Palestinian finance minister quits in budget row

Palestinian Finance Minister Nabil Qassis announced his resignation yesterday, saying the government had failed to address a gaping budget deficit. “No decision has been taken to lower the deficit substantially, and on the contrary it is growing ahead of ratifying the [2013] budget,” Qassis said in comments to al-Ayyam newspaper explaining his reasons for quitting. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told cabinet members he had accepted Qassis’s resignation. Qassis, who was appointed only last year and has called for austerity measures, said the estimated e3.6 billion budget of the Palestinian Authority would show a deficit of e1.37 billion this year. ‏(Reuters‏)

Obama names new U.S. Middle East coordinator

U.S. President Barack Obama has appointed Philip Gordon as the new coordinator for the Middle East, the White House announced Saturday. Gordon will take the post on March 11 as special assistant to the president and White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf. “Phil has been a key member of President Obama’s foreign policy team for the past four years,” U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said in his announcement. Gordon has served as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs since 2009. ‏(Haaretz Staff‏)

Assad vows to retaliate against Israel

Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed that Syria would retaliate against Israel for a reported January air strike near Damascus. In an interview with The Sunday Times aired yesterday, Assad said Syria’s response may not be an overt military attack. “We retaliated in our own way, and only the Israelis know what we mean. Retaliation does not mean missile for missile or bullet for bullet. Our own way does not have to be announced,” he said, but refused to elaborate or respond to claims that Syria was moving chemical weapons to Lebanon’s Hezbollah. ‏(Haaretz Staff‏)