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IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER CALLS FOR STATE TO BACK GOVERNMENT TO FIGHT SANCTIONS
Iran's supreme leader on Sunday called on state bodies to support the government of President Hassan Rouhani in fighting looming US economic sanctions, saying America's "conspiracy" could be defeated, according to his official website.

"I strongly believe that if the government takes the necessary measures, it will be able to overcome problems and defeat the US conspiracy," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech carried on the website, calling on state bodies to support the government's economic policies.


PUTIN AND ABBAS TO DISCUSS U.S. EMBASSY TRANSFER TO JERUSALEM
MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow on Saturday, Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters on Friday.

They are expected to discuss the Middle East, bilateral projects and the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Ushakov said.

U.S.'S POMPEO URGES ALLIES TO CUT OFF FUNDING TO IRAN
BRUSSELS - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday called on American allies to help impose economic pressure on Iran, and accused Tehran of continuing to sell weapons in the Middle East despite United Nations resolutions.

"We must cut off all funding the regime uses to fund terrorism & proxy wars," Pompeo said in a Twitter post ahead of his scheduled meeting with European Union's foreign affairs and security policy representative Federica Mogherini in Brussels.

JERUSALEM MUFTI ISSUES LAND TRANSFER FATWA
The Palestinian mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, on Tuesday issued a new fatwa (Islamic religious decree) banning Muslims from “facilitating the transfer of ownership of any part of Jerusalem or the land of Palestine to the enemies.”

The fatwa, according to Palestinian sources, came in response to an Israeli bill allowing Jews to purchase land in Area C of the West Bank. The bill, put forward by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), aims to change a 1953 Jordanian law that prevents foreigners and non-Arabs from directly purchasing land in the West Bank.

The explanation for the bill states that it is “unacceptable” for Israeli citizens to be barred from buying land just because they are Israeli citizens.

The fatwa ruled that the “land of Palestine” was waqf – meaning an inalienable religious endowment in Islamic law – and as such it is prohibited to sell, bestow ownership or facilitate the transfer of ownership of any part of it to non-Muslims.

“Anyone who sells his land to the enemies, or accepts compensation for it, will commit a sin,” said Hussein in his fatwa.

He also warned that anyone who violates the fatwa will be considered an infidel, apostate and a traitor to God, Islam and his homeland.

The fatwa also ruled that Muslims were obliged to boycott anyone who violates the ruling. The boycott includes refusing to do any business with the offenders or marrying them or attending their funerals or burying them in Islamic cemeteries.


MEDIC, ALL NAVY DIVERS OUT OF THAI CAVE AFTER SUCCESSFUL RESCUE
CHIANG RAI - The Thai army sent more than 1,000 personnel to help in the rescue of a soccer team and its coach trapped in a flooded cave, the head of the operation said on Tuesday.

Rescuers freed the last four of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from the cave on Tuesday, a successful end to a mission that gripped the world for more than two weeks.

A medic and all navy SEAL divers had also left the cave safely, said chief of the rescue mission Narongsak Osottanakorn.

NETANYAHU PROMISES HEAVY HAND AGAINST HAMAS
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that Israel would be taking a series of steps against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, starting with closing the Kerem Shaom Crossing into Israel.

"We intend to immediately wield a heavy hand against Hamas," Netanyahu told the Likud faction, while vowing additional steps that he said he could not announce yet.

Israel has closed the main commercial crossing into the Gaza Strip in light of the continued launching of incendiary aerial devices from the Hamas-run coastal enclave towards southern Israel, the IDF announced Monday.

REPORT: ISRAEL NAVY OFFERS ASSISTANCE TO RESCUE OF THAI BOYS
The Israel Navy has proposed a possible solution to extracting the 12 Thai schoolboys and their coach who have been trapped in a cave for ten days, ynet news reported.

Israel's ambassador to Thailand Meir Shlomo revealed the existence of the plan on Saturday.

"Navy personnel examined the matter and truly joined the rescue effort. They found a possible solution and they [the authorities] will have to decide if it really fits the topography of the place," Shlomo said, according to the ynet report.

Two of the trapped boys have already been rescuced, local Thai media reported Sunday.


SYRIAN FORCES REPORTEDLY CLOSE TO SEIZING JORDAN BORDER CROSSING
BEIRUT - Government forces in south Syria are advancing along the frontier with Jordan and will soon reach a border crossing in rebel hands, a pro-Damascus commander said on Friday.

Several witnesses along the Jordan border fence with Syria said they spotted armored vehicles and a tank with a Russian flag heading towards the Nasib crossing.

A war monitor said troops in Deraa province reached the frontier on Thursday for the first time since 2015, part of a major offensive to recover the entire southwest from insurgents.

The commander in the regional alliance that backs Damascus told Reuters that the army and allies had arrived after seizing a string of villages. "Within a short period of time, they will reach the (Nassib) crossing," the non-Syrian commander said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

With the help of Russian air power, the assault has swept into Deraa's insurgent territory in the past two weeks, shrinking one of the last rebel strongholds left across Syria.

The U.N. refugee agency has urged Jordan to open its borders as Syrians fleeing their homes en masse, seeking shelter from the battles and heavy air strikes. It says the fighting has uprooted more than 320,000 people, with 60,000 gathered at the Jordan border crossing and thousands more at the frontier with the Israeli Golan Heights.

The Norwegian Refugee Council called it the largest displacement since the start of Syria's seven-year war.


REACTING TO IRANIAN THREAT, U.S. NAVY SAYS WILL PROTECT FREE FLOW OF COMMERCE
LONDON - The US Navy stands ready to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce, a spokesman for the US military's Central Command said on Thursday, after Iran threatened to block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if Washington bans its oil sales.

"The US and its partners provide and promote security and stability in the region. Together, we stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows," Central Command spokesman Navy Captain Bill Urban said in an email to Reuters.

ROUHANI CALLS TRUMP'S SANCTIONS A 'CRIME AND AGGRESSION'
VIENNA - US sanctions against Iran are a "crime and aggression," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday as he called on European governments and others to stand up to President Donald Trump's policies against Tehran.

"Iran will survive this round of US sanctions as it has survived before. This US government will not stay in office forever ... But the history will judge other nations based on what they do today," Rouhani said during a visit to Vienna.
  
ISRAEL GETS TWITTER TO BLOCK TERROR ACCOUNTS
If you’re in Israel and you click on a Twitter social media account belonging to Hezbollah or Hamas, you can’t see it.

Social media giant Twitter has blocked nearly three dozen accounts belonging to Lebanon-based Hezbollah and Gaza-based Hamas – both classified as terrorist organizations by Israel, the US and the EU.

Users in Israel instead are directed to a page that states: “@HamasInfoEn’s account has been withheld in Israel in response to a legal demand.

Twitter spokesman Ian Plunkett, declined to elaborate The Jerusalem Post on Israel’s legal requests, instead referring to the publishing platform’s “country withheld policy.”

“If you see the above message, it means Twitter was compelled to withhold the entire account specified (e.g., @username) in response to a valid legal demand, such as a court order,” the policy states.

The Twitter accounts can still be accessed outside of Israel or by Israelis using a VPN, or “virtual private network,” a proxy server that disguises the country from where a user is surfing the web.

In other locales, Hezbollah and Hamas accounts come with a disclaimer reading “Caution: This profile may include potentially sensitive content.”

TRUMP SAYS NEW MEXICAN PRESIDENT MAY HELP U.S. WITH BORDER ISSUEWASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump said on Monday he had spoken to Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador about border security and believed the new Mexican leader would help the United States with its border issue.

Trump, speaking to reporters during a meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, said he and Lopez Obrador also discussed the North American Free Trade Agreement and a possible separate trade deal between Mexico and the United States.

TRUMP SAYS OPEC MANIPULATING OIL MARKET, WARNS EUROPE ON IRAN
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump accused OPEC of manipulating world oil markets and warned it to stop, while also saying the United States will sanction European companies that do business with Iran.

Asked on Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo" if someone was manipulating oil markets, Trump said, "OPEC is and they better stop it because we're protecting those countries, many of those countries. OPEC is manipulating."

Trump also was asked on the news program that aired on Sunday if he will sanction European companies if they do business with Iran. He said, "Yep, of course. That's what we're doing, absolutely."

REPORT: 2,000 PALESTINIAN PROTESTERS ON THE GAZA BORDER FENCE
2,000 Palestinian protesters are demonstrating in three locations along the Gaza border security fence on Friday as part of the ongoing "Great March of Return" protests.

The IDF is using crowd dispersing means and the Palestinian Ministry of Health reports 134 injured from live ammunition and tear gas.

NETANYAHU: OUR EFFORTS TO PUT IRAN 'IN ITS' PLACE' ARE PRODUCTIVE
The mass protests [in Iran] show our efforts to put Iran in its' place are productive", said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the IAF Flight School graduation ceremony.

"We will continue to act in full force against the Iranian plan to use Syria as a deadly missile launching base against us," said the Prime Minister.

"Our Air Force is stronger than ever and we ensure it has the best weapons, technology and above all the people Israel has to offer," Netanyahu added.

BRITAIN'S PRINCE WILLIAM TELLS PALESTINIANS 'YOU HAVE NOT BEEN FORGOTTEN'
JERUSALEM - Prince William, paying the first official British royal visit to the West Bank on Wednesday, told Palestinians they had not been forgotten and his trip to the West Bank was a "very powerful one".

"My message tonight is that you have not been forgotten, it has been a very powerful experience to meet you and other Palestinians in the West Bank and to hear your stories," the prince said in a speech at a garden party at the British Consulate General in Jerusalem.

"I hope that through my being here and understanding the challenges you face, the links of friendship and mutual respect between the Palestinian and British people can grow stronger."

NETANYAHU TALKS GAZA WITH U.N.’S MLADENOV
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Tuesday afternoon about Gaza with UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, who has been working on a humanitarian plan for the 2 million Palestinians living in the Strip.

“The two discussed regional issues and the situation in Gaza,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Over the weekend Netanyahu also spoke about Gaza with US envoys Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner.

On Monday night, Channel 2 reported that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman had come to an initial understanding with Cyprus to build a special pier for cargo ships. Goods would be unloaded in Cyprus and then ferried to Gaza.


REPORT: PUTIN INVITES NETANYAHU, ABBAS TO ATTEND WORLD CUP FINAL
Russian President Vladimir Putin invited both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmound Abbas to watch the World Cup final in Russia, Israeli media reported on Monday.

According to the report, Netanyahu has yet to decide whether he will make the trip, which would require extensive logistical preparations.

The final of the World Cup will take place on July 15 at 18:00 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.


KUSHNER: U.S. PLAN WILL BE PUBLIC IF ABBAS DOESN'T ‘COME BACK TO THE TABLE'
Washington is willing to engage with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas if he returns to negotiations, but if he is not willing, the United States will likely air its long-awaited blueprint for peace publicly, Jared Kushner said in a rare interview published Sunday in a Palestinian newspaper.

Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, made his comments to Al-Quds at the end of a five-country regional tour with Mideast negotiator Jason Greenblatt to promote the US plan. The PA has boycotted the duo and rejected the plan even before it has been released.


REPORT: 6 PALESTINIANS WOUNDED FROM IDF TEAR GAS
The Palestinian Ministry of Health reports 6 Palestinians were injured east of the Gaza Strip during protests by the border security fence when IDF soldiers used tear gas to disperse the crowds on Friday.

It was reported that several flammable kites were sent into Israel during the Friday protests consisting of thousands of participants.

Unconfirmed reports claim two Palestinian protesters injured from IDF sniper bullets.

 
TRUMP TO MEET JORDAN'S KING ABDULLAH AT WHITE HOUSE JUNE 25
WASHINGTON- US President Donald Trump will welcome King Abdullah of Jordan to the White House on June 25, the White House said in a statement on Thursday.

"Trump looks forward to reaffirming the strong bonds of friendship between the United States and Jordan. The leaders will discuss issues of mutual concern, including terrorism, the threat from Iran and the crisis in Syria, and working towards a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians," it said.

Abdullah met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a surprise meeting Monday in Amman in which they discussed regional issues.

ISRAEL DOWNPLAYS REPORTS OF POSSIBLE BREAKTHROUGH IN ISRAEL-BAHRAIN TIES
Amid yet another report hinting at the possibility of the establishment of ties between Israel and Bahrain, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday he was “not aware” of any concrete moves in that direction.

Hanegbi’s comment came in response to an i24NEWS report quoting an unnamed Bahraini official as saying that Bahrain will be the first Gulf state to establish ties with Israel.


WHITE HOUSE SAYS KUSHNER MET JORDAN'S ABDULLAH ABOUT ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACEWASHINGTON - White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, who is also President Donald Trump's son-in-law, met on Tuesday with Jordan's King Abdullah about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the Trump administration's efforts on creating peace between Israel and the Palestinian territories, the White House said on Tuesday.

The meeting, which also included Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, came one day after a tete-a-tete between the king of the Arab nation and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on advancing regional peace. The Trump administration has been working on an Israeli-Palestinian plan, but it has yet to be made public.

IDF STRIKES HAMAS INFRASTRUCTURE IN SOUTHERN GAZA STRIP
IAF aircraft struck Hamas infrastructure in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday evening, the IDF spokesperson stated.

Palestinian reports also confirmed that a Hamas position near Khan Younis and a nearby agricultural area were struck by three IAF missiles.

The IAF strikes were a response to a number of incendiary balloons that were launched from the area earlier on Monday, the IDF spokesperson added.

ISRAEL FOILS HAMAS PLANS FOR MAJOR ATTACKS ACROSS ISRAEL
Twenty Hamas members from the West Bank city of Nablus who planned lethal attacks across the country – including a suicide bombing in Jerusalem – have been arrested, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said in a statement on Sunday.

“In recent months, the Shin Bet, Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police uncovered a Hamas terror cell, extraordinary in its size and level of activity, which operated in the Nablus area,” the statement said.

According to the Shin Bet, the joint operation took place from October 2017 until the end of April, when the arrests were made.

The cell was led by 35-year-old Mu’tazem Muhammad Salem and 33-year-old Faras Kamel Zavidi, both from Nablus, and included more than 20 operatives. Most of the operatives were affiliated with Hamas; some had a long history of terrorist activity that included the manufacture of explosives and explosive devices.


KHAMENEI: ISRAEL ILLEGITIMATE, REFERENDUM SHOULD DECIDE FATE OF PALESTINEIran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Israel is an illegitimate state that "will soon cease to exist" and reiterated his call for a referendum to determine the future of Palestine, Iran's semi-official Iranian Student's News Agency reported Friday.

"The Zionist regime's problem is its lack of legitimacy; it is a regime that was established on hollow foundations," Khamenei said in a speech delivered Friday to leading government officials, members of the public, and ambassadors from Muslim countries on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.


HAMAS THREATENS TO SEND 5,000 INCENDIARY KITES TOWARD ISRAEL ON FRIDAY
Hamas officially declared it intends to float five thousands terror kites during Eid al-Fitr on Friday, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Meanwhile, the air force fired warning shots to remove terrorists at work on terror balloons south of the Gaza strip on Thursday, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said in a statement.
   
KUSHNER, GREENBLATT TO VISIT REGION FOR PEACE PLAN TALKS
NEW YORK – Senior Trump administration officials will visit the Middle East next week to consult regional governments on their plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, the two White House officials leading the effort, will ask Israeli, Egyptian and Saudi Arabian leadership for input on when might be best to release the detailed peace plan, which is largely finished. The team says it wants to publish the proposals “when the circumstances are right,” but a breakdown in relations with the Palestinians has frustrated their plans.

Kushner and Greenblatt will travel to Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia "to discuss the situation in Gaza and to discuss the next stages of the peace effort, as well as get some ideas from players in the region about some remaining questions the White House peace team has," a National Security Council spokesperson said. "The trip may include other stops as well."

The team has not met with Palestinian Authority officials since President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and moved the US Embassy in Israel there, late last year. A US official says they are not scheduled to meet with PA officials next week, but would be ready to do so if Palestinian leadership invites them to sit down.


MACRON URGES IRAN TO ENSURE COMMITMENT TO NUCLEAR DEAL "WITHOUT AMBIGUITY"
PARIS - French President Emmanuel Macron told his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday that he remained committed to the nuclear deal with world powers, but that Tehran needed to fully comply with its commitments.

"The President of the Republic recalled the will of France, the Britain, Germany, Russia and China, to continue to implement the Vienna agreement in all its dimensions," Macron's office said in a statement after the two leaders spoke by telephone.

"The president informed President Rouhani of the progress in the work being done on our side. He hoped that Iran, for its part, will fulfill its obligations without any ambiguity."

Macron confirmed a ministerial meeting would be held in the coming weeks in Vienna. French diplomatic sources said the meeting was likely to take place during the week of June 25.


REPORT: KIM SET A DEADLINE FOR ENDING SUMMIT, PROMPTING EARLIER EXIT BY TRUMP
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un set a deadline of Tuesday for ending the Singapore summit, prompting President Donald Trump to move up his departure to Tuesday instead of Wednesday as planned, Bloomberg News reported on Monday.

Citing two US officials familiar with the planning, Bloomberg said Trump had been willing to stay longer if negotiations were progressing, but since Kim set definite plans for departure, so did Trump.

IRAN'S REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS KILL SIX WHO CROSSED BORDER FROM IRAQ
BEIRUT - Iran’s Revolutionary Guards killed six militants who had crossed the border from Iraq and intended to carry out operations inside the Islamic Republic, Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour, the head of the Guards ground forces, said on Sunday, according to state media.

Three more militants were wounded in the clashes, which took place near Oshnavieh and Sarvabad in northwestern Iran, and explosives and weapons were recovered in the operation, Pakpour said.


PM: PUTIN KNOWS THAT ISRAEL ACTING 'LIKE ANY COUNTRY WOULD' IN SYRIA
Russian President Vladimir Putin understands that Israel is doing in Syria “what any country would do when faced with a foe out to destroy it,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in London on Thursday regarding Israeli actions in Syria against Iranian targets.

Speaking at the Policy Exchange think tank on the final day of his four-day European tour, Netanyahu said that he has told Putin during their various meetings over the years that Israel has “the legitimate right to defend ourselves against the Iranian regime that seeks to obliterate us, so if they move their weapons to our border to attack us, we will take preventative action.”

IDF DROPS LEAFLETS IN GAZA STRIP, WARNING TO STAY AWAY FROM FENCE
IDF aircraft dropped leaflets warning residents of Gaza of encroachment to the border fence, attempts of sabotage and terrorism on Thursday ahead of Friday's planned protests, according to the IDF spokesperson's unit.

In the leaflets, the IDF called on residents to abstain from being pawns at the hands of Hamas and not to approach the fence. "For your own benefit, you are better off not taking part in the violent riots on the fence and not to cross the border."


BLAST HEARD IN IRAQI CAPITAL BAGHDAD
BAGHDAD - A blast was heard in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Wednesday night. It was not immediately clear what the cause was and a military spokesman said he had no information about it.

