Vatican formally recognizes Palestinian state by signing treaty

The New York Times reports: The Vatican on Friday signed a treaty with the “state of Palestine,” a development that the church hopes will lead to improved relations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The accord, the result of 15 years of negotiations, covers “essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in the State of Palestine,” the Vatican said in a statement.

The Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, said the agreement could be a “stimulus to bringing a definitive end to the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which continues to cause suffering for both parties.”

He also called for the two countries to take “courageous decisions” so that the “much desired two-state solution may become a reality as soon as possible.” [Continue reading…]

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Is BDS the only pro-Israel option left?

Mark LeVine writes: Just a year ago, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement was no more than a minor irritant in the eyes of the majority of Israeli and Diaspora Jewish leaders. The boycott of settlement products — with a value of $30 million per year in a GDP of $36 billion — while politically worrisome, was limited. The Knesset and the country’s National Science Foundation both released studies declaring the academic boycott’s impact marginal, and the number of artists refusing to play Israel remained manageably small.

What a difference a year makes. Today BDS is described as an existential threat to Israel; its potential cost is estimated at upward of $5 billion per year. Entire ministries are being tasked with combating it. The self-described “richest Jew in the world,” casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, has convinced other wealthy pro-Israel Jews to commit upward of $50 million to setting up programs on college campuses to aggressively fight it.

There are four reasons the “noise” — as Fitch Ratings financial analyst Paul Gamble described it for The Jewish Week — of BDS became a roar. First, the occupation of the West Bank has become so concentrated that it can no longer be dissolved into a larger narrative of a modern, Western Israel. Israel’s matrix of control is so dense that it is simply impossible to hide from the occupation or pretend it doesn’t exist. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinians giving up on statehood, Israeli ex-security chief says

The Times of Israel reports: The death of the two-state solution among the Palestinians is no secret to the Israelis, nor is it mourned by government officials. To the political echelon, the threat of a binational state is not sufficiently tangible, and the possibility that radical Islam will take over the West Bank if there should be a peace agreement seems more real.

But things sound different in the defense establishment, and particularly among those who have left it. Quite a few former generals, Shin Bet directors and Mossad chiefs have warned any number of times that maintaining the status quo in the territories, which has become a kind of strategy in Netanyahu’s era, could change the face of the State of Israel.

“I’m hearing from various Palestinian officials with whom I am in contact that they have given up on the two-state solution as an option for resolving the conflict,” says former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, 59, who now owns a hi-tech firm in Herzliya. [Continue reading…]

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Palestine Football Association drops bid to ban Israel from FIFA

Middle East Eye: After several years of pushing for Israel to be banned from FIFA, the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) abruptly dropped its bid on Friday at the international football association’s 65th congress in Zurich.

PFA’s leader Jibril Rajoub told gathered delegates that that he had dropped the motion for Israel’s expulsion after the Israeli Football Association (IFA) offered a set of compromises over Thursday night.

“I have decided to drop the suspension,” Rajoub said.

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Palestinians refuse to back down on FIFA vote to expel Israel

AFP reports: Palestine’s football chief on Wednesday continued his refusal to back down on a threatened vote to suspend Israel from football’s governing body after talks with increasingly desperate FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

“Nothing has changed, the vote is still on the agenda,” Palestinian Football Association president Jibril Rajoub told AFP after the meeting with Blatter and as the countdown to Friday’s vote gathered pace.

“The meeting lasted about one hour, there were no results,” Rajoub said.

Palestine, which has been a FIFA member since 1998, wants the governing body to suspend Israel over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players, and opposes the participation in the Israeli championships of five clubs located in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, illegal under international law.

The vote is scheduled for Friday and needs a simple majority of over 50% of the 209 members to succeed.

Blatter has been lobbying furiously to try to avoid the vote, travelling to the Middle East last week to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and president Mahmoud Abbas. [Continue reading…]

Other reports say the vote would require 75% in favor to pass and one report says a two-thirds majority. No doubt FIFA officials are more preoccupied with other questions right now (such as how likely it is that they will end up in jail), but is it really that difficult for the press to establish one basic fact?

Daoud Kuttab adds: Blatter told Palestinians that he has received new concessions from the Israelis regarding the travel issues of Palestinian players. A committee has been created, including a Palestinian, an Israeli and a FIFA representative, who meet on a monthly basis to review the situation.

