Palestinian Plight: Updates & Discussions

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Lebanon's Hezbollah vows to confront U.S. Middle East plan
June 1, 2019

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah pledged on Friday to confront the U.S. Middle East plan that President Donald Trump has touted as “the deal of the century.”

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the heavily armed Shi’ite movement, said it was unlikely Washington and its allies would launch a war against Tehran as they would pay a heavy price.

The U.S. military has sent forces, including an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers, to the region to counter what it called “clear indications” of threats from Iran.


The U.S. special envoy for Iran says the steps had deterred Tehran. But he said that Washington would respond to any attacks with military force, as Arab leaders met on Thursday to discuss what they deem a rising threat from Tehran.

Saudi Arabia’s king told an emergency Arab summit on Friday that decisive action was needed to stop Iranian “escalations” in the region after attacks on Gulf oil assets.

The United States knows that “war against Iran will not stop at Iran’s borders,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech at a rally marking the annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day. “The entire region will burn. ... All U.S. forces and interests in the region will be annihilated.”


He said the “balance of power” was preventing a U.S.-Iran war, which he warned would also hit U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Nasrallah described a U.S. blueprint to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, led by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, as a “historic crime” that must be stopped. “This is a religious, moral, humanitarian, jihadi duty,” he said.

The first stage of the plan, still in draft form after almost two years, is expected to be unveiled at a late June conference in Bahrain. It seeks to encourage investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Arab donor states before grappling with thorny political issues at the heart of the conflict.

Palestinian and Arab sources briefed on the draft say it has jettisoned the two-state solution - the long-standing U.S. and world formula that envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.

Nasrallah also denied charges that Hezbollah has factories in Lebanon to produce precision-guided missiles, but said it has enough of those missiles “to change the face of the region.”

Israel and the United States believe Hezbollah has sought home-grown production of precision-guided missiles that could paralyze Israeli infrastructure.

Israel sees Lebanon’s Hezbollah, against which it fought a month-long war in 2006, as the biggest threat on its borders.

Reporting by Ellen Francis; editing by Andrew Heavens and Leslie Adler



 

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Sisi says Egypt will not accept anything against Palestinian wishes
June 2, 2019

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, speaking about the unannounced U.S. Mideast peace plan, said on Sunday that his country would not accept anything undesired by the Palestinians.

Speaking after breaking the Ramadan fast at a hotel in Cairo, Sisi also appeared to dismiss suggestions that Egypt might make concessions as part of the U.S. plan.

The blueprint, still in draft form and billed by U.S. President Donald Trump as the “deal of the century”, jettisons the two-state solution to ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, according to Palestinian and Arab sources.

It envisages an expansion of Gaza into parts of northern Sinai, under Egyptian control, Palestinian officials have told Reuters.

Referring to the U.S. plan, Sisi said that “Egypt will not accept anything that the Palestinians do not want”.

“You are asking what’s the story and what does Sisi have in mind, and will he give up anything to anyone,” apparently referring to reports that Egypt could be required to allow areas in Sinai adjacent to the Gaza border to be part of the deal.

“Can you imagine that I would give something up. ... But, why?”

Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Peter Cooney

 

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Kushner Questions Palestinian Self-Governance as Pompeo Says Peace Plan ‘Unworkable’
Monday, 3 June, 2019


White House senior adviser Jared Kushner. (Reuters)

Asharq Al-Awsat

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, the architect of the unannounced Middle East peace plan, said that Palestinians deserve “self-determination,” but stopped short of backing Palestinian statehood and expressed uncertainty over their ability to govern themselves.

Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, told the “Axios on HBO” television program: “I do think they should have self-determination. I’m going to leave the details until we come out with the actual plan.”

Asked whether he believed the Palestinians were capable of governing themselves without Israeli interference, he replied: “That’s a very good question. That’s one that we’ll have to see. The hope is that they, over time, will become capable of governing.”

He said it would be a “high bar” when asked if the Palestinians could expect freedom from Israeli military and government interference.

Asked whether he understood why the Palestinians might not trust him, Kushner said: “I’m not here to be trusted” and that he believed the Palestinian people would judge the plan based on whether “they think this will allow them to have a pathway to a better life or not.”

The Palestinian leadership has boycotted a diplomatic effort that Trump has touted as the “deal of the century.” Although Kushner has been drafting the plan for two years under a veil of secrecy, it is seen by Palestinian and some Arab officials as tilting heavily in Israel’s favor and denying them a state of their own.