Local media reported two explosions in Baghdad's Sadr City district, a stronghold of the nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose political bloc won a May 12 parliamentary election.

LIBERMAN VOWS RETALIATION FOR HAMAS, ISLAMIC JIHAD KITE ATTACKS
Defense Minister revealed that there have been 600 kite attacks, of which 400 were intercepted with technology. The remaining kites caused 198 fires, burning 9000 dunams.

Israel will retaliate for incendiary kite attacks from the Gaza Strip, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman vowed at Monday’s Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting at the Knesset.

Liberman revealed that there have been 600 kite attacks, of which 400 were intercepted with technology. The remaining kites caused 198 fires, burning some 2,500 acres.

“It must be clear, we are unwilling to accept kite attacks, riots on the fence, or attempts to rush the fence and harm land that is under Israeli sovereignty,” Liberman said.“We will act according to Israel’s interests at timing that is comfortable for us. We will not leave accounts open. We will settle accounts with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the rests of the terrorists operating against us from the Gaza Strip.”


MERKEL, NETANYAHU AGREE IRAN IS A CONCERN FOR ISRAEL'S SECURITY
BERLIN - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting on Monday that Iran's activities in the Middle East are a concern, particularly for Israel's security.

"We agree that the question of Iran's regional influence is worrying, especially for Israel's security," Merkel told a joint news conference with Netanyahu after a meeting in Berlin.

SYRIA'S ASSAD SAYS WILL VISIT NORTH KOREA, NEWS AGENCY REPORTSSEOUL - Syrian President Bashar Assad said he plans to visit North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, North Korean state media reported on Sunday, potentially the first meeting between Kim and another head of state in Pyongyang.

"I am going to visit the DPRK and meet HE Kim Jong Un," Assad said on May 30, North Korea's KCNA news agency reported, using the initials of the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

TRUMP SAYS JUNE 12 SUMMIT WITH NORTH KOREA'S KIM IS BACK ON
US President Donald Trump said on Friday a nuclear arms summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that the United States pulled out of last week will now go ahead as scheduled on June 12 in Singapore.

"I think it's probably going to be a very successful, ultimately a successful process," Trump told reporters on the White House lawn after meeting with a senior North Korean official in the Oval Office.

Kim Yong Chol, a close aide to the North Korean leader, was the highest level figure from the secretive state to hold talks at the White House since a senior envoy visited former President Bill Clinton in 2000.

After exchanging threats and insults since Trump became president last year, the United States and North Korea have been trying to set up the summit between their leaders. Trump wants to sue the meeting to pressure Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear weapons.


OPPOSITION LEADER: EU SHOULD HELP PUSH IRAN OUT OF SYRIA
BRUSSELS - The US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal opens the way to raising pressure on Tehran to stop its military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and leave the country, a Syrian opposition leader said on Thursday.

Nasr Hariri of the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) spoke in the EU political hub Brussels as Assad declared separately that US forces should leave Syria because people in the Middle East were tired of foreign invasions.

Hariri pushed back against Assad's comments, stressing that Russia and Iran had been fighting on behalf of Assad in the Syrian war, helping him retake considerable territory from rebels and Islamic groups. Hariri said there were now up to 100,000 Iranian or Iran-affiliated fighters in the country.

"The role of Iran is getting bigger and bigger, at the expense of our people," Hariri said. "So we are supporting any international mechanism that could limit the influence of Iran in the region in general, and in our country in particular."

"We cannot separate one from another, the (Iranian) nuclear program from Tehran's missile program and Iran's malign behavior in our region," he said.


UNCERTAINTY ABOUT CEASEFIRE ABOUNDS AS GAZA-ISRAEL BORDER MAINTAINS QUIET
The day after militant groups in Gaza launched over 100 rockets towards Israel, and Israel responded with dozens of strikes on supposed terror targets, the border separating the strip from nearby Israeli communities fell quiet.

On Wednesday, Hamas said that it and other militant groups in Gaza would agree to a ceasefire should Israel reciprocate the terms. A Palestinian official said that Egypt had meditated the agreement, but the terms of the "understanding" did not go beyond "a restoration of calm by both sides."

In a meeting of the security cabinet just hours after the calm set it, government ministers appeared split on the issue.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett denied the truce and said that the government had not "reached an agreement with Hamas, not even an informal agreement."


U.S. CALLS FOR EMERGENCY U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL MEETING ON GAZA ATTACKS
The United States mission to the United Nations called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council over the recent rocket and mortar attacks on Israel by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the US mission said in a statement Tuesday.

"The recent attacks out of Gaza are the largest we have seen since 2014," said US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

"Mortars fired by Palestinian militants hit civilian infrastructure, including a kindergarten. The Security Council should be outraged and respond to this latest bout of violence directed at innocent Israeli civilians, and the Palestinian leadership needs to be held accountable for what they’re allowing to happen in Gaza,” Haley said.

ISRAEL, RUSSIA AGREE TO BOOT IRAN AND HEZBOLLAH FROM NORTHERN BORDER
After months of diplomacy between Jerusalem and Moscow, the two sides reached an understanding that Iran should be kept away from Israel's northern border with Syria, Channel 2 News reported on Monday evening.

According to the report, Israel and Russia agreed the Syrian army would be allowed to re-take control of southern Syria, up to the country's border with Israel. Iran and Hezbollah, though, will not be permitted to take part in the takeover. Russia will be responsible for making sure Iranian and Hezbollah militants will stay away from the area near the border.

Israel will maintain its ability to “act against the Iranian expansion in Syria,” the report added. However, by allowing Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces to re-take the south of the country, Israel is taking part in a move that de-facto allows Assad to regain control over all of Syria.


REPORT: ISRAEL ATTACKED A HEZBOLLAH BASE IN SYRIA
The Syrian Al-Marsad organization for human rights reported on Friday that Thursday's attack on the Dabaa military airport in central Syria was aimed at Hezbollah members and militias supporting the regime. According to the report, six strong explosions, allegedly related to missile strikes, were heard in the region of Homs, near the Lebanese border. Syrian air defense systems reportedly attempted to intercept the missiles. So far, no fatalities have been reported. Al-Marsad did not state whether the attempt was successful.

LEADER OF HEZBOLLAH: 'IF THERE WILL BE A WAR WITH ISRAEL - WE WILL WIN'
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the terrorist organization Hezbollah, spoke out on television to mark the 18th anniversary of Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon.

In 2000, Israel unilaterally pulled out of southern Lebanon where for nearly 20 years it maintained a security zone.

Hezbollah started its existence as a Guerrilla organization combating Israel’s presence in Lebanon.

Claiming that Hezbollah does not seek a confrontation with Israel, Nasrallah went on to say that he's confident Hezbollah will win should a war with Israel break out, reports Israeli news site Walla.

"Israel always threatens," he claimed, yet in our closed meetings we "always talk about an assured victory against Israel in case of war."

MLADENOV SAYS URGENT ACTION NEEDED TO AVOID ANOTHER WAR IN GAZA
Gaza is on “the verge of collapse,” and urgent action must be taken to prevent another war between Hamas and Israel, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said Wednesday.

People in Gaza “are increasingly desperate,” he said during his monthly report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the UN Security Council in New York. “We must act urgently to avoid another war.”

Mladenov referenced the “Great March of Return” organized by Hamas, which began on March 30 with the goal of sending thousands of Palestinians over the border into Israel.

ISRAELI MINISTER: THE EU CAN GO TO A THOUSAND HELLS
The European Union “can go to a thousand hells,” National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Wednesday, as he added fuel to the fire of the growing tension between the EU and Israel.

On Tuesday the EU called on Israel not to pursue “human rights defenders.”

It asked Israel not to deport Omar Shakir, the local director of Human Rights Watch, and called on Israel to investigate the arrest and alleged beating of Israeli-Arab activist Jafar Farah during a Haifa demonstration.

EU Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret on Tuesday visited Farah, who directs the Mossawa Center – the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel, and spoke there with Israeli-Arab civic society organizers.

“Are they [the EU ] picking on us?” asked Steinitz in an interview he gave to Ayala Hasson on Radio 103 FM.

Israel is a state of rules and laws, said Steinitz, adding that the police was investigating the Haifa incident.

The EU statement only shows “how vile it is,” Steinitz said, adding that “it’s the height of cynicism and chutzpah.”

“Iran executes and tortures homosexuals, violates women’s rights, not to talk about what its doing in the Middle East, its support of terrorism, [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, who uses chemical weapons against [his] people,” Steiniz said. In spite of this, the EU chose to go after Israel, he said.

The EU is a body that is not led by anyone and is unlikely to change its stance on Israel, even though individual European countries have strengthened their ties with the Jewish state, Steinitz said.

The EU statement comes as it works to rescue the Iran nuclear deal in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from it earlier this month. France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China and Russia, which are also signatories to the 2015 agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, hope to sway Tehran to adhere to the agreement.


ISRAELI SECURITY CABINET CONVENING IN UNDERGROUND BUNKER
JERUSALEM - Israel's Security Cabinet, a forum of senior ministers headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has begun holding its weekly meetings in a secure underground bunker in Jerusalem, Israeli media said on Tuesday.

The facility, known as the "National Management Centre", was first used by the Security Cabinet in 2011 to rehearse a national crisis scenario. It was carved out beneath the government complex in Jerusalem and includes living quarters as well as command facilities.

Reports of the move come amid a rise in tensions with Iran.


GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS TO MEET WITH POMPEO OVER IRAN DEAL
BUENOS AIRES - German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Monday he will travel to Washington to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Washington's stance on an international nuclear deal with Iran.

The United States earlier in the day demanded Iran make sweeping changes - from dropping its nuclear program to pulling out of the Syrian civil war - or face sanctions as the Trump administration hardened its approach to Tehran.

"From here I will actually travel to Washington to have a meeting with Secretary Pompeo, and take advantage of that meeting to talk about this," Maas said in response to a question from a journalist about the Iran deal.

Maas spoke to reporters in Buenos Aires at the end of a G20 meeting in the Argentine capital.


PA PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS HOSPITALIZED FOR THIRD TIME IN A WEEK
RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been hospitalized in the West Bank, a Palestinian official said on Sunday, providing no further details on his condition.

It was the third time Abbas, 82, had been hospitalized in a week. He underwent minor ear surgery on Tuesday and was released a few hours later and hospitalized briefly again on Friday, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said.

ERDOGAN SAYS HE WILL TAKE EVENTS IN GAZA TO U.N. GENERAL ASSEMBLY
ISTANBUL - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday he will take events in Gaza, where dozens of Palestinian protesters were killed by Israeli security forces this week, to the United Nations General Assembly.

Erdogan, speaking at the start of an extraordinary summit of Muslim nations held in Istanbul in response to this week's events, said the United States blocked every step toward justice in the United Nations Security Council.

"Israel must certainly be held accountable for the innocent people it has massacred in front of international law. We will follow this issue in the United Nations General Assembly as well," he said.


GREENBLATT IN QATAR TO DISCUSS GAZA AND TRUMP’S PEACE PLAN

US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt met with Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on Wednesday to discuss the Trump administration’s upcoming peace plan.

He tweeted that he also met with Qatar’s Gaza emissary to discuss the need for humanitarian support for Gaza.

The visit comes two days after the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem and in the wake of mass protests that led to the death of more than sixty Palestinians in Gaza.

Greenblatt recently condemned Hamas rule in Gaza and argued that “Palestinians in Gaza need to be reunited with their West Bank counterparts under a single, responsible Palestinian Authority leadership.”

He has now published those comments in Arabic as well, seeking a larger consensus in the region for a new push regarding Gaza.

The full details of the Trump peace plan have only been hinted at, but Gaza is obviously key. Hamas has not gained anything from eight weeks of mass protests, with more than 100 killed and thousands injured.

The US message will now be that this shows just what a failure Hamas is.

Qatar plays a key role here because it has spent hundreds of millions in aid to Gaza over the years and enjoyed amicable relations with Hamas. Qatar’s leverage in any agreement with the PA, Hamas and regional states is seen as key.

Qatar also wants US help to resolve its breakdown in relations with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain. Bridging these regional discussions to get humanitarian aid to Gaza and work on a peace deal is the next step.


PLO AMBASSADOR TO U.S. SUMMONED TO WEST BANK FOLLOWING EMBASSY OPENING
The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday that PLO Ambassador to the US Husam Zomlot was summoned to the West Bank, the official PA news site Wafa reported.

The Foreign Ministry said Zomlot was summoned at the direction of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, adding that the move was made following the relocation of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

FRANCE'S MACRON TELLS NETANYAHU PALESTINIANS HAVE RIGHT TO PROTEST PEACEFULLY
PARIS - French President Emmanuel Macron told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call on Tuesday that he condemned the violence in Gaza, a day after dozens of Palestinian protesters were killed by Israeli troops.

"He expressed his very deep concern about the situation in Gaza, condemned the violence and underlined the importance of protecting civilian populations and of the right to protest peacefully," the Elysee said in a statement.


HEZBOLLAH SAYS ROCKET ATTACK ON ISRAELI-OCCUPIED GOLAN MARKS "NEW PHASE"
BEIRUT - The leader of Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah group, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said on Monday a missile attack from Syria into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights last week marked a new phase in the Syrian war.

Israel has said the attack was carried out by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which set up Hezbollah in 1982. Shi'ite Hezbollah is fighting in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

In a televised speech Nasrallah said the rocket attack showed Syria and its allies are ready to go to "the greatest extent" to defend Syria from Israel. He did not say who had carried out the attack.

Nasrallah said 55 missiles were launched from Syrian territory in the attack. Israel had said 20 missiles were shot down by its Iron Dome defense system in the attack on Thursday.

SECRETARY OF STATE SAYS 'HOPEFUL' U.S., EUROPE CAN STRIKE DEAL OVER IRAN
WASHINGTON - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday he is hopeful that the United States and Europe can come to an agreement over how to deal with Iran, after President Donald Trump threatened to sanction European companies that continue doing business there.

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Pompeo said that the United States was not aiming at Europe when it withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal last week.

"I'm hopeful in the days and weeks ahead we can come up with a deal that really works, that really protects the world from Iranian bad behavior, not just their nuclear program, but their missiles and their malign behavior as well."

U.S. TO PALESTINIANS: 'GET ON BOARD BEFORE EVENTS OVERTAKE YOU'
WASHINGTON -- Palestinian resistance to America's opening of an embassy in Jerusalem on Monday is based on a "fantasy" unhelpful to their cause that they retain veto power of the fate of the ancient capital, senior Trump administration officials said on Friday.

Previewing the embassy opening, the officials called on Palestinian Authority leaders to "get on board" with the "reality" of Jerusalem's status as Israel's capital, and on the presence of the US embassy there. The PA has effectively cut off contact with the US administration since President Donald Trump chose to recognize that status in December of last year.


NETANYAHU SAYS IRAN CROSSED RED LINE, WARNS ASSAD AGAINST HELPING TEHRAN
Israel's retaliatory strikes against Iranian targets in Syria serve as a warning for the regime of President Bashar Assad, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday, making clear the IDF will act against Syrian forces if they assist Iran militarily against the Jewish state.

"Yesterday, I gave the Assad regime a clear message: our actions target Iranian forces in Syria," Netanyahu said ahead of a security cabinet meeting to discuss the rising tensions in the north. "But if the Syrian army acts against us, we will take action against it."

S. KOREA SAYS TRUMP SAYS RELEASE OF DETAINEES BY N.KOREA WILL BE POSITIVE FOR SUMMIT

SEOUL- US President Donald Trump said North Korea's decision to release three American detainees would have a positive effect on the upcoming summit between the United States and North Korea, said a South Korean presidential spokesman on Wednesday.

In a phone call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump also told Moon that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had had very constructive talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters via mobile message.

Trump and Moon spoke shortly after Trump announced on Twitter that Pompeo was returning home from Pyongyang with the three men who were freed after the secretary of state met with the North Korean leader.

EU TOP DIPLOMAT CALLS OTHERS TO HONOR IRAN DEAL AFTER TRUMP PULLS OUT
BRUSSELS - The top European Union diplomat, Federica Mogherini, on Tuesday called on the international community to stick to the Iran nuclear deal despite US President Donald Trump announcing he was pulling out and would reimpose sanctions on Tehran.

"I am particularly worried by the announcement tonight of new sanctions," Mogherini said.

"The European Union is determined to preserve it," she said of the world powers' 2015 agreement with Tehran. "Together with the rest of the international community, we will preserve this nuclear deal."


REPORT: IRAN PLANNING TO LAUNCH A BARRAGE OF MISSILES AGAINST ISRAEL
Iran is preparing a barrage of missiles to launch against Israeli military positions from Syrian territory, Hebrew media reported Sunday, citing defense officials.

Iran plans to avenge alleged Israeli strikes on its bases in Syria, Ma'ariv defense analyst Alon Ben David said, by targeting military targets in northern Israel.

As of now, Israel is not "on the eve of war against Iran," he said, "but the Iranians do want revenge for their losses.”

Iran plans to use Shiite militias already deployed in Syria along with experts from Hezbollah, according to Channel 2 News military analyst Roni Daniel. The proxies would be overseen by general Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps abroad.

Tensions have risen dramatically between the two arch-enemies following the infiltration of a Iranian drone into northern Israel, which the IDF says was armed and on a sabotage attack mission against the Jewish State.

MACRON WARNS OF RISK OF WAR IF TRUMP WITHDRAWS FROM IRAN DEAL
BERLIN - French President Emmanuel Macron has warned that war could ensue if US President Donald Trump withdraws from the 2015 deal in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

"We would open the Pandora's box. There could be war," Macron told German weekly magazine Der Spiegel. But he added: "I don't think that Donald Trump wants war."

Trump is set to decide by May 12 whether to pull out of the Iran deal. Trump has all but decided to withdraw but exactly how he will do so remains unclear, two White House officials and a source familiar with the administration's internal debate said on May 2.

Trump could still figure out a way to stay in the deal between the Islamic Republic and six world powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

Macron urged Trump not to withdraw when he met the president in Washington late last month.

Britain, France and Germany remain committed to the accord but, in an effort to keep Washington in it, want to open talks on Iran's ballistic missile program, its nuclear activities beyond 2025 - when key provisions of the deal expire - and its role in Middle East crises such as Syria and Yemen.
  
ABBAS APOLOGIZES FOR ANTISEMITIC SPEECH FOLLOWING WIDESPREAD CONDEMNATIONS
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed remorse on Friday to anyone offended by a statement he made earlier this week, in which he said Jews were massacred in Europe for their “social role related to usury and banks.”

“If people were offended by my statement in front of the PNC, especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them. I would like to assure everyone that it was not my intention to do so, and to reiterate my full respect for the Jewish faith, as well as other monotheistic faiths,” Abbas said in a statement, referring to the Palestinian National Council, a top Palestine Liberation Organization body.

Abbas issued the statement after he was widely condemned for his remarks about his perspective of European Jewish history by the European Union’s foreign service, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, several Jewish organizations, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov and several others.