“Our issue with the Israelis is not only about the movement of our players. We can’t accept that the Israeli Football Association includes five clubs from settlements and the racism in Israeli stadiums,” Rajoub said. Israeli soccer teams and their fans act and tolerate a high level of racism against Arabs in the stadiums. FIFA has a strong policy against racism and conducts campaigns to root it out of the game.

FIFA statutes include the protection of its associations from others playing in its country. Settlements are considered illegal according to international law and therefore, Israeli soccer teams would need the approval of the Palestinians to play in the settlements built in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Eamonn McCann notes: Palestinian footballer Sameh Maraabah was arrested last Thursday by Israeli security agents at the Allenby Bridge, the only crossing point available to Palestinians between the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the outside world.

The team had been en route to Tunisia for a training camp in preparation for a game against Saudi Arabia on June 11th.

The incident came within 24 hours of talks between Fifa president Sepp Blatter and Israeli and Palestinian officials in Tel Aviv and Ramallah about a Palestinian bid to have Israel suspended from Fifa for persistent harassment of Palestinian players and allowing teams from illegal West Bank settlements to compete in the Israeli league.

On Thursday evening, the head of the Palestine FA (PFA), Jibril Rajoub, wrote to Blatter complaining: “The Israeli government’s promise [at the talks] to facilitate the movement of our players is having its first test . . . Player Sameh Maraabah has been detained for two hours now . . . The team has decided it will not leave without him.”

The team was able to resume its journey an hour later. The Israelis insisted that Maraabah had been delayed solely as a security risk and accused the PFA of “provocation”.

Iyad Abu Gharqoud, who plays for the Palestine national team, writes: Soccer is a beautiful game, but it can be cruel, too — and not just in the near-misses and penalty shootouts. One of the ironies of my professional career is that it has brought me tantalizingly close to Beersheba, the city in southern Israel once known as Bir Saba — an Arab community that was expelled in 1948, my family included.

Today, our players are frequently arrested and detained. Last year, two of our most talented young players were shot and wounded by Israeli forces at a checkpoint. The border police reported that the young men were about to throw a bomb; in fact, they were on their way home from training at our national stadium in the West Bank. According to The Nation, they were both shot in the feet, sustaining injuries that have ended their soccer careers.

Israel has also tried to block players from other countries from entering Palestine to play against us. And during last year’s Gaza conflict, Israeli jets bombed our soccer fields and recreational areas. Israel’s policies have succeeded in making the beautiful game ugly.

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Village of Bedouins faces eviction as Israel envisions a village of Jews

The New York Times reports: Salim al-Qian settled back on his white faux leather couch strewn with pink cushions and took a sip of tea, clearly comfortable in his tiny home in this ramshackle hamlet in the dusty hills of southern Israel. The sense of permanence suggested by his comfort, however, looks to be short-lived.

Mr. Qian and the other members of some 70 Bedouin families are likely to be evicted soon from their homes in the hamlet of Umm al-Hiran, where they have been living since the 1950s. In their place, the Israeli government plans to build a community with nearly the same name, Hiran — but its expected residents will be religious, Zionist Jews.

The government says Umm al-Hiran is on state-owned land that it would like to develop, and it has fought a long legal battle to have the Bedouin families, about 1,000 people, relocated. This month, the Supreme Court ruled in a 2-1 decision that the families would have to leave. The court gave no date for when evictions could begin, and residents intend to appeal the decision.

The Bedouins say they do not want to leave land on which they have been living for more than half a century after being resettled there by the Israeli military. The government has promised compensation in the form of cash and land elsewhere, but the Bedouins say the decision to move them reflects discriminatory policies.

“It is not possible to order one home demolished because it belongs to an Arab and build another for a Jew,” said Mr. Qian, 57, a trader and community leader. [Continue reading…]

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Marie Alphonsine Ghattas and Mariam Bawardy — two saints from Palestine

BBC News reports: Pope Francis has canonised two 19th Century nuns who lived in Ottoman-ruled Palestine, making them the first Palestinian saints in modern times.

Marie Alphonsine Ghattas and Mariam Bawardy were among four new saints declared in Rome’s St Peter’s Square.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and over 2,000 Christian pilgrims from the region attended the ceremony.

The move is seen as a token of Vatican support for dwindling Christian communities in the Middle East. [Continue reading…]

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Vatican officially recognizes ‘State of Palestine’ in new treaty

The Associated Press: The Vatican has officially recognized the state of Palestine in a new treaty.

The treaty, which was finalized Wednesday but still has to be signed, makes clear that the Holy See has switched its diplomatic relations from the Palestinian Liberation Organization to the state of Palestine.

