Police shoot dead Palestinian who stabbed 3 Israelis

Jerusalem – A Palestinian from the occupied West Bank stabbed and wounded three Israelis in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday before being shot dead by border guards, police said.

The man attacked two Jewish passers-by before fleeing. He later wounded a border guard before he was shot dead.

Two of the Israelis were slightly injured and the third was in a more serious condition, according to police.

Clashes broke out afterwards between stone-throwing Palestinians and police officers who used stun grenades, a report said.

It was the second such attack in days near Damascus Gate, a main entrance to the Old City.

On Wednesday, a Palestinian woman said to be the mother of a man killed last year tried to stab Israeli police with scissors before being shot dead.

A wave of violence that broke out in October 2015 has claimed the lives of 259 Palestinians, 40 Israelis, two Americans, one Jordanian, an Eritrean and a Sudanese national, according to an AFP count.

Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities. Others died during protests, clashes or in Israeli air raids on the Gaza Strip.

Violence has subsided in recent months, despite sporadic attacks.

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How Israel polices Palestinian voices online

At about this time last year, Israel was facing what came to be known as the “knife intifada” – hundreds of apparently uncoordinated attacks involving Palestinians stabbing Israelis. While 36 Israelis lost their lives, more than 200 Palestinians were killed, during that period, by Israeli security forces. The other weapon, apart from kitchen knives, that drew the attention of the Israeli security establishment was social media.
The rationale offered: because some attackers went online to signal their intent or had been exposed to provocative posts there, the internet required policing for what the authorities called “incitement”. The result: hundreds of arrests and prison sentences for Palestinian activists, ordinary citizens, as well as journalists – based on what they wrote or shared – particularly on Facebook.
The occupiers are going through our posts one by one, word by word. They look for words like “martyr”, “hero”, “resistance fighter” or “intifada”. If they find one word they can build an entire case around it and you could end in prison, for nothing.
Facebook itself has reportedly responded to numerous requests from the Israelis to censor its content, but that hasn’t stopped politicians pushing for new laws to force social media companies to comply more fully.
Palestinians affected say Facebook is just another place where their voices have been silenced. The Listening Post’s Will Yong reports from Israel and the Occupied Territories on the emergence of social media as yet another battleground in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Last March, at the height of a wave of so-called “lone wolf” attacks, Israeli soldiers arrested Palestinian journalist Sami Al-Sa’ee in a night raid on his home. Sentenced to nine months in prison, Al-Sa’ee became one of a growing number of Palestinians charged solely or primarily with the offence of online incitement.
“Due to the nature of my job as a news editor, I’m active on my personal Facebook page. I would share news about a martyr and post his picture, or about a girl who was arrested and post her picture, or about a child killed by the Israelis in Hebron and post her picture. Throughout the entire interrogation they were saying that I was sharing inciting posts that enraged people on the street,” Sami Sa’ee told Al Jazeera.
But how does Israel define incitement? Nadim Nashef, co-founder, 7amleh, says: “Israel defines incitement very loosely. Firstly there is the meaning and content of the post itself, whether it contains incitement to violence according to the criteria of the Israeli courts. Then there is the extent of its influence. According to the logic of these courts, how many friends a person has, how many shares a post has, how many likes – all of these are considered evidence of influence over public opinion and contributing to a discourse that could eventually lead to acts of resistance against the occupation.”
With walls, fences, checkpoints and other restrictions coming between the Palestinians in the West Bank and those in Gaza – and separating them from their families and friends among the Arab citizens of Israel – platforms such as Facebook provide a place online to share their stories, opinions and experiences. But arrests, charges and convictions based on social media activity have more than doubled in the past year, leaving Palestinians wondering whether social media is yet another space where Israel gets to make the rules. And, perhaps, where Facebook enforces them.
Last June, when the Silicon Valley giant needed a new head of policy and communication for Israel, it hired Jordana Cutler, formerly Chief of Staff at the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC and, before that, adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The appointment came as top Israeli politicians publicly criticised the company and Israeli lawyers threatened it with a $1bn lawsuit. Cutler’s appointment was hailed by Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan as “an advance in dialogue between the State of Israel and Facebook”. Three months later Facebook representatives traveled to Tel Aviv to meet Israeli officials who, after the talks, said that the two sides would “work together” to tackle online incitement.
This begs the question of whether Facebook is neutral on the Palestine-Israel conflict. The giant social network is taking a stand with the occupier, say Palestinian activists.
“Facebook claims that it respects local laws; but when it backs Israeli accusations of incitement we are talking about an occupation state, so this accusation should not exist in the first place. We have reached a stage where there is high-level cooperation between Facebook on one side, and the Israeli occupation on the other and this is very dangerous,” says Nashef.
Israeli minister Ayelet Shaked told members of the press: “A year ago Facebook removed 50 percent of content that we requested. Today Facebook is removing 95 percent of content we ask them to.”
Even so, politicians are currently debating a so-called “Facebook Bill” which – if passed into law – would give Israeli officials even more power to force Facebook to censor as the Israeli government sees fit. For Palestinians, the consequences are felt beyond their computer screens and smartphones, reaching into society itself.

After 11 years, NY trial starts for Israel attacks’ victims

New York – Jury selection in New York begins on Tuesday in a $1 billion lawsuit brought by victims of terror attacks in Israel against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The trial, likely to last up to three months, comes 11 years after the lawsuit was filed in Manhattan federal court. It seeks to hold the groups liable, saying they supported the terror attacks.

The PLO and PA tried to convince appeals judges that the Manhattan court does not have jurisdiction. The effort was rejected by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit was brought by victims of seven shootings and bombings near Jerusalem between January 2001 and February 2004. The attacks killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more, including scores of US citizens.

Palestinians push UN bid as Kerry meets Netanyahu

Rome – US Secretary of State John Kerry was on Monday to meet the Israeli prime minister two days before Palestinians push for a draft UN resolution to end the Israeli occupation.

Amid a high-stakes diplomatic drive by the top US diplomat, the Palestinians upped the ante late Sunday by revealing in a surprise move they would put the draft text before the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

It would set a two-year deadline for Israeli troops to withdraw from the West Banka timetable which the United States has already opposed as complicating the stalled peace negotiations.

“The Palestinian leadership took a decision to go to the Security Council next Wednesday to vote on their project to end the occupation,” senior Palestine Liberation Organisation member Wassel Abu Yussef told GNR Sunday after a meeting in Ramallah.

Kerry arrived in Rome on Sunday where he met for more than three hours with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seeking to head off the looming UN showdown.

Jordan last month circulated a draft Palestinian text setting November 2016 as a deadline for the end of the Israeli occupation.

“That’s not the way I think that we would look at handling a very complicated security negotiation by mandating a deadline of two years,” the state department official said, asking not to be identified.

France stepped in last month to try to cobble together along with Britain and Germany a resolution that would win consensus at the 15-member council.

The new text would call for a return to negotiations aimed at achieving a two-state solution by which Israel and a Palestinian state would co-exist.

In the past, the US has consistently used its power of veto at the UN to block moves it sees as anti-Israel.

But US officials said Kerry was seeking to learn more about the European position, adding there did not appear to be a European consensus on any resolution.

The Israeli foreign ministry declined to comment ahead of the Monday afternoon talks in Rome between Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kerry and Lavrov “agreed to continue working closely together on this issue and stressed the importance of all sides taking steps to reduce tensions,” a state department official said.

Since the collapse of Kerry’s peace bid in April and the 50-day war in the Gaza Strip in the summer, there has been growing international concern about rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

“I believe the Middle East issue is crucial for making sure that we don’t allow the situation to degrade further,” Lavrov said.

After Netanyahu called snap elections in March, some Europeans have pointed to a narrow window of opportunity to push a resolution at the UN Security Council.

US abstention?

Washington has long opposed unilateral Palestinian moves to win recognition for a state of Palestine at the UN.

But US officials said they drew a distinction between a unilateral step, and an effort to draw up a multilateral resolution at the Security Council and have not decided yet whether to back or veto any such resolution.

There is a growing US recognition too of European impatience with the current status quo, as several European parliaments in recent weeks have called on their governments to recognise a state of Palestine.

“Our overall goal here is to hear from and engage with other stakeholders, to hear their views and to the best of our ability work towards a common path forward,” a state department official said.

Kerry will fly from Rome to Paris for a few hours late Monday to meet with French, German and British foreign ministers and the new EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

He will then travel to London to meet with the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and the secretary general of the Arab League on Tuesday.

Netanyahu on Sunday rejected all talk of withdrawing from east Jerusalem and the West Bank within two years.

Pulling out now would bring “Islamic extremists to the suburbs of Tel Aviv and to the heart of Jerusalem”, Netanyahu said.

Israeli family in acid attack

Jerusalem – A Palestinian man threw a chemical substance believed to be acid at an Israeli family in the occupied West Bank on Friday, injuring a man and four children, Israeli police and the military said.

The assailant was shot and wounded immediately after the attack, which took place at a checkpoint south of Jerusalem.

Police spokesperson Luba Samri said the attacker had “poured an unknown substance suspected to be acid on a Jewish family”. She said a civilian at the scene shot and wounded the assailant.

The incident comes at a time of heightened tension between Palestinians and Israelis, particularly in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories Israel seized in a 1967 war and Palestinians want for an independent state, together with Gaza.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Over the past four months, 10 Israelis and a foreign visitor have been killed by Palestinians in knife or car-based attacks, while at least a dozen Palestinians have also been killed, including most of those who carried out the killings.

On Wednesday, a Palestinian minister died shortly after a confrontation with an Israeli border policeman in the West Bank. The policeman grabbed the minister by the neck during a scuffle and minutes he collapsed with breathing problems.

An Israel official who attended the autopsy said the minister had died of a heart attack possibly brought on by stress, while the Palestinian pathologist concluded that the grab to the neck more directly lead to heart failure.

Israeli troops kill Palestinian minister

Turmusiya, West Bank – A Palestinian minister died shortly after being hit by Israeli soldiers during a protest on Wednesday in the occupied West Bank, a Reuters photographer who witnessed the incident and a Palestinian medic said.

Ziad Abu Ein, a minister without portfolio who was in his early 50s, was rushed by ambulance from the scene, in the village of Turmusiya, but died en route to the nearby Palestinian city of Ramallah.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in a statement, called Abu Ein’s death “a barbaric act which we cannot be silent about or accept”.

Announcing three days of national mourning, Abbas said he would take “necessary steps” after an investigation.

The Israeli army was looking into the incident, a spokeswoman said, She did not immediately provide further information.

About 100 foreign and Palestinian activists with the Committee to Resist Settlements and the Wall, the government-run protest organisation that Abu Ein headed, were on their way to plant trees and protest near an Israeli settlement when they were stopped at an improvised checkpoint, witnesses said.

A group of around 15 Israeli soldiers fired tear gas at the protesters and began scuffling with them.

Abu Ein was struck by a hand to the neck during an altercation with two of the soldiers, and was rushed away in an ambulance shortly afterwards, the Reuters photographer said.

Bilateral tensions have been fuelled in recent weeks by the killing of 10 Israelis and a foreign visitor in Palestinian attacks. More than a dozen Palestinians have been killed over the same period, including most of those accused of carrying out the assaults.

Palestinians in Ramallah closed shops in protest at the minister’s death and youths threw stones at Israeli soldiers guarding a Jewish settlement outside the city, Palestinian security sources said.

Palestinian house set on fire

Tel Aviv – Arsonists painted the walls of a Palestinian house in the West Bank with Hebrew graffiti such as “Death to Arabs” before setting it on fire, Israeli media reported on Sunday.

Residents of Khirbet Abu Falah, 25 kilometres north of Ramallah, said they suspected Israeli settlers to be behind the arson.

No injuries were reported.

A mosque in a nearby village suffered extensive damage in an arson attack this month.

The fires were the latest incidents in growing vigilante violence as unrest rises over access to holy sites in Jerusalem and construction in Israeli settlements.

The unrest has included weeks of rioting, rock throwing and vehicle attacks on Israeli pedestrians.

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Israel orders demolition of synagogue attackers’ homes

Tel Aviv – Israel notified the families of four Palestinian attackers on Thursday that their East Jerusalem homes will be demolished, despite warnings that such punitive measures may be ineffective and counterproductive.

The homes belong to the families of two Palestinians who killed four worshippers and a policeman in a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday, a Palestinian who killed an Israeli border policeman in a 5 November vehicle attack, and a hit man who shot a Jewish activist on 22 October.

A military spokesperson in Tel Aviv told dpa the families had 48 hours to appeal.

Israel’s supreme court delayed the demolition of a fifth home belonging to a Palestinian from East Jerusalem who killed an Israeli by ramming a bulldozer into a passenger bus on 4 August.

A debate on that case was set for Monday.

Israel’s biggest-selling daily, Yediot Ahronot, reported that during security consultations this week, the state’s legal advisor, Yehuda Weinstein, said he felt “uneasy” about the controversial policy.

Israel’s Shin Beit internal security organization called the punitive measure an effective deterrent, the daily reported, while the military said it was not.

On Wednesday, Israel blew up the East Jerusalem home of a Palestinian who killed a 3-month baby and an Ecuadorian woman in a 22 October vehicle attack.

US state department spokesperson Jeff Rathke urged Israel not to use demolitions as a punitive measure, calling them “counterproductive in an already tense situation”.

“This is a practice, I would remind that the Israeli government itself discontinued in the past, recognising its effects”, he said.

Test fired

He also condemned an approval issued by a local Jerusalem planning committee to build 78 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlements of Har Homa and Ramot.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has for years rejected demands for a construction freeze in East Jerusalem, and planning continues on the municipal level.

The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday condemned the slaying of four American, and one British Israeli as well as of a Druze Israeli policeman in a West Jerusalem synagogue as a “despicable terrorist attack”.