Kushner again avoided saying explicitly whether the plan would include a two-state solution, the bedrock of US policy for decades, calling for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with its capital in East Jerusalem.

The economic components of the proposal are to be unveiled at a conference in Bahrain on June 25-26. The Palestinian Authority has said it will not attend the event.

Another key broker in the peace process, the United Nations, says it will stay away from the Bahrain meeting. The body has passed several resolutions affirming a two-state solution to the conflict.

US officials have been vague about the timing for releasing proposals for resolving the thorny political issues at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But experts are skeptical of the Trump administration’s chances for success.

With Israel heading for new elections in September after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government, uncertainty is expected to further delay the plan’s rollout.

The Palestinian leadership has refused to deal with the Trump administration since late 2017 when the president decided to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered his assessment of the plan’s prospects in a closed-door meeting with Jewish leaders last week, saying: “One might argue” that it is “unexecutable” and it might not “gain traction,” according to an audio recording, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.

His remarks show that even the plan's own backers expect the latest United States blueprint for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be met with deep skepticism.

"It may be rejected. Could be in the end, folks will say, 'It's not particularly original, it doesn't particularly work for me,' that is, 'It's got two good things and nine bad things, I'm out,'" the Post reported, citing an audio recording of the meeting it had obtained.

In the remarks delivered Tuesday to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Pompeo acknowledged the plan's perceived favoritism to Israel but hoped it would nonetheless be given a fair hearing.

"I get why people think this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love," he said, according to the Post. "I understand the perception of that. I hope everyone will just give the space to listen and let it settle in a little bit."


 

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Clashes, Injuries After Settlers Storm Aqsa Mosque
Monday, 3 June, 2019

Jewish youth wave an Israeli flag as they celebrate the annual "Jerusalem Day" in Jerusalem's Old City June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Ramallah- Kifah Zboun

Fierce clashes erupted between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli forces at East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday during a settler ‘tour’ at the flashpoint site. The police arrested at least six Palestinians from inside the mosque and used tear gas and sticks against the worshippers.

Israeli police allowed more than 400 Israeli settlers into the compound, a rare visit during the final days of the fasting month of Ramadan, which will end this week.

Director of Al Aqsa Mosque Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani said that 1,000 extremists visited the mosque with a political decision to change the status quo, which is a Jordanian-Israeli deal to determine the number of non-Muslim visitors at the last ten days of Ramadan.

Kiswani accused the Israeli occupation forces and special forces of protecting extremists to change this situation by force.

Palestinian worshippers clashed at the mosque square with Israeli police that stormed the place to protect the extremist Israelis who insisted on entering the mosque to celebrate Jerusalem Day - an Israeli national holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in the aftermath of the June 1967 Six-Day War.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the ongoing Israeli assaults on Al Aqsa Mosque – it called on the international community to take action and hold its responsibility in this regard.

In its turn, Spokesperson for the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Sufian Qudah reiterated that Israel must abide by its obligations under international law and respect the historical and legal status quo of the site, as well as the worshippers’ rights and sentiments, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.

Jordan is in charge of sacred Islamic and Christian sites in Jerusalem by virtue of a deal with the Palestinian authority. After the clashes, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said in a tweet that calm had returned and visits continued.

The Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, further, denounced the dangerous violation that is an aggression against Muslims in the world and not Palestine only, while Palestinian factions urged defending Aqsa.

 

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Arab League Warns of Israel's Violations at Aqsa Compound
Monday, 3 June, 2019

Israeli security forces stand guard as Palestinians take part in Friday prayers in occupied East Jerusalem. (Getty Images file photo)

Cairo - Sawsan Abou Hussein

The Arab League vehemently condemned Israel's decision to build more than 800 settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem.

Assistant Secretary-General for Palestinian territories and occupied Arab Lands Saeed Abu Ali warned of the Israeli settlers’ storming of the al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, which took place under the strict protection of Israeli forces.

The forces had also fired rubber bullets and gas bombs at worshippers at the holy site.

He condemned the development as a new escalation that demonstrates Israel’s intention to “Judaize” the al-Aqsa.

Abu Ali stated that Israel’s approval to build new units is a resumption of the settlement besieging the occupied East Jerusalem and the displacement of Palestinian families, stressing that such measures violate all international resolutions, laws and conventions.

