| Hamas officially rejects Egyptian ceasefire as Israeli bombardment increases – live updates!

Hamas officially rejects Egyptian ceasefire as Israeli bombardment increases – live updates ~  in London and  in New York, theguardian.com.

  • Israel warns 100,000 Gazans to leave their homes
  • The homes of four Hamas leader targeted 
  • Death toll of Palestinians increases to more than 200
  • First Israeli killed after a week of violence
  • How do the events affect you in Israel and Palestine?
  • Read the latest summary
A Palestinian boy shows a flyer dropped over Gaza City by the Israeli army urging residents to evacuate their homes.
A Palestinian boy shows a flyer dropped over Gaza City by the Israeli army urging residents to evacuate their homes. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

4.27pm BST

A funeral procession is under way for the four boys killed in the Gaza port strike.

Palestinians carry the bodies of two boys from the Bakr family, whom medics said were killed with other two children from the same family by a shell fired by an Israeli naval gunboat.
Palestinians carry the bodies of two boys from the Bakr family. Photograph: Mohammed Salem/Reuters
Smoke rise from a structure in the port of Gaza City where five young boys were killed by an Israeli naval bombardment.
Smoke rise from a structure in the port of Gaza City where five young boys were killed by an Israeli naval bombardment. Photograph: Oliver Weiken/EPA

Happening now: the funeral for four young boys killed in a strike at the port in #Gaza City earlier this afternoon.pic.twitter.com/ARKMBqglVG

— Jon Jensen (@jonjensenCNN) July 16, 2014

Updated at 4.27pm BST

4.21pm BST

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, has made a statement on al-Aqsa TV, saying that 43 children have been killed in Gaza in the past 10 days, and mentioning the port strike.

Abu Zuhri says that Hamas: “demands that [Palestinian president Mahmoud] Abbas adopt and respect what the resistance has to say, as well as the people of Gaza. We are deeply disappointed by the official positions of Arab regimes toward war in the Gaza Strip. We are besieged.”

He says “the Israeli occupation will pay the price for its crimes against our people.”

Updated at 4.26pm BST

4.13pm BST

Peter Beaumont has written an account of the strike that killed four children, which he witnessed near a Gaza beach, and after which he and other journalists tried to help wounded children and the man with them.

Behind the smoke, I see four figures running, silhouettes whose legs are pumping raggedly. From their size it is clear they are a man and three young boys.

Only afterwards do we discover there are four others who are dead, all children, lying on the wall. I am shown a picture of one of the dead boys, his skin scorched and bruised. Their names are released later: Ahed Bakr, aged 10; Zakaria, 10; and two other boys from the Bakr family, both named Mohammad, aged 11 and nine.

The second shell catches the survivors as they reach the brightly coloured tents. As it explodes, my colleagues, now standing by the terrace wall, shout at unseen Israeli gunners who can’t hear them: “They are only children.”

The children are brought up. Pulling up the T-shirt of the first boy, who looks about eight years old, we find a shrapnel hole, small and round as a pencil head, where he has been hit in the chest over the second rib.

The boy cries in pain as we clean and dress the wound, wrapping a field dressing around his chest, pressing to staunch the bleeding. He winces in pain, and he is clearly embarrassed too as a colleague checks his shorts to look for unseen femoral bleeding.

A waiter grabs a table cloth to use as a stretcher, but a photographer takes the boy in his arms to carry him to the ambulance that has arrived.

In less than 10 minutes it is over. Even the smoke on the pier has died away, save for a last few drifting wisps.

You can read it in full here.

4.05pm BST

Israel authorizes calling up 8,000 reservists

The Israeli cabinet has approved drafting an additional 8,000 reserve soldiers, Israel Radio reports, confirming previous reports.

The Israeli cabinet just approved drafting additional 8,000 reservists, raising the total number of called-up reservists to 56,000.

— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) July 16, 2014

3.58pm BST

“Gaza’s a place at the moment where it’s very easy to bleed to death,” the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont tells my colleague Amanda Holpuch, who’s just spoken to him by phone. Beaumont just administered first aid to a child injured by shelling that killed four children in Gaza City.

By the south wall we heard a very loud explosion, and thinking it was either some kind of naval gunfire or more artillery, where you see fisherman and their children often getting their stuff ready.

“We see this billowing brown smoke and very, very quickly we realize there are people running through the smoke. We didn’t know then that four of the children – they’re all part of a family called the al-Bakr family – they came running down. And as I’m standing looking down on this wall, kind of a little place that people go down on weekends.

“While I’m standing down looking toward this wall … there’s an adult and three children were turning the corner at the beach waving at us, kind of trying to say “Can we come to the beach, will you help us?” – they got hit by a second artillery round. By the time they made it, the adult, a man of about thirty, clearly had a stump … from shrapnel.

“The three boys got brought up to the terrace where we work and fortunately we had some medical kits, and we very quickly went to work on the two kids who’d been injured. A child brought in, about eight I guess, eight or nine, got a shrapnel wound to the chest, as the other’d been injured in the arm and the head, and we gave first aid while the ambulances came.

“We were worried at first that the hole in his chest might spill through into his lung. We wanted to stop the bleeding but also to try and make sure he was all right until the ambulance came. So some other colleagues helped his brother or cousin I guess, with the head injury.”

Updated at 4.12pm BST

3.41pm BST

The Israeli cabinet may call up an additional 8,000 reserve soldiers, according to reports from security analyst Danny Nisman and Channel Two News’ Udi Segal.

Israel has already approved calling up 14,000 reservists since the conflict began over a week ago.

Updated at 4.01pm BST

3.31pm BST

A Hamas official representing the Fatah movement has arrived in Cairo, where Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo for talks with Egyptians, AFP reports.

“A meeting will be held this afternoon between an official from Hamas and a representative of the Egyptian leadership,” said Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior member of the Fatah movement.

Ahmad said he hoped the talks in Cairo would “crystalize a definite formula for an Egyptian initiative” or clarify its plan, which had proposed an end to hostilities from 0600 GMT on Tuesday.

Abbas is due to arrive in Cairo later Wednesday for talks.

3.24pm BST

French journalist Emilie Baujard has snapped as shot of two “low intensity missiles fired just now in front of [her] hotel” in Gaza.

2 missiles de faible intensité tirés juste maintenant devant mon hôtel #gaza pic.twitter.com/qYRpdlRby7

— emilie_baujard (@emilie_baujard) July 16, 2014

Baujard tweeted about an hour ago that children were playing on the beach before a shells struck their location. NBC foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin says he was playing soccer with the boys minutes before the strike.

4 Palestinian kids killed in a single Israeli airstrike. Minutes before they were killed by our hotel, I was kicking a ball with them #gaza

— Ayman Mohyeldin (@AymanM) July 16, 2014

Updated at 3.42pm BST

3.17pm BST

As Israel tallies more than 1,200 rockets fired into the country over eight days, its own strikes on Gaza have mounted, now totalling at more than 1,825.

The Gaza health ministry has added the names of the four children just killed by a gunboat shell to its Facebook page. At least 16 people have died today in Gaza, and the total number of Palestinians killed is now 213, per emergency services. The ministry says 1,565 have been injured.

AFP reports: “All four were on the beach when the attack took place, according to AFP correspondents who witnessed the attack from a nearby hotel. Several injured children took refuge at the hotel, they added.”

The IDF reports having struck “50 terror sites across Gaza” so far today, with air strikes continuing. According to the statement the targets have included tunnels, Hamas infrastructure, “centers of terrorist activity”, and firing sites. The Gaza interior ministry has been struck, as has the Al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital, where AFP reports a panicked staff and Channel Four’s Jonathan Miller missile debris and crumbling walls.

