American Press: Your Best News And Advertising Source - World http://www.americanpress.com/ American Press: The Only Local Daily Newspaper In Southwest Louisiana. en-US Copyright (c) February, 2017 American Press. All rights reserved <![CDATA[Report: Israeli leader turned down regional peace initiative]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170219-Israel-US By Aron Heller / Associated Press

JERUSALEM -- An Israeli newspaper reported Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned down a regional peace initiative last year that was brokered by then-American Secretary of State John Kerry, in apparent contradiction to his stated goal of involving regional powers in resolving Israel's conflict with the Palestinians.

Haaretz reported that Netanyahu took part in a secret summit that Kerry organized in the southern Jordanian port city of Aqaba last February and included Jordan's King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. According to the report, which cited anonymous Obama administration officials, Kerry proposed regional recognition of Israel as a Jewish state — a key Netanyahu demand — alongside a renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians with the support of the Arab countries. Netanyahu reportedly rejected the offer, saying he would not be able to garner enough support for it in his hard-line coalition government.

The initiative was also reportedly the basis of short-lived talks with opposition leader Isaac Herzog to join the government, a plan that quickly unraveled when Netanyahu chose to bring in nationalist leader Avigdor Lieberman instead and appoint him defense minister.

Herzog tweeted Sunday that "history will definitely judge the magnitude of the opportunity as well as the magnitude of the missed opportunity."

A former top aide to Kerry confirmed that the meeting took place secretly on Feb. 21, 2016. According to the official, Kerry tried to sweeten the 15-year-old "Arab Peace Initiative," a Saudi-led plan that offered Israel peace with dozens of Arab and Muslim nations in return for a pullout from territories captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

Among the proposed changes were Arab recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, a key Netanyahu demand, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, another key Netanyahu demand, as long as it recognized Palestinian claims to a capital "in Jerusalem" as well, and softened language on the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees to lost properties in what is now Israel, the former official said.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was still not authorized to discuss the secret meeting publicly, said the Egyptian and Jordanian leaders reacted positively to the proposal, while Netanyahu refused to commit to anything beyond meetings with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"We saw it as building on, or updating, but certainly not superseding" the 2002 Arab initiative, he said.

Netanyahu himself did not address the report in his weekly Cabinet meeting and his office refused to comment. Instead, the prime minister focused on last week's visit to Washington to meet new President Donald Trump. Netanyahu called the meeting "historic" and one that strengthened the two countries' longtime alliance. He said at the end of meeting, Trump shook his hand and told him it was a "new day" in Israeli-American relations.

After eight years of testy ties with Barack Obama, Netanyahu seems to be relishing Trump's warm embrace. The new president has broken from his predecessor in adopting friendlier positions to the Israeli government regarding a tough line on Iran, a vaguer stance on Palestinian statehood and a more lenient approach to West Bank settlements. He's also promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to fortify Israel's claim to the city as its capital, and appointed an ambassador with close ties to the settlement movement.

Netanyahu said the two leaders see "eye to eye" on Iran and a host of other issues. "There is a new day and it is a good day," he said.

In a joint press conference last week with Netanyahu, Trump offered unwavering support for Israel with the only hint of distance coming in his request of Netanyahu to "hold off" on Jewish settlement construction in territories the Palestinians claim for a future state. Netanyahu said Sunday that the sides have formed joint teams to coordinate settlement construction along with other issues.

In a striking departure from longtime American policy, Trump also refrained from supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying he would defer to whatever solution the sides agreed upon. Netanyahu pleased his coalition partners by holding back from mentioning a potential Palestinian state as well, even though he is on record as supporting the concept.

In a further wrinkle, Lieberman chimed in that for him a Palestinian state remains the preferred outcome — and it should come through the type of regional structure Netanyahu reportedly rejected.

"My vision, it's the endgame no doubt, two-state solution. I believe that it's necessary for us to keep the Jewish state," he said at the Munich Security Conference. "The Palestinians don't have capacity to sign a lone final status agreement with Israel. It's possible only as a part of an all-regional solution, not an incremental process but simultaneously."

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Sun, 19 Feb 2017 09:41:23 CST 13655688 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Voters in Ecuador choosing between change, continuity]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170219-Ecuador-Presidential-Election By Gonzalo Solano / Associated Press

QUITO, Ecuador -- Ecuadoreans are choosing Sunday between a candidate who vows to continue President Rafael Correa's populist platform or one of several more conservative contenders who pledge to attack corruption and cut taxes to stimulate the Andean nation's flagging economy.

