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« Reply #75 on: November 21, 2007, 12:19:27 PM »

Egypt to host mini Arab summit ahead of Annapolis
Associated Press
THE JERUSALEM POST
Nov. 21, 2007

In a flurry of diplomatic activity ahead of key US-sponsored Mideast talks, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Wednesday he will be holding a mini-summit of Arab leaders in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

In a meeting with former British prime minister and now peace envoy Tony Blair, Mubarak confirmed that he would be meeting with the Jordanian and Palestinian leaders on Thursday.

It was not immediately clear if Syria and Saudi Arabia would also be attending the meeting, which comes just a day before an important Arab League meeting in Cairo when Arab countries are expected to announce whether they will attend Monday's conference in Annapolis, Maryland.

In the Arab world, there has been great suspicion of the conference, with many nations questioning the Bush administration's ability to forge peace, particularly between two leaders weakened by internal political turmoil.

Egypt to host mini Arab summit ahead of Annapolis
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« Reply #76 on: November 23, 2007, 01:39:58 PM »

Discuss Golan at Annapolis conference

At pre-Annapolis meeting of Arab League foreign ministers, participants attempt to formulate united Arab stand before Tuesday's conference. 'US must include discussion on future of Golan Heights in summit,' says one senior diplomat
News agencies


A senior Arab diplomat said Friday that the Arab League would demand that the US include a discussion on the future of the Golan Heights in the Annapolis peace conference, so as to enable Syria to participate.

The diplomat's remarks came at the end of an informal gathering of some 11 Arab foreign ministers at Arab League headquarters in Cairo ahead of a key league meeting to hammer out a unified Arab position for the Annapolis conference.

He added that Syria would attend the summit if the US complied with this demand. Asked whether the Americans have responded on the matter, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem said, "We are still waiting."

Meanwhile, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said, "Arabs are going to participate in the (Annapolis) meeting, to show support for the Palestinians in accordance with the Arab peace initiative."

The ministers are calling to base the talks on the Arab peace initiative, which offers full peace with Israel in exchange for a complete withdrawal from all territories captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat also said that the Annapolis meeting will revive the stalled peace process. "(The Palestinians) have for seven years witnessed a frozen political process," Erekat said. "Now the question is not whether we should go or not, but strategically, how will we go as Arabs?"

 
Erekat: No to 'peace at any price'

"We want peace, but it won't be for whatever price," he added and referred to the borders of a Palestinian state, the status of east Jerusalem and the future of millions of Palestinian refugees as preconditions for peace.

The attendance of Arab heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Syria remains unclear and sources present at the meeting said much of the late night discussion revolved around the Syrian demand that the fate of the Golan Heights be high on the agenda at Annapolis.Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem spent hours trying to convince his counterparts that the conference should include an attempt to relaunch the long-frozen Syrian-Israeli peace talks.

During Friday's meeting, the ministers will be briefed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before drafting the a final, unified Arab statement on the conference.

Arab League: Discuss Golan at Annapolis conference
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« Reply #77 on: November 25, 2007, 11:06:54 AM »

Saudis calling shots at Annapolis peace conference?
Israel recognizes plan calling for exit from Golan, Temple Mount, Jerusalem, West Bank


In exchange for Saudi Arabia attending this week's U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian conference in Annapolis, the Israeli government agreed to recognize the importance of a Saudi-sponsored "peace initiative" in which the Jewish state is called upon to evacuate the strategic Golan Heights, the entire West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, WND has learned.

WND obtained a draft Israeli-Palestinian declaration to be presented at the Annapolis conference and to serve as an official outline of a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority

The wording is still being negotiated by both sides, but according to Israeli diplomatic sources, Israel agreed to a Saudi request that the declaration document include reference to a Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative, first presented in 2002 and reissued earlier this year at a meeting of the Arab League, an umbrella association of Mideast Arab states.

When it was first revealed, the Arab Initiative was heavily criticized by the U.S. and Israel because the text requires the Jewish state to withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and allow for the creation of a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, including the evacuation of the Temple Mount - Judaism's holiest site.

The Initiative also called for a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights, strategic mountainous territory that looks down on Israeli population centers and that was twice used by Syria to launch ground invasions into the Jewish state.

But now Israel has recognized the Arab Initiative as a precondition for Saudi Arabia to attend the Annapolis summit, according to diplomatic sources in Jerusalem.

While Israel doesn't commit itself to the Arab Initiative's requirements, a clause in the current draft of the Israeli-Palestinian declaration slated for the Annaplis conference and obtained by WND reads: "We recognize the critical supporting role of Arab and Muslim states and the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative."

The draft declaration is subject to final changes up to Tuesday's summit.

Saudi Arabia announced yesterday it would send its foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, to the Annapolis summit after the Arab League decided to back the Israeli-Palestinian conference.

Syria has not yet officially decided whether to attend but has made clear it would not send a representative to Annapolis unless the Golan Heights was placed on the agenda.

Syria is in a military alliance with Iran and is accused by the U.S. of supporting the insurgency in Iraq and generating instability in Lebanon. Israel says Syria regularly ships Iranian rockets and weaponry to the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. The chiefs of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad Palestinian terror groups are based in Damascus.

The U.S. extended an invitation to Syria without any preconditions.

While many in Washington have high hopes for Annapolis, recent polls here show Israelis are less optimistic.

A survey sponsored last week by the Israel Policy Center for Promoting Parliamentary Democracy and Jewish Values in Israeli Public Life found 77 percent of Israelis believe Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas lacked the power to prevent attacks from the West Bank.

Sixty-one percent of the general Israeli public opposes a withdrawal from most of the West Bank and handing the strategic territory to the Palestinians.