Updated at 3.32pm BST

3.00pm BST

Four children have been hit by Israeli shelling at a fishing area in Gaza, journalists report. A gunboat fired at the beach, hitting a fisherman’s family.

Peter Beaumont, the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, witnessed the attack and tried to administer first aid. His report will follow shortly.

Reports that four children killed in strike on #Gaza port.@petersbeaumont gave first aid to one young boy with shrapnel wounds to chest

— Phoebe Greenwood (@pagreenwood) July 16, 2014

Channel Four’s Jonathan Miller has graphic images of the children, whohospital officials say were killed after bombing struck a Gaza City beach.

Children wounded by shrapnel treated by foreign journalists on terrace of al-Deira hotel #Gazapic.twitter.com/G8jQBXmZHZ

— Jonathan Miller (@millerC4) July 16, 2014

Three shells hit fishermen’s beach just next to hotels. At least 2 children wounded and their father.pic.twitter.com/aDpzFoij4y

— Jonathan Miller (@millerC4) July 16, 2014

Updated at 3.04pm BST

2.46pm BST

Summary

Here’s a summary of where things stand:

  • Hamas officially rejected the Egyptian-proposed ceasefire,which crumbled on Tuesday after rocket fire continued from Gaza and Israel resumed attacks. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said: “The outcome of discussions within the internal institutions of the movement was to reject the proposal”.
  • Israel warned 100,000 Gazans to leave their homes, fuelling fears that its assault on Palestinian territories will swell. In a statement the Israel military said: “Messages are being conveyed to the residents of Beit Lahyia, Shuja’iya and Zeitoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, requesting them to evacuate their homes for they own safety and stressing the IDF’s efforts to avoid harming civilians.”
  • The military conflict intensified on Tuesday following a six-hour respite in which Israel halted its aerial bombardment of the coastal enclave, accepting an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire. Hamas rejected the plan, continuing its rocket fire throughout the day and killing an Israeli citizen at the Erez border crossing, the first Israeli fatality of the conflict.
  • A UN relief agency has declared a state of emergency for the whole Gaza after almost 18,000 sought refuge in its schools. The UNRWA said Gaza’s health system is on the brink of collapse with several reported cases of viral meningitis as well as hundreds of injuries from the bombardment.

Updated at 3.34pm BST

2.39pm BST

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have submitted a list of 10 ambitious demands to Egypt for the establishment of a 10-year truce with Israel, according to Ma’an news agency citing the the Hebrew-language daily Maariv. The demands are:

  1. The withdrawal of Israeli military tanks from the border fence area to a distance that enables Gaza farmers to access their fields and tend them freely.
  2. Freeing all Palestinian prisoners detained after the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the southern West Bank including those who were freed as part of Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. This precondition also includes softening procedures against all prisoners in Israeli custody.
  3. An end to the siege on the coastal enclave and the reopening of all border crossings.
  4. The opening of Gaza’s international seaport under UN monitoring.
  5. An increase in Gaza fishing zone to 10 nautical miles and an increase in the size of permissible fishing boats.
  6. International monitoring of the Rafah crossing into Egypt.
  7. Closing Gaza airspace to Israeli aircraft.
  8. Permission to Gaza resident to be allowed to visit Jerusalem and pray in the al-Aqsa Mosque.
  9. No interference in Palestinian internal affairs including political arrangements and the reconciliation agreement and all its consequences.
  10. Re-establishment of the Gaza industrial zone.

2.28pm BST

More on Hamas’s rejection of the Egyptian-proposed ceasefire, from Reuters.

It quoute spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri as saying:

The outcome of discussions within the internal institutions of the movement was to reject the proposal and therefore, Hamas informed Egypt last night it apologises for not accepting it.

Hamas’s armed wing had already spurned the Egyptian plan on Tuesday.

2.12pm BST

Hamas officially rejects Egyptian ceasefire plan

Hamas has officially informed Egypt that it has rejected its failed ceasefire initiative, according to a snap from Reuters.

2.05pm BST

The Israeli military is maintaining its running tally of the number of rockets fired from Gaza.

A few minutes ago, 2 rockets fired from Gaza struck the Ashkelon area, and 5 rockets struck elsewhere in southern Israel.

— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 16, 2014

Earlier it said 61 rockets had been fired on Wednesday, including 23 intercepted by Iron Dome.

One of the recent to have landed narrowly missed a house in Ashkelon, according to police spokesman Micy Rosenfeld.

5 rockets fired towards Ashkelon. 1 rocket landed adjacent to a house. Damage caused. No injuries.pic.twitter.com/1amj1GY9a0

— Micky Rosenfeld (@MickyRosenfeld) July 16, 2014

1.58pm BST

AFP has more on air strikes against the al-Wa’afa rehabilitation hospital near Gaza City.

Shortly after it was hit on Tuesday night the Israeli army contacted the hospital three times, saying everyone should be evacuated by morning as the air force was planning to intensify its air strikes.

Director Basman Alashi explained that the 14 patients in the facility, many of them paralysed or in a coma, are in no position to be moved.

And even if they were, he said, there is no place to take them.

“There is no place safe in Gaza! If a hospital is not safe, where is?

“We cannot leave our patients, they are helpless. They cannot move, they cannot walk, they cannot eat, they cannot even scratch their heads by themselves,” he said.

Even as he spoke, the sound of shelling rattled the hospital windows.

Mercifully, said staff doctor Hassan Sarsur, many of the patients are unconscious and unaware of what is happening.

But for others, the situation is terrifying.

“Several of our female patients are paralysed but conscious, and during the night they were crying with fear and clutching our hands,” Sarsur said.

Aya Abdeen, one of eight women in the facility, is paralysed from the waist down because of a tumour in her spinal cord.

“Yesterday, when they said that we have to evacuate and with all the shelling, of course I was afraid,” she told AFP.

“There was shelling all around and the hospital was shaking. And I am as you see, I can’t move,” she said.

“We are sick people, in a hospital!”

Doctors at the hospital have reached out to international agencies in a bid to secure Israeli assurances that the facility won’t be hit again.

And a group of foreign activists are staying at the hospital in the hope that their presence might deter further attacks.

“The Israelis told the (international) agencies that the hospital was not the target, only the area around it. But they have already hit us directly,” Sarsur said.

“We are helpless, the war comes to us and there is nothing we can do to stop it.”

Basman Alashi, director of the al-Wa'afa rehabilitation hospital near Gaza City.
Basman Alashi, director of the al-Wa’afa rehabilitation hospital near Gaza City. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

1.36pm BST

Dr Medhat Abbas, director general of Gaza health ministry, confirmed that hospitals and medical facilities are being targeted by Israeli bombardment.

In an interview with the Guardian, he said Gaza’s health system was overwhelmed with more than 1,500 people wounded in the bombardment, as they struggle with inadequate supplies, and power and fuel shortage.

He also pleaded with the international community to pressure and Egypt and Israel to open the borders to Gaza. He said:

There is no safe place in the Gaza strip for civilians to hide. There are no shelters, they have targeted hospitals, streets, domestic areas randomly.

Two hospitals have been hit. The European Gaza hospital and the Wa’afa medical rehabilitation hospital. And they [the Israelis] have targeted a rehabilitation institute. They killed three disabled persons inside and wounded another three.

At the same time the Wa’afa medical rehabilitation hospital is threatened to be attacked once again. They have asked the staff and the disabled patients living inside to evacuate.

They have targeted the fourth floor and attacked this hospital four or five times yesterday. They are planning to demolish a full hospital of five stories. These are crimes. These are violations of human rights.

Dr Abbas complained that the Rafah crossing into Egypt had only been partially opened.

