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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Some Missouri lawmakers want the state to open an economic development office in Israel. A spending plan embraced by a Senate committee would insert $200,000 into the next state budget to open an office in Israel.
   
The Senate and House have each passed bills that would require the Department of Economic Development to establish an office in Israel.  The office would be focused on developing partnerships between Missouri and Israeli businesses in agriculture, biotechnology and other emerging fields.
   
Missouri already has economic development offices in Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.
 
Published in Local News
   JERUSALEM (AP) — Hundreds of Israeli VIPs and international dignitaries attended a state memorial ceremony for the late Ariel Sharon on Monday, remembering the controversial former prime minister as a fearless warrior and bold leader who devoted his life to protecting his country's security.
   U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair headed the long list of visitors who gathered outside Israel's parliament building for the ceremony. Later Monday, Sharon's body was to be taken from the Knesset to his farm in southern Israel for burial.
   "Arik was a man of the land," President Shimon Peres, a longtime friend and sometimes rival of Sharon, said in his eulogy. "He defended this land like a lion and he taught its children to swing a scythe. He was a military legend in his lifetime and then turned his gaze to the day Israel would dwell in safety, when our children would return to our borders and peace would grace the Promised Land."
   Sharon died on Saturday, eight years after a devastating stroke left him in a coma from which he never recovered. He was 85.
   One of Israel's greatest and most divisive figures, Sharon rose through the ranks of the military, moving into politics and overcoming scandal and controversy to become prime minister in his final years. He spent most of his life battling Arab enemies and promoting Jewish settlement on war-won lands. His backers called him a war hero. His detractors, first and foremost the Palestinians, considered him a war criminal and held him responsible for years of bloodshed.
   But in a surprising about-face, he led a historic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, uprooting all soldiers and settlers from the territory after a 38-year presence in a move he said was necessary to ensure Israel's security.
   The speakers at Monday's ceremony largely glossed over the controversy that surrounded Sharon, and instead focused on his leadership and personality.
   "I didn't always agree with Arik and he didn't always agree with me," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who resigned from Sharon's government to protest the Gaza withdrawal. Nonetheless, he called Sharon "one of the big warriors" for the nation of Israel.
   "He was pragmatic. His pragmatism was rooted in deep emotion, deep emotion for the state, for the Jewish people," Netanyahu said.
   Nearly 10 years on, the withdrawal from Gaza remains hotly debated in Israeli society. Supporters say Israel is better off not being bogged down in the crowded territory, which is now home to 1.7 million Palestinians.
   Critics say the pullout has only brought more violence. Two years after the withdrawal, Hamas militants seized control of Gaza. In a reminder of the precarious security situation, Palestinian militants on Monday fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip. Sharon's ranch in southern Israel is within range of such projectiles but Monday's missiles did not hit Israel. No injuries or damage were reported.
   In a heartfelt address, Biden talked about a decades-long friendship with Sharon, saying the death felt "like a death in the family."
   When the two discussed Israel's security, Biden said he would understand how Sharon earned the nickname "The Bulldozer," explaining how Sharon would pull out maps and repeatedly make the same points to drive them home.
   "He was indomitable," Biden said. "But like all historic leaders, all real leaders, he had a north star that guided him. A north star from which he never, in my observation, never deviated. His north star was the survival of the state of Israel and the Jewish people wherever they resided," Biden said.
   He also praised Sharon's determination in carrying out the Gaza pullout.
   "The political courage it took, whether you agreed with him or not, when he told 10,000 Israelis to leave their homes in Gaza, in order from his perspective to strengthen Israel ... I can't think of a more difficult and controversial decision he made. But he believed it and he did it. The security of his people was always Arik's unwavering mission."
   Sharon's coffin has been lying in state at the Knesset's outdoor plaza where Israelis from all walks of life paid respects throughout Sunday.
   With Sharon's two sons, Omri and Gilad looking on, Monday's ceremony took place under a mild, winter sun. In addition to Biden and Blair, the prime minister of the Czech Republic, and foreign ministers of Australia and Germany were among those in attendance. Even Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, sent a low-level diplomat, its embassy said.
   Sharon's life will be remembered for its three distinct stages: First, was his eventful and controversial time in uniform, including leading a deadly raid in the West Bank that killed 69 Arabs, as well as his heroics in the 1973 Mideast war.
   Then came his years as a vociferous political operator who helped create Israel's settlement movement and masterminded the divisive Lebanon invasion in 1982. He was branded as indirectly responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians at the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps outside Beirut when his troops allowed allied Lebanese militias into the camps. An uproar over the massacre cost him his job.
   Yet ultimately he transformed himself into a prime minister and statesman, capped by the dramatic Gaza withdrawal. Sharon appeared to be cruising toward re-election when he suffered the second, devastating stroke in January 2006.
Published in National News

JERUSALEM (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday in his latest push for an elusive Mideast peace deal.

