Sunday, 21 August 2011

Events heat up in the Middle East

Hostilities intensify between Israel and Palestinians

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21 August, 2011, 03:11

The ongoing violence between Israel and the Palestinians has led international mediators from the Mideast Quartet – the UN, US, EU and Russia – to call on Egypt to help its neighbors establish a ceasefire.

There are concerns around the region that the conflict is escalating and will only continue to intensify.

Tensions on the ground are mounting rapidly. At least 15 Palestinians have been killed in the past few days and dozens have been injured, while today alone some 70 Grad and Qassam rockets rained down on southern Israel, with dozens of Israelis injured.

It was the heaviest salvo of rockets from Gaza since Israel staged an all-out ground and air operation in Gaza to stop daily rocket attacks in early 2009.

The violence began when unnamed terrorists ambushed vehicles in southern Israel on Thursday, killing eight people. Israel carried out multiple air strikes on militant targets in Gaza over the weekend, killing 15 people. 

The Mideast Quartet, meanwhile, issued a statement condemning the attack on Thursday that killed eight Israelis and sparked the spiralling violence. The diplomats also called on Israel to stop its attack on Gaza. Arab leaders are to meet on Sunday to discuss the situation.

Palestinians fear that the Israeli government will use this latest round of violence to argue that there should not be recognition of a Palestinian state at a special UN session scheduled to discuss the issue in New York next month.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has already said that the violence is proof that Palestinians are not serious about peace. Palestinian leaders declared in response that Israel’s position is “madness.” They say that Israel is trying to gather international support in order to prevent Palestinians from declaring their own state come September.

Israel finds itself facing both security and diplomatic challenges, with Cairo declaring that it will withdraw the head of its mission in Tel Aviv, putting at risk already faltering relations between the two countries.

Cairo had been insisting on a formal apology from Israel for the inadvertent killing of five Egyptian policemen on the border, demanding not only an expression of regret but a commitment from Israel that such would not happen again.

On Saturday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he regrets the deaths of the five  Egyptian border guards who were killed. He had also said that he had ordered an immediate investigation.
Tension is running high inside the Jewish state itself, with mass protests by Israelis against the government’s economic policies.

Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and in a number of other major cities across Israel.

Crowds have been marching, holding candles in memory of people on the both sides of this conflict who have died in the last 48 hours of violence.

Protestors on the streets of Israel vowed to continue fighting for social justice. They are rallying for a lower cost of living, and an improvement in education and health services. Some protesters are also calling to Netanyahu to step down.
Activists say that the government is hoping that this escalation of violence will distract attention from social and economic problems at home. However, activists believe that the exact opposite is going to happen.

They also say that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government will use the latest conflict with Gaza as an excuse to get people off the streets. Most of the protesters are young, and many of them are in the reserve forces. If a war was to happen, they would be called to fight.

Coverage from al-Jazeera

Barrage of rockets strike Israel; 500,000 forced to take cover

Jerusalem (CNN) -- The barrage of rockets and mortars fired into southern Israel continued Sunday, with the military reporting 17 such attacks by early morning.

A day earlier, 64 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza, forcing more than 500,000 people into bomb shelters, defense officials said. At least one person was killed in an attack in Beer Sheva, authorities said.

The Saturday projectiles struck at least seven cities in a cycle of militant attacks and Israeli reprisals that began four days ago with coordinated strikes against Israeli civilians and soldiers.

On Thursday, a string of bold attacks on buses, cars and security personnel left six Israeli civilians and one soldier dead, authorities said.
It was the deadliest attack against the Israeli population in two years.

The attacks occurred about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Israeli city of Eilat, close to the Israeli-Egyptian border. Israeli soldiers exchanged gunfire with the assailants and killed seven militants, the military said.

Since then, Israel has launched two retaliatory airstrikes, targeting what the Israeli Defence Forces said were militant sites.

Early Saturday, the Hamas military wing Izzedine al Qassam Brigades, announced it was ending a de facto two-year truce with Israel.

The series of attacks and airstrikes have increased tensions in the region, and comes a month before the Palestinians plan to make a bid for statehood in the United Nations.

Israel believes the attacks have their roots in Gaza, but are coming out of the neighboring Egyptian region of Sinai. Egypt denies the allegation, saying it has been cracking down on terror groups in its portion of the Sinai.

The Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza and Hamas denied involvement in Thursday's attacks. Hamas has said Israel was looking for a pretext to attack Gaza.

Israel seized Gaza, the West Bank and other territory during the 1967 Six-Day War.

President Barack Obama earlier this year called on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to be based on border demarcations pre-dating the 1967 war. Israeli leaders have been vehemently opposed to such a move.

On Saturday, the Mideast Quartet -- the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia -- issued a statement voicing its concerns over "the unsustainable situation in Gaza as well as the risk of escalation" and the group of negotiators "calls for restraint from all sides."

Egypt withdraws ambassador to Israel

8/20/2011 1:05:48 AM ET

Egypt said early Saturday it will withdraw its ambassador from Israel to protest the deaths of five Egyptian security forces in what it called a breach of a peace treaty, sharply escalating tensions between the two countries after a cross-border ambush that killed eight Israelis.

The Egyptian troops were killed as Israeli soldiers pursued suspected militants from the Gaza Strip who crossed the border from the Sinai Peninsula into southern Israel, killing eight Israelis on Thursday. It was the deadliest attack on Israelis in three years.

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