PRAGUE – The Palestinian ambassador to Prague was killed in an explosion at his residence on Wednesday that Czech authorities believe was probably an accident.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said ambassador Jamal al-Jamal had been trying to open a safe that was recently moved to his new home and a Czech government source told Reuters that the explosion was probably caused by a security device on the unit.
It was unclear what that was. Some safes can be fitted with mechanisms designed to destroy secret documents in the event of the lock being tampered with. The Czech source said the government did not believe it was a terrorist attack.
Czech police said the ambassador died of his injuries in hospital after the explosion on the morning of New Year’s Day in the two-story suburban residence. No one else was injured, police said, although Jamal’s family was at home at the time.
No signs of damage to the house was visible from the street.
“There has been a detonation of a so far unidentified explosive mixture,” police spokeswoman Andrea Zoulova said. “The ambassador was … taken to hospital with serious injuries.”
She later said he had died.
A Palestinian official told Reuters in the West Bank administrative center Ramallah: “This explosion happened at his house. He recently moved there.”
The official Palestinian news agency WAFA, citing a Foreign Ministry statement, said the blast happened when Jamal tried to open a safe that had been moved from the embassy’s old offices.
Police cordoned off part of the street and a half dozen police vehicles, firetrucks and two ambulances were there.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said it would send a delegation to Prague “to help with the investigation.”
The survey was released Wednesday, hours before Secretary of State John Kerry‘s return to the region. Kerry is trying to forge agreement on the outlines of a peace deal, but gaps remain.
In the poll, 63 percent of 601 Israelis and 53 percent of 1,270 Palestinians surveyed said they back a two-state solution. Support dropped to 54 percent and 46 percent, respectively, when respondents were asked about specifics of a two-state deal.
The Israeli poll, by an Israeli university, had an error margin of 4.5 percentage points. The Palestinian survey, by a West Bank think tank, had an error margin of 3 percentage points.
RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinians rejected ideas raised by visiting Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday for security arrangements under a possible future peace accord with Israel, a Palestinian official said.There was no immediate response from the United States or Israel, which has long insisted on keeping swathes of its West Bank settlements, as well as a military presence on the territory’s eastern boundary with Jordan, under any peace deal.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and declined to elaborate on the proposals, said Kerry presented them to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after discussing them separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The Palestinian side rejected them because they would only lead to prolonging and maintaining the occupation,” the official told Reuters, referring to Israel’s hold on the West Bank, where, along with Gaza and east Jerusalem, Palestinians seek an independent state.
In remarks to reporters after his three-hour meeting with Abbas in the West Bank hub city of Ramallah, Kerry commended “his steadfast commitment to stay at the peace negotiations, despite the difficulties that he and the Palestinians have perceived in the process”.
Kerry said they had discussed “at great length issues of security in the region, security for the state of Israel, security for a future Palestine.”
“I think the interests are very similar, but there are questions of sovereignty, questions of respect and dignity which are obviously significant to the Palestinians, and for the Israelis very serious questions of security and also of longer-term issues of how we end this conflict once and for all,” Kerry added.
Abbas did not join Kerry at the Ramallah media appearance.
Disputes over proposed Israeli land handovers have bedevilled peace efforts for two decades, along with other issues like the status of Jerusalem and fate of Palestinian refugees. Kerry revived the talks in July and set a nine-month target for an accord, but both sides have signaled pessimism.
Palestinians worry that Israel’s settlements — deemed illegal by most world powers — will not leave room for a viable state. Israelis question whether Abbas could commit the rival, armed Palestinian Hamas Islamists who govern Gaza to coexistence with the Jewish state.
Kerry, who met Netanyahu earlier on Thursday and returned to Jerusalem in the evening to confer again with the Israeli leader, said “some progress” had been made in the peace talks.
Acknowledging Israel’s fear that ceding the West Bank could make it vulnerable to attack, Kerry said he offered Netanyahu “some thoughts about that particular security challenge.”
