December 14, 2011

Palestine Seeks EU Backing for UN Membership; Israel Displaces Record Number of Palestinians; Israeli Airstrike Kills 4 in Gaza, Including Child; Jewish Extremists Desecrate Old Jerusalem Mosque

Abbas Seeks EU Backing for U.N. Membership

The Daily Star
December 15, 2011

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged the European Union Wednesday to support the Palestinian bid for full U.N. membership, as the bloc’s top diplomat called for the resumption of direct talks with Israel.

“Yesterday we raised the flag of Palestine in front of UNESCO and I thanked the president [Herman Van Rompuy] for their support for this endeavor,” Abbas said after meeting the EU president. “I hope the day will come when we will raise the flag of Palestine at the U.N. and with the support of the European Union.”

The EU is split on the issue, however. At a vote concerning raising the flag at the U.N.’s education, science and culture agency, 11 EU nations voted in favor – Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia and Spain.

Eleven others abstained – Britain, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Italy, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia – and five voted against. They were the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Meanwhile, the EU’s chief diplomat Catherine Ashton said after a meeting with Abbas that the bloc’s “overarching objective” was “the creation of an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian state, living side by side with Israel in peace and security.”

Israel to Release Millions in Withheld Palestinian Tax Money

The Daily Star
December 1, 2011

Israel announced Wednesday it was releasing millions of dollars in tax revenues it owes the Palestinians, lifting a month-old freeze that had threatened to undermine the pro-Western Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had come under international pressure to hand over the funds, about $100 million a month that includes import duties Israel collects on behalf of the West Bank-based authority.

The money is vital for paying civil servants employed by the Palestinian government in the occupied West Bank, where it exercises limited self-rule under interim peace deals with Israel.

In a punitive measure, Israel began withholding the funds on Nov. 1, a day after the Palestinians won membership in the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO as part of their unilateral, and slow-moving, drive for U.N. statehood recognition.

Israel has called on the Palestinians to abandon that bid and return to peace talks that collapsed in September 2010 over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem which they say will deny them a viable state.

An Israeli government official said tax payments for October and November would be handed over to the Palestinian Authority, but Netanyahu made clear that he reserved the option to halt them again.

“Netanyahu approved the resumption of tax revenue transfers, at this stage, to the Palestinian Authority,” said a statement issued by the prime minister’s office after his inner Cabinet gave its backing.

The statement cited what it described as a suspension of “unilateral moves” by the Palestinian Authority, a reference to any further bids for status upgrades in U.N. bodies.

“If the Palestinian Authority takes unilateral steps again, the transfer of funds will be reconsidered,” it said.

Commenting on the decision to transfer the funds, Saleh Rafat, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said: “This is first of all Palestinian money ... Israel should have retracted this decision weeks ago.”

Last week, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the Palestinian Authority was “fast approaching the point of being completely incapacitated” and would not be able to pay about 150,000 workers this month if Israel did not release the money.

Israel Displaces Record Number of Palestinians

The Daily Star
December 14, 2011

Israel has stepped up its demolitions of Palestinian property in occupied land this year, razing double the number of homes and water wells from 2010, human rights groups said Tuesday.

The statement endorsed by 20 organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch further said Jewish settler violence against Palestinians had risen in 2011 and that Israel had sped up its expansion of settler enclaves.

They urged members of the Middle East peacemaking “Quartet” – the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia – to put pressure on Israel to “reverse its settlement policies and freeze all demolitions that violate international law.”

Quartet representatives were expected in the region again Wednesday for yet another effort to revive peace talks frozen since last year over settlement construction.

The statement, citing U.N. figures, said Israel had destroyed more than 500 Palestinian homes, wells and other structures in 2011, displacing more than 1,000 people, the greatest number in a single year since 2005.

Settler assaults on Palestinians, including deliberate damage to some privately owned 10,000 olive trees, have also risen to their worst level since 2005, with a 50 percent increase over 2010, and more than a 160 percent increase over 2009, the U.N. figures show.

The statement said that settler “perpetrators act with virtual impunity,” with more than 90 percent of complaints filed with police shut without indictment between 2005 and 2010.

Israel has approved plans to build 4,000 more settlement homes in the past year for East Jerusalem, the greatest number since 2006, the statement added, quoting figures supplied by the Israeli watchdog group Peace Now.

Guy Inbar, a spokesman for the Israel’s Defense Ministry unit coordinating policy for the West Bank, called the report “one-sided and biased.”

In a written statement, Inbar said Israel would continue to “professionally and transparently” enforce laws regarding illegal construction by both Israelis and Palestinians.

Israeli Airstrike Kills 4 in Gaza, Including Child

The Daily Star
December 10, 2011

Violence has flared up between Israel and Gaza, with the Israeli air force killing four Palestinians and militants firing rockets deep across the border.

The fighting erupted Thursday when an airstrike on a car killed two militants, one of them from Gaza’s governing Islamist group Hamas, whom Israel accused of planning to send gunmen to attack it through the neighboring Sinai region of Egypt.

Palestinian militants responded to Thursday’s airstrike with a barrage of rockets, some of which landed near Beersheba, a city 35 km from Gaza. No one was hurt.

Another Israeli airstrike followed before dawn Friday, hitting a Hamas training camp in Gaza City. The blast flattened a nearby home, killing its owner and his 12-year-old son. The man’s wife and five other children were also wounded hospital officials said.

In a statement voicing regret for the civilian casualties, the military said Palestinian rockets stored next to the camp had stoked the explosion. Hamas accused Israel of a “massacre.”

