, meeting a Jordanian demand.

Since the embassy shooting, Abdullah has taken several steps that appeared aimed at appeasing Jordanian public opinion.

He has said he would donate $1.4 million to the Muslim administration of the shrine.

Separately, Abbas has said his self-rule government in the West Bank will allocate $25 million to improve services for Palestinians in Jerusalem.

During the shrine crisis, Abbas said he was suspending security ties with Israel until the metal detectors have been removed.

It is not clear to what extent such ties - mainly cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian forces against the Islamic militant Hamas - has resumed.


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For first time, court strips Israeli Arab terrorist of citizenship

Being a citizen means not engaging in terrorism against fellow citizens, judge says - Court approves interior minister's request to strip Alaa Raed Ahmad Zayoud of citizenship after his conviction on four counts of attempted murder in 2015 attack. Daniel Siryoti

Alaa Raed Ahmad Zayoud, convicted of four counts of attempted murder |
Photo credit: Michel Dot Com

The Haifa District Court on Sunday approved Interior Minister Aryeh Deri's request to revoke the citizenship of an Israeli Arab who was convicted of four counts of attempted murder over a terrorist attack. This marks the first time the measure has been taken since special legislation was enacted in 2008 to allow it as a penalty for terrorism.

In October 2015, Alaa Raed Ahmad Zayoud carried out a car-ramming attack at a bus stop near Kibbutz Gan Shmuel's shopping center, not far from his hometown of Umm al-Fahm, seriously injuring a 19-year-old soldier. After the ramming, he stabbed three other people.

He was convicted of four counts of attempted murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Soon afterward, Deri asked the court to revoke his Israeli citizenship.

In his ruling Sunday, Deputy District Court President Judge Avraham Elyakim approved Deri's request after the minister said he would grant Zayoud permanent residency status in lieu of his citizenship. The revocation will take effect in October.

"Citizenship comes with both rights and responsibilities, and one of the most important responsibilities [of a citizen] is to be loyal to the state," Elyakim said in a statement.

"This also includes not engaging in terrorist activities against fellow citizens or compromising its [the state's] security.

"Loyalty is part of being a citizen, and in this case, the defendant [Zayoud] took advantage of his freedom of movement as a citizen to undermine the state's security and hurt its residents."
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For first time, court strips Israeli Arab terrorist of citizenship

Being a citizen means not engaging in terrorism against fellow citizens, judge says - Court approves interior minister's request to strip Alaa Raed Ahmad Zayoud of citizenship after his conviction on four counts of attempted murder in 2015 attack. Daniel Siryoti

Alaa Raed Ahmad Zayoud, convicted of four counts of attempted murder |
Photo credit: Michel Dot Com

The Haifa District Court on Sunday approved Interior Minister Aryeh Deri's request to revoke the citizenship of an Israeli Arab who was convicted of four counts of attempted murder over a terrorist attack. This marks the first time the measure has been taken since special legislation was enacted in 2008 to allow it as a penalty for terrorism.

In October 2015, Alaa Raed Ahmad Zayoud carried out a car-ramming attack at a bus stop near Kibbutz Gan Shmuel's shopping center, not far from his hometown of Umm al-Fahm, seriously injuring a 19-year-old soldier. After the ramming, he stabbed three other people.

He was convicted of four counts of attempted murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Soon afterward, Deri asked the court to revoke his Israeli citizenship.

In his ruling Sunday, Deputy District Court President Judge Avraham Elyakim approved Deri's request after the minister said he would grant Zayoud permanent residency status in lieu of his citizenship. The revocation will take effect in October.

"Citizenship comes with both rights and responsibilities, and one of the most important responsibilities [of a citizen] is to be loyal to the state," Elyakim said in a statement.

"This also includes not engaging in terrorist activities against fellow citizens or compromising its [the state's] security.

"Loyalty is part of being a citizen, and in this case, the defendant [Zayoud] took advantage of his freedom of movement as a citizen to undermine the state's security and hurt its residents."
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Construction worker approaching a tunnel being built as part of Israel's new high speed rail system. A worker carries reinforcement bars in front of a tunnel at the construction site of Israel Railways's High Speed Link project. Connecting Jerusalem to the greater Tel Aviv area with a 31-minute-long ride, the new railway line will include five tunnels with a total length of about 23 miles and 10 bridges with a total length of about 4 miles. Baz Ratner/REUTERS The Long Road to High-Speed Rail In Israel

Miriam Berger

Aug 3, 2017

The $2-billion project will shorten the 37-mile commute between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv by more than half the current drive time when finally debuts in 2018. Until then, it's still a headache for politicians and commuters.

