Abbas To Urge Hollande That France Must Recognise Palestine

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PALESTINIAN President Mahmoud Abbas will ask his French counterpart Francois Hollande for official recognition of Palestine in an upcoming meeting this week, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Sunday.

Riyad al-Maliki said that Abbas is due to meet Hollande in Paris on Friday before arriving in New York.

Abbas will urge the French president to support plans to submit a draft resolution to the UN Security Council demanding that Israel withdraw from occupied Palestinian territories.

‘The world is more convinced now than ever before that Israel has been thwarting international efforts by stealing Palestinian land to build settlements, and that has created a much better atmosphere for a positive international response to Palestinian demands,’ al-Maliki said.

‘We are going there (UN Security Council) to say that it’s time the world took a clear position towards occupation which should come to an end after things have reached an impasse.’

Al-Maliki said the PLO are awaiting a response from the United States before UN General Assembly debates start on September 24.

If the US rejects Abbas’ plan, the PLO will submit a resolution to the UN Security Council demanding an end to Israeli occupation.

The wording of the resolution will be in line with assurances conveyed to the PLO by John Kerry before the last round of failed negotiations.

‘If the US vetoes the Palestinian draft resolution, that means they were not serious and are contradicting their own words,’ al-Maliki added.

Meanwhile as hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children returned to school in Gaza on Sunday, Azhar recited a poem eulogising her father, killed by Israeli shelling in the enclave’s recent conflict.

‘Daddy, what can I tell you, if I say I love you it’s not enough,’ the nine-year-old, who was beginning the fourth grade, read to a classroom of teary children.

‘Today is the first day of school, so even though my dad was martyred in the war – I’m happy,’ she said with a smile.

Azhar, her classmates and half a million other children in Gaza were going back to school after a three-week delay caused by the 50-day conflict that ravaged the enclave and left more than 2,140 Palestinians dead.

This year’s return to the classrooms, teachers and principals said, would focus first on dealing with the emotional trauma many of the children are still suffering.

‘We listen to their experiences from the summer vacation, some stories make us laugh, some make us cry. We encourage them to talk as much as they can,’ said Azhar’s teacher, Rima Abu Khatla.

Azhar’s father Tamer Jundiyeh was killed in an air strike on the Shujaiyeh neighbourhood, orphaning her and her five younger siblings.

‘I’m scared the war will start again,’ she said, recalling the missiles from Israeli aircraft that hit her house and killed her father.

Azhar’s classmate Isra shook as she spoke of the Israeli raid that killed her grandfather and aunt.

‘The martyrs and wounded were lying in front of us, we were very scared,’ the nine-year-old said. My grandfather and auntie Layla were killed, I saw them in our house.’

Another classmate, Doa, had lost her school uniform after her house was destroyed, and came to class wearing regular clothes.

‘We left our house when it was being bombed and when we returned it had been destroyed,’ she said.

The UN agency for aid to Palestinian refugees UNRWA, which runs 245 schools in Gaza, has provided specialised training to teachers, with the UN estimating that 373,000 children in Gaza will ‘require direct and specialised psycho-social support’ this school year.

The latest conflict with Israel, which began July 8, was the deadliest since Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Palestinian territory, with more than 500 children killed, according to UN data.

Thousands of structures, including schools, were razed by the bombings.

Samia al-Zaalane, the principal of the Shujaiyeh school attended by Azhar, said many students had to be transferred to her school, where nine out of 18 classrooms were completely destroyed.

‘We had to merge classes – instead of 35 pupils per class, we now have 60,’ she said. Gaza’s education ministry says 24 schools were destroyed by Israeli bombardments, with another 190 partially damaged in the impoverished enclave, in which almost 45 per cent of the population of 1.8 million is under 14 years of age.

Israeli rights group Gisha said that prior to the war, Gaza was already short 259 schools, due partly to Israeli restrictions on the delivery of construction materials.

And even as the school year begins, some 65,000 Palestinians are still living in UNRWA schools where they fled to escape bombardments that destroyed 20,000 homes, with solutions for alternative housing slow to come.

• X-ray technicians across the West Bank declared strike action on Monday in protest against the Ministry of Health’s failure to respond to their demands.

Dozens of technicians demonstrated in front of the Rafidia Hospital in Nablus, with unions declaring that strike action is planned for Monday, today and Thursday.

A member of a union representing the technicians said that workers demanded better healthcare for technicians who developed cancer as part of their job, an increase in the number of technicians, and an increase in annual vacation days.

The strike action will not affect operations or emergencies.

• The deputy head of the Palestinian energy authority said on Sunday the Turkish offers to provide the Gaza Strip with a floating electricity generator for three months was still in the works.

However Fathi Sheikh Khalil said the authorities were still awaiting the necessary permits to send it.

Speaking to a news conference, Khail said that the energy authority did not object to the ship docking in Israel or Egypt and would not insist on it being within Gaza’s borders.

Khalil reiterated that the electricity company managed to return to use 80 per cent of the grids that were damaged by the latest Israeli assault on the enclave.

He added that a scheduled six hours of electricity a day would continue as long as there was not enough fuel, but will return to the eight-hour schedule once more was available.

He also said that an estimated damage of $15 million was made to different equipment in the company’s warehouse in eastern Gaza, while damage to the electricity grid was estimated at $25 million.

• Hamas’s exiled deputy leader said last Thursday that the group could be forced to negotiate directly with Israel, ahead of planned talks in Cairo to consolidate a truce.

But an Israeli minister dismissed any possibility of talking directly with the Islamist movement.

Hamas does not recognise Israel, and Israel denounces Hamas as a terror organisation, and the two sides have never had any direct contact.

Following weeks of indirect, Egyptian brokered negotiations, Israel and Hamas agreed to halt their fire in Gaza on August 26 after 50 days of war, their deadliest confrontation in years.

The indirect talks are set to resume mid-September to discuss longer-term issues.

Asked if Hamas would contemplate negotiating directly with Israel, Mussa Abu Marzuq, the movement’s exiled deputy leader, said it might be needed.

‘If the situation remains as it is now . . . Hamas could find itself forced to do this,’ he said, referring to the dire humanitarian situation and continued blockade on Gaza.

Under terms of the truce deal, Israel pledged an immediate easing of restrictions on goods and construction materials being shipped in to Gaza, but so far, officials say there has been little change on the ground.

‘From a legal (Islamic) perspective there is nothing wrong with negotiating with the occupation,’ he said, indicating it could be necessary in order to guarantee the ‘rights’ of the people of Gaza.

‘Many of the issues that have been taboo within the movement could be up for discussion,’ he said of Hamas’s historic refusal to negotiate with Israel.

But Israel’s Science Minister Yaakov Peri dismissed outright any possibility of negotiating directly with Hamas.

‘As long as Hamas doesn’t abandon the path of violence and terrorism, recognise Israel and the Quartet conditions, Israel will not conduct direct talks with this terrorist organisation,’ Peri said.

The conditions of the Middle East Quartet include recognising Israel, renouncing violence and respecting past agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

‘We will conduct indirect talks with Hamas through Egypt, but will do so in different rooms,’ Peri said, describing the way the Gaza truce talks were run over the past two months.