If Israel indeed evacuated the West Bank, some 55 percent of Israelis believe Palestinians will use the territory to fire rockets into Jewish population centers, and 65 percent believe there is a high or very high chance Hamas would take control of the area, according to the new poll. Hamas leaders in recent days warned their terror group would take over the West Bank if Israel withdrew.

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« Reply #78 on: November 25, 2007, 04:00:48 PM »

Fear exposed: Iran poised
to destabilize Lebanon 
Tehran, Syria slam Annapolis
on verge of peace conference

With the Annapolis summit scheduled to begin Tuesday, top Israeli government policy officials have expressed to WND concerns Iran is on the brink of destabilizing Lebanon.

At issue is the stalemate over selecting a new president to succeed President Emil Lahoud, whose term expired last week.

On Friday, Hezbollah blocked another parliamentary vote for a new president, forcing the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to exert emergency powers and assume the powers of the presidency.

Today, Syria's foreign ministry announced a decision to send a lower level of representation to attend the Annapolis meeting.

To underscore Syria's continued close relationship with Iran, Syria's President Bashar Assad allowed Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to publish in an Iranian Islamic Republic News Agency report a telephone conversation in which the two leaders affirmed their support for the creation of a Palestinian state.

In a comment designed to undermine the Annapolis conference, the IRNA reported, "Only the real representatives of the Palestinian nation are eligible to decide their own destiny, said the two presidents."

The report ended stressing, "The two presidents underlined that the upcoming Annapolis conference is doomed to failure."

Israeli officials are concerned no solution can be reached over the formation of a Palestinian state as long Iran continues to pursue uranium enrichment in open defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.N. Security Council.

Hezbollah owes its origin to spiritual leader Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who got the inspiration to create the Hezbollah from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1980s, when Fadlallah studied under Khomeini while the two were in exile in Najaf, Iraq.

Iran currently funds both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza, even though Hamas is a Sunni organization that owes its origin to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah supports the candidacy of Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian politician who has reversed his previous anti-Syrian position to support Syria, after Syria withdrew its military from Lebanon in 2005, in the wake of Syrian involvement in the assassination of Lebanon former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Now, Aoun openly supports Hezbollah, defying the anti-Syrian majority in Lebanon's population, as reflected in the parliamentary alliance that created the Siniora government in Parliament.

Under the Lebanese Constitution, the president must come from the Maronite Christian community, while the jobs of prime minister and parliamentary speaker are earmarked for Sunni and Shi'a Muslims.

Experienced Middle Eastern observer Amir Taheri wrote last week, "Within the next week or so, we'll know whether Iran (acting through proxies in Beirut) will trigger a new civil war in Lebanon."

Hezbollah deputy leader Sheik Naim Kassam asserted last week the Siniora government has no right to assume the powers of the presidency.

"This government is illegitimate and unconstitutional," Kassam said in a speech last week. "It doesn't exist, so it can't rule and it can't exercise the role of the presidency."

Kassam also denounced the Annapolis conference, http://in.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idINIndia-30680720071125 calling it "a media show in favor of Israel."

Taheri reported most Lebanese Christians and Sunni Muslims want a president who would "symbolize Lebanon's independence from both Iran and Syria."

Taheri also reported a majority of the Shi'ite Muslims in Lebanon, almost 40 percent of the population, is split between Hezbollah, which follows directives from Iran, and the Amal Movement, led by Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri.

While Amal has close ties now established to Tehran, Berri still prefers Syrian influence in Lebanon.

The Amal Movement, founded in 1975 by Iranian-born Lebanese Shi'a religious leader Musa al-Sadr, formed an important militia in the Lebanese Civil War.

In the Lebanese Civil War in the 1980s, Amal embraced the support of Syria in a campaign against Palestinian refugees in what became known as the "War of the Camps" and attacked Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut.

Hezbollah and pro-Syrian Shi'ite groups such as Amal have been insisting on a two-thirds vote in Lebanon's parliament to select the next president.

Taheri noted a win for Iran in the selection of Lebanon's next president would confirm Ahmadinejad's claim that the United States is already preparing the "last helicopter" to flee from Iraq the moment a successor is chosen to President Bush.

Ahmadinejad's "last helicopter" reference is drawn to the fall of Saigon and the famous photograph taken by Dutch UPI photographer Hubert van Es on April 19, 2005, showing Vietnamese civilians desperately trying to board an American helicopter on an apartment roof.

While the debate in the Lebanese parliament has thus far remained civil, history leads experienced Lebanon observers to be concerned the controversy could spill into volatile street protests if the deadlock over the selection of a new president is not resolved soon.

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« Reply #79 on: November 26, 2007, 07:41:08 PM »

Israelis take to streets to protest Annapolis 
Tens of thousands converge at Western Wall, rallies across country

Israelis across the country today protested Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's attendance at tomorrow's U.S.-sponsored Annapolis summit, blasting the Israeli leader for his expressed willingness to evacuate strategic territory, including possibly swaths of Jerusalem.

Nationalist groups handed out flyers against Annapolis at the entrances to Jerusalem and other major Israeli cities and even blocked streets in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in protest of tomorrow's summit.

An estimated 25,000 people took part in a mass prayer service at the Western Wall today against Olmert's positions at Annapolis; afterwards large crowds converged for a protest outside the prime minister's Jerusalem residence. Another estimated 10,000 Israelis rallied today in the center of Jerusalem, with many holding placards denouncing land giveaways.

"Ehud Olmert, like Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) and George Bush, is a lame duck and all they can offer are expectations which will ultimately blow up in our faces," said Danny Dayan, chairman of the Yesha council of Jewish settlements.

