Obama’s first presidential visit to Israel

Amid the accolades for the "eternal" relationship between the U.S. and Israel, the tours of the Iron Dome defense system and the planting of a tree at the house of Israeli President Shimon Peres, both Palestinians and Israelis continue their protests against Obama’s trip.

Read more on Obama’s continuing travels on Politics Now.

Photos: Abed Al Hashlmoun / EPA, Bernat Armangue, Mohammed Ballas Associated Press Mahmud Hams / AFP/Getty Images

Photos of the day: Valentine’s Day festivities, elaborate Hindu ceremonies and a prayer at an Israeli settlement - just some of today’s best photos, courtesy of the Framework Blog.

Photos via Lee / EPA, Jason Fochtman / Conroe Courier, Janos Chiala / AFP, Rajesh Kumar Singh / Associated Press

After intensive efforts, calls and negotiations with the Israelis and factions of the Palestinian resistance, we have come to an understanding.

Speaking to a group of journalists in New York ahead of this week’s United Nations General Assembly session, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today that Israel is only a short-lived presence among the ancient civilizations of the Middle East and would eventually be “eliminated.” More of his comments via Reuters:

"Iran has been around for the last seven, 10 thousand years. They (the Israelis) have been occupying those territories for the last 60 to 70 years, with the support and force of the Westerners. They have no roots there in history," he said, referring to the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948.

"We do believe that they have found themselves at a dead end and they are seeking new adventures in order to escape this dead end. Iran will not be damaged with foreign bombs," Ahmadinejad said, speaking though an interpreter at his Manhattan hotel.

"We don’t even count them as any part of any equation for Iran. During a historical phase, they (the Israelis) represent minimal disturbances that come into the picture and are then eliminated."

"President Ahmadinejad’s comments are characteristically disgusting, offensive and outrageous," a White House spokesman responded, Reuters notes in an update.

Video: PBS NewsHour

Neighborhood pays price of being on wrong side of Israel’s wall: Residents of Kafr Aqab are cut off from most public services, even though they live within Jerusalem’s city limits. The once-upscale area is now a slum.

But when the emergency dispatcher heard that the school was in Kafr Aqab, separated from the rest of Jerusalem by a 36-foot-high concrete wall, he told Abu Rameelh that firetrucks wouldn’t cross Israel’s separation barrier without army protection.

Photo: Israel’s separation barrier has left residents of neighborhoods such as Kafr Aqab cut off from most public services, even though they live within Jerusalem’s city limits, hold residency cards and pay city taxes. Credit: Kevin Frayer / Associated Press

Neighborhood pays price of being on wrong side of Israel’s wall: Residents of Kafr Aqab are cut off from most public services, even though they live within Jerusalem’s city limits. The once-upscale area is now a slum.

But when the emergency dispatcher heard that the school was in Kafr Aqab, separated from the rest of Jerusalem by a 36-foot-high concrete wall, he told Abu Rameelh that firetrucks wouldn’t cross Israel’s separation barrier without army protection.

Photo: Israel’s separation barrier has left residents of neighborhoods such as Kafr Aqab cut off from most public services, even though they live within Jerusalem’s city limits, hold residency cards and pay city taxes. Credit: Kevin Frayer / Associated Press

Super-rich Israelis no longer ashamed to flaunt their wealth:  Israel, despite socialist roots, now has a huge income gap. Displays of riches, such as a $2-million wedding and a “Real Housewives”-style show, draw awe and contempt.

"The show is just terrible," said Sharon Dushnitsky Etzioni, a Tel Aviv event planner. "It’s not the real Israel." Then she adds, sheepishly, "But as much as I hate it, I can’t miss it. I’m so angry at myself."

Photo: An ad for the Israeli television show “The Riches,” a “Real Housewives” knockoff. Credit: Alex Lipkin

Super-rich Israelis no longer ashamed to flaunt their wealth: Israel, despite socialist roots, now has a huge income gap. Displays of riches, such as a $2-million wedding and a “Real Housewives”-style show, draw awe and contempt.

"The show is just terrible," said Sharon Dushnitsky Etzioni, a Tel Aviv event planner. "It’s not the real Israel." Then she adds, sheepishly, "But as much as I hate it, I can’t miss it. I’m so angry at myself."

Photo: An ad for the Israeli television show “The Riches,” a “Real Housewives” knockoff. Credit: Alex Lipkin

As ultra-Orthodox flex muscle, Israel feminists see a backsliding: Women who thought Israel’s battle for gender equality was mostly won warn of a new assault from the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox, seeking to expand religious-based segregation into the public realm.
Photo:  An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks past a vandalized poster in Jerusalem. Images of women have been vanishing from the streets of the city. Credit: Sebastian Scheiner / Associated Press

As ultra-Orthodox flex muscle, Israel feminists see a backsliding: Women who thought Israel’s battle for gender equality was mostly won warn of a new assault from the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox, seeking to expand religious-based segregation into the public realm.

