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Israelis and Palestinians sign major water deal

Israelis and Palestinians sign major water deal

The deal was negotiated by Jason Greenblatt, the US envoy to the region, who said he welcomed the agreement

The Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority have signed an agreement over water, with the US broker of the deal describing it as “a harbinger of things to come”.

The deal, which was announced at a press conference this morning, will see the sale of 33 million cubic metres of water to the Palestinian Authority from Israeli desalination plants, which are among the most advanced in the world. Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza will receive water from the deal.

The parties also signed an agreement regarding a proposed 137 mile pipeline between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, in an effort to replenish the latter body of water, which has suffered severe shrinkage in recent years.

In a rare show of political agreement, the deal was praised by representatives of the Israeli government, the Palestinian Water Authority and the Yesha Council, an umbrella group of municipal councils for Jewish West Bank settlements.

The deal was negotiated by Jason Greenblatt, the US envoy to the region, who said he welcomed the agreement, noting that earlier in the week the Israelis and Palestinians had joined together for the launch of a new electrical sub-station in the West Bank city of Jenin.

“This agreement is an example of the parties working together to make a mutual beneficial deal,” he said.

“I am proud of the role the US and international partners have played in helping the partners reach this deal, and I hope it is a harbinger of things to come”.

Water distribution has been one of the most contentious elements of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. West Bank residents can only carry out water-related projects, such as  extraction from the aquifers, with the permission of the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee, which was established under Article 40 of the 1995 Oslo Accords. However, Israel suspended its involvement in the committee for six years, a hiatus that was only resolved in January 2017. During that time, many Palestinian water projects remained on hold.

Palestinians also need permits from the Israeli Civil Administration before embarking on any water works in Area C of the West Bank, a measure that does not apply to the Israelis.

Israel releases Nazi Eichmann’s execution plea papers

Israel releases Nazi Eichmann’s execution plea papers

Adolf Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem in 1961

Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the Nazi Holocaust, protested his innocence in a final plea against his death sentence, newly released papers show.

Eichmann told Israel’s president that he had only followed orders and was not responsible for “the unspeakable horrors” carried out against Jews.

Six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis during World War Two.

Israel released the papers on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Eichmann was convicted in Jerusalem and hanged in 1962.

Marking the publication of the hand-written documents, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said: “Not a moment of kindness was given to those who suffered Eichmann’s evil – for them this evil was never banal, it was painful, it was palpable.

Adolf Eichmann's hand-written, signed plea for clemencyImage copyrightIsraeli President’s Office
Image captionAdolf Eichmann hand-wrote and signed his plea for clemency

“He murdered whole families and desecrated a nation. Evil had a face, a voice. And the judgement against this evil was just.”

The papers reveal that Eichmann believed the Israeli judges who oversaw his trial had “made a fundamental mistake in that they are not able to empathise with the time and situation in which I found myself during the war years”.

He attempted to absolve himself of blame, telling Israel’s then-President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi: “It is not true… that I myself was a persecutor in the pursuit of the Jews… but only ever acted ‘by order of’.”

Eichmann, who played a key role in the 1942 Wannsee Conference at which the Nazis’ annihilation of European Jewry was planned, spoke in his appeal of the “unspeakable horrors which I witnessed”.

“I detest as the greatest of crimes the horrors which were perpetrated against the Jews and think it right that the initiators of these terrible deeds will stand trial before the law now and in the future,” he wrote.

However, he added: “I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty.”

Eichmann was captured by Israeli intelligence agents in 1960 in Argentina, where he was living as a fugitive, and smuggled to Israel, which put him on trial.

His plea for clemency was rejected and he was hanged in Ramle prison.

Gaza: Hamas militants die in tunnel collapse

Palestinian militant group Hamas says seven of its fighters have died after an attack tunnel they were working on in north-east Gaza collapsed. The tunnel near the Israeli border collapsed after heavy rain, it said. Palestinian militants have used tunnels on Gaza’s borders with Israel and Egypt to launch attacks on Israel, transport weapons or smuggle goods. Israel destroyed dozens of tunnels during the 2014 Gaza conflict, but Hamas has been rebuilding them.

