Israel, Egypt Hold Talks Toward Gaza ‘Permanent Ceasefire’

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (2nd-R) meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021, days after an Egypt-brokered truce halted fighting between the Jewish state and the Gaza Strip's rulers Hamas Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (2nd-R) meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021, days after an Egypt-brokered truce halted fighting between the Jewish state and the Gaza Strip’s rulers Hamas. Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP

 

Israeli and Egyptian officials held talks in both countries Sunday aimed at bolstering the Cairo-brokered ceasefire that ended the latest deadly flare-up of violence between the Jewish state and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel in Jerusalem to discuss “strengthening cooperation” between their countries, Netanyahu’s office said.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi tasked Kamel and his delegation, who were also to visit the occupied Palestinian Territories, with hammering out a permanent ceasefire deal, senior Egyptian security officials told AFP.

On the same day, Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi made the first official visit by an Israeli top diplomat to neighbouring Egypt in 13 years, for talks with his counterpart Sameh Shoukry.

Ashkenazi tweeted on his arrival that they would “discuss establishing a permanent ceasefire with Hamas, a mechanism for providing humanitarian aid and the reconstruction of Gaza with a pivotal role played by the international community”.

The Egyptian foreign ministry tweeted that the ministers’ talks were “part of Egypt’s relentless and continued efforts to revive the peace track and to build on the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip”.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was also expected in Cairo for talks, senior Egyptian security officials said, without providing further details.

Egypt played a pivotal role in negotiating the May 21 ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that brought an end to 11 days of deadly fighting.

Israeli strikes on Gaza killed 254 Palestinians, including 66 children, health officials said.

Rockets and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, medics said.

Prisoners

Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s demand “for the prompt return” of Israelis being held in the Gaza Strip, according to the statement.

Ashkenazi also said Israel was “fully committed” to repatriating Israeli prisoners held by Hamas.

Since Israel’s 2014 invasion of the Gaza Strip, the Islamist group has held the bodies of Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, although Hamas has never confirmed their deaths.

Hamas is also believed to be holding two Israeli citizens who entered Gaza alone and whose families say they have mental health issues.

Israel is meanwhile holding more than 5,000 Palestinians in its jails.

Sisi has pledged $500 million to help reconstruction efforts in the densely populated Gaza enclave, which was pummelled by Israeli air strikes.

Hamas has pledged not to touch “a single cent” of international aid to rebuild Gaza.

Israel, which has enforced a land and maritime blockade on the enclave since 2007, accuses the group of diverting international aid to military ends.

The statement from Netanyahu’s office said he and Kamel also discussed “mechanisms and processes to prevent the strengthening of Hamas and its use of the resources that will be directed to the civilian population in the future”.

Root causes

The latest violent flare-up was sparked by increased tensions in Jerusalem, including over Israeli security forces cracking down on Palestinians inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.

A bitter divide between Hamas and Fatah has long plagued Palestinian politics, but analysts say the latest escalation has served to unite the geographically fragmented Palestinian community in a way not seen in years.

Sisi also tasked Kamel with working to help iron out political divisions between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the Egyptian officials said.

The UN Human Rights Council decided Thursday to create an open-ended international investigation into violations surrounding the latest Gaza violence.

It said it would also look at the “underlying root causes of recurrent tensions and instability, including systematic discrimination” in the occupied Palestinian Territories and inside Israel.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet voiced particular concern about the “high level of civilian fatalities and injuries” from the bombing of Gaza and warned the Israeli strikes on the enclave “may constitute war crimes”.

AFP

Israeli Forces Kill Palestinian In West Bank, Says Health Ministry

A ball of fire erupts from the Jala Tower as it is destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 15, 2021. (Photo by Mahmud Hams / AFP)

 

Israeli forces on Friday shot dead a Palestinian man during clashes in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said.

Zakaria Hamayel, 28, was struck by a bullet to the chest in the village of Beita, south of Nablus, during a protest against Israeli settlement expansion on Palestinian land, the ministry said.

The Israeli army said it was investigating the incident.

“We are aware of reports regarding a killed Palestinian. The cause of the injury is still unknown,” it said in a statement.