Photo: An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks past a vandalized poster in Jerusalem. Images of women have been vanishing from the streets of the city. Credit: Sebastian Scheiner / Associated Press

Chinese Jews feel more at home in Israel: Descendants of Persian traders in Kaifeng, China, move to Israel with the help of a religious group and finally learn Jewish rules and traditions.

The first family of Kaifeng Jews to immigrate to Israel was almost sent back to China. Shlomo and Deena Jin (no relation to Yecholya Jin) had overstayed their tourist visas in 2005. As they faced deportation, Shavei Israel worked with authorities to allow them to stay after going through the conversion process. Shlomo, at the time in his late 40s, endured a circumcision to complete the conversion.

Photo:  Jews from Keifeng, China, pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The group came straight from the airport. Credit: Michael Freund

Chinese Jews feel more at home in Israel: Descendants of Persian traders in Kaifeng, China, move to Israel with the help of a religious group and finally learn Jewish rules and traditions.

The first family of Kaifeng Jews to immigrate to Israel was almost sent back to China. Shlomo and Deena Jin (no relation to Yecholya Jin) had overstayed their tourist visas in 2005. As they faced deportation, Shavei Israel worked with authorities to allow them to stay after going through the conversion process. Shlomo, at the time in his late 40s, endured a circumcision to complete the conversion.

Photo: Jews from Keifeng, China, pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The group came straight from the airport. Credit: Michael Freund

Dead Sea Scrolls go online, thanks to Google and Israel Museum.
Photo: The War Scroll. Credit: Israel Museum

Dead Sea Scrolls go online, thanks to Google and Israel Museum.

Photo: The War Scroll. Credit: Israel Museum

It’s been 96 days since Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest after his cart was seized by authorities. The Guardian has an interactive timeline tracking the protests, which have since spread throughout the Middle East and north Africa. 
Libya
The coalition enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya is beginning to fray, as members continue to negotiate over the leadership of the campaign, despite the fact that missile and air strikes began on Saturday. Britain and Italy want NATO command, France and Turkey feel NATO sends the wrong message to the Muslim world and the U.S. just wants to scale back its involvement as quickly as possible.
Airstrikes continue against Kadafi’s forces, most recently in Misurata where his forces have reportedly pulled back while keeping snipers on rooftops, according to residents. Kadafi also made his first public appearance since airstrikes began in an address in Tripoli on Tuesday night. 
The rebels, meanwhile have formed an “interim government.” For the latest updates, follow the Libya live blogs by The Guardian or Al Jazeera.
Syria
At least four and as many as six people were killed when Syrian special forces launched an early-morning raid on a mosque in the city of Daraa, the center of anti-government protests. At least 10 have died following a government crackdown on protests for more political freedom and the release of dissidents. The Assad family has been in control of Syria since 1971. 
Israel / West Bank / Gaza
A bomb exploded at a bus stop in central Jerusalem Wednesday morning, wounding at least 25 people. It was the city’s first bus bombing in several years. In Gaza, militants fired rockets into southern Israel, continuing an ongoing exchange of rocket and mortar fire at the border, which killed four in Gaza a day earlier.
Yemen
Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Tuesday he would step down before his term ends in 2013. He originally rejected the same offer two weeks earlier, before at least 50 demonstrators were killed and hundreds injured when security forces closed in on protesters Friday. This follows the sacking of the president’s cabinet on Sunday, members of which were already expected to resign over the violent crackdown. If Saleh resigns, however, some, including the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, worry about what would come next.  
Saudi Arabia
The government announced that it would hold municipal elections — the second ever in the country — on April 23. Women will not be allowed to vote. 
Bahrain
The Bahraini government tore down the central monument of Pearl Square on Friday, after a crackdown on protesters and arrest of opposition figures. The protesters had used the square as a rallying point. 
Map reblogged via soupsoup:

Middle East Protest Interactive Timeline
Really impressive work here by the Guardian

It’s been 96 days since Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest after his cart was seized by authorities. The Guardian has an interactive timeline tracking the protests, which have since spread throughout the Middle East and north Africa. 

Libya

The coalition enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya is beginning to fray, as members continue to negotiate over the leadership of the campaign, despite the fact that missile and air strikes began on Saturday. Britain and Italy want NATO command, France and Turkey feel NATO sends the wrong message to the Muslim world and the U.S. just wants to scale back its involvement as quickly as possible.

Airstrikes continue against Kadafi’s forces, most recently in Misurata where his forces have reportedly pulled back while keeping snipers on rooftops, according to residents. Kadafi also made his first public appearance since airstrikes began in an address in Tripoli on Tuesday night. 

The rebels, meanwhile have formed an “interim government.” For the latest updates, follow the Libya live blogs by The Guardian or Al Jazeera.

