Posts Tagged ‘Jared Kushner’

Hamas leaders dragging Israel toward ‘large and painful’ Gaza war

July 20, 2018

In Sderot, defense minister blames Strip’s terrorist rulers for current ‘unreasonable’ situation, says Egypt and UN working to negotiate a return to calm

IDF soldiers take part in an exercise simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip in July 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF soldiers take part in an exercise simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip in July 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Friday indicated that Israel was prepared to go to war if the stream of incendiary kites and balloons and other forms of violence from the Gaza Strip did not cease.

“We see in the newspapers that you don’t go to war over kites and fires. However, any reasonable person who sees a natural grove burned or thousands of dunams of agricultural fields scorched understands that this situation is unreasonable,” Liberman said at a press conference in the town of Sderot, just outside the Palestinian coastal enclave.

The defense minister blamed the heads of the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza, for the recent weeks of violence and the looming threat of war.

“We are trying to be considerate and responsible, but the heads of Hamas are forcibly leading us to a situation of not having a choice, to a situation in which we will need to carry out a large and painful military operation — not something that’s just for show, but a large and painful military operation,” he said.

Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, speaks during a protest east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

“I think that the only people responsible for this are the heads of Hamas, but unfortunately all the residents of Gaza will be forced to pay the price,” Liberman added.

The defense minister said Israel was prepared to “carry out an operation that is of a much wider scope and much more painful than Operation Protective Edge” — the Israeli name for the 2014 Gaza war.

Liberman said a source of the renewed violence and tensions was the loss of Israel’s deterrence over Hamas, which it needed to restore.

“We are acting responsibly and with restraint, despite the fact that the real problem is the erosion of the deterrence, a shift in the balance, and, of course, the feeling of security, which is no less important than the security itself,” he said.

Liberman’s comments came as the military prepared for another day of violence along the Gaza security fence. Last Friday, riots along the border resulted in an IDF officer being moderately injured in a grenade attack by Gazans and a 15-year-old Palestinian teenager being killed by IDF gunfire.

Aharon Bucharis recalls the moment his Sderot home was hit by a rocket on July 14, 2018 (Screenshot courtesy of Barzilai Hospital Spokesperson)

In response to the attack that wounded the officer, Israeli jets conducted an air raid on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip later that night. Hamas, in turn, launched a number of mortar shells and rockets at southern Israel. In the 24 hours that followed, Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Palestinian enclave fired some 200 projectiles at Israel, injuring four people in Sderot and damaging buildings throughout the area, and the IDF retaliated by hitting dozens of Hamas positions in the Strip, killing two teenagers.

Hamas agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on Saturday night, but Israel was not involved in the talks and the agreement did not include a cessation of the airborne arson attacks or riots along the border — key sticking points for Israel, which is demanding an end to all violence and vandalism from the coastal enclave.

“Accepting a reality like this, when last weekend residents of the Gaza periphery were forced to run to bomb shelters and preparing safe rooms is an inseparable aspect of preparing for Shabbat — this is intolerable,” Liberman said Friday.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to residents in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, near the Gaza border, on July 20, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to the defense minister, during the IDF’s airstrikes last Saturday — some of the most extensive since the 2014 Gaza war — the fighter jets dropped “almost 50 tons of ordnance on Hamas key strategic sites.”

Thursday saw another bout between the two sides, albeit a far smaller one, after a member of Hamas’s military wing was killed in an Israeli airstrike against a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons into southern Israel. In response, a number of mortar shells and rockets were fired at the Eshkol region, causing no damage or injury, and Hamas vowed revenge.

Liberman said Israel was not in direct contact with Hamas in an effort to negotiate an extensive ceasefire, which would put an end not only to rocket attacks but also the incendiary kites and balloons. However, he said, Jerusalem was indirectly communicating with the group through intermediaries.

“There’s no communications with Hamas. We are in close contact with the relevant bodies: be it Egypt or the United Nations representative,” the defense minister said.

Smoke rises above buildings during an Israeli air strike on Gaza City on July 14, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Liberman, as he has many times in the past, called on residents of the Gaza Strip to force Hamas to end its violent ways.

“We can go back to a reasonable, civil reality, with economic incentives in response to a total end to the terror and provocations along the fence,” he said.

Later on Friday, Palestinians were expected to converge on the border fence to ostensibly demonstrate against the Israeli blockade on the Strip, in what is seen as a key test of whether the sides can retreat from a seemingly inevitable march toward war.

There are signs already that the hoped for calm may fail to materialize.

Thursday’s airstrike on Gazans taking part in launching incendiary balloons over the border marked a serious escalation in Israel’s efforts to stop the flying objects, which have wreaked havoc in Israeli communities near the border and upped political pressure for the military to take a harder stance against perpetrators.