In a statement, the Security Council expressed concern about increased tensions and called on leaders and citizens to “reject violence, avoid all provocations and seek a path toward peace.”

In separate phone calls Thursday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to de-escalate the situation, which will require them “to take a stand that may be contrary to extremists in their own domestic constituencies,”, a spokesperson for Ban said.

After weeks of unrest and violence in and near Jerusalem, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, in an interview with Israel’s Channel 10, warned against a religious war.

“The Intifada [uprising] that we are at the opening of or even at the beginning of today, and to which is being added the religious element, is of the utmost danger to the entire region”, he said.

In response to the wave of violence, internal security minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch has eased firearm restrictions.

Security guards will be able to take their guns home at the end of their work day. Veterans of special forces will also be allowed to carry guns, as well certain residents of an expanded list of communities deemed to be located in risk areas.

Militants in the Gaza Strip meanwhile test-fired four rockets into the Mediterranean Sea over the past 24 hours, the Israeli military said.

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Israel to cooperate with UN Gaza war inquiry

Jerusalem – Israel said on Thursday it would cooperate with a United Nations investigation into Israeli attacks on UN facilities during last summer’s Gaza war and the use of UN sites by Palestinian militants to store weapons.

Last week, Israel announced it would not cooperate with a separate UN Human Rights Council investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the July-August conflict, saying its findings were predetermined and accusing its chairperson, Canadian academic William Schabas, of anti-Israeli bias.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Paul Hirschson said that unlike that probe, the inquiry established by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “an authentic investigation with potential for us to improve our performance in the course of conflict and learn from our mistakes”.

During the war at least six UN-run facilities were hit by Israeli fire, killing at least two dozen people. Ban, in a statement on 23 July, condemned the discovery of rockets at a UN-administered school.

Israel has cited militants’ use of UN facilities to store rockets as a reason for targeting them. It says that in some cases UN institutions were hit by mistake or by Hamas projectiles.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said the group welcomed the dispatch of any UN committee to Gaza. But he did not say whether Hamas would cooperate with an investigation into the storage of weapons at UN sites.

“No contact had been made with us regarding such a request. We will look into a request when it is made,” he said.

More than 2 100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed during the Gaza war. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed by rockets and attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.

Ban this month named Patrick Cammaert, a retired Dutch general and former force commander of the UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, to head the investigation.

Israel’s military in September opened five criminal investigations into its Gaza war operations, including attacks that killed four Palestinian children on a beach and 17 people taking shelter at a UN school.

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Thousands attend burial of hanged Palestinian

Thousands of Palestinians have attended the funeral of a bus driver who was found hanged in his vehicle, a death declared suicide by an Israeli forensics team, but believed to be a murder by his family and the Palestinian government.

The incident happened late on Sunday, with a supervisor finding the body of 32-year-old Yusuf Hasan al-Ramuni at a bus depot in the industrial zone of Har Hotzvim in northeast Jerusalem, police said in a statement.

Following an autopsy, Israeli police ruled it was not a criminal or nationalistic attack.

Our correspondent, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said: “There is a huge crowd here. Thousands have shown up for the funeral, but there are questions.

“No one here believes the Israeli verdict that no foul play was involved.”

Speaking to GNR, Shireen Ramuni, the driver’s wife, said her husband was killed. “He got on with everyone. He didn’t differentiate between Palestinians and Jews. They killed him.”

The family’s lawyer also told GNR that a Palestinian doctor, who attended the autopsy, said the father of two was strangled to death.

The death of Ramouni may end a relative calm that followed months of violence in the Occupied Territories, as scores of Palestinians torched tyres overnight in Abu Dis.

Tension has gripped Jerusalem since the kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teenager during the summer.

“People have been taking matters into their own hands, and revenge attacks have been happening since the summer,” Dekker said.

‘Assassination’

Muatasem Fakeh, a colleague of the bus driver, said he had seen evidence of violence on Ramuni’s body, according to our correspondent.

“He was hanged over the steps at the back of the bus in a place where it would be impossible to hang yourself alone,” he added.

The Palestinian foreign ministry said it held the Israeli government and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, responsible for what it referred to as the “assassination” of Ramuni, urging the UN to form a neutral investigation committee. 

In a statement issued on Monday, the ministry said that the provocation of Netanyahu and officials in his government are behind the spread of the hate, violence and racism culture in Israeli society against Palestinians. 

The ministry also condemned the Israeli police’s continued “attempts to hide the hideous crime” committed against Ramuni by claiming it was a suicide. 

Osama al-Ramuni, the victim’s brother, said the family did not accept the verdict of suicide, saying his body “had bruises on it,” suggesting he had been “tortured” before his death.

“My brother had children and was a happy man. It is impossible that he killed himself,” said Osama.

“He had no problems that would make him do it,” he said, adding that a post-mortem would “reveal everything”.

“We reject the suicide theory. We all know it was settlers who killed him,” he said.

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Sweden first to recognise Palestine

Sweden’s centre-left government will officially recognise the state of Palestine on Thursday, becoming the first major European country to do so, foreign minister Margot Wallstrom said.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told parliament in his inaugural address in October that his social democrat government would deliver on a manifesto promise to recognise a Palestinian state, drawing criticism from Israel and the United States.

“Today’s recognition is a contribution to a better future for a region that has for too long been characterised by frozen negotiations, destruction and frustration”, Wallstrom wrote in the daily Dagens Nyheter.

“Some will state this decision comes too soon. I am afraid, rather, that it is too late.”

Palestinians seek statehood in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capital. They have sought to sidestep stalled peace talks by lobbying foreign powers to recognise their sovereignty claim.

Wallstrom said Sweden’s move aimed at supporting moderate Palestinians and making their status more equal with that of Israel in peace negotiations, as well as giving hope to young people on both sides.

The UN General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of the state of Palestine in 2012, but the European Union and most EU countries have yet to give official recognition.

“EU members confirmed in 2009 their readiness to recognise the state of Palestine when it was appropriate”, Wallstrom said.

“We are now ready to take the lead. We hope this can show the way for others.”

Wallstrom said despite the fact that Palestinian authorities did not have full control of their land and the country did not have fixed borders, Palestine fulfilled the criteria in international law for recognition.

“Together with other European countries, as well as the United States and other regional and international organisations, the government will now work to support renewed negotiations to reach a final agreement”, Wallstrom said.

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Netanyahu fumes over reported slur

An anonymous US official’s reported description of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “chickens**t”, or worthless coward, drew a sharp response on Wednesday from the Israeli leader – no stranger to acrimony with the Obama administration.

The American broadside, in an interview in The Atlantic magazine, followed a month of heated exchanges between the Netanyahu government and Washington over settlement-building in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, which Palestinians seek as the capital of a future state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickens**t,” the unidentified official was quoted as saying, using Netanyahu’s nickname and a slang insult certain to redden the ears of the US-educated former commando.

“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said, alluding to past hints of possible Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear programme. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states.”

Netanyahu, the official was reported to have said, is interested only in “protecting himself from political defeat… he’s got no guts”.

Israeli leaders usually do not respond to comments by unidentified officials. But Netanyahu addressed those remarks directly in opening a memorial ceremony in parliament for an Israeli cabinet minister assassinated by a Palestinian in 2001.

“Our supreme interests, chiefly the security and unity of Jerusalem, are not the main concern of those anonymous officials who attack us and me personally, as the assault on me comes only because I defend the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

“Despite all of the attacks I suffer, I will continue to defend our country. I will continue to defend the citizens of Israel,” he said.

Such pledges by Netanyahu have resonated among Israeli voters, even amid fears his strained relations with US President Barack Obama could ultimately weaken support from Israel’s main diplomatic ally and arms provider.

After Netanyahu’s speech, Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, dismissed the purported slur, denying that it reflected how the Obama administration felt about the Israeli leader.

“Certainly that’s not the administration’s view, and we think such comments are inappropriate and counter-productive,” he said.

Asked though whether the administration would try to uncover and punish the official who made the comment, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters: “I don’t know of any effort like that under way right now.”

Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham condemned the remarks, saying they did “nothing but harm to America’s national security interests”.

“We know that relations can be strained at times. But there is no excuse for Obama Administration officials to insult the Prime Minister of Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East,” the senators said in a joint statement.

Some Israeli pundits predict an Israeli election in 2015, two years early, speculation seemingly supported by increasingly vocal challenges to his policies from senior ministers to the left and right of him within the coalition government.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, whose ultranationalist Jewish Home party belongs to the coalition but who has had testy relations with Netanyahu, defended him on Wednesday.

“The prime minister of Israel is not a private person. He is the leader of the Jewish state and the entire Jewish people. Cursing the prime minister and calling him names is an insult not just to him but to the millions of Israeli citizens and Jews across the globe,” he wrote on Facebook.

Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog sounded a more critical note, telling Channel Two television: “Netanyahu is acting like a political pyromaniac, and he has brought our relations with the United States to an unprecedented low.”

In a series of recent speeches widely seen in Israel as setting the stage for a possible poll, Netanyahu has highlighted growing security concerns in the wake of the July-August war with Hamas in Gaza and regional unrest that has brought Islamist militants to Israel’s northern border with Syria.

Israel also worries that US-led world powers will agree to what it sees as insufficient curbs on the nuclear programme of its arch-foe, Iran, in talks with a looming November 24 deadline.

Fears of a possible new Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, have been stoked in Israel by now-daily rock-throwing by Palestinians in Jerusalem amid Muslim fears of an end to an Israeli de facto ban on Jewish worship at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in the holy city where Biblical temples once stood.

Netanyahu has pledged to preserve the “status quo” at the site, a commitment Palestinian leaders view with suspicion.

But drawing Palestinian outrage and a State Department accusation that Israel was distancing peace, Netanyahu pledged on Monday to fast-track plans for 1 000 new settler homes in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu described such criticism as being “detached from reality”, saying Jews had a right to live anywhere in Jerusalem, regarded by Israel as its united capital – a claim that is not internationally recognised.

Baskey, the US spokesman, acknowledged longstanding policy differences between Israel and Washington over settlements. “Obviously, despite the extremely close relationship between the US and Israel, we do not agree on every issue,” he said.

“For instance we have repeatedly made clear the United States’ longstanding view that settlement activity is illegitimate and complicates efforts to achieve a two-state solution.” Despite these differences “the US-Israel relationship remains as strong as ever”, Baskey added.

Most countries and the World Court deem the settlements Israel has built in areas captured in a 1967 war to be illegal. Israel disputes this, and has settled 500 000 Jews in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, among 2.4 million Palestinians.

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Kerry pushes for Mideast peace, donors pledge $5 billion for Palestinians

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Sunday for a renewed commitment to achieving Middle East peace, saying a lasting deal between Israel, the Palestinians and all their neighbors was possible.

But prospects for a renewed peace process appeared dim as Kerry offered no specifics on how to restart negotiations in his speech to a Gaza reconstruction conference that raised more than $5 billion in aid for the Palestinians after a devastating war in the tiny coastal territory.

The last round of U.S.-brokered peace talks foundered in April over Israeli objections to a Palestinian political unity pact that included the Islamist Hamas movement and over Palestinian opposition to Israeli settlement expansion.

“Out of this conference must come not just money but a renewed commitment from everybody to work for peace that meets the aspirations of all, for Israelis, for Palestinians, for all people of this region,” Kerry told the meeting in Cairo.

“And I promise you the full commitment of President (Barack)Obama, myself and the United States to try to do that,” he said.

“Make no mistake: What was compelling about a two-state solution a year ago is even more compelling today,” added Kerry, referring to the long-term goal of an independent, democratic Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel.

At the conference Kerry also announced an additional $212 million in U.S. aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which was badly damaged during a conflict with Israel in July and August in which 2,100 Palestinians died, most of them civilians.

An estimated 18,000 homes and vital infrastructure were destroyed in the seven-week war between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas.

The Palestinians have put the cost of reconstruction at about $4 billion and Norway’s Foreign Minister Borge Brende said the conference had secured $5.4 billion in aid, half of which would be used for rebuilding Gaza and the rest could go to other Palestinian areas.

“TOUGH CHOICES”

Dozens of countries attended the Cairo meeting where a clear message emerged: pledges and picking up the pieces after fighting is not the solution, and a comprehensive Middle East peace deal is needed to end hostilities once and for all.

“A ceasefire is not peace, and we’ve got to find a way to get back to the table and help people make tough choices, real choices,” said Kerry.

“Choices that everybody in this room and outside of it understands have been on the table for too long.”

The Palestinian Authority hopes that moves by a new unity government towards assuming control in Hamas-dominated Gaza could make wealthy donor states less wary of providing reconstruction aid.

Among countries offering reconstruction aid for Gaza, Qatar offered $1 billion, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates promised $200 million each and Turkey pledged $200 million.

Qatar’s relations with Egypt have been strained since then army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood last year.

The small but ambitious Gulf Arab state’s close ties to Hamas, an offshoot of the Brotherhood, also angered Egypt, which is influential across the Arab world. Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

When journalists were allowed in briefly for the start of one-on-one talks in a Cairo suburb, Kerry was overheard asking Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “Did you hear about Qatar?” presumably referring to the $1 billion pledge.

France said it would contribute 40 million euros ($50.50 million) to the Palestinians and Germany offered 50 million euros. Britain’s ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, told Reuters London would provide $32 million for the reconstruction efforts.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said pledges from the bloc’s 28 member states would reach 450 million euros. It was not immediately clear whether the sum included the separate contributions announced by Germany, France and Britain.

“We can’t allow people in Gaza to sink into despair,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement.

EGYPT CALLS FOR PEACE DEAL

Egypt, which brokered the current ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in August, used the Cairo conference to renew its call for a wider Middle East peace deal based on a 2002 Arab initiative, which Israel has rejected.