It said a “violent riot” took place near the “Givat Eviatar outpost” and that “troops responded with riot dispersal means”.

On Tuesday, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man during a raid in the Al-Amari refugee camp near Ramallah.

Israeli forces have been carrying out arrests across the West Bank following violence that erupted around this month’s 11-day conflict between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas.

An Egypt-brokered truce between Israel and Hamas came into effect a week ago.

More than 25 Palestinians have been killed in clashes since May 10 in the West Bank alone, where some 475,000 Israeli settlers live alongside around 2.8 million Palestinians.

The West Bank has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.

AFP

Egypt Sends Ambulances To Evacuate Gaza Wounded

Palestinians wounded in Israeli airstrikes await treatment at a hospital in Gaza City City on, May 12, 2021. Gaza militants have launched more than 1,000 rockets since the beginning of this week according to Israel’s army, which has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza. PHOTO: Anas BABA / AFP

 

Egypt opened its Rafah border crossing with Gaza Saturday to allow 10 ambulances to transport Palestinians seriously wounded in Israeli air strikes to Egyptian hospitals, medical officials said.

Egypt “exceptionally opened the Rafah crossing to allow 10 Egyptian ambulances into the Gaza Strip to transport wounded Palestinians… to be treated in Egypt,” a medical official said.

An official at the Gaza border said the opening was “exceptional” because it is usually closed during public holidays including Eid al-Fitr, this year running from Wednesday to Sunday in Egypt.

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The Egyptian public health authority said Friday that the holiday was being suspended for some Egyptian doctors and nurses in preparation to receive “those coming from the Gaza Strip”.

The Rafah border crossing is usually open on working days.

Medical officials in Gaza say Israeli strikes have killed 139 people, including 39 children, since Monday. Around 950 people have been wounded.

Rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups have killed nine people in Israel, including a child and a soldier.

The strikes were retaliation for the Palestinian group Hamas launching rockets on Israel after Israeli police moved in on Palestinian worshippers in the Al-Aqsa mosque and cracked down on protests against planned Israeli expulsions of Palestinians from their homes in annexed east Jerusalem.

The grand imam of Egypt’s famed Al-Azhar mosque and university, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, late Friday launched a campaign on social media in “support the Palestinian people”.

“Stop the killing,” he said.

“Enough with silence and double standards if we are really working towards peace.”

AFP

Hundreds Hurt In Jerusalem As Isreali Police Clash With Palestinians

Palestinians run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel's takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP
Palestinians run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel’s takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

 

More than 300 people were wounded Monday in renewed clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in Jerusalem, Palestinian medics said, as an Israeli celebration of its 1967 takeover of the holy city threatened to further inflame tensions. 

Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli officers in riot gear who fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas on the esplanade of the revered Al-Aqsa mosque, an AFP correspondent at the scene said, following a night of sporadic clashes.

Loud booms and angry screams echoed from the ancient stone walls of the compound, revered by both Jews and Muslims, where tear gas filled the air and the ground was littered with rocks, stun grenade fragments and other debris.

The violence was the latest in days of the worst such disturbances in Jerusalem since 2017, fuelled by a long-running bid by Jewish settlers to take over nearby Palestinian homes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

A Palestinian argues with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel's takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP
A Palestinian argues with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel’s takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War.
EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

 

Despite mounting international condemnation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he supported the Israeli police force’s “just struggle” amid the Jerusalem clashes.

“We insist on guaranteeing the (religious) rights of all, and this from time to time requires the stability and steadfastness that the Israeli police and our security forces are currently displaying,” he said.

Police said Jewish “prayers continue as usual” at the Wailing Wall, which adjoins the esplanade, adding that “we will not let extremists threaten the safety of the public”.

Jerusalem Day

The UN Security Council was to meet at Tunisia’s request later Monday on the unrest that has escalated since the last Friday prayers of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

A key court hearing scheduled for Monday on Sheikh Jarrah, the flashpoint east Jerusalem neighbourhood at the centre of the property dispute, has meanwhile been postponed.

