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Saturday, Dec 20th

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Dutch church orders inquiry into sex abuse allegations

Dutch religious leaders have ordered an independent inquiry into alleged sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. Earlier, the Vatican defended its response to child sex abuse allegations in a number of European states, saying it had reacted rapidly and decisively.

In the latest revelations, the head of an Austrian monastery confessed to abusing a boy more than 40 years ago. Separately, Pope Benedict's brother said in an interview he slapped pupils in the face at a German choir school.

The Dutch investigation will be opened "as soon as possible", it was announced after Dutch bishops met to discuss abuse claims by about 200 alleged victims, some from several decades ago.

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Israel 'risking peace talks' with West Bank building

Israel has authorised the building of 112 new apartments in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. The move comes as the US announced that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to hold indirect talks.

Meanwhile, US Vice-President Joe Biden has arrived in the region, becoming the highest-ranking US official to visit since Barack Obama took office. Israel had promised a 10-month pause in settlement building in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem. Israeli officials said construction was approved before the moratorium was declared.

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U.S. Enriches Companies Defying Its Policy on Iran

The federal government has awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran, despite Washington’s efforts to discourage investment there, records show.

That includes nearly $15 billion paid to companies that defied American sanctions law by making large investments that helped Iran develop its vast oil and gas reserves.

For years, the United States has been pressing other nations to join its efforts to squeeze the Iranian economy, in hopes of reining in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Now, with the nuclear standoff hardening and Iran rebuffing American diplomatic outreach, the Obama administration is trying to win a tough new round of United Nations sanctions.

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The real threat to Israel’s national security

It is time for the Israeli government to be realistic with the changing political conditions in the Middle East. The national security paranoia that has defined its policy toward the Arab world is dated, and no longer helps Israel in dealing with its regional threats: in fact, this paranoia is serving only to obstruct what is left of a lagging peace process.

The current conditions on the ground are ripe for the establishment of a just and sustainable peace: The Arab League is endorsing renewed efforts by the United States to facilitate a peaceful two-state solution with normalization of relations with Israel through the Arab Peace Initiative, the Palestinian Authority's Salam Fayyad has begun implementing a non-violent plan to build successful state institutions in the West Bank, and the U.S. and EU are both invested in a direct path toward a secure and viable two-state solution.

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Europe wary of following Dubai killers' trail

European countries' reluctance to investigate may have something to do with the widely held belief that the killing of al-Mabhouh was carried out by a friendly country's intelligence agency - Israel's Mossad. The Jewish state has previously identified him as the point man for smuggling weapons to the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers.

Experts say arresting Israeli agents - or even digging up further evidence that Israel was involved - could be politically costly. "I would guess that it's in the political interest of certain countries not to get proactive in this case," said Victor Mauer, deputy director of the Center for Security Studies at Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology.

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Obvious role for US investigators in Dubai murder case

Financial institutions based and incorporated in the United States have now been fingered by Dubai Police as having issued credit cards to some of the now dozens of suspected assassins of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.   The fraudulent cards were said to be used to book hotel rooms and pay for air travel.

The firms allegedly involved include Meta Financial Group Inc, based in Storm Lake, Iowa, and Payoneer, a New York-based online payment company that provides pre-paid Mastercards.
Payoneer also has a research and development centre based in Tel Aviv.

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EU: West Bank goods can't be considered Israeli

In a ruling touching on the status of the West Bank, the European Union high court said Thursday the disputed area is not part of Israel and Israeli goods made there are subject to EU import duties.

The ruling has no immediate bearing on the Mideast peace process.
But for trade purposes, it argues Israel has no standing in the area where it has built settlements and where its companies make such products as cookies, pretzels, wines, cosmetics and computer equipment. The ruling opens the door to EU import duties on Israeli goods from the West Bank rendering those products less competitive.

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