At a protest at the Western Wall, Knesset Member Uri Ariel told the crowd: "It is critical for us to offer prayer to our Father in Heaven when the prime minister wants to sell our national homeland. We are here [at the Wall] to say that we trust in God and that Olmert has no mandate to give up Jerusalem."

Knesset Member David Rotem of the Yisrael Beitenu party, which is part of Olmert's government coalition, said: "We’re all here as one to say to the government of Israel – do not raise your hand against Jerusalem, do not raise your hand against the settlements in Judea and Samaria. We will not allow the prime minister and defense minister to freeze the expansion of settlements in Judea and Samaria, and we will continue to populate it."

Shaul Goldstein, spokesman for a major West Bank Jewish community, said at a rally Olmert didn't represent the Israeli public at Annapolis.

"The people of Israel did not give you a mandate to give away its property and what belongs to it historically ... you have no mandate, sir," said Goldstein.

Yeshiva students tomorrow plan to encircle Jerusalem's Old City walls in protest of Annapolis, and a massive rally is planned for the center of the city.

While some dismiss the statements of protest leaders as rhetoric, recent polls of the general population here show Olmert doesn't have the public's backing to withdraw from the West Bank or Jerusalem.

A survey sponsored last week by the Israel Policy Center for Promoting Parliamentary Democracy and Jewish Values in Israeli Public Life found 61 percent of the general Israeli public opposes a withdrawal from most of the West Bank and handing the strategic territory to the Palestinians.

Seventy-seven percent of Israelis polled said they believe Abbas lacked the power to prevent attacks from the West Bank.

If Israel indeed evacuated the West Bank, some 55 percent of Israelis believe Palestinians will use the territory to fire rockets into Jewish population centers, and 65 percent believe there is a high or very high chance Hamas would take control of the area, according to the new poll. Hamas leaders in recent days warned their terror group would take over the West Bank if Israel withdrew.

Some 55 percent of Israelis believe the Knesset should remove Olmert from office due to multiple criminal investigations against him charging various degrees of financial and political corruption.

Also, 53 percent of Israelis said they believe the main reason Olmert was seeking an accord with the Palestinians was because of concern for his political future and not Israel's national interests.

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« Reply #80 on: November 26, 2007, 07:43:01 PM »

Rabbis to Israeli PM: Come home now! 
Warn 'merely talking about withdrawal' leads to terrorism

Leading rabbis, members of the Rabbinical Congress for Peace which is comprised of over 350 prominent rabbis in Israel have sent an urgent letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert calling on him to come back to Israel and not to participate in the Conference in Annapolis which begins Tuesday.

“Tell President George Bush that Israel wants true peace and therefore cannot take part in such a conference whose goal is to extract more and more concessions and withdrawals from Israel. This will bring to bloodshed and increase terrorism in the area. This is what has been happening time and time again after every concession or withdrawal in the last 15 years.”

The rabbis also wrote that President Bush himself is aware of the historical fact that every piece of land that was given to the Palestinians turned into a launching pad and training camp to fire on Israel and carry out terrorist attacks.

“The chronological order events of the past prove without a doubt that by merely talking about withdrawal encourages and leads to terrorist attacks, to deaths and casualties, G-d forbid. Only when Israel will present this fact clearly and firmly will it receive international recognition as a country that seeks peace,” the rabbis continued.

“One doesn’t even have to go far back, just last week when talk of the conference intensified a Jew was killed in a terrorist attack and rockets were fired on Israeli town from Gush Katif, the area that was given to the Palestinians in exchange for peace.”

The Rabbis noted that the Torah and Jewish Code of Law which are concerned for the security and wellbeing of every Jew foresaw this painful axiom hundreds of years ago when it ruled that it is absolutely forbidden to give up even one inch of land that is under Jewish control to foreigners because it will only lead to bloodshed. It is a matter of life or death for all residents of Israel.

“It is still not too late to stop the bloodshed that this conference will lead to,” the rabbis pleaded, “Pack your bags, take your entourage and come back home immediately if not sooner! The Rabbis told Olmert.

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« Reply #81 on: November 26, 2007, 10:38:14 PM »

I, for one, am glad to see that Israel is showing that they know what the "weather" is and won't be taken for fools.

Grammyluv
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« Reply #82 on: November 26, 2007, 11:11:44 PM »

Unfortunately their PM isn't showing that.

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« Reply #83 on: November 27, 2007, 03:33:07 PM »

Israel, Palestinians OK negotiating plan

By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer 14 minutes ago

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed Tuesday to immediately resume long-stalled talks toward a deal by the end of next year that would create an independent Palestinian state, using a U.S.-hosted Mideast peace conference to launch their first negotiations in seven years.

In a joint statement read by President Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledged to start discussions on the core issues of the conflict next month and accepted the United States as arbiter of interim steps.

"We agree to immediately launch good-faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception, as specified in previous agreements," it said.

"We agree to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008," said the document, which was reached after weeks of intense diplomacy and was uncertain until just before Bush announced it.

The conference at the U.S. Naval Academy has been greeted by heavy skepticism, with many questioning its timing and prospects for success, especially given the weaknesses of Olmert and Abbas, whose leadership is challenged by the militant Hamas movement.

And the task is complicated by Arab pressure to resolve other long simmering disputes Israel has with Syria and Lebanon.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, in his remarks to the conference, called for the earliest possible resumption of talks with Lebanon and Syria, which wants the return of the Golan Heights, land seized by Israel during the 1967 war.

"We have come to support the launching of serious and continuing talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis that will address all the core and final status issues," Saud said. "These talks must be followed by the launching of the Syrian and Lebanese tracks at the earliest."