He castigated the international community's silence and the US support for Israel as encouraging the latter to continue its aggression against the Palestinians. He stressed that attempts to impose a status quo will not deter the Palestinians' will to fight the occupation and build an independent Palestinian state.

The Palestinian cause was a priority at last week’s three Makkah summits, which underlined support for Palestinian rights.


 

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As UN budget dries up, Palestinian classrooms swell in size
AP
June 03, 2019

View attachment 7467

  • The number of students almost doubled in classes
  • The US cut down their funding for UNRWA to zero this year
HEBRON, West Bank: Majed Jameel was overwhelmed. This wasn’t the kind of pressure he’d grown accustomed to as a teacher in the volatile West Bank city of Hebron. On a recent, not uncommon occasion, clashes erupted between students and Israeli soldiers, sending volleys of tear gas into the playground. That he could handle.
This was a different stress. After the Trump administration slashed funding last year to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, Jameel saw his classes nearly doubled in size.

His disciplined social studies class at the Hebron Boys’ School had become a crowded, unruly scene: Four children squeezed at desks made for two, dozens of hands shooting in the air at the same time, noise snowballing when he paused for questions.

He said the classroom is louder and filled with distractions. “You spend most of the class time restraining student interactions or fights and have no time left to track their homework and classwork ... or give one-on-one help.”

The effects of US aid cuts have rippled throughout UNRWA’s operations, but its sprawling school system, serving 500,000 children across the Middle East, has been hit hardest.

With money dried up and widespread austerity measures in place, the agency says it can no longer accommodate a natural influx of students, recruit new teachers or expand to larger facilities.

Peter Mulrean, the agency’s New York representative, said average class sizes in the West Bank have grown from 30 students a year ago to 50.

“There’s a huge difference between correcting exams for 27 students and for 47 students,” said Jameel. “I just want things go back to how they were last year.”
Students, too, say they’ve felt a major shift.

“It’s been really hard for me to understand what’s going on in class this year,” said Suhail Jaber, a ninth-grader at the Hebron school. “If the teacher stops to explain things when we’re confused, I feel class is suddenly over and I won’t ever understand.”

Ali Azazmeh, 10, said he’s stopped even trying. “With all the heads in front of me I can’t see the board anyway.”

In early 2018, the US, which was UNRWA’s biggest donor for decades, cut its contributions from $360 million to $60 million. In 2019, US contributions are zero.
In a recent address to the UN Security Council, US Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt said the UNRWA model “has failed the Palestinian people.”

“The UNRWA model cannot provide to Palestinians what they deserve — a life where they can plan for their future and the future of their children, and one where they know whether schools and health clinics will remain open,” he said. He called for “host governments” and other aid organizations to fill the void.

UNRWA was established in the wake of the 1948 Mideast war surrounding Israel’s creation to aid the estimated 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes in the fighting. In the absence of a political solution, the UN General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate.

Today, the agency serves some 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, who view it as a vital safety net, providing services that governments do not.

Symbolically, Palestinians see UNRWA as sustaining their core demand that refugees have the “right of return” to their lost homes in what is now Israel — a prospect that Israel rejects.

Critics in the US and Israel accuse the agency of perpetuating the conflict and promoting a culture of welfare dependency by maintaining an ever-growing population of
refugees. Instead of working to resettle the refugees, critics say UNRWA allows refugee status to be passed down for generations, even in cases where they have gained citizenship elsewhere, such as Jordan.

UNRWA rejects the criticism, pointing out that refugees in other conflicts also maintain their status. It says it is carrying out a UN-mandated mission that reflects the will of the international community. The best way to solve the refugee problem, it says, is to find a political solution to the conflict that addresses the fate of the refugees.

After the US cuts, an aggressive fundraising push hauled in major contributions from European and Gulf countries, which filled a $1.2 billion shortfall so that schools, health clinics and food distribution centers could stay afloat. But UNRWA is still reeling from the US funding lapse.

“When you hear that we’ve maintained our programs and reduced our deficit, what you don’t see is that the quality of our services is under threat,” said Mulrean, noting that UNRWA has saved over $92 million last year in internal cuts. “There already wasn’t much fat to cut. Now we’re at the bone.”

Beyond crowded classes, casualties of the cutbacks include layoffs to hundreds of part-time helpers and substitutes, intensifying pressure on overworked teachers who “now no longer have the luxury of getting sick, unless their colleague takes on an additional 50 students,” said Tamara Alrifai, an UNRWA spokeswoman.

