Netanyahu backs out on planned visit to French capital next week Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cancelled a meeting with Nicholas Sarkozy scheduled for next week, reportedly amid anger at France for its position on the final status of Jerusalem. But statements released by the French Foreign Ministry provided an alternative reason for the cancellation. Ministry spokesman Frederic Desagneaux said "The declaration which the issued yesterday derives from prejudice regarding the final status agreement," referring to Netanyahu's pledge on Day, last week, that Jerusalem would "never again be divided or partitioned." "In the eyes of France," Desagneaux said, "Jerusalem needs to turn into a capital for two states," emphasizing that French President Sarkozy made the same point last year. "Activities like destroying Palestinian houses and expulsion of Arab citizens encourage violence," the spokesperson said. "They are unacceptable, and against international law." During an official state ceremony marking Jerusalem Day on Thursday, Netanyahu had vowed that the capital would never again be divided. "Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours. It will never again be partitioned and divided," he said while marking the reunification of the city during the Six-Day War 42 years ago. "Only under Israeli sovereignty will united Jerusalem ensure the and freedom of access for the three religions to the holy places," Netanyahu added. In an earlier address, President Shimon Peres said that Jerusalem, while sacred to others, is the only capital Israel and the Jewish people have ever known. "Jerusalem is held sacred by half of mankind it has been and always will be Israel's capital. We never had another and it has never been the capital of any other people."
Sudan alleges Israeli air strikes killed 119 KHARTOUM, Sudan - Sudan's defence minister said air raids earlier this year, which the government suspects Israel conducted, killed 119 people involved in a smuggling ring. Gen. Abdul-Rahim Hussein told parliament late Monday the air strikes in January and February killed 56 smugglers and 63 people they were trying to transport across the border to Egypt, including Somali and Ethiopian migrants. It was the first official toll Sudan has offered from the attacks. Media reports have said the attacks targeted convoys smuggling weapons from Sudan to Egypt en route to Hamas-ruled Gaza. Sudanese officials have previously confirmed the strikes took place and said they suspected Israel was behind them. But they have denied there were weapons in the convoys. No one claimed outright responsibility for the attacks. However in March, then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert hinted at his country's involvement. When asked about the strikes, he said his government "operates everywhere we can hit terror infrastructure." Israeli officials have described Sudan as a major supply route for weapons going to Palestinians in Gaza. The raids came just after Israel fought a three-week war with Hamas militants in Gaza that killed more than 1,000 Palestinians. The air strikes drew attention to a long-forgotten smuggling route through Egypt and Sudan's remote eastern deserts. Hussein said the strikes hit a "smuggling operation" along the border with Egypt in the eastern desert, the official Sudan news agency reported. He called the attacks "mysterious and complex." "The security forces are still looking into this case," he said. He added that Sudan was co-ordinating its investigation with neighbouring countries, an apparent reference to Egypt. The Sudanese government - a close ally of Iran and Hamas - denies sending weapons to Hamas. But Sudanese officials admit that smuggling of African migrants and weapons is rife along its poorly patrolled border regions. Some officials have acknowledged that some of those weapons may have made their way to Gaza.
