- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

ISRAEL

Palestinians to police West Bank town

JERUSALEM — Israel’s defense minister yesterday said he would soon allow 600 foreign-trained Palestinian police to take up positions in a volatile West Bank town in a gesture aimed at helping the moderate Palestinian government restore law and order.

Palestinian officials, however, said the town, Jenin, known as a stronghold of West Bank militants, does not require additional forces. They said Israel is not doing nearly enough — such as removing roadblocks, dismantling illegal West Bank outposts or releasing prisoners — to bolster moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his showdown with Hamas militants.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak made the announcement at a sensitive time in peace efforts. U.S.-backed peace talks have made little visible progress since they started in November, and Israel has been under growing international pressure to help prop up Mr. Abbas. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected in the region next week to check on progress.

Mr. Barak did not say when the police would arrive, but that he would discuss the issue at a meeting today with the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad.

SAUDI ARABIA

King explores interfaith dialogue

RIYADH — King Abdullah is calling for a dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews, the first such proposal from this strictly Muslim kingdom at a time of mounting tensions between followers of Islam and those of other religions.

In a speech late Monday, King Abdullah said the country’s top clerics gave him the green light to pursue his idea. Their backing is crucial in a religiously conservative society that expects decisions made by its rulers to adhere to Islam’s tenets.

The monarch, whose kingdom follows a severe interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism and bans non-Muslim religious services and symbols, said he discussed the idea with Pope Benedict XVI when they met at the Vatican last year.

“The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions as we all believe in the same God,” the king told delegates to a seminar titled “Culture and the Respect of Religions.”

“I have noticed that the family system has weakened and that atheism has increased. That is an unacceptable behavior to all religions, to the Koran, the Torah and the Bible,” King Abdullah said. “We ask God to save humanity. There is a lack of ethics, loyalty and sincerity for our religions and humanity.”

LEBANON

Summit snub sends message to Syria

BEIRUT —The Lebanese Cabinet decided yesterday that the country, which is facing a protracted presidential crisis, will not be represented at this week’s Arab summit in Damascus, Syria, a Cabinet minister said.

“This is a regrettable precedent that was imposed upon us,” Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said, accusing Syria of being directly responsible for the standoff between the pro- and anti-Syrian camps and of causing the presidential vacuum.

“By not taking part in the summit, Lebanon wanted to reaffirm that it should be represented by its head of state at such a meeting and that the Lebanese were unwilling to accept the status quo,” Mr. Aridi said.

Syria, which held sway in Lebanese affairs for decades before it was forced to withdraw its troops from the country in 2005, has been accused of standing in the way of electing a new president. Regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Egypt have blamed it for obstructing the election, and leaders of both countries are boycotting the summit.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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