We hope that the border will be opened, because you have to have the free mobility of patients across the border and health professional.

Why are two million people trapped in this prison in Gaza? Why?

They have left the people without hope. Everybody in Gaza dreams to have a ceasefire. Everybody dreams to live in peace. We are peace lovers in Gaza we are not blood suckers.

He said people in Gaza were being left to die.

If you plan to travel it may take one year and you may not succeed. It is not Fatah and Hamas, it is not political. Everybody living in the Gaza strip today is suffering.

A hospital worker at the Wa'afa  Medical Rehabilitation Hospital in Gaza City stands amongst broken glass and debris from an Israeli shell in the stairwell of the hospital.
A hospital worker at the Wa’afa Medical Rehabilitation Hospital in Gaza City stands amongst broken glass and debris from an Israeli shell in the stairwell of the hospital. Photograph: Heidi Levine/SIPA/REX

Updated at 1.40pm BST

12.39pm BST

Israeli experts are predicting overland raids to destroy Hamas’s command bunkers and tunnels, Reuters reports.

“The direction now is to continue air strikes and, if need be, enter with ground forces in a tactical, measured manner,” an Israeli official said after the security cabinet met overnight.

The Israelis blew up a cross-border tunnel last week which, they say, may have been just one of many that Hamas has dug for deadly infiltration raids on their southern towns.

While tunnel-hunting incursions would be far short of a full-scale invasion and reoccupation, there is still the danger for Israel that risky and time-consuming missions could fall to Palestinian ambushes.

Hamas leaders have talked up their “tunnel campaign” against the Israeli enemy. One publicity video showed Palestinian fighters hauling rockets through a narrow passage to load onto a launcher that appears buried in an orchard. It is then fired remotely after its mechanised cover slides open.

Media reports on the Israeli military suggest it has just one dedicated tunnel-hunting unit, codenamed “Ferrets” – potentially no more than a few dozen commandos equipped with breathing apparatus, attack dogs and scouting robots.

Detecting the underground network is a problem for Israel – as shown by the continued rocket salvoes from Gaza despite its intensive, intelligence-guided air strikes on suspected sites.

Geologist Yossi Langotsky, a retired army colonel and Defence Ministry adviser, said on Army Radio that Israel had failed to develop technologies to “hear” hidden digs, allowing completion of the secret passages that now await activation.

Amos Yadlin, a former commander of Israeli military intelligence, said a crackdown on the tunnels was pressing, calling them “the second-most serious threat after the long-range rockets – or the primary threat, according to some”.

A smuggler carries bags of food from Kentucky Fried Chicken through an underground tunnel linking the Gaza Strip to Egypt in May 2013.
A smuggler carries bags of food from Kentucky Fried Chicken through an underground tunnel linking the Gaza Strip to Egypt in May 2013. Photograph: -/AFP/Getty Images

11.57am BST

Dozens of UN schools and more than 20 health buildings have been damaged in the ongoing offensive against Gaza, according to Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UNRWA.

BREAKING NEWS: According to the UN, 79 schools & 23 health facilities in #Gaza have sustained damage RT

— Chris Gunness (@ChrisGunness) July 16, 2014

As Ben White notes Israel claimed that damage to the Wa’afa hospital was caused by shrapnel, not helicopter missiles as Channel 4 News Jonathan Miller reported from the scene.

.@millerC4 the item on Haaretz live blog where IDF spokesperson claims that “the hospital was damaged by shrapnel”. pic.twitter.com/Y2XeTiFFRy

— Ben White (@benabyad) July 16, 2014

11.47am BST

Summary

Here’s a summary of the latest developments:

11.29am BST

Hamas’s armed wing the al-Qassam brigades has claimed responsibility for more rocket attacks on Israel.

#Breaking:Palestinians have the right to defend themselves, 12:15 Al Qassam fired 4 rockets at military base “Kfar Azza”.#GazaUnderAttack

— Al Qassam Brigades (@qassamfeed) July 16, 2014

#Breaking:Palestinians have the right to defend themselves, 12:15 Al Qassam fired 10 rockets at military base “Hatsareem”.#GazaUnderAttack

— Al Qassam Brigades (@qassamfeed) July 16, 2014

The IDF claims more rockets were intercepted by its Iron Dome system.

Hamas terrorists fired 10 rockets at Be’er Sheva moments ago. The Iron Dome intercepted 6 of them, and the remaining 4 fell in open areas.

— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 16, 2014

At least one rocket is reported to have hit a house in Tel Aviv.

BREAKING PHOTOS: Long rang rocket fired from Gaza hits house in Tel Aviv today, causing serious damage, no injuries. pic.twitter.com/6LvsRwBcuD

— Israel News Feed (@IsraelHatzolah) July 16, 2014

One soldier was reported to have been injured by shrapnel in southern Israel.

BREAKING: IDF Soldier being transported to the hospital, lightly injured of shrapnel of rocket attack at army base in southern Israel.

— Israel News Feed (@IsraelHatzolah) July 16, 2014

11.14am BST

The homes of four senior Hamas leaders have been targeted, according to AP citing Gaza’s interior ministry – which was itself hit.

The website of the Gaza Interior Ministry said Israel warplanes carried out dozens of air strikes before dawn Wednesday, targeting 30 houses, including those of senior Hamas leaders Mahmoud Zahar, Jamila Shanti, Fathi Hamas and Ismail Ashkar.

Zahar was a key figure in Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza in 2007, while the other three were members of the Palestinian parliament elected in 2006. Many Hamas leaders have gone into hiding since the beginning of the Israeli offensive.

William Booth has surveyed the damage to the homes of Ismail Ashkar and Fathi Hamas.

Palestinian legislative council & senior Hamas political leader Ismail el Ashqar’s house this morning.pic.twitter.com/Yi4J0RxUay

— William Booth (@BoothWilliam) July 16, 2014

Reports that former Hamas interior minister Fathi Hammad house was destroyed is premature. Hit by warning rocket only pic.twitter.com/EFrsv1096W

— William Booth (@BoothWilliam) July 16, 2014

Reuters has a photo of damage to the home of Mahmoud Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas.

Searching the rubble after Israel destroyed Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar’s house. Photo: Reuters/Mohammed Salem #Gaza pic.twitter.com/b45EMu3IUc

— Ben White (@benabyad) July 16, 2014

10.55am BST

Binyamin Netanyahu‘s cabinet is in disarray after the Israeli prime minister came under fire from several of his most senior ministers for his handling of the crisis in Gaza, writes Orlando Crowcroft in Tel Aviv.

The storm of public criticism from his own ranks resulted in the sacking on Tuesday night of deputy defence minister Danny Danon, a member of Netanyahu’s own Likud party.

Danon had told media yesterday that Hamas had humiliated Israel by setting conditions for peace, after Netanyahu said he was willing to accept the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire. Hamas claimed that it had not been consulted over the ceasefire conditions and rejected it.

“At a time when … Israel and the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] are in the midst of a military campaign against the terrorist organizations and taking determined action to maintain the security of Israel’s citizens, it cannot be that the deputy defence minister will sharply attack the leadership of the country regarding the campaign,” Netanyahu said in a statement Tuesday night.

“These sharp remarks on the deputy defence minister’s part are irresponsible, especially given his position. They also serve the Hamas terrorist organization as a tool to attack the government with.”

The divisions within the Israeli cabinet have been mocked by Hamas, with spokesman Fauzi Barhoum calling the Danon sacking a “victory for the resistance”.

10.51am BST

Confirmation that Gaza’s ministry of interior was hit overnight, from William Booth of the Washington Post.

