Obama calls for swift move toward Mideast peace talks

Administration officials have not said whether there is an “or else” attached to their demand for a settlement freeze.

Mr. Obama said Thursday that it was not yet time for that. “In my conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I was very clear of the need to stop settlements, stop the building of outposts,” he said. “I think we don’t have a moment to lose, but I don’t make decisions based on a conversation we just had last week.”

Administration officials are trying to elicit support for Mr. Obama’s stance from pro-Israel lawmakers in Congress, including Senator John Kerry, the Democrat of Massachusetts who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

If they can expand that support to include House members like Gary Ackerman and Nita M. Lowey, both Democrats of New York, then Mr. Netanyahu could find himself on the defensive at home for allowing Israel’s relationship with its most powerful backer, the United States, to sour, foreign policy experts said.

“This approach is predicated on the assumption that an Israeli prime minister needs a tough American president to justify tough decisions to an Israeli public,” said Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and a former United States ambassador to Israel. “People in the American Jewish community and in Israel are sick of settlement activity. The whole zeitgeist has changed.” [continued…]

Mr. Abbas goes to Washington

If the Oval Office guest list is an indicator, President Obama is making good on his commitment to try to revive the long-dead Arab-Israeli peace process. On May 18 President Obama received Israel’s new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu; today he met with Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

As this process gets under way, the United States–Israel’s main arms supplier, financier and international apologist–faces huge hurdles. It is deeply mistrusted by Palestinians and Arabs generally, and the new administration has not done much to rebuild trust. Obama has, like President Bush, expressed support for Palestinian statehood, but he has made no criticisms of Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip–which killed more than 1,400 people last winter, mostly civilians–despite evidence from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and UN investigators of egregious Israeli war crimes. Nor has he pressured Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza, where 1.5 million Palestinians, the vast majority of whom are refugees, are effectively imprisoned and deprived of basic necessities. [continued…]

Somalia: one week in hell – inside the city the world forgot

Mogadishu’s best barometer of ­violence is the little blackboard on which Dr Taher Mahmoud daily records the number of patients in his hospital. For the last 20 years the tall surgeon with huge hands has been operating on the victims of the city’s civil war.

“It’s good times now,” he told me when we met a few weeks ago. “We are only getting four to six gunshot casualties a day. That’s very good.” He pointed at the blackboard covered with his neat white handwriting: it recorded that 86 patients were undergoing treatment. “During the Ethiopian war [2007-08] we had 300 in this hospital.”

… with the exception of the latest pirate drama, Somalia is the country the world forgot, a state so broken that scenes which would elsewhere dominate international news bulletins are barely noted on the foreign pages of major newspapers. Last year Foreign Policy magazine ranked Somalia as the state most at risk of total collapse, a verdict some might have considered flattering.

Yesterday I spoke to Mahmoud again. The hospital was full and around 40 patients were having to sleep under the trees outside. “We need tents to shelter the patients from rain, and medicine is running very low. If the fighting continues we will be without medicine.” The number on his blackboard was 167. [continued…]

As military advances, Taliban threat rises

Ongoing military operations in Swat Valley are expected to provoke more revenge attacks like the one that killed at least 20 people in Lahore this week, analysts and security experts say, urging the intelligence agencies to step up their monitoring of militant cells.

“I don’t believe the terrorists’ claim that they can mount attacks across Pakistan but they will certainly target the major cities,” said Lt Gen Kamal Matinuddin, a retired army officer and military analyst.

“What is the requirement of the moment is that the intelligence agencies must more effectively penetrate their training facilities – they must know where they are as it is established they are in the madrasas,” he said. [continued…]

Taliban’s foreign support vexes US

U.S.officials recently concluded that the Afghan Taliban may receive as much money from foreign donors as it does from opium sales, potentially hindering the Obama administration’s strategy to rehabilitate Afghanistan by stopping the country’s drug trade.

Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said in a recent interview that the Taliban has three main sources of funding: drug revenue; payments from legitimate businesses that are secretly owned by the armed group or that pay it kickbacks; and donations from foreign charitable foundations and individuals.

“You have funds generated locally, funds that come in from the outside, and funds that come from the illegal narcotics business,” he said. “It’s a hotly debated topic as to which is the most significant and it may be that they are all roughly around the same level.” [continued…]

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