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Thursday, March 16, 2017
Excerpts: Iran's expansionist agenda re goal of reaching Mecca. Settlement construction. Hizbullah enduring financial crisis. Saudi King guest of China. Protecting Jordan's borders. UN report:Israel imposes 'apartheid regime' on Palestinians March 16, 2017

Excerpts: Iran's expansionist agenda re goal of reaching Mecca. Settlement
construction. Hizbullah enduring financial crisis. Saudi King guest of
China. Protecting Jordan's borders. UN report:Israel imposes 'apartheid
regime' on Palestinians March 16, 2017

+++SOURCE:Al Arabiya16 March’17:”Saudi Arabia warns Trump: Iran wants to
gain legitimacy by reaching Mecca”,by Staff Writer
SUBJECT:Iran’s expansionist agenda re goal of reaching Mecca
FULL TEXT:Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has
discussed the dangers of the recent Iran nuclear deal with United President
Donald Trump, emphasizing Tehran’s expansionist agenda by supporting
extremist groups in the region to further their goals of “reaching Mecca”.
The details of the private talks between the Saudi Prince and American
president were revealed on Wednesday by Bloomberg news who quoted a senior
adviser to Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“Prince Mohammed bin Salman has stressed how bad and very dangerous the
nuclear deal is on the region and that it is going to hold the Iranian
radical regime back for a short period of time in their quest for producing
a nuclear weapon. This deal could lead to a more dangerous and continuous
armament among the region’s countries that will not accept any Iranian
nuclear military capacity,” the source was quoted as saying.
It appears both Trump and the Saudi prince were on the same page regarding
Iran’s expansionist moves in the region.
“Iran is trying to gain its legitimacy in the Islamic world by supporting
terrorist organizations with the aim of reaching Mecca, the Qibla of all
Muslims, which gives them the legitimacy they lack in the Islamic world,”
the source added.
According to a private US government report ordered by Sen. Mark Kirk in
2015, Iran was reported to have spent billions of dollars in payments for
foreign fighters’ salaries across the Middle East.
“Iran’s defense budget ranges anywhere between $14 billion to $30 billion a
year and much of that money goes to fund terrorist groups and rebel fighters
throughout the region,” the report suggested.
Researchers who worked on the report estimated Iran spends anywhere between
$100 million and $200 million per year on Hezbollah, $3.5 billion to $15
billion per year in support of Syria’s Assad Regime, $12 million to $26
million per year on Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq, $10 million to $20
million per year to support Houthi rebels in Yemen.
It is worth noting that Houthi militias targeted Mecca last year when they
fired a ballistic missile toward to Holy Land only for their efforts to fail
after coalition forces intercepted the rocket.

+++SOURCE:Naharnet(Lebanon)16 March’17:”Netanyahu Seeks Deal with Trump on
Settlement Construction”,by Agence France Presse
SUBJECT: Settlement construction
FULL TEXT:Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday[16 Mar] he
was in discussions with Donald Trump's administration on ways to move ahead
with settlement construction ahead of fresh talks with a top adviser to the
U.S. president.

Netanyahu also reiterated he intended to build a new "community" for
residents of a wildcat Jewish outpost in the occupied West Bank known as
Amona, which was evacuated under court order in February.

An Israeli government-sanctioned settlement would be the first official new
settlement in more than 20 years and would surely draw intense international
criticism.

Construction in recent years has involved expanding existing settlements in
the West Bank, with many countries warning it is gradually eating away at
any chance of a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

"This afternoon I will meet again with President Trump's envoy, Jason
Greenblatt," Netanyahu told ministers at the start of a cabinet meeting in
remarks relayed by his office.

"We are in the midst of a process of dialogue with the White House and our
intention is to reach an agreed-upon policy regarding settlement
construction," Netanyahu said. "Agreed-upon for us, of course, not just for
the American side.

"Naturally, this will be good for the state of Israel, since we have not
been in these processes for many years," Netanyahu said.

US president Barack Obama's administration frequently criticised Israel over
settlement construction.

Obama's White House also declined to veto a U.N. Security resolution
condemning Israeli settlement building in December, deeply angering
Netanyahu.