Meanwhile, tunnels on the Egyptian border have been used to smuggle weapons into Gaza, as well as civilian goods. The tunnels have played a vital role in the economy of Gaza, which has been under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt in 2007.

File photo: Overview of a tunnel built underground by Hamas militants leading from the Gaza Strip into Southern Israel, seen on August 4, 2014 near the Israeli Gaza border, Israel.

The Egyptian military began flooding tunnels on its borders late last year, and says it has eliminated about 90% of them. Israel occupied Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war and pulled its troops and settlers out in 2005. Israel considered this the end of the occupation, but it still exercises control over most of Gaza’s borders, waters and airspace. Egypt controls Gaza’s southern border.

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Why Israelis are rallying behind latest Gaza campaign

Israelis in Jerusalem demonstrate in support of Gaza offensive (14 July 2014) More than two weeks into the campaign, Israelis feel the offensive is justified

Before rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on civilian populations in Israel escalated and three teenagers were abducted and murdered in an incident that Israel attributes to Hamas, the Jewish state was becoming increasingly fragmented.

Peace talks had broken down. Debates over divisive matters of religion and state were intensifying. And right-wing politicians like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett were openly preparing for the possibility of early elections that could be held if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition fell apart.

Mr Netanyahu was being blamed for failing to prevent the international community from recognising a Palestinian unity deal with Hamas and Islamic Jihad – an endorsement that for Israelis looks grotesque in hindsight.

Then came Hamas and accomplished what had seemed impossible: it unified Israelis.

Dovish Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and the hawkish Bennett gave interviews on Israel’s top-rated nightly news show on successive nights. They sounded remarkably the same.

There have been anti-war demonstrations. In Israel, in times of war and peace, there tend to be demonstrations about something or other every day.

But so far, the demonstrations have been a dramatic failure. Only Israeli Arab citizens and Jews on the fringe far-Left have participated in them.

There have been funerals of soldiers that have attracted far more people – in one case more than 30,000 – indicating overwhelming support for the Israel Defense Forces.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog from the Labour Party – who will face off against Mr Netanyahu whenever Israel will have its next election – has praised the ground offensive in the Gaza Strip as strongly as the prime minister’s closest supporters.

Unifying effect

The reason why Hamas has been so effective in unifying Israelis is that they attacked the Israeli consensus.

They didn’t attack the West Bank, whose fate divides Israelis. They attacked Tel Aviv and close to Ben-Gurion International Airport with rockets, targeted left-wing agricultural communities on Israel’s side of the border with Gaza from what Israel calls terror tunnels, and allegedly kidnapped boys on the way home from school in a society that is obsessed with children.

Palestinian mother (left) reacts to death of her son who medics said was killed by Israeli shelling (23 July 2014) Many more Palestinians have been killed than Israelis, but Israelis put the blame on Hamas

By doing so, Hamas built up the stamina of an Israeli population that was more impatient in previous standoffs in Gaza.

Polls have shown that support for the ground offensive is sky-high and that Mr Netanyahu’s backing of a proposed Egyptian cease fire was extremely unpopular.

A Panels poll taken on the eve of the invasion for the Knesset Channel, which broadcasts the Israeli parliament’s proceedings, found that 63% of respondents wanted to enter the Gaza Strip and only 27% did not. Ten per cent did not answer or had no opinion in the poll, which surveyed a representative sample of the Israeli population, including Arabs.

Israelis are just as empathetic to the tragic Palestinian death toll in Gaza as other people around the world. They just blame it on Hamas firing from among civilian populations, rather than on the Israeli army’s air strikes.

The death toll on the Israeli side is now rising after it was initially small. Some 2,000 rockets fired over the past three weeks have killed only one Israeli, who happened to be a Bedouin.

An Israeli volunteer who tried to deliver food in a dangerous location close to the Gaza border was killed by a mortar. And an Israeli Arab woman in Haifa died from a heart attack en route to a bomb shelter after being shocked by a siren.

But since the ground invasion last Thursday night, 29 soldiers have been killed and more than 100 wounded. For Israelis, such numbers are difficult to accept.

