Rice Trys to Gin Up Enthusiasm for Her Peacemaking

Few seem to be enthusiastic about Rice's Peace Powwow. Washington plans to invite Syria (Ar) and in English to the Middle East conference. Th six countries invited are KSA, JR, EG, SY, LEB, and Qatar, as well as the Palestinian Authority – or Palestinian National Authority, as it calls itself.

The Reuters story and most of the others write that "Syria has said it was ready to take part in the conference which U.S. President George W. Bush called for in July to try to revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking." It is hard to believe that Syria will be interested in participating in this venture today.

Not only has Israel just bombed it, but Washington is in no mood to promote Israeli-Syrian dialogue or the return of the Golan. The invitation seems to be a pro-forma one. America is holding its nose, inviting Syria, and hoping the reach-out will give the Saudis enough cover with their public to accept Washington's invitation.

The Palestinians are insisting that real progress has to be made and real issues addressed before they can agree to participate, but they are captives and will show up and smile whatever is on offer. The Saudis want to see beef as well and are temporizing. The Israelis however, are insisting that it is much too early to discuss substantial issues and the conference should be a getting-to-know-you affair. Syrian VP Sharra made it quite clear back in August that Syria would participate only if Washington presented a clear proposal and plan for the conference. That doesn't seem to be the case. I doubt Damascus will participate.

According to Alistair Lyon of Reuters,

Rice all but dismissed the idea [of Washington encouraging Syro-Israeli peace] when asked about Olmert's olive branch to Syria, saying it was up to the Israelis and Syrians to strike a deal if they could, but cautioning that such an effort was "no substitute" for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

"I think we haven't seen anything in Syrian behavior to this point that suggests Syria is doing anything but acting in a destabilizing way in the Middle East," she added.

Syria argues that Washington itself is a destabilizing force, citing its war in Iraq and its support for Israel.

"The last attack blocked the way to peace talks for the foreseeable future," said Alon Liel, a former director of the Israeli foreign ministry who has been involved in private efforts to promote renewed Syrian-Israeli talks.

"Not just because the Syrians are angry at Israel, but because the Americans have a very clear decision to leave Syria in an Iran-Hezbollah axis," Liel told Reuters in Jerusalem. 

"As long as this is U.S. policy, Israel and Syria cannot sit down together. Israel cannot embarrass the Americans (by doing this) and Syria cannot get rid of Iran without an alternative."….

"We need Washington because it is the only power that can put pressure on Israel," said the [Syrian] official, who asked not to be named. "We also need witnesses, who could be European."

STRATEGIC BARGAIN

Only the United States can offer Syria the sweeping package deal it might need to make peace with Israel and loosen ties with Iran and militant Lebanese and Palestinian groups.

But the Bush administration, at odds with Syria over Iraq, Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has sought to isolate Damascus diplomatically and punish it with sanctions.

It has paid little heed so far to arguments that drawing Syria and Israel into negotiations would influence regional dynamics and clinching a peace deal would transform them.

Damascus has long argued that it is futile to try to exclude it by focusing solely on the Israeli-Palestinian track.

"Peace in the region cannot come without Syria. Of course there should be a solution for the Palestinians, a Palestinian state, but everything should start with Syria, contrary to what has been done up to now," the Syrian official said.

Israel's Barak dismisses peace push "fantasies"

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying on Friday that talk of any peace deal with the Palestinians anytime soon was a "fantasy", in a challenge to U.S.-led efforts to revive negotiations.

In private conversations reported by Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Barak said he would not carry out plans by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to remove roadblocks in the West Bank as a gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

US wants North Korea nuclear questions answered, Reuters

Read the Paul Woodward story on "Why the Nuclear Story is not So Nuclear."

Syrian newspapers have accused the United states of being behind the assassinations in Lebanon.

Another Israeli argues that Assad is better than the opposition. The lesser evil: A weak Assad regime is better for us than the prospective alternatives

Guy Bechor, 09.23.07

Is Basher Assad, who has been starring in the headlines lately, an asset or a liability? What policy should Israel adopt vis-à-vis the Alawite regime in Syria? Would it serve Israel's purpose if Assad were toppled, strengthened, or weakened? …

Last week a "rescue" conference attended by the Syrian opposition, united in its hatred to Assad and his regime, convened in Berlin. Everyone

partook in the conference: Former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam, who argued that Basher personally gave the oder to assassinate Rafik Hariri; the Syrian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which accused Basher and his father of the murder of thousands of civilians, repression and brutality; Kurdish movements, Sunnis, leftists, Christians, the representatives of other ethnic minorities and well-known exiles – the whole lot.

