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News from the Middle East and around the Mediterranean.

Syria Says Alleged Israeli Attack ‘Opens Door to All Possibilities’

Syria’s information minister warns of retaliation after air strikes destroyed military targets. – ABCNews·

Iranian President Says Iran Ready to Negotiate with the U.S.

Iranian President Says Iran Ready to Negotiate with the U.S.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran would be willing to enter into negotiations with the United Nations if the United States is willing to lighten its stance on his country obtaining nuclear capabilities.

Ahmadinejad made the comments just as Iran is marking the 34th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. It also came just days after the supreme leader Ali Khamenei rejected the possibility of engaging in direct talks with the U.S.

In his address, which was accompanied by “death to America” chants from the audience, the Iranian president said that he will negotiate with the United States directly if they “stop pointing weapons at the Iranian nation.” He also pointed out that talks should be done with fairness and respect without pressure.

Ahmadinejad’s response came just a week after Vice President Joe Biden offered Iran a seat in the negotiation table with the P5+1, which includes the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

Khamenei, who has the final say and authority, chastised the U.S. and accused it of resorting to coercion tactics by threatening military action if Iran refuses to negotiate.

The U.S. currently has sanctions in place, which is aimed at curbing Iran’s uranium enrichment program. The sanctions have caused a severe economic crisis in Iran by limiting oil exports, which is the nation’s main source of revenue.

Ahmadinejad has vehemently denied that his country’s economic crisis is due to the sanctions though Iran’s Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi admitted that the sanctions have played a role in the economy’s downward spiral.

Western nations have also expressed concerns over Iran’s satellite program, which they fear could be used to develop long-range missiles. Iran regularly announces technological breakthroughs, which includes sending a monkey into space and bringing it back home safely. Such claims cannot be independently verified by the U.S.

Netanyahu Announces Plan to Erect a Barrier along Israel-Syria Border

Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu pledged that authorities will erect a fence along the Israel-Syria border amid concerns that radical Islamist members have infested the area.

So far, Israel has stayed out of the Syrian conflict that has claimed more than 60,000 lives, most of them civilian. However, there is rising concern that the continued violence and fighting could soon spill over to Israel.

Among the worries, Netanyahu expressed concerns that Syrian President Bashir Assad may try to lure Israel into the battle as a final act of desperation. Even more troubling is a possible scenario in which Assad is overthrown with Syria being overtaken by Islamist extremists who will ultimately locate and gain access to the county’s cache of chemical arsenal.

Netanyahu’s address came just as Assad made an international plea for reconciliation and condemned the Western nations for providing aid to the rebels, adding that most of them had direct ties to al-Qaida.

At a Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu emphasized a need for a fence along the borders that it shared with Syria. Such a barrier already exists along the border that the country shares with Egypt, which is in place to curb the flow of migrants. The new fence, still in its planning phase, will provide a barrier to prevent access from jihad forces, which have overtook areas once occupied by the Syrian army.

Since the uprising in Syria began in March of 2011, mortar rounds have occasionally landed on Israel’s side of the territory. While the stray fire is believed to be accidental, Israel nevertheless fired retaliatory shots as a stern warning.

So far, no estimates have been given about how long such a project would take to complete. Even the barrier built along the Israel-Egypt border is not yet complete as the border stretches for 125 miles.

Streets of Iraq Engulfed by Massive Sunni-led Rallies

Thousands of protestors consumed the streets and major highways of Fallujah in Iraq as they rally against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government.

The demonstration was the largest of a series of week-long rallies led by the Sunni minority as they band together to put pressure on Maliki and his government, which is led by a Shia majority.

Separate rallies have also taken place in Mosul with protestors accusing the government of unequal treatment and a call for the release of Sunni prisoners. Other locations like Samarra and Tikrit also became a focal point for massive demonstrations with province officials and legislators getting involved and echoing their support.

The protests began after 10 bodyguards belonging to the finance minister – who is one of the few Sunni senior officials in the government – were detained. Protestors are accusing Maliki and his administration of marginalizing the Sunni minority by not equally distributing the power and denying them equal rights and privileges.

The main highway in Ramadi had to be barricaded for the fifth day straight, which brought a halt to transit and the transportation of government supplies.

As the demonstration rages on, Maliki spoke at a conference in Baghdad and warned that continued civil unrest could lead to sectarian conflict and bring the country back into the dark days when people would kill each other over trivial religious differences. He also condemned the protestors in Anbar for blocking the roads and disrupting the lives of ordinary civilians.

