December 23, 2005

News for December 23, 2005

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Israel and Europe must nurture detente (December 20, 2005) - Almost overnight and unnoticed, relations between the European Union and Israel have gone through a major transformation. A few weeks ago, the odds of that happening seemed remote. Centuries of persecution, expulsions, blood libel and, finally, the Holocaust are the core of the Israeli (and Jewish) attitude towards Europe. The sense of betrayal at two existential junctures - by France in the 1967 war and by Great Britain in the 1973 war - and the perception of Europe as pro-Arab have amplified Israel’s suspicion of Europe. European attitudes towards Israel are no less complex. There is recognition of a moral debt and of Israel’s achievements and its democracy, but also criticism of Israel’s presence in the Palestinian territories and of the means deployed by Israel to protect itself (the security fence, combating terror and its impact on the Palestinian population). The close co-operation between Washington and Jerusalem irked the Europeans while Europe’s infatuation with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, dismayed Israel. All of these things prevented a meaningful political dialogue, let alone co-operation, on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the diplomatic language it translates into “correct” relations, meaning cold and remote. The death of Arafat, the EU positions on Lebanon and Iran, the improved EU-US dialogue on the Middle East and, above all, Israel’s acceptance of the road map for peace and its disengagement from Gaza and settlements in the West Bank, have created a new environment between Europe and Israel. The first harbinger was the European Neighborhood Policy agreement between the EU and Israel, which included a wide-ranging political dialogue on the peace process, methods of combating terror, anti-Semitism, human rights abuses and weapons of mass destruction. The Gaza disengagement and the manner in which it was implemented transformed Europe’s view of Ariel Sharon, Israel’s prime minister. It also created a new agenda enabling Europe to find for the first time a role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict beyond just being a financial donor. In a matter of weeks, the EU has found itself engaged in three different missions - the opening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, the upgrading of the Palestinian internal security forces and the facilitation of trade relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. more...


Ailing hearts boosted by Israeli stem cell treatment (December 22, 2005) - Ever since she gave birth two years ago, Jeanine Lewis’ heart had grown increasingly weak and enlarged, due to a condition called cardiomyopathy. She was diagnosed with the condition at age 17, but childbirth significantly worsened her health. With each pump, her heart moved only about half the blood that a healthy heart should be circulating throughout her body. The 29-year-old Pennsylvania resident was on the verge of despair when she found an Internet site that described revolutionary stem cell treatments for conditions like hers, and she decided to fill out the questionnaire to see if she qualified. Two months later, she received a phone call from a representative from the company TheraVitae, who told her that the company could offer a possible solution to her problems. In May, a team of cardiac surgeons led by Dr. Kit Arom, a renowned cardiac surgeon worldwide at Bangkok’s Heart Hospital, and Dr. Amit Patel of the University of Pittsburgh operated on Lewis in Thailand, and she became the first patient in the world to have stem cells that had been harvested using TheraVitae's Israeli-developed VesCell therapy implanted directly into her heart. “I’m not ready to run a marathon,” she recently wrote on her website. “But I feel like I did before I was pregnant. That they could take something from your own body and use it to heal you, there’s nothing more natural than that.” Lewis’s miraculous recovery was a result of TheraVitae’s novel technology which offers treatment for heart disease with stem cells taken from the patient’s own blood. more...


The Mid-East’s beleaguered Christians - In the Egyptian city of Alexandria, a crowd of Muslim demonstrators tries to storm a Coptic church to protest at a play about a Muslim campaign to convert Christians. In Iraq, the Christian middle class is emigrating in droves, fearful of the daily violence and the hostility it now encounters from Islamists. In Saudi Arabia, churches and other places of non-Muslim worship are banned, and foreign workers who try to hold secret Christian services are jailed, flogged and often deported. In the land of its birth, Christianity is in sad decline as the pressures of life under Israeli occupation and the growth of militant Islam push Palestinian Christians from Jerusalem and the West Bank. Few issues are so sensitive as the position of Christians in the Middle East. Some Christian Arabs seek to minimise the difficulties they face, either to avoid trouble or to present themselves in a patriotic light. At the other extreme, some outsiders - for example, in the United States - exaggerate the plight of Middle East Christians, depicting them as wholly marginalised and on the verge of extinction. more...