North Korea tests three more missiles lashed out at and reportedly launched three more short-range missiles even as UN Security Council members debated possible new sanctions against the communist nation for its latest nuclear test. North Korea test-fired three short-range missiles Tuesday, including one at night, from the east coast city of Hamhung, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency. South Korea's spy chief said two other missiles were launched Monday, and North Korea also warned ships to stay away from waters off its west coast through Wednesday, suggesting more test . The missile launches came as leaders around the world condemned North Korea for Monday's underground nuclear test. Retaliatory options were limited, however, and no one was talking publicly about military action. Russian defense officials said the blast was roughly as strong as the bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II and was stronger than North Korea's first test in 2006. In New York, UN diplomats said key nations were discussing a Security Council resolution that could include new sanctions against North Korea. Ambassadors from the five permanent veto-wielding council members - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - as well as Japan and South Korea were expected to meet later Tuesday, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting is private. The Security Council met in emergency session Monday and condemned the nuclear test. Council members said they would follow up with a new legally binding resolution. France's deputy UN ambassador Jean-Pierre Lacroix said his government wants a resolution to "include new sanctions ... because this behavior must have a cost and a price to pay." It was too early to say what those sanctions might be and whether China and Russia, both close allies of North Korea, will go along. In an unusual step, China strongly reproached its close ally. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu reiterated that Beijing "resolutely opposed" the nuclear test and urged Pyongyang to return to negotiations under which it had agreed to dismantle its atomic program. North Korea is "trying to test whether they can intimidate the international community" with its nuclear and missile activity, said Susan Rice, US ambassador to the United Nations. "But we are united, North Korea is isolated, and pressure on North Korea will increase," Rice said. Diplomats acknowledged, however, that there were limits to the international response and that past sanctions have had only spotty results. "No one was talking about taking military action against North Korea," John Sawers, the British ambassador to the United Nations, told the British Broadcasting Corp. "I agree that the North Koreans are recalcitrant and very difficult to hold to any agreement that they sign up to. But there is a limited range of options here." North Korea blamed the escalating tensions in the region on Washington, saying the US was building up its forces, and defended its nuclear test as a matter of self-preservation. An editorial in the North's main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, called the United States "warmongers" and said Washington's recent announcement about sending fighter planes to Japan "lay bare the sinister and dangerous scenario of the US to put the Asia-Pacific region under its military control." At the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, An Myong Han, a diplomat from the North Korean mission, said his country "could not but take additional self-defense measures including nuclear tests and the test launch of long-range missiles in order to safeguard our national interest." North Korea fired at least five missiles this week. Yonhap, quoting an anonymous government official, said two missiles launched Tuesday - one ground-to-air, the other ground-to-ship - had a range of about 128 kilometers. Yonhap later quoted another government official as saying an additional ground-to-ship missile was fired late Tuesday night. Officials would not immediately comment on the reports.
Russia's first Persian Gulf naval presence coordinated with Tehran
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report
May 26, 2009, 6:47 PM (GMT+02:00)
Russian "Admiral Panteleyev" steams toward Bahrain
Russian warships are due to call Wednesday, May 27, at the Bahrain port of Manama, seat of the US Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf, DEBKAfile's military sources reveal. They will be following in the wake of the Russian vessels already docked at the Omani port of Salalah, the first to avail themselves of facilities at Gulf ports.
Their arrival is fully coordinated between the Russian and Iranian naval commands.
According to our sources, this is the first time a Russian flotilla will have taken on provisions and fuel at the same Gulf ports which hitherto serviced only the US Navy. Moscow has thus gained its first maritime foothold in the Persian Gulf.
The flotilla consists of four vessels from Russia's Pacific Fleet: The submarine fighter Admiral Panteleyev is due at Manama Wednesday, escorted by the refueling-supply ship Izhorai, The supply-battleship Irkut and the rescue craft BM-37 are already docked in Salalah.
DEBKAfile's military sources report that the Russians, like the Iranians, cover their stealthy advance into new waters by apparent movements for joining the international task force combating Somali pirates. While Iranian warships have taken up positions in the Gulf of Aden, the Russians are moving naval units southeast into the Persian Gulf.
Monday, May 25, the Iranian naval chief, Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, announced that six Iranian warships had been dispatched to "the international waters" of the Gulf of Aden in a "historically unprecedented move… to show its ability to confront any foreign threats." He did not bother to mention the pirates.
Russian and Iranian naval movements in the two strategic seas are clearly synchronized at the highest levels in Tehran and Moscow.
Our military analysts find Russia and Iran seizing the moment for supplanting positions held exclusively by the US and other western fleets. They are taking advantage of two developments:
1. The number of US warships maintained in the Gulf has been reduced to its lowest level in two years; President Obama quietly reduced their presence near Iran's shores in order to generate a positive atmosphere for the coming US dialogue with the Islamic Republic. Not a single US aircraft carrier is consequently to be found anywhere in the Gulf region.
2. Monday, May 25, President Nicolas Sarkozy inaugurated France's first naval facility in the Gulf in Abu Dhabi. The Russian and Iranian policy-makers see no reason why Moscow cannot set up a military presence in the region if Paris can.