“We should turn this moment into a real starting point to achieve a peace that secures stability and flourishing and renders the dream of coexistence a reality, and this is the vision of the Arab peace initiative,” Sisi, now Egypt’s elected president, said in his opening speech.

The Arab peace initiative was floated by Saudi Arabia in 2002 and offers full recognition of the Jewish state, but only if it gives up all land seized in the 1967 Middle East war and agrees to a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.

Abbas said in Cairo the Arab plan could be the framework for a new approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Successive Israeli governments have rejected the Arab initiative but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently suggested a greater role for Israel’s Arab neighbors in the pursuit of peace. Netanyahu has shown little, if any, appetite for concessions toward the Palestinians.

In his White House talks with Obama this month, he made clear that his priority was to prevent the United States and other world powers from going easy on Iran, Israel’s regional arch-foe, in nuclear talks that are entering a critical phase.

Netanyahu says a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a greater threat than Islamic State fighters who have seized swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Israel was not represented at the conference, but some of the speakers pressed for it to do more to change the status quo with the Palestinians.

U.N Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the conference: “We must not lose sight of the … causes of the recent hostilities, of a certain occupation that has lasted almost half a century, the continued denial of Palestinian rights and the lack of tangible progress in peace negotiations.”

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Zuma: UN ‘helpless’ in Israel, Palestine conflict

Johannesburg – The United Nations appeared to be helpless in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, President Jacob Zuma told the United Nations general assembly in New York.

“Of concern in this matter has been the helplessness displayed by the UN, especially the UN Security Council, during the current conflict,” Zuma said on Wednesday.

“While the UN has done remarkably well in the supporting self-determination, when it celebrates 70 years of existence next year, this august body may be found wanting by the people of Palestine.”

He reminded the UN that it had the moral authority to unite the world, promote peace, justice and self-determination.

No military solution

“This august body must play this role without fear or favour and be a beacon for all who suffer oppression in the world,” he said, adding that South Africa was calling on Israel and Hamas to instigate an immediate end to the violence.

“Our strongly held view is that there can be no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question,” he said.

Zuma arrived in the United States on Sunday.

His office said he would also attend a number of side events forming part of the UN assembly’s programme.

Zuma was accompanied by several ministers including Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, State Security Minister David Mahlobo, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, Co-operative Governance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Deputy Public Service and Administration Minister Ayanda Dlodlo.

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It’s time to rethink Palestine – Abbas

New York – Drawing parallels with the US fight for civil rights, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas vowed on Monday to present a new timetable for peace talks with Israel when he addresses world leaders this week.

“I say today to Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu: end the occupation, make peace,” Abbas told an audience in New York.

In a passionate address to students in the Cooper Union hall where former US president Abraham Lincoln once called for an end to slavery, Abbas called on the world to “rethink Palestine”.

“The international community has the responsibility to protect our people, living under the terror of settlers, an occupying army,” Abbas said, winning loud applause from a large audience of mixed religions, including Jewish students.

“We want the international community to defend us from the settlers, and from the Israeli army,” Abbas said, in what was billed as his first speech in English to a general American audience.

“We cannot understand how the Israeli government can be so misguided as to fail to understand that the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza that killed thousands of women and children, only sowed more hate,” Abbas said.

“This week I will propose to the United Nations a new timetable for peace talks,” Abbas said, speaking in English and winning a standing ovation from the audience at one of America’s oldest educational institutions.

Evoking the legends of such icons as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior, Abbas said he was bringing a message of peace.

“Security equals justice,” Abbas insisted, and drew parallels with the century-long US struggle for civil rights peppering his speech with references to King and Abraham Lincoln.

“Enough is enough; end the occupation. We ask that the international community stop hiding behind calls for the resumption of talks,” Abbas said.

The veteran Palestinian leader is set to address the annual UN General Assembly on Friday.

Palestinian leaders have said Abbas intends to propose a three-year deadline for the end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The latest peace talks led by top US diplomat John Kerry collapsed in April amid bitter recriminations on both sides.

Palestinian and Israeli officials are trying to negotiate a permanent deal to seal a ceasefire which went into place in late August after a 50-day war in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas also aligned himself with the fight against the Islamic jihadists spreading terror in Iraq and Syria.

“I am speaking on behalf of 99 percent of the Muslim people around the world. Here, today in the shadow of Ground Zero, I state to the world that the barbarians of ISIL, Daesh and al-Qaeda are not faithful Muslims,” Abbas said to applause.

“And to the families and the children of the victims of September 11, I say as a Palestinian Muslim I am sorry for your pain. These murderers do not represent Islam, we all stand against them to defeat their evil plans.

“At the same time we must work to end the Israeli occupation and establish a Palestinian state, for we cannot fight terror only by the gun.”

But he called on America to be a true friend to Israel.

During his trip to the Vatican earlier this year, the Palestinian leader said he prayed with then Israeli president Shimon Peres and Pope Francis.

“I made a prayer for an America that is a real friend of Israel, not a false friend, and just as real friends, do not let friends drive drunk,” Abbas said.

“A real friend of Israel would not let them engage in the widespread killing of women and children including bombing United Nations schools and hospitals such as we saw in Gaza.”

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Israel kills suspects in teen settler deaths

An Israeli army spokesman has said two Palestinians suspected of the fatal abduction of three Israeli teenage settlers in June have been killed in a shootout with Israeli forces.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said the suspects, Marwan Qawasmeh, 33, and Amer Abu Aisheh, 29, were killed in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday.

“We opened fire, they returned fire and they were killed in the exchange,” said Lerner.

“We have visual confirmation for one. The second one, we have no visual confirmation, but the assumption is he was killed.”

Abu Eisheh’s mother told GNR that she had heard the news, but she could not confirm the deaths.

Qawasmeh’s mother told local media that she wanted to know whether he was killed and that she hoped he was martyred.

Our Correspondent, reporting from Ramallah, said that hospitals in Hebron had not received any bodies, but locals said they had seen two bodies.

“Six other Palestinians were arrested,” said Zabaneh, adding that a huge Israeli force was still surrounding the Hebron University neighbourhood where the confrontations erupted.

“The Israeli forces, according to local sources in Hebron are bombing doors open, they can see a bulldozer and spot smoke in the area – but are not able to approach,” she said.

Massive manhunt

The abduction of Jewish seminary students – Eyal Yifrach, 19, and 16-year-olds Gilad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel – in the West Bank sparked a massive manhunt.

It led to the arrest of hundreds of activists of the Hamas movement, eventually sparking Israel’s summer offensive against Gaza.

The bodies of the three Israelis were found three weeks later and a suspected mastermind was arrested.

But the two main suspects believed to have abducted and killed the teens had remained fugitives.

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Palestinian killed in Israeli raid in West Bank

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military says its forces shot and killed a Palestinian in an overnight raid in the West Bank.

The military says the man “attempted to hurl an explosive device” at troops, who opened fire at him. It says the troops were carrying out an arrest and were met by a “violent riot.”

Ahmad Betawi, the director of Ramallah Hospital, says the man was killed by live fire to the chest early Wednesday. He identified the man as 22-year-old Essa Qatri.

Witnesses said residents of the al-Amari refugee camp threw stones at the troops, who then opened fire.

While violence raged between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza this summer, the West Bank remained largely quiet. Still, some flare-ups occurred and a number of Palestinians were killed in separate incidents.

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Gaza celebrates long-term truce

Gaza City – Celebrations erupted in Gaza on Tuesday as a long-term ceasefire agreed by Israel and the Palestinians began, ending 50 days of the deadliest violence in a decade.

The agreement, effective since 1600 GMT, involves an immediate halt to the violence in Gaza that broke out on 8 July and has claimed the lives of 2 143 Palestinians and 69 on the Israeli side.

The Palestinians said it was a “permanent” truce, while a senior Israeli official described it as “unconditional and unlimited in time”.

Washington gave its full backing to the deal. “We strongly support today’s ceasefire agreement,” Secretary of State John Kerry said, calling “on all parties to fully and completely comply with its terms”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced hope that the ceasefire in Gaza will set the stage for talks on a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

In Gaza itself thousands flooded onto the streets in celebration, some firing joyfully into the air, among them gunmen from Hamas, our correspondents said.

Chanting and clapping they surged through the battered streets, bellowing songs of victory as a man swathed in a huge green Hamas flag threw handfuls of sweets into the air.

Mosques used their loudspeakers to broadcast celebratory chants of “God is greatest” as the war-torn enclave hailed the apparent end to seven weeks of violence that has seen a quarter of the territory’s 1.8 million people flee their homes.

“Thank God the war is ended. I can’t believe I’m still alive with my kids!” 32-year-old Maha Khaled told GNR.

“It was a very harsh war. I never thought that we would see peace at the end.”

Cars jammed the streets, their horns honking incessantly, as beaming women and children flashed victory signs and crowds of young men bounced up and down on rooftops, waving flags.

As night fell, there was no letup in the celebrations as the rhythmic thud of drums beat a celebratory pulse and a performer breathed fire to entertain the ecstatic crowd.

“Today Gaza showed the world that it is resisting and that it is stronger than Israel,” said Tamer al-Madqa, aged 23.

‘Ending the blockade’

But there was no sign of celebration in Israel as citizens absorbed the news of two people killed when mortar shells hit a kibbutz in the south.

Ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet began whetting their political knives after a deal which was reportedly agreed by the premier and his defence minister, with other security cabinet ministers only updated by phone.

News of the agreement first emerged from the West Bank city of Ramallah where a Palestinian official told GNR an elusive deal had been reached over a “durable” halt to the bloodshed.

He said the deal involved a “permanent ceasefire” and an end to Israel’s eight-year blockade of Gaza, in a move hailed by Hamas as a “victory for the resistance”.

Ending the blockade had been a key Palestinian demand in earlier, abortive truce talks in Cairo.

“The Egyptian initiative [includes] an opening of the crossings for goods and humanitarian and food aid to enter Gaza, as well as medical supplies and materials to repair the water, electricity and mobile phone networks,” chief Palestinian truce negotiator Azzam al-Ahmed told GNR.

Restrictions on fishing would end “immediately” with boats allowed to fish up to six miles offshore with the limit later extended to 12 miles, he said.

At a later, unspecified date, the two sides would discuss “the exchange of [Palestinian] prisoners and of the bodies of those [Israeli soldiers] killed” during the conflict, he said.

Israel confirmed the negotiating teams would return to Cairo “within a month”, without saying when.

“We have accepted, once again, an Egyptian proposal for an unconditional and unlimited-in-time ceasefire,” a senior official said.

“The framework includes an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and then, inside a month, both delegations will be in Cairo raising issues with the Egyptians,” he said.

“We will be raising our concerns about demilitarisation and preventing Hamas from rearming.”

During the celebrations several senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad figures emerged onto the streets for the first time since the war began, having feared assassination by Israel, which had labelled them “legitimate targets”.

As well as rebuilding the battered enclave, senior Hamas official Mahmud al-Zahar said the Islamist movement would continue “arming itself and developing its resistance capacity”.

New talks ‘within a month’

Egypt’s foreign ministry said the two sides had agreed to the “simultaneous opening of the border crossings between Israel and Gaza to enable the rapid entry of humanitarian aid and relief and reconstruction supplies”.

And the statement referred to a “continuation of indirect negotiations between the two sides on other matters within one month of the ceasefire taking effect”.

News of the reported deal came after weeks of Egyptian-led efforts to end the violence which resulted in several short-term ceasefires, all of which broke down in the absence of agreement on a longer-term truce.

The latest collapsed on 19 August as hostilities resumed, killing more than 120 Palestinians and two Israelis, one a four-year-old child.

There had been no sign of any letup in the fighting earlier on Tuesday, with 12 Palestinians killed in Israeli air strikes and tank shelling, among them two children.

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Main points of long-term Gaza ceasefire

Ramallah – Israel and Hamas accepted an Egyptian proposal for a long-term ceasefire in war-torn Gaza on Tuesday in a move to end 50 days of bloodshed.

Here are the main points of the Egyptian proposal as explained by Azzam al-Ahmed, lead Palestinian negotiator in the truce talks.

Border crossings

The agreement provides for an immediate easing of restrictions on the two main crossings between Israel and Gaza to allow in aid and reconstruction supplies.

The move would facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid and food as well as medical supplies and materials to repair key infrastructure including the water network, the electricity grid and mobile phone networks.

Erez in the north is the main crossing for people wanting to enter Israel to reach the West Bank or Jordan, while Kerem Shalom in the south is the only terminal for the entry of goods.

Although the commercial crossing has been open for much of the conflict, the entry of certain goods has been restricted.

Fishing limits

Restrictions imposed on Gaza fishermen are to be relaxed, with an immediate extension of the fishing zone to six nautical miles from the shore, to be extended later to 12 miles.

With the outbreak of fighting, Israel imposed a total ban on fishing but eased it on 17 August, allowing boats to go out to sea for up to three nautical miles.

Under the 1994 Oslo Accord, Gaza fishermen were permitted to fish up to 20 nautical miles from the shore but the limit has been drastically cut by Israel, particularly following rocket fire or other militant attacks.

Prisoners

The Egyptian proposal foresees discussion of a number of as yet unresolved issues, including a future prisoner swap deal.

Such an arrangement would involve the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel in exchange for militants handing over the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in the fighting.

Hamas wants hundreds of prisoners released, among them those arrested in a major Israeli arrest campaign in the West Bank in June and around 60 who were released in a 2011 prisoner swap deal then re-arrested.

They are also want the freeing of 37 Palestinian MPs, all but two of whom are Hamas members, along with another 26 prisoners whom Israel refused to release earlier this year in the context of a failed US-led peace initiative.

