Tag Archives: Jerusalem


BLOG 486

September 14,  2020


Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

In recent blogs, I’ve commented on the change occurring in the Middle East. Notably, the United States has little to do with most of this. movement However, these are signs that Israel’s position is shifting and receiving wider acceptance in the Arab world. These blogs were barely published when news arrived that Bahrain had established full diplomatic relations with Israel.

A day after the announcement that Bahrain is establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel, a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official said Saturday that Jerusalem would work to establish an embassy in Manama in the near future. The two country’s foreign ministers, Israel’s Gabi Ashkenazi and Bahrain’s Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, spoke on the phone Saturday, and exchanged congratulations on the deal and discussed the importance of pushing relations forward in various fields and in support of common interests

According to Kan news, in addition to the establishment of embassies and the appointment of ambassadors, the two countries have also agreed to the operation of direct flights as well as a number of unspecified joint ventures. Earlier this month, Bahrain announced that it was opening its airspace to Israeli flights.

Netanyahu hailed the agreement as part of a “new era of peace” and predicted more accords would follow. The Bahraini king’s senior adviser Khalid al-Khalifa said in a statement that the normalization deal “sends a positive and encouraging message to the people of Israel, that a just and comprehensive peace with the Palestinian people is the best path and the true interest for their future and the future of the peoples of the region.”

Regional power player Saudi Arabia remained noticeably silent following Friday’s announcement of a normalization agreement between Israel and Bahrain.  Bahrain is seen as a client state of its neighbor and close ally Saudi Arabia, and the tiny Gulf state is not likely to have moved forward with normalization without approval from Riyadh.

Predictable responses followed from the usual quarters. The Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terror group both condemned Friday’s Israeli-Bahraini normalization deal as another “stab in the back” by an Arab state and act of “aggression” against their people. Turkey and Iran also condemned the accord.

Israel is on a roll. Got to be a good sign for the Middle East.

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Filed under Arabs, Gaza, Iran, Israel, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia, The Middle East


BLOG 415 December 24, 2018

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wi se first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

What a way to wind up the year! This last week America had the worst stock market drop since the Great Depression. The worldwide applauded Secretary of Defense and key officials related to the war in Syria quit because of a totally unexpected decision by a president who may have made one of the most disastrous decisions in recent history out of the clear blue with no consultation with allies. Trump declared America to arbitrary run from the war with ISIS (which is not defeated but crippled). Because he can’t get his way (in a government based on compromise), the president has shut down the government. This was possibly done to shield attention to the face that the president’s closest legal advisers are off to jail because they lied about his payments to two bimbos during sexual flings.

How bad can it get?

We’ve got to find something better than that scene if we’re going to have a merry Christmas. Can I come up with a Middle East story to offer a better tomorrow. Maybe. Here’s some recent news to give you something positive to remember.

Recent archeological finds hit the jackpot. A number of exciting Israeli archaeological finds have attracted international attention. Experts have deciphered the inscription on a copper-alloy stamping ring believed to be the ring that once belonged to Pontius Pilate. This is the same Roman prefect who sentenced Jesus to death. In the words on the ring is the phrase “Of Pilate.” The ring has a depiction of a Greek krater or jar used in watering down wine. The ring would have been used in daily functions such as stamping documents or certifying their approval by Pilate.

The ring was found at the archeological site of Herodium. Rising up like a mountain from the surrounding fields, Herodium towered over the area and made a safe place for Herod the Great to live or retreat to.  The other evidence of Pilate can be found at Caesarea by the sea in a Roman theater. With Pilate’s name carved in a rock slab, the find had been for his reserved seat in the theater. I have seen both Herodium and the Caesarea theater a number of times. It’s always a thrill to see this remnant of Pilate.

These two discoveries validate the Christian story in the gospels. The other site that always lingers in memory  is to be found next to the recovered remains of the Antonio place in Jerusalem. Beneath the Convent of the Sisters of Zion was found etched in rock a Roman game in which the loser was crowned “King.” The site exactly corresponds with the account of Jesus being crowned with thorns and called the “King of the Jews.”

These ancient sites remind us that today’s political woes and turmoil will pass. The pain and worry we have over these situations will fade and what remains will be the eternal evidence of the plan of God that unfolded in spite of all human nonsense and ineptitude. We can rejoice that in a conquered land filled with struggling people under circumstances of poverty, the hope of the world was born.

Little things often counted the most.


We will be on the road between Christmas and the new year.  So the next blog will be January 7, 2019.

