Palestinian chief negotiator rejects plan for 'provisional state'

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat

Jan 23 (KATAKAMI.COM / RIA NOVOSTI) — Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat has rejected a plan for a Palestinian state in provisional borders drafted by the Israeli foreign minister.

The Palestinians seek to create an independent state on the territories of West Bank, East Jerusalem, partially occupied by Israel, and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Israeli media unveiled on Sunday a ‘map of a Palestinian state’ drafted by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in an effort to resolve the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict.

“After a Palestinian state has been established in provisional borders, it would be possible to resume diplomatic negotiations and maybe reach agreements on transferring additional territory to the Palestinian state,” Ha’aretz quoted a senior Foreign Ministry official as saying.

Referring to the proposal, the Palestinian negotiator said: “Lieberman’s plan came after the Israelis felt embarrassed and isolated by the international community, which has gradually supported the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.”

“This is why they are trying to turn the ball over to the Palestinian and Arab side,” quoted Erekat’s statement.

Earlier this week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reaffirmed Russia’s endorsement of an independent Palestinian state. Erekat described the statement as “an historic move to make the Palestinians proud for a very long time to come.”  (*)

GAZA, January 23

Israel's Foreign Minister drafting plans for provisional Palestine

FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2011 file photo Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman gestures during his meeting with the Greek President Karolos Papoulias at the Presidential Palace in Athens. Israeli media are reporting that authorities will decide by the end of February whether to indict Lieberman on corruption charges. The decision follows a decade-old investigation into Lieberman's business dealings, involving suspicions of bribery, breach of trust and other allegations.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, Files)

JERUSALEM, Jan 23 (KATAKAMI.COM / AP)  – Israel’s foreign minister is putting together an interim peace plan that would grant the Palestinians limited independence in an attempt to blunt their efforts to win international recognition of an independent state, a government official Sunday.

The Palestinians rejected the notion of a provisional state as a “publicity stunt” and urged Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to work instead to achieve a final peace deal.

Lieberman has been an outspoken skeptic of current peace efforts,saying conditions are not ripe for an agreement. Yet at the same time, Israel is widely seen as being responsible for the current impasse in talks with the Palestinians and is under heavy international pressure to help find a new way forward.

Under the emerging Lieberman plan, Israel would turn over between 45- to 50 percent of the West Bank to the provisional state, though additional land could be transferred to Palestinian control in the course of future negotiations, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan is not fully formed.

The Haaretz daily said Lieberman has presented a map to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the prime minister’s office would not confirm the report.

Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said the Israeli leader remains committed to a final accord resolving the decades-old dispute between the two sides. But in a recent interview, Netanyahu said he might seek a short-term deal if the negotiations deadlock continues.

Lieberman, leader of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party, repeatedly has called for a long-term interim agreement between the sides.

The Palestinians claim the Gaza Strip, West Bank and east Jerusalem — areas captured and occupied by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for an independent state.

In recent months, they have tried to rally international recognition of a state in these territories. The Palestinians launched that initiative after concluding that talks with Israel were unlikely to yield a hoped-for state. Lieberman’s plan is an attempt to counter the Palestinian strategy.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on a final accord collapsed in September after an Israeli freeze on settlement construction expired.

The Palestinians say they won’t return to the negotiating table unless Israel halts all construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Settlements, they say, cement the Israeli presence in the West Bank and chip away at a future Paelstinian state.

Some 500,000 Jewish settlers have moved to the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the past 43 years. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and the territory is now ruled by the Hamas militant group.

The Palestinian Authority was set up on the basis of an interim peace agreement in 1994. Nine years later, Palestinian leaders agreed to the concept of a provisional state when they endorsed the “road map” peace plan advanced by the U.S., European Union, Russia and the U.N. .

But with peacemaking languishing, the Palestinians have turned their backs on that approach, fearing provisional borders could become final frontiers.

“The option of provisional borders or an interim agreement is no longer on the table,” senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said. “I urge Lieberman not to fight the emergence of a Palestinian state, because it’s coming.”

The proposal is “a publication relations stunt, to throw the ball in our court,” Erekat added.  (*)

Israeli Turkel inquiry: Flotilla raid and Gaza Blockade was legal

Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, left, Canada’s former chief military prosecutor, and David Trimble, Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland and a member of the British House of Lords, attend the opening session of the Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, in Jerusalem, Monday, June 28, 2010.