Bush, in a separate address, defended the decision to hold the Annapolis conference, saying it was the right time to launch peace talks and urging representatives of more than 50 participating countries and organizations to support the effort.

"First, the time is right because Palestinians and Israelis have leaders who are determined to achieve peace," he said. "Second, the time is right because a battle is under way for the future of the Middle East and we must not cede victory to the extremists. Third, the time is right because the world understands the urgency of supporting these negotiations."

Under the workplan, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will begin talks on the most contentious issues in the conflict on Dec. 12 and Abbas and Olmert will hold private biweekly talks throughout the process, which will be monitored by the United States.

Yet none of those difficult issues were mentioned in the joint document, which was to be endorsed by the conference participants, including key Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and Syria, later in the day.

And, despite their agreement and impassioned rhetoric, neither Olmert nor Abbas showed any sign of yielding on the fundamental differences that have led to the collapse of all previous peace efforts: the borders of a Palestinian state, the status of disputed Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

But Olmert did promise that "the negotiations will address all the issues which thus far have been evaded. We will not avoid any subject. While this will be an extremely difficult process for many of us, it is nevertheless inevitable."

For his part, Abbas made an impassioned appeal to Israelis to support the peace process, saying that war and terrorism "belong to the past."

"Neither we nor you must beg for peace from the other. It is a joint interest for us and you," he said. "Peace and freedom is a right for us, just as peace and security is a right for you and us."

"It is time for the cycle of blood, violence and occupation to end. It is time for us to look at the future together with confidence and hope. It is time for this tortured land that has been called the land of love and peace to live up to its name," Abbas said.

His speech was immediately rejected by Hamas, which stormed to power in the Gaza Strip in June, a month before Bush announced plans for the peace conference.

Abbas "has no mandate to discuss, to agree, or to erase any word related to our rights," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in Gaza. "He is isolated (and) represents himself only."

In the face of such resistance, Arab support for the process is deemed essential and Olmert, speaking directly to those at the conference who have no relations with his country, said: "It is time to end the boycott and alienation toward the state of Israel."

"We no longer and you no longer have the privilege of clinging to dreams which are disconnected from the suffering of our peoples," he said.

After reading aloud the freshly reached agreement, Bush shook hands with Abbas and Olmert. Then those leaders shook each other's hands.

To maximize the moment of potential breakthrough, the three went through the gestures again. This time, they clasped hands together. And, for a moment, Bush stepped back and raised his hands to encourage the other two to come together for a handshake, which they did.

It harkened back to a memorable image of his predecessor, Bill Clinton, in one of his own Mideast efforts.

Saud applauded after Olmert finished his speech, according to a member of the U.S. delegation.

It was a significant gesture from the nation considered the linchpin of Arab support for the coming talks. Saud, a veteran of past peace efforts, had said before the session that he would not shake Olmert's hand. Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relations with Israel, and Saud told reporters he would do nothing to normalize relations until after Palestinian statehood and other territorial issues were resolved.

Saeb Erekat, a principal Palestinian negotiator, sounded upbeat, saying that after seven years of a stalemate "now we have an opportunity" to get back to serious talks with broad backing.

"We have the whole world. We have President Bush. And it is going to be two states living side by side in peace," Erekat said. "Today is over. What's important is tomorrow."

Privately, however, members of the Palestinian delegation expressed skepticism that a deal resolving all the so-called final status issues could be reached within a year, and by the end of Bush's term in January 2009.

The joint document is general and doesn't deal with the difficult issues that that long divided Israel and the Palestinians. And the negotiation process is expected to be very tough and very long, according to Palestinians, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they didn't want to publicly spoil the conference's positive atmosphere.

The Palestinians believe Israel is not ready for total peace and Olmert will face a difficult time politically as any deal takes shape. Meantime, Abbas is seen as reliable, but also weak and a leader who can't in the end deliver on an agreement.

Israel, Palestinians OK negotiating plan
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« Reply #84 on: November 27, 2007, 03:35:27 PM »

Israelis, Palestinians agree on framework for peace talks
1 hour, 6 minutes ago

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland (CNN) -- Israeli and Palestinian leaders will "immediately launch" peace talks -- aimed at creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel -- and they hope to finish negotiations before 2009, President Bush announced Tuesday.

The leaders agreed Tuesday on a document that will guide those negotiations, Bush said during remarks at the U.S. Naval Academy, where all three leaders attended a U.S.-brokered Mideast summit.

Both sides also agreed to form steering committees which will begin meeting December 12. Thereafter, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet every two weeks to follow up on the negotiations and offer assistance, the statement says.

The three leaders are scheduled to meet again Wednesday.

The document does not contain specifics about the contentious issues dividing the Israelis and Palestinians, Bush said.

Rather, it focuses on principles that will guide future talks, such as a commitment to "bring an end to bloodshed, suffering and decades of conflict" and a promise to "propagate a culture of peace and nonviolence," Bush said. VideoWatch Bush reveal hopes for end to bloodshed »

The document is intended to provide guidelines for talks on the testier sticking points, such as settlements, timelines, the role of the international community, the fate of Jerusalem and the labeling of Israel as a "Jewish state."

Arabs and Palestinians have opposed calling Israel a Jewish state because, they say, it would preclude many refugees from returning to Israel, and the label fails to account for thousands of Arabs residing there.

Some of those issues are addressed in the so-called "road map" to peace established in 2003 by the Mideast Quartet comprised of the U.S., U.N., Russia and European Union. Bush said Tuesday that Abbas and Olmert have agreed "to immediately implement their respective obligations" under the "road map."