Relatives mourn over the body of Abdel Karim Radwan, a Hamas military wing member who was killed in an Israeli air strike on a group launching fire balloons on July 19, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Until Thursday, the IDF had mostly fired warning shots near those seen preparing the devices — which also include booby-trapped balloons with explosives, according to Israel — staunchly resisting calls from politicians to use lethal force against Gazans launching them.

Earlier in the week, Palestinian reports indicated that Hamas had agreed to halt the kite and balloon launches gradually after coming under Egyptian pressure.

Israeli authorities have maintained they are prepared to invade Gaza and go to war over the issue. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was already in a “military campaign,” as troops nearby drilled for an invasion of Gaza City. The army said the exercise had been planned in advance and was unconnected to recent events.

‘Hamas must change’

The border tensions have threatened to derail the release of a long-awaited US peace plan, which reportedly include mechanisms for dealing with Gaza and the West Bank separately.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on June 22, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In an op-ed published in the Washington Post late Thursday, US negotiators Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, along with US Ambassador David Friedman, indicated that the US and other countries were prepared to offer humanitarian aid to the beleaguered Strip, but were stymied by Hamas’s commitment to fighting Israel.

“International donors are conflicted: Should they try to help the people directly, at the certain risk of enriching terrorists, or withhold funding to Hamas and watch the people it is supposed to govern suffer?” Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman wrote.

In what may be seen as a shift, the three said they would be willing to work with a reformed Hamas, seemingly retreating from the stance that the terror group allow the Palestinians Authority to retake power in the Strip.

“There are engaged, interested parties with resources who are ready to get to work. Yet without real change accompanied by reliable security, progress is impossible,” they wrote. “If Hamas demonstrates clear, peaceful intentions — not just by word but, more importantly, by deed — then all manner of new opportunities becomes possible.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/liberman-hamas-leaders-forcing-israeli-into-large-and-painful-gaza-war/

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With war looming, Israel girds for more violence in Gaza

July 20, 2018

Palestinian protesters expected to converge on border fence, in key test of whether the sides can retreat from brink

Teargas canisters fired by Israeli troops fall over Palestinians during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Friday, July 13, 2018 (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Teargas canisters fired by Israeli troops fall over Palestinians during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, Friday, July 13, 2018 (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Israeli authorities were hoping to avoid a repeat of heavy cross-border violence on Friday and Saturday, a week after Gazan protests snowballed into some of the heaviest fighting on the volatile frontier in years.

Palestinians are expected to converge on the border fence to demonstrate against the Israeli blockade on the Strip Friday, in what is seen as a key test of whether the sides can retreat from a seemingly inevitable march toward war.

There are signs already that a hoped-for calm may fail to materialize.

On Thursday, Israel for the first time killed a Hamas member taking part in launching incendiary balloons over the border. The airstrike marked a serious escalation in Israel’s efforts to stop the flying objects, which have wreaked havoc in Israeli communities near the border and upped political pressure for the military to take a harder stance against perpetrators.

Relatives mourn over the body of Abdel Karim Radwan, a Hamas military winge member who was killed in an Israeli air strike on a group launching fire balloons on July 19, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Until Thursday, the IDF had only fired warning shots near those seen preparing the devices — which also include booby-trapped balloons with explosives, according to Israel — staunchly resisting calls from politicians to use lethal force against Gazans launching them.

Gazans responded by firing two mortar shells at Israel, and Hamas’s armed wing vowed revenge.

Earlier in the week, Palestinian reports indicated that Hamas had agreed to halt the kite and balloon launches gradually after coming under Egyptian pressure.

Israeli authorities have maintained they are prepared to invade Gaza and go to war over the issue. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was already in a “military campaign,” as troops nearby drilled for an invasion of Gaza City. The army said the exercise had been planned in advance and was unconnected to recent events.

On Saturday, Gazan terrorists fired some 200 projectiles at Israel as the IDF carried out widespread airstrikes on targets in the Strip, in one of the heaviest days of fighting since the 2014 Gaza war.

Four Israelis were injured from rocket fire and two Palestinians were killed in an airstrike.

The violence was sparked when a soldier was injured Friday by a grenade during border protests against the blockade, and Israel carried out an airstrike in response. Israel maintains that the blockade, imposed in cooperation with Egypt, is needed in order to keep Hamas and other terror groups from getting arms or building up their military infrastructure.

‘Hamas must change’

The border tensions have threatened to derail the release of a long-awaited US peace plan, which reportedly include mechanisms for dealing with Gaza and the west Bank separately.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on June 22, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In an op-ed published in the Washington Post late Thursday, US negotiators Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, along with US Ambassador David Friedman, indicated that the US and other countries were prepared to offer humanitarian aid to the beleaguered Strip, but were stymied by Hamas’s commitment to fighting Israel.

“International donors are conflicted: Should they try to help the people directly, at the certain risk of enriching terrorists, or withhold funding to Hamas and watch the people it is supposed to govern suffer?” Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman wrote.

