Saudis okay airspace for direct India-Israel flights

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Saudis reportedly okay airspace for direct India-Israel flights; Riyadh denies

Israeli sources confirm agreement struck for route from Tel Aviv to Delhi; Air India says still awaiting regulatory approval

Illustrative: Air India planes parked on the tarmac at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, on May 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

Illustrative: Air India planes parked on the tarmac at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, on May 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

Saudi Arabia reportedly okayed the use of its airspace for flights between Israel and India, according to Hebrew-language media Wednesday. However, a Saudi official quickly denied the claim.

The approval, which would cut hours off the flight route, would be a first and mark a major milestone in Israel’s attempts to deepen ties with Gulf Sunni states.

In a deal struck with Riyadh, Air India will begin offering direct flights from Tel Aviv to New Delhi on March 20, ahead of the Passover holiday, according to the Haaretz daily and the Kan broadcaster, citing Israeli aviation officials.

The Saudi Arabia Aviation Authority denied ever granting such approval, and a spokesman for Air India told Reuters that the airline is still waiting for the Indian aviation regulator to approve the move.

The report came as Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj was visiting Riyadh on an official trip.

Currently, El Al is the only airline offering direct flights from Israel to India, with a Tel Aviv-Mumbai route. In order to avoid Saudi Arabia, which forbids flights to and from Israel over its airspace, the plane must detour over the Red Sea and around the Arabian peninsula, adding over two hours to the flight.

The Israeli Tourism Ministry is hoping Wednesday’s approval will be a gateway for other Far East countries that had been discouraged from offering direct flights due to the need to bypass Saudi Arabia, Israel’s Globes business daily reported.

The report comes as Israel has tried to build ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states allied with the US, which have a common enemy in Iran. However, Riyadh has remained skittish about openly admitting to contacts with Israel.

The direct flight proposal was a main topic on the agenda during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India last month. Speaking at an economic forum in Mumbai, Netanyahu said the goal was for a “efficient and direct route” to be established between the countries.

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Very Old Tools Found In India: Question Is, Who Made Them

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Very old, very sophisticated tools found in India. The question is: Who made them?

 February 1 at 9:40 AM 

Artifacts uncovered in the excavation at Attirampakkam. (Sharma Center for Heritage Education)

Humanity’s origin story has gotten increasingly tangled in recent years: New discoveries suggest that Homo sapiens interacted and interbred with other species and ventured out of Africa in more than one wave. Researchers have compared the ancient world to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth — but instead of hobbits, dwarves and elves, our planet had modern humans in Africa, Neanderthals in Europe, Homo erectus in Asia.

Now, a treasure trove of ancient stone tools suggests that humans’ circuitous path to modernity also wound through India.

In a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers described thousands of stone implements uncovered at Attirampakkam, an archaeological site in southern India. The tools span about a million years of history, they say, and illustrate the evolution of big, blunt hand axes into finely sculpted stone points. Starting about 385,000 years ago — long before modern humans are thought to have arrived in India — it appears that an advanced toolmaking culture was developing there.

How did these techniques reach India so early? “That’s the multimillion-dollar question,” said archaeologist Shanti Pappu, founder of the Sharma Center for Heritage Education and a co-author of the report.

No remains were found alongside the Indian tools, meaning it’s impossible to determine whether the tools were produced by modern humans or one of our hominin cousins. If they were produced by members of our species, it would significantly shift the timeline of human evolution. But that’s a big “if,” Pappu acknowledged.

At the very least, she said, the discovery suggests “complex interactions” between the mystery hominins in India and their relatives around the world.

“It shows that simple linear narratives of dispersal only at certain time periods is incorrect,” Pappu said.

Modern humans evolved in Africa, and the oldest known bones that could feasibly belong to our species were found in a Moroccan cave and dated to 300,000 years ago. The recent discovery of human fossils in an Israeli cave suggests that we may have ventured into other continents as early as 194,000 years ago.

 0:54
Early humans coexisted with human-like species 300,000 years ago in Africa

Scientists in South Africa unveil the first evidence that early humans co-existed with a small-brained human-like species thought to have been extinct in Africa at the time. 

Upon leaving Africa, Homo sapiens would have encountered an array of distant relatives. Paleoanthropologists believe the first hominins left Africa about 1.7 million years ago, although there’s some dispute about what species those early migrants belonged to.

With so few fossils available, reconstructing the story of human evolution and migration is a bit like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle when you have just a handful of middle pieces and no edges or corners. Often, scientists must trace the movements of our ancestors through the stone tools we created.

The first hominins to leave Africa — whoever they were — carried with them oval- and pear-shaped hand axes used to pound and scrape food — a technology called Acheulean. The oldest tools found at Attirampakkam, which are more than 1 million years old, were crafted in this tradition.

But in a second batch of implements uncovered from a rock layer that spans 385,000 to 172,000 years ago (plus or minus about 50,000 years on either end), those heavy hand axes give way to smaller, more sophisticated points. One of the points even appears to have a groove that would allow it to be affixed to some kind of projectile, like a spear.