Neither he nor Netanyahu gave further details, citing the need to keep the diplomacy discreet. Both described Israeli security as paramount, something Netanyahu said would require that his country “be able to defend itself by itself.”
Israel quit Gaza unilaterally in 2005, after which Hamas came to power. The sides have repeatedly exchanged fire since.
Israeli media have reported that Kerry’s proposals included security arrangements for the Jordan Valley, between the West Bank and Jordan. An Israeli official said that in recent weeks U.S. officials had visited Jordan Valley crossing points.
Kerry was due to depart on Friday after a helicopter tour of the West Bank and other areas with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. In Ramallah, Kerry said he may return to the region for more talks next week “depending on where we are”.
“So the discussions will go on, the effort will continue, and our hopes with them for the possibilities of peace for the region,” he said.
JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israel freed 26 Palestinian prisoners on Wednesday to keep U.S.-sponsored peacemaking on course for a second round of talks, but diplomacy was dogged by Israeli plans for more Jewish homes on occupied land the Palestinians claim for a future state.Negotiators are due to convene with little fanfare later on Wednesday in Jerusalem, the holy city at the heart of the decades-old conflict of turf and faith. The envoys held first talks in Washington last month, ending a three-year stand-off.
Paving the way for the continuation of negotiations, Israel released an initial number of Palestinians serving long jail terms, many for deadly attacks on Israelis, busing them in the dead of night to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
They were welcomed by hundreds of Palestinians including President Mahmoud Abbas, who kissed some of the men and flashed victory signs.
“We congratulate ourselves and our families for our brothers who left the darkness of the prisons for the light of the sun of freedom. We say to them and to you that the remainder are on their way, these are just the first,” Abbas told the crowd in the West Bank capital of Ramallah, where 11 ex-prisoners arrived.
The other 15 went to Gaza, a territory under the control of Abbas’ Islamist Hamas rivals, and were received by relatives who set off fireworks and shot guns into the air in celebration.
“I never expected to see him again. My feelings cannot be described in words, the joy of the whole world is with me,” said Adel Mesleh, whose brother Salama Mesleh was jailed in 1993 for killing an Israeli. “I am happy he was freed as a result of negotiations. Negotiations are good.”
Despite anger from the families of some victims, Israel has promised to free a total 104 inmates in the coming months.
Negotiations are set to continue every few weeks in venues including Jericho in the occupied West Bank, in pursuit of Secretary of State John Kerry‘s goal of a deal in nine months.
Israel says it supports this timeline but in the past few days has rattled world powers by announcing plans to increase its settlement of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, where, along with the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians seek statehood.
Few see swift resolution to longstanding problems such as borders, settlements, the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. Yet neither Abbas nor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants blame for putting brakes on the U.S. peace bid.
Violence simmered overnight, with the Israeli military bombing what it described as rocket silos in Gaza in retaliation for a rocket launch into Israel. There were no casualties.
Israel quit Gaza in 2005 but wants to keep east Jerusalem and swathes of West Bank settlements, seeing them as a security bulwark and the realization of a Jewish birthright to biblical land. Most world powers deem the settlements illegal.
Nearly 600,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, among 2.5 million Palestinians. Israel has published plans for 3,100 new settler homes in recent days.
Speaking to reporters in Brazil on Tuesday, Kerry said he had a “very frank and open, direct discussion” in a phone call with Netanyahu.
Kerry appeared to associate the new settlement announcements with internal Israeli politics, saying “there are realities of life in Israel that have to be taken into account here.”
Such construction helps mollify pro-settler factions in Netanyahu’s rightist coalition government, one of which, the Jewish Home party, opposes Palestinian statehood and tried unsuccessfully to vote down the prisoner release.
Thousands of Palestinians remain in Israeli jails, hailed as heroes by their countrymen while Israel brands them terrorists.
The 104 prisoners had been vetted for release by Yaakov Peri, an Israeli cabinet minister who said on Wednesday that in his former career in the Shin Bet security service he had been involved in capturing and convicting 92 of them.