In what may be seen as a shift, the three said they would be willing to work with a reformed Hamas, seemingly retreating from the stance that the terror group allow the Palestinians Authority to retake power in the Strip.

“There are engaged, interested parties with resources who are ready to get to work. Yet without real change accompanied by reliable security, progress is impossible,” they wrote. “If Hamas demonstrates clear, peaceful intentions — not just by word but, more importantly, by deed — then all manner of new opportunities becomes possible.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/with-threat-of-war-looming-israel-girds-for-more-violence-in-gaza/

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US to focus on reconstructing Gaza as Israel-Palestinian peace plan stalls — report

July 8, 2018

Officials tell Washington Post the Trump administration hopes that by helping with humanitarian crisis it will be harder for PA President Abbas to reject future initiatives

Palestinian children at home reading books by candle light due to electricity shortages in Gaza City, June 13, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

Palestinian children at home reading books by candle light due to electricity shortages in Gaza City, June 13, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

The Trump administration is reportedly focusing on improving humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and putting their so-far unveiled peace plan on a back burner after the Palestinian Authority rejected overtures from US President Donald Trump’s negotiation team.

A senior US official told the Washington Post that by helping to relieve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the US hopes that it will demonstrate a commitment to the well-being of Palestinians, making it harder for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to reject future initiatives from the United States.

“We definitely have a Gaza focus right now because the situation is the way it is, and we want to try to help,” the official told the newspaper. “But it’s not as though we think we need to fix Gaza first before we would air the peace plan.”

White House officials have been effectively blackballed by Ramallah, which was angered by Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his decision to move the US embassy there in May. The Gaza Strip is controlled by the terrorist group Hamas, rivals to the Fatah-led Palestinian cabinet in the West Bank.

According to the paper, one proposal under discussion with Israel is for a solution to the electricity and water crises plaguing the coastal enclave.

A Palestinian youth walks towards the Gaza strip’s sole electricity plant, which provides a fifth of the embattled region’s power needs, after it stopped working at midnight the previous night due to lack of fuel as per local officials, on February 15, 2018. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP)

Gaza faces a lack of electricity, drinkable water, and food. Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the Strip which they say is designed to prevent Hamas from importing weapons and other goods that could be used to build fortifications or tunnels.

The situation has been exacerbated by an ongoing dispute between Hamas and the PA, which has cut the salaries it pays to workers in Gaza and imposed various sanctions, including cutting of payments for electricity supplies to Gaza.

The US State Department this year cut some $250 million from the budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA. Trump tweeted on the issue in January, seemingly angered by the Palestinians’ failure to embrace his policy for the Middle East.

“We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” he tweeted. “But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

A senior Israeli official told the paper that focusing on Gaza was a stop gap measure.

“It’s providing support to people in Gaza as a first stage,”  the official told the Washington Post. “They know the Palestinians are not willing to consider [the larger proposal], so they are starting to put more attention on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

However, Israel has said the humanitarian situation will not improve in Gaza until Hamas returns the bodies of two IDF soldiers and the two civilians captives it holds. It blames Hamas for the dire situation, charging the terror group with diverting millions in aid to purchase weapons, dig tunnels, manufacture rockets and train its military wing, instead of using it for the welfare of the people.

A tunnel reaching from Gaza into Israel, seen in a picture released by the IDF on April 18, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The Israeli official told the Washington Post that it remains unclear whether Hamas would agree to returning the Israelis in exchange for humanitarian aid.

In June, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, alleged that a reported effort by the US administration to raise over $500 million from Arab states for Gaza was designed to create further divisions between the West Bank and Gaza.

The US official denied to the Washington Post that the US is planning to create a Palestinian state in Gaza and thus sideline the Palestinian Authority.

“That’s ludicrous,” the official said. “We are not trying to do this. We think that the solution under a peace agreement would be a united Gaza and West Bank, under one Palestinian leadership

Proposals recently reported in Israeli and Arab media have indicated Israel is willing to take a number of steps to ease the humanitarian situation in Gaza. In June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is working to prevent a “humanitarian collapse” in Gaza and blamed the recent border violence on economic conditions in the Palestinian enclave.

Recent months have seen an uptick in violence at the border between Gaza and Israel, with weekly violent Palestinian protests, ongoing rocket attacks, and the new phenomenon of incendiary kites and balloons flown over the border, sometimes at a rate of several dozen each day.

On a recent trip to the region, US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and senior White House official Jared Kushner met with leaders to discuss the Trump administration’s efforts to put forward an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan with allies in the region.

However they did not meet with Palestinian officials while on the trip. Ramallah has already rejected the nascent Trump peace proposal and cut off contacts with administration officials following the White House decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on June 22, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem for the capital of their own future state and say the US move showed Washington is not an honest broker.