The Vatican had welcomed the decision by the U.N. General Assembly in 2012 to recognize a Palestinian state. But the treaty is the first legal document negotiated between the Holy See and the Palestinian state and constitutes an official recognition.

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The United States and Palestine

Rashid Khalidi writes: As with many other unresolved issues in the modern Middle East, it was Great Britain rather than the United States that initially created the problem of Palestine. But in Palestine, as elsewhere, it has been the lot of the United States, Britain’s successor as undisputed hegemon over the region, to contend with the complications engendered by British policy. And as elsewhere in the Middle East, in the end the United States significantly exacerbated the conflict over Palestine that it inherited from Britain. The outlines of the problem can be simply stated: with the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, Great Britain threw the weight of the greatest power of the age, one which was at that moment in the process of conquering Palestine, behind the creation of a Jewish state in what was then an overwhelmingly Arab country, against the wishes of its inhabitants. Everything that has followed until this day in that conflict-riven land has flowed inevitably from this basic decision.

Woodrow Wilson was the first American president to support Zionism publicly, and his backing was crucial to the awarding of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine to Britain. This in turn led to the inclusion of the text of the Balfour Declaration in the terms of the Mandate, committing the entire international community of that era to the establishment of a “Jewish national home.” Wilson extended the United States’ support to Zionism in spite of the results of the American King-Crane Commission, which discovered the majority Arab population of Palestine to be overwhelmingly opposed to the establishment of a Jewish national home — which they rightly feared would inexorably develop into an exclusively Jewish state in their homeland and at their expense.

Although the United States withdrew from active involvement in the League of Nations and from many other aspects of international politics soon afterwards, the impact on Palestine of these key post-World War I decisions in which the United States played a crucial role was to be lasting. Under the protection of the British Mandate, and with its invaluable support, and with financing which largely came from contributions raised from American donors, by 1939 the Zionist movement had created the nucleus of a viable, independent Jewish state. This American financing, from private and later governmental sources in the form of economic and military assistance, has been crucial to the success of the Zionist project and the state of Israel from the very beginnings and until the present day. [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu’s ‘no-Palestinian-state’ vow raises questions about security coordination

McClatchy reports: Khawla Zeitawi is pregnant with twins, and her husband is not at her side.

Instead, her husband, Jasser Abu Omar, is in an Israeli prison, accused of being part of a terrorist cell that crafted explosives in a Nablus apartment. Zeitawi asserts that her husband is innocent, jailed on bad information from Palestinian law enforcement as part of ongoing security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“Security coordination is treason,” Zeitawi said in her home in Jamain, a village near Nablus in the West Bank. “The Palestinian Authority is giving Israel a service for free.”

Since the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, its security organizations have worked closely with Israel to share intelligence, arrest suspected militants and limit demonstrations in the West Bank. That cooperation was suspended during a Palestinian uprising known as the second Intifada, but has been a robust part of life in the West Bank since 2007 – and a lightning rod for complaints among the Palestinian public for almost as long.

Earlier this month, the Palestine Liberation Organization Central Council voted to suspend security coordination. That vote was to protest Israel’s withholding of tax revenues, an action Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered earlier this year to punish the Palestinians for applying for membership in the International Criminal Court.

On Friday, Netanyahu ordered the release of the tax revenues, which Israel collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf at a rate of $127 million a month. But that’s unlikely to silence Palestinian doubts about the security agreement, especially after Netanyahu won reelection in part by vowing never to allow a Palestinian state to rise while he’s prime minister. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinian statehood: a lost cause?

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How the U.S. blocked Palestine’s bid for statehood in the UN Security Council

Marwan Bishara writes: The US has defeated the PLO at the UN Security Council (UNSC) by a first-round knockout, without even using its veto power.

But the humiliation won’t go unnoticed in a region that has been seeking divine intervention when its repeated calls for international intervention had failed to stop aggression and bloodshed.

Behind the UN commotion is a leadership failure on the part of the three concerned parties.

Once again, Palestinian gullibility, American cynicism and Israeli bullying, have degraded the role of the UN in putting an end to the longest case of illegal occupation in memory. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. will veto Palestinian UN bid

Ben Caspit writes: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry met in Rome on Dec. 15, in an effort to formulate a joint position in response to planned moves by the Palestinians at the United Nations in the coming weeks.

Following the meeting, the big question still lingered: Would the Americans cast a veto over a potential Palestinian request that the United Nations’ Security Council recognize Palestine as an independent state? Netanyahu did not divulge to reporters who accompanied him on the plane whether he received an American guarantee for the sought-after veto. White House officials said the issue was still being debated.

