NEWS: Syria waiting for Bush to go; Egypt critical of Israel Lobby; Israel not planning to reprimand itself for use of cluster bombs

Israel’s Foreign Ministry: Syria feels peace must wait for next U.S. president

She Syrian administration is waiting out the Bush presidency, and only intends to enter a serious diplomatic process with Israel when the next United States administration takes over in 2009, according to the Foreign Ministry’s intelligence assessment.

“Damascus is interested in an agreement with Israel, but only according to Syria’s conditions and with American involvement,” Nimrod Barkan, who heads the ministry’s political research department, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.

“The Syrian surface-to-surface missile threat has increased in the past year,” he added. “Israel’s deterrence against Syria and Hezbollah still exists and even increased during 2007, but we must watch closely for the possibility that the deterrence could weaken.”

Barkan added that the U.S. twice tried to “open a door for Syria” in 2007, but Damascus failed to meet the administration’s demands regarding its continued involvement in Lebanon. [complete article]

Egypt FM: Pro-Israeli lobby is harming our relations with U.S.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Wednesday accused the Israeli lobby in Washington of straining its relations with the United States by using the issue of smuggling across the Gaza border as an excuse to cut U.S. military aid to Cairo.

The remarks came hours before a scheduled meeting between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik where they were expected to discuss the cross-border weapons smuggling to Gaza militants.

“The latest months have seen the Israeli lobby’s efforts to harm Egypt’s interests with the (U.S.)Congress,” Aboul Gheit told reporters. “The Israeli lobby inside the Congress was behind some positions adopted by Congress and the Israeli media campaign in the last few months falls within this trend.”

Another senior Egyptian official echoed Aboul Gheit’s comments, accusing Israel of trying to influence U.S. aid to Egypt. He referred to video footage that Israel passed to the United States in which Egyptian soldiers are seen taking part in the weapons smuggling. The official said that this is a “blatant attempt to interfere in internal Egyptian matters,” adding that “in the videos there is nothing” and that “the construction of settlements is very damaging the peace process”. [complete article]

Israel won’t prosecute for use of cluster bombs in Lebanon

Israeli military prosecutors announced Monday that they would not press charges over the army’s use of cluster bombs during the war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, actions that had been widely criticized by human rights organizations.

The announcement came as Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams met here Monday evening for the second time since the American-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis, Md.

Cluster bombs are not prohibited in warfare, but their use is criticized because they contain “bomblets” that explode over a wide area and may strike unintended targets. In addition, bomblets that fail to explode become, in effect, land mines that can be detonated by civilians long after fighting has stopped. More than 30 Lebanese are said to have been killed by munitions left behind after the monthlong war in 2006. [complete article]

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