There were fears of further violence ahead of a planned march Monday by Israelis to commemorate the takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, an anniversary known as “Jerusalem Day” in the Jewish state.

Israeli police had, as of Sunday, approved the march, which was re-scheduled to start around 5:00 pm (1400 GMT).

The Palestinian Red Crescent put the toll at 305 injured, including more than 200 who were hospitalised, five of them in critical condition.

A Palestinian protester argues with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021, as a planned march marking Israel's 1967 takeover of the holy city threatened to further inflame tensions. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP
A Palestinian protester argues with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 10, 2021, as a planned march marking Israel’s 1967 takeover of the holy city threatened to further inflame tensions. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

 

Three people lost one eye each, said surgeon Firas Abu Akari at east Jerusalem’s Maqassed hospital.

Near the Old City, a car carrying Israelis was pelted with stones, lost control and rammed into Palestinians, according to police and footage from a journalist on the scene.

Once stopped, the vehicle was attacked by around a dozen people who continued to hurl projectiles at the passengers before an Israeli policeman dispersed the crowd by firing into the air.

The Israeli police reported nine injuries in their ranks.

US ‘serious concern’

The United States expressed “serious concerns” about the situation.

In a White House statement, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “encouraged the Israeli government to pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm during Jerusalem Day commemorations”.

The Israeli role in the hostilities — especially Friday’s clashes at Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third holiest site — has met widespread criticism.

All six Arab nations that have diplomatic ties with Israel — Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — have condemned the Jewish state.

Palestinians run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel's takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. ahmad gharabli / AFP
Palestinians run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel’s takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. Ahmad Gharabli / AFP

 

In Jordan, the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy Islamic and Christian sites, King Abdullah II condemned “Israeli violations and escalatory practices at the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque”.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, urged “the UN Security Council to take measures on the repeated violations carried out by Israel”.

The Middle East quartet of envoys from the EU, Russia, the US and the UN — and Pope Francis — have all called for calm.

Court case delayed

Much of the recent violence stems from a long-running legal effort by Jewish settler groups to evict several Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.

A lower court ruling this year backing the settlers’ decades-old claim to the plots infuriated Palestinians.

A Supreme Court hearing on a Palestinian appeal had been set for Monday, but the justice ministry said Sunday that in light of “all the circumstances” it would delay the hearing.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem following the 1967 takeover, a move not recognised by most of the international community.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has expressed “full support for our heroes in Al-Aqsa”.

Hamas Islamists who control the Gaza Strip have also voiced support for the Palestinian protesters and warned Israel of retribution if evictions proceed in Sheikh Jarrah.

AFP

Explosion Kills Three Fishermen Off Gaza

Flames are seen following an Israeli airstrike in the town of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, early on November 22, 2020. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

 

 

Three Palestinian fishermen were killed Sunday when their boat exploded off Gaza’s coast in the Mediterranean Sea, the fishermen’s union said, with the cause of the blast unknown.

Israel’s army said it was “not responsible for the incident”.

“According to our information, the cause of the explosion came from the Gaza Strip,” the army said on Twitter.

Nizar Ayyash, head of Gaza’s fishermen union, confirmed the deaths 15 nautical miles (28 kilometres) off the coast of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.

Ayyash said the deaths were caused by “shells of unknown origin (striking) their boat”.

Last September, Hamas Islamists who have controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 and the fishermen’s union blamed Egypt’s army for the death of three fishermen off Gaza.

Israel, which has imposed a blockade on Gaza since 2007, says fishing is sometimes used as a cover for smuggling.

Directly south of Gaza is Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where security forces are battling both clandestine trade and jihadist groups

AFP

Israel To Send 5,000 Vaccine Doses To Palestinians

BETHESDA, MARYLAND – DECEMBER 14: SPC Angel Laureano holds a COVID-19 vaccine at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on December 14, 2020 in Bethesda, Maryland. Manuel Balce Ceneta-Pool/Getty Images/AFP

 

Israel’s defence ministry said Sunday that it would send 5,000 coronavirus vaccine doses to the Palestinian Authority to inoculate medical personnel, following global calls for Israel to ensure Palestinians are vaccinated.