Polls suggest it will be a tight election, with no candidate likely to garner enough votes to win the first round. But a third of voters until recently were undecided amid low-energy campaigning as the charismatic Correa prepares to retire from politics.

Polling places opened without incident Sunday morning.

The outcome will be watched closely in Latin America, where conservative leaders in Argentina, Brazil and Peru have assumed power in the past 18 months after the end of a commodities boom that boosted leftists like Correa.

Outside the region, much of the interest in the election focuses on what the outcome will mean for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his ability to remain at the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Ruling party candidate Lenin Moreno, who is Correa's hand-picked successor, has indicated he would back Assange's continued stay. But his main challenger, former banker Guillermo Lasso, has indicated in interviews that he would evict the Australian activist within 30 days of taking office.

The contest puts Correa's legacy on the line as well. The self-declared 21st century socialist who took office in 2007 ushered in a period of stability after a severe economic crisis that saw three presidents toppled in protests and the adoption of the U.S. dollar to control rampant inflation. While Correa has been praised for reducing inequality and overhauling the nation's infrastructure, polls show a majority of Ecuadoreans favor change.

Formerly flush government budgets have been slashed and thousands of people at state-run companies laid off as oil revenues in the OPEC nation declines. The International Monetary Fund expects Ecuador's economy to shrink 2.7 percent this year, and analysts predict that the next president will have to seek a bailout from the Washington-based lender to help with financial problems made worse by last year's 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

Moreno has pressed voters to uphold the president's "Citizens' Revolution," while his challengers vow to eliminate taxes they contend hampers growth and strengthen democratic institutions they say were weakened by Correa's leadership.

Recent polls show Moreno winning 28-32 percent of the votes. He is trailed by Lasso, who lost to Correa in 2013 and is polling with 22 percent. Also seeking the presidency is Cynthia Viteri, a conservative ex-congresswoman, and Paco Moncayo, the former mayor of the capital Quito. To avoid an April runoff, a candidate must clench 50 percent or more of all votes, or 40 percent with a 10-point lead over the closest rival.

In the final weeks before the election, corruption allegations involving Moreno's running mate, current Vice President Jorge Glas, have dominated airwaves. A leaked video widely shared on social media shows a disgraced former cabinet minister undergoing a lie detector test and accusing Glas of taking some of the $12 million in bribes paid to state-run PetroEcuador for construction of a refinery.

Glas has denied any wrongdoing.

As Ecuadoreans prepared to vote, the candidates offered contrasting visions for the country of nearly 16 million.

"We have two options," Lasso told voters on Twitter. "More of the same or change."

Moreno, who has used a wheelchair since being shot in an assault in 1998, told voters that Ecuador doesn't need drastic changes, just a "push."

"Don't abandon the revolution," he has repeated during the final campaign stretch.

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Sun, 19 Feb 2017 09:41:17 CST 13655686 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Blast in Somalia kills 15 in Mogadishu marketplace]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170219-Somalia-Violence By Abdi Guled / Associated Press

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- A Somali police officer says a blast at a busy market in the western part of Somalia's capital killed at least 15 people.

Capt. Mohamed Hussein said the powerful blast thought to be from a car bomb tore through shops and food stands in Mogadishu's Madina district Sunday. He said the bomb also wounded more than 10 others and casualties may rise as many of the wounded victims suffered horrific wounds.

Kawo Godey is a small but busy market with shops and food stands.

Ahmed Mohamed, a witness said he saw severed limbs and blood scattered across the market.

"Bodies were piled on top of each other." he said by phone as ambulance sirens echoed from the background.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the blast. However, Somalia's homegrown Islamic extremist rebels, al-Shabab, often carry out such attacks.

Despite being ousted from large parts of south and central Somalia, al-Shabab continues to carry out guerrilla attacks in this Horn of Africa nation.

An al-Shabab rebel commander denounced the country's recent election of a new president and vowed to continue fighting the government, the first official comment from al-Shabab since the president's election earlier this month.

In an audio message released by al-Shabab's radio arm Sunday, Sheikh Hassan Yaqub, a senior commander of the extremist group, called Somalia's new president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed an "apostate" and warned Somalis against supporting him. Mohamed, who holds both Somali and U.S. citizenship, was elected Feb. 8.

The al-Shabab leader also referred the new president as "evil-minded," recalling his eight-month tenure as the prime minister of Somalia in 2010 and 2011, during which the extremists lost control of Mogadishu, the capital.

"Remember how much harm he inflicted upon Muslims during his time as prime minister," said Yaqub.