Israel is rare in that the deaths of its soldiers are often portrayed as more tragic than those of its civilians. The IDF is a symbol of the Jewish Israeli consensus, and its soldiers are seen as “everyone’s children”.

By contrast, civilians killed by rockets have been mocked for ignoring warning sirens and going out on their porches to film the Iron Dome missile defence system with their iPhones.

Sense of purpose

If soldiers continue to die, more doubts about the ground operation will undoubtedly be raised. If a soldier or civilian is proven to be kidnapped, that would also have a demoralising effect.

Israelis mourn at funeral of Sgt Max Steinberg (23 July 2014) All Israelis identify with losses in the military

Hamas’ repeated attempts to kidnap soldiers and its celebration of unsubstantiated and highly doubted reports that a kidnapping had taken place show that its leaders understand the potential impact of a successful abduction.

It is clear to Hamas that all it takes to change Israeli public opinion dramatically is for one rocket to be missed by Iron Dome over a Tel Aviv skyscraper or for a group of gunmen to enter a kibbutz cafeteria through a tunnel and open fire.

But while such incidents would demoralise Israelis and harm their leaders’ popularity, they would not add opposition to the ground offensive.

Israelis know that had it not been for the ground offensive, the tunnels would have remained undiscovered and they would have been in great danger.

That explains why there is no overwhelming sense of urgency on the part of Israelis to end the operation before the achievement of its objectives of restoring quiet to southern Israel, destroying the tunnels, weakening Hamas significantly, and most importantly, avoiding future war.

Gaza conflict: 12-hour truce as deaths top 900

Residents in Gaza are using a 12-hour humanitarian truce to return to their homes, gather essential supplies and search for those trapped in the rubble. At least 85 bodies have been pulled from the rubble during the truce, a Palestinian health official says, the spokesman said. Thirty-nine Israelis have died. International talks on a longer truce have resumed in Paris.

Israel said it would continue to “locate and neutralise” Hamas tunnels during the pause, which began at 08:00 local time (05:00 GMT).

So far 31 tunnels have been discovered, with about half destroyed, Israeli’s military says.

Two Israeli soldiers were also killed overnight, Israel’s military confirmed.

The Iron Dome defence system intercepted three rockets fired towards the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon overnight.

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View over part of Shejaiya (26 July 2014) In the district of Shejaiya, residents started flooding back from 08:00, despite warnings not to do so.

The scene here is just astonishing – the most widespread destruction: buildings completely pulverised, cars thrown 50m (160ft) into the air on top of buildings, the facades of some block of flats completely ripped off.

The air is pretty thick with the stench of death as people try to recover bodies and belongings.

In the background I can hear a crackle of gunfire. Although a humanitarian ceasefire is in place, clearly people are still shooting. There is an Israeli drone flying overhead, and we’ve heard the sound of fighter jets.

 

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‘Confident of ceasefire’

US Secretary of State John Kerry met the foreign ministers of Turkey, Qatar and some European countries in Paris on Saturday in the hopes of agreeing a longer ceasefire.

“We all call on parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire,” France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters.

“We all want to obtain a lasting ceasefire as quickly as possible that addresses both Israeli requirements in terms of security and Palestinian requirements in terms of socio-economic development.”

Mr Kerry spent a week in the Middle East attempting to broker a deal before leaving Egypt on Friday.

John Kerry on the phone to Israeli PM Netanyahu, Cairo, 25 July 2014 US Secretary of State John Kerry has been leading efforts to secure a ceasefire

Government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel was ultimately seeking “peace and quiet”

Hamas insists that any ceasefire should include a lifting of the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt since 2007.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel “appreciated” Mr Kerry’s continued efforts, and that Israel wanted “peace and quiet”.

“The people of Gaza are not our enemy, our enemy are the people shooting those rockets into Israeli cities,” Mr Regev told the BBC.

Israel is reported to want to continue operations against Hamas infiltration tunnels once direct conflict ends.

The 12-hour truce was agreed overnight, although the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) vowed to respond if attacked.