On the night of Dec. 16, however, it became known that the decision has been made. The Americans will indeed cast a veto over the Palestinian request. This veto will be welcomed with satisfaction in Jerusalem. Surprisingly enough, Ramallah will also receive it with understanding. [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s frustration with Israel on peace talks tests U.S. diplomacy

The New York Times reports: The United States finds itself caught between growing European pressure to do more to advance Middle East peace and Washington’s traditional support for Israel, which is in a heated election campaign and reluctant to make unilateral concessions.

That dynamic was at the center of Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Rome and Paris on Monday. Amid rising European frustration with the collapse of the peace process, the Palestinian Authority announced Sunday that it would press for a United Nations Security Council resolution this week setting a time frame for a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and for recognition of Palestine as a state.

At the same time, France, Germany and Britain were busy drafting a resolution that would call for an immediate resumption of peace talks to lead to a sovereign Palestine, United Nations diplomats said.

Sweden has already recognized Palestine as a state, various European legislatures have urged their governments to do the same, and the European Parliament is expected to vote on a nonbinding resolution recognizing Palestine on Wednesday.

Hoping to find a way to redirect those efforts, Mr. Kerry spent Monday meeting Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and European foreign ministers. He is scheduled to visit London on Tuesday to see Palestinian negotiators and the leader of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, on what has been a hastily organized trip. Mr. Kerry may find help from the Jordanians, who would have to put forward a Security Council resolution for the Palestinians and have said they are not yet committed to doing so this week.

On Sunday evening, even before meeting Mr. Kerry, the Palestinians announced their plan to press for a vote on their resolution at the Security Council as early as Wednesday. The move seemed to be an effort to pressure the United States either to veto the resolution or to come up with language, in any French-sponsored resolution, that is closer to the Palestinian position.

But with the announcement, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was also responding to internal politics after the death last week at an anti-settlement demonstration in the West Bank of a Palestinian minister, Ziad Abu Ein, who was in an altercation with Israeli forces. The Palestinians have put the blame for his death on Israel, which says he died from a stress-related heart attack. [Continue reading…]

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EU foreign chief calls for statehood on Gaza visit

AFP reports: The European Union’s new foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini Saturday appealed for the establishment of a Palestinian state, saying the world “cannot afford” another war in Gaza.

“We need a Palestinian state – that is the ultimate goal and this is the position of all the European Union,” Mogherini said during a trip to Gaza, devastated by its third conflict in six years.

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The collapse of order in the Middle East

freemanIn a speech delivered in Washington DC today, Chas Freeman said: Da`ish [ISIS] and the 15,000 foreign jihadis it has attracted are an existential threat to Arab societies and a potential menace to Muslim societies everywhere. Da`ish poses no comparable threat to the United States. Some Americans argue therefore that Da`ish doesn’t matter. A few suggest that, because tight oil and shale gas production is making North America energy self-sufficient, what happens in the Middle East as a whole should also no longer matter much to Americans. But the Persian Gulf is where international oil prices are set. If you doubt this, ask an American tight oil producer what’s happening in today’s energy markets and why. Without stability in West Asia, the global economy is also unstable.

Da`ish aspires not only to destroy the states of the Mashriq – the Arab East – but to conquer their territories and use their resources to mount attacks on the United States, European countries, Russia, and China. It wants to get its hands on the world’s major energy reserves. Its depredations are a current threat only to stability in West Asia, but its recruitment efforts are as global as its aspirations. Quite aside from the responsibility the United States bears for creating the conditions in which this dangerous cult could be born and flourish, Da`ish threatens American interests abroad today. It promises to threaten American domestic tranquility tomorrow. It sees inflicting harm on the West as a central element of its mission.

For all these reasons, Da`ish cannot be ignored by the United States or other nations outside the Middle East. It requires a response from us. But Da`ish must be actively countered first and foremost by those it targets within the region, not by the United States and its Western allies. This means that our response must be measured, limited, and calculated to avoid relieving regional players of the primary responsibility for protecting themselves from the menace to them that Da`ish represents.

Muslims – whether Shiite or Sunni or Arab, Kurd, Persian, or Turk – now have an expanding piece of Hell in their part of the Earth, a growing foulness near the center of Islam. It is almost certainly a greater threat to all of them than they have ever posed to each other. Da`ish will not be contained and defeated unless the nations and sects on its regional target list – Shiite and Sunni alike – all do their part. We should not delude ourselves. The obstacles to this happening are formidable.