Syria

At least four and as many as six people were killed when Syrian special forces launched an early-morning raid on a mosque in the city of Daraa, the center of anti-government protests. At least 10 have died following a government crackdown on protests for more political freedom and the release of dissidents. The Assad family has been in control of Syria since 1971. 

Israel / West Bank / Gaza

A bomb exploded at a bus stop in central Jerusalem Wednesday morning, wounding at least 25 people. It was the city’s first bus bombing in several years. In Gaza, militants fired rockets into southern Israel, continuing an ongoing exchange of rocket and mortar fire at the border, which killed four in Gaza a day earlier.

Yemen

Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Tuesday he would step down before his term ends in 2013. He originally rejected the same offer two weeks earlier, before at least 50 demonstrators were killed and hundreds injured when security forces closed in on protesters Friday. This follows the sacking of the president’s cabinet on Sunday, members of which were already expected to resign over the violent crackdown. If Saleh resigns, however, some, including the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, worry about what would come next.  

Saudi Arabia

The government announced that it would hold municipal elections — the second ever in the country — on April 23. Women will not be allowed to vote. 

Bahrain

The Bahraini government tore down the central monument of Pearl Square on Friday, after a crackdown on protesters and arrest of opposition figures. The protesters had used the square as a rallying point. 

Map reblogged via soupsoup:

Middle East Protest Interactive Timeline

Really impressive work here by the Guardian

test reblogged from soupsoup

LibyaRebels in Misurata are surrounded by pro-government forces, as Kadafi has imposed a land, sea and air blockade on the city. Further east, rebels in Ajdabiya brace for an attack, while also staging nighttime assaults on the recaptured oil city of Port Breaga. Recapturing Ajdabiya would open the road to both the opposition capital of Benghazi and the important city of Tobruk. 
BahrainArmored vehicles carried more than 1,000 Saudi troops and 500 policemen from the United Arab Emirates into Bahrain at the request of the ruling family. The king has declared a state of emergency for three months.   
The move, which has been called “unacceptable” by Iran, hasn’t quelled the protests, which continue to occupy the Pearl roundabout and reports continue of both protesters and a Saudi soldier killed. Qatar, home to international news organization Al Jazeera, has also supported the Saudi and Emirati troops. 
YemenViolence continues after six people were killed in confrontations with police in the capital of Sana on Saturday, when security forces moved in on protesters at Sana University and Tahrir Square. BBC reports that the governor of Marib province, Ahmad Naji al-Zaidi, was stabbed in the neck yesterday during an anti-government protest. The government also recently deported four Western journalists. Yemenis are protesting the 32-year rule of president Ali Abdullah Saleh. 
Israel/West Bank/GazaIsrael’s government approved the construction of 500 new homes in the West Bank, a day after five Jewish settlers were found stabbed to death in the settlement of Itamar, near Nablus. The new construction is seen as a punitive measure by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government for the killings. Nearly have a million settlers live in West Bank territory occupied by Israel since 1967, widely seen as illegal by the international community.
Israel also intercepted an Egypt-bound ship suspected of carrying weapons to the Gaza strip. 
Photo: Men pray outside of the courthouse in Benghazi, Libya, where the opposition council is based. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Libya
Rebels in Misurata are surrounded by pro-government forces, as Kadafi has imposed a land, sea and air blockade on the city. Further east, rebels in Ajdabiya brace for an attack, while also staging nighttime assaults on the recaptured oil city of Port Breaga. Recapturing Ajdabiya would open the road to both the opposition capital of Benghazi and the important city of Tobruk. 

Bahrain
Armored vehicles carried more than 1,000 Saudi troops and 500 policemen from the United Arab Emirates into Bahrain at the request of the ruling family. The king has declared a state of emergency for three months.   

The move, which has been called “unacceptable” by Iran, hasn’t quelled the protests, which continue to occupy the Pearl roundabout and reports continue of both protesters and a Saudi soldier killed. Qatar, home to international news organization Al Jazeera, has also supported the Saudi and Emirati troops. 

Yemen
Violence continues after six people were killed in confrontations with police in the capital of Sana on Saturday, when security forces moved in on protesters at Sana University and Tahrir Square. BBC reports that the governor of Marib province, Ahmad Naji al-Zaidi, was stabbed in the neck yesterday during an anti-government protest. The government also recently deported four Western journalists. Yemenis are protesting the 32-year rule of president Ali Abdullah Saleh. 

Israel/West Bank/Gaza
Israel’s government approved the construction of 500 new homes in the West Bank, a day after five Jewish settlers were found stabbed to death in the settlement of Itamar, near Nablus. The new construction is seen as a punitive measure by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government for the killings. Nearly have a million settlers live in West Bank territory occupied by Israel since 1967, widely seen as illegal by the international community.

Israel also intercepted an Egypt-bound ship suspected of carrying weapons to the Gaza strip

Photo: Men pray outside of the courthouse in Benghazi, Libya, where the opposition council is based. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times