“I confirm we are going to send 5,000 vaccines to medical teams in the Palestinian Authority,” a spokesperson for Defence Minister Benny Gantz told AFP.

The Jewish state has launched an aggressive coronavirus vaccine campaign on Israeli territory, an effort widely regarded as the world’s fastest per capita.

More than three million of the country’s nine million people have received the first of two required jabs of the Pfizer vaccine.

Vaccinations have not yet begun in the West Bank, a Palestinian territory under Israeli military occupation since the 1967 Six Day War.

The Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, has not publicly asked for Israel’s help procuring vaccines against the virus.

The PA has however announced procurement agreements with four vaccine providers, including the makers of Russia’s Sputnik V.

The Palestine Liberation Organization has urged the international community “to hold Israel to account” and ensure that it provides vaccines to all Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

The United Nations and Jordan’s King Abdullah II have also called on Israel to help ensure that the 2.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank and two million in Gaza are inoculated against the virus.

Hamas, an Islamist group that controls the Gaza strip, is not likely to publicly collaborate with Israel on any vaccination effort.

Pompeo To Tour Region After UAE-Israel Deal

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 9, 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference with Chinese politburo member Yang Jiechi and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe during the US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the State Department in Washington, DC. - The United States said July 9, 2020 it would refuse visas for three top Chinese officials and their families over the "horrific and systematic abuses" against Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the officials who would be refused entry include Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party secretary for the Xinjiang region who is considered an architect of Beijing's hardline policies on minorities. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)
In this file photo taken on November 9, 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference with Chinese politburo member Yang Jiechi and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe during the US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the State Department in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

 

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due in Jerusalem on Monday to start a tour focused on Israel’s normalising of ties with the UAE and pushing other Arab states to follow suit.

After meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he is set to visit senior figures in Sudan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the State Department said Sunday.

Israel had previously only signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, two neighbours with which it had technically been at war, unlike the United Arab Emirates.

Following the US-sponsored deal announced on August 13, the new partners say they want to promote trade, especially the sale of Emirati oil to Israel and Israeli technology to the Emirates, as well as boosting tourism by establishing direct air links.

Key to that plan would be persuading Saudi Arabia to open its airspace, between Israel and the Gulf, to Israeli commercial airlines.

During his visit, Pompeo will “discuss regional security issues related to Iran’s malicious influence (and) establishing and deepening Israel’s relationships in the region,” the State Department said in a statement.

President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, announced in January, saw cooperation between Israel and those Arab countries who, like Israel, see Iran as their main foe.

It also gave the Jewish state a green light to annex parts of the West Bank — something Israel committed to “suspending” under the UAE deal, without saying for how long.

The Palestinians have slammed the UAE’s move as a “stab in the back” while their own conflict with the Jewish state remains unresolved.

But the UAE ambassador to Washington, writing on the front page of Israel’s top-selling daily, said closer ties would benefit everybody.

“They will help move the region beyond the ugly legacy of hostility and conflicts, towards a destiny of hope, peace and prosperity,” he wrote in Yediot Aharonot’s weekend edition.

– F-35 in the crosshairs –

Tel Aviv daily Israel Hayom, a staunch backer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote Sunday that direct talks between the sides on the wording of the deal were close to starting and “a full agreement could be reached within a month.”

 

In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

A signing ceremony is set to be held at the White House within that timeframe, the paper wrote.

Reports that the agreement hinges on the sale of US F-35 Stealth jets to the Emirates have been vigorously denied by Netanyahu, who says he opposes the move as it could reduce Israel’s regional strategic edge.

“The Emiratis are saying there was a promise there, the Israelis are saying no,” said Joshua Teitelbaum, professor in the department of Middle Eastern studies at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv.

Historically, Israel (which has F-35s) has opposed the sale of advanced weaponry to other Middle East states, even Jordan and Egypt with which it has peace treaties.

But Teitelbaum said that in the past such objections have been finessed, citing the US sale to Israel and Saudi Arabia of F-15 fighters.

“From what I understand arrangements are made that the version that the Arab country gets is not the absolute latest version,” he told AFP.

“Israel is allowed to put certain modifications in the software that allow it to maintain its edge.”

