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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Abbas departs for consultation with Jordan's Abdullah

Abbas departs for consultation with Jordan's Abdullah

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas departed for Jordan to consult with King Abdullah on US President Barack Obama's speech last week on the Middle East and the peace process, Israel Radio reported Sunday.

On Saturday, Abbas requested that the Arab League to convene a special session to discuss Obama's vision for peace, a Palestinian official said. The meeting would likely be scheduled for the end of May.

Hamas, Fatah officials meet in Moscow to bolster reconciliation

Hamas, Fatah officials meet in Moscow to bolster reconciliation

The Russian initiative to bring Hamas and Fatah officials together is set to focus on solidifying ties between the recently reconciled factions, find common ground for negotiations with Israel, reports Russian news agency ITAR-TASS.

Top Palestinian officials from both Hamas and Fatah are conducting meetings with members of the Russian Foreign Ministry in the coming days at a guesthouse near Moscow, according to a report by Russian news agency ITAR-TASS.

The meetings are reportedly being conducted under the auspices of the Institute for Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, with the help of a Russian foundation for science and Islamic culture.

The Palestinian representatives were invited to Moscow by the head of the university, Vitaly Numkin, who is also heading the meetings, according to ITAR-TASS. The meetings are reportedly intended to solidify ties between the two recently reconciled factions. An additional stated goal is finding a common ground for Hamas and Fatah to begin possible negotiations with Israel, the report said.

Former rivals Hamas and Fatah signed a unity deal in Cairo earlier this month, a step that many view as crucial to establishing a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. However, the factions still disagree on many core issues. West Bank-based Fatah has adopted diplomatic means toward statehood, while Gaza-based Hamas has engaged in terror warfare against Israel and refuses to recognize its right to exist.

Experts believe this is the first time in recent history that Russia has taken an active measure to assist the Middle East peace process, making the initiative to bring the factions together a significant step for the country.

Meetings are to take place Sunday and Monday, with the Palestinian representatives meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday.

Syrian forces shoot dead at least five mourners and injure dozens at funeral procession

Shots fired during funeral of eight anti-government protesters killed the day before

Syrian security forces have shot dead at least five people after opening fire on a massive funeral procession for eight anti-government protesters killed the day before.

The violence took place in Homs at the city's Nasr cemetery yesterday where tens of thousands of people turned out to mourn the dead.

Witnesses said the shooting began as mourners started to leave the cemetery and dozens of people wounded.

Mourning: People shout as a coffin is lifted onto a vehicle during a mass funeral for people killed in the latest crackdown on protests in Homs, Syria

Mourning: People shout as a coffin is lifted onto a vehicle during a mass funeral for people killed in the latest crackdown on protests in Homs, Syria

Dead: Syrian security forces shot dead at least three mourners in the central city of Homs yesterday during the funeral

Dead: Syrian security forces shot dead at least three mourners in the central city of Homs yesterday during the funeral

Some reports say up to 11 people were killed although this has not been confirmed.

It follows Friday's violence when 44 people were shot dead - including a 10-year-old boy - as mass protests swept the country after prayers.

The latest bloodshed has pushed the death toll to over 900 lives raising questions over whether sanctions and harsh words from the U.S. and its allies will stop President Bashar Assad's regime from using extreme force to crush the biggest challenge to its 40-year-rule.

Volcano forces closure of Iceland's main airport


REYKJAVIK, Iceland — Iceland closed its main international airport and canceled domestic flights Sunday as a powerful volcanic eruption sent a plume of ash, smoke and steam 12 miles into the air.

Airport and air traffic control operator ISAVIA said Keflavik airport was closed at 0830 GMT (4:30 a.m. EDT), and no flights were taking off or landing.

Spokeswoman Hjordis Gudmundsdottir said the ash plume was covering Iceland, but "the good news is that it is not heading to Europe."

She said the ash was blowing northwest toward Greenland instead.

She said officials were investigating whether Iceland's other airports could take Keflavik-bound flights.

Trans-Atlantic flights were being diverted away from Iceland, and there was no sign yet that the eruption would cause the widespread travel disruption triggered last year by ash from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

In April 2010, officials closed the continent's air space for five days, fearing the ash could harm jet engines. Some 10 million travelers were stranded.

The Grimsvotn volcano, which lies under the uninhabited Vatnajokull glacier about 120 miles east of the capital, Reykjavik, began erupting Saturday for the first time since 2004.

University of Iceland geophysicist Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson said the new eruption was 10 times as powerful as the one in 2004, which lasted for several days and briefly disrupted international flights.

He told broadcaster RUV that the eruption was Grimsvotn's largest for 100 years.

Another geophysicist, Pall Einarsson, said last year's eruption was a rare event and Grimsvotn would likely have much less effect on international air traffic.

"The ash in Eyjafjallajokull was persistent or unremitting and fine-grained," Einarsson said. "The ash in Grimsvotn is more coarse and not as likely to cause danger as it falls to the ground faster and doesn't stay as long in the air as in the Eyjafjallajokull eruption."

Sparsely populated Iceland is one of the world's most volcanically active countries and eruptions are frequent.

Eruptions often cause local flooding from melting glacier ice, but rarely cause deaths. Police closed a main road near the volcano Sunday as heavy ash fell, coating cars and buildings in a gray film.

The Grimsvotn volcano also erupted in 1998, 1996 and 1993. The eruptions have lasted between a day and several weeks.

Palestinians: Israel must accept 1967 border as basis for negotiations

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Palestinian officials said they would not resume peace negotiations unless Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepts President Obama's 1967 border guidelines.

"If Netanyahu agrees, we shall turn over a new leaf. If he doesn't then there is no point talking about a peace process. We're saying it loud and clear," Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying Sunday in Ynet.

Erekat, a member of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party central committee and chief Palestinian negotiator, repeated similar statements to the KUNA Kuwaiti news agency and others, some rebroadcast on Israel Radio.

“Once Netanyahu says that the negotiations will lead to a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, then everything will be set,” Erekat said according to Palestinian news agency WAFA.

Erekat said that Israel showed it had rejected Obama's premise of negotiation from the 1967 borders when it approved the construction of 1,500 housing units in eastern Jerusalem a day before Netanyahu left for the United States.

Obama and Netanyahu are both set to speak this week before the United States pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. On May 19, in a speech at the State Department on his Middle East policy, Obama called for peace negotiations on the basis of the 1967 borders with mutually agreed upon land swaps.