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Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are culturally quite different, but one thing currently connecting the two is a shared frustration over traffic, thanks to construction on a high-speed rail line.

The 7-billion Israeli Shekel ($2 billion) project is set to start operating by 2018. Once completed, the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway will shorten the 37-mile commute between the country's political and economic hubs from an average of 75 minutes to a miraculous 28 minutes.

The train's debut has been delayed by a host of factors, including financial and environmental concerns, as well as policies that prioritize cars and bureaucratic barriers and tensions between national and local actors.

Then there are the uniquely Israeli problems. Public infrastructure has often come second-tier to other national priorities—mainly military and security-related spending. It's also faced opposition from the powerful ultra-Orthodox, which fought against having construction and eventual train operation occur on Saturdays, the Jewish day of rest.

The high-speed rail is one of the country's biggest infrastructure projects ever. Politicians are positive it will increase economic opportunities in Jerusalem and reduce housing pressures on Tel Aviv, Israel's financial and tech center. The typical commute between the two cities is currently just over an hour. But for many Israelis, in a country about the size of New Jersey, it's considered a restricting and inconvenient schlep to be avoided whenever possible. A bridge, part of Israel Railways' High Speed Link project, is seen near the town of Modiin. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

The Israeli government has been facing pressure to reduce the inter-city commute for decades, all while continuing to promote policies that prioritize the primacy of private cars. A 2013 study by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel reported, "Israel's transportation is far behind that of similarly sized-countries" and "clearly inadequate to meet the needs of future growth." According to the Taub Center, Israel's roads are on average far more congested than those of other western countries. Gasoline prices are also higher in Israel than in most western countries, in large part due to taxes.

The report concludes with a call for "a change in the public policy that gives preference to private vehicle users over public transportation users… Ultimately, the current policy is harmful to economic efficiency and increases the inequality in society."

For now, Israelis mainly travel between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv by private car or bus. The large public buses run by the Egged company (16 shekels, or $4.50 each way) are particularly popular among young people and soldiers, who ride for free. Then there is the sherut (service), or a shared mini bus, that leaves at any hour (for 24 shekels, or $6.75, and more after midnight and on the weekends). Most importantly, the sherut makes the trip on Shabbat when Egged buses shut down. There is already a train that goes between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but it's old, slow, and often empty, as it stops in places that are inconvenient for the average commuter.

Still, it may seem surprising that it's so difficult to travel between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, given Israel's reputation for cutting-edge innovation. Politics, however, has a way of slowing the way forward down.

Part of the vision behind the high-speed train is for the Jerusalem side to connect with the city's sleek-yet-controversial light rail. Running since 2011, the light rail has made it dramatically easier to navigate the city, cutting down on commute time and increasing access into various neighborhoods. Its tracks also cut across from the Palestinian east side of the city to the Jewish west side—a move that angered many Palestinians who saw the highly securitized train as another front in Israel's land grab. (Israel controlled West Jerusalem from 1948-67 and then captured and annexed East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, a move not recognized by the international community. Now much of the Palestinian east is under-resourced, with many services, including busing, privatized in the absence of an autonomous government.) "It [the government] is investing in transport… But the question is whether it's being used right."

In and around Tel Aviv, a light rail is in the works that would connect its end of the high-speed line. Since Israel's founding in 1948, the government has been considering various plans for building a subway system in Tel Aviv, according to the Jerusalem Post. Now, parts of the already congested city have become nearly impossible to navigate during rush hour due to the light rail's construction. One provocative online video made by angry residents even proclaimed, "What Hezbollah and Hamas weren't able to do, the light rail project will do… The destruction and complete paralysis of Tel Aviv."

Geography Professor Yodan Rofe of Ben Gurion University of the Negev tells CityLab that part of the high-speed train's controversy stems from inefficiencies in how public transportation is administered. "The process is so full of different political interests and jockeying both at the national and local government that you never know what the outcome would be," Rofe says. Another Taub Center report agrees, calling for "the establishment of metropolitan transportation authorities or regions… as Transportation is administered today on the national level and this prevents more efficient management of the transportation system."