There can also be cost advantages as a sweetener, he said.

“The Israeli F-15s and the Saudi F-15s were made in the same factory” in the US, he went on.

“The fact that Israel gave its wink to the Saudi F-15s allowed the actual price to be lowered for the Israelis, because it allowed the assembly line to run (longer) at that factory.”

– Bahrain, Oman, Sudan? –

The surprise announcement of the Israel-Emirati pact sparked huge speculation on who might be next, with frequent mentions of Bahrain and Sudan, which is turning its back on the Omar al-Bashir era.

Israel remains technically at war with Sudan, which for years supported hardline Islamist forces.

Sudan’s foreign ministry spokesman was fired last week after he made allegedly unauthorised comments indicating contact had been made with Israel regarding normalising ties.

But the State Department said Pompeo would meet Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok during his tour, to “express support for deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship”,

He will also meet Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa before meeting UAE foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to discuss the Israel deal, it said.

Saudi Arabia, in keeping with decades of policy by the majority of Arab states, has said it will not follow the UAE’s example until Israel has signed a peace deal with the Palestinians.

AFP

Gaza Confirms First Two Coronavirus Cases

Palestinian volunteers wearing protective clothes and masks disinfect a street as a preventive measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 22, 2020. SAID KHATIB / AFP.

 

Authorities in Gaza on Sunday confirmed the first two cases of novel coronavirus, identifying them as Palestinians who had travelled to Pakistan and were being held in quarantine since their return.

The United Nations has warned that a COVID-19 outbreak in Gaza could be disastrous, given the high poverty rates and weak health system in the coastal strip under Israeli blockade since 2007.

Following the confirmed cases, a World Health Organization (WHO) delegation arrived in Gaza to assess the situation, a Palestinian security source said.

Gaza’s health ministry said the two people who tested positive had been held in quarantine since their return from Pakistan on Thursday and had not interacted with the wider population.

“These two cases were recorded among those who returned to Gaza … (and) did not mix with the residents of the Gaza Strip,” deputy health minister Yousef Abu Al-Reesh told reporters.

The sick, identified as two men, were in stable condition, the health ministry said.

Israel has enforced a blockade on Gaza since 2007, when Islamist group Hamas seized control of the territory.

READ ALSO: China Embarks On Clinical Trial For Coronavirus Vaccine

Israel argues the measures are necessary to isolate Hamas, considered a terrorist organisation by most Western countries.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

Movement in and out of the territory — which was severely restricted by Israel and Egypt before the pandemic — has tightened in response to the coronavirus threat.

Authorities in Gaza have said that more than 2,700 Palestinians are in home-isolation, mostly people who had returned from Egypt.

A civilian group called the Al-Shajaiyah initiative hit the streets of Gaza City on Sunday after the cases were confirmed, working to clean the street with sanitising spray.

“We in the Gaza Strip have been under siege for 14 years and the possibilities (to protect ourselves) are very limited,” said Ahmad Al Wadya, a doctor helping to coordinate the effort.

– ‘Disaster of gigantic proportions’ –

The head of the WHO’s Palestinian office, Gerald Rockenschaub, told AFP this week that Israeli restrictions and political tensions have caused Gaza’s health facilities to deteriorate over the past decade.

Gaza has only 60 intensive care unit (ICU) beds for its two million people and not all are operational due to staff shortages, he said.

In response to the pandemic but before the Gaza cases were confirmed, Israel had announced an increased supply of medical equipment to Gaza, according to the branch of the Israeli military responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian Territories, COGAT.

Supplies already delivered included 600 testing kits and 1,000 protective suits, COGAT said last week.

Hamas authorities are also working to build up to 1,000 new isolation rooms near the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

Matthias Schmale, the Gaza director of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, told AFP this week that it would be “an illusion to think you can manage (an epidemic) in a closed-off space like this”.

“Everything I am hearing is if the outbreak reaches the magnitude where you need more than 60 ICU beds to treat, it will become increasingly difficult and could well turn into a disaster of gigantic proportions,” he said.