The issue of Jerusalem also poses problems. After Bush's announcement, Abbas said Tuesday that he will not back down on his demand that East Jerusalem be named the capital of any future Palestinian state. Nor will he relent on his calls for Israel to dismantle its outposts in the West Bank, he said.

"I must defend the right of our people to see a new dawn," Abbas said, calling also for the release of Palestinian prisoners, the lifting of roadblocks and the removal of what he called the "separation wall" that surrounds the West Bank.

Olmert spoke after Abbas, saying that Israel was "prepared to make a painful compromise, rife with risks, in order to realize these aspirations" of peace.

Olmert said he had "hesitations and doubts" about attending Tuesday's summit, but Israel nonetheless "will be part of an international mechanism" to establish the guidelines and boundaries for a future Palestinian state.

Olmert called on the Arab nations in attendance to also make concessions, namely to end their boycott of Israel. See who's there and what they want »

"It does not help you, and it hurts us," Olmert said, citing his nation's peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan as "a solid foundation of stability and hope in our region."

Earlier, an Israeli official attending the U.S.-brokered Mideast summit said Israel is "ready now for a deal."

Olmert and Abbas have "very good chemistry," the official said. The two leaders met Monday night to hammer out a statement that could guide peace negotiations but could not come to an agreement.

The official said some of the 40 nations represented at the summit have offered Israel a chilly welcome, but their participation alone is encouraging.

"The Saudis won't shake our hands; the Syrians won't say nice things about us," the Israeli official said. "But they're here."

The coming months will be crucial to the peace deal's fate, the official said. That sentiment was echoed by Bush during remarks later in the day.

Bush said that while Tuesday's summit is an important event, it is merely a starting block for future negotiations that he hopes will ultimately yield a Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel.

"Today, Palestinians and Israelis each understand that helping the other to realize their aspirations is the key to realizing their own -- and both require an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state," Bush said, explaining that a two-state solution is the path to peace for both nations.

"Our purpose here in Annapolis is not to conclude an agreement. Rather, it is to launch negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians," he said. "For the rest of us, our job is to encourage the parties in this effort -- and to give them the support they need to succeed."

Israeli and Palestinian officials worked late into the night Monday on the joint agreement to dictate how negotiations would move forward, diplomats from several delegations said.

But the two sides disagreed on several issues and there was no guarantee that any work plan would be agreed upon, the diplomats said. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was cautious but hopeful the parties could finish an agreement, diplomats said.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh denounced the Annapolis summit in a televised address Tuesday.

"The Palestinian people will not be bound by anything the Palestinian Authority agrees to in Annapolis," he said.

The representatives of the more than 40 countries attending the conference include a wide array of Arab nations.

The talks come amid domestic distractions for both Olmert's government and that of Abbas. Abbas has been involved in a political power struggle against Gaza-based leaders of Hamas, a group that Israel considers terrorist and which opposes the Jewish state.

Palestinian protesters, anxious about possible concessions by the Abbas delegation, have taken to the streets with demonstrations.

Olmert's administration has been plagued by low approval ratings in opinion polls in the wake of Israel's 2006 war against Lebanon-based Hezbollah militants.

Israelis, Palestinians agree on framework for peace talks
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« Reply #85 on: November 27, 2007, 03:38:18 PM »

Olmert: Reality formed in 1967 to change significantly

Israel, PA agree to strive for accord by end of 2008
By Barak Ravid , Aluf Benn, and Assaf Uni, Haaretz Correspondents and Haaretz Service
Tags: Israel, Annapolis summit

Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed Tuesday to immediately launch peace negotiations in order to reach an agreement by the end of 2008, U.S. President George Bush said in his remarks at the Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland.

Prior to his prepared address, Bush read a joint statement agreed on by the sides during last-minute negotiations at the summit.

Bush spoke before representatives of more than 50 nations and organizations that he had invited to Annapolis for a day-long conference aimed at restarting the stalled peace process. Among the participants were the foreign ministers of most Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, as well as the Syrian deputy foreign minister.

"We agreed to immediately launch good faith, bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including core issues, without exception," Bush said, reading from a joint statement.

According to the statement, Israel and the PA also agreed to implement their commitments under the long-dormant U.S.-backed road map for Middle East peace.

According to sources in the Israeli delegation, the Palestinians had refused to sign the document until the last minute.

Bush met Tuesday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas at the Annapolis summit. The president met separately with Olmert and Abbas on Monday evening.

The first peace talks are to be held December 12, Bush said, and are to continue biweekly after that.

In his address following the meeting, Bush said, "The Palestinians understand that terrorism is the enemy standing in the way of a Palestinians state."

"The [final peace] settlement will establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people just as Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people," said Bush.

"The United States will keep its strong commitment to the security of the State of Israel and its existence as a homeland for the Jewish people," he continued.

The U.S. president also urged the Palestinians to dismantle the "infrastructure of terror," and called on Israel to end settlement expansion as well as evacuate the illegal West Bank settlement outposts.

"The task begun here in Annapolis will be difficult," Bush acknowledged. "This is the beginning of the process, not the end of it."

"The time is right, the cause is just, and with hard effort, I know they can succeed," he said.

Bush also expressed strong support for democracy in Lebanon, saying it was crucial for Middle East peace.

Olmert: Reality that emerged in 1967 to change significantly
In his address, Olmert said Israel was ready for painful concessions for peace, and to dramatically change the reality that emerged following the 1967 Six-Day War.

"We want peace," he continued. We demand the end of terror, incitement and hatred. We are prepared to make a painful compromise, rife with risks, in order to realize these aspirations."

"The negotiations will address all of the issues which we have thus far avoided dealing with," he continued. " am convinced that the reality that emerged in our region in 1967 will change significantly. I know this. Many of my people know this. We are prepared for it."

