Monday, December 22, 2008

'UK had to stop India attack' - Obama spells end of blank cheques for Israel - Report: Obama to appoint anti-Israel adviser - Norman Foster must keep hands off Mecca, insists Muslim architect - Barack Obama Victory Unicorn -

'UK had to stop India attack'


Destruction ... Taj Hotel during attacks


Published: 06 Dec 2008

BRIT and American officials had to intervene to prevent India attacking Pakistan in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks, it was claimed this week.

Wajid Shamsul Hassan, the Pakistani High Commissioner in London, said that he learned from his sources that India was about to launch a military strike to "teach Pakistan a lesson".

Mr Hassan, who made his claim in an interview with the BBC, said that he had alerted Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari to the threat.

He said that the President in turn urgently contacted high level British and American officials who intervened to calm the situation.

There was no response to the claims tonight from the Foreign Office. A spokeswoman said: "We do not comment on security issues".


The revelations come after it was revealed today that one of two Indians arrested over the attacks is a counter-insurgency police officer who may have been on an undercover mission.

The man was arrested for buying mobile phone cards used by the gunmen in the attacks.

A senior police official in Indian Kashmir says the man, identified as Mukhtar Ahmed, is part of a semiofficial counter-insurgency network whose members are usually drawn from among former militants.

The official says Calcutta police, who are holding Ahmed, have been told he is "our man and its now up to them how to facilitate his release."

Following the attacks at the end of last month which left more than 170 dead, Indian politicians were quick to point the finger of blame at Pakistan.

The sole surviving gunman captured by the Indians, named as Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, is said to be a member of the militant Lashkar e Taiba group, which has links to the disputed region of Kashmir and has also been linked to the Pakistani ISI intelligence service.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have appealed to the Indians and Pakistanis to work together to find out who was responsible for the attacks in an attempt to head off a fresh confrontation between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Obama spells end of blank cheques for Israel

Agence France-Presse
Published: Sunday December 7, 2008

JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israel can no longer expect "blank cheques" from Washington once president-elect Barack Obama's administration takes over in January, a former US ambassador to the Jewish state said on Sunday.

"The era of the blank cheque is over," said Martin Indyk, director of the Centre for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute who is considered close to incoming secretary of state

Hillary Clinton.

"The Obama administration intends to be engaged, using diplomacy to try to bring about a safer and more peaceful place, that is different from the seven years of the (George W.) Bush administration," he said on public radio.

"President Obama surely will want to work with Israel on this (Middle East) agenda. But there are obligations on both sides (Israel and the Arabs). Both sides will have to respect these obligations," Indyk said.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held a "long conversation" with Clinton earlier this week and welcomed her nomination in Obama's team, his office said. She vowed to work for peace and stability in the Middle East.

Report: Obama to appoint anti-Israel adviser
Possible Mideast envoy seen as one of Jewish state's biggest foes in Washington

Posted: December 02, 2008
2:29 pm Eastern

By Aaron Klein
© 2008 WorldNetDaily

Daniel Kurtzer
JERUSALEM – President-elect Barack Obama is considering appointing his top Mideast adviser, Daniel Kurtzer, as U.S. envoy to the Middle East, a senior Israeli diplomatic source told Israel's Haaretz newspaper.

Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, long has been seen in Jerusalem as one of the Jewish state's greatest foes in Washington. He has been identified by Jewish and Israeli leaders, including prime ministers, as biased against Israel and is notorious for urging extreme concessions from the Jewish state.

The Haaretz report follows WND articles quoting officials in Jerusalem who stated Kurtzer was likely to become Obama's envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Kurtzer came under fire last summer when he traveled to Damascus where he reportedly urged Syrian officials to fast-track negotiations with Israel aiming at an Israeli withdrawal from the strategic Golan Heights. Kurtzer at the time stressed he was not in Damascus as part of Obama's campaign but instead visiting as a private expert attending an international lawyers conference.

Obama's transition team did not immediately return a WND e-mail and phone message seeking comment on Kurtzer's possible appointment. Haaretz noted Obama's purported decision to appoint a special envoy to the Mideast reporting to him directly, rather than to the secretary of state, indicates the president-elect attaches special importance to the region.

Kurtzer long has been identified by Israeli leaders speaking on the record as one of Israel's greatest foes in Washington, and his appointment as a primary Mideast adviser to Obama first raised some eyebrows in the pro-Israel Jewish community.