- Efforts 'despite past failures' -

Greenblatt's visit to the region marks the Trump administration's dive into
the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which the new U.S. president
said he intended to resolve.

Sceptics have questioned Trump's ability to pull off the feat that stumped
previous administrations, especially with some of his newly appointed
pointmen -- including Greenblatt -- having no experience in Middle East
diplomacy.

But the head of Israel's opposition Zionist Union, Isaac Herzog, praised
Trump's dedication and efforts following a meeting with Greenblatt on
Thursday[16 Mar].

"I was impressed by the depth of the commitment expressed by Jason
Greenblatt in President Trump's name to the need to reach an agreement
between us and the Palestinians, and by the extent of his meetings with all
involved elements from both sides," Herzog said.

"Despite past failures, I welcome the new effort of the Trump
administration," he said in a statement.

Greenblatt also met in Jerusalem with settler leaders Oded Revivi and Yossi
Dagan, who described the encounter as "positive."

Netanyahu and Greenblatt met in Jerusalem on Monday[13 Mar], where the two
discussed ways to reach peace and settlement construction.

The following day, Trump's envoy met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in
Ramallah.

On Wednesday[15 Mar], Greenblatt met Israeli President Reuven Rivlin before
traveling to Jordan for a meeting with King Abdullah II.

The peace process has been deadlocked since April 2014 when indirect
negotiations led by then U.S. secretary of state John Kerry collapsed.

The visit comes after Trump cast uncertainty over years of international
efforts to foster a two-state solution to the conflict when he met Netanyahu
at the White House last month.

At that meeting, Trump broke with decades of U.S. policy by saying he was
not bound to a two-state solution to the conflict and would be open to one
state if it meant peace.

The international community considers continuing settlement growth in the
West Bank a major obstacle to peace as they are built on land the
Palestinians see as part of their future state.

In his Thursday[16 Mar] remarks, Netanyahu stressed his commitment to build
a new West Bank community for the Amona settlers.

"To the residents of Amona, I reiterate: I gave you a promise to build a new
community and I will honor that commitment," he said.

Israel media said the construction of a new settlement was part of
discussions on Monday[13Mar] between Greenblatt and Netanyahu.

+++SOURCE:Naharnet(Lebanon)16 March’17: “Report: Hizbullah Enduring
Financial Crisis”,by Naharnet Newsdesk
SUBJECT:Hizbullah enduring financial crisis

FULL TEXT:Hizbullah is passing through a financial crisis and is calling on
its supporters for financial contributions after Iran shrank down financial
aid it provides for the party, the Kuwaiti al-Anbaa daily reported on
Thursday[16 Mar].

Billboards have spread in the southern suburbs of Beirut calling upon
citizens for financial donations for the benefit of Hizbullah under the
banner of “training a mujahid”, said the daily.

The step was interpreted by informed political circles as a “reflection of
the suffocating financial crisis experienced by the party because of the
reduction of Iranian financial aid and its involvement in regional conflicts
in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Bahrain, in addition to the results of US and
international sanctions imposed on it recently.

The crisis has led Hizbullah to launch “this aid campaign to get
contributions from wealthy Shiites, supporters, politicians, businessmen and
merchants in various Lebanese regions," according to the daily.

+++SOURCE:Narharnet(Lebanon)16 March’17:”Hosting Saudi King, China Pursues
Mideast Charm Offensive”,by Agence France Presse
SUBJECT: Saudi King guest of China
QUOTE:”China pursues a charm offensive towards the Middle East”
FULL TEXT:President Xi Jinping welcomed visiting Saudi King Salman to
Beijing on Thursday[16 Mar] as China pursues a charm offensive towards the
Middle East, where it has previously kept a low profile.

The king's three-day stay returns the favour after Xi last year visited
Saudi Arabia as part of the first state visit to the Middle East by a
Chinese leader in seven years.

The 81-year-old monarch arrived Wednesday [15 Mar]with a massive reported
entourage of 1,000 people following stops in Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia
as part of a month-long Asia tour.

China is pivoting towards the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia is strengthening
its alliances in east Asia, as the United States' global diplomatic stance
under President Donald Trump remains unclear.

China depends on the volatile Middle East for oil supplies but has long
taken a back seat in its disputes.

