PA Cabinet will not allow ‘a return to violence’ – but welcomes Ban’s attack on illegal settlements

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DURING its weekly cabinet meeting on Monday, the Palestinian government in Ramallah condemned the killing of four Palestinians in Nablus in less than 24 hours by Israel forces.

The cabinet also condemned Israeli military strikes on the Gaza Strip.

Ministers warned that Israel’s recent escalation in military violence endangered the Palestinian Authority’s achievements in the fields of security and stability, and called on international entities to exert pressure on Israel to bring all such actions to a halt, as they coincide with the International Quartet’s (Russia, the UN, the EU and US) demand for Israel to stop all settlement activity.

The cabinet said the PA would not allow for a return to violence, adding that the international community’s assistance is essential in ensuring that an armed conflict does not erupt.

This, stated ministers, comes through practical steps to bind Israel to halting intensified military action and settlement activity.

Furthermore, cabinet ministers welcomed Sunday’s comments by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denouncing ‘illegal’ settlement activity and Israeli assaults in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Ministers further demanded a concrete deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

On the Arab League summit in Libya, to be held next week, the cabinet called upon those Arab leaders participating to form a united Arab plan to protect Jerusalem from Israel’s settlement enterprise.

Arab leaders, ministers added, should endeavour to lift the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and provide the PA with the financial support needed to reconstruct the costal enclave following Israel’s winter assault in 2008-2009.

The PA cabinet further decided to provide financial support to Palestinian universities in the West Bank and Gaza with the Euro-Mediterranean academic network, agreeing that the move would foster academic research centres in Palestine and lay the foundations for electronic education.

Meanwhile, meetings were held between rival factions Fatah and Hamas on Monday in Gaza and Damascus in order to reach a unity deal, a Fatah Central Committee member said.

Speaking on Ma’an Radio Network, Azam Al-Ahmad said he met with Musa Abu Marzouq, Hamas vice-chairman, in his Damascus home, where they discussed all issues concerning bilateral dialogue and Hamas’ recent stance on national reconciliation.

The aim of the talks, Al-Ahmad said, were to compel Hamas to sign the Egyptian-sponsored document, tipped to end inter-factional rivalry.

The Damascus talks, he said, led to an agreement to continue bilateral talks between the two parties and further consultation on the unity deal.

Abu Marzouq put forward a proposal to overcome the stalemate reached in ratifying the deal, Al-Ahmad said, but was not at liberty to discuss it.

‘Our demand is to sign the proposal, and after that, we’re ready to walk hand in hand to end division,’ Al-Ahmad said.

In Gaza, Fatah Central Committee member Sakher Bsesso, and Hamas leaders further met to discuss the Egyptian deal, Al-Ahmad said.

On Monday Jordanian Foreign Minister, Nasser Judeh, reiterated that Egypt is solely mandated with ensuring an end to inter-Palestinian rivalry, leader of independent Palestinian politicians Yasser Al-Wadieh said.

Judeh’s response followed a series of communications from independent Palestinian leaders to Arab foreign ministers calling for Arab support for reconciliation efforts and the need for a united stance, in light of recent attacks against Jerusalem, Al-Wadieh said.

Al-Wadieh said Judeh assured leaders that Jordan is committed to Palestinian reconciliation under the auspices of Egypt.

Representatives of all Palestinian factions met in Gaza City in early February, after Fatah leader Nabil Sha’ath visited Gaza in a bid to encourage bilateral dialogue.

The move was seen as a gesture of good will, with a top Islamic Jihad leader saying in March that Hamas was preparing to ratify the Egyptian document.

Hamas has maintained that it will not sign the document until its amendments are taken into consideration, while Fatah, who has ratified the agreement, has accused the Islamist movement of stalling the deal’s implementation by refusing to sign.

l On his first visit to Gaza since the end of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the ongoing siege ‘not sustainable’ adding that the continued closure ‘is wrong.’

More than a year after he spoke in front of the smouldering remains of the UN warehouse in Gaza City, hit by Israeli missiles during the December 2008-January 2009 war, Ban addressed Gazans in Khan Younis, saying they ‘are striving to provide for their families amid unacceptable, unsustainable conditions.’

The Israeli siege of Gaza, Ban said, ‘causes unacceptable suffering of human beings,’ with half of the area’s population, which is under the age of 18, suffering the most, a UN news brief quoted the official as saying.

‘The policy is also counter-productive and prevents legitimate commerce and encourages smuggling. It undercuts moderates and empowers extremists.’

Speaking of the UN housing and reconstruction projects recently okayed by Israel, Ban said that, ‘While I believe that this is a positive welcome step, I believe again we need far, far, much more,’ adding, ‘This is like a drop in a bucket of water.’

Speaking in Moscow on Friday, Ban said the Israeli government had ‘just approved the very longstanding United Nations humanitarian project,’ which included water and sanitation projects, temporary schools and the completion of 150 housing units for Gazans.

‘The government of Israel has agreed to expand the list of imports to include aluminium for window frames. It’s vital now that these steps are speedily implemented. The needs in Gaza remains huge,’ Ban told reporters.

Ban was received at the Erez crossing Sunday by 200 students and war amputees holding a series of banners asking the official to hold Israel to the standards of international law.

‘We live in a place that Israel decided international law did not exist. With their warplanes and tanks, they rose above their commitments and the Geneva Conventions like they were just so much as ink on paper,’ a banner lining Salah Ad-Din Street said.

‘We are addressing you today on behalf of those whose houses were demolished during Israel’s war on Gaza; they are still awaiting the reconstruction of their homes,’ a second banner read.

‘We address you on behalf of more than 500 victims who died as a result of the crippling siege because they couldn’t travel abroad for treatment,’ read a third, ‘and on behalf of hundreds of other patients and those suffering on account of the siege.’

The people of Gaza are ‘looking forward to freedom and justice,’ a final banner along the street read.

In last year’s Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip over 1,400 Gazans were killed and thousands were wounded and made homeless.