Virtually every group now fighting or being victimized in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon has engaged in or been accused of terrorism by the others. Sectarian violence continues to stoke hatred in the region. The religious animosities between Shi`ites and Sunnis are more intense than ever. The geopolitical rivalry between Iran and the Gulf Arabs remains acute. The political resentments between Turks, Kurds, and Arabs and between Arabs and Persians are entrenched. Each describes the other as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Unity of command, discipline, and morale are the keys to both military and political success. Da`ish has all three. Its opponents do not. Some are dedicated to the defense of Shiite privilege. Others assign priority to dislodging Shiite or secular authority. Some insist on regime change. Others seek to prevent it. A few support Islamist democratic movements. Others seek to suppress and eradicate them. Some fear terrorism from the victims and enemies of Da`ish more than they fear Da`ish itself. Most treat opposing Da`ish as a secondary strategic objective or a means of enlisting American and other foreign support in the achievement of other priorities, not as their primary aim.

With few exceptions, the states of the region have habitually looked to outside powers for leadership as well as firepower and manpower with which to respond to major security challenges. Despite vast imports of foreign weapons systems, confidence in outside backing has enabled the countries in the region to assume that they could avoid ultimate responsibility for their own defense, relying instead on their ability to summon their American and European security partners in times of crisis. But only a coalition with a strong Muslim identity can hope to contain and shrink Da`ish.

There is no such coalition at present. Every actor in the region has an agenda that is only partially congruent with the Da`ish-related agendas of others. And every actor focuses on the reasons it cannot abide or work with some or all of the others, not on exploring the points it has in common with them. [Continue reading…]

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The Balfour declaration ‘seems like a sick joke’ — the astonishing debate on Palestine in the British Parliament

Philip Weiss writes: Yesterday [October 13] the British Parliament voted overwhelmingly (274-12) to recognize a Palestinian state, and if you listened to the debate, one theme above all else explains the crushing victory: The British public has been horrified by Gaza and its opinion of Israel has shifted. Even Conservative members of Parliament cited pressure from the public. As Labour’s Andy Slaughter said, Britain has witnessed a new “barbarism”:

I think that the British people have been on the same sort of the journey as the right hon. Member for Croydon South [Conservative Sir Richard Ottaway] described — it is certainly true of the Labour movement — from being very sympathetic to Israel as a country that was trying to achieve democracy and was embattled, to seeing it now as a bully and a regional superpower. That is not something I say with any pleasure, but since the triumph of military Zionism and the Likud-run Governments we have seen a new barbarism in that country.

Slaughter and a fellow Labour member, Kate Green, said that just as the British Parliament sent a message to Obama a year ago in voting to oppose the Conservative Prime Minister on attacking Syria, a vote Obama heeded in reversing course on a Syria attack, today the British Parliament aims to influence U.S. policy on Palestine.

The Parliamentary debate was conducted in moral terms throughout, a fact that the parliamentarians described as historic. And the discussion was astonishing in its contrast to the stifled debate on these issues in the US Congress. [Continue reading…]

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In a symbolic vote, Britain recognizes a Palestinian state

The New York Times reports: Against a backdrop of growing impatience across Europe with Israeli policy, Britain’s Parliament overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution Monday night to give diplomatic recognition to a Palestinian state. The vote was a symbolic but potent indication of how public opinion has shifted since the breakdown of American-sponsored peace negotiations and the conflict in Gaza this summer.

Though the outcome of the 274-to-12 parliamentary vote was not binding on the British government, the debate was the latest evidence of how support for Israeli policies, even among staunch allies of Israel, is giving way to more calibrated positions and in some cases frustrated expressions of opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stance toward the Palestinians.

Opening the debate, Grahame Morris, the Labour Party lawmaker who promoted it, said Britain had a “historic opportunity” to take “this small but symbolically important step” of recognition.

“To make our recognition of Palestine dependent on Israel’s agreement would be to grant Israel a veto over Palestinian self-determination,” said Mr. Morris, who leads a group called Labour Friends of Palestine.

Richard Ottaway, a Conservative lawmaker and chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, said that he had “stood by Israel through thick and thin, through the good years and the bad,” but now realized “in truth, looking back over the past 20 years, that Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion.”

“Under normal circumstances,” he said, “I would oppose the motion tonight; but such is my anger over Israel’s behavior in recent months that I will not oppose the motion. I have to say to the government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.” [Continue reading…]

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