Abbas also stated the holocaust is the “most heinous crime in history” and denounced antisemitism.

“I would also like to reiterate our long held condemnation of the Holocaust, as the most heinous crime in history, and express our sympathy with its victims…Likewise, we condemn antisemitism in all its forms, and confirm our commitment to the two- state solution, and to live side by side in peace and security,” the PA president said.

Many of the groups that condemned Abbas for his statements on his take of European Jewish history accused him of making “antisemitic” remarks.

 
IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: IRAN WILL NOT RENEGOTIATE NUCLEAR DEAL
ANKARA - Iran will not renegotiate a 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, Iran's foreign minister said on Thursday, as a deadline set by US President Donald Trump for Europeans to "fix" the deal loomed.

"Iran will not renegotiate what was agreed years ago and has been implemented ... also we will reject any ratification of it," Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a message posted on YouTube.

He said the United States had "consistently violated the nuclear deal, particularly by bullying others to preventing businesses to return to Iran".

Trump will decide on May 12 whether to renew sanctions waivers on Iran.

JOHN KERRY QUESTIONS ABBAS'S COMMITMENT TO PEACE

Former US secretary of state John Kerry questioned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's commitment to peace Wednesday after Abbas gave a speech riddled with antisemitism Monday.

"These comments are wrong, ugly, and unacceptable - anywhere from anyone - but particularly from anyone who says he wants to be a peacemaker," he said in a tweet. "No excuses for antisemitism: words to be condemned, not explained away."


NETANYAHU SAYS NOT SEEKING IRAN WAR AS U.S. FACES DEADLINE
WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday Israel was not seeking war with Iran, one day after unveiling what he said was evidence of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Netanyahu made his case as US President Donald Trump considers whether to withdraw the United States from a 2015 deal between Iran and six major powers aimed at limiting Iran's nuclear program.


TRUMP SAYS NIXING IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL SENDS 'THE RIGHT MESSAGE' TO N. KOREA
WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump said on Monday he would be open to negotiating a new nuclear accord with Iran, just after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined what he said were the Iranian violations of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Netanyahu’s press conference shook Washington, where few had advanced warning of the planned announcement and many took it as a sign that Trump was strategically coordinating with Israel ahead of his expected withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

"Iran's leaders repeatedly deny ever pursuing nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said in Tel Aviv. "Tonight I'm here to tell you one thing: Iran lied."

The president acknowledged growing expectations that he will pull out of the accord by May 12— a deadline he has set upon Britain, France and Germany to come up with “substantial” fixes to some of the agreement’s most controversial provisions. If the European powers fail to do so, Trump says he will allow for nuclear sanctions to snap back into place, effectively withdrawing the US from the 2015 agreement by default.

“It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t negotiate a new agreement,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden. He said scrapping the non-proliferation agreement would send “the right message” to North Korea in upcoming negotiations over its own nuclear work, given “new information” that had come to light on Monday.

The president also claimed the deal “frees” Iran to develop nuclear weapons in seven years. The letter of the agreement commits Iran never to construct nuclear weapons— a pledge it originally made in joining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in the 1970s. But Netanyahu’s point was that Iran’s commitments were based on lies, raising questions over whether their weapons program had ever ceased— and over what sort of agreement with Iran would ever be considered of good faith.

The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, put caps on Tehran’s enrichment of uranium that phase out between 10 and 15 years. As those “sunset clauses” are reached, Iran will be allowed to grow the size and efficiency of its program— installing advanced models of uranium-enriching centrifuges in place of decades-old technology, in greater numbers and at more facilities.

That will shrink the “breakout time” Iran would need to develop fissile material for nuclear bombs, should it make the political decision to proceed.

Trump wants a deal that will grant UN inspectors snap access to Iran’s military facilities, where much of their past nuclear weapons work took place; an end to their program on ballistic missiles, designed to deliver nuclear warheads; a permanent extension of the “sunset clauses;” and commitments from world powers to thwart Iran’s military ambitions across the Middle East.


PUTIN: RUSSIA READY TO HELP NORTH-SOUTH KOREA COOPERATION
MOSCOW, April 29 - President Vladimir Putin has told his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in that Russia is ready to facilitate cooperation between North and South Korea, the Kremlin said on Sunday.

In a telephone call with Moon, Putin said Russia was ready to help with trilateral infrastructure and energy projects on the Korean peninsula.

On Friday Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un embraced after pledging to work for the "complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula".


IRAN HAS NOT ASKED FOR RUSSIAN HELP IN CASE U.S. RESUMES SANCTIONS
MOSCOW - Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Friday that Iran has not sought Moscow's help in case the United States decides to re-impose economic sanctions on Tehran.

US President Donald Trump has said that unless European allies fix the "terrible flaws" in the Iran nuclear deal by May 12, he will refuse to extend US sanctions relief for oil-producing Iran.


MATTIS: U.S. WOULD 'PROBABLY REGRET' NOT KEEPING HOLDING FORCE IN SYRIA
WASHINGTON - US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Thursday the United States would "probably regret" not keeping a holding force in Syria to ensure that Islamic State militants did not re-emerge and that any withdrawal of US forces was based on conditions.

"We have to create local forces that can keep the pressure on any attempt by ISIS to try to (re-emerge)," Mattis told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, using an acronym for Islamic State.

When asked whether it would be risky to have local holding partners without US forces, Mattis said: " I am confident that we would probably regret it."
  
WHAT THE NEW FRENCH-AMERICAN TAG TEAM MEANS FOR THE MIDDLE EAST
During meetings in Washington, French President Emmanuel Macron and his US counterpart Donald Trump appeared to frolic in pleasantries.

Macron smiled, shook hands and patted Trump on the back. They planted an oak tree together at the White House. The tree was from Belleau Wood, where the US Marines had fought alongside French poilus (infantry soldiers) to repel the German army in June 1918.

Today, Franco-American relations appear at one of their highest points since the time of Jefferson and Lafayette. France joined the US and UK for air strikes on Syria and has sought to stand alongside US policy in eastern Syria.

The larger story of the Macron-Trump meetings in Washington is part of a clear bond formed between the pair. The relationship had an awkward start in May 2017 at the NATO summit in Brussels when they had a “handshake battle,” each trying to grip the others’ hand harder. At the time, they were at odds over climate change issues. They also met in July when Trump was a guest of honor at Bastille Day events marking the 100th anniversary of the entry of the US into the First World War. It was unclear what the 39-year-old political maverick in Paris saw in Trump, although the two were both political outsiders with a business background.


REPORT: IRAN FACES DEVASTATING WATER SHORTAGE
This coming summer, 35 million Iranians, nearly half the country's population of 80 million, will face an acute water crisis, according to a report released today in the country's Donya-e Eqtesad economic newspaper.

A dramatic rise in population, global warming, and an ongoing 14 year drought have led to the current crisis, the newspaper reports.

TRUMP SAYS N. KOREA CRISIS 'A LONG WAY FROM CONCLUSION
'WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that the North Korean nuclear crisis is "a long way from conclusion," tempering his welcome of Pyongyang's announcement it was suspending nuclear and missile tests and scrapping its nuclear test site.

"We are a long way from conclusion on North Korea, maybe things will work out, and maybe they won’t - only time will tell....But the work I am doing now should have been done a long time ago!" he said on Twitter.
  
IRAN: DIRECT CONFRONTATION WITH ISRAEL WILL END IN ITS DESTRUCTION
Al-Jazeera reported on Friday that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard launched an additional threat against Israel:

"Direct confrontation with Israel will end in its destruction," the Islamic state said.

Earlier, the second-in-command of the Revolutionary Guard said that "Israel has nowhere to run to other than to the sea. Our missiles will cover the entire country, including the air force bases."

U.S. HOPES FOR SUCCESS IN TALKS WITH EUROPEANS ON IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL
GENEVA - The United State is hopeful of reaching agreement with Britain, France and Germany to address US concerns about the Iran nuclear deal, US disarmament ambassador Robert Wood told a news conference in Geneva on Thursday.

Wood said that the discussions were "intense" ahead of a May 12 deadline, and said the United States had concerns about a failure to address Iran's ballistic missile program, 10-year "sunset" clauses for limits on Iran's nuclear programs, and Iran's general behavior in the Middle East.

“These issues have to be dealt with. We are hopeful that an agreement can be reached that the President can feel comfortable with,” Wood said.


TRUMP WISHES ISRAEL HAPPY 70TH ANNIVERSARY
US President Donald Trump wished Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel a happy 70th Independence Day on Twitter.

"We have no better friends anywhere. Looking forward to moving our Embassy to Jerusalem next month!"


NETANYAHU: ISRAEL ON GUARD AGAINST IRANIAN TERROR ATTACKS ON DIPLOMATS
Israel's security services are poised to thwart any attempt to harm Israel's diplomats abroad, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday amid Iranian threats that it will avenge the attack last week on the T4 airbase near Homs, Syria, that has been attributed to Israel.

Netanyahu was speaking at the Foreign Ministry's annual memorial ceremony for 16 employees killed in terrorist attacks, 14 of them murdered abroad.


RUSSIA SAYS SYRIA DESTROYED 71 OF 103 CRUISE MISSILES DURING WESTERN STRIKE
MOSCOW - Russia's Defense Ministry said on Monday that Syria's military had destroyed 71 out of 103 cruise missiles detected in the country's airspace during the Western strike at the weekend, the RIA news agency reported.

On Saturday, US, French and British missile attacks struck at the heart of Syria's chemical weapons program in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack a week earlier.


PUTIN: FURTHER WESTERN STRIKES ON SYRIA WILL LEAD TO CHAOS
MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani on Sunday that further Western missile strikes on Syria would lead to chaos in international relations, Russian news agencies cited the Kremlin as saying.

Putin and Rouhani spoke by phone to discuss the situation in Syria after the United States, France and Britain launched missile strikes on the country over a suspected poison gas attack.

The two leaders agreed that the Western strikes had damaged the chances of achieving a political resolution in Syria, the news agencies reported.

"Vladimir Putin, in particular, stressed that if such actions in violation of the U.N. Charter continue, then it will inevitably lead to chaos in international relations," RIA news agency quoted the Kremlin as saying in a statement.


PROTESTERS SET OFF EXPLOSIVE, TRY TO FLY KITE BOMB OVER BORDER
The IDF spokesperson stated that the violence on the border has continued throughout the past hour. An explosive device was placed and detonated near Karni, and may have caused Palestinian casualties. A kite bomb with a Molotov cocktail attached was attempted to be sent into Israeli territory, but ended up landing within Gaza.

This is in addition to several attempts by the over 10,000 protesters throughout the last hour to breach the border between Israel and Gaza and sabotage security infrastructure.

The IDF continues to use riot dispersal methods as means to control the uprisings.


RUSSIA SAYS 'IMMEDIATE PRIORITY IS TO AVERT THE DANGER OF WAR'
UNITED NATIONS - Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia urged the United States and its allies on Thursday to refrain from military action against Syria over a suspected chemical weapons attack and said the "immediate priority is to avert the danger of war."

Asked if he was referring to a war between the United States and Russia, he told reporters: "We cannot exclude any possibilities unfortunately because we saw messages that are coming from Washington. They were very bellicose."

"They know we are there, I wish there was dialect though the proper channels on this to avert any dangerous developments," he said. "The danger of escalation is higher than simply Syria because our military are there ... So the situation is very dangerous."


RUSSIA SAYS TRACKING U.S. NAVAL MOVEMENTS TOWARDS SYRIA
MOSCOW - The Russian military said on Wednesday it was closely watching the situation around Syria and was aware of the movements of a US naval strike force headed for the Gulf.

The US Navy said on Tuesday that the strike group, headed by the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, would set sail for the Middle East and Europe on Wednesday.

The Russian military said the US strike force was due to arrive in the Middle East at the start of May.

"We are attentively tracking the situation unfolding around Syria and in the whole region," the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.

It also reacted to a warning of imminent military action in Syria from US President Donald Trump.

"Instead of talking about the coalition's readiness to fire missiles at Syria, the United States would do better to rebuild the destroyed city (of Raqqa) and provide wide-ranging help to its suffering population," the ministry said in a statement.

It repeated its assertion that a suspected chemical weapons attack carried out in the Syrian town of Douma had been faked by the "White Helmets" organization, rejecting Western allegations that Syrian government forces were responsible for it.

Russian military police would enter Douma on Thursday, the ministry said.


MAY, TRUMP AND MACRON SAY: WORLD NEEDS TO RESPOND TO SUSPECTED CHEMICAL ATTACK IN SYRIA
LONDON - British Prime Minister Theresa May agreed with U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday that the world needed to respond to reports of a chemical weapons attack in Syria, Downing Street said.

May, who held separate calls with the two leaders on Tuesday, agreed that reports of a chemical weapons attack in Syria were "utterly reprehensible" and if confirmed, represented further evidence of the appalling cruelty shown by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

"They agreed that the international community needed to respond to uphold the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons," a spokeswoman from May's office said after the call.

TRUMP SAYS WILL MAKE DECISION ON SYRIA, PROBABLY BY END OF MONDAY
US President Donald Trump said on Monday he would not take any options off the table, when it comes the Washington's reaction to the Syrian chemical attack.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Trump condemned the reported poison gas attack on a rebel-held town in Syria and said he would make a decision on a response, probably by the end of the day.

Trump said he was talking to military leaders and would decide who was responsible for the attack - whether it was Russia, or Syrian President Bashar Assad's government, or Iran, or all of them together.


EU CALLS FOR RESPONSE TO 'YET ANOTHER CHEMICAL ATTACK' IN SYRIA
BRUSSELS - The evidence points to the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces against a besieged rebel-held town in Syria, the European Union said on Sunday, calling for an international response.

"The evidence points towards yet another chemical attack by the regime," the EU said in a statement. "It is a matter of grave concern that chemical weapons continue to be used, especially on civilians. The European Union condemns in the strongest terms the use of chemical weapons and calls for an immediate response by the international community."

The bloc called on the UN Security Council to re-establish its checks to identify perpetrators of chemical attacks and on Russia and Iran to use their influence with Assad to prevent further attacks.

The Syrian state denied government forces had launched any chemical attack in the town of Douma.
 

RUSSIA SAYS IT WILL RESPOND FIRMLY TO U.S. SANCTIONS
MOSCOW - Moscow said on Friday it would respond firmly to new US sanctions imposed against Russian businessmen, companies and government officials.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that no pressure could make Russian change its course and that the sanctions will only unite Russian society.

The United States imposed the sanctions earlier on Friday in one of Washington's most aggressive moves to punish Moscow for a range of activities, including alleged meddling in the 2016 US election.


UN ENVOY URGES ISRAEL TO SHOW RESTRAINT AHEAD OF PALESTINIAN PROTESTS
JERUSALEM - UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov on Thursday urged Israel to show "maximum restraint" and Palestinians to "avoid friction" during protests at the Gaza-Israel border.

He voiced concern ahead of Friday, the Muslim sabbath, when the number of Palestinian protesters at the Gaza-Israel border is expected to increase.

"I am following with concern the continuing preparations and rhetoric for this Friday’s ‘Great Return March’ in Gaza," said Mladenov, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

"Israeli forces should exercise maximum restraint and Palestinians should avoid friction at the Gaza fence. Demonstrations and protests must be allowed to proceed in a peaceful manner. Civilians, particularly children, must not be intentionally put in danger or targeted in any way."


YEMEN'S HOUTHIS SAY LAUNCHED MISSILE AT SAUDI ARAMCO STORAGE TANKS
DUBAI - Yemen's armed Houthi movement launched a missile at storage tanks belonging to oil giant Saudi Aramco in Saudi Arabia's southwestern Jizan province on Wednesday, said Yemeni state news agency Saba, which is controlled by the group.

Saudi air defenses shot down a missile in the skies above the province, the kingdom's official TV channel Ekhbariya reported minutes before the Yemeni claim.

There was no immediate comment from Aramco on the incident.


REPORT: SAUDI OIL TANKER HIT IN HOUTHI ATTACK OFF YEMEN
DUBAI - A Saudi oil tanker in the Red Sea was hit in a Houthi attack off Yemen's main port city of Hodeidah, Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television reported on Tuesday, citing a statement from the Saudi-led coalition.

The Iran-aligned Houthi group said they had targeted a warship of the coalition in the Red Sea in response to an air strike in Yemen's Hodeidah province on Monday.

REPORT: ISRAEL REACHES DEAL WITH UN ON DEPORTATION OF ASYLUM SEEKERS
Israel has reached an agreement with the United Nations to allow the deportation of asylum seekers and illegal infiltrators in Israel to third countries, Channel 2 News reported on Monday.

According to the report, the deal discussed between the Prime Minister's Office and the UN High Commission on Refugees stipulates that Israel could immediately deport some 16,000 people while granting temporary residency to thousands others for a period of five years.

The report said that 16,000 asylum seekers would be deported from Israel, with the assistance and direct intervention of Western countries, and an additional 16,000 others would be allowed to stay as long as they meet so far undisclosed criteria, which are to be determined in cooperation between Israel and the commission.

Israeli diplomatic sources characterized the agreement as unprecedented as the UN rarely engages in efforts to actively expel asylum seekers from their current country of residence and credit the move to intense deliberations held over the past few months.

HAMAS OFFICIAL: NO CALLS FOR GAZA MASSES TO BREACH ISRAEL BORDER THIS WEEK
A senior Hamas official in Gaza, Salah Bardawil, stressed that there will be no breaches of the Israeli border this week while 'Land Day' is taking place, Maarivreported on Tuesday.

According to Bardawil, the 'Land Day', on March 30, comes in response to the US President Donald Trump's plan to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Infiltration into Israel will resume on Nakba Day - May 15.

Marwan Abu Nasser, a member of the organizing committee of the Greater Procession of Return, said that "the procession is meant to make clear to the Zionist enemy and to the international community that the Palestinian people will not give up the right of return."

"Many in the Gaza Strip expressed interest in taking part in the large procession," Abu Nasser added.

Earlier on Tuesday, clerics in the Gaza Strip expressed their support for a demonstration organized by Hamas on the border fence and in recent days, Hamas bulldozers have prepared the ground for the construction of hundreds of tents near the border.


RUSSIA'S 'BRAZEN' ATTACK PREVENTS BETTER TIES WITH U.S., WHITE HOUSE SAYS
WASHINGTON - The United States would like to have a cooperative relationship with Russia but actions like Moscow's "brazen" attack on a former Russian spy in Britain prevented that, the White House said on Monday.

"Our relationship with Russia is frankly up to the Russian government and up to Vladimir Putin and others in senior leadership in Russia," White House spokesman Raj Shah told a news briefing after the Trump administration ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats.

"We want to have a cooperative relationship. The president wants to work with the Russians but their actions sometimes don't allow that to happen," Shah said. "The poisoning in the UK that has kind of led to today's announcement was a very brazen action. It was a reckless action."

