NEWS ROUNDUP: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel, Gaza, Syria

Bush prods Saudi Arabia on high oil prices

President Bush urged the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries on Tuesday to take into account the toll that high oil prices are having on the American economy, gingerly touching on an issue that has begun to color the last year of his presidency and dominate the presidential election campaign. [complete article]

U.S. offers Saudis ‘smart’ arms technology

The most controversial element of the sales is the offer to the Saudis of Joint Direct Attack Munitions, technology that allows standard weapons to be converted into precision-guided bombs. The deal envisions the transfer to Saudi forces of 900 upgrade kits worth about $120 million. [complete article]

Minister sees need for U.S. help in Iraq until 2018

The Iraqi defense minister said Monday that his nation would not be able to take full responsibility for its internal security until 2012, nor be able on its own to defend Iraq’s borders from external threat until at least 2018. [complete article]

U.S. shifts Sunni strategy in Iraq

More than 70,000 members of mostly Sunni Arab groups now work for American forces in neighborhood security programs. Transferring them to the control of the Shiite Muslim-dominated government, as policemen and members of public works crews, has taken on a new urgency as American troops begin to withdraw, officials indicated in recent interviews, meetings and briefings. [complete article]

Ex-Baathists get a break. Or do they?

A day after the Iraqi Parliament passed legislation billed as the first significant political step forward in Iraq after months of deadlock, there were troubling questions — and troubling silences — about the measure’s actual effects. [complete article]

Bush trip revives Israeli push for pardon of spy

A balding, bearded visage loomed over President Bush’s visit here last week, peering down from banners and from posters on buses barreling along quiet streets. The face was that of Jonathan Pollard, an American who pleaded guilty in 1986 to passing top-secret information to Israel. [complete article]

Israeli pianist Daniel Barenboim takes Palestinian citizenship

Daniel Barenboim, the world renowned Israeli pianist and conductor, has taken Palestinian citizenship and said he believed his rare new status could serve a model for peace between the two peoples. [complete article]

Olmert faces right-wing rebellion

With Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the most right-wing party in Mr Olmert’s government already threatening to walk out, Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud, urged both him and the religious party Shas to do so “to stop this process”. [complete article]

Haaretz probe: Shin Bet count of Gaza civilian deaths is too low

Israeli security forces killed 810 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in 2006 and 2007, Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin reported Sunday at the weekly cabinet briefing in Jerusalem. He estimated that some 200 of those killed were not clearly linked to terrorist organizations. [complete article]

Syria rebuilds on site destroyed by Israeli bombs

The puzzling site in Syria that Israeli jets bombed in September grew more curious on Friday with the release of a satellite photograph showing new construction there that [vaguely] resembles the site’s former main building. [complete article]

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