But over the past year Xi has taken a new approach, with steps that include
hosting talks between the opposing parties in the Syrian conflict.

China also is pushing Xi's signature "One Belt, One Road" policy, a strategy
to increase trade links and market connectivity between China, Europe and
regions in between, based loosely on the ancient "Silk Road" trading route.

"This visit will push forward and continue to improve the quality of our
relations and bear new fruit," Xi told the king, who entered their meeting
walking gingerly with a cane.

China has been Saudi Arabia's largest trading partner since 2015 and the
kingdom was for years the biggest source of crude oil for the fuel-hungry
Chinese economy.

Russia last year supplanted the Saudis as China's top oil source, according
to official Chinese statistics.

The visit is the monarch's first to China since taking the throne in 2015
upon the death of his half-brother King Abdullah.

"China will undoubtedly play an important role in the Middle East and bring
its unique strengths to the region," Li Guofu, a Middle East expert at the
China Institute of International Studies, told AFP.

Ties between Riyadh and Washington were strained during the Obama
administration.

Although they are expected to improve under Trump, the Saudis are keen to
solidify east Asian ties.

"Past (China-Saudi) ties were good, but at least from a Saudi perspective,
can use a significant boost," said Joseph Kechichian, a senior fellow at
Riyadh's King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies.

In an interview with Chinese state news agency Xinhua, Saudi ambassador
Turki Bin Mohamed Al-Mady emphasised his country's potential role in the
"One Belt, One Road" initiative.

"In terms of strategic location, Saudi Arabia serves as the central hub
connecting three continents -- Asia, Africa and Europe -- and has been an
important part of the initiative," Al-Mady said.

+++SOURCE:Jordan Times 16 March’17:”Army rises to Rakban camp
challenge,security threat”,by Laila Azzeh
SUBJECT: Protecting Jordan’borders
QUOTE:”Guards tasked with double job of securing borders and catering for
refugees”
FULL TEXT: RAKBAN — In an arid land 500 kilometres from Amman lies the
northeastern border with Syria, where the Rakban refugee camp emerged into
existence and started to grab headlines.

A temporary home to 70,000 residents stuck on the Jordanian-Syrian border,
the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army, along with international humanitarian
agencies, are working around the clock to ensure the safety and wellbeing of
the area and the refugees, enduring “very harsh circumstances.”

"It is our responsibility to protect an area that extends for 450km. We
guard our borders from terrorist attacks and any infiltration or smuggling
attempts, while helping stranded Syrians from the Rakban and Hadalat camps
in cooperation with international relief agencies," Border Guards Commander
Brig. Gen. Barakat Aqeel said.

Speaking from the service centre, which was established four months ago to
provide relief services to Syrians, he underlined that the Daesh terrorist
group is only three kilometres away from the camp, while some of the group’s
members are suspected of hiding inside the camp.

On June 21 last year, Jordan promptly declared the northern and northeastern
border areas sealed military zones, after a car bomb attack on a forward
military post near Rakban camp, which was serving Syrian refugees on the
northeastern front, killed seven soldiers and injured 13.

“The borders are completely closed for refugees, but we receive people with
humanitarian needs; basically medical care. They are treated in the
healthcare centre and sent back to where they came from,” Aqeel told
reporters.

He stressed that any attempt to threaten the borders will be handled
according to the military’s rules of engagement, noting that the border
guards have human resources and state-of-the-art electronic systems that
tightly monitor the entire borderline.

“Iraq, on the other hand, guards 170 kilometres of the Jordanian-Iraqi
border, but there is absolutely no presence of the Iraqi army in the
remaining 23 kilometres, which places additional burdens on us,” the
commander revealed, adding that the area is considered a passageway for
terrorist groups from Iraq trying to reach Syria.

Aqeel reiterated that the army coordinates with Syrian “tribal army”
leaders, who serve as unofficial police, responsible for maintaining safety
and security inside the camps and helping humanitarian agencies to register
the refugees.

On the numbers of infiltrations, he noted that 85 infiltrations took place
in 2015, involving 132 people, while in 2016, the units responded to 79
infiltrations involving 151 people. So far in 2017, the number stands at 24,
in which 65 people have been involved.

“As for the number of infiltration attempts, meaning those who tried to
reach the Jordanian side but failed, there were 34 cases in 2015, involving
85 people, 22 in 2016 with 45 people and 4 in 2017 with 9 people attempting
to cross the border,” the army official highlighted.

Regarding smuggling cases, Aqeel said that the Border Guards foiled 33
smuggling attempts in 2015, 47 in 2016 and 8 since the start of this year,
noting that the forces seized in 2015 alone a total of 878,209 palm-sized
sheets of hashish, 84.672 million narcotic pills, 573 Captagon pills and
1,467 “pieces of weapons”.

“Of course, these items were seized on the border and did not enter
Jordanian territory,” he underlined.

With the newly established medical centre receiving 1,037 cases so far and
referring 51 people to the hospital, the officer noted that the facility
deals with around 25 to 30 patients a day.

Helene Daubelcour from the UNHCR Jordan operations underlined that providing
care to the people in Rakban is “not an easy task”, adding that the UN
agencies operating at the service centre include UNICEF, the WFP and the
UNFPA.

She explained that assistance provided by the agencies at the site includes
food, water and relief assistance, while the healthcare services cover basic
and reproductive health needs.

“We have provided 1,000 consultations since we opened in the site. Our
operations here are one of the most challenging and we could not have
managed without the support and facilitation of the Jordanian Armed Forces,”
she said.

“The population here is in dire need, but we are here, as close as we can,
to deliver and save lives,” Daubelcour added.

Refugees interviewed by The Jordan Times voiced their appreciation for the
care they receive on the Jordanian border, but agreed that more humanitarian
support is required to meet their needs back in the camp.

The second leg of the visit was the “service distribution centre”, where
tens of Syrians were waiting to cross the border.

Salah Abu Odai, a member of the tribal army, said that he coordinates with
the Border Guards to ensure access to medical care for people from the
Syrian side.

“I escort them to the Jordanian border, where they are received by
soldiers,” he told The Jordan Times


+++SOURCE:Jordan Times 16 March’17:”UN report: Israel imposes ‘apartheid
regime’ on Palestinians”,by Reuters

SUBJECT:UN report:Israel imposes ‘apartheid regime’on Palestinians

QUOTE:”The United States accused him(Richard Falk) of being biased against
Israel

FULL TEXT:BEIRUT — A UN agency published a report on Wednesday[15Mar]
accusing Israel of imposing an "apartheid regime" of racial discrimination
on the Palestinian people, and said it was the first time a UN body had
clearly made the charge.

The report commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western
Asia (ESCWA) concluded "Israel has established an apartheid regime that
dominates the Palestinian people as a whole". The accusation — often
directed at Israel by its critics — is fiercely rejected by Israel.

UN Under-Secretary General and ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf said
the report was the "first of its type" from a UN body that "clearly and
frankly concludes that Israel is a racist state that has established an
apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people".

Israeli officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Khalaf was speaking at an event to launch the report at ESCWA's Beirut
headquarters. ESCWA comprises 18 Arab states in Western Asia, according to
its website. Its aims include to support economic and social development in
member states. The report was prepared at the request of member states,
Khalaf said.

The report said it had established on the "basis of scholarly inquiry and
overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid".
"However, only a ruling by an international tribunal in that sense would
make such an assessment truly authoritative," it added.

The report said the "strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people" was
the main method through which Israel imposes apartheid, with Palestinians
divided into four groups oppressed through distinct laws, policies and
practices".

It identified the four sets of Palestinians as: Palestinian citizens of
Israel; Palestinians in East Jerusalem; Palestinians in the occupied West
Bank and Gaza Strip; and Palestinians living as refugees or in exile.

ESCWA hoped the report would inform further deliberations on the root causes
of the problem in the United Nations, among member states, and in society,
Khalaf said. ESCWA also hoped it would prompt action.

It was authored by Richard Falk, a former UN human rights investigator for
the Palestinian territories, and Virginia Tilley, professor of political
science at Southern Illinois University.

Before leaving his post as UN special rapporteur on human rights in the
Palestinian territories in 2014, Falk said Israeli policies bore
unacceptable characteristics of colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

The United States accused him of being biased against Israel
==============================
Sue Lerner - Associate, IMRA

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