On his ninth trip of the year to the region, Kerry continued his furious pace of shuttle diplomacy amid a rare snowstorm that blanketed Jerusalem.

"I have heard of making guests welcome and feeling at home. This is about as far as I've ever seen anything go ... giving me a New England snowstorm," said the former Massachusetts senator as he viewed a snow-covered Old City of Jerusalem with Netanyahu.

Kerry met Thursday in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and it took him more than two hours to get back to Jerusalem because of the wintry conditions, a trip that usually takes about 20 minutes. He departs later Friday for Vietnam.

Concerned that a final status agreement may not be possible by the May target date the two sides accepted when they resumed talks in August, U.S. officials say Kerry is hoping for a framework accord that would contain the principles of a comprehensive pact, but not specific details. If an outline were achieved, the negotiations could be extended beyond the nine-month timeline originally set by Kerry.

The officials, who spoke to reporters aboard Kerry's plane on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly, stressed that an agreement on all issues — including security, borders of a future Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees — by May remains the goal.

But, should that prove unworkable, they said a framework agreement would buy time for additional negotiations. Netanyahu and Abbas agreed after numerous rounds of meetings with Kerry to negotiate for a minimum of nine months.

A framework accord, the officials said, would be a "logical step" on the path to a final status agreement.

In Ramallah and Jerusalem, he will also follow up on elements of a West Bank security plan, ideas for which he unveiled on his most recent visit to the region just last week, and other points of potential progress. But his latest visit comes amid Palestinian unhappiness with the security plan and few, if any, tangible signs of progress.

Kerry, along with special U.S. Mideast peace envoy Martin Indyk, met separately and then together for about three hours Monday with chief Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterpart, Saeb Erekat, Psaki said. Livni and Erekat were in Washington for a Mideast conference in which President Barack Obama, Netanyahu and Kerry participated. Kerry also spoke Wednesday by phone with Netanyahu.

On Monday, though, top Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo said if Kerry finalized a framework accord, he would be breaking a promise to try to negotiate a final agreement in the current round of talks.

The Palestinians are concerned that a framework deal will accommodate very specific Israeli security demands while offering only vague promises to the Palestinians, Abed Rabbo said.

Security arrangements between Israel and a future Palestine would be central to such a framework. Kerry has argued that progress in negotiations is only possible if Israeli security concerns are addressed first.

The security proposals presented last week to Abbas and Netanyahu include arrangements for the border between Jordan and a state of Palestine.

U.S. officials have refused to discuss details, but Palestinian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details of the negotiations, say they would give Israel final say at that border for at least 10 years and would also have a military presence in the strip of land next to it, the West Bank's Jordan Valley.

Israeli officials have said they fear militants and weapons could be smuggled into a future Palestine if Israel gives up control over the West Bank-Jordan border. Abbas has said he is willing to accept an international presence there, but not Israeli forces.

The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967, but are willing to accept minor land swaps in drawing the final border to accommodate some of the settlements Israel has built on war-won land.

Netanyahu has refused to commit to what the Palestinians and most of the international community considers a basic ground rule — that border negotiations use the 1967 lines as a starting point.

In all, Israel has agreed to release 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners in four stages during the current negotiations, which began in late July and are to conclude in April. Israel has so far released two groups of prisoners.

 

Kerry wants the last two releases to be combined and be carried out in late January, instead of being done in two installments, the Palestinian officials said.

Published in National News

   JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli court on Wednesday found former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman innocent of all charges in a graft trial, clearing the way for the powerful hard-line politician to return to his post as the nation's top diplomat.

   The trial had threatened to reshape the makeup of the government. But in the end, Lieberman was handed a resounding victory that instantly raises his clout in a bitterly divided coalition.

   The verdict was delivered inside a closed courtroom, and minutes later, a jubilant Lieberman appeared outside.

   "This chapter is behind me. And I am focusing on the challenges ahead, and there are plenty of challenges," he said, claiming he had been persecuted by overzealous prosecutors for 17 years.

   Lieberman, an ally and sometime rival to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has long been dogged by allegations of corruption. This case was the first time he had been accused of criminal behavior.