Interior ministry building in Gaza City hit last night. File cabinets and photocopiers visible through gutted front.pic.twitter.com/GSSE57LslP

— William Booth (@BoothWilliam) July 16, 2014

Israel said the building was a legitimate target because it was being used to direct rocket fire. It said:

Such apparatus are deeply involved in the organization’s militant operations, and many of its facilities are utilized to store weaponry and ammunition, launch rockets at Israel, and supervise terror attacks and other militant activities.

10.45am BST

The number of Palestinians killed in the eight-day offensive against Gaza has increased to 208, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Is spokesman, Ashraf al-Qudra, named all 208 victims on his Facebook page. He said the most recent victim was 10 years old.

10.37am BST

Gaza city resident Jehad Saftani, a photographer working for the Institute for Middle East Understanding, describes the almost constant bombardment.

Speaking by telephone he told the Guardian:

Every minute we can hear a bomb. I saw now pillars of smoke up from the east of Gaza city. Last night was a terrible night, there were many airstrikes on different targets. They bombed an apartment in the tower next to me. They bombed everywhere. I feel my head would explode.

There is no place to go. They [the Israelis] tell all the people in the east of Gaza city and the north of Gaza to come to the middle, because they want to complete their operation.

Updated at 10.37am BST

10.19am BST

This map shows the areas where Gaza residents have been ordered to flee.

Updated at 10.38am BST

10.08am BST

Gaza hospital hit

Channel 4 News’s Jonathan Miller says the Wa’afa hospital was hit by an Israeli helicopter attack.

The hole punched through the wall of of Wafa hospital#Gaza last night. Israel border just 1/2 mile away. #c4newapic.twitter.com/XeKFz4gdum

— Jonathan Miller (@millerC4) July 16, 2014

16 yr old Aya; spinal tumour, lower limb paralysis. Evac to grnd floor of #Gaza Wafa hosp b4 missile strike #c4newspic.twitter.com/g54XmNjIXo

— Jonathan Miller (@millerC4) July 16, 2014

Parts of drone or Apache helicopter missile which hit#Gaza Wafa hospital at 0330 this morning #c4newspic.twitter.com/XqsbXolZgi

— Jonathan Miller (@millerC4) July 16, 2014

Updated at 10.08am BST

10.00am BST

Pro-Palestinian activists are staging a protest at the Wa’afa geriatric hospital after its patients were ordered to leave as part of Israel’s bombardment warning.

They include Swedish activists Fred Ekblad. Sweden’s English language website, the Local, quoted him saying:

Just now they called back and told us to leave the building immediately. It’s possible, likely even, that the Israelis don’t want to attack the building. But it could be that they want to use it in a potential ground operation.

Ekblad’s Twitter feed reported intensive shelling getting closer.

Shelling around Al-Wafa Hospital is getting more intensive and closer #GazaUnderAttack

— Fred Ekblad (@FredEkblad) July 16, 2014

Updated at 10.06am BST

9.42am BST

The IDF has released a map of the areas of Gaza where residents are being urged to leave.

This morning, we dropped leaflets warning civilians in Gaza to move away from Hamas terrorists before IDF strikes. pic.twitter.com/ZHNd0j7Uxu

— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 16, 2014

Heavy shelling is reported in Beit Lahiya one of the areas warned.

Very heavy shelling at Beit Lahiya, northern #gaza#skybreaking

— Sherine Tadros (@SherineT) July 16, 2014

Updated at 9.45am BST

9.41am BST

Reuters intermittent live feed of the Gaza skyline is currently working.

Updated at 9.52am BST

9.32am BST

Israeli air attacks in Gaza have targeted civilian structures and killed civilians in violation of the laws of war, according to Human Rights Watch.

It investigated four Israeli strikes during the current offensive that resulted in civilian casualties. It found that they either did not attack a legitimate military target or attacked despite the likelihood of civilian casualties being disproportionate to the military gain.

It said: “Such attacks committed deliberately or recklessly constitute war crimes under the laws of war applicable to all parties. In these cases, the Israeli military has presented no information to show that it was attacking lawful military objectives or acted to minimize civilian casualties.”

Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW Middle East director, said:

Israel’s rhetoric is all about precision attacks but attacks with no military target and many civilian deaths can hardly be considered precise. Recent documented cases in Gaza sadly fit Israel’s long record of unlawful airstrikes with high civilian casualties.

HRW also urged Palestinian armed groups to end indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilian centres.

Houses destroyed in Rafah city, Gaza.
Houses destroyed in Rafah city, Gaza. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Updated at 9.35am BST

9.16am BST

Channel 4 News’ Jonathan Miller has more on the Gaza rehabilitation hospital where patients were order to leave. Patients have been moved to the ground floor after it was hit by an Israeli raid, he reports.

We are heading to Wa’afa geriatric hospital east #GazaCity, specialising in stroke victims, quadriplegic care. Bombed last night #c4news

— Jonathan Miller (@millerC4) July 16, 2014

Wafa Rebab hosp, #Gaza City, hit 3x by Israeli rockets. Last nite IDF ordered evac. Patients now on grnd Flr#c4news pic.twitter.com/kblTsAdbgi

— Jonathan Miller (@millerC4) July 16, 2014

9.05am BST

More Gaza-launched rockets have been intercepted over Tel Aviv, Haaretz reports.

IDF: Iron Dome intercepted all 4 rockets fired frm Gaza @ Tel Aviv; Hamas takes responsbility. http://t.co/YvycpIjZ8kpic.twitter.com/IWFKqaOWEw

— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) July 16, 2014

Tel Aviv resident and human rights campaigner Elizabeth Tsurkov described the attack and its aftermath.

Huge explosion over my house. Sirens continue

— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) July 16, 2014

After the sirens ended, my neighbor said that it’s okay to kill Palestinian kids because they’re “little terrorists”

— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) July 16, 2014

Journalist Gregg Carlstrom reports hearing the sound of rockets being intercepted.

Barrage of rockets fired at Tel Aviv just now. Sounded like four or five intercepted, several quite close to the city center.

— Gregg Carlstrom (@glcarlstrom) July 16, 2014

8.54am BST

Israel is accusing Hamas of using citizens as human shields by instructing them to ignore warnings to flee.

Earlier today, we urged civilians to move away from IDF military targets in Gaza. Once again, Hamas told civilians to ignore our warnings.

— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 16, 2014

Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, tweeted: “Hamas uses Gazans to protect its rockets”.

Hamas interior ministry continues today to force Gazans to ignore IDF’s calls to go to safe areas. Hamas uses Gazans to protect its rockets.

— Ofir Gendelman (@ofirgendelman) July 16, 2014

8.46am BST

The patients of a rehabilitation hospital, are among those who have been ordered to leave Gaza, by the Israeli military, writes Peter Beaumont in Gaza.

But the hospital’s director, Basman Ashi, said everyone would remain and that foreign volunteers had arrived to serve as human shields.

Hamas’s ministry of the interior has told residents to ignore the warning, calling it “psychological warfare”.

The American satarist Jon Stewart asked where Gazans were supposed to go when they recieve warnings to flee.

In his show on Monday he asked: “Evacuate to where? Have you fucking seen Gaza? Israel blocked this border, Egypt blocked this border. What are you supposed to swim for it?”

Stewart also highlighted the asymmetric nature of the conflict by contrasting Israel’s Iron Dome and smart phone apps to protect Israelis from Gaza rockets, with the warning bombings or “amuse booms” sent to Gazans.

8.20am BST

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is due to travel to Egypt and Turkey in search of regional support for an immediate end to the fighting after Tuesday’s truce attempt collapsed.

Abbas was due to arrive in Cairo on Wednesday evening where he was expected to meet top Egyptian officials over fresh efforts to seek a ceasefire, and was expected to head to Turkey a day later, officials told AFP.

