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Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel has authorized its military to take all necessary steps to stop rocket fire from Gaza, including a ground operation, an Israeli military official said Tuesday, as Egypt worked on a truce and said Israel had agreed to delay stepping up its response.

The Israeli government decision stopped well short of ordering tanks to roll into Gaza, and it appeared unlikely that would happen, as rocket fire all but stopped over the past day. The official said the decision authorized the military to act in accordance with the severity of Palestinian attacks, meaning that a ground offensive would be ordered only after massive rocket fire.

The Israeli official spoke on condition of anonymity because no statement was made.

Egypt's ambassador to the Palestinian Authority said Tuesday that Egypt obtained an Israeli pledge to hold its fire while efforts were under way to persuade Palestinian militants to stop the rocket barrages.

This is the third case of Egyptian diplomatic involvement with Israel over the last month, after two prisoner exchanges. Israel has been concerned that Egypt's new rulers might toughen their line on Israel in accordance with widespread public dislike of the Jewish state despite a 1979 peace treaty. Egypt's diplomatic activity might calm those concerns.

The sudden spike in violence began when militants in Gaza started firing salvos at Israel late last week, and Israeli retaliated with airstrikes. One Israeli civilian and at least 10 Palestinian militants were killed in the worst violence on that front in months.

The confrontation threatened to spiral into a larger conflict, and Egypt stepped in to try to restore calm.

"In the past few hours, Egypt saved Gaza from severe destruction and succeeded in securing Israeli restraint to give Egyptians time to reach a cease-fire agreement with Palestinian factions," Egypt's ambassador to the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Othman, told The Associated Press Tuesday.

On Monday, Netanyahu warned from the podium of the Israeli parliament that Israel would operate "vigorously and resolutely" against those who would threaten its security.

"A security philosophy cannot rely on defense alone," Netanyahu said. "It must also include offensive capabilities, the very foundation of deterrence."

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel's position has not changed.

The military said there have been no Israeli airstrikes since around midnight Monday. Two rockets were fired from Gaza during that time. The relative calm prevailed through Tuesday afternoon.

The rocket attacks have disrupted life in southern Israel, forcing schools to close. About 1 million Israelis live within range of rockets from Gaza.

The Islamic Jihad faction was behind the initial rocket attacks. On Sunday the militant faction agreed to stop the violence if Israel also did. Rocket fire that drew retaliatory Israeli airstrikes persisted afterward, but it was claimed by a different militant group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Gaza's ruling Hamas group, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in past violence, has not directly been involved in the attacks. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all violence from the territory.

Also Tuesday, Hamas said the Israeli military arrested one of its leaders in the West Bank, Hassan Youssef. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the move "a dangerous Israeli escalation against Hamas and against one of the symbols of the elected Palestinian legitimacy."

Youssef, a member of the Palestinian parliament, was released from an Israeli prison in August after serving six years.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Hamas has controlled Gaza since taking it over in June 2007 during a civil war with its rival, Fatah. The West Bank is governed by the Palestinian Authority, run by President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who, unlike Hamas, favors a negotiated settlement with Israel.


Additional reporting by Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Cairo and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Gaza Strip.


 By Monday, October 24, 9:51 AM

The Washington Post

DAMASCUS, Syria — U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford has been pulled out of Syria because of concerns for his safety, embassy officials said Monday, citing “credible threats” to the security of the envoy who has led American criticism of Syrian efforts to crush a seven-month-old uprising.

Ford, whose high-profile visits to activists and protests had made him a controversial figure in Syria, returned to the United States at the weekend and will remain there indefinitely until “the situation improves on the ground,” said Haynes Mahoney, the charge d’affaires at the embassy in Damascus.

The departure marks the latest twist in the saga of the relatively low-key envoy, who was thrust into the limelight after he attended demonstrations in Hama in July, infuriating the Syrian authorities.

