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Israeli cabinet approves snap polls; Parliament to decide

News4u-News Desk- Buoyed by opinion polls and an opposition in disarray, Israel’s hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet has approved his request for snap polls on September 4.

The bill to bring forward the polls, which were scheduled for next year, is now due for vote in the Knesset (Israeli parliament).

Netanyahu said that he intends on forming a government that will bring about “stability” after the polls under his leadership, enabling him to successfully lead the state of Israel.

“For dozens of years, there hasn’t been a more stable government in Israel,” Netanyahu said about the current right-wing coalition adding, “I would have been very glad if we could have completed the term, but having a short election season is the right thing to do”.

“It is no secret that with the beginning of the fourth year of this term, there has been some instability within the coalition between parties and within parties,” he noted, close on the heels of opinion polls citing his party emerging stronger after the polls, increasing its lead over others.

The Israeli premier stressed that the weakening of the coalition harms Israel’s security, economy, and society, and for this reason the right thing to do is “to launch speedy elections”.

Delivering the keynote speech yesterday evening at his Likud party’s conference, the hawkish leader had made his intentions to call for early polls clear.



Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

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Egypt imposes curfew in Cairo as at least 25 killed in clashes

News4u-News Desk-Egypt’s military ruler has imposed a curfew on Cairo’s Tahrir area as at least 25 people, including three soldiers, were killed and 170 injured after Coptic Christians protesting over an attack on a church clashed with security forces in the capital.

 

Central Cairo witnessed a demonstration by activists against the military rule while police augmented by special forces deployed in the area called on protesters to leave before the curfew because they have been ordered to treat people breaking the curfew with firmness.

The curfew is to last from 2 am to 7 am Cairo Local Time.

Despite the head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi issuing a decree to halt presenting civilians to military courts except in cases stated by the military law, people arrested in Sunday’s events might face military trials as they have attacked army members.

Other protests in Egyptian cities have peacefully ended and in particular in Alexandira where thousands of Copts had surrounded a military area and torched cars nearby.

Copts had arranged for a rally in Cairo in objection to recent clashes last week in the area of Idfu in Aswan, Egypts furthest governorate south. Muslims had attacked a building they claimed Copts were turning into a church accusing them of not having the needed permits.

Nothing was done to prevent the issue from escalating as the governor confirmed the permits were not requested from the official bodies. To reply the Copts published copies of the permits in newspapers signed by the governor himself.

The governor did not apologise but noted “he was suffering fatigue when he signed the papers and hence cannot remember.”

Copts have been organizing rallies all through the week. The rallies started from the area of Shubra where a large number of Copts live to the Egyptian Radio and TV building.

Sunday’s rally was no different but Copts abroad were expected to organize concurrent rallies in foreign countries.

It is not clear which side started the violence but a few hours later the official TV announced three army soldiers dead and several injured after the presenter claimed the Copts attacked the Egyptian army.

Hundreds of Egyptians were reported to have headed to down town Cairo chanting “Muslims and Copts, we are all Egyptians.”

Prime Minister Esam Sharaf was said to be closely watching developments and holding a meeting with a crisis management team of the cabinet.


Egypt Map

Egypt Map

Clinton asks Israeli, Palestinian leaders to stop blame game

News4u - News Desk : Expressing frustration over the lack of progress in theMiddle East peace process despite the best of the efforts of the US, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday asked the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to stop blaming each other and show their commitment to peace.

“To demonstrate their commitment to peace, Israeli and Palestinian leaders should stop trying to assign blame for the next failure, and focus instead on what they need to do to make these efforts succeed,” Clinton said at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy Seventh Annual Forum.

“And to demonstrate their commitment to peace, they should avoid actions that prejudge the outcome of negotiations or undermine good faith efforts to resolve final status issues,” she said.

“Unilateral efforts at the United Nations are not helpful and undermine trust. Provocative announcements on East Jerusalem are counterproductive. And the United States will not shy away from saying so,” Clinton said.

“America is serious about peace. We know the road forward will not be easy. But we are convinced that peace is both necessary and possible. So we will be persistent and press forward. We will push the parties to grapple with the core issues,” she said.

Clinton, who earlier in the day held talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, said to have a credible negotiating partner, each side must give the other the room, the political space to build a constituency for progress.

Hillary Clinton

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Indirect Israeli-Palestinian peace talks begin

News4u-News Desk-Breaking a deadlock of almost 18 months, the Palestinian Authority announced the launch of indirect talks with Israel under US meditation as Premier Benjamin Netanyahu expressed hopes that it would soon result in direct negotiations to resolve the crisis.

“I can officially declare today that the proximity talks have begun,” Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said following the third meeting between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and US special envoy for the Middle East, George Mitchell this week.

Erekat said that the talks will be renewed from the place they left off with the previous Israeli government led by Ehud Olmert and Abbas himself will head the Palestinian negotiation team.