This kind of technology has long been associated with Neanderthals and Homo sapiens in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and it wasn’t thought to have arrived in India until humans reached south Asia about 100,000 years ago. Known as Levallois, this technique is associated with significant advances in human cognition, because such tools can’t be crafted without the ability to think abstractly and plan ahead.

Alison Brooks, a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University, said she’s not convinced that the smaller tools described by Pappu and her colleagues are true Levallois points.

“It’s still basically a single point in a giant continent,” she added — more discoveries are required to give context to this find.

That’s what Pappu hopes for, too. She noted that relatively few paleontology resources have been invested in India. The tools collected at Attirampakkam are among the first discoveries from India for which scientists even have a date.

“We hope this will be a jumping-off point for a new look at regions like India,” she said. “They also have a story to tell.”

Read more:

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In weaving India and Israel together, challenges loom

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

In weaving India and Israel together, challenges loom

Officials see plenty of potential for closer ties both in trade and on the strategic front, but getting there may be more complex than Netanyahu’s whirlwind tour of India suggests

Joshua Davidovich

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, uses a spinning wheel as his wife Sara Netanyahu, center, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi look on during a visit to Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad on January 17, 2018. AFP/SAM PANTHAKY)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, uses a spinning wheel as his wife Sara Netanyahu, center, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi look on during a visit to Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad on January 17, 2018. AFP/SAM PANTHAKY)

MUMBAI, India — Mumbai’s Gateway of India, a hulking structure looking out over the city’s harbor, was built to commemorate the landing of British King George V and Queen Mary in 1911.

The royal couple never actually got to see the structure, which was only finished in 1924, but it remains to this day as a reminder of the city’s colonial past and as a testament to the grandeur with which rulers were once greeted.

Over 100 years later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a quick whirl around the site just before heading to the airport after five days in India during which he was afforded a welcome seen by some as almost as impressive as the building of the massive gate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara are greeted by Indian dancers at the airport in Mumbai, India, on January 17, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Unlike the gateway, remnants of Netanyahu’s visit — the Israeli flags the kids waved, and the giant billboards of the Israeli leader gracing every city he visited — will quickly fade. What’s more important, though, is whether the relationship spotlighted by the carefully choreographed displays can withstand the many external pressures bearing on it.

As it stands, the Israel-India trade relationship is estimated to be less than $5 billion and most of the commerce is in diamonds and arms, with official Indian figures putting the number at just under $3 billion, making Israel its 39th-largest trading partner. By contrast, India trades over $7.2 billion annually with Iran. But what officials on both sides see is potential, both for more trade and a closer strategic relationship, and the rub may be getting both to work together.

The stated goal of the trip Netanyahu and over a hundred businesspeople took to India was to diversify and expand business ties and highlight what is seen as an already growing diplomatic relationship. “The sky is the limit,” Netanyahu said on more than one occasion, a sentiment echoed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who accompanied Netanyahu on several legs of the visit, including to his home state of Gujarat.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center and his wife Sara arriving in Ahmadebad, India on January 17, 2018. GPO)

At event after event, officials played up the closeness of the Indian-Israel relationship, the kinship between the countries and the fact that “both of us are surrounded by enemies.” The amalgamation of Israeli tech and Indian creativity was another theme voiced repeatedly during the visit, as Netanyahu met with officials, business leaders, young entrepreneurs and farmers helped by Israeli aid.

But while optimism was omnipresent, there were also signs that the countries did not see eye-to-eye on everything relating to both trade and any strategic/security relationship.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for photographers after the Israeli leader arrived at the Air Force Station in New Delhi January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)

As the country with the second-largest Muslim population in the world, and with a long-trained relationship with Israel and continuing strong trade ties with Iran, India’s supposed love affair with Israel is more complex than the Netanyahu-Modi bromance on display would indicate.

At a joint statement following an official sit-down, neither premier mentioned the Palestinians, with Modi even saying that the land Indian soldiers helped liberate in World War I was “Israel.” (It may have been a slip of the tongue, but Netanyahu followed his lead, saying they had liberated “Israel, the land of Israel.”)

But on Thursday morning, just hours after Modi paid his last farewell to Netanyahu, news leaked out of the Indian leader’s plans to visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a matter of weeks.

Just weeks before Netanyahu’s trip, India backed a UN resolution condemning US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, though both countries insisted that the vote would not affect ties.

Modi’s visit to Israel in July, the first ever by an Indian prime minister, did not include a visit to Ramallah. In somewhat similar fashion, Netanyahu’s visit, only the second by an Israeli prime minister after Ariel Sharon’s short and ill-fated jaunt in 2003 — he had to return home to deal with a terrorist attack — didn’t include a meeting with opposition leader Rahul Ghandi of the left-leaning Congress Party.