Gaza port and airport

A key Hamas demand for the reopening of Gaza’s airport and its seaport will be discussed in negotiations which will take place in Cairo within the next month.

The blockade and demilitarisation

The deal provides for a lifting of Israel’s eight-year blockade on Gaza, which was imposed in 2006 and tightened a year later.

There were no specific details on issues such as restriction of construction materials or a resumption of exports to the West Bank and overseas.

Israel has linked the lifting of the blockade and the reconstruction of Gaza to the disarming of militant groups in a demand flatly refused by the Palestinians.

Israel has said it will raise the issue of demilitarisation and preventing Hamas from rearming at talks in Cairo in the coming month.

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Israelis, Palestinians poised to resume talks

Gaza City – Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are poised to resume indirect talks with Egyptian mediators on reaching a more permanent ceasefire before a current truce expires at midnight on Monday.

The Egyptian government persuaded both sides late Wednesday to adhere to a new five-day ceasefire, extending an earlier three-day agreement in order to allow more time to thrash out a longer-term truce.

It got off to a rocky start with Palestinian rocket attacks and retaliatory Israeli air strikes, but Saturday marked a sixth day of quiet following more than a month of fighting that has killed more than 1 960 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams are now expected back in Cairo for fresh talks, which the Palestinians said would begin on Sunday, after consulting their political leaders over the weekend.

The European Union welcomed the ceasefire in Gaza and said it was ready to expand a police mission in Rafah, on the border with Egypt, and train Palestinian Authority customs personnel and police for redeployment in Gaza.

“A return to the status quo prior to the latest conflict is not an option,” said the Council of the EU on Friday following a foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels.

Effective mechanism

It said EU police would monitor the transit of supplies needed for Gaza reconstruction and try to prevent weapons from being smuggled into the territory.

A mission of 70 European police officers was set up at the crossing point in 2005, tasked with monitoring movements of people, goods and vehicles at Gaza’s only window to the outside world that bypasses Israel.

But it was suspended two years later after Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip.

The EU said a durable ceasefire must be accompanied by lifting closures on Gaza and called on “all terrorist groups” in the territory to disarm.

The Israeli foreign ministry welcomed the call for disarmament – Israel’s main demand at Cairo truce talks.

“Commitment to the principle of demilitarisation, to be implemented by an effective mechanism, will insure a fundamental change of the situation,” it said.

Israel, under pressure from citizens who have endured more than 2 790 rocket attacks since July 8, refuses to countenance any major reconstruction effort without full demilitarisation.

Lifting the blockade

Azzam al-Ahmad, who heads the Palestinian delegation at Cairo talks, told GNR on Saturday he was quietly optimistic that an agreement for a longer-term truce could be reached.

“We have high hopes of reaching an agreement very soon, before the end of the truce, and perhaps even, very quickly, for a permanent ceasefire,” he said.

But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri struck a hardline, insisting that there can be no return to peace without a lifting of Israel’s eight-year blockade of the beleaguered coastal enclave.

“We can reach an agreement if the Israeli side accepts all the demands of the unified Palestinian delegation, in particular the end of any aggression against our people, the war on Gaza and the complete lifting of the siege,” Abu Zuhri said.

The Israelis have spoken little in public about the negotiations.

With demands seemingly irreconcilable, the Egyptian mediators and both sides will have their work cut out to hammer out a wording for each side to be able to present as some kind of achievement.

Israel refuses to deal directly with Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, although Hamas is part of the Palestinian delegation that also includes Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Authority of president Mahmud Abbas.

Talks on Sunday are expected to resume on the basis of an Egyptian proposal, seen by GNR, which calls for a lasting ceasefire beyond Monday midnight, and new talks on the thorniest issues, including demands for a seaport and airport in Gaza, to begin in a month’s time.

Negotiations about handing over the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails would also be postponed, according to the document.

A buffer zone along Gaza’s border with Israel would be gradually reduced and guarded by Palestinian Authority security teams.

Israel carries out air strikes in Gaza after new truce

Gaza City – Israeli aircraft carried out air strikes across Gaza early on Thursday in response to Palestinian rocket fire and shortly after a new ceasefire brokered by Egypt came into effect, officials said.

An official at the Palestinian interior ministry reported four air strikes over open ground about 30 minutes into the extension of a new truce, from midnight, which the Palestinians announced would last for five days.

Israel said its military was targeting “terror sites across the Gaza Strip” in response to rocket fire.

The military “remains alert and maintains a high level of preparedness with both defensive capabilities, and striking capabilities in order to address a renewed aggression and will immediately respond to any threat to Israel”, it said.

A spokesperson for the Israeli army told GNR that Palestinian militants launched six rockets towards Israel late on Wednesday, four of which hit open areas and one of which was intercepted.

No rocket attacks were immediately reported after midnight. An Egyptian official announced that both Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to extend the ceasefire.

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Israel, Palestinians agree to extend Gaza truce

Cairo – Israel and Palestinians agreed late on Wednesday to extend a ceasefire in Gaza for another 72-hours after failing to reach a long term agreement in Cairo-mediated talks, an Egyptian official said.

A previously agreed three-day ceasefire was set to expire less than an hour afterwards, at midnight local time (21:00 GMT).

“We have agreed to give more time for the negotiations,” Azzam al-Ahmed, head of the Palestinian delegation in Cairo, told AFP, saying the extra time would be a further 72 hours.

An Egyptian official said Israel also accepted the proposal. Israel had earlier said it would back an extension of the lull.

The last-ditch effort to avoid renewed hostilities came after Palestinian officials said there were still gaps in an agreement for a long-term deal to end the conflict, which has killed almost 2 000 Palestinians in Gaza since 8 July.

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Gaza ceasefire talks difficult, but truce holds

Gaza / Cairo – Talks to end a month-long war between Israel and Gaza militants are “difficult”, Palestinian delegates said on Tuesday, while an Israeli official said no progress had been made so far.

As a 72-hour ceasefire held for a second day, Palestinian negotiators began talks with Egyptian intelligence after a meeting on Monday that lasted nine hours. The Israeli delegation returned to Cairo on Tuesday.

Hamas and its allies are seeking an end to an Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“We are facing difficult negotiations,” Hamas’ leader in Cairo, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said on Twitter.

Egyptian state news agency Mena quoted Khaled al Batch, a leader of Hamas ally Islamic Jihad, as saying the present round of talks was “the most serious, intensive and difficult”.

“The gaps between the sides are big and there is no progress in the negotiations,” said an Israeli official who declined to be named. There was no immediate comment from Hamas, the Islamist group that dominates Gaza.

A Palestinian official with knowledge of the Cairo talks told Reuters, on condition of anonymity: “So far we can’t say a breakthrough has been achieved… Twenty-four hours and we shall see whether we have an agreement.”

Hamas also wants the opening of a seaport for Gaza, a project Israel says should be dealt with only in any future talks on a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Israel has resisted lifting the economically stifling blockade on Gaza and suspects Hamas will restock with weapons from abroad if access to the coastal territory is eased. Neighbouring Egypt also sees Hamas as a security threat.

Israel pulled ground forces out of Gaza last week after it said the army had completed its main mission of destroying more than 30 tunnels dug by militants for cross-border attacks. It now wants guarantees Hamas will not use any reconstruction supplies sent into the enclave to rebuild those tunnels.

The Palestinian official said the Palestinian delegation had agreed that reconstruction in Gaza should be carried out by the unity government of technocrats set up in June by Hamas and the more secular Fatah party of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the West Bank.

Israeli representatives are not meeting face-to-face with the Palestinian delegation because it includes Hamas, which Israel regards as a terrorist organisation. Hamas for its part is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

War crimes investigation

In Gaza, many families have returned to areas they had been forced to leave by the Israeli army, but some found their homes had been shelled or bombed. Some people pitched tents, while others spent the night in their homes if they could.

Children looked for toys in the rubble. One boy was happy to find his bicycle, pushing it along even though the tyres had been punctured.

“It is not safe yet but we miss our homes, we miss our neighbourhood, so we come to sit with friends and chat about our fate,” said Abu Khaled Hassan, 50.

Israeli naval forces fired warning shots at a Palestinian fishing boat which broke the naval blockade on Tuesday, the military said, and Gaza officials said no one was hurt. The incident did not appear to threaten the truce.

Gaza hospital officials say 1 938 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since the 8 July launch of Israel’s military campaign to quell rocket fire from the enclave.

Israel has lost 64 soldiers and three civilians, while the heavy losses among civilians and the destruction of thousands of homes in Gaza, where 1.8 million Palestinians are squeezed into a narrow enclave, have drawn international condemnation.

According to the United Nations, at least 425 000 displaced people in the Gaza Strip are in emergency shelters or staying with host families. Nearly 12 000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged by Israeli air strikes and heavy shelling.

In Geneva, the United Nations named an international commission of inquiry into possible human rights violations and war crimes by both sides during the conflict.

The commission, which will be headed by William Schabas, a Canadian professor of international law, was hailed by Hamas and condemned by Israel.

“Hamas welcomes the decision to form an investigation committee into the war crimes committed by the occupation [Israel] against Gaza and it urges that it begin work as soon as possible,” spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Israel’s foreign ministry said the Human Rights Council was biased against Israel. “The Human Rights Council long ago turned into the ‘terrorist rights council’ and a kangaroo court, whose ‘investigations’ are pre-determined,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor said in a statement.

“If any more proof were needed, the appointment of the chairperson of the panel, whose anti-Israel bias and opinions are known to all, proves beyond any doubt that Israel cannot expect justice from this body, whose report has already been written and all that is left is to decide who will sign off on it.”

Schabas rejected those claims. “As far as I am concerned they’re not written at all. That’s the whole point of an investigation,” he told Israel Radio.

“I am not anti Israeli. I’ve frequently lectured in Israel at universities. I am a member of the editorial board of the Israel Law Review. I wouldn’t do those things if I was anti Israel,” Schabas said.

“The more Israel participates in the inquiry by providing us with specific information about targeting and selection of targets, that will assist the commission in making more fair and accurate judgements about proportionality,” he added.

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Fidel Castro signs pro-Palestine manifesto

Havana – Former Cuban president Fidel Castro has signed an international manifesto “supporting Palestine”, demanding that Israel respect UN resolutions and withdraw from Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Castro, who will be 88 next week, added his signature to those of intellectuals and politicians to the document “In Defence of Palestine”, the official Granma newspaper said on Saturday.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, Argentine artist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Cuban dancer Alicia Alonso and American writer Alice Walker were also among the signatories.

The manifesto was promoted by the Network in Defence of Humanity, which includes several Latin American groups.

It asks governments around the world to demand Israel respect United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, adopted in the aftermath of the Six-Day War of 1967.

It calls for Israel to withdraw from the territories gained during the conflict.

In recent weeks, Latin America has been at the forefront of condemnation of the Israeli offensive in the crowded Palestinian enclave, offering almost unanimous support to the Palestinians.

Castro himself has accused Israel of engaging in a “new form of fascism” through the deadly military operation.

The conflict has killed at least 1 913 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side, almost all soldiers, since July 8.

Harsh criticism has also come from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.

Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and El Salvador have also recalled their ambassadors to Israel for consultations, while Bolivia, where thousands of people protested on Friday to denounce the conflict, placed Israel on a list of “terrorist states”.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, however, has been more muted in his response, leaving his envoy in Tel Aviv.

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Palestinians struggle to ‘dig out bodies’

Rafah, Gaza Strip – Under continued Israeli air strikes and artillery fire, Issa Akel has no other choice: The 50-year-old bulldozer driver must stop unearthing the dead bodies buried beneath the rubble in this southern Gaza town and seek safety for himself.

In Hay al-Junina, east of Rafah, Akel went on a mission to rescue the dead, but he soon realised that his life was in danger. On Saturday, the town’s roads were littered with dead bodies, left bleeding for hours without any ambulance crew arriving to rescue them.

“We are now unable to dig out bodies of people from under the ground,” Subhi Radwan, the mayor of Rafah, said. He explained that his office receives hundreds of calls for help, but the municipality’s trucks can’t access most areas.

Local medics said that at least 110 people have been killed in Rafah in the past 24 hours, while hundreds more have been injured. At least 1,680 Palestinians have been killed and 8,500 others hurt in Gaza since Israel’s military offensive began on July 8.

On Friday, an Israeli tank shell struck an ambulance in Rafah, killing three medical crew members: Yousef Elshiekh Eid, Yousef Darabeh, and Atef Alzamli. Meanwhile, the city’s only hospital, Abu Yousef Al Najjar, has been under constant Israeli artillery shelling, forcing doctors to evacuate their patients and the dead bodies.

The killings in Rafah occurred just two hours after an internationally brokered, 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire between Hamas and Israel came into effect. Israel blamed Hamas for shattering the truce, while the Palestinian group said Israeli troops used the short-lived deal to storm into Rafah and kill residents.

Meanwhile, Ashraf al-Qedra of Gaza’s health ministry has appealed to international groups to ensure that ambulances have a secure route to evacuate victims to the nearby town of Khan Younes.

With nowhere safe left to take the dead, people in Rafah have begun storing the bodies of their loved-ones in refrigerators usually used to store food items. Our correspondent saw dozens of bodies stuffed into one such refrigerator.

Nearly half the city was under Israeli bombardment on Saturday, making it difficult to arrange proper burials. “Injured people [are] calling us … but we can’t get to them,” said a local ambulance driver. “No one is safe, ambulance crew, municipality workers, and civilians in their homes, are hit,” Mayor Radwan said.

The crisis in Rafah has resulted in a lack of electricity, water, and sanitation services. “We are receiving hundreds of phone calls from people who have no water and they can’t move under constant artillery shelling,” said Radwan, explaining that between 30,000-40,000 people have been left without drinking water in the eastern part of the city.