January 23 (KATAKAMI.COM) — An Israeli inquiry commission defended the actions of its troops during last year’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla sailing from Turkey.

The nearly 300-page report released Sunday by the government-appointed Turkel Commission said the actions of the soldiers “were found to be legal pursuant to the rules of international law” and that they opened fire in self-defense.

The commission, headed by a retired Supreme Court justice, included five Israeli members and two international observers – Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin of Canada and Lord David Trimble of Northern Ireland.

The commission cleared the soldiers of any use of unnecessary violence, stating:

“It is possible to determine that the IDF soldiers acted professionally and with great presence of mind in light of the extreme violence which they hadn’t expected.
“This professionalism was evident in the fact that they continued to exchange their lethal weapons for the less lethal option and visa versa in order to give a response that was appropriate to the nature of the violence directed at them.”
“The decision-makers didn’t have any prior knowledge of the violent reception planned by the IHH members and their inability to identify the intentions of the IHH directly affected the planning and execution of the operation.”

The commission members found that incomplete intelligence gathering wasn’t the only reason for the lack of preparation:

“The possibility that an organized group, armed with lethal weapons was on board the Marmara and set to take active measures against attempts to board the ship wasn’t taken into account.”

The IDF received a great deal of praise from the Turkel committee for placing senior officers on the scene – including the navy commander.

“This increased the chain of command’s awareness of the developments as they happened which helped them to receive decisions efficiently, at the right time as the incident developed.”

“The decision is compatible with the international practice which is used in naval operations, even when not considered an armed confrontation,” the report stated. In addition, the commission members wrote that the way the IDF handled the transfer of the passengers to Israel was well done due to the coordination between the governmental offices.

The bloodshed drew heavy international condemnation directed at Israel and forced it to ease the blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The Turkel Commission stressed that it did not find any evidence to the claims Israel was trying to prevent food from entering Gaza in order to stave its population.

The members said the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave suffers from a ‘lack of nutritional stability’, not starvation. They naval blockade is legal in accordance with international law, the commission determined.

“The naval blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip – in view of the security circumstances and Israel’s efforts to comply with its humanitarian obligations – was legal pursuant to the rules of international law. The actions carried out by Israel on May 31, 2010, to enforce the naval blockade had the regrettable consequences of the loss of human life and physical injuries. Nonetheless, and despite the limited number of uses of force for which we could not reach a conclusion, the actions taken were found to be legal pursuant to the rules of international law.”

“The imposition and enforcement of the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip does not constitute “collective punishment” of the population of the Gaza Strip.”

“International law does not give individuals or groups the freedom to ignore the imposition of a naval blockade that satisfies the conditions for imposing it and that is enforced accordingly, especially where a blockade satisfies obligations to neutral parties, merely because in the opinion of those individuals or groups it violates the duties of the party imposing the blockade vis-à-vis the entity subject to the blockade.”  (*)



Egypt: Militant group in Gaza behind church attack

Egyptian Christian women mourn during Sunday mass on January 2, 2011 at the Al-Qiddissine (The Saints) church in Alexandria which was targeted on New Year's Eve by a car bomb attack in which 21 people were killed. There was no immediate claim for the attack but Al-Qaeda has called for punishment of Egypt's Copts over claims that two priests' wives they say had converted to Islam were being held by the Church against their will. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

CAIRO, Jan 23 (KATAKAMI.COM / AP)  – An al-Qaida-linked group in Gaza was behind the New Year’s Day suicide bombing that killed at least 21 Christians and wounded about a hundred outside a church in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, the country’s top security official announced Sunday.

Interior Minister Habib al-Adly said “conclusive evidence” showed that the shadowy, Gaza-based Army of Islam was behind the planning and execution of the attack, which sparked three days of Christian rioting in Cairo and several other cities. It was the deadliest attack against Christians in Egypt in more than a decade.

He also suggested that the group recruited Egyptians in the planning and execution of the attack, but that this could not conceal the role it played in the “callous and terrorist” act.

The identification of a foreign-based group as the perpetrator of the bombing provides authorities with key support to their contention that sectarianism was not behind violence against Christians and that al-Qaida has no significant foothold in Egypt.

Security officials said at least five Egyptians have been detained in connection with the Alexandria bombing. They said the suspects have given investigators a full account of how they were contacted and eventually recruited by the Army of Islam. The officials, who gave no further details, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share the information with the media.