Just like the case of the Iraqi opposition a decade ago, hatred of the president is their only source of unification. In the Syrian case, however, there is another unifying factor: The hatred for Israel. If we thought that this opposition would be democratic, pro-western, and that it would perhaps reach some peace agreement with us, it seems we were mistaken. Hence, conference participants attacked Assad for not maintaining "Syrian honor" and for not embarking on a war against Israel. In other words, no salvation will be forthcoming from there.

There is a nice Arabic expression which says "calculate your losses before calculating your profits." The rules of the game in the region have shown us that we should opt for the lighter damage over the heavier damage. When comparing the two options, clearly the damage posed by the Assad family is less than the damage likely to be inflicted by the opposition.

Barak: Israel must operate as though war is around the corner

Israel must act as though the next war is right around the corner, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday at the state's official commemoration of soldiers killed in the Yom Kippur War.

Barak said that the lesson from the 1973 war is that "on security matters, we cannot be deceived by apparent and imagined calm. We need self-control, vigilance, and an experienced and stable hand at the helm."

The defense minister also said that "on matters pertaining to our national security, the strength of Israel must be alert and fit at all times. We must always cultivate and enhance the decisive and quality advantage of this strength, along with the warrior spirit and the tools of war."

Iraqi refugees weighing down Syria
P
osted: Friday, September 21, 2007
Categories: On Assignment
By Dawna Friesen, NBC News Correspondent

DAMASCUS, Syria – To hear about the millions of refugees from Iraq is one thing. To see them, and speak to some of them, is quite another. All have tales of chaos and death.

It is a refugee crisis unlike any other in modern times.

There are no dramatic pictures of massive camps with UNHCR tents lined up row after row. No starving children waiting for food hand-outs. 

That's because the estimated 1.5 million Iraqis who have flooded into Syria have melted into Damascus's already crowded streets. They live wherever they can, whole families crammed into tiny, seedy apartments with only the most basic of provisions.

VIDEO: Plight of Iraqi refugees

According to the UNHCR, they are mostly middle class. Nothing has prepared them for the life as a refugee. Many have already used up their life savings.

While Syria has generously welcomed them, and gives them access to education for the children and subsidized health care, they do not have residency rights nor are they allowed to work.

Children bear the burden
The result? Many children are becoming the family breadwinners because they can slip more easily under the radar.

We met Youssef, 15, in a hole-in-the-wall grocery store in a Damascus laneway. He says he works 12 hours a day, seven days a week. He's been doing that ever since his mother, brother and sister fled Baghdad in 2004. They left after Youssef's older brother was shot and killed. His father died seven years ago.

So Youssef is effectively head of the household. He's remarkably cheerful, with bright brown eyes and an eager smile. I asked him what his dream for the future is. He told me he wants to go to university and become a doctor. Still so much hope, even though odds are he's probably not going to finish high school, never mind make it to university.

A potentially destabilizing force
The longer these child refugees linger in limbo, stateless and poor, the more likely they'll grow up angry and undereducated. A generation of Iraqis who feel alienated and disillusioned is hardly what the Middle East or the world needs.

The Syrians can see the dangers looming. Dr. Bashar Shaar, Syria's minister for Red Crescent Affairs, told me not only are the refugees a massive strain on the country's infrastructure, their presence could destabilize not only Syria, but the whole Middle East in the future. It is, he said, a ticking time bomb.

Ensuring the children of Iraqi refugees are cared for and get back in school seems as vital to the stability of region as fighting insurgents in Iraq.

Dr Joseph A. Kechichian, The wait for a leader, is a very useful overview of Lebanese Presidential politics with bios of the most important candidates.

Israel: Man wasn't spying in Lebanon By LAURIE COPANS, Associated Press

Israel said on Sunday that an Israeli man who has been arrested in Lebanon is not a spy, and his father said he had converted to Islam several years ago and immersed himself in Arab culture.

Comments (32)


1. Frank al Irlandi said:

Chaps

This morning our friends the Russians at TASS published this.

http://www.itar-tass.com/eng/level2.html?NewsID=11898345

I think they are talking about SAM and Anti tank stuff heading for Lebanon and Gaza. I saw reports a few weeks ago that Hizb Allah might have SA-18 which is said to be rather good. But I also wonder if they are talking about something else

It is of course a major statement of where they see their sphere of influence. Syria is their client and they will be responsible for her good behaviour.