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Filed under Israel, middle east


BLOG 412 December 3, 2018December 3, 2018

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

The recent outbreak of hostility from and toward Gaza raises a question that Westerners have a hard time understanding. After 70 years of off-and-on warfare, why can’t the Israelis and the Palestinians reach a peace settlement? Ending hostilities would be profitable for both sides. While the answer is actually obvious, it remains an enigma in the West.

American presidents come alone every so many years and think they can quickly bring an end to the struggle. Bill Clinton thought he had it in the bag and then Yasser Arafat walked out. The latest bravo came from Donald Trump who said it shouldn’t be difficult to settle. Was he ever diluted!

They all failed to recognize the obvious. Muslim and Arab countries don’t base their decision on democratic standards and ideals. There are no secular Arab states. The suggestion of a separation of church and state would be considered nonsense in their world. The one marginal Muslim state in Turkey has become “Islamized” during the last 20 years. Religious convictions govern what they all do.

The positions that these countries take is based on Islamic texts. At the heart of their religion is the belief that they must oppose Israel. Groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood base their hostile and deadly actions on their faith. Contrary to Western political pronouncements, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is not secularized. There political statements proclaim the same religious under-girding.

There are essentially three types of wars: political, just, and holy wars. The American Civil War was a political struggle between the North and the South. World War II has been considered a just war because the Axis operated with cruel, unjust, and inhuman intent. The most dangerous type of warfare is a holy war because at least one of the participants believes they are fighting for Divinity and God Almighty will give them the victory. An end to such a war cannot be negotiated.

Because one side believes God is their champion, they will fight to the death and never voluntarily give ground. The senior-most religious adviser to the PA recently said, “It is the duty of the leaders of the (Islamic) nation and its peoples to liberate Palestine and Jerusalem.” Suicide bombers who blow themselves up for the cause make the point.

That’s the bottom line!

Sorry. There’s no peaceful solution to such a conflict.

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BLOG 375 December 11, 2017


How do you assess moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem and the President’s actions officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? Every country in the world (except Israel) condemned the action. The State Department opposed such unilateral action. And the USA got nothing in return. The biggest bargaining chip went down the drain. So, what should we say?

Evangelicals rejoice. Palestinians scream. Politicians wiggle. Jews are divided. Interesting situation.

Perhaps, the question you’re asking is why Jewish people around the world would be split on a decision that supports Jerusalem as the capital of the Jews. After all, Jews have identified Jerusalem as their capital for over 3,000 years. The Passover doesn’t end with “Next Year in Tel Aviv.” The oldest continuous observance in history always concludes with “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

So, why are Jews divided?

They correctly view Trump’s actions as arbitrarily ending reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians. The Arabian world now understands American to be biased toward Israel. While the US always was partial to Israel, the country is no longer seen as a possible broker in the peace process.

By the way, Israel did not take Jerusalem from the Palestinians. Jordan controlled the West Bank and the Old City until the Seven Day War. Israel defeated Jordan. Yasser Arafat invented the idea that the Palestinians held the land. They did not.

Timing is the stumbling block. Even Jews who favor an American Embassy in Jerusalem are concerned that Trump’s actions are arbitrary and political –not strategic. For his own political reasons, the President has made a capricious move that has already ignited 30 demonstrations and two deaths. Unfortunately, more will come.

The larger issue is not whether the world should recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but why do so now out of the clear blue. The action was political theater.

The issue to watch is what happens next. Does an intifada follow? How much blood shed will flow? Will this action only further erode American influence in the Middle East? These are tough and important questions. We will all watch and see.

Stay tuned. More to come.


Filed under America, Israel, middle east


BLOG 361 August 14, 2017

            Hey! Before we go any further … got a special word for you. After today I’ll be in Alaska up there close to the Arctic Circle and hiking through Denali National Park. Sorry, there will not be a blog next week. I’ll finish the summer in one of the most beautiful and restful places in the world.

Now on to today!

My last two blogs on the Western Wall in Jerusalem turned out to be somewhat prophetic. Now, we have a different and dangerous new chapter. For the second time in under a month, terrorist carried out a deadly attack in Jerusalem’s Old City. The Arab assailants were shot in the Temple Mount complex.

In the exchange of gunfire, two Arabs killed two Israeli policemen.  The police report states that the attackers came from the Temple Mount and shot the Israeli’s next to the Lion Gate before returning to the Temple Mount where they were killed by the police. The terrorists used knives, a submachine gun as well as hand guns.

The two police officers killed were Kamil Shinaan and Haiel Stawi who are now remembered as patriots. Prime Minister Netanyahu and other government officials publically mourned the killing of these two men.  They are being remembered in numerous expressions of the media.