Then there's the perennially thorny issue facing Israeli commuters: what to do about Shabbat. About 80 percent of Israel's eight million citizens are Jewish (the remaining 20 percent are Christian and Muslim) and much of the country shuts down during the Jewish Sabbath when work is, broadly speaking, prohibited. Friday night and Saturday are therefore prime time for construction on the high-speed rail, as Israel's highways and roads are relatively empty. Instead, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered construction on the high-speed rail not to happen on Shabbat, a move meant to appease the ultra-orthodox who are a powerful voting block and part of his right-wing coalition. Once completed, the train also won't be running on Shabbat—much to the anger of secular Israelis, who are a majority in more-liberal Tel Aviv.

"It's a major issue as if they want people to use public transportation they need to have it on Shabbat or else they [people] will buy a car, at least the majority of people who are secular," says Geography and Economics Professor Eren Feitselson at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

"It's all internal politics," he adds. "From time to time they [ultra-Orthodox] want to pick a fight, and so they look for something to pick a fight."

Public infrastructure in Israel has always had a security element in its planning and design due to enduring tensions with hostile neighbors. But today, some Israelis are frustrated that the government is only prioritizing roads and bus lines for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, land which Palestinians also claim. "I think that definitely has had an impact on priorities," says Yodan of the massive infrastructure works in the West Bank. He also cites projects like the separation barrier—which surrounds much of the Palestinian West Bank—and roads in the West Bank—some of which are reserved only for Jewish drivers—as part of shaping how, when, and where Israel prioritizes public works.

Others disagree, arguing that West Bank roads and Tel Aviv tracks are separate budgeting issues. Either way, the new high-speed train will dramatically cut the time and increase the connection between the two.

"It [the government] is investing in transport," says Feitselson. "A lot. But the question is whether it's being used right." About the Author
Miriam Berger
Miriam Berger

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Miriam Berger is a Middle East based journalist with a focus on international news. She conducted research on the Cairo metro for a master's degree in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at Oxford University.




Birthplace of Apostle Peter found in Israel: archaeologist 1:48am Aug 8, 2017
Birthplace of Apostle Peter found in Israel: archaeologist A picture taken on August 6, 2017, shows a general view of an archeological excavation site, believed to be the location of a biblical village that was home to Saint Peter, near the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. (AFP)

Researchers may have found the home town of Peter and two other apostles of Jesus near the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, an archaeologist said Monday.

Israeli and American archaeologists have likely uncovered the lost Roman city of Julias near the banks of the lake, also known as Lake Tiberias, Mordechai Aviam of Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archeaology said.

First century Roman historian Flavius Josephus wrote that Julias was built around 30 AD on the ruins of Bethsaid, a fishing village where Peter was born according to the Gospel of John.

Christians recognise Saint Peter, originally a fisherman, as one of the first followers of Jesus and the leader of the early Church following the ascension.

The Catholic church also venerates him as its first pope.

Two other apostles -- Philip and Peter's brother Andrew -- are also believed to have been born or lived in Bethsaida.

Archaeologists have long sought to locate Julias, focusing their search on three different sites. Related Articles

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Aviam told AFP that one of the sites, the only one so far excavated, was believed to be the correct site.

"We have uncovered fragments of pottery, coins, and the remains of a public bath, which tends to prove that it was not a small village, but a town which may correspond to Julias," he said.

"Based on these findings, we believe this site is likely to be located at the site of Bethsaida."

The site, not far from the Jordan River, is a few hundred meters from Lake Tiberias.

Water levels would have been far higher during the first century.

Work is also being carried out on another site a few kilometres away, Aviam added.

He said he hoped further excavations would reveal evidence from pre-Roman times, including ancient Jewish remains, which could help verify whether the site is Bethsaida.

The site will not immediately be opened to the public, he said.

jlr-mk-lal/jod/par

Archaeologists believe this is the birthplace of St Peter. (AFP)
Archaeologists believe this is the birthplace of St Peter. (AFP)
Archaeologists believe this is the birthplace of St Peter. (AFP)
Archaeologists believe this is the birthplace of St Peter. (AFP)

© AFP 2017

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