The Hama protests were subsequently crushed in a brutal assault that prompted President Obama to call for President Bashar al-Assad’s departure in August. Ford has since played a prominent role in pressuring Syrian authorities to ease the crackdown, posting lengthy critiques of their behavior on the U.S. Embassy’s Facebook page and meeting with activists and dissidents.

During one such meeting in September, an activist’s residence was surrounded by an angry crowd that trapped Ford inside for 90 minutes. In July, the embassy was attacked by stone-throwing mobs who broke windows, climbed onto the roof and raised the Syrian flag.

Mahoney said no specific incident had prompted Ford’s abrupt departure on Saturday. But he said the tone of several recent items in the government-controlled Syrian press had raised concerns.

“The threats were really based on stories we saw that were very inciting, and we were concerned for his safety,” Mahoney said. “We hope that the Syrian government will stop this inciting because Ford was doing a very important job on the ground and giving significant support to the Syrian people.”

Mahoney cited one article in the Thawra newspaper that accused Ford of working to provoke a civil war in Syria, and another that accused him of running death squads while serving as a political officer in Iraq. In addition, the private al-Dunya television station, owned by members of Assad’s family, was repeatedly broadcasting pictures of Ford’s face in ways that would make him easily recognizable to many ordinary Syrians, he said.

He stressed that Ford had not been formally recalled, which would signal a rupture in diplomatic relations, and that he would return as soon as it was considered safe for him to do so. The embassy, which has been functioning on a skeleton staff since most nonessential officers were withdrawn earlier in the year, will continue to function, he said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement that Ford’s return to Damascus “will depend on our assessment of Syrian regime-led incitement and the security situation on the ground. We hope that the Syrian regime will end its incitement campaign against Ambassador Ford.”


Staff writer Joby Warrick in Washington contributed to this report.


Last Updated:10:14 PM, October 22, 2011

Posted:7:12 PM, October 22, 2011

Not that there were any corrections, retractions or apologies, but six months ago, the national news media, in what seemed to be a don’t-want-to-be-the-last exercise, began to report the most hopeful, fantastic and impossible story:

The street demonstrations in Cairo were spreading throughout the Islamic-Arab Middle East, a surge toward Western-style Democracy was overflowing throughout the Arab world! Rejoice! Rejoice!

Of course, aside from a few women seen celebrating in Western-style clothing -- women who would soon disappear, replaced by men and women in fundamental Islamic garb -- there was no real evidence of a pro-democracy revolution.

Still, this fantastic story continued to be reported, from CNN to NBC, ABC to CBS, and the BBC to FNC.

That the mere concept of democracy had escaped the Arab-Muslim world for centuries -- as late as World Wars I and II, the region’s rulers made deals with the forces of Fascism -- and that all previous uprisings had led to one totalitarian regime replaced with another, just didn’t seem to matter.

Not even the fact that CBS’s “60 Minutes” correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaulted by a gang during one of those “pro-democracy” demonstrations in Cairo -- according to Logan, someone in the mob shouted, “Jew!” and the attack was on -- prevented national TV networks from holding tightly to their original story: The Arabic Middle East is in enlightened revolt, as if the statesmanship of Ben Franklin, the writings of Thomas Paine, the leadership of George Washington and the wisdom of Abe Lincoln had grabbed on, and was holding on. The premise of the Logan assault was ignored, as if it were an aberration; the Jihadists are on the run!

Six months later, these same reporters, analysts and thought-shapers have awakened to what was always clear and present, to what was never going to happen no matter their wishful thinking and stubborn resolve to find something that didn’t exist. Throughout the Muslim Middle East, foreign embassies of democratic countries are being attacked and trashed. The Christian minorities in the region, mostly Coptic Egyptians, are at an even greater risk of being eliminated and annihilated, as is Israel, a country that has the audacity to believe that it can continue to survive and even thrive in the region, not so much as a Jewish state, but as a non-Muslim state.