Activists say Iraq’s current terrorism laws unfairly target and penalize Sunnis. According to a professor from Baghdad University, if the protests do not quell, the Sunnis may begin to seek their own regional autonomy in Anbar where they are the majority. This was what ultimately happened back in 1991 when the Kurds received anatomy from Saddam with the backing of the U.S.

Vladimir Putin Defends Russia’s Stance on Syria

At a conference in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin harshly criticized the U.S. for its intervention in Libya and cited it as the reason for causing further chaos that ultimately led to the attack in Benghazi that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens dead.

During the conference, Putin also dismissed notions that Russia was making a mistake and losing influence in the Middle East by deciding not to intervene in Syria. He further added that his nation is only concerned for Syria’s stability and has no concern for the fate of President Assad and his regime.

Putin’s comments came just as human rights investigators sent by the United Nations concluded that what originally began as a fight to oust Assad and his government has evolved into a sectarian battle, which has pitted communities against one another. Fighters from as far as North Africa are getting involved and contributing to the endless blood bath.

Russia has been a long-time ally of Syria and has used its position in the United Nations Security Council to oppose intervention by the U.S. and it allies and has long defended the sovereignty of Assad’ s government. However, Russia’s tone has changed in recent days and acknowledged that Assad remaining in power may not be such a good thing. It has even urged Russians staying in Syria to evacuate the country immediately.

Russia has been a major arms supplier for Syria and even regularly uses Syria’s port of Tartus as a refueling point. Even so, Putin made it clear during the conference that the two nations merely shared a business relationship and nothing beyond that.

Human right investigations reveal that the situation in Syria has gone from bad to worse. Civilians are being driven out of their communities. Staying behind means they are at risk of becoming collateral damage.

Syria Rebel Group Receives Formal Recognition by the U.S.

President Barack Obama has announced that the U.S. will formally back Syria’s main rebel group to pursue a common goal of bringing an end to President Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship. The recognition puts the U.S. on the same page with its European allies who have already given their full support for the opposition.

In an interview with ABC News, President Obama said that the opposition coalition is representative enough of the Syrian people to the extent that they have earned the support of the U.S.

The Syrian National Coalition for revolutionary and Opposition Forces was formed in November and received immediate support from European nations. The U.S., however, was a little hesitant as it was concerned with Islamist rebels and extremists within the organization.

Western nations have also opened a window to engage in talks with Russia, which is one of Syria and Assad’s greatest allies. Obama has said that while it supports the opposition, it will also make sure to weed out those within the group who has ties to al Qaeda.

The Obama administration recently released intelligence reports that identify an opposition group as an affiliate of al Qaeda. The group is Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been linked to close to 600 terrorist attacks in Syria since November of last year. The U.S. has now barred all Americans from doing business with the organization. In addition, sanctions have also been imposed against two Jabhat al-Nusra members for their connection to al Qaeda in Iraq.

Plans for an international meeting will be held in Morocco where 80 nations from around the world will convene to discuss how it can further their collective support for the rebel groups. The conference is being dubbed as the “Friends of Syria” meeting. The conference will be held as the U.S. continues to monitor Assad’s government for signs of chemical weapons that it may deploy against its own people.

Bashar Al-Assad Reportedly Seeking Asylum

Reports are emerging that Syrian President Assad may seek political asylum. – CNN

Palestinians Condemn Israel for Settlement Expansion Plans

Not long after gaining recognition of statehood by the United Nations, the Palestinians are now condemning Israel and saying that the nation must be held accountable for what they deem to be war crimes for trying to expand the settlement into East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Palestinians sent a letter to the UN Security Council and UN Secretary General accusing Israel of violating international law. The complaint came after Israel announced plans to expand the land for an additional 3,000 homes for settlers; these are the same areas that Palestinians planned for a future state.

The news came just after the UN General Assembly raised the status of the Palestinians from “observer entity” to “non-member state.” With the upgrade in status, the Palestinians now have open access to the International Criminal Court, which oversees cases regarding violations of human rights, war crimes and genocide.

The Palestinians are now threatening to use the court to seek legal action against Israel should it proceed with its plans to build the settlements. Before the UN vote, a few Western nations made an unsuccessful attempt to get the Palestinians to agree to a pledge that they would not use the court against Israel.

The Palestinians, however, are not without support. Both Britain and France have threatened to recall their ambassadors and have also arranged for plans to meet with Israeli officials to persuade them to withdraw their settlement plans. William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, has said that while economic sanctions are unlikely, it will consider all options on the table if Israel does not rescind its decision. Additional nations including Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and Australia have also echoed the same sentiment in getting Israel to halt any settlement expansion plans.

