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Fifty Billion Reasons to Embrace Israel

After two years of build-up, the Trump administration finally began rolling out its long-awaited Mideast peace plan this week, coaxing Bahrain to host an “economic workshop” which highlighted the massive financial incentives the Palestinians could enjoy if only they would opt for peace with Israel at long last.
Palestinian leaders boycotted the event and convinced the host country not to invite Israeli officials, to avoid the appearance of Arab “normalization” with Israel. So the once-imagined photo-op failed to materialize of Arab and Israeli officials sitting together mapping out the future of the region absent the Palestinians.
Yet by all accounts, White House special adviser Jared Kushner – the son-in-law to President Donald Trump – acquitted himself well in laying out the ambitious $50 billion investment package which would be used over the next ten years to lift the Palestinians out of poverty, create one million new regional jobs, and even spur the economies of neighboring Arab states.
And when critics dismissed the plan’s departure from the long-accepted pathway to peace, Kushner retorted that the old two-state formula was an “ineffective framework” which had never produced the desired result, so why cling to it. “That is why agreeing on an economic pathway forward is a necessary precondition to what has previously been an unsolvable political situation,” he countered.
There were some upbeat participants who described the investment package as a modern-day Marshall Plan for the troubled Middle East. Bahrain’s foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, even described the US proposal as a possible “gamechanger” on a par with Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem and the 1978 Camp David Accords. He also acknowledged that Israel is a reality in the region and has the right to exist. “We do believe that Israel is a country to stay, and we want better relations with it, and we want peace with it,” he affirmed. 
"Israel is a country in the Middle East," Al Khalifa continued. "Israel is historically part of the heritage of this whole region. So the Jewish people have a place amongst us."
But true to form, the Palestinian Authority outright rejected the Trump team’s blueprint for peace, insisting they will never accept a “bribe” to compromise on their rights and claims.
It was not the first time an American president had vainly waved boatloads of cash in front of the Palestinians to entice them to finally reconcile with Israel. The Clinton peace plan some two decades ago promised $30 billion in aid to resettle and compensate Palestinian refugees, with most of those funds meant to be distributed directly to displaced Palestinian families.
In contrast, the emerging Trump peace plan would make Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon recipients of a good portion of Trump’s lucrative investment package if they agree to fully absorb and enfranchise the Palestinian refugees living inside their borders. This novel approach is quite a tempting offer for these economically struggling Arab nations, and rumors of such an offer have had the Jordanian monarchy on edge for months over the possible backlash among the kingdom’s Palestinian majority. PA leaders in Ramallah were equally nervous that other Arab rulers would accept the money at their expense.
Interestingly, on the same day as the “Peace to Prosperity” conference in Bahrain, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency was holding a meeting of donor countries in New York and received $110 million in pledges to help fill the huge gap in its $1.2 billion annual budget left when the US pulled its funding last year. Though only a pittance compared to the huge figures being bandied about in Bahrain, it shows the international community remains willing to continue wasting its money perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem more than three generations after its inception.
There is still the matter of unveiling the crucial political framework of the Trump peace plan, which is now apparently on hold once more until after Israel forms a new government sometime around November. Yet by then, the US presidential campaign will be heating up and Trump will be reluctant to upset his Evangelical base with a peace deal which would pose risks to Israel.
Wherever he is headed with his “deal of the century,” Trump has already made some major, lasting contributions to peace in the way he has jettisoned the tired old diplomatic formulas and, equally important, the way he has challenged UNRWA and its twisted, self-defeating definition of Palestinian “refugees.”
Meantime, the Palestinians managed to keep their fellow Arabs from embracing Israel one more time, but it is making less and less sense to do so every single day. And there are now fifty billion new reasons why.

US Envoys Express Satisfaction Following Manama Conference

US envoy Jason Greenblatt gave interviews with several media outlets this week following the rollout of economic aspects of the Trump Administration’s so-called “deal of the century” to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In an interview Wednesday with Israel’s i24 News, he said the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop had been a success, adding “the Palestinian people have seen it. They should be excited because if we achieve a political solution to the conflict, they have a tremendous amount to benefit from. We changed the conversation. Nobody can create a situation that doesn't include an economic package. What we heard from the investors is ‘we can make this happen. This is an investable type of project – if the political solution is there.’”

He also said the US Administration wanted to hear some reactions to the plan from around the world, including Israel and the Palestinians. He also said a final political settlement “cannot be created... unless we have a Palestinian voice that represents all Palestinians…there are two million Palestinians suffering in Gaza who deserve better lives and it’s something we’ve tried to focus on, but more people need to be talking about it.”

