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Apr 23, 2010

Mitchell says U.S. wants Mideast solution soon

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell told Israel and the Palestinians on Friday that President Barack Obama wants a comprehensive peace deal to be a reality “soon, not in some vague and distant future time.”

In a busy first day of meetings on his latest shuttle mission — amid strains between Israel and its closest ally — the Washington envoy underlined to both sides Obama’s determination to see a solution to the Middle East conflict.

Apr 23, 2010

U.S. envoy Mitchell meets Israeli leaders

JERUSALEM, April 23 (Reuters) – U.S. envoy George Mitchell told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday Washington was committed to Israel’s security and wanted a peace settlement that would give the Palestinians a state.

"That has been American policy. That is American policy. That will be American policy," Mitchell told Netanyahu, repeating President Barack Obama’s pledge of strong and enduring ties to Israel on its 62nd anniversary earlier this week.

Netanyahu and Obama have been sharply at odds over Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, land Palestinians want for their state. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to resume talks suspended in December 2008 until settlement stops.

Mitchell is seeking Netanyahu’s response to Obama’s request for certain confidence-building measures to persuade Abbas to enter "proximity" talks. The suggestions were handed to the Israeli leader at a low-profile meeting with Obama one month ago.

Israel’s elder statesman, President Shimon Peres, told Mitchell during a courtesy call by the envoy that it was "a vital interest" for the Palestinians to see a two-state solution. "The two of us need it," he said.

Israel did not want to govern another nation, nor to "see a conflict eating up our future", Peres added.

Netanyahu is trying to bridge the split with his country’s closest ally, but without yielding ground to Obama or Abbas in a way that could destroy his pro-settler coalition government.

He told Mitchell: "I look forward to working with you and with President Obama to advance peace. We’re serious about it. We know you’re serious about it. We hope the Palestinians respond — we have to move this process forward."


Mitchell has visited the region over a dozen times in the past year without managing to revive talks stalled for 16 months now over the Palestinian demand for a total settlement freeze that Israel rejects as an unacceptable precondition.

Abbas has dismissed a partial, 10-month moratorium on construction ordered by Netanyahu five months ago.

Speaking ahead of Mitchell’s latest shuttle mission, a U.S. State Department spokesman on Thursday said: "We don’t go to meet just to meet. We go there because we have some indication that both sides are willing to engage seriously on the issues."

Netanyahu and Mitchell talked for about two hours. Without revealing substantive details, Netanyahu’s spokesman said: "The meeting was a good one." Further talks would be held on Sunday.

Mitchell was due to meet Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, north of Jerusalem, in the evening.

He began his visit by meeting Defence Minister Ehud Barak, leader of the centre-left Labour Party, who on Monday sounded a public alarm over the state of Israel’s ties with Washington, saying the coalition "must act to change things".

Netanyahu said on Thursday he would not freeze building in East Jerusalem, captured from Jordan in 1967 and annexed as part of Israel’s capital in a move not recognised internationally. (Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah, Alastair Macdonald in Jerusalem and Andrew Quinn in Washington; editing by Diana Abdallah)

Apr 19, 2010

No more bets in Middle East standoff

JERICHO, West Bank (Reuters) – Like the mothballed Oasis Casino in this desert city, the stalled Middle East peace process is waiting for someone to step up and roll the dice.

But nobody is ready to take a gamble. They suspect the tables are rigged. Palestinians say Israel is not interested in a peace treaty. Israel says the truth is the other way around.

Apr 8, 2010

Netanyahu cancels trip to Obama’s nuclear summit

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled a planned trip to Washington next week to take part in President Barack Obama’s 47-country nuclear security summit conference.

He made the decision after learning that Egypt and Turkey intended to raise the issue of Israel’s presumed nuclear arsenal at the conference, a senior government official said on Friday.

Mar 29, 2010

Iran strike would test resilient Israeli markets

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – A strike by Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities could trigger war with unforeseen consequences, testing the remarkable resilience displayed by Israeli markets during previous conflicts.

Israel’s high-tech economy was unfazed by the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the 2006 war with Lebanon’s Shi’ite Hezbollah militia and last winter’s war on Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip.

Mar 26, 2010

Violence clouds efforts on Middle East peace

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israelis and Palestinians fought their worst clash in a year and Israel said it would not stop the building in occupied East Jerusalem that is blocking a relaunch of talks.

Israeli tanks advanced into the Gaza Strip on Friday after the fiercest clash with Palestinian fighters in 14 months killed at least two men on either side, on the borders of the enclave.

Mar 26, 2010

Bloodshed shrouds vision of Middle East peace talks

JERUSALEM, March 27 (Reuters) – Israelis and Palestinians fought their worst clash in a year and Israel said it would not stop the building in occupied East Jerusalem that is blocking a relaunch of talks.

Israeli tanks advanced into the Gaza Strip on Friday after the firecest clash with Palestinian fighters in 14 months killed at least two men on either side, on the borders of the enclave.

Resisting United States pressure in what media reports termed a bruising encounter with President Barack Obama in Washington this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not stop building in East Jerusalem, although he vowed to find a way to relaunch stalled negotiations.

But a Friday meeting of his senior cabinet convened to discuss confidence-building steps ended with no announcement.

"Israeli construction policy in Jerusalem has remained the same for 42 years and isn’t changing," said a written statement from Netanyahu’s spokesman, Nir Hefez.

The impasse has triggered sporadic rocket attacks this month from the Gaza Strip, which Israel answered with airstrikes. But Friday’s close-range firefight was the deadliest since Israel’s all-out assault on the Islamist group 14 months ago.