Palestinians suffering from cancer and other serious diseases are currently allowed to leave Gaza through Israel for treatment inside the Jewish state or in the occupied West Bank.

It is not yet clear if Israel, which has imposed tight restrictions on its own population in response to the pandemic, will allow seriously ill coronavirus patients to be transferred from the Strip.

AFP

Lacking Support, Palestinians Pull Request For UN Vote Against Trump Plan

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 28, 2020 Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas gestures as he delivers a speech in the West Bank city of Ramallah, following the announcement by US President Donald Trump of the Mideast peace plan.  ABBAS MOMANI / AFP

 

The Palestinians have abandoned their request for a vote at the UN Security Council Tuesday that they hoped would reject the peace plan of President Donald Trump, whose administration has put heavy pressure on critics, diplomats said.

Introduced by Indonesia and Tunisia, the resolution risked not having nine out of 15 votes in its favour, the minimum required for adoption provided there is no veto by a permanent member, the diplomats told AFP.

A diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the United States has placed “very strong pressure” on other countries on the Security Council, including threats of economic retribution.

Despite the setback, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas will go ahead Tuesday and address the Security Council about Trump’s January 28 plan, which paves the way for Israeli annexation of much of the West Bank but also allows for a demilitarized Palestinian state.

“Consultations are still ongoing,” Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said of the proposed resolution.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, urged Abbas to cancel his trip, accusing him of dwelling on the past and calling on him to focus on the future.

The United States would be certain to exercise its veto to any resolution that criticizes its plan.

But diplomats said it was far from certain that the Palestinians could pull off a repeat of the December 2017 vote in which all 14 other Security Council members denounced Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

 Heated talks on the resolution 

The United States has proposed a series of amendments to the draft resolution that could come up for a vote at the session attended by Abbas.

In proposals seen by AFP, the United States would significantly alter the text to remove references to lines before the 1967 Six-Day War, in which Israel captured the West Bank, as being the basis of peace.

It would also cut out a statement that Jewish settlements built in the West Bank since 1967 are illegal, a position taken by virtually every country except the US and Israel.

The United States is also seeking to eliminate language that equated East Jerusalem with the occupied West Bank.

The Trump plan calls for recognition of the contested holy city as Israel’s undivided capital while establishing a Palestinian capital on its outskirts.

While recognizing that the Trump plan “departs from the internationally endorsed terms of reference and parameters,” the US wants the resolution to state that the Security Council “welcomes discussion on this proposal to advance the cause of peace.”

Diplomats cast doubt on whether a vote could take place even at a later date, considering the wide divergences in positions.

 Divisions under surface 

The Palestinian leadership has enjoyed the backing of the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and, most recently, the African Union, which have all rejected the Trump plan.

But individual countries’ positions are more complicated. In the midst of pushing for the UN resolution, Tunisia abruptly withdrew its UN ambassador, raising speculation that the Arab state had come under pressure from Washington.

After appearing Thursday at the United Nations, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser who has spearheaded his Middle East push, said there was a “ton of cracks” in opposition to the plan.

He pointed to divisions within the European Union, which failed to issue a joint statement critical of the plan amid dissent from a handful of countries such as Hungary, led by the right-wing populist Viktor Orban.

Of the four European Union members that hold seats on the Security Council, two of them — Germany and Estonia — looked ready to abstain from a vote criticizing the US plan, diplomats said.

The other two members are France and Belgium. A fifth European Union member that was on the Security Council, Britain, left the bloc at the end of last month.

Israel and the United States have also been optimistic of winning at least muted backing from Arab states traditionally supportive of the Palestinians, with Gulf monarchies united with Israel in their hostility to Iran.

The ambassadors of Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates attended Trump’s unveiling of the plan alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who later held a breakthrough meeting with Sudan’s top general.

Netanyahu has hailed Trump’s plan, under which Israel would maintain sovereignty up to the Jordanian border even if there is a Palestinian state.

AFP

Palestinians Slam ‘Provocative’ Brazil Embassy Move To Jerusalem

A picture taken on October 28, 2018, shows the Israeli and Brazilian flags hanging outside the building housing the offices of the Brazilian Embassy, in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. Brazil’s far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro declared that he will move the embassy to Jerusalem if he is elected. JACK GUEZ / AFP

 

A senior Palestinian official on Friday condemned Brazilian far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s announcement that he would move his country’s Israel embassy to Jerusalem.