“This is part of the price of pursuing peace with our neighbors,” Peri told Israel’s Army Radio. “The ramifications of not returning to the negotiating table are dozens of times weightier than releasing the prisoners.”
“I’m pleased to announce that we’ve reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Kerry told reporters in Amman, Jordan.
“This is a significant and welcome step forward. The agreement is still in the process of being finalised so we are absolutely not going to talk about any of the elements now.”
A U.S. State Department official said: “They have agreed on the core elements that will allow direct talks to begin.”
Kerry said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni would meet him in Washington “to begin initial talks within the next week or so.”
The announcement came at the end of four days of intense diplomacy by the secretary of state as he consulted Israeli and Palestinian leaders from his base in the Jordanian capital.
Kerry’s last-minute whirlwind diplomacy came after the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah rejected his proposals for a framework to guide the relaunch of peace talks with the Israelis, stalled for nearly three years.
The setback to Kerry’s peace push came from the governing Revolutionary Council of Abbas’ own Fatah movement, which demanded changes to the U.S. plan.
Talks have stuttered and started for decades in the elusive bid to reach a final peace deal between the Arab world and Israel.
But they collapsed completely in September 2010 when Israel refused to keep up a freeze on settlement building in Palestinian territories.
Kerry was upbeat in speaking to reporters before he left Amman late on Friday for Washington.
In his brief comments, he praised the courage of Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“No one believes the long-standing differences between the parties will be resolved overnight or just wiped away. We know that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead,” he said.
“Today, however, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because of the courageous leadership by President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Both of them have chosen to make difficult choices here and both of them were instrumental,” Kerry said.
Kerry arrived on Tuesday in the Jordanian capital, where he held two rounds of talks with Abbas. He also won endorsement from the Arab League for his proposals to resume talks.
His plan would have seen Israel, now ruled by a coalition that has tilted sharply to the right after elections early this year, make only a tacit commitment to slow settlement construction in the occupied territories, not the publicly announced freeze long demanded by Abbas.
On Wednesday, the U.S. envoy had expressed cautious optimism that he was making progress.
But he acknowledged that there were still differences over “the language” governing any resumption of talks.
It was the top U.S. diplomat’s sixth visit to the region since he took office in February.
“The president encouraged Prime Minister Netanyahu to continue to work with Secretary Kerry to resume negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as possible,” the White House said in a statement, after the two leaders spoke by telephone.
Kerry’s latest peace bid had been complicated by new European Union guidelines for its 28 member states that will block all funding of Jewish settlements.
The court gave the state and the police four months to investigate the type of munitions used by Israeli forces in the incident and the distance they were fired from.
Tristan Anderson‘s family filed an appeal with the supreme court after Israeli authorities closed the case in February 2010, saying that there was “no proof of criminal behavior on the part of the police.”
A tear gas canister hit Anderson in the head during a demonstration against the West Bank separation barrier on March 13, 2009 in the Palestinian village of Nilin.
He suffered serious brain damage that left him partially paralyzed. His parents and their lawyers welcomed the ruling, saying that the police investigation had been marred by “negligence.”
The neighboring villages of Bilin and Nilin, near Ramallah, host demonstrations every week against the separation barrier, which Israel says is intended to prevent attacks, and which Palestinians have named the “apartheid wall.”
The International Court of Justice ruled on July 9, 2004 that the construction of the wall was illegal and demanded it be dismantled, as has the U.N.General Assembly.
RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israeli troops have shot dead two Palestinian youths in the occupied West Bank, medical officials said on Thursday, as confrontations entered a third day following the death of a prisoner in an Israeli jail.
The Israeli army said troops fired on Palestinians who threw fire bombs after dark on Wednesday at a guard post near Tulkarm in the northern West Bank. One body was swiftly recovered and a second was found in the early hours of Thursday.
Palestinian officials named the dead men as Amer Nassar, 17, and Naji Belbisi, 18. The army said it was investigating the incident, which left at least one other Palestinian wounded.