Olmert said Israel was offering an outstretched hand for peace, despite all its concerns.

"The ongoing shooting of Qassam rockets against tens of thousands of residents in the south of Israel, particularly in the city of Sderot, serves as a warning sign, one which we cannot overlook," he said. "I have come here, despite the concerns and the doubts and the hesitations."

"I believe that there is no path other than the path of peace. I believe that there is no just solution other than the solution of two national states for two peoples," he said. "I believe that there is no path that does not involve painful compromise for you, the Palestinians, and for us, the Israelis."

The prime minister said he did not come to Annapolis to "settle historical accounts" for the conflict, adding that he was aware of that Palestinians too have suffered greatly.

Olmert expressed hopes that the sides could resolve the refugee issue, one of the toughest sticking points. "Israel will be part of an international mechanism that will assist in finding a solution to this problem," he said.

The prime minister said that a peace agreement could only be implemented, in "gradual and careful" steps, after the road map is fully carried out. "We will abide by all of our obligations, and so will you."

"There isn't a single Arab state in the north, in the east or in the south with which we do not seek peace," he said. "There isn't a single Muslim state with which we do not want to establish diplomatic relations."

The prime minister took the opportunity to call for the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldiers Gilad Shalit, Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. "I long for the day when I can see Gilad, Eldad and Udi back with their families," he said. "And I will continue relentlessly in my efforts to achieve their release."

Abbas: Israel must end occupation of all PA lands, including E. J'lem
In his address, Abbas called for an end to the "occupation of all Palestinian lands since 1967, including East Jerusalem, as well as the Syrian Golan and occupied Lebanese territory," as well as a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.

"We need East Jerusalem to be our capital, and to establish open relations with West Jerusalem," he continued, urging respect for the holy places of all religions.

"I am not overstating it, Mr. President, if I say the region is at a cross-roads between the pre-Annapolis phase and the post-Annapolis phase," he continued. "We are facing a test as our credibility as a whole - the United States, the Quartet, and the whole international community ... Israel, Palestine and the Arab states as well."

The PA chairman also praised Arab states for attending the summit, saying it proved the sincerity of Arab states to continue what they started by launching a peace initiative in 2002.

Abbas also called on Bush to ensure that Israel releases Palestinian prisoners.

Olmert: Reality formed in 1967 to change significantly
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« Reply #86 on: November 27, 2007, 03:39:42 PM »

Israel Makes Sole Decision on Jerusalem
 
by Hana Levi Julian

(IsraelNN.com) Prime Minister Ehud Olmert informed American Jewish leaders Monday that Jews outside of Israel have no right to intervene in any decision regarding the status of Jerusalem.

Olmert declared at a news conference Monday following his meeting with leaders of U.S. Jewish communities that "the government of Israel has a sovereign right to negotiate anything on behalf of Israel," making it clear that Jews outside of Israel had no right to participate in decisions about the future of Jerusalem.  The prime minister told reporters that the issue had "been determined long ago."

His remarks were seen as a slap to American Jewish leaders who oppose tentative plans by the Olmert administration to put Jerusalem on the negotiating table.

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel, told hundreds of Jews in Chicago Monday night that "Yerushalayim is not for discussion, Yerushalayim is not for sale, Yerushalayim must remain undivided forever." Participants at the prayer vigil were led by the rabbis of the community in chanting tehillim (psalms) and speaking out against the division of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. A statement sent to the media noted that "for at least one night both the Religious Zionist/Modern Orthodox and Aguda communities stood side by side to pray for what most matters."

The prime minister's statement also did not seem to take into account a declaration that was made decades ago by his predecessor, a founding father and the first Prime Minister of the State of Israel, David Ben Gurion during a session of the first Knesset in Tel Aviv.

"The attempt to sever Jewish Jerusalem from the State of Israel," warned Ben Gurion in 1949, "will not advance the cause of peace in the Middle East or in Jerusalem itself. Israelis will give their lives to hold on to Jerusalem, just as the British would for London, the Russians for Moscow and the Americans for Washington."

The Orthodox Union (OU) immediately responded to the prime minister's remarks with a statement saying it did not intend to dictate policy to Israel, but expressed its "resolute stand" that all Jews in the world have a share in "the holy city of Jerusalem."

Agudath Israel of America adopted a resolution Sunday at its 85th national convention in Connecticut bluntly stating "Israel should not relinquish parts of Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty, and the American government should not pressure the Israeli government into doing so."

Both statements echoed an assertion published on the website of the Coordinating Council on Jerusalem which states unequivocally that "World Jewry opposes Israeli negotiations which would include any discussion of ceding sovereignty over part or all of Jerusalem."

The group soberly notes in its statement that this is "the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel that a significant group of American Jewish organizations have created a broad united front to pursue a policy directly involving Israel that is based on an explicit principle that supercedes deference to the sitting Israeli government."

American Jewish and Christian leaders met Monday with White House officials to discuss their concerns about the events taking place in Annapolis Tuesday.

Nathan Diament, public policy director for the Orthodox Union, led the group of American Jewish and Christian leaders who met with Stephen Hadley, the National Security Advisor for U.S. President George W. Bush and other senior White House officials.

Included in the delegation was Jeff Ballabon, head of the Coordinating Council for Jerusalem, as well as representatives from Agudath Israel and the National Council of Young Israel, David Brog of the Christians United for Israel, the Southern Baptist Convention and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer.

"We had a constructive and meaningful conversation…." said Diament following the meeting, adding "We were happy to share with them the perspective of Americans who in their synagogues and church pews regularly pray for the peace of Israel and the rebuilding of Jerusalem."