“These are provocative and illegal steps that will only destabilise security and stability in the region,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, told AFP.

The United States moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May, sparking fury among Palestinians, who consider the Israeli-annexed eastern part of the city the capital of their future state.

“It is very unfortunate that Brazil has joined this negative alliance against international law,” Ashrawi said.

On Thursday Bolsonaro tweeted that “as previously stated during our campaign, we intend to transfer the Brazilian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

“Israel is a sovereign state and we shall duly respect that,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the move as “historic”.

Only the United States and Guatemala currently have their embassies in Jerusalem, while other countries have theirs in Tel Aviv.

Israel occupied Arab east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

It sees the entire city as its capital.

For decades the international community maintained that the city’s status should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians.

AFP

Palestinians Protest Against Israel’s Jewish Nation Law

People chant slogans during a protest in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.
ABBAS MOMANI / AFP

 

Palestinians held a general strike on Monday to protest Israel’s controversial Jewish nation-state law while also commemorating the deaths of 13 people killed in clashes with police in October 2000.

In annexed east Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, schools and many businesses were closed, AFP journalists reported.

Demonstrations were planned later in the day in the West Bank city of Ramallah as well as in the Arab Israeli community of Jatt in northern Israel.

Jerusalem’s historic Old City, located in the city’s mainly Palestinian eastern sector, was especially quiet.

The strike is “against the policy pursued by Israel in order to erase Palestinian nationalism and the displacement of citizens from their land”, Ramallah resident Khaled Abu Ayoush said.

Mahmud Hamed however kept his bakery outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City open.

“We are a bakery,” he said. “In wars, in strikes, people usually need a break.”

On October 1, Arab Israelis and Palestinians commemorate the deaths of those killed in a series of clashes with police in 2000 during protests in support of the second Palestinian intifada.

Twelve Israeli Arabs and a Palestinian were killed in the clashes in October 2000.

Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said the strike was also against Israel’s Jewish nation-state law and to show solidarity with the West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar.

Israel plans to demolish the Bedouin village, which it says was built illegally, despite international calls for it not to do so.

The nation-state law was passed in July and forms part of Israel’s basic laws — a de facto constitution.

It speaks of Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews and says they have a “unique” right to self-determination there.

Because it omits any reference to equality or the country’s democratic nature, Israeli Arabs charge that it will legalise discrimination.

Arabs account for some 17.5 percent of Israel’s nearly nine million population.

Monday was also a holiday for Israelis marking the end of the weeklong festival of Sukkot.

AFP

Workers At UN Agency For Palestinians Protest Over Job Cuts

 

Closed gate of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) during a strike of all UNRWA institutions in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on September 24, 2018. 
SAID KHATIB / AFP

 

Staff at the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees went on strike in the Gaza Strip on Monday to protest against job losses and US funding cuts.

The one-day strike closed more than 250 UNRWA schools in Gaza, as well as medical centers and food aid distribution points.

The United States has traditionally been UNRWA’s largest funder, providing around $350 million (300 million euros) a year.

But President Donald Trump has cut all support, sparking a funding crisis.

More than 250 jobs have been cut in Gaza and the West Bank so far, while hundreds of full-time roles have become part-time.

The refugee agency’s labor union is demanding the job cuts be reversed and its leaders say the strike could be the first of a number of measures.

A small protest took place outside of the agency’s Gaza headquarters.

“The strike comes in light of the (UNRWA) administration’s lack of responsiveness to the demands of the employees’ union and their insistence on not solving their problems,” Amal al-Batsh, deputy head of the union, said in a statement.

UNRWA says the funding deficit caused by the Trump administration’s withdrawal of support is so severe cuts are unavoidable.

Around 13,000 people work for the agency in Gaza, where more than two-thirds of the roughly two million residents are eligible for aid.

UNRWA says more than 200,000 Palestinians attend its schools in the strip.

AFP