Sunday, March 22, 2009
Jan. 16: Palestinian drives his car through burning tires left by Palestinian stone-throwers during clashes with Israeli troops.
Jan. 14: An explosion from an Israeli airstrike is seen on the outskirts of Gaza City.
Jan. 16: A controlled explosion of a Palestinian house is seen as Israeli tanks move inside the Gaza Strip.
Jan. 15: Israeli armored vehicles drive near Atatra inside the Gaza Strip.
Jan. 15: Smoke rises following an explosion caused by Israeli military operations is seen through a window.
Israel Security Cabinet Approves Cease-Fire in Gaza as Olmert Says Objectives Achieved
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced Saturday, folllwing a Security Cabinent vote in favor of a cease-fire, said that the goals of Israel's offensive in Gaza had been achieved.
Israel has no immediate plans to withdraw troops from Gaza, but the cease-fire likely will entail the end of Israeli attacks on Hamas now that the militant Palestinian group appears to have been disabled to the point that there is less of a threat of rocket attacks on southern Israel.
Olmert said in a televised address that Israel's "goals have been achieved, and even more." Fighting stopped at 2 a.m. local time (7 p.m. EST) but Israel will keep troops on the ground for the time being, Olmert said.
But Hamas leaders have repeated that it will not respect any cease-fire as long as Israel remains inside Gaza.
More than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed in the three weeks of violence, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials. Thirteen Israelis have also died.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Saturday that a unilateral cease-fire should be accompanied by a timetable for withdrawal, and a Hamas spokesman said the group would not stop fighting until Israel is out of Gaza.
As the world waited Saturday for the cease-fire vote in the Israeli Security Cabinent, Israeli forces kept up the country's punishing three-week-long campaign by pounding dozens of Hamas targets as the army kept up pressure on the Islamic militant group.
The military said it struck some 50 Hamas targets. But one shelling attack struck a U.N. school packed with refugees fleeing the fighting, killing two Palestinians and drawing a sharp condemnation from the United Nations. Israel had no comment on the incident, the latest in a string of attacks to hit a U.N. installation.
Israel was pressing ahead with its offensive hours before a vote by its leaders late Saturday on whether to accept an Egyptian-brokered truce.
A senior Israeli official said Saturday that Israel plans to halt its three-week-old Gaza offensive because it has achieved its goals, Reuters reported.
"The goal is to announce, subject to the approval of the cabinet, a suspension of military activities because we believe our goals have been attained," the official, who asked not to be named, said.
The vote follows Friday's signing of a "memorandum of understanding" in Washington between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that calls for expanded intelligence cooperation to prevent Hamas from rearming. Livni called the deal, reached on the final working day of the Bush administration, "a vital complement for a cessation of hostility."
Israel's 12-member Security Cabinet was expected to approve the Egyptian proposal, under which fighting would stop immediately for 10 days. Israeli forces would remain in Gaza and the territory's border crossings with Israel and Egypt would remain closed until security arrangements are made to prevent Hamas arms smuggling.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev saying he was hopeful that Israel is "entering the endgame" on its Gaza offensive.
A "sustained and durable" stop to Hamas rocket fire on southern Israel was near, Regev said. If approved, a truce summit would follow in Cairo with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Under the deal, Egypt would shut down weapons smuggling routes with international help and discussions on opening Gaza's blockaded border crossings — Hamas' key demand — would take place at a later date. It remains unclear whether Hamas supports the proposal.
The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a non-binding resolution demanding an "immediate and durable and fully respected cease fire" in Gaza on Friday night, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The U.S., Israel, Nauru and Venezuela voting against the resolution, because they hoped for a stronger statement.
Israel launched the offensive on Dec. 27 to try to halt near-daily Hamas rocket attacks against southern Israel. Palestinian medics say the fighting has killed at least 1,140 Palestinians — roughly half of them civilians — and Israel's bombing campaign caused massive destruction in the Gaza Strip. Thirteen Israelis have been killed, four by rocket fire and nine in ground battles in Gaza, according to the government.
In the meantime, there was no slowdown in the offensive. A total of 11 Palestinians were killed in battles throughout Gaza Saturday, Palestinian medics said.
Israeli warplanes dropped bombs throughout the night on suspected smuggling tunnels in the southern border town of Rafah. The bombs could be heard whistling through the air, shook the ground upon impact and left a dusty haze in the air.
In the northern town of Beit Lahiya, an Israeli shell struck a U.N. school where 1,600 people had sought shelter to flee the fighting, said Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.
He said several shells struck the school compound, including a direct hit on the top floor of the building. The shell killed two boys, and turned a room on the building's into a blackened mess of charred concrete and twisted metal bed frames. Near Gaza City, Palestinian officials said three more civilians were killed by a naval shell, while a militant was killed in an airstrike.
Gunness condemned the school attack, noting the U.N. has given Israel the coordinates of all its operations in Gaza to avoid such violence. "There have to be investigations to see if war crimes have been committed," he said.
The Israeli military had no immediate comment, saying the matter was still under investigation. But in similar instances, including an attack that heavily damaged the U.N. headquarters in Gaza earlier this week, Israel has accused Hamas militants of staging attacks from U.N. and other civilian buildings.
The military said its planes struck 50 Hamas locations overnight, including rocket-launching sites, smuggling tunnels, weapons storehouses, bunkers and minefields. Some five rockets were fired into Israel, causing minor damage but no injuries, the army said.
Israeli troops entered a small central Gaza town and nearby housing project, taking over houses and positioning on rooftops. Hamas militants fired assault rifles, mortars and rockets at the Israeli forces in tanks and military vehicles, the sound of clashes audible from Gaza City. Warplanes fired missiles at buildings and nearby farms, witnesses said.