LIBERMAN: ‘THERE WILL NOT BE A NUCLEAR IRAN’
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman addressed the Iranian threat to Israel’s security on Sunday morning.

“The State of Israel is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. This is not just a slogan, not just words,” Liberman said. “There will be no Iranian military presence in Syria, and there will be no nuclear Iran. We are not just saying this; we mean what we’re saying.”

Liberman also addressed the scheduled “Million Man March” protest against the Israeli border fence in the Gaza Strip, scheduled for March 30th. “My advice to the world is not to panic. In every instance, we should remain cool-headed and determined. We are prepared for any eventuality. We are raising our readiness and will deal with any events as they happen.”


U.S. CHARGES IRANIANS FOR GLOBAL CYBER ATTACKS ON BEHALF OF TEHRAN
WASHINGTON - The United States on Friday charged nine Iranians and an Iranian company with attempting to hack into hundreds of US and international universities, dozens of companies and parts of the US government on behalf of the Tehran government.

The cyber attack pilfered more than 31 terabytes of academic data and intellectual property from 144 US universities and 176 universities in 21 foreign countries, the US Department of Justice said in a statement.

The US Treasury Department said on its website that it was placing sanctions on those accused and the Mabna Institute, a company described by US prosecutors as designed to help Iranian research organizations steal information.

"These defendants are now fugitives of justice," US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said at a press conference, warning that they may face extradition in more than 100 countries if they travel outside of Iran.

The action is the fourth time in the past few months that the administration of US President Donald Trump has blamed a foreign government for major cyber attacks, a practice that was relatively rare under the Obama administration.

TRUMP, TURKEY'S ERDOGAN AGREE TO IMPROVE TIES
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart Donald Trump agreed in a phone call on Thursday to fix sensitive issues that have tarnished relations between the two allies, Erdogan's spokesman said.

U.S. CANNOT PREDICT IF WILL GET IRAN NUCLEAR ACCORD WITH EUROPEANS
WASHINGTON - The United States has had constructive talks about the Iran nuclear deal with Britain, France and Germany but cannot predict if they will succeed and is making contingency plans should they fail, the lead US negotiator said on Wednesday.

The United States had a bilateral meeting with Iran apart from last week's talks on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to demand the release of US citizens held by the Iranian government, Brian Hook, the State Department director of policy planning, also told reporters in a conference call.

EXPELLED RUSSIAN DIPLOMATS LEAVE LONDON
LONDON - Twenty three expelled Russian diplomats and their families flew out of London on an Ilyushin-96 plane on Tuesday.

The state-owned Russian plane, with "Rossiya" and the white, blue and red of Russia's flag emblazoned on its side, made a special flight from Moscow to London's Stansted airport to collect the diplomats.

Prime Minister Theresa May blamed Russia for this month's attack on a Russian double-agent and his daughter - the first known offensive use of a nerve toxin in Europe since World War Two - and gave 23 Russians whom she said were spies working under diplomatic cover one week to leave London.


U.N. APPEALS FOR HELP WITH "CATASTROPHIC" SYRIA SITUATION
GENEVA - The United Nations appealed on Monday for urgent supplies and funding to help Syrians caught in war zones, saying they were "tired, hungry, traumatized and afraid."

"The UN in Syria is urgently appealing for help to stem the catastrophic situation for tens of thousands of people from east Ghouta and Afrin," the UN humanitarian office in Damascus said in a statement.

REPUBLICAN SENATOR EXPECTS TRUMP TO PULL OUT OF IRAN DEAL
WASHINGTON - Republican US Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Sunday he expected President Donald Trump to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement in May.

"The Iran deal will be another issue that's coming up in May, and right now it doesn't feel like it's gonna be extended," Corker said on the CBS "Face the Nation" program.

Asked if he believed Trump would pull out on May 12, the deadline for the president to issue a new waiver to suspend Iran sanctions as part of the deal, Corker responded, "I do. I do."


ISRAEL'S UN AMBASSADOR CALLS TO END PALESTINIAN 'PAY TO SLAY'
Following the Friday ramming attack on the 585 highway near the entrance to the West Bank settlement of Mevo Dotan, in which two IDF soldiers were killed and two injured, Israel's UN ambassador Danny Dannon said that: "As long as the Palestinian Authority continues to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to terrorists who kill Israelis, we will continue to see such heinous attacks.”

“The international community must condemn this hateful act of terror and demand that the Palestinian leadership finally put an end to the despicable practice of ‘pay to slay,'" said Dannon.

Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai had already canceled the Israeli work permits enjoyed by the family of the terrorist.

Twenty-six years old Allah Kabhha from the village of Barta'a in the West Bank was the driver who carried out the ramming attack. His extended family enjoyed 97 permits to work and trade in Israel.


WHITE HOUSE: WILL REMAIN TOUGH ON RUSSIA UNTIL ITS BEHAVIOR CHANGES
WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump's administration will maintain tough policies against Russia until Moscow changes its behavior, the White House said on Thursday. "I think you can see from the actions we've taken up until this point we're going to be tough on Russia until they decide to change their behavior," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told a regular briefing after being asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin was "playing" Trump.

Earlier in the day, Washington slapped sanctions on Russian individuals and entities for alleged US election meddling and cyber attacks but put off targeting oligarchs and government officials close to Putin, prompting US lawmakers in both parties to say Trump needs to do much more.

BRITAIN WILL STAND UP TO ANY THREATS FROM RUSSIA, SAYS PM MAY
LONDON - Britain will stand up to any threats from Russia as relations deteriorate between the two countries, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday, after blaming Russia for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in southern England.

Britain expelled 23 diplomats after Russia did not meet a deadline to explain the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a Soviet-made nerve agent. Russia denies involvement in the attack.

"Last night, I saw the Russian ambassador being quoted as saying that Russia was not a country that accepted ultimatums. Well I can say ... the United Kingdom is not a country that accepts threats, and we will stand up against them," May told parliament.


U.S. TOP DIPLOMAT TILLERSON SAYS TO LEAVE OFFICE ON MARCH 31
WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was fired by President Donald Trump on Tuesday, said he was delegating all of his responsibilities to the State Department's No. 2 official and that he would leave office at the end of the month.

"What is most important is to ensure an orderly and smooth transition during a time that the country continues to face significant policy and national security challenges," Tillerson told reporters in a packed briefing room at the State Department.


RUSSIA'S LAVROV TO MEET SOUTH KOREAN SECURITY CHIEF
MOSCOW - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet the head of South Korea's National Security Office, Chung Eui-yong, during a trip to Russia this week, TASS news agency cited the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying on Tuesday.

GABBAY CALLS FOR EARLY ELECTIONS
Zionist Union head and Opposition leader Avi Gabbay called for early elections Sunday in the wake of mounting evidence against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in at least four corruption investigations.

"Unfortunately, Netanyahu's coalition partners decided that politics trump values," Gabbay said in at a Israel Democracy Institute conference. "They are fighting to maintain his rule."

"We are not your suckers," he continued. "And you will not use us as part of a game of political calculations designed to torpedo the early elections. I want to be clear - we will support the early elections as soon as possible."


TRUMP WILL NOT MEET KIM WITHOUT SEEING 'CONCRETE' STEPS
US President Donald Trump will not meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un unless he sees some "concrete" action by Pyongyang, the White House said on Friday.

"The president will not have the meeting without seeing concrete steps and concrete actions take place by North Korea, so the president will actually be getting something," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said at a news briefing.

NETANYAHU TO AMB HALEY: U.S. SUPPORT OF ISRAEL AT U.N. A 'TSUNAMI OF FRESH AIR'
Meeting with US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in New York on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said American support of Israel at the UN was not just a breath of fresh air but "a tsunami" of it.

Thanking Haley for America's "defense of Israel," Netanyahu also added that US President Donald Trump's focus on Iran shows he is "focused on the right thing."

"As you well know, I think that's what drives everyone now," he said, referring not only to American and Israeli policies towards the Islamic Republic, but to states around the region and the globe as well.

Haley told Netanyahu she "feels sorry" for Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon for "what he has had to deal with."

She also added that she "would love to hear [Netanyahu's] opinion" about the current situation in Syria, which has escalated in recent months.
 
HERZOG TO COALITION LEADERS: FORM UNITY GOVT SHOULD NETANYAHU GO TO POLLS
Opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog spoke with coalition leaders Wednesday in an attempt to build an alternative government should Netanyahu decide to go to the polls. He turned to the leaders of those parties whose numbers have gone down in recent polls, and asked them vote against the dispersion of the Knesset and to form what he called a "national unity government".

EREKAT: PALESTINIANS SHOULD SUSPEND RECOGNITION OF ISRAEL IN RESPONSE TO TRUMP
Senior Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat on Tuesday said the Palestinians should suspend their recognition of Israel until the Jewish state recognizes the “State of Palestine,” a day after US President Donald Trump reiterated that he took Jerusalem off the negotiations table.

The Palestine Liberation Organization recognized Israel in 1993 before signing a number of agreements with the country, which established the Palestinian Authority.

“President Trump has wanted to remove Jerusalem from the negotiations table. Instead he has removed the United States from the negotiations table. We have no option but to implement the recommendations of the Central Council to suspend recognition of Israel until Israel recognizes Palestine,” Erekat said in a statement.

In January, the Palestinain Central Council, a top PLO body, decided to entrust the PLO Executive Committee with suspending recognition of Israel until the Jewish State recognizes the “State of Palestine,” halts settlement building and annuls its annexation of east Jerusalem.
  
NETANYAHU-TRUMP MEETING IN THE WHITE HOUSE IS UNDERWAY
US President Donald Trump welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House on Monday. The two leaders are expected to discuss a variety of regional issues focusing primarily on Iran, the peace process and regional military issues.

Netanyahu is in Washington D.C to take part in the annual AIPAC conference where he is scheduled to speak on Tuesday.

The Netanyahu Trump meeting comes at a time when the prime minister is under pressure at home over a series of corruption probes and a coalition crisis.

FATAH: ABBAS TURNED DOWN MEETING WITH TRUMP ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an offer to meet with Trump administration officials last month when he visited New York City, Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad said on Saturday.

In February, Abbas spent a few days in New York City, where he delivered a speech to the United Nations Security Council.
“When President Abu Mazen went to the Security Council, they tried to meet with him, but President Abu Mazen refused,” Ahmad told official PA television, referring to Abbas’s nickname and American officials.

Since US President Donald Trump in December recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and initiated the relocation of the American Embassy in Tel Aviv to the city, Abbas has said the Palestinians will no longer work with an American-led peace process and has called for a multilaterally mediated peace process to replace it.

In January, Abbas also turned down a meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence when the latter visited the Middle East on a multi-day tour.

In the interview with PA television, Ahmad did not clearly name the officials who attempted to arrange a meeting with Abbas.
Ahmad did not respond to several phone calls on Sunday.


MERKEL, TRUMP CALL FOR SYRIAN CEASEFIRE TO BE IMPLEMENTED
BERLIN - US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed in a telephone call on Thursday that a UN Security Council resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria must be implemented immediately.

"Both agreed that the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies should promptly and fully implement UN Security Council Resolution 2401 (2018). This resolution demands an immediate ceasefire in Syria," Merkel's spokesman said on Friday.

"The chancellor and the president are also concerned about Russian President Putin's latest remarks about arms developments and their negative impact on international arms control efforts," spokesman Steffen Seibert added in a statement.


PA FOREIGN MINISTER URGES BRAZIL TO PLAY KEY ROLE IN PEACE PROCESS
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki has called on Brazil to play a key role in a multilaterally mediated peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, the official PA news site Wafa reported.

Maliki made the statement during a meeting in Ramallah on Thursday with Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes.

Since President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and initiated the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the city, Abbas has said the Palestinians will no longer work with an American-dominated peace process and has called for the establishment of a multilaterally mediated peace process to replace it.

In a speech at the United Nations Security Council last week, PA President Mahmoud Abbas called for an international peace conference in mid-2018, which he said should conclude with the creation of a mechanism for a multilaterally mediated peace process.

Israel has said it will only work with a US-led peace process.


RUSSIA'S LAVROV SAYS U.S. BREACHING NUCLEAR ARMS AGREEMENT
MOSCOW - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that the United States had decided to keep a significant number of rockets in breach of a major nuclear arms agreement, the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

Lavrov, speaking in Geneva, was also cited by the TASS news agency as saying that the United States was training Europe's armed forces on how to use tactical nuclear weapons against Russia.

UNITED STATES MAY HELP EXPAND SAUDI NUCLEAR CAPABILITY
WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is in talks with Saudi Arabia over a deal that would allow Riyadh to enrich and reprocess uranium domestically in exchange for the US building nuclear reactors there.

The negotiations appear pressing, as the White House directed US Energy Secretary Rick Perry to cancel planned travel to India for talks in London with his Saudi counterpart.

State Department officials are in parallel talks with European governments over the future of the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran, which allows that country to enrich uranium domestically under UN supervision.

American companies, including Westinghouse Electric Corporation, are interested in building reactors in the Saudi kingdom, US media reported this week. In light of the Iran deal, Riyadh has repeatedly previewed its interest in matching Tehran’s nuclear capacity and has announced plans to build up to 16 nuclear power plants over the next 20 years.

The Obama administration, which negotiated the Iran deal, opposed the nuclearization of other powers in the region at the time. At a Camp David summit on the pending nuclear agreement in 2015 with Gulf Arab nations, Ben Rhodes, a senior foreign policy adviser to Obama, told The Jerusalem Post that Tehran’s path to nuclear power should not be seen as a model for others.

AFGHAN TALIBAN RENEW CALL FOR DIALOGUE WITH U.S. TO END WAR
KABUL - The Taliban urged the United States on Monday to begin talks to end almost 17 years of war in Afghanistan, adding to a series of signals that suggest a greater willingness to explore options for dialog.

In its statement, two days before the start of a meeting of regional leaders in Kabul to discuss ways of ending the war, the movement said it wanted a peaceful resolution.

"The Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on American officials to talk directly to the Political Office of Islamic Emirate regarding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary," it said.


OFFICIAL: U.S. ONLY PERMANENT UNSC MEMBER AGAINST FULL PALESTINIAN UN MEMBERSHIP
The United States is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council that opposes full UN membership for the Palestinians, said Nabil Shaath, international affairs adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Last Tuesday, Abbas told the Security Council in a speech that the Palestinians plan to step up their efforts to gain full membership at the UN.

“All of the permanent members of the UN support our efforts to become full members of the UN except the United States of America,” Shaath told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “The US is really the sole obstacle in our way to achieving full membership.”

The US and Israel have historically held that the Palestinians should not make efforts to gain full membership at the UN before a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been achieved.

In order to achieve full membership at the UN, the Palestinians need at least nine members of the Security Council including all the permanent members to vote in favor of them becoming a full member.

SENIOR PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: US EMBASSY MOVE DATE A 'PROVOCATION'
Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Friday said the US administration’s decision to relocate the American Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May demonstrates its resolve in violating international law.

Earlier on Friday, a US State Department official confirmed that US President Donald Trump’s administration plans to move the American Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s Independence.

“The US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and now to move its embassy on the eve of marking 70 years since the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of at least 418 Palestinian villages, and the forcible displacement of two thirds of our people, shows the determination of the US administration to violate international law, destroy the two-state solution, and provoke the feelings of the Palestinian people, as well as of all Arabs, Muslims and Christians around the globe,” Erekat said in a statement.

Palestinians refer to Israel’s establishment in 1948 as the Nakba, which means catastrophe in English, when hundreds of thousands of them lost their homes and became refugees.


‘PEACE WITH ISRAEL COULD HAVE PREVENTED SYRIAN WAR’
Syrian President Bashar Assad could have averted the civil war in his country had he signed a peace deal with the Jewish state, former ambassador to the US Itamar Rabinovich speculated as he spoke to a visiting delegation of American Jews Monday night.

Rabinovich served in Washington from 1993 to 1996, during which time was also a chief negotiator for Israel on the Syrian track.

“Syria would have been much better off had there been peace with Israel,” he told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on Tuesday night.

Rabinovich said he is often asked about this hypothetical scenario, by people who believe that had such a peace deal been reached, ISIS would now be on the Golan Heights overlooking Israel.

“Had Syria made peace with us, the civil war would not have broken out,” he said.

Before the civil war broke began in 2011, Syria was a pressure cooker under Bashar Assad and before that under his father Hafez, Rabinovich said.


'WE WILL LEVEL TEL AVIV TO THE GROUND' SENIOR IRANIAN OFFICIAL WARNS ISRAEL
Any attacks carried out against Iran will result in the destruction of Tel Aviv, Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, warned Israel on Monday.

The comment reported by the semi-official Fars News Agency came in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks at the Munich Security Conference.

Rezaei said, “If they [Israel] carry out the slightest unwise move against Iran, we will level Tel Aviv to the ground and will not give any opportunity to Netanyahu to flee.”

He was quoted as saying in an interview with Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar News: “The US and Israeli leaders don’t know Iran and don’t understand the power of resistance and therefore they continuously face defeat.

“Today, the situation of the US and Israel indicate their fear of the Zionist regime’s collapse and the US decline,” Rezaei added.

U.S. 'FINALIZING' PEACE PLAN DESPITE ABBAS VOW FOR INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS
WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace team made an exceptional trip to UN headquarters in New York to attend the address by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, hoping to hear “fresh and constructive ideas” that might lead to talks with Israel toward a peace settlement.

What they received instead was a scolding from the Palestinian leader, still furious over Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US Embassy there.

"This administration undertook an unlawful decision," Abbas said of Trump's Jerusalem move. He chastised the administration for cutting support to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which offers aid to Palestinian refugees and their descendants, warning that their abandonment might lead some to terror in far reaches of the West.

A White House spokesman, Josh Raffel, said that Kushner and Greenblatt are "finalizing" the administration's peace plan– a detailed document that has produced hundreds of pages, and that offers specific proposals to some of the toughest sticking points in the conflict. But while Abbas claimed he had never turned down an offer to enter talks, he did not express any interest in the pending American plan.

W

U.N. CHIEF WARNS OF NIGHTMARE SCENARIO IF ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH CLASH
LISBON - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was worried about the possibility of a direct confrontation between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.

Guterres said the latest signals from Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah showed the will to not let this happen but "sometimes a spark is enough to unleash this kind of a conflict."

Hezbollah said last week it could act against Israeli oil facilities if necessary in an Lebanon-Israel offshore energy dispute. US diplomats have been mediating between the two countries after a rise in tensions also involving a dispute over a border wall and Hezbollah's growing arsenal.

"I am deeply worried about hard-to-foresee escalations in the whole region," Gutteres told reporters in his native Lisbon, also referring to Israel's concerns about various militia groups in Syria approaching its borders.

"The worst nightmare would be if there is a direct confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah... the level of destruction in Lebanon would be absolutely devastating, so there are major points of concern around this situation."

The powerful Shi'ite movement is part of Lebanon's coalition government. Israel sees Hezbollah as the biggest security threat on its borders.