India’s opposition Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi, center, is presented with a garland, during a meeting in Ahmadabad, India, December 23, 2017. (AP/Ajit Solanki)

While Ghandi’s faction had for years blocked ties with Israel and led the anti-Israel bloc at the United Nations, it did maintain mostly positive ties with Israel in the government led by Manmohan Singh preceding Modi’s rise to power in 2014, making the omission all the stranger.

The lack of a Netanyahu-Gandhi meeting and the fact that the prime minister only visited states ruled by Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP party, even avoiding business hub Bangalore despite the trade orientation of the trip, raised questions as to whether the positive ties forged between Israel and India under Modi would survive his eventual fall from power.

“Confining Netanyahu’s itinerary only to BJP-ruled states is a short-sighted move,” Jawaharlal Nehru University prof. P. R. Kumaraswamy wrote in The Indian Express daily. “Since relations were established by Congress Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, consensus building has been the hallmark of Indo-Israeli relations.”

Strategic relationships could also be hampered by a reluctance to take a stand against each others’ enemies. Despite Israel’s push to isolate Iran over its nuclear program, Tehran and Delhi maintain a close trading partnership, especially in oil, a relationship Delhi is unlikely to give up without more incentive than a few water purification plants.

A cartoon in the Hindustan Times on January 16, 2018. Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)

On the other side, Israeli officials indicated they had no interest in trying to join India in pushing back against Pakistan and China. A cartoon in a popular newspaper during the visit showed Netanyahu and Modi piloting a drone as Pakistan and China cowered in fear, but Israeli officials insisted it was not representative of reality.

“It’s not a zero-sum game,” one Israeli official said, regarding balancing ties with India and ties with China (Israel has no relations with Pakistan).

However, an Indian official noted that the relationship could be affected if Israel’s ties to China moved from the economic to the strategic, with India viewing China — with which it fought and lost a bitter border war in the 1960s — as a major threat.

Arun Singh, a former Indian ambassador to Israel, wrote during Netanyahu’s trip that Jerusalem’s willingness to keep a door open to forging ties with Pakistan and improving ties with China could put a damper on improving the India-Israel relationship.

“There are limits on convergence of interests, as is inevitable between any two countries, especially those with differing histories and dissimilarities in their geopolitical challenges,” he wrote on the Indian website The Print. “We should unhesitatingly consolidate our bilateral relationship with Israel, where it serves our national interest. But we should also remain mindful of limits of the convergences. Israel’s approach to China, Iran and Pakistan are indicative.”

Speaking to reporters during the trip, Netanyahu said he “understood sensitivities” surrounding building of ties with Delhi while both were unaligned on other geopolitical matters.

“Improving ties is not meant to be against any specific country,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife Sara pose for a photograph at the Taj Mahal in the Indian city of Agra on January 16, 2018. ( AFP PHOTO / STR)

But trade and politics are often intertwined, as evidenced by the desire for a direct flight between Delhi and Tel Aviv over Saudi Arabia, which became a major theme of the trip.

Amid reports of talks over brokering such a route for Air India, Netanyahu at a business forum called for a “simple, direct flight.” Later that day, an Indian food exporter confirmed that the lack of such a flight was hurting business ties.

Politics also seeped into Israel’s bid to boost tourism by attracting a Bollywood film, highlighting the potential pitfalls of developing a larger business relationship in any sector. According to reports, a trio of top Muslim Bollywood stars, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, and Shah Rukh Khan, known as “the Khans of Bollywood,” boycotted a gala event held in Mumbai Thursday night to protest Netanyahu. A fourth Bollywood Khan, Ajaz Khan, criticized director Karan Johar on Twitter for attending the event, and posted a tirade against it on YouTube.

Wonderful evening, a honour and a privilege, meeting an occupier of Palestinian land and killer of unarmed protesters including women and children in Occupied Territories.shame on u Karan https://twitter.com/karanjohar/status/954087461700775936 

At the event, keynote guest Amitabh Bachchan spoke of the allure of Bollywood films and their ability to bring people together. And the very next morning, Bollywood news was on the front page, but for the opposite reason. Riots were threatening to break out over the film “Padmaavat” after the Supreme Court ruled that states could not ban the controversial historical drama based on a 16th century poem about a queen.

The case was just another example that sweet words, like those uttered by Modi, Netanyahu and other officials from both sides about the great Indian-Israeli relationship, were sometimes more complicated than they were made out to be from the dais.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (unseen) at an Israeli-Indian Economic Conference in New Delhi, India on January 15, 2018 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Indian businesspeople at many of the events hosted by Netanyahu talked up the strength of the economic relationship, though when pressed, they admitted that Israel was only a blip on the map of potential business ties.

After all the talk of Indian-Israeli business ties, the name “Israel” was not mentioned once in the 12-page business section of the Hindustan Times on Friday, the day Netanyahu left.

A close-up shot of the Tammuz missiles mounted on an armed personnel carrier (Photo credit: Courtesy: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Free trade talks remain moribund, by all accounts, and the biggest business news to come out the trip was the reviving of a deal for India to buy Spike anti-tank missiles (known as Tammuz in Israel) from the Israeli firm Rafael. However, it seems it may be for less than the original $500 million price tag, to say nothing of the fact that it does nothing to diversify the business relationship or grow it, since Israel thought the deal was in the bag until recently anyway.