The West Bank and East Jerusalem are currently home to about 2.5 million Palestinians as well as half a million Israelis.

Syria Condemns Turkey’s Request for NATO to Deploy Missiles

Syria condemns Turkey for requesting missile deployment by NATO. – AlJazeera

Israel Launches Warning Missile into Syrian Border

A missile was fired into Syria courtesy of Israel as a warning sign. The shot was delivered to send a clear message to Syria after one of its mortars hit an Israeli military post in the Golan Heights. No injuries, casualties or significant damages were reported.

This is not the first time the incident has occurred. There have been multiple instances where mortar rounds from Syria have found its way into the Golan Heights. Israel believes the incidents are unintentional though it still holds Syria accountable.

According to Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich, a spokesperson for the Israeli Army, the missile shot was sent as a retaliatory warning simply to let Syria know that while they understand the mortars were accidental, they better be more careful from now on. In addition to the warning, Israel has also filed a formal complaint with the United Nations.

Israel and Syria have been bitter enemies who have fought against one another in several wars in the past. However, they do share a border and the two countries have mostly stayed out of the other’s affairs. Israel has expressed concerns that Syria’s civil war could spread into their territory. There is also concern that Islamist extremists could take over the region in the event that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and his government are overthrown.

It is currently believed that Syria has a stockpile of chemical weapons, which Israel fears could end up in the hands of Hezbollah if Assad is ousted. There are also worries that Syria is very close to turning into a lawless region and can be exploited by Islamist insurgents as a focal point for delivering rocket launches against Israel.

Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has publicly announced that the government is monitoring the situation and will be ready to act on any late breaking developments.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad to be Grilled by the Parliament Over the Country’s Currency

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been under fire from leaders around the world for his refusal to put a halt to his uranium enrichment program. Now, it appears that he is being under attack by officials from his own country over sentiments that he and his administration made poor decisions that lead to the poor state of the economy.

The Iran parliament is ordering the president to answer questions regarding his mishandling of the currency. Ahmadinejad has been embroiled in controversy over his failure to regulate the currency market. He now has one month to answer a summons and explain before the parliament the missteps he and his administration are being accused of.

The rial, Iran’s form of currency, has drastically dipped in value over the last year. Iranian politicians partly attribute the drop in value to the heavy sanctions imposed by the U.S. but also to the gross mismanagement by Ahmadinejad and his government.

The summon of the president was ordered after Mahmoud Bahmani, the governor of Central Bank, refused to answer questions regarding the state of the market.

Among other things, the president is accused of using a trading system to allow for the importation of over 15,700 cars; the system is reserved and only to be used for the importing of rations and medicine. In addition, Ahmadinejad is also being accused of importing 2.5 billion dollars of wheat from abroad rather than just buying them domestically.

This is not the first time the Iranian president has clashed with officials in his own country. In March, he was heavily grilled after some claimed he made decisions that run completely counter to those recommended by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The situation regarded the firing of an intelligence minister by Ahmadinejad, though the minister was later reinstated at the request of Khamenei.

U.S. and Iran in Denial Over Rumors of One-on-one Negotiations

After all the threats of sanctions against Iran and possible military force by the U.S. and Israel, it appears that Iran may finally be ready to sit down for a talk. At least this was what was rumored though there are now fervent denials from both sides refuting that such an agreement ever took place.

The White House has said that there are no plans set in place for President Obama to sit down with Iranian President Ahmadinejad for talks over the latter’s nuclear program though it did say that it would be open for such a meeting to take place.

The Republican GOP is now chiming in and says that if rumors for such talks are true, then Iran’s motives must be seriously questioned. According to South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, the talks are nothing but a ploy by the Iranians to buy themselves time to build up their nuclear capability and to drive a wedge between the international coalitions.

According to Time Magazine, it was an unidentified senior official from the Obama Administration that reported that the U.S. had a secret meeting with Iran and agreed to a one-on-one negotiation. If the report pans out as true, then this would be the first diplomatic relation between the two nations since the Iran Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s foreign minister, has also denied that such talks will be taking place though he did speculate that a round of talks will be scheduled with members of the United Nations Security Council in November.

Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has also weighed in on the matter and said that he was not aware whether the U.S. has agreed to such talks with Iran. Netanyahu also shared the same sentiments with Republican Senator Graham that negotiations are a mere setup by Iran to “drag its feet” to further its nuclear agenda.