"A shell landed in my bedroom and we are now sitting in the kitchen. We are 17 people here," said Jihan Sarsawi, a resident of the housing project. Speaking by telephone, she said residents were trapped in their homes.
The violence followed Israeli envoy Amos Gilad's journey to Cairo on Friday. He returned to report "substantial progress" in truce talks with Egyptian mediators, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office announced. The Israeli vote comes ahead of President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, and Israeli elections next month.
Hamas has given mixed signals about whether it would accept the cease-fire proposal. In Turkey, a spokesman for the movement, Sami Abu Zuhri, said militants would keep fighting. Hamas "will not bow to invading forces, will not raise the white flag," he said.
A Hamas official said Saturday the group will continue fighting against Israel if none of its demands for a cease-fire are met.
Apparently reacting to reports that Israel could call off its offensive and declare a unilateral cease-fire without considering Hamas demands, Beirut-based Osama Hamdan said fighting would continue.
"Today, the movement's delegation arrives in Cairo. To be clear, we have nothing new to offer. We are not going to go back to the first point in the discussions and dialogue. Either we hear what we want or the result will be continuing the confrontation on the ground," said Hamdan, who is close to movement leader Khaled Mashaal.
He added that for Israel to call a unilateral ceasefire while negotiations are underway in Cairo undermines the mediators, a reference to Egypt that has been promoting its own initiative to end the fighting and resolve the long-running crisis.
A Hamas delegation was set to arrive in Cairo Saturday amid the frenzied international diplomacy to end 22 days of fighting.
But after weeks of heavy losses, leaders inside Gaza have signaled they are ready for a deal. A Hamas delegation was headed to Cairo on Saturday for more negotiations.
"Our movement is a main player and it cannot be ignored," said Ghazi Hamad, a Gaza-based Hamas official.
Hamas, which overtook the Gaza Strip in a violent coup in June 2007, has demanded an immediate Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the opening of blockaded border crossings.
In an interview with the Israeli YNet news Web site, Livni indicated that Israel would renew its offensive if Hamas militants continued to fire rockets at Israel even after a truce agreement was reached.
"This campaign is not a one-time event," she said. "The test will be the day after. That is the test of deterrence."
Speaking in Washington, she said the deal with the U.S. was meant "to complement Egyptian actions and to end of the flow of weapons to Gaza."
The agreement outlines a framework under which the United States commits detection and surveillance equipment, as well as logistical help and training to Israel, Egypt and other nations to be used in monitoring Gaza's land and sea borders.
Earlier, Rice said she hoped European countries would work out similar bilateral agreements with Israel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Negotiator: Israel Asks to Annex 6.8 Percent of West Bank for Peace Deal
Friday, December 12, 2008
Dec. 5: Palestinian children look at a car owned by Palestinians that was set on fire overnight by Jewish settlers in the West Bank town of Hebron.
JERUSALEM — Israel proposed to annex 6.8 percent of the West Bank and to take in a few thousand refugees under a peace deal, but it has not revealed its position on the most contentious issue — the future of Jerusalem, the chief Palestinian negotiators said Friday night.
Ahmed Qureia said the Palestinian side did not consider the ideas presented on annexation and the return of some Palestinians to be acceptable.
Speaking for the first time in detail about yearlong U.S.-backed talks that failed to produce an agreement, Qureia's comments appeared aimed, in part, at providing a record of the Israeli position ahead of leadership changes in Israel and the United States.
Barack Obama assumes the U.S. presidency Jan. 20. Israel holds elections Feb. 10, and polls suggest hard-line opposition leader Benjamin
Netanyahu opposes large-scale territorial concessions to the Palestinians and has said he would not continue the negotiations in their current format. He says he would try to focus on improving the Palestinian economy instead.
The office of outgoing Israeli Prime
Qureia told Palestinian reporters that Israel wants to keep four blocs of Jewish settlements in the West Bank — Ariel, Maaleh Adumim, Givat Zeev and Efrat-Gush Etzion. He said Israel initially proposed to annex 7.3 percent of the territory, then reduced that to 6.8 percent.
Israel offered to give some of its own territory as compensation, but not an equal trade in size and quality, Qureia said. He added that some of the areas Israel wants to annex would be crucial to a viable Palestinian state envisioned as the goal of the peace negotiations.
Israeli officials have talked publicly about keeping some settlements in exchange for other land, but have not given any specifics. Qureia has said in the past the Palestinians are willing to consider a land swap, but on a much smaller scale than he outlined Friday.
Turning to Jerusalem, Qureia said the Palestinians repeatedly raised their demand for a division of the city but were never given Israel's view.
Olmert, who will step down after the elections, has said Israel will have to give up some Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. However, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas Party, a member of Olmert's governing coalition, has threatened to quit if Jerusalem is discussed in the talks.
Qureia said Olmert's offer during talks to take in 5,000 Palestinian refugees over five years was rejected. But he added that the Palestinians do not seek the return of all refugees and their descendants, a group that numbers several million.
"To say that not a single refugee would be allowed back or that all the refugees should be allowed back is not a solution," he said. "We should reach a mutual position on this issue."
Israeli leaders have adamantly refused to accept large numbers of Palestinians, saying mass repatriation would destroy the Jewish character of Israel.
The negotiations were launched a year ago, at a U.S.-hosted Mideast conference in Annapolis, Md. Since then, Qureia and Livni have met repeatedly, in parallel to talks between Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud
Qureia said he hopes the new American president will make solving the Israeli-Palestinian
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