The violence has also created thousands of new internally displaced persons , according to the United Nations, including many who have sought shelter in overcrowded UN schools. At least 280,000 Palestinians across Gaza have now been displaced.

The UN estimates that 76 families have lost three or more members in the same in incident, totalling over 400 deaths.

Radwan said he had never seen a war like this in his 62 years, more than half of which has been spent working in public services in Rafah. “In the past I have dealt with [the] Egyptian and Israeli military,” he said, “but it has never reached [this] level of no consideration for [the] humanitarian crisis”.

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Ceasefire lasts only three hours

A 72-hour ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip was broken last night after less than three hours.

Israeli shelling killed eight people in southern Gaza, medics said, just hours after the humanitarian ceasefire took effect.

A doctor at nearby Abu Yusef al-Najjar hospital gave no immediate details of the identities of those killed, but said they had died in a bombardment east of the southern city of Rafah, after our correspondent saw heavy shelling of the area.

The 72-hour break had been announced in a joint statement by John Kerry, the United States Secretary of State, and Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary-General. It was the most ambitious attempt so far to end more than three weeks of fighting, and followed mounting international alarm over a rising Palestinian civilian death toll.

“This ceasefire is critical to giving innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve,” the statement said.

After the ceasefire began at 8am local time (5pm NZT), Gaza’s streets began to fill with Palestinian families. Laden with belongings, they streamed back to homes they fled during fierce fighting that destroyed or damaged thousands of dwellings.

In Israel, sirens that have sent tens of thousands running for shelter daily fell silent.

Within hours, though, the fighting resumed. A CBS News team approaching the Kerem Shalom border crossing at the far southern end of the Gaza Strip, from the Israeli side, heard explosions and was told by Israel Defence Forces personnel that rocket fire was coming into the area from the Gaza side.

Soon after, Gaza officials said Palestinians had been killed by Israeli tank fire east of the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra and Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji said 15 other Palestinians were wounded in the shelling. Israel said it was looking into the reports.

Diplomats have struggled to broker a lasting truce in a 25-day-old war that has killed more than 1450 Palestinians, mainly civilians, and at least 60 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Yesterday’s ceasefire came after heavy fighting that killed 17 Palestinians and five Israeli soldiers.

Israel and Hamas agreed to halt all aggressive operations and conduct only defensive missions to protect their people. But Kerry, knowing how hard it would be to get the truce to stick, cautioned there were “no guarantees” that the lull would bring an end to the war.

Israel launched an aerial campaign against Gaza aimed at halting Hamas rocket fire on July 8 and later sent in ground troops to target launch sites and tunnels used to carry out attacks inside Israel.

At least four short humanitarian ceasefires have been announced since the conflict began, but each has been broken within a few hours by renewed fighting.

Under the ceasefire, Israeli troops on the ground in Gaza were to continue to destroy tunnels along the heavily guarded frontier, but only those that are behind Israeli defensive lines and lead into Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday vowed to destroy Hamas’ tunnel network “with or without a ceasefire”. But military spokesman Moti Almoz told Army Radio yesterday Israel would not be able to eliminate the tunnel threat “100 per cent”.

Yesterday, Palestinians in Gaza were briefly able to receive food, medicine and humanitarian assistance, bury their dead, treat the wounded and travel to their homes. The lull was also seen as an opportunity to make repairs to water and electricity infrastructure.

Egypt issued a statement yesterday calling on the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and Israel to send negotiation teams to Cairo to discuss “all issues of concern to each party within the framework of the Egyptian initiative”.

Egypt had put forth a ceasefire proposal a week after fighting began last month. Israel accepted the proposal, but Hamas, which deeply mistrusts Egypt following the overthrow of an Islamist Government in Cairo, rejected it.

Hamas has demanded the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian border blockade imposed on Gaza in 2007 when the Islamic militant group seized power, as well as the release of Palestinians rounded up in the West Bank in June following the killing of three Israeli teenagers.

In recent weeks Turkey and Qatar, which have warmer ties to Hamas, have tried to help broker a ceasefire agreement, with no results.

It’s not clear whether other nations will attend the Egypt talks, and aides to Kerry said Egypt would ultimately decide who will participate. A Hamas official in Qatar said Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials would be participating in the Egypt talks. Israel will not meet directly with members of either group because it considers them terrorist organisations.

Hours before the ceasefire was to take effect, 17 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes, including 10 from the same family after an airstrike on their home, said Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

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107 Palestinians dead, Israeli soldier missing

Gaza City – At least 107 Palestinians were killed and an Israeli soldier was missing presumed captured as a fresh wave of violence swept through the Gaza Strip on Saturday following the failure of an agreed ceasefire.

The attacks continued throughout the night, leaving at least 35 Palestinians dead in the Gaza town of Rafah alone in a series of Israeli air raids in the hours since midnight on Friday.

US President Barack Obama called for the missing soldier, 23-year-old Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin to be “unconditionally” released, but also said more must be done to protect Gaza civilians.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a member of the eight-strong security cabinet, accused Hamas of being behind the disappearance of the missing soldier and said the group would pay a high price.

However early on Saturday the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, said it had no information on the whereabouts of the missing soldier.

“The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades have no information on this soldier. We have lost contact with one of our combatant groups, which was fighting in the sector where the soldier went missing and it is possible that our fighters and this soldier were killed”, the group said in a statement.

The intensive fighting resumed after the planned three-day ceasefire, which began at 05:00 on Friday, swiftly collapsed.

Innocent

Early Saturday morning, the Iron Dome aerial defence system intercepted two rockets over the Tel Aviv area and another one over the southern Beersheba city, the army said.

The Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, said they had fired three rockets at Tel Aviv.

The toll on the Palestinian side was 107 people dead and hundreds others wounded since the toll collapsed, said Palestinian emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra.

Some 1,650 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians, have been killed in the 26 days since the present conflict started, Qudra said. On the Israeli side, 63 soldiers and three civilians have died.

Hamas accused Israel of breaking the short-lived ceasefire, while the Jewish state said it was responding to the militant attacks.

The chances of a durable truce seemed as remote as ever after the presumed capture of the Israeli soldier.

The military also announced that two soldiers had been killed in the same incident near the southern city of Rafah.

“Our initial indications suggest a soldier has been abducted by terrorists in an incident where terrorists breached the ceasefire”, according to army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner.

He said a suicide bomber blew himself up, adding that first reports “indicate that a soldier was seized”.

In 2006, Hamas militants from Gaza captured Israeli conscript Gilad Shalit and held him for five years before freeing him in exchange for more than 1 000 Palestinian prisoners.
Brief respite

Friday’s short truce gave people in the battered Strip a brief respite from the fighting.

But within hours, air raid sirens were heard on the Israeli side, and heavy shelling resumed in Rafah.

Obama said the United States “unequivocally condemned Hamas and the Palestinian factions that were responsible for killing two Israeli soldiers, and abducting a third almost minutes after a ceasefire had been announced”.

“If they are serious about trying to trying to resolve this situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released, as soon as possible.”

Obama added: “We have also been clear that innocent civilians in Gaza caught in the crossfire have to weigh on our conscience and we have to do more to protect them.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry had said that once the ceasefire was under way, Israeli and Palestinian representatives, including from Hamas, would begin talks in Cairo on a more durable truce.

The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad later said Egypt was postponing the talks after news of the Israeli soldier’s capture, but Cairo said the invitation to talk was “still in place”.

And Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said a joint delegation, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, would travel to Cairo on Saturday for talks despite the renewed fighting.

‘Inexcusable’ world silence

Before the truce, Israeli tank fire and aerial bombardment killed 14 Palestinians in Gaza, and the army said five soldiers died in mortar fire near the shared border.

In a speech published after the ceasefire broke down, Saudi King Abdullah denounced “inexcusable” world silence over Israel’s “war crimes” in Gaza.

“We see the blood of our brothers in Palestine being shed in collective massacres, all taking place under the eyes and ears of the international community, that has stood indifferently,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office accused Hamas and other Gaza militants of “flagrantly violating” the ceasefire.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum responded that “it is the [Israeli] occupation which violated the ceasefire. The Palestinian resistance acted based on, the right to self defence.”

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Egypt’s Morsi salutes Palestinian ‘resistance’

Cario – Ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi has praised the Palestinian “resistance” over the 21-day conflict with Israel in Gaza that has killed more than 1 030 people, mostly Palestinian civilians.

The Islamist leader, overthrown last July by Egypt’s then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is on trial on charges for which he faces the death penalty.

Under Morsi’s rule, Egypt brokered a truce in 2012 between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip, after they fought a similar deadly war. Hamas is an offshoot of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group.

“Our compass is set on supporting Palestine against the usurping occupier and we are with any resistance against any occupier,” Morsi said in a message posted on his official Facebook page late on Sunday.

Militants in Gaza have sent hundreds of missiles into the Jewish state during the conflict that has so far claimed 46 lives in Israel, including 43 soldiers.

“A full salute to those who resist and to the revolutionaries,” he said in remarks marking the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr that ends the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Egypt’s new authorities have blacklisted Hamas and accused it of plotting attacks in the country.

Morsi himself and other Brotherhood leaders are accused of colluding with Hamas to sow chaos inside Egypt during the 2011 revolt that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.

In his message, Morsi also hailed his supporters for “the pursuit of their revolution”.

Since Morsi’s ouster, his supporters have been staging regular protests calling for his reinstatement.

However, their rallies have sharply dwindled amid a government crackdown that has left more than 1 400 people dead and at least 15 000 detained.

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Boy, 4, killed by Israeli tank fire in Gaza

Gaza City – Israeli tank fire killed a four-year-old boy in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday, the first death since the two sides began observing an unofficial lull, Palestinian medics said.

According to emergency services spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra, the child was killed when a shell hit a house to the east of Jabaliya where clashes had recently erupted between Israeli troops and Hamas militants.

The boy, Samih Ijneid, was the first person to be killed in Gaza on Monday although three others also succumbed to their injuries during the night, Qudra said.

The latest deaths rise to 1 036 the total number of Palestinians killed in Israel’s military campaign in Gaza to destroy rockets and cross-border tunnels which began on 8 July.

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Documenting death: The man who counts the bodies

Gaza City – Inside Ashraf al-Qudra’s cramped office in Shifa hospital, the phone never stops ringing, with news flooding in of the latest victims of Israel’s devastating 20-day military operation.

With over 1 060 people killed and more than 6 000 wounded, counting the dead is a full-time occupation for the 41-year-old spokesperson for Gaza’s emergency services.

Since the operation began on 8 July, Qudra has been sleeping just two hours a night on a mattress in his office, his staff updating him round the clock on the latest victims of the Israeli offensive, his phone constantly ringing with journalists seeking details of the latest toll.

He lies down for a rest, but his much-needed siesta is swiftly interrupted as an aide rushes in.

“Doctor Qudra, there are many many dead and injured in a shelling on Shuhada hospital!” exclaims a breathless assistant.

The 41-year-old immediately begins scribbling down notes as phones ring and a wireless radio crackles with news of more death and injury across war-torn Gaza.

He calls the hospitals, coordinating efforts to keep track of the wounded.

“There’s no safe place from the Israeli shelling,” says Qudra, a tall man with a neatly-trimmed beard who has been doing the job for four years.

“They targeted Al-Wafa hospital, Shahada hospital and the European hospital, which I feared would happen,” he said.

“I don’t doubt they’ll hit this hospital at some point,” he says, watching out the window as an ambulance unloads more of the wounded.

“The enemy has gone beyond insane, there’s disaster after disaster.”

Unpaid for months

Figures released by the UN’s humanitarian agency OCHA indicate nearly three quarters of the victims were civilians and around a quarter of them children.

And it says 18 hospitals, clinics and medical centres have been hit and damaged by Israeli shelling.

Israel has lost 43 soldiers, and three civilians have been killed by cross-border projectiles.

Shifa is the largest of Gaza’s seven hospitals, all of which have been working around the clock since the Israel operation began on 8 July with the aim of eradicating cross-border rocket fire, which later expanded into a ground operation.

A call comes in on the landline – five more dead and at least 70 wounded, among them doctors and paramedics in a strike on Shuhada hospital in Khan Yunis.

The phone rings again. But this time it’s his wife.

Qudra cracks a rare smile and asks after his four children, reassuring them that he’s still safe and well.

He has seen his family only once in the past three weeks.

“I miss them,” he admits.

And like many ordinary Gazans, he struggles to support them.

Despite his crucial role, Qudra, who recently qualified as a doctor, has not been paid for several months.

Until two months ago, he was spokesperson for the Hamas-run health ministry, but the Islamist movement – which administered Gaza until handing over responsibility to a Ramallah-based government in June – ran out of funds to pay its government workers.

But he does not consider himself allied to Hamas, insisting his work is a humanitarian duty.

“I believe strongly in my humanitarian mission,” he says of a job which involves answering around 700 phonecalls per day.

Emotional impact

Every evening, he holds a news conferences at the hospital at which he reads out the figures and names of the victims.

But long before, every detail is meticulously recorded in near-constant postings in Arabic on both Twitter and Facebook.

For journalists covering the conflict, Qudra is the sole source of information. With numbers rising so quickly, sometimes by 100 deaths per day, it would be an impossible task to independently verify every casualty.

Qudra insists his numbers add up.

“The statistics we use and publish are accurate and objective,” he says, proud but weary.

His first experience of a major conflict between Israel and Hamas was in November 2012 when 177 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed in an eight-day confrontation.

This time, he admits, the conflict has definitely affected him emotionally.

“I see corpses and body parts all the time,” he says.

“But what really gets to me is the sight of women and children who’ve been killed in shellings.”