A June interview given by Kushner to the East Jerusalem-based Al Quds newspaper was seen as an attempt by the Trump administration to reach out to the Palestinian people, despite the official boycott.

“If President Abbas is willing to come back to the table, we are ready to engage; if he is not, we will likely air the plan publicly,” said Kushner.

“There have been countless mistakes and missed opportunities over the years, and you, the Palestinian people, have paid the price,” Kushner said, according to a transcript of the interview provided by the White House. “Don’t let your leadership reject a plan they haven’t even seen.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-to-focus-on-reconstructing-gaza-as-peace-plan-stalls-report/

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Abbas Rejected U.S. Offer for Kushner Meeting, Al Hayat Says

June 30, 2018

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an offer to hold a joint meeting with U.S. presidential adviser Jared Kushner and other Arab leaders, Al Hayat reported, citing diplomatic sources.

Image result for Mahmoud Abbas, photos

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

The president saw the offer as an American maneuver to pressure the Palestinians into accepting a peace plan on Israel’s terms and achieving the “real objective” of pushing for stronger ties between Israel and Arab states, the London-based newspaper reported, quoting an unidentified diplomatic source.

U.S. officials have stressed that they will not seek to meet with Abbas after he broke ties following President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, told a Palestinian newspaper during his latest Middle East trip that the U.S. won’t “chase” Abbas.

Read: Top Official Accuses U.S. of Trying to Overthrow Palestinian Authority

The U.S. team proposed the meeting during its latest visit to the region, the paper said. The message was conveyed to the Palestinians via Egypt.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-30/abbas-rejected-u-s-offer-for-kushner-meeting-al-hayat-says

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Mueller Poised to Zero In on Trump-Russia Collusion Allegations

June 26, 2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is preparing to accelerate his probe into possible collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russians who sought to interfere in the 2016 election, according to a person familiar with the probe.

Image result for robert mueller

Robert Mueller

Mueller and his team of prosecutors and investigators have an eye toward producing conclusions — and possible indictments — related to collusion by fall, said the person, who asked not to be identified. He’ll be able to turn his full attention to the issue as he resolves other questions, including deciding soon whether to find that Trump sought to obstruct justice.

Suspicious contacts between at least 13 people associated with Trump’s presidential campaign and Russians have fueled the debate over collusion.

Some of those encounters have been known for months: the Russian ambassador whose conversations forced Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation and led Michael Flynn to plead guilty to perjury. The Russians who wangled a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower in July 2016 after dangling the promise of political dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Other encounters continue to emerge, including a Russian’s chat with veteran Trump adviser Roger Stone at a cafe in Florida.

‘Warning Lights’

Signs of suspicious Russian contacts first surfaced in late 2015, especially among U.S. allies who were conducting surveillance against Russians, according to a former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

By the spring of 2016 the frequent contacts set off alarm bells among U.S. intelligence officials, according to James Clapper, who was director of national intelligence at the time. The FBI’s Russia investigation officially began that July.

“The dashboard warning lights were on for all of us because of the meetings,” Clapper said in an interview this month. “We may not have known much about the content of these meetings, but it was certainly very curious why so many meetings with Russians.”

On three occasions, Russians offered people associated with Trump’s campaign dirt on Democrat Clinton — all before it was publicly known that Russians had hacked the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Mueller has interviewed or sought information about many of the people known to have met with Russians during the campaign. But it’s not known publicly whether the barrage of Russian contacts was instigated or coordinated by the Kremlin. Trump, for his part, has repeatedly denied any such plotting, tweeting on June 15, “WITCH HUNT! There was no Russian Collusion.”

Here are the players and their known interactions, with links to previous news stories:

Michael Cohen

Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer started working on a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow in September 2015 with Felix Sater, a Russian-born real estate developer who’s a felon and previously had helped collect intelligence for the U.S. government. Cohen said the Trump Organization signed a nonbinding letter of intent in October 2015 with Moscow-based I.C. Expert Investment Company.

The project ultimately fizzled. Cohen said he stopped working on it in January 2016, around the time he reached out to a Kremlin spokesman asking for help with the project. Yahoo News reported that in May Sater and Cohen were still talking about the tower, including a possible trip to Russia to have a meeting with government officials. Just before and after Trump’s inauguration, Cohen met with Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg and Andrew Intrater, who invests money for Vekselberg. Shortly after, Intrater’s private equity firm, Columbus Nova, awarded Cohen a $1 million consulting contract.

Russian Oligarch Tied to Trump Lawyer in Stormy Bombshell

Michael Flynn

The retired Army lieutenant general attended a December 2015 dinner in Russia where he sat at a table with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Several months later, Flynn started working as an informal adviser to the Trump campaign and in August attended Trump’s first intelligence briefing with the FBI. After the election he was named Trump’s national security adviser. During the presidential transition he had multiple contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in which they discussed U.S. sanctions. Flynn resigned as national security adviser after it become known he had lied about the nature of his conversations with Kislyak. He was later indicted by Mueller for making false statements to investigators and agreed to become a cooperating witness.

