* Peace Now: West Bank Settlement construction has dropped under Netanyahu
* Outgoing head of World Council of Churches delivers farewell trashing of Israel
Today’s dispatch is split in two for space reasons. The other part (titled “And were there never any Romans in Rome either?”) can be read here.
1. Gadhafi celebrates 40 years in power by blaming Israel for “all of Africa’s conflicts”
2. Outgoing head of World Council of Churches delivers farewell trashing of Israel
3. Peace Now: West Bank Settlement construction drops under Bibi
4. British academic declared Israel guilty of “war crimes” before joining UN Gaza mission
5. Hamas official: Abbas personally intervened to foil Shalit deal
6. Senior Saudi Prince survives assassination attempt
7. Iraq recalls ambassador, accusing Syria of state-sponsored terrorism
8. North Korean arms for Iran seized in UAE
9. Mideast arms race defies economic slowdown
10. Vatican newspaper says U.S. and U.K. knew about Holocaust early on
[All notes below by Tom Gross]
GADHAFI CELEBRATES 40 YEARS IN POWER BY BLAMING ISRAEL FOR “ALL OF AFRICA’S CONFLICTS”
Today marks the 40th anniversary of Colonel Gadhafi’s seizure of power in Libya in a coup in 1969. As part of the official celebrations, African leaders have gathered for a summit in the Libyan capital Tripoli. At a speech welcoming the African leaders Gadhafi accused Israel of being “behind all of Africa’s conflicts.” He called on them to close all of Israel’s embassies in the African continent.
Libya is also staging official celebrations to mark the release from a British jail last week of the Libyan man convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
OUTGOING HEAD OF WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES DELIVERS FAREWELL TRASHING OF ISRAEL
Samuel Kobia, a Methodist minister from Kenya who is retiring as head of the World Council of Churches, the world’s largest ecumenical group, used his departure speech to attack Israel. He called Jews living near Jewish holy sites in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) “a sin against God.”
WCC is the umbrella organization for 349 denominations, including more than 30 American Protestant denominations. Kobia was criticized by other Christians for singling out Israel for attack, and also for failing to mention Islamic persecution of Christians.
PEACE NOW: WEST BANK SETTLEMENT CONSTRUCTION DROPS UNDER BIBI
Construction in the Jewish areas of the West Bank has dropped 15 percent since Benjamin Netanyahu became Israeli Prime Minister earlier this year, compared to the second half of 2008, according to a new report by the Peace Now lobbying group.
Peace Now’s use of the term “structures” in its report is broader than that used by the Israeli government, which counts only legal housing units in permanent structures, not modular homes or construction in outposts.
The Israeli government’s Central Bureau of Statistics said there has been a 39 percent drop in the number of new housing starts in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) in the first quarter of 2009, the latest government statistic available, compared to the first quarter of 2008.
The structures being built are part of pre-existing work that commenced some time ago. Peace Now says that no new tenders for Jewish building in the West Bank have been issued since the Netanyahu government came to power (although plenty of new Arab building has begun).
BRITISH ACADEMIC DECLARED ISRAEL GUILTY OF “WAR CRIMES” BEFORE JOINING UN GAZA MISSION
The Geneva-based organization, UN Watch, has submitted a legal brief to the UN calling on the forthcoming UN fact-finding mission to Gaza to disqualify London School of Economics (LSE) law professor Christine Chinkin from the mission because of prior statements she made that bring her impartiality into question.
In a letter published in the (London) Sunday Times in January, Chinkin declared Israel “guilty of war crimes.”
The UN commission of inquiry is being headed by left-wing Jewish South African judge, Richard Goldstone. Some in Israel say the UN deliberately picked a Jew to chair the UN commission in order to deflect charges of anti-Semitism if it accuses Israel of war crimes.
HAMAS OFFICIAL: ABBAS PERSONALLY INTERVENED TO FOIL SHALIT DEAL
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas personally intervened to foil a prisoner deal between Hamas and Israel last June, prominent Hamas official Mushir al-Masri has said.
“We were very close to striking a deal that would have resulted in the release of Shalit. But Abbas personally intervened to prevent the prisoner exchange because he was opposed to the release of Hamas legislators and officials from Israeli prisons.”
Masri said that Abbas was afraid that the release of the Hamas terrorists would undermine his authority and revive the debate about his legitimacy as PA president, particularly since his term in office expired at the beginning of this year.