Muslims call such attacks part of a holy war that grants the martyrs a free pass to heaven with all the benefits. For them, getting killed is a worthwhile objective. A deadly mindset indeed!

In response, Prime Minister Netanyahu convened a security briefing and a re-evaluation of security. The government will consider harsher measures in protecting the entry gates into the Old City. The incident is far from over. Since October 2015, an undeclared war has gone on between Arabs and Israelis that also hit some tourists during the wave of violence. At least 280 Palestinians have been killed. The Israel Defense Force has seized approximately 150 firearms and raided 20 workshops.  More than 500 illegal weapons were seized.

A couple of years ago, I was in Jerusalem during one of these outbreaks at the Temple Mount. Young men ran out of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and assaulted non-Muslim tourists and then ran back inside. As I was walking through the Jewish sector, I came upon a squad of around 50 young women fully dressed in uniforms and carrying rifles. They were hiding in an archeological site.  I stopped and asked their leader what they were doing.

“If these thugs come out again,” she said. “We’re here to stop them.”

“Your troops are ready to shoot? To Kill?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” the leader said.

I walked away knowing that the Israeli response to these attacks would be more than adequate. A squad of young women could stop the terrorists.

See you on August 21!

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Filed under Christians, History, Israel, middle east


Blog 350 May 15, 2017


            This time it’s a building!

From the time of my first visit to Jerusalem in 1968, I’ve recognized that the Holy City is filled with mysteries and legends. My last book Bible Lands reflects many of those adventures. The latest story is the renovation of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the sight of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Because this 2,000 year old site is enchased inside a church building, Protestants are often reluctant to embrace the location. Alternatives such as the Garden Tomb (not too far away) are suggested, but they are only a symbol. The reality of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In the first century, the area was originally a Jewish cemetery developed around a limestone quarry.

Time, poor drainage, millions of tourists burning candles, etc., have taken their toll on the structure. Moreover, the church is overseen by three Christian communities  that often agree about nothing. (the Greek Orthodox, the Franciscan Order, and the Armenian Patriarchate). As a result of their disagreements, this chaos has left the building to seriously deteriorate.

Consequently, an important rebuilding is now going on around the Aedicule – or the actual burial tomb of Jesus. Ironically, the work is being paid for by Greece’s Aegean Airlines, the World Monuments Fund in New York, and King Abdullah II of Jordan. Prof. Antonia Moropoulou of the National Technical University of Athens heads the project of 50 workers who do their remodeling from 7 pm to 6 a.m. in order to minimize interference with tourists. Moropoulou reports that the work is 65% finished and believes the completed project will reveal much that has been hidden because of smoke, poor care, and time.

In order to sustain the structure of the Aedicule, titanium rods have been installed under the marble slabs that surround the burial site. Engineers have also recommended the installation of a better sewage system and water disposal unit because moisture has greatly weakened the structure.

When the marble covering was removed from the place where Jesus’ body was laid, the actual rock surface was revealed for the first time since 1555. Only a handful of priests, scientists, and engineers were able to see the original stone. Now a window has been installed that reveals the bedrock of Jesus tomb.

I have been to the Church of the Sepulcher many times and taken numerous groups there. One of the leaders of the Armenian community showed me a recently discovered painting of pilgrims arriving that dates back (they think) to the first century. On one occasion, I spent the night locked in the church. Pilgrims sometimes do this in an overnight vigil of prayer and supplication.

On a later visit, I was walking through an ancient burial area adjacent to the tomb of Jesus and fell into a grave where the covering had been removed – but that’s a story for another day.

Today the new resurrection is the rebuilding of the tomb itself. Miracles never cease in Jerusalem.


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BLOG 338 February 21, 2017

For a long time no one wanted to say the words out loud. With President Trump’s talk of moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, the thought has again become more current. Sh-h-h. Say it quietly. Could the two-state solution to the Israel – Palestinian problem really be dead? The appointment of David Friedman (whose father is a Rabbi) points in that direction. Is it possible that Prime Minister Netanyahu had this intention in the back of his mind all the time? Have these new settlements in East Jerusalem on land considered belonging to the Palestinians been part of an intention to kill a Palestinian state?

The last time I was in Israel, I was picked up at the airport by a man who worked in Netanyahu’s offices. As we chatted driving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he made it clear that he personally saw no future for a Palestinians state. None.

This is not new talk. As far back as May 2013, an entire issue of Moment magazine was given to a discussion of the death of a two state solution. Nine public figures ranging from Noam Chomsky to deputy defense minister of Israel Danny Danon weighed in with their view of the problem.