Flynn’s Side Deals, Link to Trump Aides Offer Clues for Mueller

George Papadopoulos

Shortly after being named a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign in March 2016, Papadopoulos met with a London professor he believed had connections to the Russian government. That month, Papadopoulos suggested he could help arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin, an offer that was rejected by Sessions, who led the Trump campaign’s foreign policy team. In April, the professor told Papadopoulos that Russian officials had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. Papadopoulos also was in contact with a Russian who said he represented the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Papadopoulos was arrested in July 2017 and in October pleaded guilty to misleading investigators.

Trump Says He Has Little Memory of Meeting With Papadopoulos

Jared Kushner

The president’s son-in-law met briefly with Kislyak at an event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington in April 2016 in what he has described as an exchange of pleasantries. In December, after the election, Kushner met again with Kislyak and Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, who’s close to Putin.

Kushner Denies Improper Russia Contacts as He Meets With Senators

Michael Caputo

The Republican political strategist — who lived for a time in Moscow and worked for the campaign of the late President Boris Yeltsin — worked briefly as an adviser to the Trump campaign. He was contacted by a Russian business partner who asked him to help facilitate a meeting between the Trump campaign and a Russian national who identified himself as Henry Greenberg. Caputo directed him to veteran Republican operative Stone, with whom Caputo has worked for decades.

Caputo Says He Never Heard Campaign Talk of Russia Collusion

Roger Stone

The longtime Trump political adviser confirmed for the first time this month that he met at a Florida cafe in May 2016 with Greenberg, who claimed to have information that would be “beneficial” to the Trump campaign but demanded $2 million in exchange. Stone — who says he’d forgotten about the 20-minute meeting when he failed to disclose it in interviews with a congressional committee — said he rejected the deal. Stone says he thinks the meeting was part of an FBI plot to entrap him in light of indications that Greenberg had worked in the past as an informant for the bureau.

Stone also told people during the campaign that he was in contact with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, which published Democratic National Committee emails believed to have been stolen by Russian operatives. Stone has since denied that he communicated directly with Assange. Stone also exchanged private messages on Twitter with an online persona called Guccifer 2.0, believed to be linked to the Russian government.

Mueller Turns His Focus to Longtime Trump Adviser Roger Stone

Paul Manafort

While serving as Trump’s campaign chairman, Manafort was in contact with Konstantin Kilimnik, who the FBI has described as having ties to Russian intelligence. In July 2016, Manafort offered to give a campaign briefing to another business associate, Oleg Deripaska, who’s closely aligned with the Kremlin. Manafort was charged in October with a series of financial crimes and for failing to register as an agent of Ukraine. His bail was revoked and he was jailed after prosecutors claimed he tried to tamper with witnesses.

Manafort Judge Rejects Bid to Toss Money-Laundering Charge

Donald Trump Jr.

The president’s son helped arrange the meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist. Kushner and Manafort also were there. While the Russians billed it as a chance to share damaging information on Clinton, participants have said nothing of value was offered.

Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting at the request of a pop star in Russia whose family has ties to Putin and has known the Trump family for several years. The meeting also has led to controversy over President Trump’s role in drafting a statement that falsely described the topic of the meeting as adoptions of Russian children.

In addition, Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank, has said he had shared a dinner table with Trump Jr. at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in May. Torshin, a former senator in Putin’s United Russia party directed dirty-money flows for mobsters in Moscow, according to investigators in Spain.

Trump Jr. Declines to Detail Talk With Father, Democrat Says

Carter Page

After being named a foreign policy adviser to the campaign in March 2016, Page traveled to Moscow that July for a speech and meetings. Page said he met briefly with Arkady Dvorkovich, then the deputy prime minister of Russia. Page said he also met Dvorkovich again at a dinner in December, after he was no longer affiliated with the Trump campaign. Page also met in July with Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations for the Russian energy company Rosneft. And Page met with Kislyak briefly at the Republican convention in July. U.S. intelligence agencies indicated Page was a target of Russian intelligence as early as 2013.

Page Tells Russia Probe He’s ‘Biggest Embarrassment’ to Trump

Jeff Sessions

The attorney general, who took an early role in Trump’s campaign while serving in the Senate, had conversations with Ambassador Kislyak at the Republican convention and in September in his Senate office. The Washington Post reported that U.S. intelligence intercepted Kislyak telling Russian officials that they discussed campaign-related issues. Session recused himself from the Russia investigation — a move for which Trump has repeatedly vilified him because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein then appointed Mueller as special counsel.