MCMASTER: TIME IS NOW T­O ACT AGAINST IRAN’S PROXIES
US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster called Saturday on the international community to act against Iranian proxies in the Middle East.

“This network of proxies is becoming more and more capable as Iran [places] more and more capable weapons, more and more destructive weapons into these networks, so the time is now to act against Iran,” he said at the annual Munich Security Conference.

McMaster accused Tehran of escalating a campaign to increase its influence in the Middle East by building “Hezbollah-style” proxy armies in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere as it has done in Lebanon.

The goal is to weaken Arab governments and turn the proxy forces against those states if they pursue policies that run counter to Tehran’s interests, he said.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to warn the high level gatherings, which includes heads of state and foreign and defense ministers, about the threat of Iran and its growing military power in Syria.

On Friday, Netanyahu met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the sidelines of the conference, and discussed the Iranian threat.


OFFICIALS: TRUMP, NETANYAHU TO MEET AT WHITE HOUSE ON MARCH 5WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a meeting at the White House on March 5, two US officials said on Friday.

"The president has a great relationship with the prime minister and looks forward to meeting with him," a White House official said.

The meeting will be the fifth between Trump and Netanyahu since Trump took office in January 2017 and comes as Netanyahu faces a legal firestorm at home.

The leaders have twice met at the White House, in February and May 2017. The two leaders' last meeting came on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January.

Speaking in Davos, Netanyahu said only the United States could broker a peace deal.

"I think there's no substitute for the United States. As the honest broker, as a facilitator, there's no other international body that would do it," Netanyahu said.

Following their Davos meeting, Trump threatened to withhold aid to the Palestinians if they did not pursue peace with Israel, saying they had snubbed the United States by not meeting Vice President Mike Pence during a recent visit.

Trump said Palestinians had to come to the negotiating table.

"Because I can tell you that Israel does want to make peace and they're going to have to want to make peace too or we're going to have nothing to do with them any longer," Trump said.

Netanyahu praised the Trump administration's "rock solid support" at the United Nations following the backlash regarding Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.


MANDELBLIT: NO SHORTCUTS IN NETANYAHU DECISION
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said there can be "no shortcuts" in the process of his investiagation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"If I have to indict the prime minister, I will without doubt like any other prime minister. It is hard to indict any minister, but I will do it if it is right," he said.

The attorney general, speaking for the first time since Netanyahu was recommended for indictment of bribery, offered no time table on when his decision will occur, and also said Netanyahu definitely does not need to resign because of the police recommendations.


DAMASCUS WARNS ISRAEL OF 'MORE SURPRISES' IN SYRIA
DAMASCUS - The Syrian government said on Tuesday that Israel would face "more surprises" in future attacks on Syria's territory, after Syrian air defences shot down an Israeli F-16 jet.

Syrian anti-aircraft fire downed the F-16 as it returned from a bombing raid on Iran-backed positions in Syria early on Saturday. Both Iran and Russia are supporting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s near seven-year civil war.

"Have full confidence the aggressor will be greatly surprised because it thought this war - this war of attrition Syria has been exposed to for years - had made it incapable of confronting attacks," assistant foreign minister Ayman Sussan said.

"God willing they will see more surprises whenever they try to attack Syria," Sussan said during a Damascus news conference.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israeli forces would press ahead with Syria operations despite their loss of the advanced warplane, the first it has lost to enemy fire in 36 years.


POLICE TO MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS PUBLIC TUESDAY EVENING
Police will make recommendations regarding case 1000 and case 2000 public on Tuesday evening, Channel Two news reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address the nation in a live statement to be aired from the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem.

The final decision regarding whether to indict Netanyahu rests in the hands of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.



PUTIN AND TRUMP DISCUSS MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS BY PHONE
MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday he had spoken to US President Donald Trump by telephone and discussed efforts to bridge differences between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Russian news agencies reported.

Putin was reported to have made the comments at the start of a meeting in Moscow with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

He was also cited as saying that the situation in the region was a long way from the one Moscow wanted to see.

The same news agencies quoted Abbas as saying that the Palestinians could not accept the United States as the sole mediator in talks with Israel because of Washington's behavior.


SENIOR IDF OFFICIAL SAYS IRANIAN PRESENCE IN SYRIA WILL BE 'TEST OF WAR'
OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick warned that an Iranian presence in Syria could lead to a "test of war."

"Those who cross the border in will, on any level, receive an appropriate response. Iranian involvement in the region is a disturbing threat to Israel and the entire world," he said at a military ceremony. "Iran wants to create a front command in Syria-- we will not allow it."

"We must prepare for ourselves operations and intelligence for the growing threat: the return of the Syrian army and Iranian forces. The big test will be the test of war," he added.


ABBAS SPOKESMAN BLAMES FRIEDMAN FOR CRISIS IN US-PALESTINIAN TIESAmerican Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is being blamed for the crisis in ties between the US and the Palestinians, according to Nabil Abu Rudeinah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman.

Since US President Donald Trump in early December recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and initiated the relocation of the American Embassy in Tel Aviv to the city, US-Palestinian relations have deteriorated significantly.

In the past two months, Palestinians have reportedly halted communications with the US president’s Middle East peace envoys and turned down a meeting with American Vice President Mike Pence.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has withheld part of a planned contribution to a UN agency that provides aid to Palestinian refugees and threatened to cut all assistance to the Palestinian if they do not return to the negotiating table.

“The ambassador’s recommendations and advice, which do not aim to achieve a just peace on the basis of international legitimacy, is what led to this crisis in American-Palestinian relations,” Abu Rudeinah said in statement published on the official PA news site Wafa on Wednesday night.

LEBANON SAYS WILL PREVENT ISRAEL FROM BUILDING BORDER WALL
BEIRUT - Lebanon's Higher Defence Council gave orders on Wednesday to prevent Israel from building a border wall on Lebanese land, amid rising tensions over land and maritime boundaries.

"This wall, if it is built, will be considered an assault on Lebanese land," the council said in statement published after it met with meeting with senior government and military officials.

"The Higher Defense Council has given its instructions to confront this aggression to prevent Israel from building (the wall) on Lebanese territory."

POLICE TO ANNOUNCE DECISION ON PRIME MINISTER'S INDICTMENT NEXT WEEK
The police will announce their decision whether to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Cases 1000 and 2000 next week, according to a Channel 2 News report.

Ahead of the decision, the investigators, led by the head of the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit Dep.- Ch. Koresh Bar-Nur, is planned to meet with Chief of Police Roni Alsheich to discuss the move. The team will present the chief their final resolutions and conclusion from the investigation, and a document that summarizes both cases - that entails their recommendation whether to indict Netanyahu or not.

Stocks are in a freefall
Matt Egan...CNN

The markets plunged Monday, with the Dow falling nearly 1,600 points in the largest intraday point decline ever.

At its worst levels, the Dow has fallen 2,200 points over the past two sessions.

Stocks gyrated wildly throughout the day. The Dow was down about 800 points about a half hour before market close.

Market volatility emerged last week as investors grew more worried about turmoil in the bond market caused by inflation concerns.

The plunge sent the Dow below 24,000. It hasn't closed below that level since November 29.

If the decline holds, it will be the worst single-day point decline in Dow history. The Dow fell 777 points on September 29, 2008.

It will also be the first two-day drop totaling 1,000 points for the Dow since August 2015, when investors were worried about the Chinese economy. The Dow was much lower then, so the decline was significantly worse in percentage terms.

The Nasdaq slumped more than 1% on Monday, quickly turned positive, then sank again.


The Dow has lost 1,000 points in two days
Matt Egan..CNN

The ride on Wall Street keeps getting bumpier: The Dow has dropped 1,000 points in just two days.

Stocks slumped again on Monday, extending the volatility that emerged last week as investors grew more worried about turmoil in the bond market.

The Dow was down more than 400 points in the early afternoon after a stomach-churning morning. It dropped 355 points at the open, raced back almost to break-even, then dropped again.

If the decline holds, it will be the first two-day drop of 1,000 points for the Dow since August 2015, when investors were worried about the Chinese economy. The Dow was much lower then -- about 16,000, compared with about 25,000 today -- so the decline was significantly worse in percentage terms.

The Nasdaq slumped more than 1% on Monday, quickly turned positive, then sank again.

The back-and-forth action is an extension of the volatility that emerged last week because investors are worried about bond market turmoil.

After the market started 2018 with a bang, last week was the worst on Wall Street in two years. The selling gathered steam on Friday when the Dow plunged 666 points, or 2.5%, its worst day since the Brexit mayhem of June 2016. Nearly $1 trillion of market value was erased from the S&P 500 last week.

AMID BEATING OF WAR DRUMS, NETANYAHU SAYS ISRAEL NOT INTERESTED IN FIGHTIsrael is not interested in war, but will do everything to defend itself, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday, amid an escalation in recent days of the rhetoric concerning the possibility of a war along one or more of the country's borders.

Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin last week that Israel would take action both to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria, and from turning Lebanon in a base for the manufacturing of precisions missiles against Israel. Netanyahu's comments came at the weekly cabinet meeting before a briefing given by Chief of Gen.-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot.

RIOT BREAKS OUT AFTER ISRAELI CIVILIAN ENTERS ABU DIS
A violent riot broke out Friday in Abu Dis, a Palestinian town outside Jerusalem, after an Israeli citizen accidentally entered the area, according to the IDF Spokesperson's Unit.

About 200 Palestinians threw stones, burned the civilian's car, and blocked his exit from the area.

IDF and Border Police forces entered the village in coordination with the Civil Administration and rescued the civilian who was lightly wounded.


U.S. SAYS SYRIA MAY BE DEVELOPING NEW TYPES OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS
WASHINGTON - The Trump administration is prepared to again take military action against Syrian government forces if necessary to deter the use of chemical weapons and is concerned they may be developing new methods to deliver such weapons, senior US officials said on Thursday.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have continued occasional use of chemical weapons in smaller amounts since a deadly attack last April that drew a US missile strike on a Syrian air base, the officials told reporters in a briefing.

If the international community does not act quickly to step up pressure on Assad, Syria's chemical weapons could spread beyond Syria and possibly even to the United States, one of the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It will spread if we don't do something," the official warned.

U.S. DEFENDS ROLE OF LEBANON ARMY AS ISRAEL THREATENS TO ATTACK IT
TEL AVIV - The United States pledged continued support for Lebanon's military on Wednesday, calling it a potential counterweight to Iranian-backed Hezbollah, even as Israel said the two forces were indistinguishable and fair game in any future war.

Such a public difference of opinion between two close allies was remarkable enough, but especially so as it was sounded by senior officials at the same event - an Israeli security conference.

The Lebanese Armed Forces took no part in the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, which killed around 1,200 people in Lebanon and 158 Israelis. It has received more than $1.5 billion in US military assistance since then and, in the last seven years, training and support from US special forces too.

With Hezbollah having helped sway the Syrian civil war in President Bashar Assad's favor, Israel and the United States both worry that the Iranian-backed militia could now broaden its clout in its Lebanese heartland. They disagree on whether the Lebanese army would help or hinder Hezbollah's expansion.


SLOVENIA TO MOVE STEP CLOSER TO RECOGNITION OF PALESTINIAN STATE
The Slovenian Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to approve a draft resolution Wednesday recognizing the State of Palestine, thereby advancing the proposal to a full parliamentary vote.

The draft resolution to be considered by the committee has the backing of Slovenian Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec.

On Friday, Slovenian President Borut Pahor told AFP that he opposed such a move.

Pahor said he would only support recognition "in circumstances that would contribute to the solution of its bilateral issues with Israel but not to the worsening of relations... those circumstances are not in place."

GERMAN CITY FRANKFURT CUTS TIES TO BANKS THAT ENABLE ISRAEL BOYCOTTS
The deputy mayor of the city of Frankfurt announced on Monday that the municipal government will end all commerce with banks that conduct business with organizations that support a boycott of the Jewish State.

In a statement sent to The Jerusalem Post, deputy mayor Uwe Becker wrote that "We will shortly only work together with banks, peoples' banks, and Sparkassen [public savings banks], who do not maintain business relations with organizations of the antisemitic BDS campaign or affiliated groups."

Frankfurt is the first German city to sanction banks and financial institutions for providing services to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign targeting Israel.

This story is developing.


U.S. DELIVERS HELICOPTERS TO BOLSTER JORDAN'S BORDER DEFENSES
ZARQA, Jordan - The United States has delivered the last batch of Black Hawk helicopters for Jordan's rapid deployment force to bolster border defenses and engage in cross-border operations against Islamic militants.

US officials say that military aid to Jordan, one of the largest recipients of its foreign military financing, helps to build the kingdom's military capabilities as part of a wider regional strategy

Washington has announced it plans to stay in Syria long after Islamic State has been defeated and has military bases in the northeastern part of the war-torn country.

In a handover ceremony attended by US Central Command chief General Joseph Votel and Jordan's Chief of Staff, the helicopters landed in a mock hostage rescue by special forces.

"The United States remains committed to supporting the Jordanian air force efforts to protect Jordan's borders and deter counter acts of terror and contribute to defeat ISIS coalition operations," said Henry Wooster, Charge d'Affaires of the US Embassy in Jordan, during the ceremony at the King Abdullah air base 35 km northeast of the capital.

COUNCIL OF EUROPE: PALESTINIANS MUST HALT STIPENDS FOR TERRORISM
For the first time in its history, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on Thursday, called for the Palestinian Authority to halt its payments to incarcerated terrorists and their families.

Israel swayed the council to include a denunciation of terrorist payments as part of its passage of an overall resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The bulk of the resolution was critical of Israeli actions over the pre-1967 lines and denounced US President Donald Trump’s declaration that recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“After a persistent effort we succeeded for the first time to include in the final report [resolution] a clear call to stop support for terrorists and their families,” said Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie, who addressed the council in Strasbourg, France.

But the bulk of the debate dealt with Trump’s Jerusalem statement.

Palestinian representative Muhammad Faisal Abushahla said the US president ignored Israel’s “occupation of Jerusalem” and that his declaration denied “Palestinian rights in Jerusalem as their capital for thousands of years.”



Trump: If Palestinians don't want peace, U.S. has nothing to do with them
Unless the Palestinian Authority shows that it wants to make peace, the US will “not have anything to do with them any longer,” US President Donald Trump said Thursday in Davos before meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I can tell you, Israel does want to make peace, and they [the Palestinians] are going to have to want to make peace too, or we aren't going to have anything to do with them any longer,” Trump said, sitting next to Netanyahu. “This was not brought up by other negotiators, but it is brought up by me.“

Trump did not hide his anger toward the Palestinians for snubbing Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Israel this week, saying that the US will withhold aid funds to them until they return to negotiations.

The Palestinians, he said, “disrespected us” by not “allowing our great vice president to see them, and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid support.”

That money, Trump said, will not go to the Palestinians “unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”

Time will tell what happens to the peace process, Trump said, “but respect has to be shown to the US, or we just are not going any further.”


US SANCTIONS PEOPLE, FIRMS, SHIPS FOR AIDING N. KOREAN ARMS INDUSTRY

WASHINGTON - The United States tightened its economic crackdown on North Korea over its nuclear arms program on Wednesday, imposing sanctions on nine entities, 16 people and six ships it accused of helping Pyongyang develop weapons of mass destruction.

The US Treasury said it imposed sanctions on two China-based trading firms involved in exporting millions of dollars worth of metals and other goods used in North Korea's weapons industry.

The US Treasury also imposed sanctions on officials belonging to the Workers Party of Korea who are operating in China, Russia and Georgia's Abkhazia region and urged those countries to expel the individuals.

TRUMP TO HOST FIRST STATE VISIT OF HIS PRESIDENCY FOR FRANCE'S MACRON
WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump will host the first state visit of his year-old presidency in late April when French President Emmanuel Macron visits the White House, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.

The visit will include the first state dinner hosted by Trump and his wife, Melania, the official said.

Trump went through his first year in office without hosting a state dinner. He and Macron have developed a friendly relationship over the past year.

U.S. TO SEND DIPLOMATIC TEAM TO EUROPE TO DISCUSS IRAN
WASHINGTON - The United States plans to send a diplomatic team to Europe to discuss the Iran nuclear deal and countering Iranian activities in the Middle East, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday according to a U.S. pool reporter.

"We have a team traveling - actually, they're coming to Europe," Tillerson said according to the U.S. reporter traveling with him. The team would explore "how we can address these flaws in the nuclear agreement ... but also how can we cooperate more on countering Iran's activities that are not related to their nuclear program. Our concerns about their arms exports to Yemen and elsewhere," Tillerson said.

OFFICIAL: ABBAS TO ASK EU TO HELP CREATE ALTERNATIVE TO US-LED PEACE PROCESS
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will ask European foreign ministers to assist in creating a multilateral mechanism for the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, a senior Fatah official said on Sunday.
Abbas is scheduled to deliver a speech to foreign ministers of the European Union’s 28 member states on Monday and hold discussions with them as a part of a three-day visit to Brussels.


LAVROV: IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL CANNOT SURVIVE IF US PULLS OUT
UNITED NATIONS - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday the Iran nuclear deal cannot survive if the United States pulls out the agreement.

US President Donald Trump said a week ago that if the "disastrous flaws" of the 2015 international agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program were not fixed within 120 days then Washington would withdraw.

"This agreement cannot be implemented if one of the participants unilaterally steps out of it. It will fall apart, there will be no deal then," Lavrov told reporters at the United Nations in New York.


INDIA TEST-FIRES MISSILE AMID PERCEIVED THREATS FROM CHINA, PAKISTAN
NEW DELHI - India tested its longest-range intercontinental missile on Thursday, the defense ministry said, part of efforts to build a nuclear deterrent against neighboring Pakistan and China.

The 5,000-km range (3,107-mile) Agni missile was tested from an island in India's eastern coast in the Bay of Bengal, the ministry said on its official Twitter account.

It said the launch was "a major boost to the defense capabilities" of India.

The Agni-V is an advanced version of the indigenously built Agni, or Fire, series, part of a program that started in the 1980s. It has been tested previously before.

New Delhi says it faces a twin threat from both bitter foe Pakistan, which is developing a nuclear and missile program of its own, as well as China. A long-running dispute over the Himalayan border with China has flared in recent years.

ABBAS: JERUSALEM AT THE GATE OF PEACE & WAR, TRUMP MUST CHOOSE
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday used fiery rhetoric to slam US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“[Jerusalem] is the gate of peace and war and Trump must choose,” Abbas said a conference at Al-Azhar University in Cairo.


SOUTH AFRICAN ACTIVIST: ISRAEL'S BDS BLACKLIST WILL HARM PEACE PROCESS
A decision to stop anti-Israeli organizations and individuals from entering Israel will do more harm than good to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and will hamper dialogue between the two sides, Africans for Peace head coordinator Klaas Mokgomole says.