Islamic Rule Slowly Replacing Military Influence in Turkey (December 15, 2005) - Tensions have risen between Turkey’s military and Islamist government. Officials and military sources said the tensions stem from efforts by the government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan to sharply reduce the role and profile of the military. The effort has been supported by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which has a huge majority in parliament. The latest tiff was sparked by a parliamentary demand to remove the military contingent from the government complex in Ankara. Parliamentarians said the military presence in the complex was not appropriate for a country that sought to join the European Union, Middle East Newsline reported. “Ankara, which is the center of national politics, has a military appearance rather than a political one,” parliamentarian Resul Tosun, an AKP member said. The campaign by Tosun has been supported by many in the AKP. Turkey’s military maintains the headquarters of the General Staff as well as the land, naval and air forces commands near parliament. The military academy is also located nearby. more...


Muslim ‘power extending into Canadian politics’ - A Muslim who won the Liberal Party nomination for a parliamentary seat in Ontario, Canada, declared his success a victory for Islam in a speech to supporters, according to a Coptic Christian who attended the event. “This is a victory for Islam! Islam won! Islam won! ... Islamic power is extending into Canadian politics,” Omar Alghabra, the Liberal candidate for Mississauga-Erindale, reportedly declared to his audience of several hundred. Alghabra delivered his speech Dec. 2 in the Coptic Christian Centre of the Church of the Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius in Mississauga. David Ragheb, a member of the congregation, reported that following the speech, Markham Councillor Khalid Osman took to the stage and made his own declaration. “We have the East, we have the West, and now we have Mississauga!” he said to cheers and applause from the audience. Ragheb commented: “A member of Parliament is supposed to represent my concerns about taxes and roads in Mississauga, not promote an Islamic agenda.” Victor Fouad, an associate member of the Canadian Coptic Association, said he wrote to Prime Minister Paul Martin, expressing concern about such Islamist rhetoric from a Liberal who could easily become a Canadian parliamentarian. Foud says his message was ignored, however, and “Paul Martin’s silence since that time can only be interpreted as approval of Mr. Alghabra’s rhetoric.” more...


New scanner to unveil more mysteries of the body (December 21, 2005) - A scanner that can peer inside a living body to reveal muscles, organs and arteries in unprecedented detail has been unveiled. Using the £900,000 Somatom Definition scanner, doctors can “remove” a heart, dissect it and hunt for blocked vessels without spilling a drop of blood. They can inspect the outcome of heart surgery without putting a patient at risk, or quickly produce a finely detailed image to help diagnose patients admitted to hospital in an emergency. The machine is the latest generation of computed tomography (CT) scanner, pioneered in the early 1970s by Sir Godfrey Hounsfield, the British Nobel laureate, who died last year. Developed by Siemens, the new scanner uses two X-ray sources to produce a much-improved image and a huge amount of information about what is going on inside the body. One of the machines should be operational in Britain by the second half of next year. more...


Discovery of Tombstones in China Could be “Earthquake in World’s Christian Community”; World History Could be Rewritten (December 23, 2005) - Legend of Thomas the Apostle may prove to be fact. According to a report in the China Daily, one day in spring, an elderly man walked alone on a stone road in Xuzhou in East China’s Jiangsu Province. At the end of the road was a museum that few people have heard of. As he wandered into the gallery, he was stunned by what he saw. Was he standing, he asked himself, in front of the famous Gates of Paradise in Florence? Wang Weifan, a 78-year-old scholar of early Christian history in China, said he saw images from Bible stories similar to those engraved in the doors of the Baptistry of St John. But in Florence he didn’t. Even so, says reporter Wang Shanshan, the art objects could be more precious in their own way if the early Christian clues that Wang believes he detected can ever be confirmed. They are from the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220), China’s parallel to the Roman Empire, and almost a millennium older than the gilt-bronze gates of Florence. “There was Christmas. There was Genesis. There was Paradise Lost. They were on display, one by one, on 10 stone bas-reliefs excavated from an aristocrat’s tomb in the Han Dynasty,” said Wang, a professor of theology at the Jinling Theological Seminary in Nanjing, as he told his story to China Daily. Before Wang’s discovery tour to the Han Dynasty Stone Relief Museum in 2002, no one seriously believed that, merely 100 or so years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, his teachings could have reached as far as to China. There were myths, of course, and there was legend, but no evidence until now. But now Wang says, “It really happened.” The reliefs which fascinated Wang were carved on stone tablets from two tombs, discovered in 1995 at a place called Jiunudun, or “Terrace of Nine Women,” in suburban Xuzhou. “The Bible stories were told on the stones in a kind of time sequence,” said Wang. One depicted “a woman taking fruit from ‘the tree of knowledge of good and evil’ and a snake biting her right sleeve. It also included the angel sent by God to guard the tree.” more...


Syria and Iran Sign Pact to Resist Int’l Pressure, Hide Weapons (December 20, 2005)