Abbas, who reached an agreement with Hamas in April that led to the formation of a unity government last month, called for acceptance of the ceasefire proposal.

The Arab League also welcomed the cease-fire plan.

The president of the palestinian authorities, Mahmoud Abbas, in his Ramallah office.
The president of the palestinian authorities, Mahmoud Abbas, in his Ramallah office. Photograph: Michael Gottschalk/Photothek via Getty Images

7.58am BST

A message from our moderators:

We have opened this live blog to comments for discussion of today’s events in Israel and Palestine. Please help to keep the conversation on topic and be aware of ourcommunity standards.
If you are directly affected by the day’s events please share your experience in the thread. You can also contribute to our GuardianWitness assignments and share your experiences of what it’s like living in Israel and living in Palestine.

Updated at 7.59am BST

7.49am BST

The Israeli military has confirmed that it hit 39 “terror targets” in Gaza overnight including the ministry of interior.

It claimed the building was a legitimate target as part of “operation protective edge” as it was being used to direct continuing rocket fire from Gaza. The IDF said:

The Hamas Ministry of Interior is responsible for overseeing and directing Hamas armed mechanism, excluding its militant wing.
Such apparatus are deeply involved in the organization’s militant operations, and many of its facilities are utilized to store weaponry and ammunition, launch rockets at Israel, and supervise terror attacks and other militant activities.

7.39am BST

The Israeli military has provided a translation of the warning flyers it has dropped over several areas of Gaza. One says:

In spite of the ceasefire, Hamas and other terror organizations continued to fire rockets, therefore it is the intention of the IDF to carry out aerial strikes against terror sites and operatives in Shuja’iya and Zeitoun. A high volume of rocket fire at Israel has originated in this area.

For your own safety, you are requested to vacate from your residence immediately and head towards Gaza City by Wednesday morning, July 16, 2014, at 0800am (0500 GMT). The IDF does not want to harm you, and your families. The evacuation is for your own safety. You should not return to the premises until further notice. Whoever disregards these instructions and fails to evacuate immediately, endangers their own lives, as well as those of their families.

A Palestinian boy shows flyers dropped over Gaza City by the Israeli army urging residents to evacuate their home by 0500 GMT.
A Palestinian boy shows flyers dropped over Gaza City by the Israeli army urging residents to evacuate their home by 0500 GMT. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

7.33am BST

Welcome to our continuing coverage of the violence between Israel and Gaza.

Here’s a roundup of the latest developments:

Messages are being conveyed to the residents of Beit Lahyia, Shuja’iya and Zeitoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, requesting them to evacuate their homes for they own safety and stressing the IDF’s efforts to avoid harming civilians.

| If you recognise new Palestinian government you support terrorism, Benjamin Netanyahu tells world leaders!

If you recognise new Palestinian government you support terrorism, Benjamin Netanyahu tells world leaders ~ DANIEL ESTRINJERUSALEM, The Independent.

Israel’s Prime Minister called on world leaders today not to recognise the Palestinian unity government expected to be formed tomorrow because of its affiliation with the militant group Hamas.

Benjamin Netanyahu said the unity government will “strengthen terrorism” because Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel.

“The international community must not embrace it,” Mr Netanyahu said at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting.

The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says such fears are unfounded, vowing the government will be composed of apolitical technocrats and will recognise Israel and renounce violence.

The new government is meant to end a seven-year split between Hamas and Mr Abbas’s rival Palestinian movement, Fatah. While Hamas will not sit in the government, it has agreed to back it. Israel says Hamas, identified as a terrorist organisation by Israel and the West, cannot play any role in governing the Palestinians until it renounces violence.

The Palestinians have been divided between rival governments since Hamas took the Gaza Strip from Mr Abbas’s forces in 2007, leaving the Palestinian President in control only of autonomous areas of the West Bank. The rift is considered a major impediment to any future peace deal.

Repeated attempts at reconciliation have failed in the past. But both Palestinian factions now have incentives to repair ties. Hamas is in the midst of a major financial crisis due to a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.

READ MORE: ISRAEL RISKS TURNING INTO ‘APARTHEID’ NATION – KERRY
LOCAL VERDICT ON ABBAS’S UNITY DEAL WITH HAMAS

AP

 

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| Enough Palestine: Go to International Criminal Court!

Impartial Justice, Deterrence to Serious Crimes Sorely Needed
MAY 8, 2014.

(Jerusalem) – Palestine should urgently seek access to the International Criminal Court (ICC), a group of 17 Palestinian and international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, said today.

In a letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the groups said that providing the ICC with jurisdiction could give victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by any party on or from Palestinian territory access to international justice and send a message that such crimes cannot be committed with impunity. Abbas is under pressure not to do so primarily from Israel and the United States. Some ICC member states, including the UK and France, have opposed such a move because, they say, it would undermine Israeli-Palestinian final status negotiations.

“The argument that Palestine should forego the ICC because it would harm peace talks rings hollow when 20 years of talks have brought neither peace nor justice to victims of war crimes,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “People who want to end the lack of accountability in Palestine and deter future abuse should urge President Abbas to seek access to the ICC.”

The ICC’s jurisdiction would cover serious crimes under international law committed on or from Palestinian territory, such as torture and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, whether committed by Palestinian authorities or armed groups or the Israeli military.

The ICC’s statute also classifies as a war crime the “direct or indirect” transfer of civilians by an occupying power into occupied territory – a category that would include the Israeli government’s facilitation of the transfer of its citizens into settlements. Another war crime under the statute is the “forcible transfer” of protected people in an occupied territory – in this case Palestinians – off their lands, such as by demolishing their homes and preventing them from returning.

Since Benjamin Netanyahu became Israel’s prime minister in 2009, Israel has begun construction on more than 9,480 settlement homes. Israeli demolitions during the same period left more than 4,600 Palestinians homeless. Both trends accelerated in 2013: 2,534 settlement housing starts in 2013 represented an increase of more than 220 percent over 2012, and demolitions that left 1,103 Palestinians homeless were up by almost 25 percent.
In February 2014, the International Committee for the Red Cross stopped delivering emergency shelters to Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, whose homes the Israeli military had demolished, because the Israeli military repeatedly confiscated or demolished the shelters.

Palestine could request the ICC’s jurisdiction by acceding to the court’s Rome Statute, in which case the court could exercise jurisdiction after the accession took effect. In addition, Palestine could submit a declaration accepting the court’s jurisdiction starting from any date since the ICC treaty entered into force in 2002.

Palestinian officials submitted a declaration recognizing the ICC’s jurisdiction in January 2009, but the Office of the Prosecutor later determined that the declaration “was not validly lodged” because of Palestine’s unclear status as a state at the time. Now that the UN General Assembly has upgraded Palestine to non-member state observer status, in November 2012, the ICC prosecutor has said that “the ball is now in the court of Palestine” to seek the ICC’s jurisdiction.
Abbas had pledged not to seek the ICC’s jurisdiction over Palestinian territory during nine months of US-brokered final status negotiations with Israel, which ended on April 29. On April 2, Palestine acceded to 20 international treaties and conventions, most relating to human rights and the laws of war, but not the ICC statute. In a vote on April 27, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s central council approved a list of dozens of other international treaties and bodies for future Palestinian accession, including the ICC, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“The US, Israel and others who are pressuring Palestine not to seek the ICC’s jurisdiction cannot credibly argue that continued impunity for serious international crimes will help bring the conflict to an end,” Stork said.  “We call on Abbas to go to the ICC precisely because giving it a mandate in Palestine would send a much-needed message that grave crimes will have serious consequences.”