Elsewhere, Jared Kushner, who made the pitch for the economic plan in Manama, accused Palestinian leaders of not caring about their own people enough to consider the offer before rejecting it outright. “If they actually want to make their people’s lives better, we have now laid out a great framework in which they can engage and try to achieve it,” Kushner told reporters. “We’re going to stay optimistic. We have left the door open the whole time. What the leadership has done is that they’ve blamed Israel and everyone else for all the people’s problems, when in fact the common theme coming up is that this is all achievable if the government wants to make these reforms.”

Here is a video of the presentation of the plan in Manama by Kushner


Trump to Discuss Iran with Putin in Osaka

US President Donald Trump will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit in Osaka Japan on Friday, with Iran reportedly high on the meeting’s planned agenda, along with Venezuela, Afghanistan and Syria. The announcement was made hours after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khemenei posted a statement on his official website that "The most vicious officials of the [U.S.] government accuse Iran and insult it. The Iranian nation will not give in and retreat in the face of such insults." He was referring to an earlier announcement that Iran will speed up enrichment of Uranium as early as this week. Officials in both Washington and Teheran have issued a dizzying array of statements in recent days, ranging from threats to annihilate each other to apparent requests for the other side to save the situation by backing down. Meanwhile, leaders of other world powers have made attempts at mediation.

Chilean President Warmly Welcomed in Israel
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday, dealing yet another setback to the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) the Jewish State. Despite a diplomatic row created by Piñera’s visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City which violated routine protocols, the meeting was cordial and a joint press appearance with the two leaders was dominated by words of friendship and opportunities for the two countries to help each other in various ways.

Here is a video of their joint press conference

In other BDS news, the Israeli Air Force sent aircraft to participate in war games with colleagues from the US Air Force and the Royal Air Force this week. The exercise, dubbed Tri-Lightning, included F-35’s from all three allies flying over the Mediterranean Sea. Also this week, the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies held its annual general meeting this week, where among other things it passed a resolution demanding an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.

Gaza Envelope Communities Continue to Suffer
Israeli communities near the border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip have continued to face terrorism in the form of incendiary devices attached to kites and balloons being sent over the border to burn their fields and forests, with 19 separate fires being reported on Wednesday, following 10 on Tuesday and 13 on Monday. IDF Maj.-Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon posted a video Wednesday telling residents of the Gaza Strip that it was because of this terrorism that Israel is ceasing shipments of fuel to power electricity plants in the Strip. "Between 85 and 75 tankers of fuel enter the Gaza Strip each week, which helps significantly increase electricity hours. Terrorism prevents you from having that," the video explained.

Survey Shows Arab Youth Deeply Dissatisfied
The Big BBC News Arabic Survey was published this week showing, among other things, that more than half of the young people living in the Middle East would like to emigrate. “The number itself is alarming and has several components,” Dr. Mohammed Masbah, director of the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis in Rabat, told The Media Line. “Politically, there is a lack of confidence in the government as youth believe the government cannot solve their problems. Socioeconomically, youth unemployment is high; the belief is it will get worse.” He added that because of higher rates of education, young people have also become “more critical of traditional religious authority.”

Today's video shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the CyberWeek conference at Tel Aviv University

Strong Earthquake Hits South of Jerusalem

The Israeli Geophysical Institute reported on Wednesday afternoon that a 3.8 magnitude earthquake had hit in the southern Dead Sea region, south of Jerusalem. No injuries or damage were immediately reported but residents and tracking stations from the Sea of Galilee in the north to Eilat in the south reported feeling tremors.

Rumors Swirl About Elections and Coalition Agreements
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to quell rumors swirling around Jerusalem that a cancellation of September’s elections and the formation of a national unity government were in the works, saying "I respect Knesset Speaker Edelstein's efforts to avoid another round of elections in Israel, and I will meet with him in the days ahead at his request. All the rest is spin. At no point was a rotation offered. There has been no contact between Likud and Blue and White at this point and I do not intend to give up on my natural partners in a right-wing government."

Blue and White’s number two candidate, Yair Lapid added his own rejection of the idea of a rotational arrangement, Tweeting “There is no problem with a unity government. There is only one man, only one, who has to move aside and go deal with his indictments. The Likud can appoint whoever they want. We would have a unity government of at least 75 MKs that would be stable, functional and fair.”