“Most of the people who are involved in the whole Israel- Palestine debate lack firsthand experience,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. “Now, when you prevent people from visiting the land that can expose them to the truth, you are actually creating more confusion, as they will not be able to get clarity on a number of issues. In fact, the Israeli government will be helping the BDS groups and other anti-Israeli organizations to fulfill their goal. Anti-Israeli groups have been preaching hatred and asking people not to go to Israel. Now the Israeli government will be promoting and condoning this gospel, which anti-Israel groups preach.”

ABBAS: PEACE EFFORTS CAN ONLY RESUME UNDER INTERNATIONAL MEDIATION
RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday he would only accept a broad, internationally-backed panel to broker any peace talks with Israel, but did not rule out a US role in such a panel.

The Palestinians are seething at US President Donald Trump's recognition last month of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and Abbas told a meeting of senior Palestinian officials in a speech that the move had disqualified the United States as a peacemaker.

Israel says it would welcome the United States as a mediator but a US bid to revive negotiations, led by Trump's adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has so far shown no progress. Talks have been frozen since 2014.

Trump has said that achieving an agreement would be the "deal of the century" but Abbas was scathing on Sunday, saying: "The deal of the century is actually the slap of the century, and we will return it."

"We do not accept the United States as a mediator between us and Israel," Abbas said. "Let it be an international committee formed at an international conference comprising four or five (countries or parties). But the United States alone? No."

Palestinian leader rebukes Trump: 'Shame on you'
Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian leader says President Donald Trump should be ashamed of himself for his handling of Mideast peace efforts.

In a fiery speech to the Palestinian Central Council, a decision-making body, on Sunday, President Mahmoud Abbas criticized Trump and his policies toward the Palestinians, including his recognition last month of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Abbas said "shame on you" for Trump's claim that the Palestinians refuse to negotiate. He says the Palestinians remain committed to negotiations, but are ready to reject what they fear will be an unfair proposal from the White House.

The rhetoric reflects the strained relations between the Palestinians and the Trump administration. The Palestinians view his Jerusalem declaration as having destroyed his credibility as a Mideast peace broker.

UNRWA WARNS AGAINST 'CATASTROPHIC' OUTCOME IF US ENDS PALESTINIAN AID
BEIRUT - Losing significant funding from its largest donor, the United States, could be "catastrophic" for Palestinians, said a UN agency that provides aid to Palestinian refugees.

Last week, President Donald Trump said the United States may withhold future aid payments to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) over what he called the Palestinians' unwillingness to talk peace with Israel.

A State Department official later said that no decision had been made on payment.

The United States is the largest donor to the agency, with a pledge of nearly $370 million as of 2016, according to UNRWA's website.

The UN agency, founded in 1949 to aid Palestinian refugees, provides educational and health services in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

"The human impact of losing significant funding could be catastrophic in the real lives of real people whom the UN is mandated to protect," UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a statement.

"Palestine refugees are among some of the most vulnerable people in the Middle East. Our health services offer a life line, quite literally, to vulnerable women and children, the sick and the elderly," he said.

On Tuesday the Swedish ambassador to the United Nations, Olof Skoog, said he was concerned that a withdrawal of funding for UNRWA "would be very negative both in terms of humanitarian needs of over 5 million people but also of course it would be destabilizing for the region." Gunness said there was much at stake for the Palestinians.

"Even the most modest shock in a fragile society can have an inordinate impact and the consequences could be profound, widespread, dramatic and unpredictable," he said.

Relations between the Palestinians and Washington soured last month after Trump announced the US would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, generating outrage across the Arab world and concern among Washington's Western allies.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

US State Department spokesman Steve Goldstein told in a briefing in Washington on Thursday that US funding for UNRWA was still under consideration and that no decision had yet been made.

NETANYAHU TO MEET TRUMP, PUTIN IN COMING WEEKS
Israeli and United States officials are currently working on a date for a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump when Netanyahu travels to Washington in early March to attend AIPAC's annual policy conference, an Israel diplomatic official said Thursday.

Netanyahu made reference to the upcoming meeting during a Thursday speech at the Globes Business Conference in Jerusalem, saying he will meet Trump in Washington in March, “if not before then.” This would be their first meeting since September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.

ARAB LEAGUE TO HOLD MEETING ON JERUSALEM NEXT MONTH
CAIRO - The Arab League will meet on February 1 to discuss how to counter U.S. President Donald Trump's move last month to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Egypt's state news agency MENA said on Wednesday.

Six Arab foreign ministers who met in Amman last week said Arab states would embark on a diplomatic drive to persuade the United Nations to recognise a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital on territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war.

Arab foreign ministers said in an emergency meeting held following Trump's decision on December 6 that the move would spur violence throughout the region. They described Trump's announcement as a "dangerous violation of international law" which had no legal impact.

In recognising Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy, imperilling Middle East peace efforts and upsetting the Arab world and Western allies alike .

The status of Jerusalem - home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions - is one of the biggest obstacles to reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.


U.S. WELCOMES MEETING BETWEEN NORTH, SOUTH KOREA ON OLYMPICS SECURITY
WASHINGTON - The US State Department welcomed Tuesday's meeting between North and South Korean officials aimed at ensuring a safe Winter Olympics, and said it would work with Seoul to ensure North Korea's participation does not violate UN sanctions.

"The United States remains in close consultations with ROK (South Korean) officials, who will ensure North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics does not violate the sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council over North Korea’s unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

SYRIAN ARMY BREAKS SIEGE OF ARMY BASE NEAR DAMASCUS
BEIRUT - Syria's army has broken the siege of an army base encircled by opposition forces on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, state-run al-Ikhbariya TV reported on Sunday.

Last Sunday, rebels, mainly belonging to the Islamist Ahrar al Sham faction, widened their control of parts of the Military Vehicles Administration base in the Eastern Ghouta town of Harasta.

The army, backed by Russian jets, launched an offensive to break the siege and liberate at least 200 troops who were believed to be trapped within its sprawling, heavily defended grounds

N.KOREA ACCEPTS TALKS OFFER FROM S.KOREA, MEETING TO BE HELD JAN. 9
SEOUL - North and South Korea will hold official talks on January 9, South Korea's unification ministry said on Friday, after Pyongyang sent a statement accepting Seoul's offer for talks next week.

The agenda will include the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as well as other issues of mutual interest, ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a regular briefing.

RUSSIA SAYS US CALL FOR UN EMERGENCY SESSIONS ON IRAN "HARMFUL AND DESTRUCTIVE"
MOSCOW - Russia considers a US proposal for an extraordinary meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the turmoil in Iran as "harmful and destructive," RIA news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Thursday.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said earlier this week the United States was seeking emergency sessions on Iran at the United Nations in New York and at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Anti-government protests have swept Iranian cities and towns over the past week and 21 people have been killed in the unrest.

US EYEING POSSIBLE SANCTIONS ON IRANIANS OVER PROTEST CRACKDOWN
WASHINGTON - The United States aims to collect "actionable information" that could allow it to pursue sanctions against Iranian individuals and organizations involved in a crackdown on protesters, a senior Trump administration official said on Wednesday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was the Trump administration's intention to collect such information "and to feed that into our sanctions designation machinery."
  
MACRON ASKS ROUHANI TO SHOW RESTRAINT, POSTPONES FOREIGN MINISTER'S VISIT
PARIS - French President Emmanuel Macron urged his Iranian counterpart in a phone call on Tuesday to show restraint in dealing with protests, Macron’s office said in a statement.

The statement said Macron had expressed his concern to President Hassan Rouhani over the number of casualties in the six-day-old protests, and told him that freedom of speech and protest must be respected.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s planned trip to Tehran later this week was also postponed to a future date, the French presidency said.

Iranian media said Rouhani had asked France to act against Mujahideen exiles working against the Iranian establishment from Paris.

TRUMP, REPUBLICAN ALLIES ENDORSE IRANIAN PROTESTERS
WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers offered implicit support on Sunday to tens of thousands of Iranians protesting against the Islamic Republic's unelected clerical elite and Iranian foreign policy in the Middle East.

"Big protests in Iran," Trump said in a tweet from his private club in Palm Beach, Florida. "The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism.

"Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!"

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement: "The Iranian government is being tested by its own citizens. We pray that freedom and human rights will carry the day."

The protests, which initially focused on economic hardships but now include anti-government messages, appeared to resume for a fourth day on Sunday despite Tehran's warnings of a crackdown and restrictions on messaging apps used by the demonstrators.

The protests are the biggest since unrest in 2009 that followed the disputed re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


TURKEY SAYS WILL GET TWO MISSILE BATTERIES FROM RUSSIA IN 2020
ANKARA - Turkey will buy two S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries from Russia under an accord signed on Friday, with the first delivery planned for the first quarter of 2020, the Undersecretary for Defense Industries (SSM) said on Friday.

In a statement, the SSM said Turkish personnel would manage the systems, rather than Russian advisors, and added the accord included clauses on cooperation for technological gains and joint development.

REPORT: US AND ISRAEL FORMULATE A PLAN TO STOP IRAN – TOGETHER
Top US and Israeli national security officials reached an agreement two weeks ago in Washington on a joint work plan to counter Iranian activity in the Middle East, Channel 10 reported on Thursday.

The document marks the beginning of a new cooperative effort against Iran, a senior US official told The Jerusalem Post.

The document, characterized by a US National Security Council representative as an informal “framework,” follows on President Donald Trump’s speech in October outlining a new American policy approach to the Islamic Republic, where he announced that he would not recertify the Iranian nuclear deal.

“It’s more precise to say that it is a framework document, and not a done and dusted plan,” the US official told the Post. “It is a framework for future cooperation. It is not the end result of a process, it’s more of a beginning.”


NETANYAHU WARNS IRAN, HAMAS OF 'TREMENDOUS FIREPOWER' OF ISRAELI AIR FORCE
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Iran and Hamas against acting against the Jewish State, which has the strongest Air Force in the region, with the ability to reach targets at all distances.

“The Air Force is as its peak today,with the best tools, technologies, planes and pilots in the world. With defensive and offensive capabilities and tremendous firepower, the Air Force has the ability to reach short distances and faraway destinations as required,” Netanyahu said at an Israel Air Force Flight Academy graduation ceremony at the Hatzerim Air Base outside of Beersheba.


Russia and Iran Seek to Circumvent US Sanctions With Integrated Banking Systems
NEW YORK – Iran’s central bank is increasingly relying on help from Moscow to circumvent sanctions from the United States, according to Tehran’s state-run news agency.

The media outlet, Press TV, reported on Tuesday that top Iranian banking officials are finalizing an agreement with their Russian counterparts that would integrate their two nations’ bank card systems – “a strategy both hope would make them immune to the financial sanctions of the United States in the future,” the organization reported.


ABBAS CHRISTMAS MESSAGE INVOKES JESUS IN FIGHT AGAINST US-BACKED 'INJUSTICE'
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in a message to Christians worldwide on Friday, held up Jesus as an inspiration to Palestinians fighting the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The December 6 recognition rewarded "illegal" Israeli settlement expansion and constitutes an "insult" to people all over the world, Abbas wrote in his annual Christmas message that was published in Ramallah by the official Wafa news agency.

Abbas issued the message hours after he declared, following a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, that the US has disqualified itself as a mediator for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. In the Christmas message Abbas went a step further, saying the Palestinians are inspired by Jesus to refuse the "injustice" of US-backed policies.

Hamas Leaders Call For A "DAY OF BLOOD" In The West Bank
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar called on Thursday for a "day of blood" in the West Bank, following the UN General Assembly vote on a resolution slamming US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The statement appeared to be an escalation of sorts because up until now Hamas had called for "days of rage," which so far have manifested in widespread protests and riots across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.


TRUMP THREATENS TO CUT AID TO UN MEMBERS OVER JERUSALEM VOTE
WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that vote in favor of a draft United Nations resolution against his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we're watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care," Trump told reporters at the White House.

The 193-member UN General Assembly will hold a rare emergency special session on Thursday at the request of Arab and Muslim countries on the controversial US decision.


CANADA, US ANNOUNCE JAN MEETING TO KEEP PRESSURE ON NORTH KOREA
OTTAWA - Canada and the United States said on Tuesday they will co-host a meeting of foreign ministers in Vancouver in January to demonstrate international solidarity against North Korea's continued nuclear and missile tests.

Following a meeting with Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the pressure campaign on North Korea would not abate until the country agreed to give up its nuclear ambitions.


PALESTINIANS TO CALL FOR EMERGENCY MEETING OF UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY
RAMALLAH - The Palestinian Foreign Minister said on Monday the Palestinians will call for an emergency meeting of the U.N. General Assembly after the US vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for the withdrawal of its declaration that Jerusalem is Israel's capital.

President Donald Trump reversed decades of US policy on Dec. 6 and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, imperiling Middle East peace efforts and upsetting the Arab world and Western allies alike.

"We are moving within 48 hours ... to call for an emergency meeting of the General Assembly," Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told reporters in Ramallah. He said the international community would "consider the decision by president Trump as null and void."

 
ERDOGAN SAYS TURKEY WILL OPEN EMBASSY IN EAST JERUSALEM
ISTANBUL - Turkey will open an embassy in East Jerusalem, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, days after leading calls at a summit of Muslim leaders for the world to recognize it as the capital of Palestine.

"God willing, the day is close when officially, with God's permission, we will open our embassy there," Erdogan said in a speech, maintaining his fierce criticism of the United States' decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.


ERDOGAN SAYS TURKEY SEEKING TO ANNUL TRUMP DECISION ON JERUSALEM AT UN
ANKARA - Turkey is launching an initiative at the United Nations to annul a decision by the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.

Erdogan was speaking two days after a Muslim leaders meeting in Istanbul condemned US President Donald Trump's decision, calling on the world to respond by recognizing east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

"We will work for the annulment of this unjust decision firstly at the UN Security Council, and if a veto comes from there, the General Assembly," Erdogan told crowds gathered in the central Anatolian city of Konya via teleconference.

The United States is a permanent Security Council member with veto powers, meaning any move to overturn Washington's decision at the council would certainly be blocked.

Jerusalem, revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, is home to Islam's third holiest site and has been at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades. Israel captured east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in an action not recognized internationally.

Trump's decision broke with decades of US policy and international consensus that the city's status must be left to Israeli-Palestinian talks, leading to harsh criticisms from Muslim countries and Israel's closest European allies, who have also rejected the move.

US PEACE PLAN NOT FINALIZED, BUT EFFORTS 'SERIOUS,' SAYS SAUDI'S JUBEIR
PARIS - The US administration is serious about getting a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, but its proposed plan is still being put together, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said.

US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and eventually move the US Embassy in Israel there has angered the Palestinians, who question Washington's role as a sponsor of Middle East peace.

Trump's adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is leading efforts to restart negotiations, though his bid has shown little public progress so far.

"We believe the Trump administration is serious about bringing peace between Israelis and Arabs," Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir, a former ambassador to the United States, told France 24 television late on Wednesday.

"They were working on ideas and were consulting with all parties, including Saudi Arabia, and they are incorporating the views represented to them by everybody. They have said they would need a little bit of time to put it together to present it."


OIC DRAFT DECLARATION: J'LEM MOVE MARKS US WITHDRAWAL FROM PEACE PROCESS
ISTANBUL - A draft declaration prepared for a summit of Muslim leaders on Wednesday said they considered Washington's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as a sign of US withdrawal from its role as a sponsor of Middle East peace.

The draft declaration seen by Reuters also declared "East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine, and invite(s) all countries to recognize the State of Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital."

PENCE PRESS SECRETARY: PALESTINIANS 'WALKING AWAY FROM OPPORTUNITY'
Press Secretary for US Vice President Mike Pence Alyssa Farah stated the Palestinians' refusal to meet with Pence is "walking away from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region."

"The administration remains undeterred in its efforts to achieve peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and our peace team remains hard at work to put together a plan."

The statement comes just a few days after a senior official in the Palestinian Fatah party said that "Pence is unwelcome in Palestine."

The December 6 announcement by US President Trump, which officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and , has sparked major protests across the region.


EGYPT'S SISI INVITES ABBAS TO CAIRO TO DISCUSS TRUMP'S JERUSALEM MOVE
CAIRO - Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Cairo on Monday to discuss US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a presidential statement said on Sunday.

The statement said Sisi wanted to discuss "ways to deal with the crisis in a manner that preserves the rights of the Palestinian people and their national sanctities and their legitimate right to establish an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital."


UN MIDDLE EAST ENVOY WARNS RISK OF VIOLENT ESCALATION

UNITED NATIONS - United Nations Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov warned on Friday that there was a risk of violent escalation in response to US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"There is a serious risk today that we may see a chain of unilateral actions, which can only push us further away from achieving our shared goal of peace," Mladenov told the UN Security Council.

The Security Council meeting was requested by Britain, France, Sweden, Bolivia, Uruguay, Italy, Senegal and Egypt.

Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated, scores were hurt and at least one killed in clashes with Israeli troops on a "day of rage" on Friday against the US decision.

FATAH OFFICIAL SAYS US VICE PRESIDENT PENCE "UNWELCOME IN PALESTINE"
GAZA - A senior Palestinian official in President Mahmoud Abbas's ruling Fatah party said on Thursday that US Vice President Mike Pence, due to visit the region later this month, "is unwelcome in Palestine".

"In the name of Fatah I say that we will not welcome Trump's deputy in the Palestinian Territories. He asked to meet (Abbas) on the 19th of this month in Bethlehem, such a meeting will not take place," Jibril Rajoub said.

Aides for Abbas were not immediately available for comment.

ABBAS: JERUSALEM IS ETERNAL PALESTINIAN CAPITAL, DISMISSES US PEACE ROLE
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday that Jerusalem was the "eternal capital of the State of Palestine" in response to US President Donald Trump's announcement that he was recognizing the city as Israel's capital.

In a pre-recorded speech played on Palestine TV, Abbas rejected Trump's announcement which included a decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, a move he said was "tantamount to the United States abdicating its role as a peace mediator."

TRUMP CALLS ABBAS ON THE EVE OF POTENTIAL EMBASSY MOVE ANNOUNCEMENTUnited States President Donald Trump on Tuesday called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a day before the American president is expected to publicly recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, AFP reported.

JERUSALEM MAYOR URGES TRUMP TO 'BRING THE EMBASSY HOME'
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Monday in Washington addressed the possibility of the Trump administration officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital this week and relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city.

"I turn to you President Trump, on behalf of the city of Jerusalem, the beating heart and soul of the Jewish people for more than 3,000 years," Barkat said, standing in front of the White House. "I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your commitment and intention to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."

Barkat called possible recognition a "historic step" that would "send a clear message" to the world that the United States stands with Israel and the Jewish people.

"In Jerusalem, we don't cave in to pressure and we don't let threats or violence stop us from doing what is right," Barkat continued.

He concluded his short statement by urging President Trump to do the "right thing" by moving the US embassy and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Barkat was in Washington to participate in events and meetings with US senior government officials and Jewish leaders.