The agency also cut psychosocial counseling, adding to concerns that the neediest kids will bear the brunt of austerity, especially in Gaza, which has gone through repeated rounds of bloody clashes with Israel. UNRWA says 81% of Gazan children struggle in school due to conflict-related stress.

Long before the US cuts, the school system in the crowded Gaza Strip had been vexed by an excess of kids and lack of buildings, the majority of which are shared in double or triple shifts. Since the spending freeze, a handful of students have been added to classes that already contained between 40-50 students, said Adnan Abu Hasna, the agency’s media adviser in Gaza.

After the US recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, the Palestinians cut off ties with the White House. The Palestinians believe the cuts to UNRWA, along with an end to hundreds of millions of dollars in other aid, are part of a broader US effort to deal them a political blow.

Later this month, the White House is scheduled to unveil the first stage of its long-awaited Mideast peace plan at an economic conference in the Gulf state of Bahrain. The aim is to raise funds from wealthy Arab countries and other donors for large-scale investment in the Palestinian territories.

Palestinian politicians have rejected the forum’s parameters, saying they won’t give up their national aspirations in exchange for economic incentives.
In his address to the Security Council, Greenblatt noted the “irony” that the Bahrain conference had been scheduled for the same days as UNRWA’s annual fundraising
conference.

“I acknowledge I have not brought with me today a solution,” he said. “What we do know is that what we have today is not the answer.”

But in the absence of answers, Mulrean said millions of Palestinians are suffering. “The US has set a precedent, and at the end of the day, it’s the most vulnerable people who pay the price,” he said.

 

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Erekat Urges Arabs to Boycott ‘US Settlers’
Tuesday, 4 June, 2019


Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat looks on during a news conference following his meeting with foreign diplomats, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Ramallah - Kifah Zboun

The secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee, Saeb Erekat, has called on Arabs to boycott US President Donald Trump and his team, describing them as “settlers”.

“Once again, I call on our Arab brothers not to talk to this group of settlers, Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman,” Erekat said. “What they are planning is prosperity for the settlers.”

Erekat was referring to the US envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor who is responsible for the White House’s Middle East peace plan.

The Palestinian official’s comments came in response to Kushner, who said during an interview that the Palestinians deserved “self-determination,” but he declined to support the establishment of a Palestinian state and expressed his uncertainty about their ability to govern themselves.

Kushner avoided saying explicitly whether the plan would include a two-state solution, the bedrock of US policy for decades, calling for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with its capital in East Jerusalem.

“I do think they should have self-determination. I’m going to leave the details until we come out with the actual plan,” he told the “Axios on HBO” television program, as reported by Reuters.

Erekat’s attack on Kushner came following a visit by the US delegation to Israel to pave the way for the economic part of the US Administration’s peace plan. Israel intends to attend the US-led workshop in Bahrain in late June, but the Palestinians are boycotting it.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for his part, gave a pessimistic assessment of the plan’s chances of success, and said that parts of it might be “unexecutable.”

He delivered his assessment of the plan’s prospects in a closed-door meeting with Jewish leaders last week, saying: “One might argue” that it is “unexecutable” and it might not “gain traction,” according to an audio recording, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.

In response, Trump told reporters in Washington: “We’re doing our best to help the Middle East to get a peace plan… I understand why (Pompeo) said that. Most people would say it can’t be done. I think it can be done.”



 

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Arab Unions Meeting to Be Held Under Slogan of ‘Jerusalem, Capital of Palestine’
Tuesday, 4 June, 2019


A demonstrator holds a Palestinian flag as he sits during clashes with Israeli troops near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Ramallah - Asharq Al-Awsat

The Permanent Delegation of the State of Palestine to the Arab League announced that the 50th Ordinary Meeting of Arab Specialized Unions will be held in Cairo on June 12-13 under the title of “Jerusalem, the Capital of the State of Palestine.”

In a statement on Monday, the Permanent Mission of Palestine (PAC) said that the decision to hold the meeting came as a result of work carried out by the mission with the General Secretariat of the Council of Arab Economic Unity, under the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, in coordination with the Ministry of National Economy and the Palestinian Investment Fund.

It added that the meeting was aimed at pushing the Arab private sector to support the Palestinian Cause through three axes: empowering the Palestinian economy, supporting the city of Jerusalem through the financing by the Arab private sector of the strategic plan for sectoral development in Jerusalem 2018-2022, in addition to the presentation of investment opportunities in Palestine through a meeting between the Investment Fund and a group of selected Arab entrepreneurs who are willing to invest in Palestine.