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Sun, 19 Feb 2017 08:02:46 CST 13655586 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Pence arrives in Germany for meetings with world leaders]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170217-Pence By The Associated Press

MUNICH -- Vice President Mike Pence has arrived in Germany for his first overseas trip as vice president.

Pence's Air Force Two has landed in Munich, where he is set to deliver a speech Saturday at the Munich Security Conference and meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of several U.S. allies.

Pence is expected to reassure U.S. partners in Europe and the Middle East about U.S. foreign policy under President Donald Trump and the nation's commitment to trans-Atlantic institutions like NATO and the European Union.

He is meeting Saturday with the leaders of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. He's also meeting with the heads of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Fri, 17 Feb 2017 14:48:59 CST 13651781 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Car bomb in Turkish town kills 3-year-old, wounds 15 people]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170217-Turkey-Explosion By The Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey -- A car bomb attack targeting government lodgings in southeastern Turkey has killed a 3-year-old child and wounded 15 people, an official said.

The bomb exploded near the homes of judges and prosecutors in the mainly-Kurdish town of Viransehir, in Sanliurfa province, which borders Syria.

The state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Sanliurfa governor Gungor Azim Tuna as saying the attack was carried out with an explosives-laden vehicle, killing the child and wounding 15 others. Anadolu said medics and police were dispatched to the area, which was immediately sealed off.

Turkey has suffered a series of violent attacks since 2015 that have been carried out either by the Islamic State group or by Kurdish militants who have led a three-decade old insurgency and resumed fighting after a cease-fire collapsed that year.

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, has targeted police or government lodgings with car bombs in the past.

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Fri, 17 Feb 2017 13:42:27 CST 13651579 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Finnish lawmakers reject call to revoke same-sex marriage]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170217-Finland-Same-Sex-Marriages By The Associated Press

HELSINKI -- Finnish lawmakers on Friday rejected a petition from more than 100,000 people demanding the repeal of a law allowing same-sex marriage that takes effect on March 1.

The petition was considered a last-minute attempt to revoke the law that made Finland the last Nordic country to allow gays to wed.

In Friday's 120-48 vote with two abstentions and 29 absentees, Finland's Parliament rejected a public petition demanding that marriage remains "a genuinely egalitarian union between man and woman" and calling for "repealing the gender-neutral marriage law."

In Finland, any petition with at least 50,000 signatures is automatically considered by Parliament.

Those backing the petition were the populist Finns Party, a member of the country's three-party, center-right Cabinet, and the opposition Christian Democrats. The plea argued that a child was entitled to have both a mother and a father, and an earlier law allowing registered partnership was sufficient.

The petition was discussed in Parliament's legal affairs committee on Tuesday and a rejection was recommended because "consistency, stability and predictability must be pursued when Parliament passes legislation, particularly when the legislation comes to important legal institutions as marriage."

The Eduskunta assembly then rejected the petition.

"Once again we see harassment in the name of government cooperation although it is less than two weeks to the day when people have booked wedding venues" and are looking forward to "the happiest day in life," opposition lawmaker Emma Kari told Finnish broadcaster YLE.

Although same-sex couples have been able to live in officially registered partnerships in Finland since 2002, it wasn't until 2014 that Finland decided to approve same-sex marriage, giving couples rights to share a surname and to adopt children.

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Fri, 17 Feb 2017 10:30:31 CST 13651307 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Islamic State suicide bombing at Pakistan shrine kills 75]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170216-AS-Pakistan By Adil Jawad and Munir Ahmed / Associated Press

KARACHI, Pakistan -- An Islamic State suicide bomber struck inside a famed shrine in southern Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least 75 people in the deadliest attack in the country in more than two years.

The bomber entered the main hall of the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and detonated his payload amid dozens of worshippers, according to three security officials, who said at least 20 women and nine children were among the dead.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters. Fazal Palejo, a senior health official in Sindh province, confirmed the toll.

The Islamic State group claimed the attack in a statement circulated by its Aamaq news agency, saying it had targeted a "Shiite gathering." The Sunni extremist group views Shiites as apostates and has targeted Pakistan's Shiite minority in the past. It views Sufi shrines like the one targeted Thursday as a form of idolatry.

Raja Somro, who witnessed the attack, told a local TV network that hundreds of people were performing a spiritual dance known as the Dhamal when the bomber struck.

"I saw bodies everywhere. I saw bodies of women and children," he said.

Local TV showed graphic footage of the aftermath of the blast, with wounded worshippers crying out for help and the floors covered with shoes, blood and body parts. Women cried and beat their chests in grief.

Ghazanfar Shah, the custodian of the site, said security was lax at the shrine, which is entered through two gold-plated doors.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed that security forces would track down the perpetrators of the attack, according to Pakistani state TV.