"We oppose the appointment of Kurtzer, because of his long, documented record of hostility to and severe pressure upon Israel," said Zionist Organization of America National Chairman Morton Klein.

Kurtzer has been blasted by mainstream Jewish organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

He has angered Israeli leaders many times for pushing Israel into what they described as extreme concessions to the Palestinians.

"With Jews like Kurtzer, it is impossible to build a healthy relationship between Israel and the United States," Benjamin Nentanyahu was quoted saying in 2001 by Haaretz.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Kurtzer "frequently pressured Israel to make one-sided concessions to the Arabs; he constantly blamed Israel for the absence of Mideast peace, and paid little or no attention to the fact that the Palestinians were carrying out terrorist attacks and openly calling for the destruction of Israel."

Morris Amitay, former executive director of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2001: "Kurtzer ... will use his Jewishness as a protective cover for his anti-Israel views."

The ZOA points out Israel's leading daily, Yediot Ahronot, editorialized on Kurtzer's negative influence against Israel: "Possibly more than any other U.S. State Department official, Kurtzer has been instrumental in promoting the goals of the Palestinians and in raising their afflictions to the center of the U.S. policymakers' agenda."

Kurtzer first rose to prominence in 1988 when, as a State Department adviser, he counseled the Reagan administration to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization led by Yasser Arafat. The PLO had carried out scores of anti-Western attacks, but in the late '80s Arafat claimed to have renounced violence.

In 1988, Kurtzer was noted as the principal author of a major policy speech by then-Secretary of State George Shultz in which the U.S. government first recognized the "legitimate rights" of the Palestinians.

Haaretz reported in 2001 that Kurtzer had a "vocal conflict" with an Israeli government official in Philadelphia in the summer of 1990 after Kurtzer "attacked the Israeli government for refusing to include the PLO in the peace process [and] said that this constituted the main obstacle to peace."

Gherkin designer Norman Foster must keep hands off Mecca, insists Muslim architect

A general view of Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca
Sonia Verma and Ben Hoyle

Norman Foster was embroiled in religious and political controversy yesterday about a multimillion-pound project to redevelop Mecca, Islam's holiest site.

As millions of Muslims from around the world prepared to make the annual haj (pilgrimage to Mecca), a leading Saudi architect denounced the plans for the city. The criticism, which is shared with other Saudis, is unusual because the project has the blessing of the Saudi monarch.

Sami Angawi, an expert of Islamic architecture in Mecca and Medina, said he was "surprised and upset" to learn of confidential plans, leaked last week, in which the holiest Islamic city would be redesigned by "outsiders".

"You cannot redesign such a place without a deep feeling and knowledge of it," Mr Angawi, 59, told The Times in a telephone interview from his home in Jeddah.

Lord Foster of Thames Bank and Zaha Hadid are among a group of "starchitects" reportedly invited by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz to re-envision Mecca, including an extension around the central Haram mosque that would enable it to accommodate up to three million pilgrims.

None of the experts is thought to be Saudi and many are not Muslim and, consequently, are forbidden from even entering the holy city. "When you design a mosque, you need to be able to experience it. I feel very confused about such a decision," Mr Angawi said, emphasising he was not against Western influence but believed the project should include local experts. "We have to be in charge," he said.

His comments suggest the emergence of a wider discontent in Saudi Arabia about how the construction project is being managed.

Even before plans to redevelop the Haram mosque were reported in The Architects' Journallast week there was concern about renovations already under way in Mecca, including the demolition of historic buildings to make way for high-rise hotels and apartment blocks that dominate the city skyline.

Modern Mecca, with its branches of Top Shop and Starbucks, is all but unrecognisable from the city that became part of the Saudi kingdom in 1932. Conservationists claim that hundreds of historic buildings have been demolished.

A report by the Saudi British Bank, one of the biggest lenders in the kingdom, estimated this year that £15 billion would be invested by foreign and Saudi companies in construction and infrastructure in Mecca by 2012. Homes and hills are to be replaced by about 130 skyscrapers, including the Abraj al-Bait Towers, which is to be one of the biggest buildings in the world. The seven towers will include a 2,000-room hotel, a convention centre big enough for 1,500 people, heliports and a four-storey shopping mall.