Still, ties between the countries are growing unmistakably closer. It’s impossible to overstate the length the Indians went to in order to welcome Netanyahu, with outlandish routines that sometimes seemed almost embarrassingly obsequious — a sign that to a large degree, Israel has a giant on its side, even if it is one that is still largely focused on raising up hundreds of millions of people out of dire poverty, and it is largely thanks to Netanyahu’s emphasis on expanding diplomatic ties around the world.

At the same time, it seems it’s easy to get sucked into exaggerating the importance of that relationship. While Netanyahu was sweet-talking the Indians, behind the scenes he was distracted with working on repairing another diplomatic relationship: with Jordan, which is one he and the rest of the country likely view as more strategic than ties with Delhi.

Indian children wave to a vehicle carrying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they arrive at Sabarmati Ashram or Gandhi Ashram in Ahmadabad, India, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. (AP/Ajit Solanki)

In India, the cheering crowds and adulation were likely a welcome respite from home, where the prime minister is constantly dogged by political intrigue and criminal investigations that are casting a pall over his continued rule. Moments before taking off for Delhi over a week ago, he briefly spoke to reporters, looking dejected as he addressed his son Yair’s strip club tape scandal, which was roiling the country.

Landing back home almost a week later, he sat relaxing in his first class seat as staff, security and journalists disembarked, scrolling through his phone and looking carefree as ever.

Less than an hour before he landed, a major rainstorm had passed over the country, but as his plane touched down, the clouds over the airport cleared and for a brief moment, the sun was shining.

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Netanyahu arrives in India, is greeted by PM Modi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Netanyahu arrives in India, is greeted on tarmac by PM Modi

Israeli leader says he greatly appreciates unplanned personal welcome; two men embrace warmly at start of week-long visit

  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, embraces Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the Israeli leader's wife, Sara, watches on their arrival at the Air Force Station in New Delhi, on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, embraces Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the Israeli leader’s wife, Sara, watches on their arrival at the Air Force Station in New Delhi, on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for photographers after the Israeli leader arrived at the Air Force Station in New Delhi January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for photographers after the Israeli leader arrived at the Air Force Station in New Delhi January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and his wife Sara Netanyahu on their arrival at the Air Force Station in New Delhi on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and his wife Sara Netanyahu on their arrival at the Air Force Station in New Delhi on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
  • The plane carrying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu arrives at the Air Force Station in the Indian capital New Delhi on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
    The plane carrying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu arrives at the Air Force Station in the Indian capital New Delhi on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, together with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, and the Israeli leader's wife Sara Netanyahu, left, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, together with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, and the Israeli leader’s wife Sara Netanyahu, left, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, together with his wife Sara Netanyahu, seated, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, together with his wife Sara Netanyahu, seated, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, together with his wife Sara Netanyahu, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, together with his wife Sara Netanyahu, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

NEW DELHI, India — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touched down in this smog-filled city Sunday afternoon, warmly embracing his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, in a surprise ceremony at the airport, and celebrating a close personal bond that the two are hoping to parlay into further cooperation between their two countries.

Netanyahu’s five-day trip to India will see him attempt to expand business ties with the subcontinent, though it comes amid a cloud of uncertainty after Delhi canceled a $500 million deal with Israeli arms maker Rafael late last year.

The Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu had been expecting to be met by Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and, arriving in Delhi, was apparently surprised to be greeted by Modi. The two leaders exchanged pleasantries and held their hands aloft for the press on the tarmac red carpet.

“I very much appreciate the gesture,” Netanyahu said through his office shortly after the two were whisked away from the brief arrival ceremony.

On his official Twitter account, Modi wrote in Hebrew, “Welcome to India, my friend PM @netanyahu. Your visit is historic and special. This visit will strengthen the close ties between our countries.”

Responding in Hebrew on his own Twitter account, Netanyahu expressed his appreciation for Modi’s personal welcome. “Thank you, my dear friend Modi, on the warm and personal welcome to India,” he wrote.

Accompanied by his wife, Sara, Netanyahu is leading a 130-strong trade delegation — the largest ever for an Israeli prime minister — to India meant to boost bilateral business ties, as well as diplomatic relations.

Over the course of the visit, Israel and India will sign a series of bilateral agreements.

Kicking off the heavily guarded trip, the two stopped at a large traffic circle in Delhi marked by a memorial to Indian soldiers who fought in Palestine in World War I, which they saw renamed from Teen Murti Chowk Square to Haifa Chowk Square in a small ceremony.

Laying a wreath on a statue listing places where the Indian Hyderabad, Jodhpur and Mysore brigades fought — such as Haifa, Gaza, the Jordan Valley and Damascus — Modi, Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu stood at attention for several minutes as trumpets played.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, embraces Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the Israeli leader’s wife, Sara, watches on their arrival at the Air Force Station in New Delhi, on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)

Netanyahu’s visit is the first by an Israeli prime minister since 2003, when Ariel Sharon visited, but abruptly cut his trip short to return to Israel after a terrorist attack.