Palestinians Protest Against ‘Deal of the Century’
Palestinians protesting near the border between Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip against the “deal of the century” economic forum in Bahrain this week were fired upon by IDF troops Tuesday evening, resulting in a dozen protesters being wounded. Several incendiary devices attached to kites and balloons were sent over the border into Israel amidst the protests, sparking fires in Israel. A senior Saudi official spoke to Globes about the protests recently, speculating that “Maybe it is hard for (the Palestinians) to part with the character of the ever-suffering victim and they don’t believe they could survive without it.”

Here is a video of the presentation of the plan in Manama by White House Representative Jared Kushner

Israel Blesses the World
Representatives from over 40 countries were in Israel this week to explore opportunities for acquiring agricultural technology developed in the Jewish State at the 4-day Agriisrael 4.0 conference. “Israel’s agricultural industry has been a world leader in terms of development and innovation as a whole,” Lior Konitzki, Israel Export Institute vice director-general, told the Jerusalem Post. “We see people coming from more than 40 countries to Israel because they understand that something is happening here, and they don’t want to miss out,” said Dr. Michal Levy of the Agriculture Ministry.

Rwandair Inaugurates Direct Route to Israel
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered another defeat on Monday when RwandAir, Rwanda’s national carrier, landed an aircraft at Ben Gurion Airport on a direct flight. "This is a big step for us," Rwandair CEO  Yvonne Manzi Makolo said before the flight to CNBC. "It holds a lot of potential for us both for Rwanda strategically, it terms of strengthening diplomatic ties between the two countries, but also for the entire network where we will be transporting passengers from different destinations in the African continent to Israel, whether they are business travelers or tourists or religious tourists."

Today's video shows a panel discussion about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East

US and Iran Inch Closer to Armed Conflict

Already white-hot tensions between Iran and the US intensified further on Tuesday with officials in both countries throwing insults and accusations at the other, with Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi tweeting that US sanctions on senior regime officials meant the "permanent closure of the path of diplomacy." Iran also announced it would soon take additional steps in the area of nuclear development  that it said it wouldn’t when it signed the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement. Meanwhile, various statements by Russian officials indicated their support for Teheran against the US while a Chinese statement urged “calm and restraint” from all parties.

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said in Jerusalem on Tuesday that “Iran has been and will be an ally and partner of ours, with which we have gradually developing ties for quite some time, both bilaterally and multilaterally. Any attempts to make Tehran look like the main threat to global security, to put it in the same basket as ISIS or any other terror group, are unacceptable. Iran has been contributing a lot to the fight against terrorism in Syria, helping to stabilize the situation. We call upon our partners to exercise restraint and to take efforts to alleviate the concerns and tensions. Efforts should be made to decrease tensions between Israel and Iran.”

Here is a video of US National Security Advisor John Bolton’s own remarks to the press

Here is a video about Iran’s renegade ballistic missile program posted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Netanyahu Leads National Security Advisers Meeting

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presided over a trilateral meeting at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem on Tuesday. During his opening comments, with Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, US National Security Adviser John Bolton and the Secretary of the Russian National Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev seated next to him, Netanyahu said the summit was “historic because it’s the first meeting between our three countries’ national security advisors in our capital, Jerusalem. I want to thank President Trump and President Putin for agreeing to hold this security summit and for sending their most senior advisors. I deeply value the strong relationships that Israel has with both leaders and both countries.”

Here is the video of his full remarks

Before the meetings began, Bolton told reporters that “The threat of a nuclear Iran is very real,” and that the US could not lift sanctions as long as Iran has "blown through key agreements in the nuclear deal." In response to a question about the decision by Palestinian factions to boycott the “deal of the century” economic discussions in Bahrain this week, he said “I think it’s a mistake for the Palestinians to boycott.” The trilateral meeting, Bolton said to Netanyahu, “is a tribute to your leadership and a recognition of the central role that Israel does and must play in securing international peace and security…through your strong relationships with both [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin and President Trump, there is a substantially greater prospect for coordination of our perspective policies in order to achieve a secure and lasting peace in the region.”

Patrushev said during his own remarks to the press that the Kremlin puts “special attention on ensuring Israel’s security” for many reasons including the nearly two million citizens of Israel with roots in the former Soviet Union. He added that although Russia is sympathetic to Israel’s concerns about Iran’s presence in neighboring Syria “in order to solve the situation in Syria, there is a need to restore peace in the region and in Syria. To achieve those goals, steps are needed to ensure internal order in Syria and the destruction of the terrorist groups that still remain there.”