The Hamas official said that the U.S. also intervened to thwart an imminent prisoner exchange out of fear that such a move would boost the Islamic movement’s standing among Palestinians.
Gilad Shalit spent his fourth birthday in captivity last week.
* For more on Shalit and Hamas prisoners, please see How many degrees does Gilad Shalit have? (& Facebook closes Hamas leader’s fan page) (Aug. 16, 2009)
SENIOR SAUDI PRINCE SURVIVES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
A suicide bomber in Jiddah lightly wounded Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, the man behind Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorism campaign, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Friday. It was the first known assassination attempt against a member of the royal family since Saudi Arabia began its crackdown on al-Qaeda.
“This attack has increased my resolve to fight terror,” the prince, who serves as the Assistant Interior Minister for Security Affairs, said from his hospital bed afterwards.
The bombing was the first significant attack by terrorists in the Kingdom since 2006. Saudi Arabia has waged a fierce war on al-Qaeda, hunting down and killing most of its leaders in the country, after a string of attacks that started in 2003.
IRAQ RECALLS AMBASSADOR, ACCUSING SYRIA OF STATE-SPONSORED TERRORISM
Iraq has withdrawn its ambassador from Syria, deepening a diplomatic crisis sparked by Iraqi accusations that Damascus is aiding, abetting and sheltering the terrorists who masterminded the massive truck bombings in Baghdad last month. In response Syria recalled its envoy from Baghdad.
The truck bombs at the ministries of finance and foreign affairs killed over 100 people and wounded about 600 in the Iraqi capital two weeks ago. It was the worst day of violence in Iraq in 18 months.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and other top officials have accused the Syrian Baath party dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad of deliberately trying to destabilize Iraq to prevent democracy taking hold there. Israel and Lebanon have also long accused Damascus of harboring terrorists.
The spate of deadly bombs in Iraq last month has also significantly hampered the U.S.-Syrian rapprochement, security officials tell me. They believe the terrorists almost certainly had assistance from Syria.
NORTH KOREAN ARMS FOR IRAN SEIZED IN UAE
The Dubai-based Khaleej Times reports that the United Arab Emirates has seized a ship carrying North Korean weapons to Iran. This marks the first time a nation has acted on UN sanctions to stop the communist state’s weapons proliferation, a diplomat told the paper.
The paper commented: “The seizure would indicate that North Korea is set on exporting its military technology, long a top money-maker for one of the world’s poorest and most isolated nations.”
MIDEAST ARMS RACE DEFIES ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN
Defense spending in the Middle East will exceed $100 billion by 2014, according to a study released by Frost & Sullivan, which says that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are spearheading the arms race in the Middle East. Both countries are particularly nervous about the rise of Iran and what they perceive as President Obama’s weak response to Iranian nuclear ambitions.
The report says that Saudi Arabia looks set to spend at least $36 billion annually over the next five years. “The ratio of their defense spending to that of their total GDP is the highest in the world,” it notes, stressing that the ratio was unaffected by the global economic slowdown and fluctuating oil prices.
According to the report, Jordan is eyeing 85 AIM-120C-7 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles and 120 C captive air training missiles in a deal estimated at around $130 million. Bahrain is also considering the purchase of 25 AIM-120C-7 missiles.
Separately, RIA Novosti reports that Saudi Arabia is to buy 30 Mi-171B Russian military helicopters. The Saudis have traditionally bought only Western, mainly U.S.-made, military equipment, but have recently expressed an interest in acquiring Russian weaponry, including S-400 air defense systems, T-90 tanks, BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles, and various types of helicopters.
VATICAN NEWSPAPER SAYS U.S. AND U.K. KNEW ABOUT HOLOCAUST EARLY ON
The official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano said the United States and Britain knew about the Holocaust, but did nothing to stop it. According to the report British and American governments ignored, downplayed or suppressed intelligence reports about the Nazis’ extermination plans. The Vatican says it is unfair to suggest it was only the papacy that failed to help Jews during the Nazi genocide.
Meanwhile, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said that an apology by British Catholic Bishop Richard Williamson, who last year in a TV interview denied the Holocaust, was not good enough. Lombardi said Williamson had to repudiate his views if he wants to be a Catholic clergyman. Williamson’s statement “does not appear to respect the conditions” the Vatican set out for him in February 2009, he said.