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French Foreign Minister Mobbed by Angry Gazans


VOA News 

A crowd of angry Palestinian protesters attempted to block the car of French Foreign Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie as she traveled to the Gaza Strip.

Dozens of protesters, many relatives of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons, surrounded the vehicle shortly after it passed through a Hamas checkpoint Friday.

The protesters were angry at comments mistakenly attributed to Alliot-Marie following a meeting with the parents of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by militants in 2006. At the meeting Shalit's father asked Alliot-Marie to press the European Union to condemn his kidnapping as a war crime. News media however, attributed the statement to French foreign minister.

Hamas police eventually cleared the protesters allowing the convoy to continue its way to Gaza city.

But a separate group of demonstrators accosted her motorcade once it arrived at a nearby French-funded hospital she was visiting.

The foreign minister is in the region in an effort to revive stalled Mideast peace talks. On Thursday she met with her Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli President Shimon Peres


Infantry Soldiers Thwart Attempted Shooting Attack


A Palestinian opened fired at soldiers of the Kfir infantry Brigade in the Samaria region

A Palestinian opened fire toward soldiers of the Kfir infantry Brigade on Thursday morning (Jan. 20) in northern Samaria, around 11 o'clock a.m. The shooting took place in the Mevo Dotan community near Jenin. The results of a preliminary investigation of the event show the Palestinian terrorist was riding a donkey and approached the pillbox where the soldiers were standing, the descended from the donkey holding a gun.

The terrorist moved toward the pillbox yelling "Allahu Akbar" (Allah is the Greatest). The soldiers fired a warning shot in the air and the Palestinian began shooting at them. The soldiers fired back in response and the Palestinian was killed.

This week, during a visit with the Samaria Territorial Brigade (allocated to the Samaria region alone), Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he is, "in awe of and appreciative for the extraordinary achievements in terms of prevailing security all over the Central Command and the Judea and Samaria Division, and also here in Nablus." He continued saying it was, "The fruit of exceptional professional labor of the IDF, the ISA and the coordination and understanding of a common interest with the Palestinian security services."

In a report, the Israel Security Agency summarized the past year noting a recorded decrease in terrorist attacks in the Judea and Samaria region (16 attacks in 2010 as opposed to 20 in 2009), despite a significant increase in their severity (5 deaths), with an emphasis on the Judea region.

At the backdrop of this, Hamas infrastructures were rebuilt in the Hebron and Yatir regions. In the Jerusalem area, however, an increase was recorded in the number of terror events (including two shooting attacks), disorderly conduct events and events of rock and Molotov cocktail throwing.


Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak Quits Political Party


Barak said he and his partners are creating a faction called Independence, a movement that will later be a party, one that he said will be centrist, Zionist, and democratic

Luis Ramirez , Jerusalem
VOA News
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has split from the center-left Labor Party in a move that some analysts say will strengthen the right-wing elements of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition.

The departure of Ehud Barak from the Labor Party did not appear to threaten the stability of a governing coalition that analysts often describe as shaky because it includes both far-right and far-left elements.

Barak, a former prime minister, announced his decision to split from the Labor Party at a news conference.

He said he and his partners are creating a faction called Independence, a movement that will later be a party, one that he said will be centrist, Zionist, and democratic.

There have been sharp divisions within the Labor party over the lack of progress in peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Barak said he is tired of what he described as endless infighting.

He said many of his colleagues were victims of what he said were daily difficulties and a continuously unhealthy situation within the party.

Left-leaning members of the Labor Party have been pressuring Barak, a centrist, to push for more concessions in negotiations with the Palestinians or quit the government. The party was due to vote next month on whether to leave the coalition.

Barak is staying in the coalition under his new faction. Several other prominent Labor Party members including some Cabinet ministers have since announced they are joining him.

The Labor Party members remaining in the coalition are among the more dovish elements of the party who favor making concessions to the Palestinians in order to get stalled peace talks going again.

Analysts expected them to quit the government, leaving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition with a smaller, but more stable block of hardliners.

Talks with the Palestinians stalled within a month after they started in September when Netanyahu's government refused to extend a Jewish settlement building freeze in the occupied West Bank.

Analysts say the split is another chapter in the demise of the Labor Party, which historically dominated Israeli politics.

"The Labor Party was the largest party in the Zionist movement," said Gideon Rahat, a politics professor at Hebrew University. "It led Israel to independence. It ruled Israel until 1977, so the real story here is the historical story. The story is one of a history of decline and this is an important event in the decline of the Labor Party."

The party is now a mid-sized faction that finished in fourth place in the 2009 elections. Some within the party accuse Barak of betraying the its pro-peace and socialist principles in favor of prevailing right-wing policies.


US and Israeli Computer Program Slows Iran's Nuclear Ambitions


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "technological problems," along with international sanctions, have made it much more difficult for Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions

VOA News

A published report says a joint U.S.-Israeli project designed to sabotage Iran's nuclear program has apparently shut down a fifth of that country's nuclear centrifuges.

The report in The New York Times quotes unidentified intelligence and military experts as saying the project has helped delay, though not destroy, Iran's ability to make nuclear weapons.