Although they have made political progress in the United Nations, the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) is seen by their own people as inept and corrupt. The rise of Hamas and Hezbollah bear witness to the failures both political and financial of the leadership within the Palestinian camp. Many Israelis would say, “Negotiate with them? Are you kidding? There is nothing there.”

On the other hand, Israel’s continued encroachment on Palestinian claimed territory has put Israelis in a bad light. The problem is that many Israeli politicians aren’t bothered by the negativity. During the week of February 10, sixty politicians in the Knesset had voted into law the legalization of 4,000 homes built in the West Bank. Jewish communities that would otherwise be demolished are now declared legal. Surely, the wrath of the International Criminal Court will fall on them. The ultimate result will be the further isolation of Israel if the law stands.

This action personifies the current status of the conflict: Aggressive Israelis vs. Inept Palestinians. Jews believe the Bible is on their side. Palestinians maintain history supports them. And where is this going? Nowhere.

In the September 15, 2013 New York Times, Political Science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Ian Lustick wrote about his experience analyzing the Middle East political situation for the American government. His first-hand conclusion was that the two-state solution is a fantasy that impedes progress. He maintained that continued negotiations only camouflage the impossibility of a two-state solution.

With the change in the new political climate in Washington, these issues are going to surface in a new and potentially dangerous way. Keep your ear to the ground – far more will be said by politicians on all sides.

You heard it first here!



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Blog 258 June 22, 2015

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won the election but–

It’s been a downhill slide ever since and the struggle in Israel is far from over. Netanyahu snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by making racist comments the day before the election and then reversing himself on the two-state solution the day after the election. Already criticized for his flip-flops, Netanyahu has unfortunately degraded himself during and after the election process.

Elected months ago, Netanyahu continues to struggle in putting a working government in place. Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat recently came out with strong opposition to the appointment of Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin’s appointment as Jerusalem Affairs Minister. Barkat lashed out, “Jerusalem is not a consolation prize for anyone.” Barkat is accusing Netanyahu of breaking a campaign promise. This struggle is systematic of the political struggles going on in Israel.

One day after Netanyahu was quoted in a closed conversation saying that he wants to restart the peace process, opposition leader Isaac Herzog expressed strong doubt that Netanyahu would do the same. His comments reflect a doubt about the government’s seriousness in its political statements. Herzog called the problem the “Netanyahu circus.” Herzog has also opposed Finance Minister’s Moshe Kahlon’s demand to take the Interior Ministry portfolio. Right, wrong, or indifferent, the situation reflects the political struggles inside the government.

In mid-May, Avigor Liberman announced he was resigning as foreign minister and joined the opposition to Netanyahu. His decision was a bombshell that no one saw coming – least of all Netanyahu. His step-back has definitely dwindled Netanyahu’s deck of cards.  The politically besieged Netanyahu now presides over the narrowest margin possible in the Knesset. He is staring at a legislature whose enmity and tricks will keep him busier than worrying about Iran (which is no small problem).

This complicated situation certainly doesn’t spell a demise but it is a political landscape that is more hostile and less favorable than what Netanyahu faced before the election. The problems have only emboldened his rivals. After a 23-year working relationship, Liberman’s exit remains a devastating blow that is seen as forcing Netanyahu into a narrow government. Political observers inside Israel see this as a bumpy road hard to travel.

Of course, I haven’t even mentioned Netanyahu’s problems with Washington. While Israel’s status as a favored nation is not in question, their relationship with the American president has serious problems. Whatever is wrong with President Obama’s reactions with Israel (and there are plenty of questions to be raised), Netanyahu has cornered himself and will continue to be in a difficult position with Israel’s major supporter.

On the other side, Europe is pressing Natanyahu to free construction of housing in the major settlement blocks. The European Union is not convinced he can be trusted to pursue a two-state solution and want to see concrete steps if Netanyahu is to be credible. The international community has been infuriated by the government’s persistent attempts to create new settlements. Talk of sanctions is no longer hypothetical. Currently, Israel has lost a considerable amount of ground in that arena.

Netanyahu had best make some significant changes if he’s not going to end up being seen as just another second-rate politician.

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            As in the American West, the Arab Spring has brought its own fire season. It seems Egypt is burning up and Syria is burning down while the Iraqi’s are setting fire to each other. The exception to these endless blazes appears to be Israel. Let’s take a second look at Jerusalem and see if we can see any smoke.