The truce came shortly after Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon warned that ground operations in Gaza could soon be broadened “significantly”.

Israeli air strikes target Syria after Golan death

Israeli air strikes target Syria after Golan death

Israeli soldiers load shells in their tank in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, 22 June 2014 Israel said it attacked nine Syrian targets and direct hits were confirmed

Israel says it has carried out air strikes on military targets in Syria.

The military said it had attacked nine targets in response to the killing of a 15-year-old boy in a strike in the occupied Golan Heights on the border between the two countries on Sunday.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said the Israeli air strikes had killed four people and wounded nine others.

Israel called the boy’s death the most substantial incident in the Golan since the Syrian conflict began in 2011.

Two others, including the boy’s father, an Israeli defence contractor, were injured in Sunday’s blast, which struck their vehicle.

It is unclear whether Syrian rebels or government forces were behind the incident.

‘Everyone loved him’

Israeli military spokesman, Lt Col Peter Lerner, told the Associated Press news agency the attack from Syria was “clearly intentional” but it was unclear whether the blast in the area of Tel Hazeka near the Quneitra crossing was the result of mortar fire, a roadside bomb or shelling.

He described it as “an unprovoked act of aggression against Israel and a direct continuation to recent attacks that occurred in the area”.

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The Israeli military said its air strikes targeted Syrian army positions, including a military headquarters, in response and that “direct hits were confirmed”.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry has condemned the Israeli air strikes, calling them a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty.

In a statement, it said the strikes were a sign of the “direct and continuous support” that Israel is giving to rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and urged the UN to condemn the attacks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had earlier said that at least 10 Syrian soldiers were killed during the Israeli raids.

The teenager killed in Sunday’s attack, an Arab Israeli, has been named as Mohammed Qaraqara.

“He was an excellent student; everyone loved him,” his cousin Salah Qaraqara told Reuters.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Our enemies don’t differentiate between Jews and non-Jews, adults and children.”

The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, was seized by Israel from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Middle East War.

The two countries remain technically in a state of war, and UN observers are deployed to monitor a 70km-long (45-mile) demilitarised zone.

Firing linked to the Syrian conflict occasionally reaches the Israeli side of the border fence – some unintentional, some said to be deliberate.

An Israeli soldier prays on a Merkava tank on the Israeli-Syrian border near Quneitra in the Golan Heights, 22 June 2014 The Golan Heights were taken by Israel from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War

In March, Israel conducted air strikes against several Syrian military targets after a bombing that injured four of its soldiers in the Golan Heights.

Israel had accused the Syrian army of “aiding and abetting” the attack on a patrol near the ceasefire line.

Syria said one of its soldiers was killed in the Israeli military response.

Some of Israeli’s recent air strikes are believed to have prevented the transfer of stockpiles of rockets from the Syrian government to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement that supports President Bashar al-Assad.

Abbas says Holocaust was worst crime in modern history

Wikipedia: Mahmoud AbbasWikipedia: Mahmoud Abbas

 

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has declared that the Holocaust was the most ‘heinous’ crime committed in modern times.

He made the statement in English, Spanish and Arabic on the website of Wafa, Palestine’s official news agency, as Israel began its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day.

He said: “The Holocaust is a reflection of the concept of ethnic discrimination and racism which the Palestinians strongly reject and act against.

He described Nazi atrocities as “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era.”

And added: “The world must do its utmost to fight racism and injustice in order to bring justice and equality to oppressed people wherever they are.” Continue reading

Does Middle-East peace process matter?

Jonathan Marcus By Jonathan Marcus BBC diplomatic correspondent

US Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (right) and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat (left) in Washington on 30 July 2013 The goal of a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israelis within nine months has been met with scepticism by many

Does the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians matter to anyone but themselves?

Is this, as the Quartet representative to the Middle East, Tony Blair, and British government spokesmen would have it, the central problem in the Middle East which, if solved, will help to change the broader climate in the region?

Or, given the turmoil in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and beyond, has Israeli-Palestinian peace become an issue apart; less a barometer for regional tensions and more an intractable struggle that shows no sign of ending?