According to the newspaper, the experts from both the United States and Israel have been able over the past two years to develop a destructive computer worm that has attacked computers in Iran.

The newspaper says Israel first tested the Stuxnet computer worm at its own Dimona nuclear site on uranium enrichment centrifuges nearly identical to those in Iran.

The report coincides with a two-day tour of Iran's nuclear facilities by a group of international envoys. Iranian officials say the tour is designed to show the country's nuclear program is peaceful.

But the six nations involved in nuclear talks with Iran are not participating in the rare tour. Those talks are scheduled to resume in Istanbul on Thursday.

Last week U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "technological problems," along with international sanctions, have made it much more difficult for Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions. But she said Iran's nuclear program remains a serious concern.


Hezbollah Chief Hassan Nasrallah Calls for New Leadership in Lebanon


Heather Murdock, Beirut 

VOA News

People watch the speech of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on a screen at a cafe in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011. The leader of Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah says Saad Hariri should not return as prime minister. Nasrallah made his first public comments Sunday since ministers from his movement and their allies resigned from the Cabinet on Wednesday, toppling Hariri's Western-backed government.

For the first time since the Lebanese government collapsed on Wednesday, Hezbollah’s leader spoke today, accusing the U.S., Israel, and the international tribunal investigating the 2005 murder of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of trying to destabilize Lebanon.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, which is allied with nearly half of the Lebanese parliament, did not say who he wants as the country’s new prime minister. But he was clear about who he does not want: Sa’ad Hariri, the son of the slain prime minister, who was unseated as prime minister last week.

Nasrallah said he will not support any government that cooperates with The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a UN-backed court set up to investigate the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In the coming days, the tribunal prosecutor is expected to hand indictments of Hezbollah members to judges for review. Hezbollah maintains these indictments are political attacks on the organization, based on lying witnesses.

This comes as the Lebanese parliament prepares for what is expected to be a bitter fight over who will be the next prime minister. Sa’ad Hariri’s government fell Wednesday when 11 ministers, most from Hezbollah, resigned. Parties are expected to announce their preferred candidates Monday.

Lebanon’s two major political coalitions, March 8 and March 14, are deadlocked over the issue of The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which sparked Wednesday’s walk-out.

March 14, which is the ruling party of Sa’ad Hariri, supports the court.

March 8, the opposition coalition that includes Hezbollah, does not. Hezbollah, a Shi’ite political party and militia backed by Iran and Syria, says the court’s goal is to discredit the organization, not to find the killers.

Both sides say they will only accept a new government that agrees with them on this issue. March 14 says Sa’ad Hariri is the only man for prime minister. March 8 says he is not.

March 14’s General Secretary Fares Souaid says his coalition does not intend to compromise. "We support three main points. First, we support the international tribunal. Second, we support Sa’ad al-Hariri as prime minister. Third, we support stability and peaceful democracy in Lebanon," he said.

But peace and stability in Lebanon is becoming harder to maintain. Lebanese journalist and political analyst Hazem Saghieh says even though Hezbollah has called for peaceful change that falls within legal boundaries, it may not be able to contain growing sectarian tensions. "A spontaneous clash might take place in any of Beirut’s streets and might lead to a bigger conflict which is unpredictable now," he said.

Political leaders from all political parties have called for peace on the streets. Saghieh says that if the parliament decides on Sa’ad Hariri, and government continues to recognize the court, Hezbollah might be forced into a corner. In 2008, Hezbollah took over West Beirut in a matter of days.

Volatility in Lebanon has also worried leaders in the region and all over the world. Leaders from Qatar, Syria and Turkey are expected to meet in Damascus on Monday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also expressed concern about the increasing chaos in the region, saying that any new peace treaty with Palestine would have to include stronger security measures.


IDF Chief of Staff Honors Outgoing Mossad Director


Chief of the General Staff and the General Staff Forum held a celebratory lunch for the outgoing Director of the Mossad Intelligence Agency after years of collaborative efforts and achievements

IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as members of the General Staff Forum parted with the outgoing Director of the Mossad Intelligence Agency, Maj. Gen (res.) Meir Dagan, in a celebratory lunch at the Rabin base in Tel Aviv on Monday (Jan. 10).

The Chief of Staff thanked the outgoing Mossad Director for his combined effort and said, "During the past eight years, as head of the Mossad, you were on the forefront of achievement. You led the agency during a unique and challenging period and contributed exceptionally, with most of your achievements unknown. Over the eight years we've worked together collaboratively and with the mutual understanding that we are working toward a shared and higher goal--the security of the State of Israel."

The outgoing Director thanked the Chief of Staff for the years of cooperation and wished him and the General Staff luck in the rest of their endeavors.

Pictured: The Chief of Staff grants the outgoing Mossad Director a diploma in the name of IDF soldiers and commanders certifying the planting of a tree at the Jewish National Fund forest in Maj. Gen. (res.) Meir Dagan's name.


IDF Soldier Killed in an Exchange of Gunfire


Sgt. Nadav Rotenberg killed by a mortar shell when a group of armed Palestinians were discovered planting an explosive device along the security fence of the Gaza Strip

IDF soldier, 20-year-old Sgt. Nadav Rotenberg from Ramot Hashavim (central Israel) was killed on Saturday (Jan. 8) during an exchange of fire on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The soldier's family was notified. During the event another officer was moderately injured and three other soldiers lightly injured. The soldiers were transferred to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba.
Following the event, a preliminary investigation took place in the area by Commander of Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Tal Russo and Commander of the Gaza Division, Brig. Gen. Yossi Bachar, during which it was discovered that Sgt. Nadav Rotenberg and the other soldiers were hit by an IDF mortar shell fired. For reasons still being investigated, the mortar shell wavered from its intended course, hitting the force doing a search after a terrorist cell was found planting explosive devices near the security fence near kibbutz Nirim.
Maj. Gen. Russo has ordered a special investigation crew headed by an officer with the rank of Lt. Col. to investigate the circumstances of the event.


PM Netanyahu Meets with Egyptian President Mubarak


PM Netanyahu asked President Mubarak to act to persuade the Palestinians to move to direct, intensive and serious negotiations

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Sharm e-Sheikh, with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The two leaders held a lengthy, friendly and comprehensive discussion that focused on the bilateral effort to advance the diplomatic process.

Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated that he believes that a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is possible provided that the latter are willing to end the conflict. He asked President Mubarak to act to persuade the Palestinians to move to direct, intensive and serious negotiations – in which all core issues will be raised – forthwith.

Prime Minister Netanyahu updated President Mubarak on the rapid progress in constructing the fence along the border with Egypt and added that the fence would help reduce the number of Africans who infiltrate into Israel through Egypt, some of whom remain there.

After the meeting, an expanded lunch was held with the participation of Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, National Security Adviser Dr. Uzi Arad and the Prime Minister's Military Secretary, Maj.-Gen. Yohanan Loaker. Attending from the Egyptian side were Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, President Mubarak's Chief-of-Staff, Dr. Zakaria Azmi, President Mubarak's Adviser, Ambassador Soliman Awad and South Sinai Gov. Muhammad Shousha.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Israel is committed to aggressively fighting terrorist elements in Gaza that endanger its security and peace.


Within First Week of 2011: Over Ten Rockets Launched from Gaza Strip into Israel


Throughout the year 2010, over 235 Grad missiles, Qassam rockets and mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory.

The first week of 2011 has already seen more than 10 rockets and mortar shells launched at Israel’s southern communities, with the IDF responding to attacks targeting the Hamas organization’s terror activity sites, a weapon manufacturing site and a smuggling tunnel

Within the first week of 2011, more than 10 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel’s southern communities.
-On Saturday (Jan. 1), a Qassam rocket was fired at the Sha’ar Hanegev regional council, home to approximately 6,500 residents.
-On Sunday (Jan. 2), a rocket was fired into the Eshkol Regional Council, home to approximately 10,000 residents.
-On Tuesday (Jan. 4), a Qassam rocket was fired and hit the Ashkelon Shore regional council, home to approximately 13,000 residents.
.On Wednesday (Jan. 5), seven mortar shells were fired into the Eshkol Regional Council.
-On Thursday (Jan. 6), a rocket was fired into Sdot Negev Regional Council, home to approx 8,000 residents.
In response to these attacks, the IDF struck several terror-related sites. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) targeted and hit a terrorist activity center in the northern Gaza Strip as well as a weapons manufacturing facility in the central Gaza Strip, both belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization.
Later in the week, in a joint operation between the Israel Security Agency and the IDF, the IAF also struck one of the Hamas terrorist organization’s terror activity centers in the central Gaza Strip and a smuggling tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip.
Throughout the year 2010, over 235 Grad missiles, Qassam rockets and mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory.
The IDF holds the Hamas terrorist organization solely responsible for maintaining the calm in the Gaza Strip and for any terrorist activity emanating from it. The IDF will also continue to respond harshly to any attempt to use terror against the State of Israel.


Netanyahu Asks US to Pardon Jonathan Pollard


Pollard is in poor health. Netanyahu has said he feels he has a "moral obligation" to ask for Pollard's release.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked U.S. President Barack Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life prison term in the United States.

Israeli radio reports that Netanyahu's office forwarded the request to the White House. And a White House official told the French news agency on Tuesday that Obama received Netanyahu's letter and will review it.

Netanyahu said in late December that he would issue a formal request for Pollard's release after Pollard's wife hand-delivered a letter to the prime minister from her husband.

Pollard admitted passing secrets to Israel after he was arrested in 1985. The full extent of the secrets passed on by Pollard has never been revealed, but he is widely believed to have allowed Israeli officials to copy thousands of secret documents.

Pollard is an American who was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995. The 56-year-old former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst is in poor health. Netanyahu has said he feels he has a "moral obligation" to ask for Pollard's release.

Israel has regularly lobbied for Pollard's freedom. However, whenever clemency appeals were lodged, U.S. officials have said they were unwilling to consider leniency because of the gravity of his offenses

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