Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the 89-year-old spiritual leader of Shas – an ultra orthodox religious party that is part of Israel’s coalition government – has called for Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas to “disappear from our world”, only a few days before talks are due to begin in Washington between Israel and the Palestinians. He went on to say: "May God strike them down with the plague along with all the nasty Palestinians who persecute Israel."
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is due to speak with Abbas in Washington on Thursday, distanced himself from the comments, urging that his government wanted peace with the Palestinians in a statement, which added that Yosef’s views do not reflect those of Netanyahu or the government.
Yosef has previously courted controversy, including an occasion in 2000 when he said that the Holocaust was retribution for Jewish sinners, and in 2001 when he said that Arabs were “evil and damnable”, and that it was "forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them.” He later played down both comments. The United States, which is hosting the talks, condemned Yosef’s remarks, saying that they were "not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace", in a statement from the state department.
The Washington talks are the first between the Netanyahu and Abbas in twenty months, and a one-year time limit has been placed on negotiations. Analysts have low expectations for any sort of resolution because of the vast difference of opinion on key issues, such as the construction of Jewish settlements and the borders of any future Palestinian state. Abbas has already said that Israel’s policy of settlement building could undermine the peace talks, and in statement said that he understood Israel’s need to keep itself secure, but that it wasn’t an "excuse to expand settlements and steal land.”
US President Obama has also invited Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan to the talks, as well as ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the special representative of the Middle East Quartet, which is made up of the EU, the UN, Russia and the US.
The openSecurity verdict: Scepticism as to whether the talks that begin in Washington this week between Israel and the Palestinians will bear any lasting fruits is rife. These face-to-face talks between Abbas and Netanyahu are the first in 20 months, and are the result of many months of hard diplomacy by the Obama administration, spearheaded by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
The US-led talks are high on aspiration – Clinton and special envoy George Mitchell spoke of an aim of peace ‘within a year’ in a statement, along with key stumbling block issues, such as the building of Jewish settlements, the border of any future Palestinian border and the fate of Palestinian refugees. The first test of the talks will be the end of a temporary ten-month ban on the building of Israeli settlements on the West Bank on 26 September.
Abbas has already said that he will pull out of talks if building resumes, and any recommencement of building in occupied areas by Israel will not only anger Palestinians, some of whom are being made refugees by the projects, but may also incite violence from extremist groups, such as Hamas.
But Netanyahu, too, has ministers on the right of his government, which exists in a fragile coalition, and ministers and influential lobby groups calling for the reinstatement of the building projects when the freeze ends. Any major disagreement in the Israeli coalition could see it unravel and any hopes of peace in the region would be greatly diminished for a long time.
The one-year time limit will also affect President Obama, who will want to see results before he runs for re-election in 2012, but it may also have an effect on America’s November election that may see the Democrats lose control of the House of Representatives. He will not want any major foreign policy set backs to detract from his campaign.
China and North Korea confirm Kim's visit
Chinese and North Korean media have confirmed that the reportedly ailing North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, crossed the border into China this week. In line with previous trips, the state media of both countries only confirmed the visit after Kim had returned to North Korea. During the visit, the North Korean leader told Chinese President Hu Jintao that he was committed to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
It is the second trip to China, North Korea’s main ally, that Kim has made in the past three months, so it is being seen as a sign that he may be preparing to hand over power to his son, Kim Jong-un, South Korean media reported. His father, Kim Jong-il, 68, rarely travels abroad, and is reported to have suffered a stroke two years ago. It was also suggested that Kim might be making the trip to ask for aid, at a time when Pyongyang is suffering deep economic problems.
The official reports, however, made no mention of Kim’s son, concentrating on the aspirations of the two countries to help bring lasting peace between the two Koreas. President Hu said that talks on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions should be “restarted as soon as possible”. Reclusive North Korea has become further ostracised from its neighbour and the international community since its sinking of a South Korean naval ship.
Five killed in continuing Taliban campaign against female MP candidates
The bodies of five male volunteers working for a female MP have been found in western Afghanistan. The men, who were campaigning for Fauzia Gilani, were kidnapped on Thursday and their bodies found by villagers in the Adraskan district of Herat province. Five others were kidnapped at the same time, but later released.
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for kidnappings, but not yet the murders. Gilani, one of hundreds of women running in the upcoming Afghan elections, said that in western Afghanistan, "society is controlled by men. They are in charge, and they don't want a woman to be above them”.
The elections have been marred by intimidation and attacks against female candidates and their supporters. The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) found that nine out of ten threats and violent incidents in Logar province were against women.
Fuazia Kufi, a women's rights activist from Badakhstan in the more liberal north, said that "As women get stronger and they find a voice among the public, there are many people who lose power. There are many traditional people who lose so they try to create problems and trouble."
September’s parliamentary election has been a record number of women standing as candidates, but such attacks mean that women are struggling to campaign in many areas, with conservative hardliners going to extreme measures to discourage the public from voting in female MPs, and many female candidates are continually harassed by telephone. At least 64 of the 249 available seats are reserved for women, and 406 women have registered as candidates – a rise from 328 in the 2005 elections.
Nineteen killed in Chechen clashes
Nineteen people were killed on Sunday in a shootout in the Chechen president’s home village of Tsentoroi. Five civilians were amongst the dead in the battle between suspected separatists and President Ramzan Kadyrov’s security team. The president told state TV station, Rossiya-24, that he headed the operation, but it is not clear whether Kadyrov was in the village at the time. "We forced them into a place where they could be eliminated,” he said.
Kadyrov previously fought on the side of the Chechen rebels but switched sides and the Kremlin installed him as the leader of the Chechen people in 2007, when he vowed to bring peace and stability to the region, which has seen fifteen years of conflict. While comparative peace has reached the area, activists say that Kadyrov has been at the head of widespread human rights violations, including abductions and executions of political activists.
Tsentoroi was previously raided by insurgents in 2004, in what Kadyrov said was an attack intended to kill him one of many assassination attempts that have plagued him over the past ten years.