Iranian President Delivers Speech at U.N. Assembly

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared before the U.N. General Assembly and gave a half hour speech that emphasized mainly on Israel, which he refused to call by name and described as “uncivilized Zionists.”

The speech took place at the United Nations located in New York. Members of the delegation from the U.S., Canada and Israel were not in attendance. Ahmadinejad blasted Israel for relying on military threats and intimidation, which he claims have led to a divide in international relations.

The speech
came just a day after President Obama told the same assembly that a threat to Israel would be imminent if Iran were to reach nuclear capabilities. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has also chimed in and said that Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.

Overall, Ahmadinejad’s speech was surprisingly subdued. Most in attendance expected the Iranian president to spew out a fury tongue lashing at Israel; however, his tone was less provocative than what most are accustomed to hearing. Aside from Israel, Ahmadinejad also spoke of the return of Jesus Christ along with the Islamic end-time messiah, the 12th Imam. He called for peace among people of all spiritual backgrounds and insisted that there is no hostility between people of different faiths.

He also emphasized on the importance of human rights and called for the end of oppression, poverty and discrimination. He further went on to say that the return of Christ and the Imam will put an end to all wars and bring about everlasting peace. Like most other Muslims, Ahmadinejad believes that Jesus was one of God’s prophets but that he was not a divine figure.

The nature of the speech by the Iranian president has certainly caught many off guard. CNN commentator Piers Morgan says that for a man of Ahmadinejad’s nature, the speech was actually reasonable and low key.

Islamic Foundation Increases Reward for the Killing of Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie is a British author credited for publishing many successful novels and essays. He has also been living with a target on his back for the last 20 years. An organization in Iran has raised the bounty for anyone who can locate and kill Rushdie.

The problem started after Rushdie published the novel “Satanic Verses,” a book which is highly critical of Islam and its prophet Mohammed. Since then, he has been in hiding after Iran has issued a fatwa against him for blasphemy. A fatwa is a set of rules governing Islamic law. It is normally imposed by a cleric; under the fatwa in severe cases, a cleric can impose a death sentence on someone who commits the crime of blasphemy.

A cleric heading a conservative Islamic foundation has increased the bounty by another $500,000, bringing the total to $3.3 million. The organization released a statement saying that unless Rushdie is killed, there will be further releases of films and books insulting their holy prophet in ways that must be punished with death.

In 1998, Iran’s foreign ministry assured British authorities that it will not impose a fatwa on Rushdie. However, in 2005, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a statement calling for the murder of Rushdie under Islamic law.

The reward increase for the killing of Rushdie coincides with a series of clashes and violence in the Middle East after a short film with an anti-Muslim message was released on Youtube. The White House has since tried unsuccessfully to get Youtube to block the film though the video sharing site insists that the movie was in full compliance with all guidelines and terms of use. A spokesperson, however, did say that the film has been blocked in Egypt and Libya in order to prevent further violence and unrest from taking place.

Prime Minister Urges the U.S. to set a “Red Line” on Iran’s Nuclear Program

Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu made a public appearance on U.S. television and warned that Iran is only about half a year away from reaching 90 percent of what is needed in order to complete a nuclear warhead.

Netanyahu has been under sharp criticism all week both at home and abroad for his efforts to get the Obama administration to take a more aggressive stance against Iran. On American airwaves, he stressed that Obama needs to clearly lay out a “red line” that Iran must not cross in its nuclear enrichment activities, and that crossing those lines could result in military force.

Using an American football analogy, the prime minister said that Iran is only 20 yards away from reaching nuclear capability and that we must not let it cross the touchdown line because that would jeopardize the security of the world.

Iran continues to claim that its nuclear ambitions are only for peaceful purposes and warned that any form of military aggression will be met with swift retaliation. General Mohammed Ali Jafari, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Iran, said in a conference that “nothing will remain” of Israel if it proceeds with an attack on its nation.

Netanyahu also appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and suggested that there is a correlation between Iran and the wave of violence spreading in the Middle East over an American-made Youtube video that insults the prophet Mohammed.

In a phone conversation between Obama and Netanyahu, Obama reportedly refused to set conditions for Iran. Netanyahu’s patience with the Obama administration is growing thin, and he continues to demand that the U.S. sets a clear red line that Iran must not cross without facing consequences.

A spokesperson for the White House, however, has insisted that the administration will do whatever is necessary to stop Iran from acquiring an atomic weapon.

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