Saudi Arabia sends relief aid to Palestinians in Gaza

Israel dedicates new synagogue in Jerusalem

Arabs condemn Israel’s measures to deport Palestinians from West Bank

Clinton urges Arab countries to stop threatening peace initiative withdrawal

Lebanese foreign minister replies to Israeli threats

Corruption charges doom Olmert’s political future

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East - UNRWA - received the first convoy of Saudi flour assistance as part of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques' Campaign for the Relief of the Palestinian People in Gaza.

The shipment of 750 tons of flour was unloaded in warehouses of the Hashemite Charity Organization in preparation to be sent to the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Meanwhile, Israel reopened a 16th-century gate to Jerusalem's Old City on Wednesday, completing a two-month renovation and cleaning project that drew criticism from Palestinian officials.

Jaffa Gate, one of four main entrances to the Old City, was built by Jerusalem's Ottoman rulers and inaugurated in 1538. It is the most common entrance for tourists entering the walled Old City — home to key holy sites in Christianity, Islam and Judaism, as well as a popular outdoor marketplace.

The restoration was part of a $4 million project launched by the Israel Antiquities Authority in 2007 to spruce up all two and a half miles (four kilometers) of the Old City's walls.

The authority replaced broken stones, reattached an elaborate inscription above the gate and cleaned the facade with lye.

Because Jaffa Gate provides one of the few entrances for vehicles, the stones had a decades-old coating of car exhaust residue, said Yoram Saad, who headed the renovation.

The portal stands at a right angle to the western exterior wall of the Old City, made of the same large, 16th-century sand-colored hewn stone blocks. The entrance is about 20 feet (6 meters) high, and the wall rises another 20 feet (6 meters) above it.

The renovation project has proven challenging because of the difficulty in restoring ancient stones and the project's political and religious overtones.

"It's very sensitive of course and very complex from a logistical point of view," Saad said. The organization is saving the Damascus Gate, which leads from the Muslim Quarter to a bustling Arab neighborhood, for last.

The Old City is in east Jerusalem, the section of the city claimed by the Palestinians as their future capital. It is also home to the most sensitive holy site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a hilltop compound revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

Even the smallest changes to the appearance of the Old City can raise tensions or even spark violence, as evidenced by recent Arab protests that erupted after Israel renovated an ancient synagogue in the Jewish Quarter.

Wednesday's ceremony proceeded without incident, though recent improvements around Jaffa Gate, including an upscale pedestrian mall, have fueled Palestinian concerns that city officials are trying to shift commerce away from the bustling Damascus Gate.

"It is an attempt to hit hard at commercial life in the Old City, especially the Muslim Quarter," said Hatem Abdel Qader, an adviser on Jerusalem affairs to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Jerusalem's mayor, Nir Barkat, said city authorities have a duty to repair and restore the walls of the Old City, calling them a "national asset" and a place for pilgrims.

"The most important thing is that it's the right thing to do.

That's the only angle people should view it from," Barkat said.

Jaffa Gate was not used heavily until the end of the 19th century when part of the wall nearby was torn down to allow Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II to enter the Old City in his carriage.

It was the scene of intense fighting in 1948 and remained closed while Jerusalem was a divided city until 1967, when Israel captured the city's eastern sector and annexed it. The antiquities authority left the pockmarked stones from firefights in place.

On the other hand, Palestinian officials say they will oppose new Israeli orders on deporting Palestinians from the West Bank.

Last week it was revealed the Israeli Defense Force changed their orders broadening the definition of people they could remove from the West Bank.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said he was prepared to take the issue to the UN Security Council, reports say.

He said the order that would affect West bank residents without Israel-approved IDs was "a provocation".

"Israel has no right to deport any Palestinian," Abbas said after a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The new orders allow anyone without Israeli permission to be in the West Bank to be defines as an "infiltrator", making them liable to be removed to Gaza, or to neighboring states where there are large populations of Palestinian refugees.

But the IDF has denied it is planning to deport Palestinians from the West Bank in large numbers.

Israeli military sources said that anyone registered with the Palestinian population registry - which is overseen by Israel - would be considered lawfully present.

But human rights groups say that tens of thousands of Palestinians, who do not hold Israeli-approved identity cards but live in the West Bank, could be affected.

"The orders are worded so broadly such as theoretically allowing the military to empty the West Bank of almost all its Palestinian inhabitants," a letter written by human rights organization HaMoked and signed by 10 other groups to Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.

Close to 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The settlements are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

There are around 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday Israel should do more to pursue peace in the Middle East and that failure to do so will empower "extremists like Hamas."

"For Israel, accepting concrete steps toward peace -- both through the peace process and in the bottoms-up institution building I have described -- are the best weapons against Hamas and other extremists," Clinton said.

While speaking at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington, Clinton urged Israel to refrain from unilateral statements and actions that could undermine peace talks.

Clinton argued that Israel's failure in the peace process would weaken Fatah and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and thus empower Hamas.

"Those who benefit from our failure of leadership traffic in hate and violence and give strength to Iran's anti-Semitic president (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) and extremists like Hamas and Hezbollah," she added.

"If (Palestinian) President (Mahmoud) Abbas cannot deliver on these aspirations, there is no doubt his support will fade and Palestinians will turn to alternatives -- including Hamas. And that way leads only to more conflict," she said.

"We encourage Israel to continue building momentum toward a comprehensive peace by demonstrating respect for the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians, stopping settlement activity, and addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza," she said.