Arab Unions Meeting to Be Held Under Slogan of ‘Jerusalem, Capital of Palestine’
 

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U.S. envoy, in interview, does not rule out Israeli annexation in West Bank
08 June 2019

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador to Israel did not rule out an Israeli move to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, land that the Palestinians seek for a state, in an interview with the New York Times published on Saturday.

View attachment 7705
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit in the Israeli-occupied West Bank April 7, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in the run-up to an April election that he plans to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a move bound to trigger widespread international condemnation and complicate peace efforts.

The New York Times said that U.S. Ambassador David Friedman had declined to say how Washington would respond to annexation, but remarked:

“We really don’t have a view until we understand how much, on what terms, why does it make sense, why is it good for Israel, why is it good for the region, why does it not create more problems than it solves.”

“These are all things that we’d want to understand, and I don’t want to prejudge,” Friedman said.

The White House has been working on a proposal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, dubbed by President Donald Trump as “the deal of the century”, but has not disclosed any of its details.

Most countries view Israeli settlements in the West Bank, territory captured in the 1967 war, as illegal. Israel disputes this, citing historical, political and religious ties as well as security needs.

Friedman said that, under certain circumstances, “Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank”.

It was unclear which West Bank territories Friedman meant and whether Israel’s retention would be part of a peace accord that includes land swaps - an idea floated in past negotiations - rather than a unilateral move such as annexation.

The Trump plan had been expected to be unveiled during an economic conference in Bahrain this month. But a snap election in Israel set for Sept. 17 is likely to delay the roll-out.

Responding to Friedman’s interview, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat tweeted: “Their vision is about annexation of occupied territory, a war crime under international law.”

The Palestinian leadership has refused to deal with the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Palestinians want the eastern part of the city, captured by Israel in the 1967 war and annexed in a move unrecognized abroad, as their future capital.

In March, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory that Israel captured from Syria in the same war and later annexed.

Netanyahu told Army Radio in April that Trump’s Golan step showed it was possible to annex West Bank settlements “within a gradual process and I prefer to do so with American recognition”.

He added: “I have been discussing the question of extending sovereignty with the Americans for the past six months.”

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “No plan for unilateral annexation by Israel of any portion of the West Bank has been presented by Israel to the U.S., nor is it under discussion.”

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Ali Sawafta in ramallah and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Kevin Liffey

 

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Hamas Informs Mediators: Patience Is Running Out
09 June, 2019


Palestinians fly balloons loaded with flammable material to be thrown at the Israeli side, near the Israel-Gaza border in the central Gaza Strip (File Photo: Reuters)

Ramallah- Asharq Al-Awsat

Hamas conveyed a message to Egypt and the United Nations on the situation in Gaza and the truce, warning that its “patience is over or is running out,” according to Israeli sources.

The sources said Hamas warned that if Tel Aviv’s promises to proceed with the understandings are not fulfilled, Israel should not expect calm days.

The leaked report came hours after the head of Israel's military intelligence service Tamir Heyman said that while Hamas was trying to prevent a war with Israel, it was facing increasing crises inside the Strip.

Earlier, Asharq al-Awsat reported that Egypt would intervene to maintain stability in Gaza, fearing a possible collapse especially that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government and announce new Israeli elections.

Egypt’s concern stems from the Palestinians' rush to implement the agreement in light of an Israeli slowdown.

It is no secret that officials in Gaza are waving the possibility of escalating the protests as of next week because of the “failure” in carrying out the agreements reached with Israel.

Last month, Egypt put forward a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Palestinian factions in the Strip.

The agreement included putting an end to the attacks from Gaza Strip, in exchange for the introduction of funds into Gaza, lifting the import restrictions on many goods, and increasing the fishing limit for Gaza fishermen to 12 and 15 nautical miles.

According to the agreement, if this stage is successful, another stage will be discussed and may include a prisoner exchange deal and infrastructure projects.

Earlier, Israel reduced the fishing area off the shores of the Gaza Strip from 15 nautical miles to 10 miles.

An Israeli official said that “Tel Aviv restricted the fishing area off Gaza coast from 15 nautical miles to 10 miles, in response to incendiary balloons shot off from Gaza towards Israel.”