Tensions have risen rapidly in the West Bank and Gaza Strip following the death from cancer on Tuesday of Maysara Abu Hamdeya, 64, who was serving a life sentence in an Israeli jail.
Palestinians accuse Israel of withholding care from the man and failing to release him after diagnosing that his illness was terminal. Israel says it followed normal procedures.
Abu Hamdeya, who was serving a life term for a planned attack on a Jerusalem cafe in 2002, is due to be buried in Hebron later on Thursday and the army is braced for fresh violence. The funerals of Nassar and Belbisi are also expected later in the day.
The upsurge in violence comes just days before Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to visit Jerusalem and Ramallah in hope of seeing progress towards reviving peace negotiations that broke down in 2010.
Israeli defense official Amos Gilad dismissed suggestions that a third popular uprising, or Intifada, was breaking out in the West Bank — territory Israel seized in the 1967 war and which is now home to more than 340,000 Jewish settlers.
“The term Third Intifada is meant to describe a general breakdown and uprising. . . . There are no powers there pushing for a third Intifada or general uprising,” Gilad told Israel Radio.
Israeli jets on Tuesday carried out their first airstrike on the Gaza Strip since a truce ended several days of fighting in November.
The military said it was responding to rockets fired earlier that day by an al-Qaida-linked group, Magles Shoura al-Mujahadeen. The group fired two more rockets on Wednesday and said it was responding to the death of Abu Hamdeya.
Another rocket hit an open area in southern Israel on Thursday, causing no casualties. No Gaza militant group claimed responsibility for the latest launch.
Israeli officials pressed Gaza’s ruling Islamist movement, Hamas, to rein in the rocket-firing militants after the most serious outbreak of cross-border hostilities since the ceasefire that ended the eight-day war in November.
Some 4,600 Palestinian prisoners declared a hunger strike for three days in protest at Abu Hamdeya’s death. In West Bank towns, some shops were shuttered in solidarity.
Commenting on the violence in Gaza, Richard Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said it was of “paramount importance to refrain from violence.”
He said in a statement that renewed violations of the ceasefire threatened to unravel Egyptian-brokered understandings that included an easing of Israel’s blockade on the enclave.
Egypt mediated the November truce after fighting in which some 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed. Israel had launched that Gaza offensive, as it did a bigger campaign in 2008-09, with the declared aim of ending rocket fire.
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas‘ Fatah movement in 2007 after winning an election a year earlier. Palestinians want to establish a state in the enclave along with the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
President Barack Obama voiced opposition on Thursday to Israeli settlement building but pressed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to drop his demand for a freeze before Middle East peace talks can resume.
After an effusive welcome in Israel, Obama traveled to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where disillusioned Palestinians held out little hope that their moment in the spotlight of a U.S. presidential visit would speed their quest for statehood.
At a news conference with Abbas, Obama said he had “been clear” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington did not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive to “the cause of peace.”
But Obama stopped short of calling for a halt to settlement expansion—a demand he had made early in his first term—and signaled his frustration over the failure of Israel and the Palestinians to find a way to resume talks stalled since 2010.
However, he offered no new ideas on how to get Israelis and Palestinians negotiating again at a time when prospects for a peace deal are grim in a region destabilized by the West’s nuclear standoff with Iran and civil war in Syria.
“My argument is even though both sides may have areas of strong disagreement, may be engaging in activities that the other side thinks is a breach of good faith, we have to push through those things to try to get an agreement,” Obama said.
The core issue now, Obama said, is how to achieve sovereignty for Palestinians and security for Israelis.
“That’s not to say settlements aren’t important. That’s to say if we solve those problems, the settlement issue will be resolved,” Obama added.
Some 150 Palestinian demonstrators gathered in Ramallah to protest against Obama’s visit. They were held back by ranks of police who prevented them from nearing Abbas’s compound.
A smiling Obama, accompanied by Abbas, was met by mostly stern-faced Palestinian officials along a red carpet—a stark contrast to the broad grins and backslapping during an elaborate welcoming ceremony on Wednesday at Israel’s Tel Aviv airport.