The letter was signed by:
Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association
Al Dameer Association for Human Rights
Al-Haq
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
Al-Quds University Human Rights Clinic

Amnesty International
Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
Defense for Children International – Palestine
Ensan Center for Human Rights and Democracy
Human Rights Watch
Hurriyat Centre for Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights

International Commission of Jurists
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center
Palestinian Center for Human Rights
Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies
Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling

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The argument that Palestine should forego the ICC because it would harm peace talks rings hollow when 20 years of talks have brought neither peace nor justice to victims of war crimes. People who want to end the lack of accountability in Palestine and deter future abuse should urge President Abbas to seek access to the ICC.
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director

| Quislings Out: Palestinian lost opportunities!

Palestinian lost opportunities ~ Jamal KanjRedress Information & Analysis.

Unlike stealing land for Jews-only homes, joining UN organizations – a symbol of international harmony – could not be counterproductive to peace negotiations.

Just over a week ago Palestine had a chance to cast its first vote at the UN General Assembly, appointing a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas first submitted the UN membership application on 23 September 2011. The vote was delayed for a year, providing time for the Obama administration to persuade Israel to cease construction of the illegal Jews-only colonies on occupied Palestinian land.

On 29 November 2012, and after a year lost, the international community overwhelmingly granted seat number 194 to Palestine as a non-member observer state at the UN General Assembly. But what did that mean? For the last year it meant naught.

The Palestinian leadership was forced to backpedal, agreeing last summer to negotiate over the “pie” while Israel continues gulping it.

By now the negotiation has reached almost halfway mark and the talks haven’t moved an iota under the guidance of the US appointed former AIPAC’s employee.

The US even acceded to Israeli conditions, limiting American participation to less than an observer and appointing Israel firster Martin Indyk as the US special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Indyk was deputy research director for the strongest foreign lobby, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in the 1980s, and was the first ever US ambassador to have his security clearance suspended while serving in Tel Aviv. According to American mediators, the Palestinians promised to freeze efforts to join UN organizations, such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ), during the nine months negotiation schedule. By now the negotiation has reached almost halfway mark and the talks haven’t moved an iota under the guidance of the US appointed former AIPAC’s employee.

As part of the deal, Israel agreed to release around 100 Palestinian prisoners. To secure continued Palestinian participation in this futile exercise, Israel decided to release the prisoners in four or five groups. Each release has been pre-empted by an announcement of more illegal Jews-only homes.

Israel is holding the prisoners hostage to force Palestinians to stay the course for the nine months sham public relation exercise, thereby gaining more time to build Jews-only colonies and making it that much more difficult to reach an amicable outcome at the negotiation table.

To paraphrase Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, the Palestinian leadership has never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity to hold Israel accountable for its flagrant violations of international law.

Since its ascendance to the new status a year ago, the government of Palestine has not taken full advantage of its membership, instead contenting itself with meaningless, timid international condemnations of Israel’s intransigence.

To paraphrase Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, the Palestinian leadership has never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity to hold Israel accountable for its flagrant violations of international law.

A case in point: earlier this month an independent Swiss laboratory identified Polonium-210 as the cause of Yasser Arafat’s death and, whereas Israel was a country with the motive and the proven capability to produce the radioactive substance, since Palestine was not a member in the world court, the Swiss findings were dead on arrival.

In 2009 the Palestinian Authority failed to pursue a UN Human Rights Council investigation – the Goldstone report  which accused Israel of war crimes for targeting civilians in Gaza between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009. In 2004, ICJ found Israel’s separation wall and associated regime unlawful. This is a ruling that remained locked in the court’s cabinets.

The Palestinian leadership has been very successful at condemning Israel and investigating its crimes, but chronically fails to take advantage of its diplomatic gains, eviscerating international findings of any value.

There is no guarantee that Palestine’s application membership of the ICJ would not face strong opposition, but waiting for another futile US/Israeli public relation exercise before joining the court is a great political blunder.

Unlike stealing land for Jews-only homes, joining UN organizations – a symbol of international harmony – could not be counterproductive to peace negotiations.

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| Assad warns US against attack on Syria!

Assad warns US against attack on Syria ~ Al Jazeera.

Syrian president tells US broadcaster strike may prompt retaliation from his allies, and denies role in chemical attack.

The CBS interview with Assad was his first with an American network in the last two years  [EPA]
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has warned the US against striking his country and denied ever using chemical weapons as the Barack Obama administration tries to drum up support for a military strike.

In an interview with the US broadcaster CBS, Assad said an attack by international forces may prompt retaliation from Syria’s allies.

The Syrian president denied that he was behind the chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people and said evidence was not conclusive that there had been such an attack, CBS reported.

“There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people,” CBS on Sunday quoted Assad as saying in an interview conducted by Charlie Rose in Damascus.

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, dismissed any claim by the Syrian president that there was no evidence he used chemical weapons against his own people, saying on Sunday that “the evidence speaks for itself”.

Kerry made the remark in response to a question as he began a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on July 29, according to a US reporter who attended a photo session on behalf of other journalists travelling with him.

The US, along with other Western and regional countries, accuses the Assad regime of carrying out a chemical attack in a Damascus suburb on August 21, killing hundreds of people.

Spotlight

In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

Speaking on the CBS Sunday morning show “Face the Nation”, Rose summarised the answers Assad gave in his first interview with an American television network in the last two years.

Rose said that the Syrian president did not confirm or deny that the regime has chemical weapons.

The interview will be aired on Monday on television shows hosted by Rose.

The US and France are seeking to build an international coalition to launch military strikes against Syria in response to the alleged chemical attack.

Member countries of the European Union also blame the Syrian government for the attack, but said on Saturday that there should not be any military response before a report from UN weapons inspectors is published.

In another media report on Sunday, Germany’s Bild am Sonntag paper said Syrian government forces may have used chemical weapons without the personal permission of Assad.

Syrian brigade and division commanders had been asking the Presidential Palace to allow them to use chemical weapons for the last four-and-a-half months, according to radio messages intercepted by German spies, but permission had always been denied, the paper said.

Bild said the radio traffic was intercepted by a German naval reconnaissance vessel, the Oker, sailing close to the Syrian coast.

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| Chosen to squat? By condoning ethnic-cleansing, US disqualifies itself as honest broker for Peace!

Palestinians Disqualify U.S. as Peace Broker

Nicola Nasser, Global Research.
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The “unbreakable alliance,” which will be confirmed by the upcoming visit of President Barak Obama to Israel , will disqualify the United States as an honest broker of peace in the Arab – Israeli conflict in Palestine , a Palestinian veteran peace negotiator says.
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The “unbreakable alliance,” which will be confirmed by the upcoming visit of President Barak Obama to Israel , will disqualify the United States as an honest broker of peace in the Arab – Israeli conflict in Palestine , a Palestinian veteran peace negotiator says.

This “unbreakable alliance” will doom whatever hopes remain during Obama’s visit for the revival of the U.S. – sponsored deadlocked “peace process,” on the resumption of which depends the very survival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ leadership, and explains as well the Palestinian frustration, low expectations, unenthusiastic welcome and the absence of celebrations for their most cherished among world celebrities, in a stark contrast to the euphoria that is sweeping Israel in waiting for what the U.S. and Israeli officials are describing as an “historic” visit.

On February 19, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office released the official blue, red and white logo that will be on all documents and signs during Obama’s visit late in March. The logo shows the words “Unbreakable Alliance” written in English and Hebrew under a combined Israeli and U.S. flags.

During his visit, Obama will become the first ever serving U.S. president to receive Israel’s presidential medal to honor the fact that he has “established the closest working military and intelligence relationship with Israel in the country’s history: Joint exercises and training, increased security assistance every year, unprecedented advanced technology transfers, doubling of funding for Israel’s missile defense system, and assistance in funding for the Iron Dome system,” according to Steven L. Spiegel in Huffington Post late last year.