At the centre of the development will be the redesign of the mosque and its surrounding area. The King is understood to have recruited 18 leading architects, engineers and construction companies to "establish a new architectural vision" for the 356,800sq m mosque complex.

According to The Architects' Journal the first part of the project will increase the capacity of the mosque from 900,000 to 1.5 million. Once the scheme is completed capacity for the district should be 3 million.

The proposals have been split into two. Foster & Partners, which is headed by Lord Foster, is one of ten practices that will look at alternatives for the northern expansion of the Haram mosque. Ms Hadid, who was born in Iraq, has been given the key job of coming up with ideas for the mosque, as well as the central district. Several other well-known foreign architects have been linked with the job as well as two British engineers – Adams Kara Taylor and Faber Maunsell.

Lord Foster, 73, who did not wish to comment on the project, is certainly qualified for the job. He designed the Gherkin building in London and the new Beijing airport, which is the one of the largest buildings on Earth.

Any development in Mecca is fraught with religious and political problems. Public dissent in the conservative Kingdom is rare, with few people willing to openly challenge the decisions of the King and his advisors. Mr Angawi, however, who studied architecture at the University of Texas and received a doctorate from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, is known as an outspoken critic and said that others shared his views.

"Some of them are from very high levels, but they cannot talk," said Mr Angawi, who has devoted his life to preserving the heritage of Mecca since he returned to Saudi Arabia in 1975.

The scheme to redevelop the mosque suggests his battle will likely be lost.

In recent years the number of Muslims making the haj has swelled beyond three million. Saudi Arabia has been attempting to cater to wealthier pilgrims with new developments, while investors – many with links to the Saudi royal family, are profiting.

In the building boom the house of Muhammad's first wife Khadija – where Muslims believe the Prophet received some of the first revelations of the Koran – has been lost under the construction, as was the Dar al-Arqam, the first Islamic school, where Muhammad taught.

"What is going on is horrible. It's indescribable," Mr Angawi said. "Mecca is being blown into pieces, and then they say, we'll bring in the best architects to fix this . . . I feel sorry for them."

In the past Western companies have redeveloped parts of Mecca, but not without facing unusual challenges.

Ten years ago United Automation, a Los Angeles company, won a bid to rewire the sound system in the mosques in Mecca. American engineers completed most of the project in a warehouse in California, where the sound system had to be assembled and tested, because they were barred from the city. A team of Muslim mosque technicians had to be flown to Los Angeles to learn how to install and run the system.

Because no noise can be transmitted over the system except for the voice of an imam reading from the Koran, they devised a way of testing the speakers without sound.

Mr Angawi said times have changed: "There is a lot of expertise right here in Saudi Arabia. It is not 50 years ago. We have the knowledge to do this ourselves."

The path of pilgrims

— The haj is one of the five pillars of Islam and is a religious obligation to be fulfilled at least once in the lifetime of a Muslim

— Holy Islamic sites include the Kaaba in Mecca, Mina and Medina

— About three million people made the pilgrimage this year

— Security at the haj is provided by 100,000 Saudis

Stampedes during the haj killed 1,426 people in 1990, 251 in 2004, 363 in 2006

Sources: Times archives

Weird Barack Obama art

Growing up in a Catholic household the 1960s, my husband says that most of the living rooms he visited as a child had pictures of Jesus and JFK hanging on the wall.

As a child of the 1970s, I don't remember any presidential administration that inspired that kind of iconic reproduction. Things have changed. The stream of Barack Obama faces printed on clothing and hats since early summer festivals this year has been steady to overflowing, many using design elements that intentionally evoke Bob Marley, Che Guevara, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X. Apparently, we like wearing our new leader, putting forward our faith his abilities.

Meanwhile, weird art has been emerging from all corners of the Internet, putting forward its own agenda:
A lot of pundits claim that voters have unrealistic, Jesus (or Fabio)-like expectations of our new President. On first view, this illustration seems to underscore that idea. It was actually intended to poke fun at Obama supporters in Portland, Oregon this past May.
This one comes from Dan Lacey, Painter of Pancakes, who mostly paints political and celebrity figures with pancakes on their heads, although he also has some of famous figures donning jock straps, carrots and"Minnesota" toast" on their noggins. If you poke around his site, you'll find that there are a couple of other nude Obama with unicorn paintings, including a revision of this one with a leaner president-elect.

Whiz News provides news, views and interesting articles from various sources and all perspectives.

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