Obama, embarking on a second and final four-year term in the White House, has made clear he is not bringing any new peace initiatives but instead has come to Israel and the Palestinian Territories on a “listening” tour.
But he said his new secretary of state, John Kerry, would spend a significant amount of time and energy trying to narrow differences between the two sides as the United States seeks to move them back to the negotiating table.
Abbas reaffirmed his demand for a settlement freeze, but held out the prospect of a broader peace between Israel and other Arab nations if a Palestinian state was created.
“If peace came between us and the Israelis, Israel knows well that all the Arab and Islamic countries, 57 states, will recognize the state of Israel immediately,” he said.
As a reminder of the ever-present risks in the region, Iranian state television quoted Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying Tehran would raze Tel Aviv and the city of Haifa if Israel carried out veiled threats to attack Iran.
And Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired two rockets into Sderot, a southern Israeli town that Obama visited when running for president in 2008. Police said no one was hurt.
On the Internet, a small Islamist militant group, Magles Shoura al-Mujahddin, claimed responsibility. Obama is not going to visit Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, a rival to the Western-backed Abbas, who condemned the attack.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Obama‘s statements in Ramallah were meaningless.
“He continues to stress the American position that calls for direct negotiations without pre-conditions, which is the same position of Israel,” Abu Zuhri said.
Obama held talks with Netanyahu on Wednesday and toured the Israel Museum in Jerusalem with him on Thursday, viewing the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls—artifacts that underscore the Jewish link to the Holy Land—and a high-tech exhibit.
The main focus of his initial discussions with Netanyahu appeared to be pressing regional concerns, primarily Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the civil war in neighboring Syria, and winning the hearts of a skeptical Israeli public.
After repeated run-ins with Netanyahu during Obama’s first term in office, the mood between the two men appeared to be much warmer, angering Palestinians, who blame the 2010 collapse of U.S.-backed peace negotiations on the Israeli leader’s expansion of settlements on land where they want their state.
Obama is also to address the decades-old conflict later on Thursday in a keynote speech to students in Jerusalem.
After the lofty ambitions of Obama’s first term, when he appointed a special envoy to the Middle East on his very first day in charge and said peacemaking was a priority, it was clear that the president has now set the bar significantly lower.
“I will consider this a success if, when I go back on Friday, I am able to say to myself I have a better understanding of what the constraints are,” he told a joint news conference on Wednesday, standing alongside Netanyahu.
The three-day visit is Obama’s first to Israel and the West Bank since entering the White House in 2009, and the inaugural foreign trip of a final four-year term that began in January.
Sporadic protests had flared in the West Bank and Gaza Strip this week, with Palestinians accusing Obama of not doing enough to halt Israeli settlement-building on land seized in 1967.
Posters depicting the U.S. president were defaced in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem earlier this week and anti-U.S. sentiment bubbled up on social media.
“I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land.” Joel 3:2
“Palestinians deserve a state of their own,” Obama said during a joint news conferencewith Abbas in Ramallah.
Obama believes that a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians is possible.
“If we can get direct negotiations started again I believe that the shape of a potential deal is there,” Obama said.
Obama said he told Israeli officials that the White House does not consider settlement activity in the West Bank to be appropriate or constructive. He says Palestinians should not have to confront the daily indignities that come with occupation.
A new poll finds 36 percent of the 500 Israelis who were surveyed believe the president is more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel, The Jerusalem Post reports. By comparison, 26 percent said Obama was more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian.
Obama arrived in Israel Wednesday to kick-off his Mideast swing. The president will also visit Jordan before heading back to the White House. source – CBS News
Mohammed Samhan of the Red Crescent says dozens of protesters were treated for injuries caused by rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation on Friday. Israel’s military says hundreds of Palestinians threw rocks and firebombs at the soldiers.
The protesters demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, warning of backlash if any of them die.
In Bilin, villagers marked eight years of protests against a barrier Israel says it erected to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers following a wave of violence in the last decade.
Palestinians say the barrier is a land grab that cuts them off from their land in some places.