Monday, July 29, 2013

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Analysis: Despite new talks, Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would require big gambles

JERUSALEM (AP) -- The contours of Israeli-Palestinian peace are clear, experts say: If only the sides summon up the will, the inevitable outcome is two states roughly along the pre-1967 borders, with Jerusalem as a shared capital and a finessing of the Palestinian refugee issue.

The notion of a virtually preordained eventual result has been around for decades. And Secretary of State John Kerry believes in it enough to have spent much of his time in office trying to coax the sides back to the table.

But with peace talks finally set to begin anew this week, it is striking how few in the region itself expect a deal: The previous rounds have led many to conclude that when it comes to details, the Palestinians' minimal demands simply exceed what Israel is willing to deliver.

Some say that the Palestinians are driving what Israelis view as a hard bargain because they have already lost some three-quarters of historical Palestine under the pre-1967 borders.

But there is another factor: In the long run, contrary to standard discourse, the Palestinians may not be the weaker party at all. While they suffer in various ways from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, it is the Israelis who may actually need a partition of the Holy Land more.

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Failure no stranger to negotiators as US hosts Israel, Palestinians in new Mideast peace bid

WASHINGTON (AP) -- With a cast of characters that has presided over numerous failed Middle East peace efforts, the Obama administration launched a fresh bid Monday to pull Israel and the Palestinians into substantive negotiations.

Despite words of encouragement, deep skepticism about the prospects for success surrounded the initial discussions, which were opening with a dinner hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry. He named a former U.S. ambassador to Israel to shepherd what all sides believe will be a protracted and difficult process.

Former envoy Martin Indyk, who played key roles in the Clinton administration's multiple, unsuccessful pushes to broker peace deals between Israel and Syria and Israel and the Palestinians, will assume the day-to-day responsibility for keeping the talks alive for the next nine months.

Kerry called Indyk a "seasoned diplomat" and said he "knows what has worked and he knows what hasn't worked." Neither Kerry nor the State Department would say what has worked in the past, although the fact that there is no peace deal now would seem to indicate that nothing has worked in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian standoff.

President Barack Obama echoed Kerry's hopeful sentiment in a White House statement that said Indyk "brings unique experience and insight to this role, which will allow him to contribute immediately as the parties begin down the tough, but necessary, path of negotiations."

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10 Things to Know for Tuesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday:

1. FAMILIAR FACES, HOPEFULLY DIFFERENT OUTCOME IN MIDEAST TALKS

Several of the envoys and negotiators involved in the latest attempt to resume peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are veterans of prior efforts.

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Pope Francis reaches out to gays, says he won't judge gay priests

ABOARD THE PAPAL AIRCRAFT (AP) -- A remarkably candid Pope Francis struck a conciliatory stance toward gays Monday, saying "who am I to judge" when it comes to the sexual orientation of priests.

"We shouldn't marginalize people for this. They must be integrated into society," Francis said during an extraordinary 82-minute exchange with reporters aboard his plane returning from his first papal trip, to celebrate World Youth Day in Brazil.

"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" the pope asked.

Francis' first news conference as pope was wide-ranging and open, touching on everything from the greater role he believes women should have in the Catholic Church to the troubled Vatican Bank.

While his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, responded to only a few pre-selected questions during his papal trips, Francis did not dodge a single query, even thanking the journalist who asked about reports of a "gay lobby" inside the Vatican and allegations that one of his trusted monsignors was involved in a gay tryst.

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FBI: Kids rescued, alleged pimps arrested in sweeping child prostitution raids across the US

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Declaring child prostitution a "persistent threat" in America, the FBI said Monday that authorities had rescued 105 young people and arrested 150 alleged pimps in a three-day sweep in 76 cities.

The agency said it had been monitoring Backpage.com and other websites as a prominent online marketplace for sex for sale. Backpage.com said that it was "very, very pleased" by the raids and that if the website were shut down to the advertisements, the ads would be pushed to sites that wouldn't cooperate with law enforcement.

The young people in the roundup, almost all of them girls, ranged in age from 13 to 17.

The largest numbers of children rescued in the weekend initiative, Operation Cross Country, were in the San Francisco Bay and Detroit areas, along with Milwaukee, Denver and New Orleans. The operation was conducted under the FBI's decade-long Innocence Lost National Initiative. The latest rescues and arrests were the largest such enforcement action to date.

"Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across the country," Ron Hosko, assistant director of the bureau's criminal investigative division, told a news conference. "We're trying to put this spotlight on pimps and those who would exploit."

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Egypt's military chief attracts personality cult after he ousted Islamist president in coup

CAIRO (AP) -- In dark sunglasses and a uniform studded with medals, Egypt's top general is everywhere, looking down from posters and banners proclaiming him "lion of the nation." Adoring songs vow "We are behind you."

Barely a month after he removed the elected president, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is riding a wave of adulation, drawing comparisons between him and modern Egypt's first charismatic strongman, former President Gamal Abdel-Nasser. State media and pro-military TV channels and newspapers have done everything they can to fuel the fervor.