The “pro-democracy revolution” in Egypt has only thrown the country from idle into reverse. Political and social issues are now a matter for parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood to decide. And to be a non-devout Muslim, or to advocate mere tolerance for those who are not, is to brand yourself an “infidel,” punishable by death, perhaps by stoning.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the greatest threat to the despotic powers of President and nuclear nut loaf Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not from pro-democracy activists, but from Islamic fundamentalists, anti-democracy hate-mongers convinced that Ahmadinejad is too soft to meet with Allah’s approval. They fought Ahmadinejad’s order to release those young American hikers, imprisoned as spies.

But, gee, it sure was a good story while it lasted. And it lasted for six months. Stay tuned for the next pro-democracy upheaval in the Middle East. It’ll be the first one.

Read more:
The North Carolina men are found guilty in what prosecutors have called a case of 'homegrown terrorism.' They are convicted of plotting an attack on a Marine base in Quantico, Va., among other things.

By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times

4:45 PM PDT, October 13, 2011

Reporting from New Bern, N.C.


A federal jury has convicted three Muslim men from North Carolina of plotting to attack unspecified targets overseas, as well as the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., in what prosecutors called a case of "homegrown terrorism."

After two days of deliberations, Omar Aly Hassan, 22, Ziyad Yaghi, 21, and Hysen Sherifi, 24, were convicted Thursday of providing material support for terrorists. Yaghi and Sherifi were also convicted of conspiring to kill, kidnap or maim unspecified people overseas; Hassan was acquitted on the conspiracy charge.

Prosecutors in the three-week trial said the men traveled overseas, raised money and trained with weapons to support a jihadist plot to kill perceived enemies of Islam. Defense lawyers said audio and video recordings played in court did not show the defendants discussing or agreeing to any specific attack.

At issue in the case was the extent to which someone in the U.S. can discuss violent jihad and spread radical propaganda in the post-Sept. 11 era, even while committing no violent acts.

Like many other federal terrorism cases since 2001, the prosecution was preemptive. The suspects were arrested as the terrorist plot unfolded — but before they could commit violence.

The government amassed 750 hours of audio and video that included conversations between the defendants and three paid FBI informants; in those conversations, the defendants discussed jihad and their hatred for non-Muslims.

Friends and family members who attended parts of the trial complained of selective prosecution of Muslims. Hassan's father, Aly Hassan, said after the verdict that the trial had been "a long nightmare."

"Every single witness came out and said they never conspired with my son," Hassan said. "Conspiracy is a very elastic word."

Outside the courtroom, Sherifi's mother shouted, "Racist vultures!"

Mauri Saalakhan, director of an Islamic organization called the Peace Thru Justice Foundation in Silver Spring, Md., who attended parts of the trial, said the convicted men were victims of guilt by association. He called the undercover informants "provocateurs" who entrapped them.

Eight men were indicted in the case in 2009. The accused ringleader, U.S.-born Daniel Boyd, a Muslim convert, testified for the government in a plea deal. So did his sons, Daniel Boyd, 24, and Zakariya Boyd, 21. They are to be sentenced later.

A trial for the seventh defendant, Anes Subasic, has not been scheduled. The eighth defendant, Jude Kenan Mohammad, is a fugitive.

Prosecutors named no targeted victims. Nor did they specify places, times or dates of attacks, except for a potential attack on the Marine base in Quantico. The elder Daniel Boyd had visited the base, and he and Sherifi had discussed its vulnerability to an attack on Marines and their families.

Sherifi was also convicted of conspiring to kill members of the U.S. military and weapons violations.

In court, prosecutors displayed a stockpile of nearly two dozen guns and 27,000 rounds of ammunition seized from a bunker under Daniel Boyd's home; they also played tapes of the defendants praising jihadist publications.

Defense lawyers said the defendants were foolish young men who made "stupid'' and offensive comments but committed no crimes.

Hassan and Yaghi are U.S. citizens. Sherifi, a Kosovo native, is a legal permanent U.S. resident. All lived in the Raleigh, N.C., area.

Sentencing is scheduled to take place in 90 days.

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