Israeli Fire and Rescue Authority spokeswoman said firefighters worked on Tuesday to extinguish three fires in Israel caused by burning balloons that were launched from Gaza.

Israel restricted the permitted fishing zone off the coast of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday in response to incendiary balloons, said Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official noted that authorities reduced the fishing zone from 15 nautical miles off the coast to 10 nautical miles.

However, it remains under the 20-mile distance agreed upon in the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.

On Friday, Israeli Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi met with the heads of the Gaza communities and told them that the relative calm along the border has been proving effective. He briefed the officials on the expected challenges and the political settlement with Palestinian factions in Gaza.

"The reduction in the number of balloons and the decrease in the number of violent incidents on the fence is not coincidental,” said Kochavi, adding that while the army prefers to give this “arrangement a chance...we cannot let the balloon terror continue.”

 

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Israel has ‘right’ to annex West Bank land, says US ambassador
AFP
June 09, 2019

View attachment 7763
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman stand next to the dedication plaque at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem March 21, 2019. (REUTERS)
  • Following persistent expansion of the settlements by successive Netanyahu governments, more than 600,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank
JERUSALEM: The US ambassador has said Israel has the right to annex at least “some” of the occupied West Bank, in comments likely to deepen Palestinian opposition to a long-awaited US peace plan.

The Palestinians have rejected the plan before it has even been unveiled, citing a string of moves by US President Donald Trump that they say show his administration is irredeemably biased.

They are likely to see the latest comments by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman as new nail in the coffin of a peace process that is already on life support.
In the interview published by the New York Times on Saturday, Friedman said that some degree of annexation of the West Bank would be legitimate. “Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” he said.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat has said any such policy would be tantamount to “US complicity with Israeli colonial plans.”

The establishment of a Palestinian state in territories, including the West Bank, that Israel occupied in the Six-Day War of 1967, has been the focus of all past Middle East peace plans.

No firm date has yet been set for the unveiling of the Trump administration’s plan although a conference is to be held in Bahrain later this month on its economic aspects.

The public comments made by administation officials so far suggest the plan will lean heavily on substantial financial support for the Palestinian economy, much of it funded by the Gulf Arab states, in return for concessions on territory and statehood. “The absolute last thing the world needs is a failed Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan,” Friedman said in the Times interview.

SPEEDREAD
The Palestinians have rejected the plan before it has even been unveiled, citing a string of moves by US President Donald Trump that they say show his administration is irredeemably biased.

“We’re relying upon the fact that the right plan, for the right time, will get the right reaction over time.”
Friedman, a staunch supporter of the Israeli settlements, told the Times that the Trump plan was aimed at improving the quality of life for Palestinians but would fall well short of a “permanent resolution to the conflict.”

He said he did not believe the plan would trigger Palestinian violence.

But he said the United States would coordinate closely with Arab ally Jordan, which could face unrest among its large Palestinian population over a plan perceived as overly favorable to Israel.

Publication of the plan looks set to be further delayed after the Israeli paraliament called a snap general election for September, the second this year.

The plan is regarded as too sensitive to release during the campaign.

During campaigning for the first general election in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to annex West Bank Jewish settlements, a move long supported by nearly all lawmakers in his alliance of right-wing and religious parties.

Earlier, in February, Netanyahu told lawmakers he had been discussing with Washington a plan that would effectively annex settlements.

In a rare public show of disunity between the close allies, the White House then flatly denied any such discussion.

Following persistent expansion of the settlements by successive Netanyahu governments, more than 600,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, among some three million Palestinians.

The international community regards the settlements as illegal and the biggest obstacle to peace.

 

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Egypt, Jordan, Morocco to Attend Bahrain Conference on Palestinian Economy
11 June, 2019

View attachment 7921
Palestinian protesters in Gaza. (AFP)

Egypt, Jordan and Morocco will attend the US-led conference in Bahrain this month on proposals for boosting the Palestinian economy, US officials said Tuesday.

Egypt and Jordan’s participation is considered especially important since historically they have been key players in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, reported Reuters.

The conference is part of the upcoming US peace plan, dubbed the “deal of the century” by President Donald Trump.

Palestinian leaders’ decision to boycott the June 25-26 conference has raised doubts about its chances for success. They have shunned a broader diplomatic effort, which they see as likely to be heavily tilted in favor of Israel and denying them a state of their own.

Despite that, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a chief architect of the long-delayed peace plan, is pressing ahead with arrangements for the Bahrain meeting, where the economic components are expected to be unveiled as the first step in the plan’s rollout.