Trump Laments Picking Sessions as GOP Ally Undercuts Spying Claim

J.D. Gordon

As a campaign foreign policy adviser, Gordon met briefly with Kislyak at the Republican convention. Page contacted Gordon, a former Pentagon spokesman, and others on the campaign in July to praise them for a change in the Republican Party platform that softened the party’s support for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. Gordon also has said Page went around him to secure permission to make a trip to Russia.

Trump’s Campaign Foreign Policy Team Under Mueller’s Microscope

Rick Gates

In September and October, Gates communicated directly with Kilimnik, according to court filings. Gates was a right-hand man to Manafort and worked as a campaign aide until he was fired by Trump in August. Even after being fired, Gates remained involved with the campaign through the Republican National Committee, and he worked on the presidential transition. Gates pleaded guilty in February to conspiring with Manafort to defraud the U.S. in charges not directly related to the Russia probe.

Gates Guilty Plea Strengthens U.S. Hand Against Manafort

Erik Prince

The founder of Blackwater, a provider of private security forces in trouble spots such as Iraq, served as an informal adviser to Trump’s transition team. His sister, Betsy DeVos, is now education secretary. After Trump’s election but before the inauguration, Prince met Kirill Dmitriev, the head of a Russian-government controlled wealth fund who’s close to Putin, during a visit to the Seychelles islands.

Prince told congressional investigators he was meeting with the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates to discuss topics including Middle East tensions and bauxite mining when the prince’s brother casually suggested that he go downstairs to chat with “this Russian guy.” The New York Times has reported that the meeting was arranged in part to explore the possibility of a back channel for discussions between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the meeting it didn’t identify.

Erik Prince’s Seychelles Meeting With Russian Draws New Scrutiny

— With assistance by Billy House, and Steven T. Dennis

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-26/mueller-poised-to-zero-in-on-trump-russia-collusion-allegations

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Trump adviser questions Abbas desire for peace with Israel

June 24, 2018

“To make a deal both sides will have to take a leap and meet somewhere between their stated positions. I am not sure President Abbas has the ability to do that.”

US President Donald Trump’s adviser Jared Kushner on Sunday questioned the ability and willingness of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to make concessions for a peace agreement with Israel.

Kushner’s remarks, made in a rare interview with Palestinian newspaper Al Quds, came as he and special envoy Jason Greenblatt were in the region to advance efforts to renew the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“President Abbas says that he is committed to peace and I have no reason not to believe him,” Kusnher said. “However, I do question how much President Abbas has the ability to, or is willing to, lean into finishing a deal.”

Image result for Jared Kushner, photos
Jared Kushner

“He has his talking points which have not changed in the last 25 years. There has been no peace deal achieved in that time,” Kushner said.

“To make a deal both sides will have to take a leap and meet somewhere between their stated positions. I am not sure President Abbas has the ability to do that.”

Kushner and Greenblatt met on Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss “advancing the diplomatic process, developments in the region and the security and humanitarian situations in Gaza”, according to the premier’s office.

They held a second meeting Saturday night “to continue their discussions,” the White House said.

The US adviser and envoy, whose regional tour took them to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, did not meet with Palestinian official, who froze all contact with US officials following the Trump administration’s December recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

 Palestinian protesters gather in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip.
Negotiating tool? Palestinian “protester” on the Gaza side of Israel’s border fence.

The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as their future capital, insisting the status of the disputed city is an issue to be negotiated between them and the Israelis.

Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said Saturday that American efforts, which “ignored” Palestinian positions on issues such as Jerusalem, statehood and refugees, were dooomed to fail.

Trump has called peace between Israel and the Palestinians the “ultimate deal” and has tasked Kushner with formulating a plan to that end.

Kushner told Al Quds they were “almost done” preparing the plan, which could be presented without Palestinian consent.

“If President Abbas is willing to come back to the table, we are ready to engage; if he is not, we will likely air the plan publicly,” he said.

AFP

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Jared Kushner Ready To Work With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

June 24, 2018

Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s senior adviser, said that he is “ready to work” with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a newspaper reported on Sunday

Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, spoke in an interview with the Palestinian newspaper Al Quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

Image result for Mahmoud Abbas, photos

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

In the interview, which was headlined, “I am ready to work with President Abbas, if he wishes” and published in Arabic, Kushner gave a direct message to the Palestinian people: “You deserve to have a bright future, now is the time for both the Israelis and Palestinians to strengthen their leaderships and re-focus them to encourage them to open up towards a solution, and not fear trying,” the newspaper reported.

Washington has said it has a peace plan, but Abbas has refused to meet with Trump’s team following his decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the U.S. Embassy there. The Palestinians want their own future state with a capital in East Jerusalem.

Kushner, who has taken the lead on Trump’s plan, said he did not “wish to talk about the details of the deal that we’re working on.” But he said it would be ready “soon.”

