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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Al-Aqsa flares up tensions between Israel, Jordan

Jordan has threatened to expel Israel's ambassador over the regime's aggression in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the occupied East Jerusalem Al-Quds.

According to a report by the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi, Jordan threatened the expulsion in response to Israeli violation of the sanctity of Al-Aqsa mosque over the last two weeks.

Israel deployed thousands of troops in the area after it closed down the Al-Aqsa mosque compound to Palestinians and allowed Jewish worshippers to hold a religious ceremony in the site.

The closure of the holy compound caused fierce clashes in the city.

Under a peace treaty signed in 1994, Israel recognized Jordan's right to look after all Islamic and Christian holy sites in East Jerusalem al-Quds, which is considered by the United Nations as an occupied territory.

Last week, a senior Jordanian official called on Israeli police to keep Jewish religious extremists away from the compound d— known to Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount — and keep the Mugrabi Gate closed, Haaretz reported.

"That will calm the atmosphere while respecting the Jordanian role in Al-Aqsa mosque," said the official.

Before the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, visits to the holy site had to be coordinated with the Waqf religious trust, which is under Jordanian control.

Between 2000 and 2003, non-Muslims were completely barred from the area until the Israel police decided unilaterally to reverse the ban.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem Al-Quds during a 1967 aggression and later annexed it.

Abbas defends decision to defer vote on UN Gaza report

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Sunday defended his controversial decision to support deferring a vote on a damning Gaza war report at the UN Human Rights Council.

Exiled Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal, meanwhile, slammed the Palestinian leadership's decision as a "scandal" and said "the timing is not right" for a reconciliation deal between his movement and Abbas's Fatah party.

In a televised address, the embattled president accused the Islamist movement Hamas of leading the storm of criticism at the decision only as a means to postpone a long-delayed Palestinian reconciliation.

Abbas said the Palestinian delegation at the Geneva-based council backed the October 2 postponement of a vote on the so-called Goldstone report which was highly critical of Israel in order to gather maximum support for the measure.

"Since we felt that we would not be able to gather enough support, we asked for the postponement of the draft resolution until the upcoming session of the Human Rights Council" in March, he said.

Abbas said following the outrage over the deferral, which sparked criticism from Palestinian civil society groups and across the Arab world, he was directing Palestinian representatives at the UN to work toward bringing the Goldstone report for an early vote at the Human Rights Council.

He said the "storm of criticism" at the decision by Hamas was aimed at postponing a long-delayed Palestinian reconciliation deal that Egypt had announced for October 25-26 in Cairo.

"We are totally aware of this campaign by Hamas aimed at serving their interests, which is to postpone the signature of the reconciliation agreement," Abbas said. "They want to consolidate their rule and their regime in Gaza."

But Meshaal, in a speech in Damascus shortly after Abbas's address, said the atmosphere was not right for a deal between the rival factions.

"The Goldstone report was the final straw ... We can not accept any more mistakes," Meshaal said in a speech in Damascus, shortly after Abbas's address. "This is not a leadership which deserves our trust."

The decision to ask for a delay was a "scandal," he said. "The timing is now not right" for a reconciliation deal.

"The attitude of the Palestinian leadership on the Goldstone report has blocked the continuation of the inter-Palestinian dialogue," he said, although efforts were continuing with Egypt on a new timetable.

"Fatah deserves a better leadership" than one which had lied to the Palestinian people over the delay, said Meshaal.

Hamas has led the torrent of criticism of Abbas, charging he "betrayed" the some 1,400 Palestinian victims of the December-January war and has asked Egypt to postpone the signing of the reconciliation deal because of the decision.

In Gaza City, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said Abbas's speech "does not improve the national dialogue atmosphere."

Hamas routed long-dominant Fatah in the last Palestinian legislative election on January 25, 2006, ushering in months of tensions between the two main Palestinian factions that often boiled over into deadly street clashes and culminated with Hamas's bloody takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

Egypt has been trying for months to persuade the two camps to sign a reconciliation deal and has already twice postponed signing ceremonies.

Ban supports Abbas on Goldstone report

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas received a supportive nod from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who on Sunday praised the Palestinian leader's engagement with UN member states regarding the Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead, and told him he was a credible partner for peace.

The two men spoke by phone, as Abbas faces growing criticism from Palestinians and the Arab world for his decision earlier this month to defer a UN Human Rights Council resolution on the Goldstone Commission's report, which denounces Israel's military action in Gaza.

On the same day that Abbas reversed his decision and called for the council to hold a special session on the report, Ban spoke with him about the report as well as the recent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in east Jerusalem, according to his spokeswoman Michele Montas.