The Israeli army said an officer and a conscript were killed when Palestinian gunmen fired on a military patrol inside the Gaza Stip. Two soldiers were wounded and two Palestinian fighters also died in that clash, it said.

Palestinian officials did not immediately confirm the two deaths but said at least five Palestinians, one a 10-year-old boy, were wounded, and one man of 23 died later of wounds, according to Gaza hospital officials.

"I think it’s true to say that this is one of the fiercest days we have had since operation Cast Lead happened," Israeli army spokeswoman Avital Leibovich said.

It was a "tragic and a painful" incident in a zone where there is "an everyday war", she said.


Hamas Islamists and supporting militant groups oppose the peace-seeking policy of the dominant Palestinian group Fatah, which holds sway in the occupied West Bank and has played down calls for a new Palestinian uprising of violence against Israel.

Gaza sources said five Israeli tanks and two armoured bulldozers advanced from the east firing shells near the town of Khan Younis, in the centre of the narrow coastal enclave.

The militant group Popular Resistance Committees confirmed one of its fighters was critically wounded by shelling. Reports spoke of Israeli helicopters and unmanned drones in the skies.

The clash, however, was not overtly linked to the impasse between Israel, the Palestinians and Washington over Israeli settlement of occupied West Bank land and East Jerusalem.

Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

The militant Islamist group Hamas, which has ruled the enclave since 2007, said its men had fired "in defence" on Israeli soldiers who crossed into the Strip.

Hundreds of its supporters took to the streets of Jabalya refugee camp in the north to celebrate, led by senior Hamas lawamaker Mushir Al-Masri, who praised the battle.

"Entering Gaza is not a picnic," he said. "The Zionists cannot come in anytime they wish and leave anytime and however they want," Masri told the crowd. "The Qassam Brigades (Hamas’s armed wing) were ready and taught them a lessson and they should not repeat such a foolish act."

Hamas has largely held its fire since the three-week war with Israel in early 2009 in which some 1,400 Palestinians, mainly civilians, and 13 Israelis, mainly soldiers, were killed.

But smaller factions have violated the de facto truce by firing rockets and mortars into neighbouring Israeli territory.

Tensions have run high along Gaza’s frontier this month, with Israel launching air strikes in response to Palestinian rocket attacks, one of which killed a Thai worker in a farm.

Four Palestinians have died in West Bank clashes with Israeli forces this month. Obama wants Israel to halt settlement in East Jerusalem, an issue that created new friction when a plan to build 1,600 more housing units was published as Vice President Joe Biden visited to urge talks.

But Friday’s cabinet meeting adjourned without decisions.

"The prime minister set further discussion in the forum for the coming days, as well as continued contacts with the U.S. administration in order to reach an agreed path for getting the diplomatic process moving," his aide Hefez said.

Feb 9, 2010

Israel urges “crippling” sanctions now against Iran

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for immediate and “crippling” sanctions against Iran on Tuesday, as it began making higher-grade nuclear fuel in defiance of international censure.

“Iran is racing forward to produce nuclear weapons … I believe that what is required right now is tough action by the international community,” Netanyahu told European diplomats.

Feb 9, 2010

Israel urges "crippling" sanctions now against Iran

JERUSALEM, Feb 9 (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for immediate and "crippling" sanctions against Iran on Tuesday, as it began making higher-grade nuclear fuel in defiance of international censure.

"Iran is racing forward to produce nuclear weapons … I believe that what is required right now is tough action by the international community," Netanyahu told European diplomats.

"This means not moderate sanctions, or watered-down sanctions. This means crippling sanctions and these sanctions must be applied right now," he said in a short message to underscore Israel’s concern over the latest developments.

Netanyahu’s language implied Israel would not be content with so-called "targeted sanctions" which Western diplomats have predicted could be pursued against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and other assets of the Tehran leadership.

Despite Iranian denials, Western powers fear Iran is enriching uranium with a view to producing bombs.

"In the last two days the brutal regime in Tehran has made more outrageous statements including the implicit call for the extermination of my country," Netanyahu told the EU ambassadors.

He did not repeat veiled threats Israel has made in the past to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities in a pre-emptive strike.

Israel is assumed to have the region’s sole atomic arsenal.

"MORE THAN WORDS" Iranian state television on Tuesday quoted Iran’s nuclear energy chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, as saying uranium enrichment to the higher 20 percent level had started in the Natanz facility under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

This followed a failure to agree terms for a proposed nuclear swap with major powers, under which Iran would send most of its low-enriched uranium abroad in return for such fuel.

Iran currently enriches uranium to a level of 3.5 percent while 80 percent or more is needed for a nuclear bomb.

The Pentagon has said the United States wants the U.N. Security Council to approve a resolution "within weeks, not months", laying the ground for new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme. They would be the fourth set of sanctions.

Spain’s ambassador to Israel, Alvaro Iranzo, said the EU condemned Tehran’s Holocaust denials and calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. The 27-nation bloc wanted assurance that Iran’s atomic ambitions were peaceful, he said.

"I think what is required is a lot more than words," Netanyahu told the gathering of envoys.

He said Iran was acting "in brazen defiance of the international community, and the international community must decide if it is serious about neutralising this threat to Israel, the region and the entire world." (Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Jan 21, 2010

Sour words on Mideast peace as Obama admits setbacks

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Israel and the Palestinians belittled each other’s commitment to peace as U.S. President Barack Obama admitted on Thursday he had underrated the difficulty of reviving deadlocked Middle East negotiations.

As his envoy George Mitchell began a fresh attempt to get the two sides talking to each other, Obama told Time Magazine: “This is just really hard … and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.”