Palestinians Protest Bahrain Summit
Large protests were held in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority administered cities in the West Bank on Monday against the scheduled opening Tuesday of talks in Manama, Bahrain, aimed at exploring economic aspects of US President Donald Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” to end the decades-long conflict between the Palestinians and Israel. Meanwhile, Israeli officials announced on Tuesday that in response to the large number of incindiery kites and balloons which have been sent over the border into Israel from Gaza in recent days, sparking fires which have destroyed hundreds of dunums of crops and forests, Israel will cease supplying fuel to the Gaza Strip until further notice.

Nintendo Opens Outlet Store in Tel Aviv
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered another defeat this week when video game giant Nintendo opened a retail store in Tel Aviv’s iconic Dizengoff Center. The store is only the second such facility Nintendo has opened worldwide, following the first one New York’s Rockerfeller Center in 2005.

Israel Blesses the World
Israeli company Watergen, whose products take vapor from the air and convert it into clean, usable water, will soon begin operating in drought-stricken South Africa, thanks to a large grant from the Ford Motor Company. The generators will be installed in schools, health clinics and private homes. “We are thrilled with this shared cooperation. We share the same goals of assisting communities all around the globe," said Watergen President Dr. Michael Mirilashvili.

Today’s video shows the way Israel’s Olympic Athletes are preparing to compete

US Places Heavy New Sanctions on Iranian Leaders

Following the announcement of sweeping new sanctions on Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, by the White House on Monday, officials with Iran’s clerical regime described the US Administration as “mentally retarded” and declared that the move represented “the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy." US National Security Adviser John Bolton said in response to the backlash that "The president has held the door open to real negotiations to completely and verifiably eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons program, its pursuit of ballistic missile delivery systems, its support for international terrorism and other malign behavior worldwide. All that Iran needs to do is to walk through that open door."

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emerged from meetings with Saudi Arabia's King Salman during a June 24 meeting in Jeddah saying that the two allies were in broad agreement on the need to confront Iranian aggression in the region. He is scheduled to meet with the leadership of the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.

Elsewhere, a report in the British Daily Telegraph newspaper on Wednesday cited Western security officials accusing Iran of setting up terrorist networks in Western African countries with the goal of carrying out attacks against military bases and diplomatic missions of the US and European countries in Africa. The report added that the “new terror network has been established on the orders of Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force, the elite section of Iran’s Republican Guard Corps that has responsibility for overseas operations…there are estimated to be around 300 militants who have been recruited by the Revolutionary Guard and have undergone rigorous training at Iranian-run training camps in Syria and Iraq.”

Here is a video about Iran’s renegade ballistic missile program posted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Palestinians React to ‘Deal of the Century’

Ahead of meetings in Manama, Bahrain this week during which economic aspects of the Trump Administration’s so-called “deal of the Century” are set to be formally unveiled, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told foreign reporters in Ramallah on Sunday that his faction was prepared to re-open negotiations with Israel, but only if there is a recognition that Israel’s capital city of Jerusalem is in fact “occupied” Palestinian territory and the “vision” of a two-state solution is re-affirmed. The statements came amidst a chorus of derision for the American plan, details of which have already been released by the White House, from the wider Arab world, even as some moderate governments allied with Washington expressed cautious optimism for its prospects.

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Jubeir responded to a question about the plans from France 24 News by saying “I think anything that improves the situation of the Palestinian people is something that should be welcomed. Now having said that the political process is extremely important. The Palestinians are the ones who have the ultimate decision in this, because it’s their issue and so whatever the Palestinians accept I believe everybody else will accept."

“Those who think that waving billions of dollars can lure Lebanon, which is under the weight of a suffocating economic crisis, into succumbing or bartering over its principles are mistaken,” Lebanese parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, said. The Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah, which many analysts believe has become the de facto ruler of Lebanon, has gone further by declaring that the “deal of the century” is a “historic crime” which must be prevented from coming to fruition.

US-allied Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are sending delegations to the Manama Conference along with Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. The PA and most other regional countries are boycotting it and no Israeli officials have been invited to attend.

Turkey on Edge Following Istanbul Rerun Election
Turkey’s political scene was in an uproar Sunday following the rerun election for mayor of Istanbul which saw the AKP party of Turkish strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again defeated by opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu. The margin of his victory was substantially larger than in the first poll in March, leading many analysts to say that if the AKP was trying to regain an important political post, the effort has backfired and any further attempts to deny Imamoglu his office might lead to widespread unrest in the strategically important country.
Sports Fans in Israel Have Much to Cheer About
Israeli sports fans had much to cheer about over the weekend as Rhythmic gymnast Liroy Ashram hauled in four medals, two gold and two silver, at the 2019 European Games in Minsk and a large delegation of players from the National Football League (NFL) in the US visited the Jewish State. The visiting NFL players included a delegation of 15 past and present athletes associated with the New England Patriots, who greeted local football enthusiasts at the Kraft Family Sports Complex in Jerusalem on Friday and Houston Texans star quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is touring Israel as part of a documentary film project and has enthusiastically shared his experiences with his large number of fans on social media.

