ISRAEL TRYING TO KEEP ‘STATUS QUO’ THROUGH COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT! says PLO’s Saeb Erekat

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Thousands picket the Israeli embassy in London demanding the establishment of a Palestinian state
Thousands picket the Israeli embassy in London demanding the establishment of a Palestinian state

RELATIONS between Israeli and Palestinian officials have reached a ‘point of no return,’ PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Monday.

The top PLO official made the remarks during a meeting with UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry.

Erekat had made similar comments during meetings with both Japan’s representative office and the US consul general Michael Ratney in recent days. The PLO official said joining the International Criminal Court would help change the status quo.

Erekat said: ‘This is definitely a new stage in the full sense of the word. The Israeli government, however, is trying through collective punishments and threats to keep the status quo and continue to build settlements, give dictats and go ahead with its policy of targeted assassinations, detentions and closures fearing no accountability, as it considers itself above the law.’

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor last Friday opened an initial probe to see if war crimes have been committed against Palestinians, including during last year’s Gaza war.

Palestine’s move to join the ICC is seen as part of a shift in strategy to internationalise its campaign for statehood and move away from the stalled US-led peace process.

The US has branded the ICC move as ‘counterproductive’. Israel responded by delaying the transfer of $127 million in taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians in retaliation for the attempt to press war crimes charges.

Earlier on Monday, Palestinian factions and military groups denounced the Israeli attack which left six Hezbollah fighters dead in al-Quneitra on the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan Heights on Sunday evening.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri released a statement accusing Israel of ‘messing with the security of the region’.

This attack, he added, was an attempt by the Israelis to make up for the defeat they suffered in Gaza. He said: ‘This is an ugly crime employed as elections propaganda.’

Islamic Jihad also denounced the Israeli airstrike. It said: ‘The Hezbollah martyrs’ blood is a sign of good omen that the Palestinian people and the Arab nation will eventually triumph.’

A military wing affiliated to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP) also denounced the attack. The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades confirm that the martyrs’ blood is a new fuel for Arab resistance which will eventually expel the Israeli occupation from Palestine and all Arab territories,’ the PFLP military wing said.

The six Hezbollah fighters were killed on Sunday in an Israeli airstrike on the Syrian side of the Golan, including the son of assassinated senior commander Imad Mughniyeh.

The deaths were announced after an Israeli security official said that an Israeli helicopter conducted a strike against ‘terrorists’ near Quneitra, on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

‘A group of Hezbollah mujahedeen were martyred in a Zionist rocket attack in Quneitra, and their names will be revealed later,’ said Hezbollah’s al-Manar television.

They were killed during a field reconnaissance mission in the Mazraat Amal village of Quneitra province, it said.

The dead included Mohammed Issa, a senior commander responsible for Hezbollah operations in Syria and Iraq. Also killed was Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh, a top Hezbollah operative killed in a 2008 car bombing in Syria which the group has blamed on Israel.

The Israeli official did not identify the targets but alleged they were preparing for an attack on Israel, without providing more details.

Syrian state television confirmed the Israeli airstrike and said six people were killed in the raid but made no mention of Hezbollah.

The Shiite movement is an arch-enemy of Israel, and has sent thousands of fighters across the border to aid Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime as it battles West-backed terrorists.

Sunday’s attack came days after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened to retaliate against Israel for repeated strikes on Syria.

The al-Manar channel, meanwhile, branded the Israeli strike ‘a costly adventure that threatens the security of the Middle East’.

• Hamas on Monday slammed as ‘immoral’ an EU appeal to keep it on the bloc’s terror blacklist, a month after a European court ordered its removal.

‘The European Union’s insistence on keeping Hamas on the list of terrorist organisations is an immoral step, and reflects the EU’s total bias in favour of the Israeli occupation,’ Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

He added: ‘It provides it (Israel) with the cover for its crimes against the Palestinian people.’

Foreign ministers from the 28 EU member states decided at a Monday meeting to appeal against the decision taken by the General Court of the European Union on December 17, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.

The ruling by the EU’s second highest court had said that the blacklisting of Hamas in 2001 was based not on sound legal judgements but on conclusions derived from the media and the internet.

Hamas, which has dominated the Gaza Strip since 2007, had appealed against its inclusion on the blacklist on several grounds.

Israel’s closest ally the United States has urged the EU to keep up its sanctions on Hamas, saying the US position had ‘not changed’ and Hamas is still a ‘designated foreign terrorist organisation’.

The EU ministers were meeting in Brussels to discuss how to boost cooperation in the face of a growing Islamist militant threat following deadly Paris attacks and anti-terror raids in Belgium.

• The Israeli prison service recently escalated its provocative practices against the Palestinian families of prisoners during prison visits, especially its strip search of visiting women, Hamas reported on Monday.

Different prisoners and their families complained to human rights groups that the strip search of their women by Israeli jailers increase their suffering and deepen their sense of humiliation.

According to a report released by the Palestinian Authority commission of detainees and ex-detainees, the Palestinian women are forced to remove their clothing for search by Israeli female soldiers before allowing them to visit their relatives in jail.

This is not to mention the other difficulties the families of prisoners encounter during their long-distance travel before reaching prisons and the long hours they have to wait before and during the court hearings held for their relatives, the report added.

The report noted that the Israeli prison administrations also prevent families from providing vital needs for their relatives in jails, such as winter clothing and blankets.

• A delegation of senior British Labour MPs on Sunday met with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Ramallah on the last day of three-day visit to Palestine.

The Palestinian Prime Minister praised the British Parliament for its historic vote to call on the British government to recognise the state of Palestine in October 2014.

He told the delegation: ‘We count on you to take a lead, Britain has an historic responsibility.’

He briefed the MPs on Palestine’s plans regarding the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Security Council. He stressed that it was now ‘time for all the international community to be involved not just the Americans’.

Liam Byrne, the shadow Secretary of State of Universities and Gavin Shuker, the shadow minister for international development were on a fact-finding visit organised by Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and the Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu).

Both MPs recently voted in favour of Palestinian Statehood in the British Parliament. Liam Byrne said: ‘There is a shared determination to speak out on the injustices in Palestine. We need to be better at building bridges, not building walls.

‘The conflict in Gaza has given this issue a new profile in Europe and particularly in Britain, over the next few years it will only get bigger and bigger.’

Gavin Shuker said: ‘Travelling to the West Bank secured in me a sense that this is the right time to go further in terms of recognition and supporting the two-state solution, the key moment is now.’

The delegation has had meetings with diplomats, UN agencies, local and international Non-Government Organisations.

They visited Palestinian communities under threat of displacement and home demolition in the Jordan Valley and also at the village of Al Walajeh.