For its part, the group dismissed the Egyptian accusations on a jihadist website.

“The Army of Islam in the land of Ribat (Palestine) denies the allegation made by the Egyptian regime about our relation with the attack in the city of Alexandria,” it said.

The Army of Islam is estimated to have several dozens of operatives committed, like al-Qaida, to the ideas of a global jihad. The group seceded from the Hamas-linked Popular Resistance Committees in 2005 and currently have no ties with that group.

In 2008, Hamas unleashed a deadly crackdown on it, storming its stronghold and killing 13 of its members and prompting it to since keep a low profile.

The Army of Islam is thought to have participated in the kidnappings of Israeli soldier Sgt. Gilad Schalit in 2006 and BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who was later released.

Late last year, Israel killed three members of the group in separate airstrikes, alleging the men had planned to attack Israeli and American targets in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Suspicion for the Alexandria bombing had immediately fallen on some kind of al-Qaida-linked organization after the terror group’s branch in Iraq vowed to attack Christians in Iraq and Egypt over the cases of two Egyptian Christian women who sought to convert to Islam. The women, who were married to priests in the Coptic Orthodox Church, were prohibited from divorcing their husbands and sought to convert as a way out.

The women have since been secluded by the Coptic Church, prompting Islamic hard-liners in Egypt to accuse the Church of imprisoning them and forcing them to renounce Islam. The Church denies the allegation.

Al-Adly’s announcement came in an address he delivered during a ceremony marking Police Day that was attended by President Hosni Mubarak, Cabinet ministers and top police officials.

In a separate address, Mubarak vowed that his government will “triumph over terror” and that he will do his utmost to maintain unity between Egyptians. About 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people are Christians.

“I will not be lenient with sectarian actions from either side and will confront their perpetrators with the might and decisiveness of the law,” warned Mubarak, Egypt’s ruler of nearly 30 years.

Mubarak also lashed out against calls made in the West for the need to protect the Christians of the Middle East following the Alexandria bombing and attacks against Christians in Iraq.

“The protection of Egyptians, all Egyptians, is our duty,” Mubarak said. “The age of foreign protection has gone and will never come back,” he said.

His comments came one day after al-Azhar, the primary seat of Islamic learning in the Sunni Muslim world, said it was halting the biannual inter-religious dialogue with the Vatican.

Last week, Egypt withdrew its ambassador from the Vatican. The two moves are linked to remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI about “non-Muslims being oppressed by Muslim states in the Middle East.”

On Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI once again remarked on the difficulties faced by the Christians in the Middle East.

“We know how many trials the brothers and sisters of the Holy Land and of the Middle East must face,” he told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square Sunday. “Their service is thus even more precious, confirmed by giving witness that, in some cases, came to the point of even sacrificing their life.”  (*)

Egypt Blames al-Qaida-Linked Palestinian Group for New Year’s Bombing

An Egyptian man cleans blood-staind from the door of the Al-Qiddissine (The Saints) church following an overnight car bomb attack that targeted the church in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria on January 1, 2011 and killed at least 21, hitting Egypt's Christian community, the biggest in the Middle East. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

Jan 23 (KATAKAMI.COM / VOA) — Egypt’s interior minister has blamed a Palestinian group linked to al-Qaida for the New Year’s Day suicide bombing that killed more than 20 people and wounded about 100 others at a Coptic Christian church.

Habib al-Adly announced Sunday that the government believes the Army of Islam was behind the attack.

The Palestinian militant group is believed to have played a role in a cross-border attack in 2006 that resulted in the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The more recent attack occurred a half hour into the new year at a church in the northern city of Alexandria where worshippers had gathered to celebrate Mass.

The bombing prompted protests by Christians saying the state had not done enough to protect them from extremists. Witnesses also said that after the attack, Coptic Christians tried to attack a mosque across from the church, and that fights broke out causing more casualties.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas condemned the attack, saying the perpetrators were seeking to promote confrontation between Muslims and Christians.

Tensions between Christians and Muslims have been on the rise in Egypt and Iraq following threats by al-Qaida.

While no one immediately claimed responsibility for the New Year’s Day attack, al-Qaida’s affiliate in Iraq had claimed responsibility for other recent bombings, saying they were in retaliation for two Egyptian Christian women who converted to Islam. (*)


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