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September 24th, 2007, 6:55 am

 

2. offended said:

It seems that N. Korea has asked for the Six Party meeting to be postponed, apparently as a protest against the media reports that she’s cooperating with Syria on nuclear programs…

I don’t know what is the covert meaning behind this, but I thought it is worth mentioning..

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September 24th, 2007, 9:41 am

 

3. offended said:

On a lighter note, it seems that Damascus is testing its sirens today…

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September 24th, 2007, 9:45 am

 

4. SimoHurtta said:

12:52 Israeli officials say J`lem won`t object to Syria joining peace summit (Reuters)
13:30 PM: November summit is not a peace conference, but an international meeting (DPA)
14:08 AG orders police to open probe against PM over J`lem house purchase (Haaretz)

The advertised peace conference isn’t a peace conference but an meeting though international. International meeting about what, olive oil trade between Middle East and USA? Who decided that it is an international meeting and not a peace conference, Olmert or Bush?

Interesting to see who else besides Olmert and Bush appear to the “international” meeting. Well maybe even Olmert can’t appear to the place if he is the same time “interviewed” by the police. Bush’s crew must be desperate, the world will laugh to this newest US failure in Middle East if it can’t get some real movement towards a two state solution.

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September 24th, 2007, 12:54 pm

 

5. Murphy said:

I would say it’s at least 90% sure that Syria will not participate in this “peace” conference.

What will be more interesting to see is if the Saudis go. At the moment it looks unlikely, but it depends on how much they feel they need to please the US at the expense of p***ing off their own people.

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September 24th, 2007, 1:21 pm

 

6. Frank al Irlandi said:

Guys

By the end of yesterdayI had concluded that the goings on are all about Ehud Barak and him wanting to be PM again.

Now we see reports of Olmert being invesigated for dodgy dealings.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7010565.stm

We should now be thinking (in greater depth than just Oh Cringe!) what this means. Will Mr Cheney be having a lttle smile to himself?

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September 24th, 2007, 1:27 pm

 

7. Murphy said:

Let’s have a little contest here, shall we?

Can anyone recall the last Israeli PM NOT to have been ‘investigated for dodgy dealings?!?”

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September 24th, 2007, 1:31 pm

 

8. norman said:

Rabin

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September 24th, 2007, 1:43 pm

 

9. Murphy said:

Maybe if he’d lived a bit longer, they’d have found something on him too?

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September 24th, 2007, 1:45 pm

 

10. Akbar Palace said:

Can anyone recall the last Israeli PM NOT to have been ‘investigated for dodgy dealings?!?”

And can anyone remember the last Arab leader who has EVER been “investigated for dodgy dealings”?

Yet, the “angry” Arab street always refer to their own governments as “corrupt”?

Powerlessness is sweet, and provides strength and unity.

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September 24th, 2007, 3:33 pm

 

11. Murphy said:

Can anyone recall the last time Akbar responded to a perceived criticism of Israel by NOT invoking strawmen about the Arab world?

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September 24th, 2007, 3:46 pm

 

12. IsraeliGuy said:

**********
“Can anyone recall the last Israeli PM NOT to have been ‘investigated for dodgy dealings?!?””
**********

Let me answer you question without cynicism: no.
I honestly can’t remember.

The Israeli system will not tolerate corruption from anybody – especially not from its political leadership.

In fact, today, it was also decided to indite the previous finance minister, Abraham Hirchson for fraud and theft charges.
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/906852.html

In Israel, it doesn’t matter if you’re the PM, the finance minister or just a common man from the street.

If you sinned you’re gonna pay big time and your seniority or you’re political role are both meaningless.

It would be too easy to mock Arab regimes for their fight against their leader’s corruption, so I won’t, but I can say that Israel is fighting political corruption even better than most western democracies.

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September 24th, 2007, 4:06 pm

 

13. Murphy said:

“If you sinned you’re gonna pay big time and your seniority or you’re political role are both meaningless.”

I knew it wouldn’t take long before someone tried to spin the obvious corruption of Israel’s political class into an example of the democratic and egalitarian nature of Israel. A bit like how when some 19 year old from Murmansk gets a slap on the wrist for killing Palestinian kids, it gets toted as an example of “Israeli justice and rule of law”. Ho ho.