Speaking exclusively to RFI Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian veteran peace negotiator and member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Israel’s partner in signing the defunct Oslo peace accords, said the first – term Obama administration “have just managed to buy more time for Israel” to “create facts on the (Israeli – occupied Palestinian) ground.”

“Our experience has been really tragic with this American administration,” which “started with such high hopes and tremendous promises,” but “they backed down so quickly it was incredible,” she added, to conclude: “The U.S. has disqualified itself as a peace broker.”

Therefore, “there are no plans to celebrate” Obama’s visit to Ramallah, because “they haven’t forgotten the part he played” in aborting the PLO’s efforts in 2011 to win the United Nations’ recognition of Palestine statehood as a full member and in opposing its UN recognition as a non – member observer state the next year, according to Shlomi Eldar in Al-Monitor on February 14. Still, to make a bad situation worse, Obama will convey the same message to Abbas during his upcoming visit, because “our position has not changed” neither to Palestinian statehood nor to Palestinian national reconciliation according to U.S. State Department spokeswoman Olivia Nuland on February 19.

Obama will visit on the backdrop of a two –year old simmering Palestinian – U.S. political crisis, which potentially could explode in the aftermath of his visit.

The U.S. subscription to the UN recognition of Palestinian statehood would establish irrevocably the prerequisite to make or break the only viable “two – state solution” for the almost century – old conflict, because it would confirm the 1967 borders as the basis for such a solution and, consequently, will for sure defuse the time bomb of the Israeli illegal settlement enterprise in the Palestinian occupied territories and pave the way for the resumption of negotiations. However neither Obama nor the U.S. is forthcoming and they continue to “manage” the conflict instead of seriously seeking to solve it.

Earlier this month, Israel in an unprecedented move boycotted the UN Human Rights Council because a year – long investigation by the council produced a report urging that “Israel must, in compliance with article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, cease all settlement activities without preconditions. It must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers from the OPT (occupied Palestinian territories).” The report stated that about 250 settlements were established in the Israeli –occupied Palestinian West Bank where 520,000 settlers live now, which the report said could be subject to prosecution as possible war crimes.

Recently, Yacov Ben Efrat, the General Secretary of the Israeli DAAM Party, wrote in Challenge Magazine that when Obama arrives in the Israel – occupied Palestinian territories “he will see that his policy of appeasing the Israeli right has nearly killed the Palestinian (self- ruled) Authority” economically as well as politically, to conclude: “Having already experienced the Oslo accords, the Palestinians have already seen how the temporary becomes permanent, and there is no way they will accept this.”

“It’s plain and simple: Either the settlements or peace … even Obama won’t get us abandon this principle,” PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying on February 14.

Should Obama decide to act accordingly, he may reinforce the “unbreakable alliance” with Israel to his convenience, from a Palestinian perspective. Otherwise, any initiative by Obama to resume the Palestinian – Israeli peace talks during his upcoming visit to the region will be doomed as a non – starter.

On this February 19, author Marvin Kalb wrote (http://www.brookings.edu/blogs): “Instead of opening his Mid-East diplomacy with a cutting critique of Israel’s cantankerous settlements policy, often considered the third rail of Israeli politics, … instead of allowing, even encouraging, a discomfiting coolness in Israeli-American relations, … the Israelis and the Palestinians might be engaging in serious, face-to-face negotiations on a peace treaty by this time.”

Releasing a $ 700 million of U.S. blocked Palestinian aid, using U.S. good offices to make Arab donors honor their pledges to them or convincing Israel to release the tax and customs revenue it collects on their behalf are not the kind of U.S. “carrots” that would open a breakthrough.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

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| ‘Useless, useless, useless!’: the Palestinian verdict on Tony Blair!

‘Useless, useless, useless’: the Palestinian verdict on Tony Blair ~ MATTHEW KALMAN, JERUSALEM, The Independent.

Palestinian officials say Tony Blair shouldn’t take it personally, but he should pack up his desk at the Office of the Quartet Representative in Jerusalem and go home. They say his job, and the body he represents, are “useless, useless, useless”.

Mr Blair became the representative of the Middle East Quartet – the UN, EU, US and Russia – a few weeks after leaving Downing Street. Last week, he visited the region for what he said was the 90th time since being appointed in June 2007. He spends one week a month based in Jerusalem or globetrotting on behalf of the Quartet. His office is funded by the Quartet members and his 24-hour security detail is on secondment from Scotland Yard but he receives no direct salary.

After four years of renting 15 rooms at the American Colony Hotel for his full-time staff, Mr Blair put down more permanent roots in 2011 by renting the penthouse of a new office building in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem.

But senior Palestinian officials and analysts told The Independent the move was unnecessary – his sojourn in the region should be cut short. “The Quartet has been useless, useless, useless,” Mohammed Shtayyeh, an aide to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said last week. He suggested that its constant need to reach internal consensus among its warring participants had rendered it ineffective.

“Always the statement of the Quartet really means nothing because it was always full of what they call constructive ambiguity that really took us to nowhere,” said Mr Shtayyeh, who had just ended a meeting with Mr Blair. “You need a mediator who is ready to engage and who is ready to say to the party who is destroying the peace process ‘You are responsible for it’,” he said.

Mr Shtayyeh is not alone. Last February, the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution pronounced the body already dead in a report bluntly entitled The Middle East Quartet: A Post-Mortem.

“The Quartet has little to show for its decade-long involvement in the peace process. Israelis and Palestinians are no closer to resolving the conflict, and in the few instances in which political negotiations did take place, the Quartet’s role was usually relegated to that of a political bystander,” said the report. “Having spent most of the last three years in a state of near paralysis, and having failed to dissuade the Palestinians from seeking UN membership and recognition in September 2011, the Quartet has finally reached the limits of its utility.

“The current mechanism is too outdated, dysfunctional, and discredited to be reformed. Instead of undertaking another vain attempt to ‘reactivate’ the Quartet, the United States, the European Union, United Nations, and Russia should simply allow the existing mechanism to go quietly into the night,” the report concluded.

Mr Blair rarely travels to Gaza, citing security reasons. The Quartet website features a number of achievements in the West Bank, including the removal of Israeli army checkpoints and upgraded facilities for exports. Palestinian and Israeli officials told The Independent that the Quartet appeared to be taking credit for other people’s work.

“I think in general Palestinians are disappointed by the performance of the Quartet,” said Ghassan Khatib, vice-president of Birzeit University near Ramallah and a former Palestinian Authority cabinet minister. “I cannot think of any serious thing that the Quartet succeeded to help us in.

“Sometimes Tony Blair speaks about removing checkpoints, but I think Israel was going to remove these checkpoints with or without the Quartet,” said Dr Khatib. He said the Quartet’s announcements about assisting the Palestinian economy were as hollow as their political achievements, but he stressed that his attitude wasn’t personal. “It has nothing to do with Tony Blair … I think it’s the Quartet that failed to deliver.”

Mr Blair’s Jerusalem office did not respond to a request for a comment.

Timeline: Blair’s peace-making

June 2007

Tony Blair appointed Middle East envoy on behalf of the EU, US, UN and Russia.

May 2008

Launches peace plan for Israel-Palestinian conflict based on improving economic co-operation.

March 2009

On a visit to Gaza, Mr Blair calls on Israel to ease its blockade.

September 2011

Mr Blair warns that a bid for statehood at the United Nations by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would be “deeply confrontational”.

October 2011

Nabil Shaath, one of the senior aides to President Abbas, has harsh words for the Palestinian leader, accusing him of talking “like an Israeli diplomat”.

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| PTSD Frenzy + blaming victims: EU inaction reminds Israel of Nazi camps, says Avigdor Lieberman!

EU inaction reminds Israel of Nazi camps, says Avigdor Lieberman ~ AFP .

ISRAEL’S Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has criticised Europe, saying its treatment of the Jewish state was comparable to policies during the Holocaust.

Mr Lieberman said Europe had turned a blind eye to a speech by Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal this week, in which he said the Palestinians would not “cede an inch” of historic Palestine, which covers modern Israel.

“Once again, Europe has ignored calls for Israel’s destruction,” Mr Lieberman told Israeli public radio.

“We’ve already seen this at the end of the 1930s and at the beginning of the 1940s when Europe knew what was happening in the concentration camps and didn’t act.

“Europe has slapped itself in the face.

“When Jews are sacrificed, you have to ask yourself who will be next. In Toulouse, the terrorist who killed Jewish children also killed French soldiers.”

Mr Lieberman was referring to Mohamed Merah, who killed three Jewish schoolchildren and a teacher in the French city of Toulouse in March, days after killing three French troops.

“Terrorism attacks Jews but it targets all countries and Western values. Israel is just an hors d’oeuvre,” he said.

Mr Lieberman also criticised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for failing to publicly criticise Mr Meshaal’s speech and pursuing reconciliation with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement which runs the Gaza Strip.

“Hamas calls for Israel’s destruction and refused to recognise Israel and Abu Mazen (Abbas) supports this position while Europe stays quiet,” he said.

Later in the day, Mr Lieberman said Israel would withhold taxes and customs duties it collected for the Palestinians for four months to pay back debts.

“We paid up to this point advances for salaries of Palestinian Authority employees of approximately 700 million shekels ($175m),” he told members of his Yisrael Beitenu party last night.

“Another 900 million we paid and absorbed, expenses Palestinians didn’t pay for electricity and water. A total of 1.6 billion shekels in all.

“Therefore, what we are doing for four months now is we will take back our money, it’s not their money. They can forget about receiving even one penny for four months. We will return our money, and then consider how to proceed.”

Israel normally transfers 460 million shekels a month before deductions. Following the Palestinians’ successful bid for upgraded UN status, Israel had halted December’s transfer, with a finance ministry spokeswoman saying the decision applied only to that month.

The finance ministry and Prime Minister’s office, which ultimately decide on such punitive measures, were not immediately available for comment on Mr Lieberman’s statement, which comes ahead of a January 22 general election.

AFP

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| Arafat’s widow sets record straight on Russian analysis of husband’s body!

Arafat’s widow sets record straight on Russian analysis of husband’s body ~ RT.

Suha Arafat poses next to a portrait of her late husband Yasser Arafat at her home in Malta (AFP Photo / Matthew Mirabelli)

Suha Arafat poses next to a portrait of her late husband Yasser Arafat at her home in Malta (AFP Photo / Matthew Mirabelli)

The widow of iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat strongly denies claims that she has refused a Russian team of experts access to analyze the exhumed remains of her husband for radiation poisoning, she told RT in an exclusive interview.

Immediately after Arafat’s bone samples were passed on to a team of Russian, Swiss and French scientists for investigation on November 27, Figaro quoted Suha Arafat, the widow of the resistance leader, now living in Paris, as asking, “What do the Russian experts have to do with the case?”

She expressed quite a different view to RT. In regards to the quote in the French media, Mrs. Arafat says, “this is false – they aim to distort my name; on the contrary, I feel proud that there are Russian experts working on the case.” 

Furthermore, she denied Figaro’s claim that she had accused the Russians of poisoning her husband for hire. She has threatened to sue the newspaper, as she believes she was misquoted in order “to distort my name and my image before the Russian public.” 

Figaro also wrote that Mrs. Arafat claimed that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas‘ invitation for the Russian team to participate in the international investigation was a conspiracy to conceal the truth. Instead, the widow says that she “blindly trusts them,” referring to the Russian scientists.

The international team of experts will carry out a number of analyses on sixty samples obtained from November’s exhumation to find traces of Polonium-210, which is suspected of killing the Palestinian leader in 2004.

The investigation is headed by Tawfiq Tirawi, and relies on the help of scientists such as toxicologists, pathologists, judicial medical experts and radiation specialists to determine if foul play with deadly radiological material was involved in Arafat’s death.

The medical records of the Palestinian icon, who died at a military hospital in France, claim a stroke from a blood disorder as the cause of death.

Suha Arafat hopes that the latest probe will bring clarity into the cause of her husband death, as she refused to agree to the initial autopsy.

“It takes four to five months until the results of a DNA test can be shown, to see whether there are signs of radiation. We have to wait for the results, which will be provided by the greatest world experts – from Russia, Switzerland and France. I do hope the results will be shown very quickly,” she told RT.

Polonium-210 decays with half-life of 50 days, and chances of finding the levels of radiation are slim, especially given the fact that Arafat has been dead and buried for eight years. But the experts have been entrusted to find isotopes produced by Polonium’s radioactive decay.

If assassination is discovered in the case, Suha Arafat hopes to seek international justice. “If poisoning is proved, a complaint should be presented before the International [Criminal] Court, of which we are members now. I don’t know what are the exact steps – surely Palestine, which is a state now, can sue the culprit.”

Following Arafat’s death, Israel has been in the spotlight as the likely candidate for the Palestinian leader’s assassination. Tel Aviv denies involvement.

But as far as Mrs. Arafat is concerned, “I cannot accuse anybody or any party of standing behind the poisoning. The case is in the hands of justice, and in the hands of the Russian, Swiss and French experts.”

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| Full statehood a step closer: Palestinians win UN state recognition with 138 votes!

Palestinians win U.N. state recognition with 138 votes ~ Al Arabiya News.

WITH AGENCIES

The U.N. General Assembly on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to recognize Palestine as a non-member state, giving a major diplomatic triumph to president Mahmoud Abbas despite fierce opposition from the United States and Israel.

The 193-member assembly voted 138-9 with 41 abstentions for the resolution which enables the Palestinians to join U.N. agencies and sign international treaties.

Palestinian leader Abbas got a standing ovation on Thursday as he made a historic appeal to the U.N. General Assembly for Palestine to be recognized as an observer state.

“The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine,” Abbas told the 193-nation assembly.

An overwhelming majority of U.N. members were expected to back the bid for non-member observer status, despite fierce opposition from Israel and its ally the United States.

Abbas said granting Palestine the status was “the last chance to save the two-state solution,” bringing peace between the Palestinians and Israel.

Thursday’s motion required a simple majority of those members present and voting in order to pass, and the bid is widely expected to be approved.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s strong critique of Israel in his speech at the United Nations on Thursday as “hostile and poisonous”, and full of “false propaganda.”

“These are not the words of a man who wants peace,” Netanyahu also said in a statement released by his office after Abbas spoke at the General Assembly ahead of an expected vote to implicitly recognize Palestinian statehood despite the absence of a peace deal with Israel.

“The U.N. resolution will not confer statehood on the Palestinian Authority,” Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor said. The diplomat said that making Palestine a non-member observer state at the U.N. “will place further obstacles and preconditions to negotiations and peace.”

The Palestinian leadership is determined to make the 65th anniversary of a U.N. resolution on the division of Palestinian territory a “historic” landmark in their quest for an independent state.

The United States, a staunch ally of Israel, has launched an aggressive campaign against the bid, warning that the vote will do nothing to improve the prospects for new peace talks aimed at ending the decades-long conflict.

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 ALSO SEE: | Sovereign Palestine: Abbas Submits Weak UN Status Bid!