ARAB STATES WILL LIKELY CAVE IF US DECLARES JERUSALEM ISRAEL'S CAPITAL
If the Palestinians are counting on a strong response from Arab states if the Trump administration recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital, they are likely to be disappointed.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyadh Malki called Sunday for an emergency meeting of the Arab League amid US media reports that Trump is planning to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital Wednesday. Malki said the meeting would tackle "necessary steps regarding this irresponsible American measure."

But the bitter reality for the Palestinians is that key Arab countries—Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even Jordan with its Palestinian majority and role as custodian of Jerusalem holy sites- are simply too dependent on US goodwill to get into a real row with the Trump administration. This is a case where each of their national interests trumps Arab solidarity.


US OFFICIALS CONFIRM TRUMP WEIGHING RECOGNIZING JERUSALEM AS ISRAEL'S CAPITAL
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump is considering recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a move that could upend decades of American policy and ratchet up Middle East tensions, but is expected to again delay his campaign promise to move the US embassy there, US officials confirmed Thursday.

TRUMP'S GULF POLICIES IMPULSIVE AND DANGEROUS -IRANIAN MINISTER
ROME - US President Donald Trump's policies in the Gulf are dangerous and misguided, Iran's foreign minister said on Thursday, adding that pressure from Washington had only succeeded in strengthening Tehran's resolve.

Speaking at a conference in Rome, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Trump's policies were "extremely dangerous, impulsive, not grounded in reality."

He added: "The United States pressure has in fact created more solidarity inside Iran.

N.KOREA: ICBM TEST USED NEW LAUNCH VEHICLE, SHOWED SUCCESSFUL WARHEAD RE-ENTRY
SEOUL - North Korea said a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) it test-fired on Wednesday was launched from a newly developed vehicle and that the its warhead could withstand the pressure of re-entering the earth's atmosphere.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un personally guided the missile test and said the new launcher was "impeccable", state media said. He described the new vehicle as a "breakthrough".

Observers and analysts have cast doubt on North Korea's ability to master the technology needed to design a warhead capable of withstanding the enormous pressure of re-entry into the earth's atmosphere and suggested the isolated country may still be years away from developing a credible delivery vehicle for a nuclear weapon.

But Wednesday's launch re-confirmed "the safety of a warhead in the atmospheric re-entry environment," state media said, without elaborating.

US Experts Thinks N.Korea Could Launch Missile Within Days
WASHINGTON - US government experts think North Korea could conduct a new missile test within days, in what would be its first launch since it fired a missile over Japan in mid-September, two authoritative US government sources said on Tuesday.

One of the US sources, who did not want to be identified, said the United States had evidence that Japanese reports about the monitoring of signals suggesting North Korea was preparing a new missile test were accurate.

Both sources said US government experts believed a new test could occur "within days"

A Japanese government source said earlier on Tuesday that Japan had detected radio signals suggesting North Korea may be preparing another ballistic missile launch, although such signals were not unusual and satellite images did not show fresh activity.

Other US intelligence officials have noted North Korea has previously sent deliberately misleading signs of preparations for missile and nuclear tests, in part to mask real preparations, and in part to test US and allied intelligence on its activities.

After firing missiles at a rate of about two or three a month since April, North Korean missile launches paused in September, after it fired a missile that passed over Japan’s northern Hokkaido island on September 15.

HAMAS OFFICIAL: WEAPONS USED TO FIGHT ISRAEL WILL BE SENT TO WEST BANK
Weapons used by Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip to fight Israel will be transferred to the West Bank, Hamas deputy chief in Gaza Khalil al-Hayya said on Monday.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other armed Palestinian groups are thought to possess very few weapons in the West Bank.

“These weapons will be moved to the West Bank to battle the occupation... We want to fight the occupation in the West Bank. It is our right to resist the occupation until it ends,” Hayya told a press conference in Gaza on Monday, without elaborating on how such a plan would be fulfilled.

TURKEY'S ERDOGAN SAYS CRITICAL DECISIONS ON SYRIA WILL BE MADE TODAY
SOCHI, Russia - Critical decisions will be taken for a solution to the Syrian crisis at a summit between Turkey, Russia and Iran on Wednesday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said.

Speaking alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the southern Russian city of Sochi, Erdogan said it was vital for all parties to contribute to a political solution in the crisis that is acceptable for the Syrian people.

HUNGARY SAYS IT IS FACING "FRONTAL ASSAULT" FROM US FINANCIER SOROS
BUDAPEST - Hungary is facing a frontal assault from US. financier George Soros who is attacking the country via his non-government organizations and European Union bureaucrats, a top ruling party politician said on Monday.

Fidesz Vice Chairman Gergely Gulyas said Soros' claims that the Hungarian government lied in its campaign against him were "not substantial," adding the billionaire and the European Union pushed the same pro-migrant agenda.

He rejected charges by Soros that the government's campaign stoked anti-Muslim sentiment and employed anti-Semitic tropes.

IDF FIRES ON SYRIAN TARGETS NEAR GOLAN HEIGHTS
The IDF fired upon Syrian army positions near the Israeli border in the Golan Heights on Sunday, the IDF spokesperson's office reported.

Syrian forces had been working to fortify a military outpost in the buffer zone, in violation of ceasefire agreements, and an IDF tank fired deterring shots in response.

US URGES AFRICAN NATIONS TO PRESS N. KOREA OVER NUCLEAR PROGRAM
WASHINGTON, Nov 17 - US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged African leaders on Friday to take further actions to pressure North Korea to end its nuclear and missile programs, including downgrading diplomatic ties and expelling North Korean laborers.

"All nations must act to implement U.N. sanctions in full," Tillerson told a trade and security gathering with African ministers. "Further, I urge you to take additional measures to pressure the DPRK by downgrading your diplomatic relationships with the regime, severing economic ties, expelling all DPRK laborers and reducing North Korea's presence in your country."

The US State Department said on Thursday that Sudan had committed to severing trade and military ties with North Korea.

SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS MESSAGE TO IRAN IS: 'ENOUGH IS ENOUGH'
RIYADH - Saudi Arabia's foreign minister told Reuters in an interview on Thursday that the kingdom was reacting to what he called the "aggressive" behavior of its arch-rival Iran in Lebanon and Yemen.

"Any way you look at it, they (the Iranians) are the ones who are acting in an aggressive manner. We are reacting to that aggression and saying enough is enough," Adel Jubeir said.

Jubeir also said that Lebanon's Hezbollah, which he called a subsidiary of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, must disarm and become a political party for that country to stabilize.

SOUTH KOREA RATTLED BY RARE 5.4-MAGNITUDE QUAKE
SEOUL - A rare earthquake of magnitude 5.4 rattled South Korea on Wednesday, its second most powerful quake on record, shaking buildings but causing no major damage or injuries.

The quake struck about 9 km (5 miles) north of the southeastern port city of Pohang, the Korea Meteorological Administration said in a news briefing.

Tremors were felt across the country but operations at nuclear reactors were not affected, the state-run nuclear operator Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co said in a statement.

South Korea has relatively little seismic activity, compared with Japan to the east.

Its strongest quake on record was magnitude 5.8 in September last year.


LEBANON SAYS SAUDI SANCTIONS WOULD DESTABILIZE THE REGION
PARIS - Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Tuesday said Saad al Hariri's freedom would only be proven once he returned from Saudi Arabia, and that any Saudi sanctions would destabilize the wider region.

Hariri announced his shock resignation as Lebanon's prime minister in a broadcast from Riyadh 10 days ago.

"Any (Saudi) measures would not only be targeting Lebanon and its stability, this would be a punishment for the region because any instability in the Lebanon would cause instability in the region," Bassil said during a visit to Paris.

"The first to be touched would be Syrians in Lebanon," added Bassil, who was speaking in English.


NETANYAHU SIGNALS ISRAEL WILL ACT WITH FREE HAND IN SYRIA
JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he has told the United States and Russia that Israel will continue to take action across the Syrian frontier according to its security needs, even as the two powers try to build up a ceasefire.

"We are controlling our borders, we are protecting our country and we will continue to do so," Netanyahu said in public remarks to members of his Likud party in parliament.

"I have also informed our friends, firstly in Washington and also our friends in Moscow, that Israel will act in Syria, including in southern Syria, according to our understanding and according to our security needs."

FORMER INTELLIGENCE OFFICIALS SAY TRUMP IS BEING MANIPULATED BY PUTIN
Two former top US intelligence officials said on Sunday they fear President Donald Trump is being manipulated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, after Trump said he believed Putin was sincere in denying Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Former CIA Director John Brennan and ex-National Intelligence Director James Clapper both said Trump was mishandling Moscow ties even as a special counsel investigates possible collusion between Trump's campaign team and Russia.

"I think Mr. Trump is, for whatever reason, either intimidated by Mr. Putin, afraid of what he could do, or what might come out as a result of these investigations... It's either naiveté, ignorance or fear in terms of what Mr. Trump is doing vis-à-vis the Russians," Brennan said in an appearance with Clapper on CNN's "State of the Union."

Clapper added that foreign leaders who roll out the red carpet for Trump are able to manipulate Trump.

"I do think both the Chinese and the Russians think they can play him," Clapper said.

MINISTER TO JPOST: PARTS OF CABINET ‘CAN’T LIVE’ WITH TRUMP'S TWO-STATES DEMAND
Many ministers will vote against an American peace push based on a two-state solution, Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis warned ahead of his trip to the US next week.

Akunis said he expects US President Donald Trump’s administration to present a diplomatic plan for Israel and the Palestinians in the coming months, and is concerned that it will push for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“With all of my appreciation for the Trump administration, which I don’t hide,” Akunis said, “I can’t live with a document that talks about two states, and I will vote against it. I have a clear ideological stance… Many ministers agree.”


ABBAS DISCUSSES US PEACE EFFORTS, RECONCILIATION WITH SAUDI CROWN PRINCE
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman on Wednesday about American peace efforts and reconciliation, the official PA news website Wafa reported.

The visiting Abbas’s meeting with the prince came a day after he met with Saudi King Salman.

“[The PA president] informed the Saudi crown prince of the Palestinian issue’s latest developments and American efforts to advance the peace process, and described for him developments related to Palestinian reconciliation,” the Wafa report said.

Since US President Donald Trump assumed office in January, American officials have met with Israeli, Palestinian and Arab leaders on dozens of occasions in an attempt to revive peace talks.

In mid-October, Egypt brokered a deal between Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas to advance reconciliation efforts and restore the PA’s governing authority in the Gaza Strip. Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007 when it ousted the Fatah-dominated PA from the territory.

US CALLS FOR UN ACTION AGAINST IRAN OVER YEMEN MISSILE
UNITED NATIONS - The United States accused Iran on Tuesday of supplying Yemen's Houthi rebels with a missile that was fired into Saudi Arabia in July and called for the United Nations to hold Tehran accountable for violating two UN Security Council resolutions.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said information released by Saudi Arabia showed the missile fired in July was an Iranian Qiam, which she described as "a type of weapon that had not been present in Yemen before the conflict."

Saudi-led forces, which back the internationally-recognized Yemen government, have been targeting the Iran-allied Houthis in a war which has killed more than 10,000 people and triggered a humanitarian disaster in one of the region's poorest countries.

Haley said that by providing weapons to the Houthis, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp‎s had violated two UN resolutions on Yemen and Iran. She said a missile shot down over Saudi Arabia on Saturday "may also be of Iranian origin."

"We encourage the United Nations and international partners to take necessary action to hold the Iranian regime accountable for these violations," Haley said.

Saudi Arabia's crown prince said Iran's supply of rockets to militias in Yemen is an act of "direct military aggression" that could be an act of war, state media reported on Tuesday, remarks reflecting sharply heightened strains between Riyadh and Tehran.

SAUDI-LED FORCES CLOSE AIR, SEA AND LAND ACCESS TO YEMEN
A Saudi-led military coalition will temporarily close all air, land and sea ports to Yemen to stem the flow of arms to Houthi rebels from Iran, it said in a statement on Monday carried by the state news agency SPA.

The move, which follows the interception of a missile fired towards Riyadh on Saturday, is likely to further worsen Yemen's humanitarian crisis, which has pushed some seven million to the brink of famine and left more than half a million infected with cholera, according to the United Nations.

"The Coalition Forces Command decided to temporarily close all Yemeni air, sea and land ports," the statement on SPA said, adding that aid workers and humanitarian supplies would continue to be able to access and exit Yemen.

The United Nations and international aid organizations have repeatedly criticized the coalition in the past for blocking aid access, especially to the north, which is held by the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels battling the Saudi-led coalition.

BOMB THREATS FORCE EVACUATION OF MOSCOW'S BOLSHOI THEATER, HOTELS
MOSCOW - Bomb threats forced thousands of people to evacuate Moscow's Bolshoi theater, Metropol hotel, GUM department store on the Red Square and other public places on Sunday, local media reported.

A spate of anonymous phone calls have caused disruption at shopping centers, train stations and public buildings across Russia in the past two months. The calls have so far proved to be false alarms and there have been no claims of responsibility.

RIA news agency, citing a source in the police, reported that as many as 5,000 people were evacuated from GUM and Metropol hotel. TASS and RIA, also quoting police sources, said the Bolshoi theater was also evacuated.

A Reuters witness said police had cordoned off premises of Bolshoi and GUM.

TASS said the evacuation was announced from Bolshoi before a performance was due to start at 1600 GMT.

Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the FSB security service said last month the authorities knew the identities of those responsible, saying they four Russian citizens based abroad with "accomplices" inside Russia.

TRUMP’S TEAM THINKING ‘OUT OF THE BOX’ ON ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE
US President Donald Trump’s team is taking a fresh approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that could offer some hope of progress after two-decades of stagnant attempts, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday, at an event at at Chatham House in London.

“They [Trump’s team] are trying to think out of the box. They did a quick and intensive study and they will eventually come out with something,” Netanyahu told the leading think tank's chair Robin Niblett, who sat within him on a small stage and held a conversation about regional issues.

TRUMP TO PRESS FOR END TO N. KOREA NUCLEAR PROGRAM ON ASIA TRIP
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump will use his trip to Asia to emphasize that North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons is a "dead end" and to urge countries with influence over Pyongyang to pressure it to denuclearize, the White House said on Thursday.

"The president recognizes that we're running out of time (to deal with North Korea) and will ask all nations to do more," national security adviser H.R. McMaster told a briefing. He said Trump would urge countries with the most influence over Pyongyang to "convince its leaders that the pursuit of nuclear weapons is a dead end and it is past time to denuclearize."

NEW YORK CELEBRATES HALLOWEEN IN THE FACE OF TRAGIC ATTACK
NEW YORK - A nine-year-old girl with heavy black makeup around her eyes held up a pumpkin-shaped bucket full of candy. "Trick or treat?" she asked.

Shayli Farber was in lower Manhattan, celebrating Halloween just three hours after the vehicular attack which killed eight people and wounded 12, in what the police are calling a terrorist attack. Shayli went out with her father Rob and her little brother Shane to trick-or-treat in the tradition of Halloween. This year, many of the pedestrians near the crime scene were policemen, firefighters or journalists, but the family still managed to collect quite a few sweets.

A few hours earlier, a man drove a truck down the bike lane between Shayli's school and the family's house. "I was outside the school when it happened, I saw and heard all the police cars arrive, but only at home, where Mom turned on the news on television, I realized what had happened." said Shayli. "Now, after staying at home for a while, we decided to go outside. But I'm troubled by my conversations with my friends. They actually saw the man who ran with the guns, they saw the shooting; my friend spoke on television."

ONE SUSPECT IN CUSTODY IN NEW YORK CITY SHOOTING
NEW YORK - New York City police were investigating reports of gunfire and a vehicle striking people in lower Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon, and one person has been taken into custody, police officials said.

Police were unable to confirm if there were any injuries, but local media reported at least five, including possible fatalities. The incident took place near the West Side Highway and Chambers Street, police said.

An eyewitness told ABC Channel 7 that he saw a white pick-up truck drive south down the bike path alongside the West Side Highway at full speed and hit several people. The witness, a man identified by the name "Eugene," said bodies were lying outside Stuyvesant High School, one of the city's elite public schools.

He also reported hearing about nine or 10 shots, but was not sure where they came from.

The West Side Highway runs on the western edge of Manhattan, alongside the Hudson River.


ABBAS: ANY MINISTER IN FUTURE UNITY GOV’T MUST RECOGNIZE ISRAEL
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not appoint Hamas officials to a potential Palestinian unity government, if they did not recognize the State of Israel, according to former members of Knesset who met with the Palestinian leader on Sunday.

Some 12 former lawmakers, who belong to the Peace Parliament Forum, traveled to the Mukata, the PA president’s headquarters in Ramallah, to meet with Abbas. The lawmakers included former Labor party chairman Amram Mitzna, ex-Labor legislator Colette Avital, former Minister of Internal Affairs Ophir Pines-Paz and other past parliamentarians and ministers.

The PA president’s comments on a potential unity government came after his party, Fatah, and Hamas signed an Egyptian-brokered deal to advance reconciliation efforts and restore the PA’s rule in the Gaza Strip.

AS MATTIS PEERS INTO NORTH KOREA, HE GETS WARNING ON ARTILLERY
Demilitarized Zone,  South Korea - As US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis peered into North Korea from a lookout post on Friday, he was given a blunt reminder by his South Korean counterpart of the vast amount of North Korean artillery within range of Seoul.

Above the faint sound of North Korean propaganda music being blasted from across the border, South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo suggested that US and South Korean missile defenses simply could not stop all of them.

"Defending against this many LRAs (long-range artillery) is infeasible in my opinion," Song told Mattis, citing a need for strategies to "offensively neutralize" the artillery in the event of a conflict.

Mattis replied: "Understood."

The brief exchange at the inter-Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) - where US.President Donald Trump may visit in coming days - spoke volumes about the risks of any miscalculation as tension soars over Pyongyang's rapidly advancing nuclear weapon and missile programs.

KREMLIN: POSSIBLE NEW US SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIA CAUSE FOR CONCERN
MOSCOW - Possible new US sanctions against Russia are a cause for concern and a reflection of Washington's unfriendly and even hostile attitude towards Moscow, the Kremlin said on Friday.

The US State Department said on Thursday it had belatedly begun informing Congress and others about groups associated with the Russian intelligence and defense sectors as required under a 2017 law tightening sanctions on Russia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in a conference call with reporters, also said that a Twitter ban on adverts from Russian media was motivated by deep prejudice against Russia which he said set a worrying precedent for treatment of the Russian media.

UN NUCLEAR CHIEF TO VISIT IRAN THIS WEEKEND
The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog will visit Iran on Sunday for talks with senior officials there, as opposition from the United States threatens to undermine an international accord to curtail Iran's nuclear program.

Yukiya Amano, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, will discuss Iran's implementation of the 2015 agreement, the IAEA said on Wednesday.

The visit comes during a dispute between Washington and Tehran over US President Donald Trump's decision this month not to certify Iranian compliance with the landmark nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers.