Israel Makes Sole Decision on Jerusalem
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« Reply #87 on: November 27, 2007, 03:42:30 PM »

Framework for Mideast Peace Talks Set at Conference

By STEVEN LEE MYERS and HELENE COOPER

ANNAPOLIS, Md., Nov. 27 — President Bush today announced a joint decision between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to work toward a peace agreement by the end of 2008.

Flanked by the two leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Bush congratulated them for agreeing to follow a “road map to a permanent two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Mr. Bush said negotiations would begin within weeks to establish “a democratic Palestinian state that will live side by side with Israel in peace and security.”

But the agreement merely creates a framework for talks, and does not address the fundamental issues between Israel and a future Palestine, including Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the final borders of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees who left, or were forced to leave, their homes in Israel.

The agreement was reached after weeks of intense negotiations and it was not clear until Bush stepped to the podium in the majestic Memorial Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis that the two sides would come together on how to move forward on the path toward peace.

“Today, Palestinians and Israelis each understand that helping the other to realize their aspirations is the key to realizing their own, and both require an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state,” Bush said.

“Such a state will provide Palestinians with the chance to lead lives of freedom, purpose and dignity. And such a state will help provide Israelis with something they have been seeking for generations: to live in peace with their neighbors.”

The gathering at the United States Naval Academy included delegations representing 49 countries and international organizations, and it brought about the highest-level official contacts between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which do not have diplomatic relations.

As a sign of how difficult the talks will be, violence broke out during demonstrations in the West Bank even as the leaders spoke, killing at least one, when security forces loyal to Mr. Abbas clashed with Islamists who brand him a traitor for taking part in the Annapolis talks.

Mr. Bush, in his remarks, delivered in the frescoed Memorial Hall beneath a replica battle flag declaring “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” said that the time had come for a peace agreement, even as he emphasized that Tuesday’s meeting was only the beginning of a peace process, not its conclusion.

“First, the time is right because Palestinians and Israelis have leaders who are determined to achieve peace,” his prepared remarks read. “Second, the time is right because a battle is under way for the future of the Middle East, and we must not cede victory to the extremists. Third, the time is right because the world understands the urgency of supporting these negotiations.”

Expectations that Mr. Bush would address those issues rose this week as negotiators were unable to reach public agreement.

Mr. Bush acknowledged that a difficult road lied ahead. “Achieving this goal will not be easy,” he said in the excerpts of his prepared remarks. “If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago.”

One Palestinian official said that one obstacle to the joint statement had been Israel’s refusal to include a reference to the Arab League peace initiative. That initiative, which was reaffirmed by Arab states earlier this year, calls on Israelis and Palestinians to reach an “agreed” resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue.

Israeli officials do not like that term and have been adamant that Palestinian refugees have a right of return only to a future Palestinian state, and not to Israel. They fear that including the Arab League language in the joint statement could handcuff them later in negotiations.

State Department officials had been pressuring both sides to reach agreement on the joint statement and stepped up their efforts in recent days.

A State Department official said this morning that simply organizing the meeting amounted to a success, especially given the participation of so many Arab nations. The participants included many other nations that have not previously been as deeply involved in Middle East peace efforts, but whose presence gave today’s meetings a broad international cast. Among them were China, Brazil, Poland and South Africa.

Framework for Mideast Peace Talks Set at Conference
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« Reply #88 on: November 27, 2007, 03:45:39 PM »

Hard-liners oppose Mideast talks in US

By IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press Writer Tue Nov 27, 11:18 AM ET

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip demonstrated Tuesday against the Middle East peace conference in the U.S., while the Islamic militant group's leader insisted it was "doomed to failure."

In the West Bank city of Hebron, Palestinian police loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas violently dispersed a demonstration against the peace conference, killing one protester, medical officials said.

Abbas is attending the Annapolis, Md., conference and protesters filling a huge square in Gaza City called him a "collaborator" for participating and chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel."

Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the Hamas government in Gaza, expressed dismay over the participation of 16 Arab nations at the U.S. summit. They included Saudi Arabia and Syria, a key Hamas patron.

The Arab masses "will reject ... any concessions to the Zionist enemy," Haniyeh said. "We are sure that the Annapolis conference will not change the reality of history and geography," he added. "Any conference that goes beyond this reality is doomed to failure."

The rival government of Abbas in the West Bank banned protests against the peace conference to preserve "stability and security."

Enforcing the ban, police broke up small demonstrations throughout the Palestinian territory.

The Liberation Party, a tiny Islamic group, said Hisham Baradiyeh, a 36-year-old member, was shot in the chest. The group calls for the establishment of a pan-Muslim state through peaceful means.

Several people were seriously injured, medical officials said.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Ashraf Ajrami said there was a "plot to harm the standing" of Abbas' government while he is in the international limelight. He said the government "must investigate the events surrounding the incident" in which the protester died.

In other violence, Israeli troops fatally shot two Hamas militants in separate incidents early Tuesday in Gaza, the army and Islamic group said.

"Annapolis is a disaster for us," said Amina Hasanat, a 37-year-old mother of eight who demonstrated in Gaza City. Dressed in a black robe and black and green headband, she predicted the conference would end in failure. "This will be an advantage for the resistance," she said.

Gaza's Hamas rulers have been staging daily demonstrations against the conference, restating their commitment to Israel's destruction and promising to reject any decisions that come out of Annapolis. The criticism has grown increasingly vitriolic, with one Hamas leader on Monday calling Abbas a "traitor."

Polls show a majority of both Palestinians and Israelis favor a negotiated settlement to the conflict. However, a majority on each side is also skeptical that the current peace push will bear fruit.