“The Israeli system will not tolerate corruption from anybody – especially not from its political leadership.”

Really? So all of those top politicos investigated for corruption, where are they now? Surely they could not be allowed to remain in political life, given Israel’s zero tolerance for corruption? That surely would not happen?

“I can say that Israel is fighting political corruption even better then most western democracies.”

Given that corruption seems to be part of the job description for a top Israeli politician, it would seem the ‘fight’ isn’t going too well.

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September 24th, 2007, 4:22 pm

 

14. norman said:

the question is ; If they allways get caught then why they continue to do it.

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September 24th, 2007, 4:48 pm

 

15. IsraeliGuy said:

Unfortunately (and it’s almost like a nature law), wherever you have ‘politics’, you’ll have ‘corruption’ as its twin brother – at least to some extent.

That’s my opinion, at least.

I believe that political power, can blind people’s judgement in many cases and some politicians, after being in office for a while, abuse the power that they have.

Eradicating political corruption is indeed very difficult and it takes time, not only in Israel, but elsewhere too.

For this to succeed you need to create deterrence, so politicians will know that when they’ll be caught, they will be investigated, indited, face court and be punished.

They should know that nobody is above the law.
Not even them.

This is not easy at all, and it takes years to create this deterrence, but I believe that it will eventually work and in a few years, being a corrupt will not be an inherent part of the job description – just as you say.

The more investigations we’ll have, the more indictments, the more trials and the more convictions – the more success we’ll have.

We’re constantly working on this.

True, we’re not there yet.
We still have a lot of work to do.
But I believe that if we’ll keep being persistent, as we are now, we’ll get there eventually.

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September 24th, 2007, 4:59 pm

 

16. IsraeliGuy said:

*********
“the question is ; If they allways get caught then why they continue to do it.”
*********

Norman, good question.

I’m sure that they’re not ‘always’ caught.
Just as some plain thieves, rapists or murderers are never caught, some politicians are not caught too.

But I believe that the question is if anybody’s looking for them, in the first place.
That’s the start of any successful result.

Again, for this to stop, you need to create deterrence and this deterrence takes a long time to build, but when it will be there – I’m sure it will have dramatic results.

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September 24th, 2007, 5:08 pm

 

17. EHSANI2 said:

“Can anyone recall the last Israeli PM NOT to have been ‘investigated for dodgy dealings?!?”

As an Arab citizen, I can think of many things to criticize Israeli society for. Dodgy dealings by that country’s top politicians would sure not make my list.

Israeli politicians can at least be “investigated”. There is at least a process and a platform to carry this out. Show me one single Arab nation with similar capabilities. Can you imagine an investigation of Bashar, Mubarak or one of the Gulf Kings or Emirs? As the saying goes, if your house is made of glass, you ought to be careful at throwing rocks at your neighbors.

Dr. Landis,

I believe that the Syria of today is both too weak to enter a peace negotiation with Israel and/or to enter into an armed conflict with it. This is the regrettable truth

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September 24th, 2007, 6:11 pm

 

18. Frank al Irlandi said:

Ehsani

Regarding your last point have a look at my first comment.

Why do you think I remarked on it? Client, Ally, think of a synonym.

whichever way you look at it it’s a lot of up to date air defence systems

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September 24th, 2007, 6:38 pm

 

19. norman said:

Some anti semite might say that coruption is genetic in the semetic people , the corrupted Arabs are not caught or do not care if they do , The Israeli ones are caught but continue to do it , ( IT IS GENETIC)

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September 24th, 2007, 6:39 pm

 

20. Nur al-Cubicle said:

If only JR, EG, and Qatar show up, maybe they can talk about Somalia.

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September 24th, 2007, 6:47 pm

 

21. SimoHurtta said:

Beilin: Failure of peace conference would be the ‘end of the world’

Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin warned Monday that failure of the US-sponsored Middle East peace conference set tentatively for November would be “the end of the world,” igniting another round of violence.

Beilin told The Associated Press that he discussed the peace conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday, and he called Olmert’s efforts to lower expectations from the gathering “pathetic.”

Beilin said he told Olmert, “If you fail, it’s the end of the world right now. We know it already. You can’t fail. The responsibility you have on your shoulders now to succeed in two months from now is very, very, very big. And this is why you cannot afford it to work in an amateurish way.”

Beilin warned that a vague statement at the end of the conference would be disastrous, propping up the Islamic militant group Hamas and undermining moderates like Abbas.