Acceptance of the invitation to the conference by Jordan and Egypt will bring to the table two countries that border both Israel and Palestinian areas.

Global financial bodies including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank also plan to be present.

US officials have been vague about the timing for the second phase of their initiative, which would be the release of proposals for resolving the thorny political issues at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

With Israel heading for new elections in September after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to meet a deadline to form a government, uncertainty is expected to further delay the full release of the plan.

 

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Israel strikes Gaza after first rocket since early May
The strike came after Israeli air defences claimed it intercepted a rocket
June 13, 2019
AFP

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Palestinians inspect a destroyed Hamas site after it was targeted by an Israeli air strike in Gaza CityImage Credit: Reuters

Occupied Jerusalem: Israeli warplanes bombed bunkers at a Hamas base in Gaza early Thursday following the first rocket fire from the territory since early May, the military said.

Israeli aircraft targeted “underground infrastructure” at the base in the southern Gaza Strip, it said in a statement.
The strike came after Israeli air defences claimed it intercepted a rocket launched from the territory, the first since hundreds were fired in early May in a two-day flare-up which killed four Israelis and 25 Palestinians.

On Wednesday evening, Israel announced it had banned all fishing off Gaza claiming it was retaliation for the launch of more incendiary balloons from the enclave.
Israel has launched three brutal assaults on Gaza since 2008.

 

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Israelis close Gaza fishing zone due to fire balloons
Move in retaliation for launch of incendiary balloons
Published: June 13, 2019
AFP
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Occupied Jerusalem: The Israeli government said late Wednesday that the fishing zone off the coast of Gaza had been closed, in retaliation for the launch of incendiary balloons from the Palestinian enclave.

“Due to the continuous launching of incendiary balloons and kites from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, it has been decided tonight (Wednesday) not to allow access to Gaza’s maritime space until further notice,” a spokesperson for COGAT, a unit of Israel’s defence ministry, said in a statement.

The move came after COGAT said on Tuesday it had reduced the extent of the fishing zone to six nautical miles offshore from 10 nautical miles, having downscaled it from 15 nautical miles a week ago.

A spokesman for the Israeli fire service said incendiary balloons from Gaza caused seven fires just on Tuesday.
In the past year, Palestinians have succeeded in setting fire to large areas of farmland in southern Israel.

Israel had only restored the fishing limit to 15 miles on June 4, after a previous reduction in response to fire balloons.
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, run by Islamist movement Hamas, have fought three wars since 2008.

 

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Hamas Warns of Deliberate Escalation, Israel Prepares to Respond
14 June, 2019

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Palestinians fly balloons loaded with flammable material to be thrown at the Israeli side, near the Israel-Gaza border in the central Gaza Strip, June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Ramallah – Kifah Zboun

Truce that prevailed over the Gaza Strip is now under scrutiny as Hamas and other factions threatened to resume a policy of "deliberate escalation" in response to Israel’s stalling in implementing the agreements.

“We don’t want a war but we will escalate confrontation and the adoption of rough tools if Israel does not implement the understandings," an official told Asharq Al-Awsat. “We will not allow more bargaining and coercion.”

Threats by Hamas came hours after an Israeli shelling of the Gaza Strip in response to the launching of a rocket, and a day before the “marches of the return,” which will be held along the borders.

On Thursday, the Israeli army launched an air strike on the Gaza Strip targeting agricultural land in Rafah, the southernmost of the Strip, without causing any casualties.

Israel said the raid came in retaliation for the launching of a missile intercepted by the Iron Dome. According to an army statement, Israeli fighter jets targeted an infrastructure in a Hamas military complex in the southern Gaza Strip in response to a rocket-propelled grenade fired from the Gaza Strip towards the Israeli settlement of Eshkol near the border with the Gaza Strip.

The past few days have witnessed the launch of many fire balloons towards the settlements, in a clear change from the calm policy pursued by Hamas. Six fires broke out on Wednesday and eight fires on Tuesday in Israeli-controlled areas.

“Due to the continued fires and flying of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip, it was decided this evening to impose a naval closure on the Strip until further notice,” the Israeli liaison to the Palestinian territories said in a statement.

Israel had announced it was imposing a full naval closure of the Gaza Strip, not allowing local fisherman access to the sea, in response to the wave of explosive attacks from the Gaza Strip.

 

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