In contrast with prime ministerial visits to the US or Europe, Netanyahu’s trip, which will take him to three cities in India, will focus very little on Middle Eastern affairs such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. India recently backed a UN General Assembly motion condemning US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, throwing some cold water on hopes for a closer diplomatic relationship.

The confirmation earlier this month that India had canceled the $500 million deal for Spike anti-tank missiles from Israeli firm Rafael also cast a shadow over the trip. While wanting to foster a stronger relationship with Israel, India is also in the midst of trying to develop its own arms manufacturing industry, under the “Make in India” tagline. Last week, however, an Indian news agency reported that Delhi was considering the possibility of reviving the missile sale as a government-to-government deal.

Ahead of the visit, Netanyahu pointed to close personal relationship between himself and Modi cemented during the Indian premier’s trip to Israel last year, his first since taking office.

“This visit is an opportunity to enhance cooperation with a global economic, security, technology and tourism power. Indian Prime Minister Modi is a close friend of Israel and of mine and I appreciate the fact that he will accompany me on extensive parts of my visit,” Netanyahu said Saturday night before leaving Israel.

Modi’s visit to Israel was also marked by a sharing of tweets and the two leaders accompanying each other nearly everywhere.

Netanyahu is set to have dinner with Modi Sunday night after meeting Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj. On Monday the two will hold a series of meetings focused on expanding trade ties, and on Wednesday, they will travel to Modi’s home state of Gujarat before leaving for Mumbai, where Netanyahu will attend memorials for the 2008 terror attacks that took place there.

While there, he is also slated to meet with several Bollywood figures as part of Israel’s drive to expand tourism by attracting Indian films to shoot in Israel.

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India miffed as Palestine envoy shares stage with Hafiz Saeed in Rawalpindi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

India miffed as Palestine envoy shares stage with Hafiz Saeed in Rawalpindi

Photos of the Palestinian ambassador to Pakistan, Walid Abu Ali, sharing the stage with Hafiz Saeed and addressing the rally organised by the Difa-e-Pakistan Council at Liaqat Bagh in Rawalpindi were circulated on social media on Friday. The rally was organised to condemn the US move on Jerusalem.

INDIA Updated: Dec 30, 2017 08:30 IST

Rezaul Hasan Laskar
Rezaul Hasan Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Walid Abu Ali (L), Palestine ambassador to Pakistan, seated next to Hafiz Saeed at a rally in Rawalpindi.
Walid Abu Ali (L), Palestine ambassador to Pakistan, seated next to Hafiz Saeed at a rally in Rawalpindi.(Photo: Twitter)

India reacted with anger after Palestine’s envoy to Pakistan joined Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed at a rally organised by jihadi groups on Friday, just days after New Delhi backed a UN resolution that denounced the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Photos of the Palestinian ambassador to Pakistan, Walid Abu Ali, sharing the stage with Saeed and addressing the rally organised by the Difa-e-Pakistan Council at Liaqat Bagh in Rawalpindi were circulated on social media on Friday. The rally was organised to condemn the US move on Jerusalem.

The development triggered an angry response from the external affairs ministry, with spokesperson Raveesh Kumar saying in a brief statement: “We are taking up the matter strongly with the Palestinian ambassador in New Delhi and with the Palestinian authorities.”

The statement noted that the Palestinian envoy had been seen at the rally “organised by the JuD chief and mastermind of the Mumbai terror attack Hafiz Saeed”.

Officials said a strongly worded demarche would be sent to the Palestinian government.

The external affairs ministry was especially angered as the development came less than 10 days after India joined 127 other members of the United Nations to back a resolution criticising US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The countries disregarded Trump’s threat to cut aid to countries that voted for the resolution.

India’s decision to back the resolution prompted a protest from Israel, a key ally in defence and security matters.

New Delhi explained the vote by saying its position on Palestine is “independent and consistent” and “shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country”.

The “Tahafuz Baitul Maqdas” rally organised by the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) in Rawalpindi featured several jihadi leaders condemning the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The event was attended by thousands, including members of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah.

Photos on social media showed the Palestinian envoy seated next to Saeed and addressing the large gathering. Several speakers at the gathering, including Saeed, also referred to the Kashmir issue and made anti-India remarks. Saeed also called on Muslim nations to act in the defence of Jerusalem.

The DPC is a grouping of some 40 extremist and jihadi groups that was formed by Hafiz Saeed and other extremists in 2012. It has campaigned for long for snapping ties with India and the US.

Al Qaeda threatens attacks in Delhi, Mumbai

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Al Qaeda threatens attacks in Delhi, Mumbai for ‘victory’ in Kashmir

In a video interview with al Qaeda’s mouthpiece, released on jihadi online networks, Usama Mehmood, spokesman of al Qaeda in Indian sub-continent, said there could be no easy solution to the Kashmir issue which needs “blood and sweat” of Muslims.