“If President Abbas is ready to go back to the negotiations table, then we are ready to participate in the discussion, but if it’s not the case, then we are going to make the plan public.”

He added: “I believe that in order to reach an agreement, both parts are going to gain more than they’re giving, and both sides will feel confident that the life of their people will be better decades from today because of the concessions that they’re offering.”

The article was published after the White House confirmed that Kushner and Trump’s Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt met on Saturday in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and U.S. Ambassador David Friedman “to continue their discussions that began on Friday.”

After regional tour Trump’s Mideast peace team meets with Netanyahu

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer during a meeting in Jerusalem June 22 2018. . (photo credit: GPO)

Kushner and Greenblatt’s trip to Jerusalem followed a regional tour that included Jordan, Egypt and Qatar. They also held talks in Saudi Arabia, which does not recognize Israel but shares its enmity toward Iran.

The White House has offered few details on a plan that has drawn widespread skepticism even before its unveiling. Most experts question whether Kushner and Greenblatt, both of whom had no prior diplomatic experience, can achieve any deal.

Kushner’s remarks to Al Quds, in what the paper billed as his first newspaper interview on the administration’s Middle East initiative, highlighted the Trump administration’s attempts to deliver a message directly to the Palestinian people, when their leaders have refused to meet with the U.S. team.

Asked by the paper what Arab leaders had told him, Kushner said they “clarified that they want to see a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital. They want an agreement that enables the Palestinian people to live in peace, and to have the same economic opportunities that their people enjoy.”

He added: “They want to see a deal that respects the dignity of the Palestinians, and puts an actual solution to the issues that have been discussed for decades. They all insist that al-Aqsa Mosque should continue to be open to all Muslims who wish to pray.”

Kushner emphasized the economic benefits of a deal, saying that he believed “we can attract large investments in the infrastructure from both the private and the public sectors” to improve the Palestinian economy.

Asked by Al Quds editor-in-chief Walid Abu-Zalaf how his plan differs from those that came before, Kushner said he and his team had “spent a lot of time listening, and focusing on the people.”

Challenged on the assertion by an Abbas aide that the American plan was “a waste of time and is destined to fail,” Kushner said he believed that the Palestinian leadership said such things “because it’s afraid that we are going to publish our peaceful plan that will be liked by the Palestinian people.”

He said he had not been in direct contact with Abbas, but that intermediaries had passed on messages.

Kushner also made remarks critical of Abbas. The Palestinian lead, Kushner said, “says that he is committed to peace, and I don’t have any reason to disbelieve him.” But he added: “I question President Abbas’ ability, or desire, to finish the deal. He has the same talking points that haven’t changed in the past 25 years. A peace hasn’t been achieved during that period.”

Asked about the situation in Gaza, which is controlled by Abbas’ rivals, the Islamist militant group Hamas, Kushner said: “What is happening in Gaza is very sad. The situation started before President Trump came into power but we have to try to make improvements. The level of despair reveals the worst scenario that can happen when things are left without a solution and when it is allowed to continue.”

He said Gazans were “hostages to a bad leadership” which was unable to engage with the international community. Hamas is regarded as a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States.

The plan is expected to propose detailed solutions to core issues in dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians, such as borders, the future of Israeli settlements, the fate of Palestinian refugees and security.

The Trump administration has said it would support a two-state solution if both sides agree to it, but in the interview Kushner did not commit to a two-state solution.

Pressed by the interviewer on the “traditional” issues, as opposed to the economic concerns that he had focused on, Kushner did not go into detail, but said “the fundamental traditional issues are very important” and that his team appreciated “the historical differences between the two sides.”

He added: “We are committed to finding a package of solutions the two sides can live with. Resolving fundamental issues without creating a path for a better life will not lead to a lasting solution.”

Reporting by Stephen Farrell and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler

Reuters

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Trump’s Mideast team meets Israel’s Netanyahu over peace plan

June 23, 2018

President Donald Trump’s Mideast team met Friday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel as part of a visit with regional leaders to discuss the US plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

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The meeting comes shortly before the Trump administration is expected to unveil its Middle East peace plan. Trump has promised to pursue the “ultimate deal” between Israelis and Palestinians. But the Palestinians are shunning the Americans since Trump’s policy shift recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his moving the embassy there from Tel Aviv. Trump said at the time he is not taking a position on the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty that are to be determined in negotiations.

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The White House issued a statement after Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner along with Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt and Ambassador David Friedman met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday afternoon in Jerusalem.

After regional tour Trump’s Mideast peace team meets with Netanyahu

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer during a meeting in Jerusalem June 22 2018. . (photo credit: GPO)

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“They discussed the means by which the humanitarian situation in Gaza can be alleviated, while maintaining Israel’s security. They further discussed the continued commitment of the Trump Administration and Israel to advance peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” it said. The statement gave no additional details.