In March, Israel announced it would build 1,600 homes in a part of the West Bank it had annexed to Jerusalem, a move that angered Palestinians and triggered a feud with Washington.

Clinton had slammed the Israeli move as an "insult" and a "deeply negative signal" for bilateral ties.

In Beirut, Lebanese Foreign Minister Ali Shami slammed on Friday US stances following Israeli claims that Syria transferred Scud missiles to Hezbollah, while officials from the resistance declined to confirm or deny the allegations.

The minister made his remarks at Rafik Hariri International Airport before heading for Iran to take part in an international conference on nuclear disarmament.

The White House expressed concern on Wednesday over the alleged weapons transfer and the State Department spokesman said on Thursday that the issue potentially puts Lebanon at significant risk.

Hizbullah sources told the Central News Agency (CNA) that the US statements were a direct threat to Lebanon.

Shami said that the statements by the US “contradict the current facts since Israel is occupying Lebanese land rather than the other way around. Thus the people, army and resistance should work to liberate their land through all legitimate means recognized internationally including resistance and weapons.”

Tackling the Iranian nuclear program, Shami stressed that the international community’s focus on Tehran’s program and its disregard of the Israeli nuclear arsenal had a negative impact on the region.

“Lebanon and the Arab states urge the international community particularly the US and the EU not to disregard Israel’s nuclear arsenal when all Arab states demand a Mideast free of nuclear weapons,” he said.

“Israel with nuclear or non-nuclear weapons keeps launching aggressions against Arab states and particularly Lebanon, with more than 6,500 violations of UN Security Council Resolution 1701,” Shami added.

While the Lebanese government remained silent as Damascus denied the Israeli claims, Hizbullah officials refused Friday to confirm or deny Israeli allegations that the resistance had acquired Scud missiles.

Hizbullah has always adopted a strategy of not disclosing any information on weapons the party holds, or is seeking.

In the first comments on Israeli allegations by a Hizbullah official, Minister Hussein Hajj Hassan said the group was always arming and preparing itself but, “what we have is not their business.”

Echoing Shami, Hajj Hassan told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV Friday that Israel possessed all kinds of weapons, including nuclear warheads.

Israeli officials have said they believe Hizbullah had obtained Scud missiles capable of hitting targets anywhere in Israel, and accused Damascus of providing them.

Syria denied the charge, saying it believed Israel aimed to pave the way for a war in the region to escape a deadlock in the Mideast peace process.

Meanwhile, the debate over Hezbollah’s weapons continued on Friday as March 14 Christian parties rejected a call to comply with a demand by the Hizbullah-led minority during the National Dialogue session Wednesday.

A presidential statement said Thursday following the session that political leaders agreed to refrain from tackling the issue of Hezbollah’s arms in the media.

But Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea reportedly refused during the talks to comply with the opposition demand, saying it conflicted with every political party’s right to freedom of speech and right to express a different opinion.

Batroun MP Antoine Zahra, an LF official, said on Friday that “our clear position at National Dialogue states that discussing a defense strategy does not abolish the fact that the main disputed issue is Hezbollah’s weapons and its role. Therefore, no one can prevent us from tackling it since we believe is important on the national level.”

Zahra added that his party would continue to tackle the resistance’s weapons as long as the issue was not a topic of consensus among the Lebanese.

“On the contrary, it should be discussed and a serious solution will come through national dialogue; however discussing the issue before the public is part of our principles and no one can deny us this right,” he added.

Head of Hezbollah’s Loyalty to Resistance bloc Nabatieh MP Mohammad Raad, and his ally Free Patriotic Movement leader, Kesrouan MP Michel Aoun, threatened to withdraw from the National Dialogue framework if discussions tackled Hezbollah’s weapons.

“Certain parties will not accept any other opinion than theirs. Thus they don’t want to discuss the issue, whether in the media or in National Dialogue … and this is not democracy,” Zahra said.

Similarly, Phalange Party head Amin Gemayel questioned whether Hezbollah’s weapons would benefit the defense strategy or be a burden on it.

Gemayel added that his party submitted a defense strategy close to that adopted by Switzerland, by joining the resistance to the army under the umbrella of the state.

“Hezbollah’s weapons have a domestic [target], as we witnessed on May 7, 2008, which had a major impact on the balance of power in Lebanon,” the former president added in a television interview.

Gemayel also slammed Aoun for imposing conditions prior to the dialogue, adding that “Aoun as a former general should not have disregarded the army’s role and given priority to illegitimate weapons.”

The CNA disclosed Friday a memo submitted by Marada Movement leader and Zghorta MP Sleiman Franjieh during Thursday’s National Dialogue talks which demanded the legitimization of the resistance in its popular structure through the addition of new articles to the Constitution.

On the other hand, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is a prime suspect in a major corruption scandal, the BBC reports.

The British broadcaster said Thursday it was told by Israeli law enforcement sources that police asked Olmert in for questioning concerning corruption allegations linked to his term as mayor of Jerusalem.

The leader denies involvement but ended his holiday in Europe and returned to Israel. Israeli media have said he may have received nearly $1 million in the affair.

This comes a day after Olmert's successor as mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski, was arrested on corruption charges linked to a luxury property development project in western Jerusalem. Police say Lupolianski helped advance the high-rise development despite significant local opposition.

Olmert's former lawyer, Uri Messer, has also been arrested.

Several corruption scandals plagued Olmert's presidential term.