"Each drop of the nation's blood shall be avenged, and avenged immediately," Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, said in a statement. "No more restraint for anyone."

Thursday's attack was the deadliest in Pakistan since Dec. 16, 2014, when militants assaulted an army-run school in Peshawar, killing 154 people, mostly schoolchildren.

Pakistan has been at war with the Taliban and other extremist groups for more than a decade. In recent years it has launched major offensives against militant strongholds in the tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan, but insurgents have continued to carry out attacks elsewhere in the country.

The Islamic State group has been expanding its presence in Pakistan in recent years and has claimed a number of deadly attacks, including a suicide bombing at another shrine in November 2016 that killed more than 50 people.

The government has downplayed the IS affiliate, insisting that only a small number of militants have pledged allegiance to the group.

Afghanistan and Pakistan have long accused each other of failing to crack down on militants who operate along the porous border.

The army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, said acts of terrorism were being carried out "from hostile powers and from sanctuaries in Afghanistan," without elaborating. Pakistan closed the main Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan shortly after the attack.

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Thu, 16 Feb 2017 14:00:52 CST 13649217 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Spanish woman gives birth to healthy twins at age 64]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170216-Spain-Mother-at-64

MADRID -- A doctor in northern Spain says a 64-year-old woman has given birth to healthy twins following her second successful pregnancy at an advanced age.

Recoletas Hospital medical director Enrique Martin said Thursday that the babies delivered by cesarean section on Tuesday are "perfectly healthy."

The twins are a boy who weighed 2.4 kilograms (5.3 pounds) and a girl who weighed 2.2 kilograms (4.9 pounds.)

Diario de Burgos newspaper reports their mother had her first child at age 58, but her daughter has been in the custody of local authorities since 2014 because she didn't attend school and was not properly cared for.

The Spanish woman became pregnant a second time after seeking in-vitro fertilization in the United States. She is being identified only by her initials, M.I.A.

Martin confirmed that the hospital was discussing with the regional government's social services the woman's ability and resources to take care of the newborns. But the doctor said that he was proud of his team's achievement in providing an adequate medical response to a "difficult situation."

"She showed up four months pregnant at the gates of our hospital and all we could do was face the situation and react," the doctor said.

Laws in Spain don't establish legal limits on the maximum age for assisted reproduction but the Spanish Fertility Society discourages treatments for women over 50.

Last year, a 62-year-old doctor who specializes in IVF treatments in the northwestern city of Lugo appeared before cameras last year holding her third baby in her arms.

Lina Alvarez became a symbol for many women as she encouraged them to follow her lead, but she was also the target of criticism as many considered a woman her age incapable of taking care of children in a proper manner.

Critics have referred to the case of Carmen Bousada, a 67-year-old woman from Cadiz who paid a U.S. fertility clinic to help her become pregnant and died of cancer in 2006, three years after giving birth to twins. According to local media reports, the children are now under the care of Bousada's nephew.

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Thu, 16 Feb 2017 13:59:48 CST 13649215 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[US envoy: US supports 2-state Israel-Palestinian solution]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170216-United-Nations-Israel-Palestinians By Edith M. Lederer / Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS -- U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Thursday the United States "absolutely" supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and anyone who thinks it doesn't is in "error."

But the Trump administration's new U.N. envoy told reporters: "We are thinking out of the box as well, which is: What does it take to bring these two sides to the table? What do we need to have them agree on?"

Haley's comments were far more forceful in support of a two-state solution than President Donald Trump's on Wednesday. He said: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one."

Haley also said the solution to the conflict has to come from the Israelis and Palestinians, but she said several times and stressed: "We absolutely support a two-state solution."

Earlier Thursday the United Nations and the Arab League issued a joint statement in support of the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, saying the two-state solution is "the only way to achieve comprehensive and just settlement to the Palestinian cause."

That appeared to put U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, who met in Cairo, at odds with Trump.

But Haley said, when asked whether the United States would carry out its obligations the under U.N. Security Council resolution that called for the establishment of two states: "Understand that the United States supports the two-state resolution. That's never been wavered."

"What we're saying is, OK, let's not just talk about the old way of doing things." She said. "Come to the table with all the fresh atmosphere and perspectives that we now have, and think, OK, what can we do knowing all of the factors, knowing where we sit present day, and how can we move forward."

Guterres had stressed earlier Wednesday that there is no "Plan B" to a two-state solution. Haley was asked if the United States had a "Plan B."

"I think first of all a two-state solution is what we support," she said. "Anybody who wants to say the United States doesn't support a two-state solution ?€” that would be an error."