But some warn that the personality cult could pave the way to new authoritarianism after a coup that the army and its supporters insist was aimed at promoting democracy.

"I worry about el-Sissi and the possible arrogance of the victor. And I fear him if he decides that the army is stronger than any future president that he will control like a puppet," wrote Mohammed Fathy, a columnist in the newspaper Al-Watan. "The admiration for him has gone beyond normal levels and is now more like deifying him."

The hype has swelled to the point that some are convinced el-Sissi will take off his uniform and run for president in elections due to take place early next year. A military spokesman denied el-Sissi has any intention to do so. That has done nothing to end the speculation by those for and against the idea.

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Intel experts say it's unlikely the US helped New Zealand spy on reporter in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A U.S. official said Monday that the National Security Agency did not monitor phone conversations between a New Zealand journalist and his Afghan sources, following claims by the journalist that his reporting was monitored by the U.S. intelligence programs revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden on behalf of New Zealand's military.

Officials in the intelligence community and experts said if any surveillance was done, it was more likely that his phone calls were caught up by standard military intelligence monitoring of enemy communications in war zones.

The Obama administration brushed off new allegations of NSA surveillance overreach, this time focusing on freelance reporter Jon Stephenson, who was in Kabul, Afghanistan, working for American news service McClatchy and other media outlets when his phone records were reportedly seized.

It was the latest revelation in the ongoing debate over government snooping since Snowden in June revealed two top secret U.S. programs that monitor millions of Americans' telephone and Internet communications each day.

In a short statement to The Associated Press, the U.S. government official said NSA did not target Stephenson or collect his phone records. A U.S. intelligence official suggested that any surveillance could have been run by the Defense Intelligence Agency, which oversees war zone intelligence missions. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the secret program. The DIA did not comment.

--Panel backs lung cancer screening for certain heavy smokers; insurers likely to pay for scans

For the first time, government advisers are recommending screening for lung cancer, saying certain current and former heavy smokers should get annual scans to cut their chances of dying of the disease.

If it becomes final as expected, the advice by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force would clear the way for insurers to cover CT scans, a type of X-ray, for those at greatest risk.

That would be people ages 55 through 79 who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or the equivalent, such as two packs a day for 15 years. Whether screening would help younger or lighter smokers isn't known, so scans are not advised for them. They also aren't for people who quit at least 15 years ago, or people too sick or frail to undergo cancer treatment.

"The evidence shows we can prevent a substantial number of lung cancer deaths by screening" -- about 20,000 of the 160,000 that occur each year in the United States, said Dr. Michael LeFevre, a task force leader and family physician at the University of Missouri.

Public comments will be taken until Aug. 26, then the panel will give its final advice. Reports on screening were published Monday in Annals of Internal Medicine.

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Doubling down on diamonds: Gunman makes off with $136 million in loot from Cannes heist

PARIS (AP) -- Wearing a scarf to mask his face, the gunman sneaked into the posh Cannes hotel and held up a diamond show as three security guards looked on, then fled on foot about a minute later. In the end, he made off with a breathtaking $136 million worth of valuables -- the biggest jewelry heist in years, maybe ever.

It was a French Riviera robbery that might make Hollywood scriptwriters smile. And it even happened at a hotel that was featured in Alfred Hitchcock's jewel-encrusted thriller "To Catch a Thief."

On Monday, a state prosecutor provided new details about the brazen heist a day earlier at the Carlton Intercontinental hotel -- not least that the loot was actually worth more than twice the €40 million ($53 million) estimate that police had first announced.

The noontime caper Sunday along the town's seaside promenade, La Croisette -- a playground for the rich and famous, sunbathing tourists, and most notably, world cinema stars every year -- looked set to dwarf the value of two other jewelry thefts in the Riviera during the Cannes Film Festival in May.

It also could eclipse two other massive heists over the last decade. In 2008, thieves -- some dressed as women -- stole $118 million in rings, necklaces and luxury watches from the Harry Winston store in Paris. A robbery five years earlier at Belgium's Antwerp Diamond Center netted an estimated $100 million.

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Jackson wraps up filming on 'Hobbit' trilogy, shares photos of last day on New Zealand set

SYDNEY (AP) -- Peter Jackson has wrapped up filming "The Hobbit" trilogy and shared pictures of his last day on the set with his Facebook fans.

The New Zealand filmmaker provided a steady stream of updates and photos from the set of the final film, "The Hobbit: There And Back Again," on Friday. The second film, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," will be released in December, and the finale appears in 2014.

The director posted pictures of dwarves, crew members and actor Martin Freeman, who plays the protagonist, hobbit Bilbo Baggins. The photo updates began and ended with pictures of Jackson's cat, Mr. Smudge. The final photo shows the director and feline cuddling, along with the caption: "A long day. A great day. Thank you all for being part of it! Now for some sleep!"

"The Hobbit," based on J.R.R. Tolkien's novel of the same name, is the prequel to Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings." It follows Baggins' adventures as he tries to help a group of dwarves regain their wealth and stature from the dragon Smaug.

The first film in the trilogy, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," opened in December 2012 and surpassed $1 billion in box-office receipts worldwide.