With US-brokered talks between the two sides due to begin again this week there is an all-encompassing sense of diplomatic deja-vu.

We have been here many times before.

There are the almost ritual concessions to get talks going – the release of Palestinian prisoners by Israel; a cloudy understanding either to freeze or restrict new construction in Israeli settlements; and the equally public announcement of new building anyway as a conservative Israeli government seeks to placate domestic opponents of the peace talks to its right.

Little hope for talks among Israelis and Palestinians

Moment of optimism?

Yitzhak Rabin (L), Bill Clinton (C) and Yasser Arafat (R) - file pic 13 Sept 1993

It ought to feel like a moment of optimism in the long and tortured history of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but somehow it does not.

It is always easier to see the problems than the opportunities in this part of the Middle East of course – but this time around it is hard to find anyone who thinks a dramatic breakthrough is within reach.

The talk all along has been more of avoiding a breakdown than hoping for a breakthrough.

And that was before Israel’s Construction Minister Uri Ariel announced the final go-ahead for new building in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank.

Palestinians were outraged. These are precisely the kind of projects on the land which Israel captured in the war of 1967 which they regard as a deliberate attempt to choke off the chance for them to build their own state. Most countries view such building as a clear breach of international law, although Israel does not.

Many Palestinians saw the timing of the announcement as a cynical attempt to scupper the talks, but even before then it looked as though the resumption of negotiations came about mainly – if not entirely – as the result of pressure from the United States and not through any strong impetus towards talks on either side.

This was not always the way.

Controversial concession

It is almost exactly 20 years since the then US President Bill Clinton brought the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin together with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to sign an agreement based on extraordinary secret negotiations in the Norwegian capital Oslo.

The president called it “the dawn of a new era for the Middle East and the entire world” and issued a stirring call for their achievement to act as a catalyst for the rest of the peace process.

The truth is that today’s negotiators are taking a few steps down a road along which their predecessors travelled rather further.

Back then, the prisoner releases were larger too.

In the heady days of the mid-1990s Israel released, in stages, 4,000 Palestinian prisoners.

This time around it proposes to release 104 over a nine-month period with the first 26 set free in the middle of this week.

Palestinians see the gesture as inadequate, arguing that it relates only to a small group of men, some of whom were anyway nearing the end of their sentences. And they feel they should have been consulted about who was released.

But many Israelis see the release as far too big a concession.

One cabinet minister has warned it could be interpreted as a sign of weakness in the Middle East but the strongest opposition has come from families of Israeli victims of political violence.

Oded Karamani’s brother Ronen, for example, was murdered in 1990.

He was abducted by a Palestinian gang and was missing for three agonising days. When his body was found his hands had been tied behind his back. He had been repeatedly stabbed while he was helpless until he died.

Oded showed us the family albums that record every detail of the smiling Ronen’s short life.

“My parents,” he told me, “from the outside you can see that they’re alive – they have children and grandchildren – but inside from the second it happened they’ve been dead.”

His message is simple: “Don’t let [the Palestinian prisoners] out to educate another generation of terrorists,” he said. “I’m begging our government… please don’t let them out.”

The prisoner issue is a central one for both sides and all the core issues of justice and identity and history and morality are bound up in it.

To many Palestinians, the prisoners are heroes – fighters in a just cause.

I went to Ramallah to meet one of the men freed during the Oslo prisoner releases.

Abdel al-Anani works for Palestinian prisoners’ rights these days – he was convicted of ordering the death of someone accused of being an Israeli informer.

He wants peace, he told me. As he put it: “In the end it’s the Israelis and the Palestinians who are going to live side by side. If they don’t realise this, the whole conflict will keep going and the peace process will fail.”

And he argued that making peace required difficult decisions: “Just as there is a price for war, when there is bloodshed and people, there is a price for peace too.”

It does not feel in the Middle East as though the moment has come when either of the two sides is preparing to make the full payment for a final peace. Anyone who knows the region can rattle off the familiar list of issues from the status of Jerusalem and Israel’s right to live in security to settlement construction and the rights of Palestinian refugees.

There are still plenty of issues that divide the two sides – but they are at least now talking about them.