He also emphasiseed that all of the permanent agreement issues would be put on the negotiation table.

Talks between the two sides broke down when Israel invaded the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and an overwhelmingly right-wing dominated government led by Netanyahu was formed after the February 2009 general elections in Israel.

Welcoming the Palestinian Authority’s decision to resume “proximity talks” after an 18-month hiatus, Netanyahu has expressed hopes that they would soon lead to direct talks.

“The proximity talks must lead to direct talks as soon as possible. Peace cannot be brought from a distance or by remote-control, especially as we are such close neighbours”, Netanyahu on Sunday told his ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting.

He said the agreements that are crucial to the future of both sides can only be reached through direct negotiation that come from “us sitting and negotiating in the same room”.

“We must achieve peace and security so that we will be able to live side by side with the Palestinians for generations,” the Israeli premier stressed.

Heading an overwhelmingly right-wing coalition, the hawkish Israeli leader also insisted that the talks would be held without preconditions.

“I’d like to stress two points in this context - the talks are taking place without preconditions, as we insisted all along,” Netanyahu emphasised.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had made a freeze on building activities in the west Bank and Jerusalem a precondition for the launch of peace talks between the two sides.

Netanyahu, fearing a right-wing backlash, had resisted giving up the right to build in east Jerusalem although he announced a temporary freeze on constructions in the West Bank in November.

Recent media reports in Israel have however claimed that despite the Israeli premier’s lofty claims, a de facto halt on construction in east Jerusalem areas is in place.

In a major breakthrough, Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) Executive Committee and the Fatah Central Committee on Saturday gave their long-delayed backing for the indirect talks to begin.

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who mediated between the two sides, is set to meet Abbas later on Sunday, before leaving the region for two weeks.

Meanwhile, Fatah’s arch-rival, Islamist Hamas, denounced PLO’s decision as a “stab in the back of our people” and said that PLO does not represent the Palestinians.

The militant faction, which has managed to keep control of Gaza since June 2007, stressed that the negotiations will only be with representatives of little more than half of the Palestinians.

Hamas vanquished forces loyal to Abbas in gunbattles in June 2007 and has survived crippling sanctions imposed on the 1.5 million populated coastal territory imposed by Israel and backed by the West since then.

Israel and Palestinian Flag

Israel and Palestinian Flag

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Syria denies Israeli charges of sending Scuds to Hezbollah

News4u-News Desk-Syria strongly denied on Thursday accusations by Israel that it was in the process of delivering Scud missiles to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

“For some time now, Israel has been running a campaign claiming that Syria has been supplying Hezbollah with Scud missiles in Lebanon,” a foreign ministry statement said.

“Syria strongly denies these allegations which are an attempt by Israel to raise tensions in the region,” the statement added.

“Israel is seeking to create a climate that will pave the way for an eventual Israeli attack to avoid responding to the demands of a just and comprehensive peace.”

The United States voiced alarm about the Israeli reports on Wednesday, warning any such deliveries to Hezbollah would put Lebanon at “significant risk.”

“If such an action has been taken, and we continue to analyse this issue, it would represent a failure by the parties in the region to honour UN Security Council Resolution 1701,” State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said.

Crowley was referring to a 2006 truce resolution that ended a devastating 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

“And clearly it potentially puts Lebanon at significant risk,” he added.

Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria on Tuesday of supplying the Scuds but a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was unclear if the transfers had yet taken place.

Syria denies Israeli charges of sending Scuds to Hezbollah

Syria denies Israeli charges of sending Scuds to Hezbollah

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Syria denies Israeli charges of sending Scuds to Hezbollah

News4u-News Desk-Syria strongly denied on Thursday accusations by Israel that it was in the process of delivering Scud missiles to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

“For some time now, Israel has been running a campaign claiming that Syria has been supplying Hezbollah with Scud missiles in Lebanon,” a foreign ministry statement said.

“Syria strongly denies these allegations which are an attempt by Israel to raise tensions in the region,” the statement added.

“Israel is seeking to create a climate that will pave the way for an eventual Israeli attack to avoid responding to the demands of a just and comprehensive peace.”

The United States voiced alarm about the Israeli reports on Wednesday, warning any such deliveries to Hezbollah would put Lebanon at “significant risk.”

“If such an action has been taken, and we continue to analyse this issue, it would represent a failure by the parties in the region to honour UN Security Council Resolution 1701,” State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said.

Crowley was referring to a 2006 truce resolution that ended a devastating 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

“And clearly it potentially puts Lebanon at significant risk,” he added.

Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria on Tuesday of supplying the Scuds but a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was unclear if the transfers had yet taken place.