   Lieberman was charged with fraud and breach of trust for allegedly trying to advance the career of a former diplomat who relayed information to him about a separate criminal investigation into Lieberman's business dealings.

   Prosecutors said they respected the court's decision and would study it before deciding whether to appeal.

   Lieberman was forced to step down as foreign minister before parliamentary elections early this year to face the charges.

   Speaking to reporters after Wednesday's verdict, Lieberman refused to say whether he would return to the post.

   But he is widely expected to do so. Since the January election, Netanyahu has left the job open, saying he would only fill it after the verdict in Lieberman's case.

  Lieberman, who was born in the former Soviet republic of Moldova, is one of the most polarizing figures in Israeli politics. With a tough-talking message that has questioned the loyalty of Israel's Arab minority, criticized the Palestinians and confronted Israel's foreign critics, he has at times alienated Israel's allies while becoming an influential voice at home.

   During his stint as foreign minister, he pushed a series of legislative proposals that critics said were discriminatory against Israel's Arab minority, including a failed attempt to require Israelis to sign a loyalty oath or have their citizenship revoked. He also embarrassed Netanyahu by expressing contrary views to the government, including skepticism over the odds of reaching peace with the Palestinians.

   Before the January election, Lieberman led his nationalist Yisrael Beitenu into a merger with Netanyahu's Likud Party. But the alliance, meant to solidify a victory by Israel's hardline bloc, backfired and the combined list fared poorly.

   Lieberman is considering whether to break up the alliance. Such a move could increase his influence since he could potentially rob Netanyahu of his parliamentary majority.

Published in National News

JERUSALEM (AP) — A senior Israeli official says the government will not agree to the borders that the Palestinians are demanding for an independent state.

Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said Israel would not let such a state be established within the regional boundaries that existed prior to the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians want east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza — territories captured by Israel in that war. Danon's remarks were broadcast on Israel Radio Sunday.

His remarks came ahead of another visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to the region this week.

The government has distanced itself from similar comments made by Danon last week.

Israel's chief negotiator Tzipi Livni told the station Sunday she was hopeful talks will resume with the Palestinians despite "elements" within the Israeli government.

Published in National News

 BEIRUT (AP) - A Syrian activist group says Israel's weekend airstrike on a sprawling military complex near the Syrian capital Damascus has killed at least 42 Syrian soldiers.

   The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday that the toll is based on information from sources in Syrian military hospitals.

   The Syrian government has not released a death toll. Immediately after Sunday's predawn strike, Syrian state media said the attack caused casualties, but did not elaborate.

   So far, Israel has carried out three airstrikes in Syria this year, according to Israeli and U.S. officials, though Israel's government has not formally confirmed involvement.

   The officials say the attacks were meant to prevent advanced Iranian weapons from reaching Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, a Syria ally and Israel foe.

 

Published in National News

   JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has come to a standstill for two mournful minutes as sirens pierced the air to remember the 6 million Jews systematically murdered by German Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust in WWII.

   Israelis stopped what they were doing and stood in silence as sirens wailed nationwide Monday at 10:00 a.m.

   People stood with heads bowed in reflection. Traffic froze as drivers stopped their cars and stepped outside in respect for the solemn day.

   Ceremonies are held around the country. The main wreath laying ceremony is held at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem.

   International Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked worldwide on Jan. 27, the date of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. Israel's annual Holocaust memorial day coincides with the Hebrew date of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

Published in National News
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police say Gaza militants have fired two rockets at southern Israel on the second day of President Barack Obama's visit to the region.

Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says one rocket exploded in the courtyard of a house in the border town of Sderot, causing damage but no injuries. The other landed in an open field.

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama visited Sderot, which is frequently targeted by rocket attacks from the nearby Gaza Strip. The territory is ruled by the militant Palestinian Hamas group.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack, which came as Obama was in Jerusalem. He is to visit the West Bank city of Ramallah later in the day.
Published in National News
JERUSALEM (AP) — President Barack Obama is set to plunge into the turbulent Middle East on a mission aimed primarily at assuring America's top ally in the region and its friends back home that it will not be forsaken amid bitter domestic political squabbles and budget crises in Washington.

Obama arrives today in Israel for his first visit to the country — and only his second to the Middle East, outside of a quick jaunt to Iraq — since taking office.

He will also be making his first trips as president to the Palestinian Authority and Jordan this week. But on an itinerary laden more with symbolism than substance, an Israel that is increasingly wary of developments in Syria and Iran will be the main focus of his attention.
Published in National News

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