POLICE SHUT DOWN PA CONFERENCE ON E. JERUSALEM LAND SALES TO JEWS
Israeli authorities on Wednesday shut down a planned conference by the Palestinian Authority in East Jerusalem that aimed to urge Arabs to cease selling real-estate in the city to Jews.

Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan ordered police to close down the planned event because it violates a clause in the 1994 interim agreement between Israel and the PA forbidding the Palestinians from organizing public events in Israeli territory.

"Palestinian Authority actions against Jewish residence in East Jerusalem is part of a plan to damage our sovereignty in Jerusalem and lay threat to Arabs who sell land to Jews," said Erdan. "I w ill continue to take aggressive action to to thwart any Palestinian attempts to extend their rule to Jerusalem."

IRAQI FORCES SAY ABOUT TO LAUNCH FINAL OFFENSIVE ON IS NEAR SYRIA BORDER
BAGHDAD- Iraqi forces are about to launch an offensive to recapture the last patch of Iraq's territory still in the hands of the Islamic State militant group, a military statement said on Wednesday.

"Your security forces are now coming to liberate you," said leaflets dropped by the Iraqi air force on the western border region of al-Qaim and Rawa, according to a statement from the Joint Operations Command in Baghdad.

SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS BACKS TRUMP'S STANCE ON IRAN
LONDON - Saudi Arabia supports US President Donald Trump's stance on Iran after he decided not to certify that Tehran is complying with a nuclear accord, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Tuesday.

US President Donald Trump broke ranks with other major powers this month by refusing to formally certify that Tehran is complying with the deal, even though international inspectors say it is.

Jubeir said the nuclear deal had shortcomings, and that he agreed with Trump's assessment that Iran was working to destabilize the region and was funding militant organizations.

Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia, a US ally, has been at loggerheads with Iran, a Shi'ite Muslim country, for decades, and the countries have fought a long-running proxy war in the Middle East.

"(Iran's behavior) is not acceptable, and there will be consequences to the Iranians. This is what President Trump has said, and we are very supportive of that," Jubeir said at a conference in London.

Following Trump's decision, US Congress has until mid-December to decide whether to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran that were lifted under the pact.

Jubeir said that new sanctions on Iran would be welcome, and that a delay could mean that by the time sanctions had impact, Iran could have already developed "a dozen" nuclear bombs.

"The international community needs to support those (sanctions) in order to send a very strong message to Iran that your behavior, your nefarious activities, have consequences," Jubeir said.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and denies it has aimed to build an atomic bomb.

HAMAS 'BEGGING IRAN' FOR HELP, US ENVOY SAYS
WASHINGTON — Hamas is "begging Iran" for help in its armed resistance against Israel, a senior Trump administration official said on Monday, addressing the visit of several Hamas leaders to Tehran over the weekend.

Their visit comes amid talk of Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, which have split rule over the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, respectively, for nearly a decade.

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Fatah is committed to a peaceful, political path forward in its fight for Palestinian statehood. Hamas– considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the US and other Western powers– believes that violence is the right path forward in its efforts to "destroy Israel" and claim Palestine their own.

"Hamas, which has only brought ruin and misery to Palestinians, now begs Iran for help and again vows to destroy Israel," wrote Jason Greenblatt, the US' special representative for international negotiations, on Twitter. "Palestinians deserve so much better than this. We must find a better path forward toward peace and prosperity."
NORTH KOREA SAYS TO CONTINUE NUCLEAR TESTS
MOSCOW - A North Korean diplomat said on Friday that Pyongyang intended to continue its nuclear testing program in the interests of self-defense and accused US President Donald Trump of playing "nuclear football," the RIA news agency reported.

The diplomat, who RIA named as a member of the North Korean Foreign Ministry's US Studies Department called Nam Hyok-Tsen, was cited as telling a non-proliferation conference in Moscow:

"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is constantly being convinced that developing nuclear weapons is the right choice. And we are strengthening our intention to conduct tests in order to offset the nuclear threat from the US"

RIA also quoted him as telling the same event that Trump had "thousands" of nuclear weapons at his disposal and that the US leader was playing "nuclear football."

HAMAS ACCUSES AMERICA OF 'BLACKMAIL' AFTER US BACKS ISRAEL ON PALESTINIAN UNITY DEALHamas on Thursday accused the US of “blackmail” and “blatant intervention in Palestinian affairs” after a statement from US Middle East Envoy Jason Greenblatt demanded Hamas commit to his understanding of the Quartet principles if it would like to participate in the governance of a future Palestinian state.

“Hamas rejects the attempts at blackmail and American bias in favor of Israeli positions… which represent a blatant intervention in internal Palestinian affairs and aim to obstruct reconciliation,” Hamas said in an official statement on its website.

FROM DAMASCUS, IRAN VOWS TO CONFRONT ISRAEL
BEIRUT, Oct 18 - Iran's military chief discussed ways to deepen cooperation with the Syrian military during a visit to Damascus on Wednesday, pledging to fight Israel and Sunni insurgents, Syrian state media said.

"We are in Damascus to assert and coordinate and cooperate to confront our common enemies, the Zionists and terrorists," Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri said, referring to Israel and Sunni militants including Islamic State. "We drew up the broad lines for this cooperation."

US NOT RULING OUT EVENTUAL DIRECT TALKS WITH NORTH KOREA
TOKYO, Oct 17 - The United States is not ruling out the eventual possibility of direct talks with North Korea, Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said on Tuesday.

"We eventually don't rule out the possibility of direct talks," Sullivan said after a briefing with his Japanese counterpart, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Shinsuke Sugiyama.

Sullivan will travel to South Korea after Japan. The visit comes ahead of an expected trip to the region by President Donald Trump next month and as tension in the region grows amid concern over North Korea's nuclear and missile tests.

NETANYAHU ON SYRIA: 'ANYONE WHO TRIES TO HARM US WILL BE HIT'
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on the attack in Syria on Monday afternoon, hours after it was announced by the IDF.

“Our policy is clear,” he said in a statement. “Anyone who tries to harm us will be hit. Today they tried to hit our planes, which is unacceptable to us.”

Netanyahu said the IAF acted with “precision and speed” and “destroyed what needed to be destroyed. We will continue to act as is needed to protect Israel’s security.”

TILLERSON: US DIPLOMACY WITH N. KOREA TO CONTINUE UNTIL 'FIRST BOMB DROPS'
WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday that President Donald Trump had instructed him to continue diplomatic efforts to calm rising tensions with North Korea, saying "those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops."

Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," Tillerson downplayed messages that President Trump had previously posted on Twitter suggesting Tillerson was wasting his time trying to negotiate with "Little Rocket Man," a derogatory nickname Trump has coined for North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump "has made it clear to me to continue my diplomatic efforts," Tillerson said.

IRAN SAYS WILL RESPOND STRONGLY TO ANY ACTION AGAINST ITS MILITARY FORCES
ANKARA, Oct 13 - Iran vowed on Friday to retaliate against any action targeting its armed forces and accused the United States of violating the spirit of a 2015 nuclear deal reached between Tehran and six major powers.

President Donald Trump is expected later on Friday to take a major step against the nuclear deal, laying out a more aggressive approach to Iranian activities in the Middle East that risks upsetting US ties with European allies.

"Iran will strongly respond to any action against its military forces, including the Revolutionary Guards Corps," Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by state TV.

He added that Iran would continue to expand its defensive power, including its ballistic missile program.

ISRAELI OFFICIAL: PALESTINIAN UNITY AGREEMENT MUST ABIDE BY INTERNATIONAL TERMS
JERUSALEM, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Any Palestinian reconciliation deal must abide by international agreements and terms set by the Middle East Quartet - including the recognition of Israel and Hamas giving up its arms, an Israeli government official said on Thursday.

"Israel will examine developments in the field and act accordingly," the government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

TRUMP REPORTEDLY SOUGHT DRAMATIC INCREASE IN US NUCLEAR ARSENAL
US President Donald Trump wanted to dramatically increase the country's nuclear arsenal, he said in a meeting with his national security advisers in July, NBC News reported on Wednesday, citing three officials who were present in the room.

Trump's reported comments come as tensions remained high with North Korea and as Trump is expected to make an announcement on whether to decertify the international deal surrounding Iran's nuclear program.

The president spoke on July after he was shown a chart indicating the stockpile of US nuclear weapons had slid from a high of 32,000 in the 1960s. Trump said he wanted to have that same number now, NBC reported.

The United States currently has about 4,000 nuclear warheads earmarked for use in its military stockpile, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

In a post on Twitter on Wednesday, the president said, "Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a 'tenfold' increase in our US nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!"

Trump said in an interview with Reuters in February that he wanted to ensure that the US nuclear arsenal was at the “top of the pack.”

US ARMY MUST BE READY ON NORTH KOREA, MATTIS SAYS
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday told the US Army to be ready with military options on North Korea, but emphasized that efforts to deal with Pyongyang were being led diplomatically

"There is one thing the US Army can do and that is you have got to be ready to ensure that we have military options that our President can employ if needed," Mattis said in a speech at an annual US Army conference.

"We currently are in a diplomatically led effort and how many times have you seen the UN Security Council vote unanimously, now twice in a row, to impose stronger sanctions on North Korea," Mattis said.

UK PM MAY AND ISRAEL'S NETANYAHU: NEED TO BE "CLEAR-EYED" ON IRAN THREAT
Britain and Israel agree on the need to be "clear-eyed" about the threat Iran poses to the Middle East, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday following a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"They agreed that the international community needed to be clear-eyed about the threat that Iran poses to the Gulf and the wider Middle East, and that the international community should continue working together to push back against Iran's destabilizing regional activity," the spokesman said in a statement.

TRUMP SAYS HE WANTS TO GIVE PEACE A CHANCE BEFORE US EMBASSY MOVE TO JERUSALEM
WASHINGTON, Oct 7 - President Donald Trump said in an interview broadcast on Saturday that he wanted to give a shot at achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians before moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In June Trump signed a temporary order to keep the US embassy in Tel Aviv, despite a campaign promise he made to move it to Jerusalem.

In an interview with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee on the TBN program "Huckabee," Trump noted his administration was working on a plan for peace between the two sides.

"I want to give that a shot before I even think about moving the embassy to Jerusalem," he said.

"If we can make peace between the Palestinians and Israel, I think it'll lead to ultimately peace in the Middle East, which has to happen," he said.

Asked if there was a time frame for the embassy move, Trump said: "We're going to make a decision in the not too distant future."

TRUMP: 'ONLY ONE THING WILL WORK' WITH NORTH KOREA
WASHINGTON, Oct 7 - US President Donald Trump on Saturday said "only one thing will work" in dealing with North Korea after previous administrations had talked to Pyongyang without results.

"Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid," Trump said in a tweet. ."..Hasn't worked, agreements violated before the ink was dry, making fools of U.S. negotiators. Sorry, but only one thing will work!"

Trump did not make clear to what he was referring. The president has previously said the United States would destroy North Korea if necessary to protect itself and its allies.
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LAVROV: PUTIN, SAUDI KING AGREE ON NEED TO FIGHT TERROR
MOSCOW - Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday exchanged views on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa and agreed on the need to fight terrorism, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

King Salman, the first ever Saudi monarch to visit Russia, and Putin underlined the need for a peaceful solution to the conflicts in the region, Lavrov told a joint news briefing with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir after the two leaders met.

The Saudi king gave a positive assessment of the Astana process on settling the Syria conflict, Lavrov said, adding that Russia supports Saudi Arabia's steps to unite Syria's opposition so they can take part in the peace talks.

STATE DEPARTMENT TO GIVE TRUMP 'SEVERAL OPTIONS' ON IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL
WASHINGTON - The US State Department will give President Donald Trump several options regarding the Iran nuclear deal ahead of the Oct. 15 deadline to certify whether Tehran is complying with the pact, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday.

"We'll have a recommendation for the president. We're going to give him a couple of options of how to move forward to advance the important policy towards Iran," Tillerson told reporters at the State Department.

TRUMP SAYS PUERTO RICO'S DEBT WILL HAVE TO BE WIPED OUT
US President Donald Trump said Tuesday while on a trip to Puerto Rico to observe hurricane recovery efforts that the island's massive debt will have to be wiped out.

"They owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street and we're going to have to wipe that out. You're going to say goodbye to that, I don't know if it's Goldman Sachs but whoever it is you can wave goodbye to that," Trump said in an interview with Fox News.

Puerto Rico, which earlier this year filed the biggest bankruptcy in US municipal history, is struggling to regain economic stability in the face of a $72 billion debt load and near-insolvent public health and pension systems.

RUSSIA THREATENS RETALIATION OVER US 'BREAK-IN' AT SAN FRANCISCO CONSULATE
The Russian Foreign Ministry said US officials had broken into residences at Russia's consulate in San Francisco, and threatened retaliation over what it called an illegal act.

Russian staff had left the consulate last month, after Washington ordered Moscow to vacate some of its diplomatic properties, part of a series of tit-for-tat actions during a thorny phase in bilateral relations.

Since then, US officials had occupied administrative parts of the compound but on Monday they entered residential areas that the departing staff had locked, the ministry said in a statement late on Monday.

"Despite our warnings, the U.S. authorities did not listen to reason and did not give up their illegal intentions," it said. "We reserve the right to respond. The principle of reciprocity has always been and remains the cornerstone of diplomacy."

Footage aired repeatedly on Russian state television showed what the broadcaster said were US officials breaking locks that had sealed off parts of the compound and entering the buildings.

The "intruders" had taken over the whole premises including the consul general's residence, the ministry said.

"Therefore, we understand that Americans, breaking into our diplomatic buildings, have de facto agreed that their missions in Russia may be treated likewise."

ISIS CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR LAS VEGAS SHOOTING
Islamic State announced Monday afternoon that they were behind the lethal carnage in Las Vegas that claimed the lives of 50 people and injured hundreds, despite the fact that police have identified the shooter already as a 64-year-old local resident named Stephen Paddock who, according to initial reports, is not directly affiliated to any terror group.

The investigation into the America's deadliest shooting is ongoing and police have said that the death toll is expected to rise.

Trump tells top U.S. diplomat: don't waste time talking to North Korea
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he told the top U.S. diplomat not to waste his time trying to negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man," Trump wrote on Twitter, using his sarcastic nickname for Kim.

Trump's comment came the day after Tillerson disclosed that the United States was directly communicating with North Korea on its nuclear and missile programs but that Pyongyang had shown no interest in dialog.

"Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!" Trump said.

Tillerson said during a trip to China on Saturday that the United States was probing North Korea to see whether it is interested in dialog and that it had multiple direct channels of communication with Pyongyang.

This was the first time the Trump administration acknowledged it was in direct communication with Pyongyang.

The disclosure came as Tillerson expressed hope for reducing tensions with North Korea, which is fast advancing toward its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

"We are probing, so stay tuned," Tillerson told a small group of reporters during a trip to China. "We ask: 'Would you like to talk?'" He said the United States had "a couple of, three channels open to Pyongyang."

Trump has vacillated between direct personal attacks on the North Korean leader and a willingness to negotiate. After announcing new U.S. sanctions last month on North Korea, he also acknowledged diplomacy was still possible, asking: "Why not?"

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Paul Simao and Lisa Von Ahn)

HEZBOLLAH'S NASRALLAH TELLS FOLLOWERS THAT ISRAEL PUSHING REGION TO WAR
BEIRUT - Lebanon's Hezbollah said on Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government was pushing the region to war in Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

In a speech to followers, the leader of the Iran-backed group, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said the Israeli government did not have "a correct assessment of where this war will lead if they ignite it," and did not know how it would end.

He was speaking on the occasion of Ashura, when Shi'ites commemorate the slaying of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson, the Imam Hussein, at Kerbala in 680.

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HAMAS TO AGREE TO A PRISONERS EXCHANGE DEAL WITH ISRAEL

The Ma'an News Agency reported that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar claimed that Hamas accepted the Egyptian offer of an Israeli-Hamas prison swap and that now "the ball is in Israel's court".

Ma'an further claimed that the Hamas leader hinted that the questions surrounding the offer were partly why Col. (res.) Lior Lotan resigned the his position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s envoy for captives and missing persons in August.

TOP COMMANDER: IRANIAN MISSILES HAVE 'PINPOINT ACCURACY'
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps missiles have been manufactured with "pinpoint accuracy," Iranian Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari said in a live broadcast on Wednesday night, Tasnim news reported.

Such accuracy would be used "whenever necessary," Jafari said, citing the missile attack the IRGC launched against Syria in June. The attack, which comprised of six high-precision missiles launched at ISIS positions, was reportedly launched in retaliation for terrorist activity in Iran claimed by ISIS.

INTERPOL VOTES TO ADMIT STATE OF PALESTINE AS A NEW MEMBER STATE 


The members of International Police Organization (Interpol) voted on Wednesday to admit the State of Palestine as a member state at its annual General Assembly meeting in Beijing.

The vote was carried out by secret ballot, something that in international forums traditionally plays to Israel's disadvantage.

76% of member states voted in favor.

NORTH KOREA MOVING AIRPLANES, BOOSTING DEFENSE AFTER US BOMBER FLIGHT

North Korea has been moving airplanes and boosting defenses on its east coast after the United States dispatched B-1B bombers to the Korean peninsula over the weekend, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported on Tuesday, citing the country's spy agency.

The United States seemed to have disclosed the flight route of the bombers intentionally because North Korea seemed to be unaware, the report said.

South Korea's National Intelligence Service was unable to confirm the report immediately.

North Korea's foreign minister said on Monday that US President Donald Trump had declared war on North Korea and that Pyongyang reserved the right to take countermeasures, including shooting down US bombers even if they are not in its air space.

NORTH KOREA SAYS ROCKETS TO US ‘INEVITABLE’ AFTER TRUMP DUBS KIM ‘ROCKET MAN’

UNITED NATIONS - North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told the United Nations on Saturday that US President Donald Trump had made “our rockets' visit to the entire US mainland inevitable” by calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "rocket man."

“Through such a prolonged and arduous struggle, now we are finally only a few steps away from the final gate of completion of the state nuclear force,” Ri told the annual gathering of world leaders for the United Nations General Assembly.

“It is only a forlorn hope to consider any chance that the DPRK (North Korea) would be shaken an inch or change its stance due to the harsher sanctions by the hostile forces,” he said.

US TAKES NORTH KOREA THREAT OF H-BOMB TEST SERIOUSLY, TRUMP OFFICIAL SAYS

WASHINGTON - It would be a "game-changer" if North Korea conducts a hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific and the United States is taking the threat seriously, but it does not give "too much credence" to Pyongyang taking such action, a senior US official said on Friday.

“There’s a certain amount of bluster that’s taken for granted when you’re dealing with North Korea," the Trump administration official told Reuters. The official added, however, that "we have to some extent take it seriously.”

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were questions whether North Korea had the capabilities to conduct such a test but declined to specify how the United States would respond. "It would be a game-changer in some sense," the official said. "But I don’t think we should give too much credence to it at the moment.”

Source for all posts.... jpost.com