Syria denies Israeli charges of sending Scuds to Hezbollah

Syria denies Israeli charges of sending Scuds to Hezbollah

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‘Palestinian killed as Israeli tanks enter Gaza’

News4u-News Desk-Abbassan, (AFP) Israeli tanks overnight pushed into the Gaza Strip following the killing by militants of two Israeli soldiers, sparking a clash in which a Palestinian died, medical officials said today.

At least seven Palestinians were also injured when a tank fired a shell in the village of Abbassan near the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis, the Palestinian medics said.

Witnesses said Israeli forces crossed into southern Gaza near the city of Khan Yunis late yesterday and returned just before dawn.

The incursion comes amid the worst spate of violence in the besieged coastal territory in 14 months and follows a fierce clash yesterday on the border between the Gaza Strip and the Jewish state in which two Israeli soldiers were killed, according to the Israeli army.

Villagers said tanks, bulldozers and jeeps spearheaded the late night incursion as military helicopters hovered overhead.

Palestinian killed as Israeli tanks enter Gaza

'Palestinian killed as Israeli tanks enter Gaza'

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Israel asks UN to press for direct Israel-Palestinian talks

News4u-News Desk-Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom has asked UN chief Ban Ki-moon to lobby for an early resumption of direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

Speaking to reporters after a private meeting with the UN secretary general in United Nations, Shalom told reporters: “We would like to move to a direct dialogue (with the Palestinians) immediately.”

“I hope that the secretary general will convince his partners in the (Middle East) Quartet in Moscow to ask the Palestinians to shorten the time that is needed in order to move to a direct dialogue,” he added.

Earlier Monday, Ban confirmed that he planned to attend a meeting of the diplomatic Quartet in Moscow on 9th March to encourage an early resumption of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Quartet groups the European Union, the US, Russia and the UN.

Shalom hailed as a “positive” development the Palestinian decision to agree to US-brokered indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

US officials said the two sides have begun the indirect talks in a tentative boost to the Middle East peace process frozen since the Jewish state’s devastating war on Gaza.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom

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Israeli policemen battle Palestinians at Al Aqsa Mosque

News4u-News Desk- Fresh clashes broke out at Jerusalem’s holiest site, revered by Jews and Muslims alike, injuring 18 Israeli policemen and dozens of Palestinian protesters amid growing resentment over the stalled peace process.

Palestinians pelting stones and Israeli police officers clashed yet again at what Jews refer to as Temple Mount and Muslims as Haram al-Sharif at the end of the Friday prayers.
The protests followed a sermon at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s old city on a recent Israeli decision to include two West Bank shrines on a list of national heritage sites.
The Israeli police fired stun grenades to quell violence and withdrew following helpful intervention by other Muslim worshippers to defuse the crisis.
Ron Krumer, a spokesman for Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, confirmed an Arab woman was wounded in the head by a rubber bullet and hospitalised in serious condition though the police had denied using rubber bullets to disperse the riot.
Najeh Btirat, a Waqf official, said the clash followed a mosque sermon on the issue.
“The Friday sermon focused on the Islamic sites that are being targeted by Israel and need to preserve them,” he said.
The protests also spilled over into Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarters where police deployed stun grenades to restore calm.
Sounds of stun grenades could be heard exploding in the Muslim Quarter throughout the afternoon.

Police in riot gear stormed the hilltop enclosure when the Muslim protestors threw stones after the main weekly prayers

Police in riot gear stormed the hilltop enclosure when the Muslim protestors threw stones after the main weekly prayers

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Israel signals tougher terms for prisoner swap talks

News4u-News Desk-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signalled a tougher stance in talks on a possible prisoner swap with Hamas Islamists involving a captive Israeli soldier.

As a German mediator renewed talks between Israel and Hamas after a holiday hiatus, a senior Israeli official said Netanyahu ”would not allow any additional manoeuvering room” in negotiations that have dragged on for months.

The statement issued by the official Friday suggested the prisoner talks, which seemed near a breakthrough last month, may now take longer than anticipated.

Under a proposed deal about 1,000 of the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails would go free in exchange for the soldier Gilad Shalit, now aged 23, seized by militants who tunnelled into Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu has said privately in the past few days that Israel was ”making great efforts to bring Gilad Shalit home, safe and sound, and will continue to do so for a long time” but would insist on meeting Israeli security needs.

Israel would demand that dozens of Palestinians jailed for involvement in lethal attacks, whose release Hamas has sought, be deported upon their release, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Officials familiar with the talks have said Israel was intent on barring Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis from returning to the occupied West Bank, which is close to Israeli population centres. They might instead be sent to Gaza or foreign countries.

Hamas had accepted that some released prisoners would be exiled but wanted them to be able to choose their destinations.

As a right-wing leader, Netanyahu faces a particular dilemma in freeing Palestinians who could commit further violence, though he is also under great public pressure to free the soldier, largely because military conscription in Israel is compulsory.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

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