INDIA Updated: Dec 27, 2017 21:51 IST

Indo Asian News Service, New Delhi
Calling for attacks in Delhi and Mumbai, the al Qaeda said it was necessary for “the jihadi movement to strengthen and expand its activities in the region and target Indian interests.”
Calling for attacks in Delhi and Mumbai, the al Qaeda said it was necessary for “the jihadi movement to strengthen and expand its activities in the region and target Indian interests.”(PTI Photo)

Global terror network al Qaeda that formally announced its affiliate in Jammu and Kashmir earlier this year has said targeting Indian cities and sidelining Pakistan and its army were key to jihadi success in the state.

In a video interview with Al Qaeda’s mouthpiece, released on jihadi online networks, Usama Mehmood, spokesman of al Qaeda in Indian sub-continent, said there could be no easy solution to the Kashmir issue which needs “blood and sweat” of Muslims.

Mehmood, in the 42-minute video recorded in Urdu, said it was necessary for “the jihadi movement to strengthen and expand its activities in the region and target Indian interests.

“India has protected itself by deploying 600,000 troops in a small place like Kashmir. We will target it and its interests in Kolkata, Bangalore and New Delhi, it will come to its senses, its atrocities will be controlled and its grip on Kashmir will weaken by the will of Allah,” said the group’s second-in-command in the sub-continent.

This is the first detailed al Qaeda talk on its activities in Kashmir since July 27 this year when the group announced it was establishing an affiliate in Jammu and Kashmir called Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, headed by the 23-year-old former Kashmir commander of the pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen, Zakir Musa.

The al Qaeda announcement was promptly rejected by militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen. Even the Hurriyat Conference dismissed it, saying the Kashmir issue was political and had nothing to do with global Islamist jihad even as the longstanding militant outfits also espouse an Islamist outlook for Kashmir.

Mehmood called on all Muslims in the sub-continental region, including from India, to “stand behind the Kashmiri people and perform their duties for jihad in Kashmir”.

“It is imperative to wage jihad against India. It can only happen when jihadi activities are strengthened in the entire region.

“We should help our Kashmiri brothers first, defend our jihad from apostatic forces like Pakistan Army and its policies and then expand the jihadi activities,” he said, terming the Pakistan Army “an obstacle in the path of victory, is an enemy of the sharia and a slave of global infidels”.

“It fights only for its salary, personal aggrandisement and plots of land. It is the same army that spills the blood of the mujahideen for American dollars.”

Citing al Qaeda’s attacks against the US within and outside America, he said: “Look at America. Securing itself has become difficult for America throughout the world. We will make it difficult for the Indian Army and Indian government the same way and make its peaceful world a war zone.”

The video also shows clips of slain al Qaeda military commander Illyas Kashmiri and frequently cites quotes from the book of Afzal Guru, who was hanged for his involvement in the 2001 Parliament attack.

Kashmir/Jammu 318 Deaths, Militant, Civilian Killings Highest in 2017

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE KASHMIR OBSERVER)

 

With 318 Deaths, Militant, Civilian Killings Highest in 2017

Up to 14 December this year, 337 militancy-related incidents were reported in Jammu and Kashmir in which 40 civilians, 75 security personnel and 203 militants were killed and 321 persons injured, the highest in the last four years.


New Delhi—As many as 318 people, including 203 militants and 75 security personnel, were killed in militancy-related incidents in Jammu and Kashmir this year, the Lok Sabha was informed on Tuesday.

In the northeast, 97 people, including 51 insurgents and 12 security personnel, were killed in insurgency-related incidents, Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir said during Question Hour.

Up to 14 December this year, 337 militancy-related incidents were reported in Jammu and Kashmir in which 40 civilians, 75 security personnel and 203 militants were killed and 321 persons injured, the highest in the last four years. Ninety-one militants were also arrested.

Referring to incidents in the areas affected by left wing extremism, Ahir said up to November 30 this year, 813 incidents took place leading to the death of 170 civilians, 75 security personnel and 111 left wing extremists. One hundred and forty five people were also injured. He said 1712 left wing extremists were also arrested.

While there have been two attacks each in 2014 and 2015 on defence establishments, six attacks took place in 2016. This year up to 10 December, one defence establishment came under attack.

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Sikhs In Pakistan Complain Of Pressure To Convert (To Islam)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

Sikhs in Pakistan complain of pressure to convert

A complaint by a Sikh leader in Hangu district alleged an assistant commissioner had told members of the minority community to convert to Islam.

WORLD Updated: Dec 16, 2017 23:34 IST

Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
File photo of Sikhs walking through the narrow streets of Peshawar with Gorvindar Singh (centre), one of three Sikhs who was kidnapped for ransom, after his return home on March 1, 2010.
File photo of Sikhs walking through the narrow streets of Peshawar with Gorvindar Singh (centre), one of three Sikhs who was kidnapped for ransom, after his return home on March 1, 2010.(Reuters)

A representative of a Sikh body in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province has complained that members of the minority are being asked to convert to Islam by officials in the local administration.