The Patriots delegation were in Israel partially to help team owner Robert Kraft celebrate his reception of the 2018 Genesis Prize, sometimes called the “Jewish Nobel Prize”

Here is a video from the Genesis Prize ceremony 

Hopes for Unity Government Dashed
Forlorn hopes that Israel might avoid the election scheduled for 17 September were decisively crushed on Sunday evening when Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid issued a public statement that they have decided to reject overtures from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join forces and overturn the bill that dispersed the Knesset and form a national unity government. Gantz added that the idea had been worth examining but that in the end it appeared that it would be of more benefit to Netanyahu than Blue and White. Likud officials replied that reports of their attempt to reach an agreement that would make another election unnecessary were vastly exaggerated by Blue and White.

Today’s video gives a short tour of the northern Israeli city of Haifa

IDF Preparing for Possible Attacks by Iranian Proxies

Amidst a spike in tensions between the US and Iran over the weekend, the IDF is reportedly beefing up its own preparations to respond to potential threats from Iranian-backed proxy groups in the Gaza Strip, Syria and Lebanon. Meanwhile, senior Trump Administration officials were fanning out across the region on Monday, including a visit to Israel by US National Security Adviser John Bolton who arrived in Jerusalem Sunday evening to prepare for a tri-lateral meeting Monday afternoon with his Israeli and Russian counterparts, Meir Ben-Shabbat, and Nikolai Patrushev.

Here is the video of a joint press appearance Sunday evening by Bolton and Netanyahu

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on his way to high-level meetings on Monday with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, telling reporters as he boarded his aircraft in Washingtion that "We’ll be talking with them about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned and how we can build out a global coalition, a coalition not only throughout the Gulf states but in Asia and in Europe prepared to push back against the world's largest state sponsor of terror."

"We're prepared to negotiate (with Iran) with no preconditions," he added. "They know precisely how to find us. I am confident that at the very moment they're ready to truly engage with us we'll be able to begin these conversations. I'm looking forward to that day."

The trip follows a weekend which saw US President Donald Trump rescind an order to carry out strikes on Iran in retaliation for its downing of a surveillance drone over the Straits of Hormuz at the last minute, later explaining that he’d decided the casualties that would inevitably result from a shooting war between the US and Iran weren’t justified in response to the destruction of an unmanned aircraft.

Iranian officials also mocked Washington for what they said was a failed attempt to launch a cyberattack in response to the shootdown of the drone.

“They try hard, but have not carried out a successful attack," Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran's minister for information and communications technology, said on Twitter. Elsewhere, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told reporters that the clerical regime doesn’t fear American threats of new sanctions “as all sanctions ... have been imposed and there are no more sanctions left."

"If a conflict breaks out in the region, no country would be able to manage its scope and timing," Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Major General Gholamali Rashid added. "The American government must act responsibly to protect the lives of American troops by avoiding misconduct in the region."

Iran Shoots Down US Navy Drone

Already high tensions in the Persian Gulf spiked Thursday morning following a report that Iranian air-defense units had shot down a US Navy MQ-4C Triton surveillance drone in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. Officials from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) claimed the drone had been shot down after violating Iranian airspace. Also on Thursday morning, Iranian-backed Houthi factions in Yemen claimed to have hit a power station in Al-Shuqaiq city in Saudi Arabia’s Jizan Province with a cruise missile.

The developments came as US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook was set to arrive in the Middle East for consultations with allies including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain. A State Department statement said the meetings will include discussions of “Iran's regional aggression, including its recent attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman." It added that Hook "will also share additional U.S. intelligence on the range of active threats Iran currently poses to the region."

On Wednesday, IDF Military Advocate-General Maj.-Gen. Sharon Afek told a conference in Jerusalem that Israel faces a wide range of possible threats from Iran on many levels in many domains. Other Israeli and Western officials have warned in recent days that Iran may order Hezbollah or other terror proxies to attack Israel in order to deflect attention away from its own standoff with Washington.

Finally, a report was released Wednesday by the German State of Brandenburg’s intelligence agency declaring that Iran, China and Russia are the countries which are responsible for most of the illegal surveillance activities in Germany.

Here are some videos giving some further insights into the current situation regarding Iran



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