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Hamas chief: We can’t coexist with occupiers

Washington – Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal demanded Israel lift its blockade of Gaza and warned that Palestinians cannot coexist with their neighbours while their land is occupied, in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

On Saturday, Meshaal was interviewed by US broadcaster PBS in the Qatari capital Doha while in Gaza his Islamist militia was under assault from Israeli forces in renewed fighting that has left hundreds dead.

A full version of the interview will be broadcast late on Monday, but excerpts were revealed on Sunday on CBS News’ Face the Nation.

Asked by veteran interviewer Charlie Rose whether he could foresee living beside Israelis in peace, Meshaal said only a future Palestinian state could decide whether to recognise the Jewish state.

“We are not fanatics, we are not fundamentalists. We are not actually fighting the Jews because they are Jews per se. We do not fight any other races. We fight the occupiers,” he said.

“I’m ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians and the Arabs and non-Arabs,” he said. “However, I do not coexist with the occupiers.”

Pressed on whether Palestinians could recognise the state of Israel as a Jewish state, Meshaal reiterated Hamas’ position – the group does not recognise Israel.

“When we have a Palestinian state then the Palestinian state will decide on its policies. You cannot actually ask me about the future. I answered you,” he said.

“But Palestinian people can have their say when they have their own state without occupation.”

Hamas declared a 24-hour ceasefire on Sunday, but fighting continued in Gaza and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his forces would push on with attempts to destroy the group’s tunnel network.

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Kerry hopes for more Gaza pauses

Washington – US Secretary of State John Kerry is working for Israel and Hamas to agree to further halts in the Gaza bloodshed ahead of Egyptian-led peace talks, an official said on Sunday.

Kerry returned to Washington early on Sunday after a weeklong mission to the Middle East that failed to reach a permanent ceasefire to stop the 20-day conflict which has killed more than 1 000 people, mostly Palestinian civilians.

Just as Kerry returned, Israel announced a resumption of operations after a one-day pause which Hamas – which has been firing rockets into the Jewish state – belatedly accepted.

A senior US official said that Kerry was seeking a series of temporary ceasefires, which would lead the way for Israeli-Palestinian talks in Egypt on a more permanent plan.

“You have a way now to staunch the bleeding,” the official who accompanied Kerry said on condition of anonymity.

Israel’s security cabinet on Friday rejected a ceasefire proposal and insisted on the need to keep destroying tunnels through which Hamas can infiltrate from the Gaza Strip to carry out attacks.

Kerry, who spent much of the past week in Egypt, on Saturday held talks in Paris with the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey – key supporters of Hamas, which the United States classifies as a terrorist group.

The US official defended the meetings, which have come under fire in Israel, saying it was significant that Turkey and Qatar had joined other international players in calling for a ceasefire.

Asked whether the approach was at odds with past US criticism of Qatar’s support for Hamas, the official said: “The fact is, they are [funding Hamas] and as a result of that they have some influence.”

At the talks in Paris, Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah called for an end to the eight-year Israeli blockade of Gaza and for the Palestinians in the impoverished territory to have their own seaport.

Kerry supported calls for Palestinians to live “in dignity”, including through trade with the outside world, but backed Israel’s calls for action on tunnels.

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Palestine declares ‘Day of Rage’

Gaza City – In the West Bank, Palestinian factions have declared a “Day of Rage” after a night of clashes over Israel’s Gaza offensive.

Among those killed in an air strike on Gaza on Friday were two women, one of them pregnant, adding to a spiralling toll of Palestinian civilian casualties from Israel’s military operation, now in its 18th day, aimed at halting militant rocket fire.

An incident on Thursday, in which Israeli shelling of a UN facility sheltering displaced Gazans killed at least 15 civilians, has drawn widespread international condemnation.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon said he was “appalled” at the shelling which “underscores the imperative for the killing to stop – and to stop now”.

Washington said it was “deeply saddened and concerned about the tragic incident”, without explicitly blaming its ally Israel.

Amid intense international pressure on both sides to cease fire, Israel’s security cabinet was to meet Friday to discuss a truce proposal passed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by US Secretary of State John Kerry, media reported.

It proposes a week-long humanitarian ceasefire that would allow Hamas, the de facto power in Gaza, to save face after having rejected an Egyptian initiative last week that proposed a lasting truce first and negotiations later.

According to Western and Palestinian officials, once a humanitarian lull takes hold, delegations from Israel and Hamas would arrive in Cairo – which has mediated past conflicts between the two – for indirect talks that could lead to a lasting truce.

7-day humanitarian truce

“The way it’s going is there will be a humanitarian truce declared for seven days, and then everyone comes to Cairo for the talks,” said an official with president Mahmud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Kerry on Thursday reached out to Hamas allies Turkey and Qatar and was joined in Cairo by UN chief Ban and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to push forward the plan, diplomats said.

Hamas’s exiled leader Khaled Meshaal, however, said in an interview on Thursday that any truce must include a guaranteed end to Israel’s eight-year blockade of Gaza.

“We want a ceasefire as soon as possible, that’s parallel with the lifting of the siege of Gaza,” he said.

The latest truce efforts came on the last Friday of Ramadan, as Israeli braced for West Bank and east Jerusalem unrest after Palestinian factions declared a “Day of Rage” in the West Bank and Israeli police restricted entry to the Al Aqsa compound to men aged 50 and above.

One Palestinian was killed and 150 injured in clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank, Palestinian medics said, with Israeli police arresting 29 in east Jerusalem.

In Gaza, an Israeli air strike on Khan Yunis killed Salah Hasanein, a local leader for Islamic Jihad, and his nephew, security sources said.

Attacks on a house in the southern Gaza town of Deir el-Balah killed a woman of 26 and another aged 23 who was pregnant, Palestinian emergency services spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra said.

Two other people wounded earlier in shelling of Khan Yunis died of their wounds, Qudra said, bringing the number of Gazans killed in the Israeli campaign to 807.

Thursday’s strike hit a UN school sheltering some of the 100 000 Palestinians driven from their homes after weeks of deadly fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas militants.

The shell hit a courtyard where people were camped, killing least 15 people and wounding more than 200.

“Many have been killed – including women and children, as well as UN staff,” Ban said.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said that before the strike it had been trying to co-ordinate with the army to evacuate civilians, without success.

Israeli army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner suggested rocket-firing militants near the school could have caused the deaths.

He also disputed the claim that Israel had rejected a humanitarian truce around the school, saying it had implemented a four-hour window for evacuations.

Concern over civilian toll

The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has said more than 80% of the casualties so far have been civilians, a quarter of them children, triggering growing international alarm.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos expressed deep concern over the mounting civilian casualties, saying it was “almost impossible” for Palestinians to shelter from Israeli air strikes in the densely populated territory.

A military spokesperson told AFP that militants had fired two rockets at southern Israel early on Friday, bringing the number of rockets and mortar rounds from Gaza that hit Israel since 8 July to 1 850, with another 470 intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system.

Thirty-two Israeli soldiers have been killed, and Hamas rocket attacks have killed two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker.

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Cairo Gaza truce efforts intensify

Cairo – World efforts to end two weeks of deadly violence in and around Gaza stepped up a gear on Monday as the UN chief arrived in Cairo and the top US diplomat was awaited.

UN secretary-general chief Ban Ki-moon was already in the region on a whistle stop tour to build support for a truce and arrived in Cairo on Monday afternoon after meeting top officials in Kuwait, the current chair of the Arab League.

US Secretary of State John Kerry was flying to the region after President Barack Obama urged an “immediate ceasefire”, echoing a call by the UN Security Council.

The new momentum for a ceasefire came as the Palestinian death toll in Gaza topped 500 and the Israeli army said 18 of its soldiers had been killed, its heaviest losses in eight years.

Egypt has been a mediator in past Israel-Palestinian conflicts and has taken the lead in trying to broker a truce between Israel and its Islamist foe Hamas which dominates the Gaza Strip.

A first proposal Egypt made early last week was accepted by Israel but snubbed by Hamas, which said it was not consulted and demanded a raft of changes.

The Islamist movement wants Israel to agree to an end to its blockade of Gaza and the release of scores of prisoners before it will agree to halt its attacks, the latest of which saw 10 militants infiltrate southern Israel early on Monday.

It has received support from two key regional powers, Qatar and Turkey, both Western allies that also have close relations with the Islamists.

Kerry will seek “an immediate cessation of hostilities based on a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement,” the White House said, stressing the need to protect civilian life both “in Gaza and in Israel.”

It was referring to the Egyptian-brokered truce that ended the last major bout of fighting in and around Gaza.

That ceasefire stipulated that Israel ease its blockade of Gaza’s border crossings and coast, something Hamas complains was never fulfilled.

Ban urges ‘restraint’

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas were to hold talks in Qatar on the truce negotiations on Monday, a day later than planned.

The 2012 truce was brokered when Egypt was ruled by now-ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi who had close relations with Hamas.

His successor President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – who as army chief deposed Morsi – has taken a hard line with Hamas, accusing it of helping Egyptian militants.

Kerry has publicly defended Israel but appeared to criticise the US ally in candid remarks caught on an open microphone between television interviews on Sunday.

Kerry was heard talking about Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza to a State Department official identified as Jonathan Finer just before appearing on the “Fox News Sunday” political talk show.

“I hope they don’t think that’s an invitation to go do more,” Kerry says. “That better be the warning to them.”

A frustrated Kerry then says: “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation, it’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” in apparent frustration over the civilian toll in the Israeli operation.

“We’ve got to get over there,” Kerry is heard saying on the Sunday recording. “I think it’s crazy to be sitting around. Let’s go.”

Deadliest day

The UN Security Council held urgent talks on the conflict late Sunday, expressing “serious concern” about the rising death toll and demanding “an immediate cessation of hostilities.”

Ban urged Israel to “exercise maximum restraint” saying: “Too many innocent people are dying.”

On Monday, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah called on Ban during their talks in Kuwait City to urge the “international community to shoulder responsibility to put an end to this dangerous [Israeli] aggression,” the official KUNA news agency reported.

Ban later arrived in Cairo and was to hold talks on ceasefire with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri.

Sunday was the deadliest day of the conflict so far with more than 150 Palestinians killed in a blistering bombardment that left bodies lying in the streets and sent thousands of civilians fleeing their homes.

The Israeli army said 13 soldiers were also killed, its heaviest single day losses since 2006.

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Gaza toll tops 500

Gaza – The Palestinian death toll in an Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip rose above 500 on Monday as the army said it had killed 10 militants who tunnelled into Israel, while Gazan officials said an Israeli tank shelled a hospital, killing civilians.

A day after he was caught by an open microphone saying sarcastically that the Israeli assault was “a hell of a pinpoint operation”, US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Cairo to try to secure an end to the two-week conflict.

Despite a UN Security Council appeal on Sunday for an immediate ceasefire in the worst bout of Palestinian-Israeli violence for more than five years, neither the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas nor Israel appeared ready to stop fighting.

Hamas, which killed 13 Israeli soldiers in Gaza on Sunday in the biggest one-day toll for eight years, continued to fire rockets deep into Israel and to dispatch infiltrators.

Israeli jets, tanks and artillery constantly pounded the densely-populated coastal strip, killing 28 members of a single family at the southern end.

At Al-Aqsa hospital in the central Gaza Strip, four people were killed and 70 wounded when an Israeli tank shell slammed into the third floor, housing operating theatres and an intensive care unit, the Health Ministry said.

The Israeli military, which has accused Hamas militants of firing rockets from the grounds of Gaza hospitals and seeking refuge there, had no immediate comment.

Non-stop attacks lifted the Palestinian death toll to 518, including almost 100 children, since fighting started on 8 July, Gaza health officials said. Israel says 18 of its soldiers have also died along with two civilians.

Hamas announced late on Sunday it had captured an Israeli soldier in Gaza, displaying a photo ID card and serial number, but there was no confirmation from the Israeli side. The announcement set off rejoicing in the embattled Gaza Strip.

“This is not the time to talk of a ceasefire,” said Gilad Erdan, communications minister and a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner security cabinet.

“We must complete the mission, and the mission cannot end until the threat of the tunnels is removed,” he told reporters.

Sirens wailed

For its part, Hamas, weakened by the loss of Egypt and Syria as allies, voiced determination to fight on to break a blockade on Gaza imposed by both Israel and Egypt.

Past conflicts between Israel and its foes in Gaza and Lebanon have usually ended when the United States, the Jewish state’s guardian ally, calls a halt, sometimes hastened by a strike that inflicts high civilian casualties on the Arab side.

While Washington went along with Sunday’s Security Council statement, it has so far defended Israeli actions and refrained from pressuring Netanyahu publicly to stop.

Violence along the Gaza border intensified on Monday and sirens wailed across much of central and southern Israel to warn of rocket attacks. At least nine missiles were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome interceptor, the army said.

Looking to take the fight onto Israeli soil, two groups of Palestinian fighters crossed from Gaza via two tunnels in the early morning, opening fire as they entered.

Black and white surveillance footage supplied by the army, showed one group of five or six men crouching and firing in long grass. Seconds later they were hit by a large explosion, which sent a cloud of smoke and debris flying into the air.

A military spokesperson said at least 10 militants died. She did not comment on reports of casualties amongst Israeli forces. Hamas said its men had destroyed an army jeep in the assault.

Fighters from Hamas, which controls Gaza, and its allies, have repeatedly tried to infiltrate Israel over the past week through a vast network of hidden tunnels, looking to attack villages and army encampments that dot the border area.

Netanyahu sent in Israeli ground forces on Thursday to destroy the tunnels and the militants’ missile stock pile.

Hamas named the Israeli soldier it claimed to have captured as Shaul Aron, but it did not release any picture of him alive in its hands.

Kidnap more soldiers

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations denied the claim, and the Israel’s military said it was still investigating.