A complaint filed by Farid Chand Singh, who represents the Sikh community in Hangu district, alleged that the assistant commissioner of Tall tehsil, Yaqoob Khan, had told members of the Sikh community, who had paid him a visit, to convert to Islam if they wanted their problems solved.

An incensed Singh filed the official complaint against Khan with the district commissioner. Singh told The Express Tribune newspaper that he had expressed serious concern as some Sikhs were “being forced to convert to Islam” by the government official.

Singh also said in his complaint that the Pashto-speaking Sikh community had been living in Hangu since 1901 and had never offended by anyone, specifically for religious reasons. He said they had always lived peacefully with Muslims.

Despite Hangu having been a hotbed for sectarian conflict, residents of the district had never harmed Sikhs, who were never approached by anyone to convert to Islam, he said. Sikhs have friendly relations with Muslims, who have always stood up for the community in times of need, he added.

“Had it been from someone ordinary, it would have never felt so offending but when you hear such things from a government official, it becomes something really serious,” Singh told the newspaper.

“We the residents of Doaba area are being tortured religiously,” the complaint said.

“The Constitution empowers us to defend our religious beliefs against anyone and we want you to call (the assistant commissioner of) Tall, Yaqoob Khan, and inquire (about) the issue,” it said, adding the issue “should be investigated so that the community could live in Pakistan with love, peace and harmony”.

The district commissioner, Shahid Mehood, said members of the Sikh community were offended during their meeting with the assistant commissioner but had never meant to insult them.

“There was no such issue of converting someone forcefully to Islam. Rather, the district administration ensures religious freedom,” Mehmood said.

Earlier this year,a public prosecutor told a group of Christians facing trial that he would get them acquitted if they converted to Islam. Nearly 60 Christians were on trial for the mob killing of two men mistaken for militants shortly after two suicide bombers blew themselves up near St John’s Catholic Church and Christ ‎Church of the Church of Pakistan,‎ at Youhanabad in Lahore, on March 15, 2015.

There is a sizeable Sikh population in parts of northwest Pakistan, including the lawless tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. Many of the Sikhs are petty traders and there have been instances of members of the community being kidnapped for ransom in recent years.

Pastors in India Beaten, Forced to Sign Apology Letter Because the Gospel Offends Hindus

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

 

Pastors in India Beaten, Forced to Sign Apology Letter Because the Gospel Offends Hindus

(PHOTO: REUTERS/DANISH SIDDIQUI)A protester holds a placard during a rally by hundreds of Christians against recent attacks on churches nationwide, in Mumbai, February 9, 2015. Five churches in the Indian capital New Delhi have reported incidents of arson, vandalism and burglary. The latest was reported last week when an individual stole ceremonial items.

Two pastors who were attacked and beaten by Hindu extremists right before the beginning of a three-day Gospel meeting in India’s Chhattisgarh state were forced to apologize because their conference and the words of Jesus caused snowflake radicals to be offended.

A local pastor told Morning Star News, a nonprofit news agency that reports on Christian persecution, that pastors Vijay Jogi and Santosh Rao were coerced by police into signing an apology letter to a mob of Hindus who prevented them from holding their Gospel meeting that was to be attended by over 1,000 people at Railway Grounds in Charoda.

On Nov. 16, a group of about 70 Hindu nationalists attacked the pastors just minutes before the event was about to start.

“Pastor Vijay Jogi and Pastor Santosh Rao were receiving the people at the entrance,” Pastor Amos James told the outlet. “Suddenly a mob of 70 Hindu Dharm Sena and Bajrang Dal activists gheraoed (encircled) the entrance, and Pastor Jogi and Pastor Rao were beaten and summoned to the police station.”

Jogi told Morning Star News that the extremists slapped Rao three times and then proceeded to beat them both.

Jogi explained that before the start of the meeting, he had received a call from local police warning them to call the meeting off. It wasn’t until after the attack that they realized that “these people will not let us conduct prayers.”

According to Jogi, the Hindu extremists became upset when they saw the words of Luke 7:22-23 in pamphlets around the area advertising the event.

That verse states: “And [Jesus] answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.'”

“The Hindu activists began arguing with us, ‘You are promoting blind beliefs. How can lame walk? How can deaf hear? How can you raise the dead? When your God can do all this, why are you people going to the doctors then?'” Jogi recalled.

“They told me it is very wrong that I have written these lines,” the pastor continued. “I said, ‘I did not write these words. It’s a verse taken from the Holy Bible and applies to the entire humankind.”‘

The activists declared, “We are offended by these lines,” Jogi said.

“If because I quoted these lines in the pamphlet, it is offending you at personal level, I apologize to you brothers. We are very sorry,” Jogi recalled telling the Hindu radicals.

Although Christian leaders in the area have had no issues holding events in that location in the past 20 years, the Hindu mob reportedly claimed that the pastors needed to have approval for the event from the sub-judicial magistrate in addition to approval from the railway police.