Trump also urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their joint press conference at the White House on Wednesday to "hold off" on Jewish settlement construction in territory the Palestinians claim for their future state, to try to facilitate talks.

"What the president has said and we agree on is that expanding settlements at this point is not helpful," Haley said. "That's basically what we're saying to both sides. Let's take a pause."

She said what Trump and the new administration are going to try to do is facilitate "some constructive action."

"We're just unbiased," Haley said. "Bring them to the table and say, OK, we're going to do this."

The U.S. ambassador spoke to reporters after attending the Security Council's monthly meeting on the Middle East ?€” her first.

Haley was highly critical of what she called the anti-Israel bias in the U.N.'s most powerful body and the resolution members adopted in December condemning Israeli settlements as a "flagrant violation" of international law.

The U.N.'s Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov stressed at the council meeting that "the two-state solution remains the only way to achieve the legitimate aspirations of both peoples."

He also warned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must never be allowed "to drift into the abyss of the extremism and radicalism sweeping the region."

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Thu, 16 Feb 2017 13:29:44 CST 13649165 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Trump's ambassador pick is well-known figure in West Bank]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170216-Israel-Ambassador-s-Settlement By Alon Berstein / Associated Press

BEIT EL, West Bank -- President Donald Trump's nominee for ambassador to Israel may be causing controversy in Washington. But in this West Bank settlement, he is a well-known friend.

As the Senate holds a confirmation hearing Thursday on the nomination of David Friedman, he could face grilling about his ties to Beit El, a community north of Jerusalem located in the heart of the occupied territory Palestinians demand for an independent state.

Friedman is a major donor to Beit El and serves as the president of the American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva, the U.S. fundraising arm of the settlement's Jewish seminary and affiliated institutions, including high schools, an Israeli military prep academy, a newspaper for the religious Jewish settler community and the right-wing news site Arutz Sheva.

Beit El resident Daniel Aviya, who makes religious phylacteries called Tefillin, said he thinks Friedman will make an excellent ambassador. He described Friedman as "someone who knows Israel because he was here — not because he read the newspapers that the Arab population is very good at using on their side."

Before Trump was elected, a string of U.S. presidents, along with the Palestinians and international community, opposed settlements built in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as obstacles to peace. The Palestinians seek both territories, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, for their hoped-for state.

At a high-profile White House meeting on Wednesday, Trump abandoned those positions. He asked the visiting Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to "hold back on settlements for a little bit," but also promised to "work something out." He then said the U.S. is no longer necessarily committed to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, saying he would accept any arrangement worked out by the parties.

But even by Trump's new standards, Friedman appears to be extreme. A bankruptcy lawyer and son of an Orthodox rabbi, Friedman is a fervent supporter of the settlements and an outspoken opponent of Palestinian statehood.

In Beit El, the Friedman Faculty House, which bears his and his wife's names on the facade, is built on private Palestinian land without permission from its Palestinian landowners, according to the anti-settlement watchdog Kerem Navot.

A website connected to Friedman's fundraising group describes Beit El's institutions as "'facts on the ground' in the face of the international community's desire to uproot us."

Such views are unprecedented for U.S. ambassadors to Israel, who in the past, whether from Republican or Democratic administrations, have avoided travel to settlements.

On Wednesday, five former U.S. ambassadors issued a letter saying that Friedman is unqualified and has staked out "extreme, radical positions." They urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to carefully consider the nomination.

Friedman's ties to Beit El are just one of the reasons he could face a stormy confirmation hearing.

As a columnist for the Beit El-affiliated Arutz Sheva news site, Friedman has railed against the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is backed by many American Jewish organizations. He also has infuriated many by referring to U.S. Jews who support the liberal pro-Israel advocacy group J Street as "kapos," the Jews who assisted Nazis in concentration camps. He has also accused Obama of "blatant anti-Semitism."

During Thursday's hearing, Friedman expressed regret over some of his past comments and vowed to use more measured language if he is confirmed.

Yoni Fromwitz, who works at the Tefillin factory in Beit El, said he believes Friedman will keep his personal feelings in check if he becomes ambassador.

"If he comes to spend some time here on a personal level, that's between him and his wife and God," Fromwitz said. "As far as his job is concerned, I believe he is enough of a professional that he will truly represent whatever the Trump government decides whenever they get around to deciding."

In a financial disclosure report to the U.S. State Department, Friedman pledged to resign from his position with the Beit El fundraising arm should he be confirmed as ambassador to Israel.

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Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:06:51 CST 13648927 at http://www.americanpress.com