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Kushner has been leading efforts to broker a peace deal between the two sides. US officials have said the long-awaited peace plan is near completion and should be released this summer following several postponements. The Trump team met this week with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and other regional leaders.

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Netanyahu issued a statement after the hours-long meeting in which he “expressed his gratitude for President Trump’s support for Israel.”

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No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them.

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The Palestinians were angered by Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US Embassy there and have since rejected the US as peace broker. They see the decision as siding with Israel on the most sensitive issue in the conflict, arguing it disqualifies the US from its traditional role.

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Details of the plan have not been released, but Palestinians fear they will get little more than a symbolic foothold in Jerusalem.

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Israel captured east Jerusalem, home to key sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, in the 1967 war from Jordan. Palestinians claim the territory for its future capital. Israel claims the entire city as its eternal capital.

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The fate of the city is an emotional issue at the heart of the conflict.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1326266/middle-east

Kushner, Egypt’s Sisi discuss Israel-Palestinian peace process

June 21, 2018

US President Donald Trump’s adviser Jared Kushner and special envoy Jason Greenblatt met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Sisi told the US diplomats, who are touring the region in a bid to revive long-stalled talks, that Egypt supports a “just and comprehensive settlement” to the conflict.

© EGYPTIAN PRESIDENCY/AFP | A picture released by Egypt’s Presidency on June 21, 2018 shows (R-L) Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meeting US President Donald Trump’s special envoy Jason Greenblatt and adviser Jared Kushner in Cairo

He argued in favour of a “two-state solution on the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine,” the presidency said in a statement.

Trump’s administration sparked anger across the Arab world in December by recognising Jerusalem as capital of the Jewish state.

The Palestinian leadership responded by freezing all contacts with US officials.

In May Washington moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, sparking mass demonstrations on Israel’s flashpoint border with Gaza in which Israeli forces shot dead dozens of demonstrators.

The White House said Thursday that Kushner and Greenblatt had discussed increasing cooperation between the United States and Egypt.

They also talked about “the need to facilitate humanitarian relief to Gaza, and the Trump administration’s efforts to facilitate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians”, it said.

Sisi’s office said he had told them Egypt maintains “ongoing contacts with the parties concerned to advance efforts to revive negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.”

He also pointed to Egypt’s efforts to promote reconciliation between the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Islamists Hamas who rule Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority, which sees the Trump administration as biased towards Israel, said Saturday that US plans to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are “doomed to fail”.

Kushner and Greenblatt met Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman on Tuesday before visiting Riyadh to meet Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

They are reported to be planning visits to Israel and Qatar.

AFP

Saudis meet with Kushner, Greenblatt to discuss Gaza, peace push

June 21, 2018

US envoys make second stop on regional tour as tensions with Palestinians continue to rise

Jared Kushner alongside a member of the Saudi delegation at a White House meeting between President Donald Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, March 20, 2018. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Getty Images via JTA)

Jared Kushner alongside a member of the Saudi delegation at a White House meeting between President Donald Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, March 20, 2018. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Getty Images via JTA)

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince on Wednesday hosted US President Donald Trump’s special envoy Jason Greenblatt and adviser Jared Kushner to discuss the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, following a new flare-up of hostilities in Gaza.

The meeting with Prince Mohammed bin Salman came as Israeli warplanes pounded Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in response to a barrage of rockets and mortar shells fired from the Palestinian enclave.

“Building on previous conversations, they discussed… the need to bring humanitarian relief to Gaza, and the Trump administration’s efforts to bring peace between the Israelis and Palestinians,” the White House said in a brief statement.

The visit came a day after Greenblatt and Kushner met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman to discuss the peace process during a regional tour that will also take them to Israel, Egypt and Qatar.

The tour is widely seen as aimed at drumming up support ahead of the administration’s rollout of its own peace plan.

A senior administration official told The Times of Israel last week that the trip is an opportunity to “discuss the situation in Gaza and to discuss the next stages of the peace effort, as well as get some ideas from players in the region about some remaining questions the White House peace team has.”

No stops are planned in the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians have rejected the Trump peace plan and cut off talks with the administration after the White House announced it would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled since 2014.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, but Israel considers the entire city to be its eternal and indivisible capital.

The talks with the Saudis came as Israel threatened to expand its response against Gazan terrorists launching rockets and incendiary devices over the border.

Israel’s latest strikes targeting Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, were more intense than in previous sorties.

Israeli warplanes initially targeted three Hamas military positions overnight in Gaza in response to kites and balloons carrying incendiary and explosive devices launched into Israel from the Palestinian territory, the Israeli army said.

The latest spike in tensions follows weeks of deadly protests and clashes along the Gaza-Israel border as well as the worst military escalation last month since the 2014 war.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/saudis-meet-with-kushner-greenblatt-to-discuss-gaza-peace-push/

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