            There’s an old saying: two Jews– three opinions. With the many differences between Ashkenazis and Sephardic branches of Judaism, you could expect more than a few verbal disagreements. Religious opinions vary so widely that you find Jews who don’t believe in God but claim Israel citizenship standing next to Orthodox rabbis at a bus stop. The real worry might be a Palestinian terrorist waiting to blow everyone up when the bus comes. Surely, the Jews must be walking around terrified.

They are not.

On my last trip to Israel, I ate supper with an executive in the government’s department of tourism and we discussed the possibility of groups taking a four-day hike from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee, walking through the back country exactly where Jesus walked. Some of the stops would be in Arab villages. No one expressed concern or fear.

The biggest commotion inside the country is new laws that demand Israel’s ultra-Orthodox young men to serve in the army and be pulled away from their Torah studies. The hard-liners in the Haredim community are fighting back by ostracizing their young men who join the military. They denounce the young men as traitors and say they are a “pestilence.” The soldiers are not only verbally abused, but are spit at or have rocks thrown at them. For most Americans, it is hard to understand how devout religious people who disagree could us such degrading tactics, but that’s not the case in Israel. The commotion in Jerusalem is significant.

And the rest of the country?

Generally, no one talks about the Palestinian and Arab struggles on Israel’s border. The wide range of women’s dress run from miniskirts to the ultra-Orthodox ankle length dresses. Customs and opinions vary, but no one has much of anything to say about the Palestinians. Israelis recognize how complex the political situation is with the Arab world. Most have come to the conclusion that they can’t fix it, but they can manage it. So, ignore that tension the Palestinians create and go on down the road. For most Israelis, life has never been richer, safer, and more dynamic than it now is. Terrorism has been walled out and they go happily on their way regardless of Syria blowing apart.

The American Secretary of State John Kerry keeps popping up and Prime Minister Netanyahu continues his double talk about negotiating with the Palestinian Authority. The average citizen only half listens to Kerry’s urgings for formal discussions.

The possibility of Israel-Arab peace talks are out of sight and no one cares. In this so-called time of the Arab Spring, the promise of a relaxing and enjoyable summer seems to exist only inside the borders of Israel.

What can I say? The Israelis have moved on and find life to be good. End of story.

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            Pictures of the Syrian Army’s air fleet always feature Russian Mi-25 Hinds. Russia has been supplying helicopters to Syria for years and continues to do so. Back in June, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern to the Russians that they were shipping gun ships to the Assad regime in Syria.

Did her complain stop them?  No.

Herein is a strange little story and a big contradiction.

The United States continues to develop and maintain lucrative contracts with Rosoboronexport, a Russian arms firm that has the main role in supplying the Assad government with the arms to repress the rebels fighting the central government. What make this story particularly interesting is that Rosoboronexport is not a private business. Far from it, the company is a state corporation.  Since 2007, the organization has been the single state intermediary agency for arms shipments. The records of arms shipments made it clear that the port of Oktyabrsk in Southern Ukraine has been sending ship loads of armaments straight to Syria.

Get ready for an amazing and straight little twist in this tale. The US government is currently committed to a $375 million deal with Rosoboronexport for the purchase of 21 Mi-17 helicopters to be used by the Afghan Air Force. The latest transactions with the Russian company were made on November 3, 2011.

This particular contract didn’t go unnoticed. A letter from both Republican and democrat senators to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta demanded a cancellation of the contracts. Pentagon Under-Secretary James Miller rejected the senator’s letter, saying the helicopter acquisition was critical for the Afghan’s security.


Doing business with the country propping up Syria is critical?  With millions of Americans out of work, we can’t built a comparable helicopter in America? Even if it is easier to train pilots on a Russian system, can this investment of American dollars be justified in today’s economy while we scream about Syrian atrocities created by this exact helicopter? Something’s definitely wrong with this picture.

By the way Rosoboronexport still sells weapons to Iran.

Back in 1982, Jack Lemon and Sissy Spacek made a movie entitled Missing, based on a true story. A conservative business man goes to South America looking for his missing son, a left-wing journalist. The America ambassador expresses concern but the country has been in a revolution and no one is sure about what is happening. The punch line is that the CIA pulled off the revolution and killed Lemon’s movie son. The boy had been in a morgue while the American government lied to Lemon. Costa-Gravas (the director) left the audience wrung out as they realize the duplicity of the American system.

Sound familiar?

Are we getting the flim-flam treatment from government leaders? Afraid so. And we wonder why Israel doesn’t trust America’s dealings with Iran? Straight talk doesn’t often come for Washington because the conversation has traveled such a convoluted path under the table.

Why don’t we have more leverage with Russia? Might hurt business.

Question: This blog surprise you? What are you going to do about the problem?

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