“We still cannot rule it out,” military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said on Monday.

A confident-sounding Hamas told Israel to quit Gaza.

“Israel has terribly failed and we advise them to take their soldiers and leave before we kidnap more soldiers in addition to the scores we have already killed and wounded,” said the group’s spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri.

Any capture of an Israeli soldier would pile pressure on Netanyahu to intensify the military campaign.

He agreed to free more than 1 000 Palestinian prisoners in 2011 to secure the release of a soldier who was held for more than five years by Gaza, and officials have said they want to avoid any repeat of that prolonged drama.

Lerner told reporters that the main focus of fighting remained the Shejaia district, east of Gaza City, where some 72 Palestinians, many of them civilians, were killed on Sunday.

In its push against militants in Shejaia, Israel also suffered its worst losses in the offensive, with 13 soldiers killed – the army’s heaviest one-day loss in battle since 2006.

The high death toll by Israeli standards appeared to cement a public mood of grim determination.

Get the job done

Many flags flew at half mast but no leading figures are calling into question the operation. “We need to continue to grit our teeth, to shut our ears, to ignore the background noise and to get the job done,” columnist Ben Caspit wrote in Ma’ariv.

Israel’s army said it had been targeting militants in the clashes, charging that they had fired rockets from Shejaia and built tunnels and command centres there. The army said it had warned civilians to leave two days earlier.

Sounds of explosions rocked Gaza City through the morning, with residents reporting heavy fighting in Shejaia and the adjacent Zeitoun neighbourhood. Locals also said there was heavy shelling in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip.

“It seems we are heading towards a massacre in Beit Hanoun. They drove us out of our houses with their fire. We carried our kids and ran away,” said Abu Ahmed, he did not want to give his full name for fear of Israeli reprisals.

“It was a night of horror,” the 50 year-old said.

At the other end of Gaza, medics said 28 members of the Abu Jamea family died when their house was hit by a bomb. Nearby, 10 members of the Seyam family died when they were hit by a tank shell as they tried to flee their house, officials said.

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Israel is erasing Palestine from the map

Israel has repeatedly announced that it has the right to attack Gaza until there is nothing left of the Palestinian people inside Israel. The impetus behind this outrageous statement is that Israel supposedly has ‘a Right to Defend herself’ ­ a “right” that Israel does not respect, if anyone else claims it, to defend themselves against Israel.

The problem with the statements from Israel, whether implied or bluntly stated is that all “The RIGHTS of any “State” depend entirely upon the states in question—to honor the rights and responsibilities of all other states in that same process: To the exact same degree for every state in every equation.

Israel denies that any other nation has any rights whenever it comes into conflict with whatever the Zionist state demands.

As Israel does not recognize the right of Palestine or the Palestinian people to exist—or their right to self-defense: Then no other nation on the planet needs to honor anything that Israel continues to demand from the rest of the world: This will cancel Israel’s own “right to exist” along with their supposed right to the “self-defense” they have continued to deny to Palestine and everyone else, for over 66 years.

All of Israel’s obscenely one-sided DEMANDS, including ‘total and absolute Surrender to Israel by everyone else on the planet; must be immediately and permanently CANCELED. The Zionists must be confronted, stripped of all rights and property then evicted from every host nation where they have set up their takeover of this dying planet.

“Ultimatum ­ One warning from the Prime Minister of Israel to the enemy population, in which he announces that Israel is about to attack military targets in their area and urges those who are not involved and do not wish to be harmed to leave immediately.

Sinai is not far from Gaza and they can leave. This will be the limit of Israel’s humanitarian efforts. Hamas may unconditionally surrender and prevent the attack.

Attack ­ Attack the entire ‘target bank’ throughout Gaza with the IDF’s maximum force (and not a tiny fraction of it) with all the conventional means at its disposal. All the military and infrastructural targets will be attacked with no consideration for ‘human shields’ or ‘environmental damage’. It is enough that we are hitting exact targets and that we gave them advance warning.

Siege ­ Parallel to the above, a total siege on Gaza. Nothing will enter the area. Israel, however, will allow exit from Gaza. (Civilians may go to Sinai, fighters may surrender to IDF forces).

Defense ­ Any place from which Israel or Israel’s forces were attacked will be immediately attacked with full force and no consideration for ‘human shields’ or ‘environmental damage’.

Conquer ­ After the IDF completes the “softening” of the targets with its fire-power, the IDF will conquer the entire Gaza, using all the means necessary to minimize any harm to our soldiers, with no other considerations.

Elimination- The GSS and IDF will thoroughly eliminate all armed enemies from Gaza.

The enemy population that is innocent of wrong-doing and separated itself from the armed terrorists will be treated in accordance with international law and will be allowed to leave. Israel will generously aid those who wish to leave.

Sovereignty ­ Gaza is part of our Land and we will remain there forever. Liberation of parts of our land forever is the only thing that justifies endangering our soldiers in battle to capture land.

Subsequent to the elimination of terror from Gaza, it will become part of sovereign Israel and will be populated by Jews. This will also serve to ease the housing crisis in Israel. The coastal train line will be extended, as soon as possible, to reach the entire length of Gaza.

According to polls, most of the Arabs in Gaza wish to leave. Those who were not involved in anti-Israel activity will be offered a generous international emigration package. Those who choose to remain will receive permanent resident status.

After a number of years of living in Israel and becoming accustomed to it,
contingent on appropriate legislation in the Knesset and the authorization of the Minister of Interior, those who personally accept upon themselves Israel’s rule, substance and way of life of the Jewish State in its Land, will be offered Israeli citizenship.”

I would go further than the foregoing.

Since the United Nations is a simple but effective tool of Israel, which it has been from 1945, to insure the survival of Israel, regardless of the fact that it sits on lands that were stolen from Palestine and no protest of that theft was ever heard in the vaunted halls of the United Nations or anywhere else—ever!
So every move that Israel has made, throughout her “history” has been fraudulent since 1948.

And because United States Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Israel, and has been for over a hundred years, there will not be any relief coming from either the supposed world body of the UN, or from the criminally controlled Israeli State which is what US Inc. stands for in this case. That means it’s up to us to take back our power and end this unchecked reign of terror coming from Israel against the world.

But How?

Since we no longer have any laws that will aid or protect Americans who are resisting this global takedown ­ it really is up to the people of the country to physically take back what the state has stolen from all of us.

In this case flyers can be made and distributed to every Israeli mission and embassy ­ anywhere that those official places currently exist. The flyers should take their wording from Israel’s threat to the Palestinians above and it should ORDER every Israeli to surrender themselves outright, or be shot on the spot, in the same way that Palestinians are being be treated in Palestine now…

A premium should be placed on every association that is funded or created for Israeli purposes. All members of any think-tank, professional association or indeed any group that has as any part of its reason for existence embedded in the growth or survival of Israel—must be similarly confronted and dealt with accordingly.
BTW this applies to everyone in government and especially the Federal Reserve, because without their Zionists the FED will implode!

Israel has violated every law of the International Courts, routinely. Just as Israel continues to treated everyone who is not a Zionist, as sub-humans to be wiped out, as anyone might treat an infestation of plague infected rats.

It’s time that the world woke up and got rid of every trace of this global infestation called Israel. Israel calls its self the only people on earth who matter—everyone else is just scum to be exterminated as soon as possible… this philosophy must be applied directly to all things Israeli and to all Zionists now…

CANCELING Israel’s Right to Exist will free the world and amazingly the globe begin to return to being a planet with a future instead of the flaming ruin we’re in the middle of de-constructing into total annihilation!

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Rockets strike southern Israeli port of Eilat

Jerusalem – Three rockets exploded in and near the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat on Tuesday, and rescue teams were investigating reports that several people were injured, a military spokesperson said.

They were the first rockets to strike Eilat since a week-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza, though rockets fired from Egypt have struck in the city previously in the past few years.

Two rockets struck inside the city that borders both Egypt and Jordan and which is filled with hotels and tourist attractions. A third landed in an open area, the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson could not say from where the rocket was fired. Israel Radio said officials suspected it was fired from Egypt.

Hundreds of rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza in the past week, during an Israeli offensive against militants that has killed 180 people, though no rockets have been shot from Gaza as far south as Eilat.

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Israel defies calls for truce

Gaza City – Ignoring international appeals for a cease-fire, Israel widened its range of Gaza bombing targets to civilian institutions with suspected Hamas ties and deployed ground troops inside Gaza for the first time early on Sunday to raid a rocket launching site in the Palestinian territory. More than 156 Palestinians have been killed.

Four Israeli soldiers were hurt in clashes during the brief incursion to destroy a rocket launching site in northern Gaza, the military said. It said the troops later returned to Israeli territory.

It was the first time that Israeli ground troops are known to have entered Gaza in the current offensive. But the operation was carried out by special forces and did not appear to be the beginning of a broad ground offensive.

Israeli airstrikes pounded targets in Gaza, with one hitting a center for the disabled and killing two patients and wounding four people, Palestinians. In a second attack Saturday night, an Israeli warplane flattened the home of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended, killing at least 18 people and wounding 50, officials said.

In New York, the UN Security Council called unanimously for a cease-fire, but so far, neither Israel nor Gaza’s Hamas rulers have signaled willingness to stop.

Israel has carried out more than 1 200 air strikes over the six-day offensive to try to diminish Hamas’ ability to fire rockets at Israel. Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, has fired nearly 700 rockets and mortars at Israel this week.

Israel’s chief military spokesperson, Brigadier General Motti Almoz, said on Saturday there would be more strikes, especially in northern Gaza near the Israeli border. Late on Saturday, the military said it was ordering Palestinians in northern Gaza to evacuate “for their own safety”.

Gaza’s Interior Ministry urged residents in the area to ignore Israel’s warnings and to stay in their homes, saying the announcement was Israeli “psychological warfare” and an attempt to create confusion.

In a sign that the conflict might widen, Israel fired into Lebanon late Saturday in response to two rockets fired from there at northern Israel. There were no injuries or damage, but Israel fears Lebanese militant groups may try to open a second front.

Israel has said it’s acting in self-defense against rockets that have disrupted life across much of the country. It also accuses Hamas of using Gaza’s civilians as human shields by firing rockets from there.

Critics say Israel’s heavy bombardment of one of the most densely populated territories in the world is itself the main factor putting civilians at risk. Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that while using human shields violates international humanitarian law, “this does not give Israel the excuse to violate international humanitarian law as well”.

The Israeli military has said it has targeted sites with links to Hamas, including command centers, and that it issues early warnings before attacking. But Michaeli said civilians have been killed when Israel bombed homes of Hamas militants or when residents were unable to leave their homes quickly enough following Israeli warnings.

An army statement said that from Friday morning to Saturday morning, Israel targeted 158 targets “affiliated with Hamas terrorism” in Gaza, including dozens of rocket launchers and a mosque where Hamas stored rockets and weapons.

Israel also targeted several civilian institutions with presumed ties to Hamas, widening its range of targets. Palestinian officials said this included a technical college, a media office, a small Kuwait-funded charity and a branch of an Islamic bank.

The Israeli military did not mention these institutions in its statement Saturday, saying only that in addition to the military targets, it struck “further sites”.

Gaza Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra said the death toll there reached more than 156, with over 1 060 wounded. Among the dead was a nephew of Ismail Haniyeh, a top Hamas leader, who was killed in an airstrike near his home, Hamas officials said.

Though the exact breakdown of casualties remains unclear, dozens of the dead have been civilians. Israel also demolished dozens of homes it said were used by Hamas for military purposes.

“Am I a terrorist? Do I make rockets and artillery?” screamed Umm Omar, a woman in the southern town of Rafah whose home was destroyed in an airstrike. It was not immediately known why the building was targeted.

The “Iron Dome,” a US-funded, Israel-developed rocket defense system, has intercepted more than 130 incoming rockets, preventing any Israeli fatalities so far. A handful of Israelis have been wounded by rockets that slipped through.

On Saturday, air raid sirens went off in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel’s two largest cities, both located nearly 80km from Gaza. Most of the rockets were intercepted or fell in open areas.

The frequent rocket fire has disrupted daily life in Israel, with most staying close to home. Israeli airstrikes meanwhile have turned bustling Gaza City into a virtual ghost town during the normally festive monthlong Muslim holiday of Ramadan, emptying streets, closing shops and keeping hundreds of thousands of people close to home.

The offensive marks the heaviest fighting since a similar eight-day campaign in November 2012 to stop Gaza rocket fire. The outbreak of violence follows the kidnappings and killings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, and the kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager in an apparent revenge attack.

At the UN, a Security Council statement approved by all 15 members called for de-escalation of the violence, restoration of calm, and a resumption of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace agreement based on a two-state solution.

The statement also called for “the reinstitution of the November 2012 cease-fire,” which was brokered by Egypt, but gives no time frame for when it should take effect.

The statement, which is not legally binding, is the first response by the UN’s most powerful body, which has been deeply divided on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Arab League meanwhile said foreign ministers from member states will hold an emergency meeting in Cairo on Monday about the offensive.

Daraghmeh reported from Ramallah, West Bank. Associated Press writers Karin Laub in the West Bank and Edith M Lederer at the UN contributed to this report.

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UN calls for Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire

The UN Security Council is calling for a cease-fire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict centered on Gaza.

A council statement approved on Saturday by all 15 members calls for de-escalation of the violence, restoration of calm and a resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace agreement based on a two-state solution.

The press statement expresses “serious concern regarding the crisis related to Gaza and the protection and welfare of civilians on both sides”.

It calls for respect for international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians.

The press statement, which is not legally binding but reflects international opinion, is the first response by the UN’s most powerful body, which has been deeply divided on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Huge blast as rocket hits Israeli petrol station

Jerusalem – A rocket fired from Gaza hit a petrol station in southern Israel on Friday, causing a huge explosion and injuring three people, the army and medics said.