Hamas violently seized control of Gaza in June after routing forces loyal to Abbas, and his lack of control of Gaza has raised questions about his ability to carry out a future peace deal. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he will not implement a peace agreement without a halt to militant attacks from Gaza.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Olmert said the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan calls on the Palestinians to disarm militants.

But Haniyeh insisted Hamas would not disarm.

"We will stand firmly in the face of policies that attack the will of our people, our factions and our weapons of resistance," Haniyeh said. "We reaffirm the legitimacy of resistance and support it as a natural right."

After Haniyeh's speech, the Gaza protest gained strength, beginning with several thousand pro-Hamas university students and quickly swelling to tens of thousands of people. Smaller militant groups, including Islamic Jihad, also took part.

"Today you are here to send a message to those who say the land of Palestine is not for sale," said Mahmoud Zahar, a fiery Hamas leader. "Whoever thinks we will recognize a Jewish state ... are deluding themselves. There will be no recognition of the state of Israel."

Despite the harsh language, the gathering was more subdued than past Hamas rallies. Many demonstrators milled about and appeared uninterested during the speeches.

Children played or enjoyed ice cream, and women chatted. Unlike other Hamas rallies, there were no public displays of weapons, although protest organizers tried to energize the crowd by playing recordings of gunfire.

In Ramallah, about 1,000 supporters waving their movement's black flag tried to march from a large mosque in the town's center, but were immediately surrounded by police, who began rapidly firing live ammunition over their heads to disperse them.

Many ran back into the mosque and were surrounded. Associated Press reporters saw police beating protesters with sticks in an attempt to disperse the protests. An ambulance rushed to the scene, siren wailing, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

In Hebron, police and hundreds of protesters threw stones at each other, even as security men fired into the air. Around 50 protesters was arrested, officials said.

There were similar scenes of chaos in the northern West Bank towns of Nablus and Jenin. Police tried to prevent reporters from covering the protests, and seized the camera of one AP photographer.

There have also protests against the peace conference on the Israeli side. More than 20,000 Israelis gathered Monday at the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, to oppose it.

Hard-line opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the conference on Monday, saying he sees it as the continuation of "one-sided concessions."

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« Reply #89 on: November 27, 2007, 03:47:19 PM »

Syria defends decision to attend summit

By ALBERT AJI and NADIA ABOU EL-MAGD, Associated Press Writers 46 minutes ago

DAMASCUS, Syria - The U.S.-brokered Mideast peace conference Tuesday raised tensions between allies Syria and Iran. Damascus defended its participation, while Iran said it was surprised by Syria's decision and warned that Arab countries risk falling for an Israeli plot.

The two hard-line countries' alliance since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution has survived Syrian-Israeli peace talks in the 1990s. But this time, Iran feels it is an implicit target of the Annapolis conference, believing it aims to stem Iranian influence in the Mideast.

Though there is widespread skepticism over the conference in the Arab world — including in Syria — Damascus made clear it has its own interests: better relations with Arab nations and the West and the possibility of a peace deal with Israel that would win the return of the Golan Heights, seized by the Jewish state in 1967.

Syria is attending the conference "because peace is its choice and because it has made strides in previous negotiations to achieve it," the state-run Syrian daily Tishrin said in an editorial Tuesday. Syria "is ready to go to the ends of the earth to achieve this objective."

Washington has made clear it hopes that bringing Syria to Annapolis can crack the alliance of its top rivals in the Mideast, who both support the Hamas and Hezbollah militant groups.

Syria — which hosts the top Hamas leadership — is not about to break away and it was not clear how deep the tensions go. Damascus has expressed deep doubts about the conference and sent its deputy foreign minister, rather than the foreign minister, in a sign of its discontent.

David Schenker, a senior Arab politics fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the Syrians must have consulted with Tehran beforehand, and would be representing common interests at the conference.

"These states have a strategic relationship of decades. They have an understanding," said Schenker. "The Iranians are not really surprised that Syria is attending ... they are just warning the Syrians not to stray too far off of the reservation."

Schenker said the two countries likely discussed possible gains from the conference, including international legitimacy and influence in the region for Syria. "They like the process, negotiating, and they like international legitimacy. All these things are in both Syrian and Iranian interests," he said.

Yet Iran's irritation was clear, though Tehran avoided direct criticism of Damascus, instead unleashing a volley of condemnations of the gathering.

"We were surprised by the Syrian position (to attend), and we said that we do not support the conference. We expressed our opinion clearly and openly," Hossein Shariatmadari, an adviser to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told the Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.

He said the conference was a "a plot against the Palestinians."

On Monday, Iranian demonstrators protested outside the Jordanian Embassy in Tehran; Jordan's monarch had visited Damascus before the conference and urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to attend. The protesters threw eggs at the embassy, saying in a statement that "those who recognize Israel commit treason against Muslims and Palestinians" — a reference to Jordan's peace agreement with Israel.

Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said Iran was not in favor of seeing "Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia, ... stand next to the U.S. and Israel."

As the conference opened in Maryland on Tuesday, with delegations from 50 nations and organizations, skepticism was high across the Arab world. Arab governments were hesitant from the start to participate, fearing the conference would not commit Israel to tackle the most serious issues in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Many in the region fear the Arabs will be pushed into concessions and normalization with Israel without achieving their aims — the return of lands seized in 1967, the return of Palestinian refugees and a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.

The supreme leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, warned in an interview with the London-based Arabic channel Al-Hawar that "the West is trying hard to eradicate the Islamic world, and on top of it the Palestinian issue."

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, said the Arabs were attending the conference as "false witnesses" to the peace process.

The Annapolis conference, he wrote, aims to "set the basis for ... an Arab-Israeli front under American leadership to strike Iran."

Syria defends decision to attend summit
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