If that happens, he said, the results would be “that Hamas will be stronger, that violence will erupt, that hopes will not be there any more, and again, the feeling that we are unable to solve this conflict will re-emerge on the Palestinian side and the Israeli side, that both of us will say, ‘no chance.”‘

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September 24th, 2007, 6:48 pm

 

22. EHSANI2 said:

So, we learn today that corruption is genetic. The white race is somehow immune to it. The brown race is deeply entangled in it.

How profound!

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September 24th, 2007, 6:54 pm

 

23. Alex said:

Israeliguy,

“Unfortunately (and it’s almost like a nature law), wherever you have ‘politics’, you’ll have ‘corruption’ as its twin brother – at least to some extent.

That’s my opinion, at least.

I believe that political power, can blind people’s judgment in many cases and some politicians, after being in office for a while, abuse the power that they have.”

I have been using the same line (all politicians are corrupt, the replacement to the regime will also be corrupt…etc) to explain why I don’t get outraged at corruption in Syria 🙂

You are lucky people here let you get away with it. I was not this lucky.

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September 24th, 2007, 7:09 pm

 

24. why-discuss said:

Just saw a French TV program (Meditteraneo) about arab jews (sefarade) in Israel feeling oppressed by the supremacy of the Ashkenazi establishment. I knew that “democratic and tolerant” Israel had some racism against arabs israelis and I was surprised to learn that they also have racism towards other jew israelis who claim they are not integrated.
In addition the serial corruption in Israeli governement at very high levels (sex harassment, financial dodgings.. etc) does not project a very healthy image of this society who claims to be the ‘good’ guys in opposition to the “bad’ arabs.
I’ll like to know if there is any western country who sees such a proportion of corrupted high ranking officials in such a short time and dare to claim that this is what democracy is all about: catching the corrupted!!

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September 24th, 2007, 7:19 pm

 

25. EHSANI2 said:

Alex,

Since you are always armed with numbers and pictures to back your views, you must be able to help me on this:

Do you have any idea what the official salary of the Syrian Head of State is? In other words, what is Bashar’s official salary, and how does the Palace budget and finance itself?

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September 24th, 2007, 7:23 pm

 

26. IsraeliGuy said:

Alex, just for the record, I don’t think that ‘all politicians are corrupt’ – far from it.
There are so many clean politicians (from all sides of the political spectrum).

What I tried to say was wherever you have politics (a political system) you’ll have at least some corruption, because some of the politicians are indeed corrupt.

We always have to stay on guard and route out the islands of corruption.

If we don’t route out the islands – they’ll turn out to be an entire continent, so I truly believe it’s wrong to tolerate or “learn to live” with them.

Just my $0.02 🙂

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September 24th, 2007, 7:41 pm

 

27. norman said:

Israeli,
I agree , we forget that politics is the art of leading people to a better future , some people use it for their own enrichment.

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September 24th, 2007, 8:00 pm

 

28. IsraeliGuy said:

*********
“Israeli,
I agree , we forget that politics is the art of leading people to a better future , some people use it for their own enrichment.”
*********

Precisely!

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September 24th, 2007, 8:11 pm

 

29. SimoHurtta said:

Israel ranked 28th on corruption list
International organization that fights corruption issues world’s corruption list, ranks Israel 28th of 159 countries, alongside Arab countries, behind West

Israeli economic corruption rises.

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September 24th, 2007, 8:34 pm

 

30. Alex said:

Ehsani,

You know that this is sensitive information that we do not share publicly with our enemies!

What do you want me to say?? : )

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September 24th, 2007, 8:38 pm

 

31. Alex said:

Israeliguy, I am at work now, I will answer your other comment at Creative Forum properly later tonight. I read it.

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September 24th, 2007, 8:40 pm

 

32. Majhool said:

Alex & Ehsani,

I agree with Ehsani that Syria is “weaker” regionally. Losing the “Arab umbrella” has only weakened its position. Syria today is being reduced from an ally of Iran to a merely a proxy.

This is actually good news. The depleting financial aid from Saudia Arabia, the closing of Lebanon as a major corruption outlet of the elite, etc, will only force the Syria regime to open up more (politically and economically) within Syria to finance its existence and to generate people’s support that they now need.

I say, given that things don’t escalate into a war, theses are the best days for SYRIA.

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September 24th, 2007, 9:12 pm

 

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