“A barrage of rockets was fired at Ashdod, one of which hit a gas station causing massive damage,” a statement from the army said.

Medics said three people had been taken to hospital, including one who was very seriously hurt.

“Three people were injured, one very seriously,” emergency services spokesperson Eli Bin told public radio of the incident, which occurred in the southern port city of Ashdod, 28km north of Gaza.

A large fire was raging at the site, with emergency teams trying to control the blaze, medics said.

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Egypt opens border to wounded Palestinians

Cairo – Egypt opened its Rafah border crossing to Gaza on Thursday to receive wounded Palestinians as Israel pounded the enclave with air strikes, an official at the border said.

Hospitals in north Sinai, which borders Gaza and Israel, have been placed on standby to receive the Palestinians, Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported.

The crossing is usually closed, with Egyptian officials citing the tense security situation in Sinai, where the army is battling an Islamist insurgency.

Rafah is Gaza’s only border crossing that bypasses Israel, which has hammered the coastal strip in response to Palestinian rocket fire.

The air strikes have killed at least 70 people since the operation began on Tuesday, including 11 women and 18 children, according to medical reports.

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Israeli strikes Gaza, 1 killed

Gaza City – An Israeli air strike killed a Palestinian in Gaza on Wednesday after new rocket fire from the territory prompted Israel’s premier to warn he holds Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responsible.

Two Palestinians were also wounded in the evening raid in the northern Gaza Strip, the emergency services said.

The dead man and one of the wounded were travelling on a motorbike and were the apparent targets. A young boy, who was passing by on foot. was also wounded.

The Israeli military said it had targeted “terrorists affiliated to the international jihad,” its designation for al-Qaeda inspired groups in Gaza.

Abbas, who swore in a new merged government for the Palestinian territories last week replacing the Hamas administration in Gaza, condemned the rocket fire, which Israeli officials said hit the Eshkol region without causing any casualties or damage.

Abbas ‘accountable for rockets fired at Israel’

Israel had previously held Hamas responsible for all rocket fire from Gaza, regardless of who carried it out.

Now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds Abbas, who heads the unity government, responsible, a spokesperson said.

“Abbas is responsible and accountable for rockets that are fired at Israeli towns and cities by terrorists in the Gaza Strip,” Ofir Gendelman wrote on Twitter.

Another Netanyahu spokesperson released a statement demanding that Abbas disarm “terrorist” organisations in Gaza.

“Abbas claims that the new Palestinian government honours all previous commitments. So why has he not disarmed the terrorist organisations in Gaza as he is obligated to do,” Mark Regev asked.

Reacting to the rocket fire, Abbas’s office said he “condemns the rocket fire and calls for honouring past agreements”.

Hamas won’t recognise Israel

The new government of independent technocrats agreed on between Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas, has said it will respect Israel and past peace agreements, and has given assurances that it renounces violence.

Hamas refuses to recognise Israel and is pledged to armed struggle against the Jewish state.

Some 140 rockets and mortar rounds fired from Gaza have hit southern Israel so far this year, the military says.

On 1 June, two rockets from Gaza hit Israel, prompting retaliatory air strikes.

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Palestinians swear in unity government

Palestinians have sworn in a national consensus government, despite officials continuing to disagree over plans to close the Prisoner Affairs Ministry.

The ceremony at which the new cabinet took its oath was held on Monday in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

President Mahmoud Abbas praised the “end” of Palestinian division.

“Today, with the formation of a national consensus government, we announce the end of a Palestinian division that has greatly damaged our national case,” Abbas said at his Ramallah headquarters after the new cabinet was sworn in.

“We hail the national consensus government, which represents all the Palestinian people,” Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas spokesman, told AFP news agency.

Palestinian officials reported there was a dispute on Sunday, following Abbas’s plans to dissolve the Prisoner Affairs Ministry and tranfer responsibility for prisoner issues to a committee outside the control of the cabinet.

Earlier on Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, gave warning that the Hamas-Fatah deal to mend ties would strengthen “terrorism” in the Middle East.

“I call on all responsible elements in the international community not to rush to recognise a Palestinian government which has Hamas as part of it and which is dependent on Hamas,” he said.

Nabil Abu-Rudeineh, the presidential spokesperson, said the international community had already encouraged and welcomed Abbas’s move “aimed at the unification of the country and the Palestinian people”, according to the local news agency WAFA.

Abu-Rudeineh said the new government would also abide by Abbas’ political programme “which aims at achieving an independent state of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Hamas has controlled the occupied Gaza Strip since 2007, when it removed Fatah after winning an election. Fatah controls areas of the West Bank.

The factions agreed in April to form a unity government, a move that led to Israel freezing US-brokered talks with Palestinian leaders.

Earlier on Saturday, Abbas said: “Israel wants to punish us for agreeing with Hamas on this government,” he said, adding that the Netanyahu administration would “boycott the government the moment it is announced”.

A Palestinian official said on Saturday that Israel had denied requests by three Gaza-based Palestinians, who are expected to be named as ministers, to attend Monday’s ceremony.

Israel pulled its troops out of Gaza in 2005 in a “disengagement”, but still controls the borders, sea and airspace.

The US and the EU, which are the largest donors to Palestinian agencies, have indicated they are willing to give the new unity government a chance.

The US, which considers Hamas a “terrorist group”, has said it will not make any decision on support until it has seen who is in the government.

Abbas has promised the cabinet will accept international calls to renounce violence and recognise Israel’s right to exist.

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Concern as Israel tries to split Arabs

Jerusalem – In a region marked by sectarian division, Israel is trying to bring its Christian Arab population on side in a move aimed at splitting them from their Muslim compatriots, experts say.

This Israeli charm offensive has recently led to the army calling for the first time on Arab Christians to sign up for military service, and in a newly-passed law which formalises a distinction between Christian Arabs and Muslims.

“We and the Christians have a lot in common,” MP Yariv Levin said at the time.

“They’re our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims who want to destroy the country from within,” said Levin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party which sponsored the bill.

It is a discourse in keeping with the neo-conservative world view of a “clash of civilisations” between the Judeo-Christian West and Islam which has been embraced by Netanyahu – a close ally of both the US Republican right and the Zionist evangelicals.

It is not the first time Israel has tried to align itself with its “natural allies” in the predominantly Muslim Middle East. It did so in Lebanon in the 1980s by backing the Christian Phalangist militia and its ally the South Lebanon Army against their Muslim opponents.

“There is indeed a significant decline in the condition of the Christians in the Middle East,” said professor Gabriel Ben-Dor, head of national security studies at Haifa University.

“In Israel, this is perceived as the moment to improve the standing of the Christian minority in Israel,” he explained, saying it would also “significantly improve” Israel’s international standing.

But ahead of a key visit to the Holy Land by Pope Francis which begins on Saturday, this apparent strategy of divide and rule has Israel’s Arab community worried.

‘They are Palestinians’

Israel’s Arab population – descendents of some 160 000 Palestinians who remained after the Jewish state was established in 1948 – today numbers 1.4 million, 130 000 of whom are Christians.

Military service is not compulsory for Israel’s Arabs, except for the tiny Druze community, and only around 100 Christians volunteer for service each year, army figures show.

But last month, Israel said it would start sending enlistment papers to all Christian Arabs of military service age, angering Arab MPs who accused the government of seeking to divide Christians from Muslims.

The reaction of the Christian Churches was not slow in coming.

In Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel, the Greek Orthodox Church sacked one of its priests after he publicly encouraged young Arab Christians to join the army to understand “the importance of serving and getting involved in the country in which they live and which protects them”.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which represents the Roman Catholic Church, protested against the army’s decision to seek a tenfold increase in the number of Christian recruits annually.

“The issue is that these Christians are Palestinian,” said Michel Sabbah, patriarch between 1988-2008 and the first Palestinian to hold the post for centuries.

“If you accept yourself as Palestinian, you must be logical with yourself – you don’t go into an army which maintains occupation on Palestinians, or kills Palestinians.

“You have to be a good citizen inside the state of Israel, but being a good citizen does not imply that you are ordered to kill your brothers who are Palestinians,” he said.

Playing the sectarian card

Opponents accuse nationalist right-wing elements within Netanyahu’s coalition of playing the “sectarianism” card and seeking to create a divide between Christians and Muslims.

“I don’t think that Israel is serious about integrating Arab Christians in Israeli society on the basis of full, equal-rights citizens. This is a clear attempt to split the Arab-Palestinian minority in Israel,” said political analyst Wadie Abu Nasser.

“If Israel is serious, why does discrimination continue vis-a-vis the Druze who serve in the army? And why it doesn’t allow Palestinian refugees of Christian background to come back?” said Abu Nasser, a former spokesman for the Latin Patriarchate.

If the strategy succeeds, it will only be “in a very limited way”, he said.

“Israel’s strategic mistake is not to reply to regional instability in positive ways.

“Making peace with the Palestinians and offering full equality to all of its citizens are the best guarantees for Israel’s future in the region.”

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Palestinian factions to form unity government

Palestinian leaders in Gaza reach agreement to form a national unity government ending seven-year rift.

A meeting of Palestinian leaders in Gaza has reached a milestone reconciliation pact that will see rival Palestinian groups form a national consensus government in five weeks – after seven years of operating under separate administrations.

Under the agreement announced on Wednesday, rival groups Fatah and Hamas will form a government together under the umbrella of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). 

The groups plan to form a national unity government in five weeks and will hold elections in six months.

At a news conference, leaders of all the groups said the past divisions had taken a toll on the Palestinian goal of establishing an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader who announced the terms of the agreement, said the deal came as “the entire city of Jerusalem has been painted Jewish with an attempt to wipe out the Arab identity and desecrate the Muslim and Christian sanctities”.

Azzam al-Ahmed, the Fatah delegation head, said he hoped the pact “will be a true beginning for a true partnership in all our spectrums; political, social and societal”.

The Palestinian factions have been at odds and sometimes even at war with each other since 2007 – following Hamas’s democratic win in Gaza.

Since then, Hamas has independently ruled the 40-kilometre long Gaza strip, home to nearly 2 million Palestinians – while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, from Fatah, governs areas of the West Bank – home to more than 2 million Palestinians.

The two-sides met and signed deals in 2011 and 2012 in meetings in Cairo and Doha – but never with the desired result of unification.

The new agreement, reached in only two days, will honour the terms of both agreements.

The deal also comes at a crucial time when the US-led talks between the Israelis and Palestinians are at a stalemate.

Israel cancelled a session of peace negotiations scheduled for Wednesday night after the announcement of a new Palestinian government.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said in a statement that “whoever chooses Hamas does not want peace”.

“I said this morning that Abu Mazen (the Fatah-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) needs to choose between peace with Israel and an agreement with Hamas, a murderous terrorist organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel and which both the United States and the European Union define as a terrorist organisation,” Netanyahu said.

Avigdor Liberman, the Israeli foreign minister, described the signing of the agreement as “tantamount to a signature on the end of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority”.

Some Palestinians, weathered by divisions in the past, told Al Jazeera they remained sceptical of the new agreement.

Ramallah resident Nur Hamad, said she supported reconciliation “because we have to be one nation”.

“No factions, only a Palestinian nation, but I don’t think Fatah and Hamas are going to succeed,” Hamad said.

And Mariam abu Daqqa, an activist in Gaza said, “We are saying to both Fatah and Hamas for the sake of Palestine and the Palestinian children, you must get unified against the Israeli occupation.”

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Israel says it won’t release Palestinian prisoners

JERUSALEM — Israel will not free an expected fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners because of the Palestinians’ push for recognition at the United Nations, Israel’s chief negotiator said Thursday.

A statement from negotiator Tzipi Livni sent to The Associated Press said the Palestinians’ decision to seek accessions to 15 international conventions through the U.N. violated the terms set for the prisoners’ release.

That comes as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described their U.N. move earlier this week as a response to Israel’s failure to release prisoners as promised at the end of March.

The impasse over the prisoners throws further doubts about the outcome of the U.S.-led peace negotiations helmed by Secretary of State John Kerry. The talks had been scheduled to last until late April, but now both sides appear to have hardened their positions while questioning the effectiveness of Kerry’s efforts.

Livni told the Palestinian negotiating team that the prisoner release was contingent on the Palestinians refraining from making unilateral moves. Livni said that “new conditions were established and Israel cannot release the fourth batch of prisoners.”

As part of the terms for returning to negotiations in late July, Abbas promised to suspend Palestinian membership applications to U.N. agencies and international conventions. Israel, in turn, pledged to release 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners during the talks.

The prisoner issue is an emotional one for Palestinians after decades of conflict with Israel. Palestinians generally view them as heroes, regardless of the reason for their imprisonment — even when their crimes have involved grisly killings. Israelis mostly view them as terrorists because of their attacks on civilians.

There were some indications from Palestinian officials that Abbas’ move largely was intended as a pressure tactic. It comes amid speculation that the U.S. might release an American convicted of spying for Israel.

The Palestinians condemned the Israeli announcement. Palestinian Minister of Prisoner Affairs Issa Qaraqe said that “Israel didn’t fulfill the agreement sponsored by the U.S. concerning the release … of prisoners in return for the Palestinian Authority not going to the U.N.”

Speaking earlier Thursday during a visit to Algeria, Kerry called it a “critical moment” for the peace process and vowed to continue his efforts “no matter what.”

“You can facilitate, you can push, you can nudge, but the parties themselves have to make fundamental decisions and compromises,” Kerry said. “The leaders have to lead and they have to be able to see a moment when it’s there.”

He recalled the old adage that you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink.

“Now is the time to drink,” Kerry said. “The leaders need to know that.”

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