Palestinian militants stepped up rocket attacks as night fell. Three groups said they had fired over a dozen projectiles across the border. Israel police said at least 10 of them landed in Israeli territory, causing no casualties.

Witnesses in Gaza reported heavy activity of Israeli drones over head.

Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in Gaza told reporters the group was “pursuing intensive contacts with several Arab and international parties, and we stress the necessity of this aggression being stopped immediately.”

Hamas spurns peacemaking with the Jewish state but has in the past proposed truces as it sought to consolidate control over Gaza and negotiate power-sharing with the rival, U.S.-backed Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Instability has spread in Sinai as Cairo struggles to restore order after the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February.

Armed infiltrators killed eight Israelis on the border with Sinai in August. Israeli troops repelling the gunmen killed five Egyptian police, triggering outrage in Cairo that spilled over into the mobbing of Israel’s embassy a month later.

Israel apologized for the Egyptian deaths and Egypt’s interim military rulers vowed to mount security sweeps of Sinai.

Hamas’ standing has grown with the political rise of the kindred Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, formerly a suppressed though popular opposition group. Israel worries about the prospects for its landmark 1979 peace accord with Egypt, which secured the demilitarization of the Sinai.
“The state of Israel is in a bind,” defense analyst Alex Fishman wrote in the biggest-selling Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. “It can’t operate in Sinai in order to defend its sovereignty for fear of its relations with Egypt ... and because it can’t beat the donkey, it beats the saddle – and Gaza suffers the blows.”
Some of the Palestinian rockets fired Thursday and Friday were claimed by a Fatah-linked militia that lost one of its leaders, Essam al-Batsh, in Israel’s airstrike.

Israel said he had also been involved in a 2007 suicide bombing that killed three people in Eilat, a Red Sea port abutting Egypt. The Eilat area went on security alert this week, with the military citing fear of infiltration from Sinai.

Hamas had no comment on the rockets. It has kept out of some of the recent fighting in Gaza, much of which has been between Israel and Islamic Jihad, a different Palestinian armed faction.

The chief of Israel’s military, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, told parliament last month a new Israeli offensive in Gaza could be “drawing close” because of the rocket threat.

That stirred speculation that Israel, which launched a devastating war on Hamas in 2008-2009, might mobilize for a similar assault ahead of the possible installation of a new Islamist-led government in Egypt.

Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, warned that could backfire by providing an electoral boost to the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s ultra-conservative Salafists.
“An operation in Gaza is liable to play into their hands, with a kind of acceleration of political processes that you don’t want,” he told Israel Radio.

Jewish ‘Price Tagger’ Extremists Desecrate Old Jerusalem Mosque

The Daily Star
December 15, 2011

Jewish extremists Wednesday tried to torch an old mosque in Occupied Jerusalem, as Israel reopened a ramp leading to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, whose closure sparked Muslim anger.

The overnight attack on the disused mosque in downtown West Jerusalem saw unknown attackers try and set the building alight and daub its exterior walls with racist anti-Arab slogans written in Hebrew.

It was the latest in a slew of so-called “price tag” incidents – revenge attacks by Jewish extremists which generally target Palestinians and Arabs, although they have also been directed at the army and leftwing Israelis.

The attack targeted the Nebi Akasha Mosque, which dates back to the 13th century and had not been used as a place of worship since Israel’s creation in 1948. The city council currently uses the building as a storage facility.
“During the night, there was an attempt to set fire to a disused mosque in the city centre,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, saying an investigation had been opened into the attack which took place just off Jaffa Street, west Jerusalem’s main shopping artery.
The attack was swiftly condemned by the Al-Aqsa Foundation, an offshoot of Israel’s Islamic Movement, which said it held Israel “fully responsible for this terrible crime” and for not acting against the perpetrators.

Arab Israeli MP Mohammad Barake also lashed out at his fellow parliamentarians for fanning the flames of racial hatred with a spate of draft legislation targeting Israel’s Arab minority.
“Responsibility for the mosque burning does not only lie with the gang of fascists who carried it out, but also with some of the scumbags among the MPs and ministers,” he said in a statement.

“Those MPs should not pretend they are shocked when the draft laws they back become a raging fire that devours mosques,” he said.
Emek Shaveh, an Israeli NGO which fights against the manipulation of archaeological sites for political gain, said the attack had damaged an important aspect of local heritage.
“The destruction of the antiquities, in this case probably by Israelis, is part of the process of erasure of ‘the other’ – of everything that doesn’t suit the extremist and one-dimensional ideology of certain Israeli groups,” it said in a statement.
Among the words scrawled on the mosque’s walls were the names of two settlement outposts slated for demolition by the end of the month.

Overnight, there were three more price tag attacks in the northern West Bank where Palestinian cars were torched in three separate villages and Hebrew graffiti found nearby, the Israeli military and Palestinian witnesses said.

The arson attack in Jerusalem occurred just 24 hours after settlers attacked troops and an army base in the northern West Bank in an attack which has deeply angered Israel’s leadership.

Several hours earlier, settlers also broke into a closed military zone along the Jordanian border.

In the past 10 days, detectives have arrested eight people in connection with recent price tag attacks, including six minors and a soldier.

Jerusalem police Wednesday also detained six Jewish men from a religious neighborhood on suspicion of involvement in recent violence and vandalism against Arabs, a spokeswoman told AFP.

The suspects are all settlers who were barred from returning to the West Bank several years ago by military order, Luba Samri told AFP, without giving details of their age or identity.

The six men were not believed to be connected to the overnight attack on the mosque, nor to several other “price tag” attacks earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Israel reopened Wednesday a controversial wooden access ramp to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem just 48 hours after it was closed on safety grounds in a move which had sparked Muslim anger.

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