The extremists then took the pastors down to the police station, where the pastors were also questioned by the police about needing the approval of a sub-judicial magistrate.

“The police told me to settle the matter here and stop the event immediately,” Jogi claimed. “I was cautioned while Pastor Rao and I were in the police station that the activists are tearing and burning the banners, breaking the tube lights, chairs and dismantling the stage. The police officer told us even if he lodged a case [against the extremists], it would go strongly against us, and that even he can’t help it. The police did not register an FIR.”

Pastor Rao told Morning Star News that Hindu radicals badgered them while they were at the police station and asked questions like “Why are you calling Hindus to your events?” and “Why are you conducting open gospel meetings publicly?” The extremists demanded that the Christian leaders only work among Christians.

Rao explained that once the police were on the Hindu mob’s side, there was “very little hope for Christians in a situation like this.”

While Jogi and Rao were in the police station, they were “forced to sign a letter handwritten by the activists under the supervision of BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) worker Rajguru Ghosale.”

“The letter said by conducting this meeting we hurt the feelings of Hindus, we sincerely apologize for it and canceling the event,” Rao recalled. “They slapped me to sign it.”

The pastors told Morning Star News that they will not file charges against the Hindus or the police.

“We will conduct the gospel meetings again in May. We are not giving up this time. With permissions from all the authorities and government officials, we will conduct the meetings,” Jogi was quoted as saying. “The activists are following me wherever I go. I know there is threat to my life. But I have dedicated my life fully to my Lord’s work, and I will be at it till my last breath.”

The news surrounding the Gospel meeting in Charoda comes as India ranks as the 15th-worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2017 World Watch List.

Most recently, it was reported that seven pastors in Northern India were arrested and could face up to three years in prison after they were accused of forcible conversion. The arrests occurred after the pastors were called to a home in Uttar Pradesh to pray for a recent Christian convert and her husband. However, family members were upset by the couple’s conversion and complained about a forced conversion to police, which eventually led to the seven pastors’ arrests.

Through the past year, a number of Christians have been arrested in Madhya Pradesh state while transporting children to Christian schools after Hindu extremists accused the Christians of forcibly converting Hindu children.

Morning Star News also reported on six Christians in India’s Jharkhand state who were jailed for over a month for praying for a sick Hindu woman.

“India continues its trajectory towards despair,” Wilson Chowdhry, the chairman of the London-based charity British Asian Christian Association, said in a recent statement. “The caste system is gaining renewed impetus, destroying the lives of disenfranchised citizens simply for the families they were born into. Worse, still every minority living in the midst of the Hindu majority are living through a time of increased suspicion and animosity.”

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LeT operative stayed with terrorists in Kashmir, filmed Indian army camps:

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

LeT operative stayed with terrorists in Kashmir, filmed Indian army camps: Officials

During interrogation, Sheikh disclosed that he had stayed in Pulwama, moved to various places with the help of Malik and even photographed some Army and para-military camps, the officials claimed.

INDIA Updated: Dec 11, 2017 21:15 IST

Press Trust of India, New Delhi
Army soldiers share a lighter moment as they guard during a gunbattle at Pakharpore village, south of Srinagar, Kashmir, on Nov. 30, 2017.
Army soldiers share a lighter moment as they guard during a gunbattle at Pakharpore village, south of Srinagar, Kashmir, on Nov. 30, 2017. (AP)

Suspected Lashker-e-Taiba operative Abdul Nayeem Sheikh, who was arrested last month from Lucknow, had spent some time in trouble-torn south Kashmir and filmed some Army installations, officials said.

Sheikh, a resident of Aurangabad in Maharashtra, was on the radar of central intelligence agencies for quite sometime before he was nabbed with the help of Uttar Pradesh police in the last week of November.

The case was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), a central probe agency mandated to investigate all terror modules in the country.

The central security agencies, which interrogated Sheikh at length, had told the investigators about his accomplice, Tauseef Ahmed Malik, in Pulwama district of south Kashmir. He was placed under arrest by the NIA on December 9.

During interrogation, Sheikh disclosed that he had stayed in Pulwama, moved to various places with the help of Malik and even photographed some Army and para-military camps, the officials claimed.

Sheikh, who was wanted in connection with a 2014 terror case and was since on the run, told investigators that some important power projects and railway tracks in the Valley were surveyed, they said.

He had also visited some places in Himachal Pradesh, especially Kasol, which is frequented by Israeli nationals visiting India, according to the officials.

Security agencies have claimed that Sheikh was roped in for a recce mission similar to that undertaken by David Headley, a Pakistan-American, who is at present serving a prison sentence of 35 years at a US jail for his involvement in terror activities and the 26/11 Mumbai attacks of 2008.

They said Malik’s association with the Pakistan-based Lashker-e-Taiba also came to light during Sheikh’s interrogation.

Malik had shown to probe officials the places where Sheikh had stayed with the terrorists for over three months, they added.

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