Ban "also expressed his support for President Abbas's engagement with member states on a proper process for the consideration of the Goldstone Report," said Montas.

She added that Ban would disclose his views on the report while it stands before UN bodies.

In a televised address on Sunday, Abbas called on the UN Human Rights Council to hold a special session to endorse the Goldstone Report.

"I gave instructions to our envoy to hold an extraordinary meeting of the Human Rights Council to vote on the resolution, in order to punish all those who committed the most brutal crimes against our children and women in Gaza," Abbas said.

The call for a special session marked a sudden turnaround from Abbas's stance at the start of the month, when he agreed to defer until March the council's vote on endorsing the report.

U.S. tells Egypt: Fatah-Hamas deal undermines Israel-PA talks

The United States sent a message to Egypt stating it does not support the proposed reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas as it would undermine negotiations with Israel, Haaretz has learned.

George Mitchell, the U.S. envoy to the Middle East, met on Saturday night in Cairo with the chief of Egyptian intelligence, Gen. Omar Suleiman, and told him the United States would not support an agreement not aligned with the principles of the Quartet.

According to the agreement, which was supposed to have been signed by Thursday, Abbas was to issue a presidential decree no later than October 25, scheduling both parliamentary and presidential elections for June 28. Eighty percent of the delegates to the Palestinian parliament were to be elected by party basis, and 20 percent by constituency.
A special committee with delegates from all factions was supposed to have assumed control of the Gaza Strip, reporting to Abbas. The Strip was also to see a new security force, staffed with members of all Palestinian factions.

Sources told Haaretz that Mitchell made clear to the Egyptians on Saturday the United States expects any Palestinian government to follow the conditions of the Quartet, which include recognition of the State of Israel, acknowledging earlier agreements and renouncing terrorism.

Mitchell also said certain aspects of current agreement were poorly timed as they would undermine relaunching negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The administration official said that the United States would continue to oppose those aspects of the agreement at any time. He noted American views on Palestinian governance have been made clear to the Egyptians several times.

The proposed Hamas and Fatah reconciliation agreement would have ended three years of civil strife and political discordance. The actual reconciliation ceremony between chief of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Meshal, and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, was to be held after the Id al-Adha holiday.

Formal ceremony

The agreement was authored by the Egyptian mediators, who suggested postponing the formal ceremony as Hamas announced it could not participate in the signing with Abbas after the Palestinian Authority president asked the United Nations to postpone discussion of the Goldstone report.

The mediators then announced they would send the agreement to the principal parties of Fatah and Hamas, expecting them to sign it and return it on October 15 at the latest. All other Palestinian groups are expected to add their signatures by October 20.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that on October 16 the PA will ask the UN Human Rights Council to forward the Goldstone report either to the UN Security Council or to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Abbas received a copy of the Egyptian-drafted agreement on Sunday evening, and Fatah had already said it was in full agreement with the Egyptian document. The Hamas position on the document remained unclear.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the meeting of the Likud caucus Monday that American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to visit Israel, perhaps as early as the end of the month. The prime minister said he is "more optimistic than some commentators about relaunching the peace process."

Pakistan suicide bombing toll mounts to 45

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The death toll from a suicide bombing carried out by a teenage boy who struck in a busy market in northwest Pakistan has risen to 45, officials said Tuesday.

The bomber, wearing a vest packed with explosives, flung himself at a military convoy as it passed through a bazaar in Shangla district on Monday, in the fourth deadly attack blamed on Taliban rebels in eight days.

"Two people died overnight and two more died this morning," doctor Ehsanullah Khan of the state run Alpuri hospital told AFP. Thirty-eight people remained in hospital with injuries from the blast, he added.

Fazle Karim Khattak, the administration chief of Malakand region, said that 39 of the dead were civilians and six were soldiers.

"The attacker was a young boy. He was standing at the side of the road. As soon as the convoy arrived, he rushed into the vehicles and blew himself up," Khattak told AFP.

A military official Monday said the bomber was about 13 or 14 years old.

After a brief lull following the death of Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud in a US missile strike in August, Pakistan has again been plunged into crisis with a wave of militant attacks killing 125 people in eight days.

Monday's attack in Alpuri town came after a group of 10 Islamist extremists raided Pakistan's army headquarters over the weekend leaving 23 people dead and underscoring the vulnerability of the nuclear-armed nation.

Shangla borders the scenic Swat valley, where the government claims to have quashed the Taliban threat in an offensive launched in April after Taliban rebels advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of Islamabad.

The surge in violence comes as the army says it plans a full-scale offensive on Pakistani Taliban bases in lawless South Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan.