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Report: Israel, U.S. discuss land lease

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JERUSALEM, Oct. 29 (KATAKAMI / UPI) — Israel and the United States are conducting secret talks on future borders of a Palestinian state, Ash-Sharq al-Awsat reported Friday.

“We are conducting intense negotiations with the U.S. administration in an effort to resume direct talks with the Palestinians,” Ophir Gendelman, head of Israel’s Foreign Ministry Arabic media department, told the Arabic daily.

The two sides are discussing the option that Israel will lease land in East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley from the future Palestinian state for 40 to 99 years, the report said.

The report was confirmed by Palestinian sources, who said the idea was an American initiative aimed at obtaining an understanding with Israel over the future Palestinian state, Haaretz said.

The sources said the talks are being conducted in secret in an effort to save the peace process.

The Israeli daily said U.S. and Israeli government officials declined to comment on the report.

An Egyptian source told Ash-Sharq al-Aswat the Palestinian Authority was informed only recently of the substance of the talks.

 

(MS)

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Mahmoud Abbas: Israel has been taking unilateral measures for years

Palestinian Authority president responds to Netanyahu's criticism of Palestinians possibly seeking UN recognition of state; "settlements are a unilateral step done by Israel," Abbas says.

October 25, 2010 BETHLEHEM, West Bank (KATAKAMI / JPOST)   — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday that Israel has been taking unilateral steps for decades by building settlements, so the Palestinians might take one of their own — asking the United Nations to recognize their independent state.

Abbas was replying to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who said the only path to peace is negotiations. The threat of unilateral action indicates the depth of the crisis over peace talks restarted just last month by US President Barack Obama.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are at the heart of the current stalemate. Netanyahu imposed a 10-month halt to new construction in settlements last November to bring Palestinians back to the table. But it took nine months of intensive US mediation to restart direct talks.

Netanyahu faced stiff opposition to the building restrictions from inside his government and said he would not renew the measure, which expired Sept. 26. Construction has begun on more than 500 new homes since then, according to settler officials and a count by The Associated Press.

Palestinians insist they will not hold talks while settlement construction continues. They have been suggesting recently that they would seek other solutions if the talks fail.

One possibility would be asking the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

That would not dislodge the Israeli military from the West Bank, dismantle the 120 Jewish settlements there or give Palestinians free access to east Jerusalem. But it could isolate Israel and change the diplomatic equation.

On Sunday, Netanyahu criticized this idea.

“I think any attempt to circumvent it by going to international bodies isn’t realistic and won’t advance true peacemaking in any way,” Netanyahu said. “Peace will be achieved only through direct talks.”

During a visit to Bethlehem on Monday, Abbas responded that Israel has been taking unilateral measures in the West Bank for decades — especially by building settlements.

“Settlements are a unilateral step done by Israel,” Abbas said. “Is there anything clearer than settlements and invasions and roadblocks and all that has been done on Palestinian land?”

Given that reality, Abbas said, Netanyahu should not lecture the Palestinians about a step they might take in the future, “which is to resort to the United Nations.”

Palestinian officials have mentioned this possibility before, but Abbas’ statement was a rare on-the-record reference to the idea.

 

Resume talks, Israel urges Palestinians

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October 25, 2010 JERUSALEM (KATAKAMI / Dispatch.Com) — Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the Palestinians yesterday to avoid unilateral action and resume peace talks, a reflection of growing concern that the Palestinian leadership might be inching toward a “Plan B” in which they seek international recognition of an independent state without Israeli agreement.

Talks have stalled, just weeks after their launch, after Israel resumed settlement building in the West Bank after a 10-month moratorium. The Palestinians have said they cannot negotiate with Israel unless the curbs are renewed.

As the stalemate drags on, the Palestinians have said they are considering sidestepping Israel by seeking U.N. Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — territories the Jewish state captured from Jordan and Egypt in the 1967 Mideast war.

At the start of the weekly meeting of his cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the Palestinians to “honor their obligation to engage in direct negotiations.”

“I think any attempt to circumvent it by going to international bodies isn’t realistic and won’t advance true peacemaking in any way,” Netanyahu said. “Peace will be achieved only through direct talks.”

Netanyahu said he was in close contact with U.S. mediators in an effort to revive the talks, which were launched at the White House on Sept. 2. He said he remained committed to reaching the outlines of a deal within one year, the target set by the White House.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat rejected Netanyahu’s call, saying Israel is acting unilaterally through settlement construction.

“We don’t want to engage in unilateral action,” he said, urging Netanyahu to “stop unilateral actions and engage as a partner in peace by stopping settlement activity.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas isn’t expected to take any unilateral action before September 2011. But he already has instructed top aides to begin preparing for options other than a negotiated deal.

The chief alternative, Palestinian officials say, is to pursue U.N. Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state.

PM Netanyahu asking Palestinians to cede right of return

 

PM Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right. Photo by: Tomer Appelbaum and Reuters

 

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October 12, 2010 (KATAKAMI) —   Benjamin Netanyahu is not satisfied with forcing gentiles who wish to obtain Israeli citizenship to formally declare their recognition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Now he is demanding that the neighbors on the other side of the border also declare Israel to be a Jewish state (what about “democratic”? ).

They will grant recognition in perpetuity, while he will grant a temporary settlement freeze for two months. Maybe three. Judaism for sale.

And for those who think this is a condition for talks, think again. Bibi is innocently trying to rediscover the Israeli public’s faith in the Palestinians, a faith that was lost following the violent events of the intifada. There once was a time when security was the famous catchword that was featured in Netanyahu’s campaign commercials which vowed, “If they give [security], they’ll receive.”

When there are no terrorist attacks (though there are outposts ), our salesman in chief invented the gimmick that is the Jewish state. They say it sells well in the Mahane Yehuda market. Perhaps it sells better than the wares peddled by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Netanyahu told the Knesset on Monday that if the Palestinians accept his offer, he will ask the government to approve “an additional suspension of building.” In contrast to the statements made by Lieberman during his meetings with European foreign ministers, Bibi is not naive. The prime minister knows that he has no reason to fear the reactions of the settlers and their patrons in the coalition.

When he demands that Abbas recognize Israel as a state of the Jewish people, he is offering assisted political suicide to the the Palestinian leader.

Netanyahu knows full well that any Palestinian leader who recognizes Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people also acknowledges that the Palestinians do not have any rightful place there. In other words, it is tantamount to an up-front concession on the right of return.

Netanyahu understands that this is an asset that is too precious and too complex for the Palestinians to just give up for cheap – namely, a temporary, partial freeze on construction in settlements (not including East Jerusalem ).

In the best case scenario, they will relinquish the implementation of the right of return as part of a final status accord that will calm their nerves about the weighty issues of borders and Jerusalem.

This is what we are likely to hear from the prime minister after Abbas rejects his shady proposal: “When they refuse to make such a simple statement, the question arises – why? Do you want to flood the state of Israel with refugees so that it will be a state without a Jewish majority? Do you want to rip away parts of the Galilee and the Negev?”

These words are not the concoction of this writer’s diabolical mind. Rather, this was a quote from a news conference held by Netanyahu in Sderot three weeks ago. This was a general rehearsal in preparation for the major diversionary ploy prepared by the premier in order to ease the coming crisis over the expiration of the freeze in settlement construction.

It is far more elegant to sabotage the negotiations over a Palestinian plot to throw us into the sea. This item is much more sellable to the Jewish-American market. It is hard to believe a seasoned politician like U.S. President Barack Obama will fall into such a transparent trap and make common cause with Netanyahu in his attempt to down Abbas.

And what will happen after Abbas announces (as his aides were quick to do so yesterday ) unequivocally that determining the identity of a neighboring state is not his business, but rather solely that of the neighbor? Will Israel respond by freezing the negotiations for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state? Every second-hand dealer knows that whoever raises the price of his goods too high shouldn’t expect to make any hay.

HAARETZ

PM Netanyahu ‘Seeking freeze formula’

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on October 10, 2010 in Jerusalem, Israel. Netanyahu if facing increased pressure from the U.S. to renew the 10-month freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank, an issue opposed by many of the coalition government members. He also gave his support to Israel's proposed citizenship oath, which would require all non-Jewish citizens to vow their allegiance to the State of Israel as a ''Jewish and democratic state''.

 

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October 12, 2010 (KATAKAMI) — After PM Netanyahu demands recognition of Jewish state as precondition for freeze, sources say he does not intend to derail talks. Shas willing to support freeze; Habayit Hayehudi, Yisrael Beitenu are not
Attila Somfalvi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have demanded conditions the Palestinians are unable to meet, but he has agreed to the principle of a continued settlement construction freeze. Following his Knesset speech, government sources close to the prime minister said Monday the proposal he presented was not his final offer, and discussions are now underway regarding what must be received in return. Meanwhile the US on Monday again reiterated its expectation of a continued moratorium.

Despite the confusion in the government regarding Netanyahu’s declaration that he is ready to extend the freeze in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, sources emphasized this was “not an attempt to put an end to negotiations or cause the talks to break down.” This deal, they said, was tabled a month ago and rejected by the Palestinians, but “alternative formulations” are being sought.

“If the Palestinian leadership says unequivocally to its people that it recognizes Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I am willing to convene my government and request a moratorium on construction for a further limited period,” Netanyahu said to the Knesset plenum opening the winter session.

“The prime minister’s words leave an open door for reaching an agreement around a freeze, while at the same time he tries to win points regarding Israel’s character as a Jewish state,” a senior minister close to Netanyahu said Monday evening. “The freeze is still on the table.”
The forum of the top seven ministers is expected to convene Tuesday, though it is not yet clear whether this issue will be on the agenda. The prime minister met Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in the Knesset on Monday, while on Thursday he is expected to meet Opposition Chairperson Tzipi Livni.

Freeze ‘with significant US agreements’

It was in fact from the right side of the political spectrum that Netanyahu received support. Shas leader MK Eli Yishai said to Ynet in a special broadcast from the Knesset that his party would not quit the government even if there is an additional freeze – “so that Kadima won’t get in (the government) and cause an even deeper freeze.” Already in August, Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said he would not oppose a continued freeze for a limited period.

However, it is still not clear whether Netanyahu will be able to muster a majority in favor of extending the freeze – even with Shas on board, Yisrael Beitenu and Habayit Hayehudi are still opposed. Some senior Likud ministers will back Netanyahu in return for “significant agreements with the US.”
The prime minister let slip another hint during the Likud faction meeting Monday, when he asserted there were “other important interests apart from building in the settlements” – words that riled the rightwing members of the party.

Netanyahu is also under pressure from the left, including from Labor’s Ehud Barak. The party discussed the talks on Monday and their chances of success, and Barak reiterated his position, saying things would be clearer by April, when Labor’s position in the government would also be made clear.
Labor ministers emphasize that if there is no progress in the political progress, there is no point them being in the government.

U.S. after Netanyahu proposal: Our position on settlements hasn’t changed

 

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (C), looks on as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel (L) and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority (R) shakes hands as they re-launch of direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian Authority at the State Department in Washington, DC, on September 2, 2010. (Getty Images)

 

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October 12, 2010 (KATAKAMI) — Netanyahu offers renewal of settlement freeze in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel as Jewish state; U.S. State Department says Obama administration committed to Israel’s democracy as a Jewish state.

The U.S. State Department on Monday dodged a direct response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer to extend the settlement freeze in exchange for Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, saying that the U.S. position on settlements hasn’t changed.

“Our position on settlements is well known. As we’ve noted we would like to see the settlement moratorium extended. Beyond that, we are not going to get into the substance of our discussions with the parties,” a U.S. State Department official said when asked by Haaretz for a response to Netanyahu’s Knesset speech.

“U.S. policy has been consistent. Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton are committed to Israel’s democracy as a Jewish state,” he said.

Netanyahu spoke at the opening of the third session of the 18th Knesset on Monday, and proposed an exchange of gestures to the Palestinians, wherein Israel would renew its settlement freeze if the Palestinian Authority would recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland.

The Palestinians quickly issued a statement saying they reject the offer and that “the issue of the Jewishness of the state has nothing to do with the matter,” emphasizing that Israel must freeze the settlements before they could return to U.S.-backed peace talks.

HAARETZ

French, Spanish FMs meet with King Abdullah, Abbas

President Mahmoud Abbas & King Abdullah II

 

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October 11, 2010 (KATAKAMI) — French Foreign Minister Bernard Kuchner and his Spanish counterpart Miguel Moratinos meet in Amman with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah.

The European ministers, who met with Israeli officials on Sunday, expressed optimism vis-à-vis the peace process, and noted that they believed Europe could assist the process, especially Spain and France.

 

(YNET / AFP)

Abbas told Arab summit Israel has ‘cancelled Oslo’: aide

President Mahmoud Abbas attends Arab League Summit, October 09, 2010 in Sirte, Libya. (Getty Images)

 

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October 11, 2010 (KATAKAMI / FRANCE 24 / AFP)  – Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas told Arab leaders over the weekend that Israel has in effect scrapped the landmark 1993 Oslo autonomy accords, an aide said on Monday.

“Abbas affirmed to the Arabs that Israel has effectively cancelled the Oslo agreement and the other agreements it has signed with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO),” chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.

He went on to accuse Israel of having stripped the Palestinian Authority of much of its limited powers in the occupied territories and of “intruding on a daily basis” into areas governed by the Palestinians, Erakat said.
“If Israel does not respect agreements or adhere to implementing them then how can the PLO and the Palestinian Authority adhere to them?” he asked.

The 1993 Oslo accords formally launched the peace process based on autonomy and led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, which was to govern parts of the occupied West Bank and Gaza until a final agreement.

But after nearly two decades of sputtering talks Israel and the Palestinians remain bitterly divided on core issues and Abbas has refused to negotiate without a complete freeze of Jewish settlement building on Palestinian lands.

Erakat said that Abbas, at the Arab summit in the Libyan city of Sirte, also spelled out several alternatives to direct negotiations should Israel continue to build in the occupied territories.

One option would have the Palestinians demand US recognition of a state in the Palestinian territories occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war: the West Bank, Gaza Strip and annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

Abbas said other options include demanding full membership from the UN General Assembly and the Security Council or requesting an international mandate to govern the Palestinian territories, Erakat said.

“Abbas did not say he would resign or dissolve the Palestinian Authority,” Erakat said, referring to far more drastic steps to which the Palestinians have alluded in the past.

“But he said that since Israel has cancelled the Oslo accords and the other agreements and stripped the power of the Palestinian Authority over Palestinian lands, why should it remain in place?”

The latest round of peace talks was relaunched on September 2 in Washington but ground to a halt when a 10-month partial moratorium on Israeli settlements expired on September 26.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to extend the restrictions, a move opposed by much of his right-wing-led coalition, but he has encouraged the Palestinians to stick to the talks.

 

To restart peace talks, Israeli, Arab leaders look for compromise

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (left) listens to Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani during a meeting of the Arab League yesterday. Photograph: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images


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October 09, 2010 (KATAKAMI) — Israeli and Arab leaders Friday continued to search for a compromise that would allow peace talks to continue this weekend, but both sides acknowledged that the current negotiations were making no progress.

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought consensus within his Cabinet, possibly for a brief extension to the expired settlements freeze, the Arab League announced it was drafting alternative plans for continuing the peace talks.

“We will meet to formulate the beginning of alternatives within the framework that the negotiations are not bearing fruit,” said Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, after a meeting Friday in Libya.

Anonymous officials quoted in the Arab news media said Arab countries would allow up to one month to search for alternatives, effectively delaying a decision amid international pressure for the peace talks to press forward.

The Arab League had been expected to vote on the position of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to suspend the talks until Israel agreed to freeze all construction in the West Bank settlements.

Egypt and Jordan had already decided to back Abbas’ position, but Moussa said the Arab League would take more time to continue to find compromises.

“There are no talks at the moment because the position of the Israelis is very, very negative. They are not cooperating in the negotiations,” Moussa said.

The apparent decision by the Arab League represents a small victory for U.S. Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell – buying him time to try to find a way for the direct talks to continue.

Israel’s most recent, 10-month freeze on settlements expired Sept. 26. For much of that time, Israeli and Palestinian leaders held indirect “proximity” talks, mediated by Mitchell.

President Mahmoud Abbas & PM Netanyahu in Washington (September 2, 2010)

Israeli and Palestinian leadership had agreed to start direct negotiations with great fanfare at the White House on Sept. 2.

But the looming end to the settlement freeze cast a shadow over the talks before they got under way. As settlers celebrated the end of the freeze by launching hundreds of building projects in the West Bank, Palestinians confirmed that they would not begin to meet to talk peace until that building stopped.

Settlements have long been a major stumbling block in peace negotiations.

Palestinians see them as a land grab by Israel. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has stated repeatedly that it is “pointless” for Palestinians to continue negotiations while settlements continue to expand on land earmarked for a future Palestinian state.

Israel, meanwhile, remains torn on the settlements with a recent poll by the Israeli company Dahaf finding that 54 percent of Israelis support their continued growth. Netanyahu, meanwhile, heads a largely right-wing coalition that is close to the settler movement.

While a number of Israeli lawmakers have spoken out in support of the settlements, few within Netanyahu’s inner Cabinet have agreed to speak publically about the behind-the-scenes negotiations to reach a compromise.

Israeli news media reported that the White House was putting “significant” pressure on Netanyahu, and had offered him a package that would include key security promises in exchange for extending a freeze on the settlements.

“We are considering a number of options at the moment, and are in daily communication with both the U.S. and other parties who want to be involved in the peace process,” said one Israeli official, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the negotiations.

He confirmed that several compromises had been suggested that would institute some form of a freeze on settlement construction for “a limited time.” Abbas has said that a “three- to four-month” freeze would be necessary to “give peace a chance.”

KANSASCITY.COM

Arab League urges US to call halt on Israeli settlements

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, listens to Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem, right and Amr Moussa, Secretary general of the Arab League, during the Arab Foreign Ministers Peace Initiative meeting, in Sirte, Libya, Friday, Oct. 8, 2010. (Getty Images)

 

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October 09, 2010 (KATAKAMI) — Arab foreign ministers have given the US another month to persuade Israel to halt settlement activity in the occupied territories – backing the decision by Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to suspend peace talks.

Talks in Libya produced a statement by the Arab League last night urging the Obama administration to carry on working for an extension of Israel’s 10-month settlement freeze, which expired last month, so that the already faltering negotiations can continue.

Abbas had urged ministers of the 22-member league to back his call for more time before pronouncing the talks a failure, as many observers predict they eventually will be.

Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who chaired the meeting in the coastal town of Sirte, told reporters: “The committee endorses the decision of President Abbas to stop the talks. It urges the American side to pursue efforts to resume the peace process and put it back on the right track, including stopping settlements.”

The league committee will meet again within one month to study alternatives proposed by Abbas.

The effect of the Arab decision is to allow the quest for negotiations to go into extra time despite what had appeared to be an early and potentially terminal crisis over the ever-intractable settlement issue.

Direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were ceremonially relaunched early last month in Washington and just two working sessions were held in Egypt and Jerusalem before the expiry of the settlement moratorium.

The US has urged Israel to extend it, but the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has refused to do so, arguing that the housing needs of Jewish settlers were simply a matter of “natural growth” and blaming the Palestinians for making an unreasonable demand.

Abbas and other Palestinian officials had made clear they would not be able to carry on negotiating with Israel without an extension of the freeze, even for two or three months.

Palestinians see the presence of 500,000 Israelis in some 120 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a threat to the viability of their future state and a freeze as a key test of Israel’s good faith.

Diplomats and analysts say that while both sides are deeply pessimistic about prospects for success, neither wishes to be blamed for the collapse of the peace process. That would be a grave blow to US prestige and risk political chaos and a possible slide into violence on the ground.

“There are no talks at the moment because the position of the Israelis is very, very negative,” said the Arab League’s Egyptian secretary-general, Amr Moussa. “They are not cooperating in the negotiations.”

Abbas’s position was backed by Egypt and Jordan, which both have peace treaties with Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia and most Gulf states, which do not. But Libya and Syria have reservations. Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Muallem, conspicuously stated away from the Sirte meeting.

In the West Bank town of Hebron, meanwhile, Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians who were described as members of the military wing of Hamas, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades. The two were reportedly part of the cell responsible for an attack which killed four Israeli settlers on the eve of the relaunch of the talks.

Obama urges Israel to help loosen aid flow to Gaza

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June 10, 2010

(IBTIMES)   President Barack Obama urged Israel on Wednesday to help ease restrictions on the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza following a deadly flotilla raid, and pledged $400 million (275 million pounds) in assistance to the Palestinians.

Hosting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, Obama described the situation in the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip as “unsustainable” and called on the Jewish state to work with all parties to find a solution.

But Obama, sticking to a cautious line, stopped short of joining in broader international condemnation of close U.S. ally Israel over last week’s flotilla incident and did not back Abbas’s demand for a lifting of the Gaza blockade.

“The status quo that we have is one that’s inherently unstable,” Obama told reporters with Abbas at his side in the Oval Office.

Obama also called on Israel and the Palestinians to do more to advance U.S.-mediated indirect peace talks as he sought to contain the fallout from the flotilla incident.

Abbas’s visit came amid an international backlash against Israel after its forces boarded a Turkish aid ship bound for the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on May 31. Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed.

The Palestinian leader urged Obama, who has been more measured in his response to the flotilla raid than the broader international community, to take a tougher line with Israel.

“We see the need to lift the Israeli siege of the Palestinian people,” Abbas said.

Obama voiced sympathy for the plight of Palestinians in impoverished Gaza but insisted that any solution must also meet Israel’s security needs. Israel says its three-year-old blockade is required to stop weapons smuggling to Hamas. Palestinians call it collective punishment.

“There should be ways of focussing narrowly on arms shipments, rather than focussing in a blanket way on stopping everything and then, in a piecemeal way, allowing things into Gaza,” Obama insisted, saying his administration had begun some “hard-headed” discussions with Israel on the issue.

AID PLEDGE

There was no sign of a breakthrough in Abbas’s talks with Obama, but the U.S. president did not send his Palestinian counterpart home empty-handed. Obama announced $400 million in new economic development aid for the West Bank and Gaza.

Any fresh infusion of funds to Gaza would come with strings attached to keep it out of the hands of Hamas, which is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. Hamas Islamists seized control of the coastal enclave from Abbas’s Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in 2007.

In recent years, U.S. aid to the Palestinians has been sent mostly to the West Bank, where Abbas governs, or funneled to Gaza through international agencies.

Signalling a U.S. desire to boost Abbas’s standing with his people, reporters were allowed into the Oval Office to see the leaders together. Press coverage was barred during a tense visit in November by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which Israeli media widely interpreted as a snub.

Obama reiterated his support for a “credible” investigation of the flotilla incident, saying it was important to “get the facts out.” But he steered clear of calls for an independent international probe. Israel has insisted on conducting its own inquiry, with a role for foreign experts or observers.

Despite heightened regional tensions, the Obama administration is seeking to keep alive indirect U.S.-brokered talks that have made little headway since starting in early May. Obama hopes to push the sides towards direct negotiations.

Obama’s Middle East diplomacy, central to his outreach to the Muslim world, has been complicated by the flotilla incident.

Abbas’s meeting with Obama took place a week after Netanyahu cancelled talks in Washington and rushed home from Canada to deal with the crisis sparked by the flotilla raid.

Netanyahu’s visit had been billed as a fence-mending session to move beyond discord over Jewish settlement construction on occupied land.

Obama has little room to manoeuvre. With U.S. congressional elections looming in November, he must be mindful that support for Israel is strong among U.S. lawmakers and voters.

Abbas arrived from Turkey, a U.S. ally that has condemned Israel’s action and curtailed ties with it. Abbas has called the raid a “massacre.” Israel said its commandos defended themselves when attacked during the boarding.

Photostream : Reactions to the Gaza Flotilla Tragedy

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators wave signboards ...
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators wave signboards as an orthodox Jewish man crosses the street, across from the Israeli mission to the United Nations, in New York, May 31, 2010. Israeli marines stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza on Monday and at least nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed, triggering a diplomatic crisis and an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council. European nations, as well as the United Nations and Turkey, voiced shock and outrage at the bloody end to the international campaigners’ bid to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators wave signboards ...
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators wave signboards across from the Israeli mission to the United Nations, in New York, May 31, 2010. Israeli marines stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza on Monday and at least nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed, triggering a diplomatic crisis and an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council. European nations, as well as the United Nations and Turkey, voiced shock and outrage at the bloody end to the international campaigners’ bid to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip
A man with a sign promoting Islam walks towards ...
A protestor walks with a sign promoting Islam towards pro-Palestinian demonstrators, across the street from the Israeli mission to the United Nations, in New York, May 31, 2010. Israeli marines stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza on Monday and at least nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed, triggering a diplomatic crisis and an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council. European nations, as well as the United Nations and Turkey, voiced shock and outrage at the bloody end to the international campaigners’ bid to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip
Israels Foreign Minister Lieberman addresses ...
Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman addresses the media during a news conference in Jerusalem May 31, 2010. Israeli marines stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza on Monday and 10 pro-Palestinian activists were killed, triggering a diplomatic crisis and plans for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council.

Israeli Navy Soldier Describes the Violent Mob Aboard Mavi Marmara

Weapons Found on the Flotilla Ship Mavi Marmara Used by Activists Against IDF Soldiers

Close-Up Footage of Mavi Marmara Passengers Attacking IDF Soldiers, 31 May 2010

Pictures of the weapons found on the Mavi Marmara ship where today, when IDF soldiers attempted to board the ship and redirect it to the Ashdod Port, the activists on board lynched the soldiers in a planned attack. They used knives, metal rods, firebombs and other weapons to attack the soldiers. The violence resulted in the deaths of nine activists and seven IDF soldiers were wounded in the process. All casualties were evacuated from the ship and taken to hospitals in Israel.

Pictures of the weapons found on the Mavi Marmara ship where today, when IDF soldiers attempted to board the ship and redirect it to the Ashdod Port, the activists on board lynched the soldiers in a planned attack. They used knives, metal rods, firebombs and other weapons to attack the soldiers. The violence resulted in the deaths of nine activists and seven IDF soldiers were wounded in the process. All casualties were evacuated from the ship and taken to hospitals in Israel.

Israel faces storm over deadly raid on Gaza aid ...
An image grab taken from a video released by the Israeli navy shows, according to the Israeli military, passengers of Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara, one of the ships in the “Freedom Flotilla”, attacking Israeli soldiers during a pre-dawn assault
U.N. Security Council meets on Gaza flotilla
Israeli naval vessels approach the port of Ashdod May 31, 2010. The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss Israel’s storming of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.
Israel faces questions as it grills Gaza activists

Israeli soldiers ride aboard a naval vessel in the Mediterranean Sea May 31, 2010

Israel faces storm over deadly raid on Gaza aid ...
Israeli soldiers raid a ship as the navy intercepts a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in the Mediterranean Sea. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew home to Israel Tuesday, cancelling a visit to Washington as an international outcry grew over its deadly commando raid on Gaza aid ships.
Commando, Mavi Marmara Ship, Helicopter, Rappel, ...
This image made from video provided by the Israeli Defence Force on Monday, May 31, 2010 shows what the IDF says is a clash between commandos being dropped by helicopter and people aboard the Mavi Marmara ship in the Mediterranean Sea. Israeli commandos rappelled down to an aid flotilla sailing to thwart a Gaza blockade on Monday, clashing with pro-Palestinian activists on the lead ship in a raid that left at least nine passengers dead
Mideast Israel Palestinians, Mavi Marmara, Ship
This image made from video provided by the Israeli Defence Force on Monday, May 31, 2010 shows what the IDF says is the Mavi Marmara ship, part of the aid flotilla in the Mediterranean Sea. Israeli commandos rappelled down to an aid flotilla sailing to thwart a Gaza blockade on Monday, clashing with pro-Palestinian activists on the lead ship in a raid that left at least nine passengers dead.
Egypts Muslim Brotherhood members shout ...
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood members shout anti-Israel slogans in front of Al-Fath Mosque in Cairo May 31, 2010. Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt were protesting against Israel’s interception of a convoy of Gaza-bound aid ships. Israeli commandos stormed a convoy of Gaza-bound aid ships on Monday and more than 10 of the mostly international activists aboard were killed, provoking a diplomatic crisis and Palestinian charges of a “massacre”.
Palestinian flashes a victory sign in front of ...
A Palestinian flashes a victory sign in front of a Palestinian flag during a demonstration in Rome May 31, 2010. Israel’s storming of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla set off a diplomatic furore, drawing criticism from friends and foes alike and straining ties with regional ally Turkey, which called off planned joint military exercises.
Demonstrators shout slogans as they hold a Palestinian ...
Demonstrators shout slogans as they hold a Palestinian flag during an anti-Israel protest in front of Chamber of Commerce Israel-Catalunya in Barcelona May 31, 2010. Israeli marines stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza on Monday and 10 pro-Palestinian activists were killed, triggering a diplomatic crisis and plans for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council.

Pictures of the weapons found on the Mavi Marmara ship where today, when IDF soldiers attempted to board the ship and redirect it to the Ashdod Port, the activists on board lynched the soldiers in a planned attack. They used knives, metal rods, firebombs and other weapons to attack the soldiers. The violence resulted in the deaths of nine activists and seven IDF soldiers were wounded in the process. All casualties were evacuated from the ship and taken to hospitals in Israel.

Pictures of the weapons found on the Mavi Marmara ship where today, when IDF soldiers attempted to board the ship and redirect it to the Ashdod Port, the activists on board lynched the soldiers in a planned attack. They used knives, metal rods, firebombs and other weapons to attack the soldiers. The violence resulted in the deaths of nine activists and seven IDF soldiers were wounded in the process. All casualties were evacuated from the ship and taken to hospitals in Israel.

Egyptian protestors shout anti-Israeli slogans ...
Egyptian protestors shout anti-Israeli slogans during a protest against Israel’s naval commando raid on a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the Gaza Strip, outside Al Fateh mosque in Cairo, Egypt, late Monday, May 31, 2010. Israeli commandos rappelled down to an aid flotilla sailing to thwart a Gaza blockade on Monday, clashing with pro-Palestinian activists on the lead ship in a botched raid that left at least nine passengers dead.
Turkish activists wear life jackets after receiving ...
Turkish activists wear life jackets after receiving information of approaching of Israeli military ships, as they hold a news conference on board the Mavi Marmara ship in the Mediterranean Sea, late Sunday, May 30, 2010, shortly before Israeli naval commandos stormed their flotilla of vessels carrying pro-Palestinian activists and aid destined for Gaza
A demonstrator wearing an Israeli flag is confronted ...
A demonstrator wearing an Israeli flag is confronted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathering outside the Israeli Embassy in London, Monday, May 31, 2010. Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing nine passengers in a botched raid that provoked international outrage and a diplomatic crisis.
Egypts Muslim Brotherhood members shouts ...
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood members shouts anti-Israeli slogans in front of Al-Fath Mosque in Cairo May 31, 2010. Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt were protesting against Israel’s interception of a convoy of Gaza-bound aid ships. Israeli commandos stormed a convoy of Gaza-bound aid ships on Monday and more than 10 of the mostly international activists aboard were killed, provoking a diplomatic crisis and Palestinian charges of a “massacre”
Egypts Muslim Brotherhood members shouts ...
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood members shouts anti-Israeli slogans in front of Al-Fath Mosque in Cairo May 31, 2010. Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt were protesting against Israel’s interception of a convoy of Gaza-bound aid ships. Israeli commandos stormed a convoy of Gaza-bound aid ships on Monday and more than 10 of the mostly international activists aboard were killed, provoking a diplomatic crisis and Palestinian charges of a “massacre”.
A youth attends a pro-Palestinian demonstration ...
A youth attends a pro-Palestinian demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy in London, Monday, May 31, 2010. Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing nine passengers in a botched raid that provoked international outrage and a diplomatic crisis
A Palestinian boy holds an islamic flag during ...
A Palestinian boy holds an islamic flag during a demonstration outside the Israeli embassy in Athens on Monday, May 31, 2010. Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing nine passengers in a botched raid that provoked international outrage and a diplomatic crisis.
Members of the U.N. Security Council meet at ...
Members of the U.N. Security Council meet at the United Nations, Monday, May 31, 2010. Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing nine passengers in a botched raid that provoked international outrage and a diplomatic crisis.
Israeli Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations ...
Israeli Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Daniel Carmon speaks at the Security Council, Monday, May 31, 2010, at the United Nations. Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing nine passengers in a botched raid that provoked international outrage and a diplomatic crisis.
Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations ...
Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Monsour walks out of the Security Council meeting when Israeli Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Daniel Carmon begins to speak, Monday, May 31, 2010, at the United Nations. Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing nine passengers in a botched raid that provoked international outrage and a diplomatic crisis
Advisors gather around Turkish Foreign Minister ...
Advisors gather around Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (seated) before an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council at United Nations Headquarters in New York, May 31, 2010. The council held an emergency meeting on Monday, convened at the request of Turkey and Lebanon, to discuss Israel’s storming of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. Israeli marines stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza on Monday and at least 10 pro-Palestinian activists were killed, sparking widespread condemnation.
Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations ...
Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Alejandro Wolf addresses the Security Council, Monday, May 31, 2010, at the United Nations. Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing nine passengers in a botched raid that provoked international outrage and a diplomatic crisis.
British Ambassador to the United Nations Grant ...
ritish Ambassador to the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant (L) listens as U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Alejandro Wolff speaks during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council at United Nations Headquarters in New York May 31, 2010. The council held an emergency meeting on Monday, convened at the request of Turkey and Lebanon, to discuss Israel’s storming of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. Israeli marines stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza on Monday and at least 10 pro-Palestinian activists were killed, sparking widespread condemnation
British Ambassador to the U.N. Grant speaks during ...
British Ambassador to the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant speaks during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council at United Nations Headquarters in New York May 31, 2010. The council held an emergency meeting on Monday, convened at the request of Turkey and Lebanon, to discuss Israel’s storming of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. Israeli marines stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza on Monday and at least 10 pro-Palestinian activists were killed, sparking widespread condemnation.
At least nine dead as Israeli commandos storm ...
A pro-Palestinian activist is evacuated to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem. Israeli navy commandos stormed a Gaza-bound aid flotilla early Monday, killing at least nine pro-Palestinian activists, sparking global outrage and plunging the Jewish state into a diplomatic crisis.
A man with the Palestinian flag painted on his ...
A man with the Palestinian flag painted on his face attends a demonstration during an anti-Israel protest in front of Chamber of Commerce Israel-Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, May 31, 2010. Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing nine passengers in a botched raid that provoked international outrage and a diplomatic crisis.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Emine Erdogon
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a press conference at the international airport in Santiago, Monday May 31, 2010. Erdogan suspended his official trip to Chile after Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip, killing at least 10 passengers in a predawn raid that has set off worldwide condemnation and a diplomatic crisis.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Emine Erdogon
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, top, accompanied by his wife Emine Erdogon, second from left, leaves after a press conference at the international airport in Santiago, Monday May 31, 2010. Erdogan suspended his official trip to Chile after Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip, killing at least 10 passengers in a predawn raid that has set off worldwide condemnation and a diplomatic crisis.
Hamas acting parliamentary speaker Bahar ...
Hamas’ acting parliamentary speaker Ahmed Bahar (L) and Senior Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh (C) and Mohammed Shama sit in a mourning tent at Gaza seaport to show solidarity with pro-Palestinian activists killed by Israeli marines May 31, 2010. Israeli marines stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza on Monday and 9 pro-Palestinian activists were killed, triggering a diplomatic crisis and plans for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council.
Hamas Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, center, ...
Hamas Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, center, visits the sea port in Gaza City, Monday, May 31, 2010. Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing nine passengers in a botched raid that provoked international outrage and a diplomatic crisis. Haniyeh condemned the ‘brutal’ Israeli attack and called on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to intervene.
Pro-Palestinian activists, carrying a giant Palestinian ...
Pro-Palestinian activists, carrying a giant Palestinian flag, stage a protest on the Champs Elysees, near the Israeli embassy, in Paris, Monday, May 31, 2010. Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing nine passengers in a botched raid that provoked international outrage and a diplomatic crisis
Protesters burn a Star of David during a demonstration ...
Protesters burn a Star of David during a demonstration outside the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, Monday, May 31, 2010. Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing nine passengers in a botched raid that provoked international outrage and a diplomatic crisis.
Left-wing Israeli activist holds placard during ...
A left-wing Israeli activist holds a placard during a protest outside the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv against the storming of a Gaza-bound ship May 31, 2010. Israeli marines stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza on Monday and 9 pro-Palestinian activists were killed, triggering a diplomatic crisis and plans for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council
Demonstrators shout slogans as they hold Palestinian ...
Demonstrators shout slogans as they hold Palestinian flags during an anti-Israel protest in front of Chamber of Commerce Israel-Catalunya in Barcelona May 31, 2010. Israeli marines stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza on Monday and 10 pro-Palestinian activists were killed, triggering a diplomatic crisis and plans for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council.
Two women hold a Palestinian banner during an ...
Two women hold a Palestinian banner during an anti-Israel protest in Valencia May 31, 2010. Israeli marines stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza on Monday and 10 pro-Palestinian activists were killed, triggering a diplomatic crisis and plans for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council.

Gaza flotilla attack: world unites in condemnation of Israel's actions

Brussels protest at Israeli flotilla attack

June 1, 2010

Israel‘s calculated gamble in sending commandos to raid the Mediterranean flotilla looked likely last night to exact a high price, leaving it increasingly isolated internationally and diplomatically and losing the vital public relations war in the Middle East.

The first and biggest casualty of what appeared to many as a rash act of night time derring-do was Israel’s relationship with what used to be its key strategic, regional and Muslim ally, Turkey.

Anger erupted on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara, with Israeli flags burned and the Netanyahu government advising Israelis to stay away from Turkey. Thousands took to the streets and marched on the Israeli consulate.

Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, described the Israeli raid as “an act of inhumane state terrorism”, while the foreign ministry spoke of “an act of piracy” and of “irreparable damage” to relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv.

Three of the six ships flew the Turkish flag, the convoy was organised by a Turkish charity, and several hundred of those on board the ships were Turks. “We had a very good relationship with Israel, but we have had all kind of difficulties in the past,” said a senior diplomat in Ankara, Selim Yenel. “This tops them all.”

Protesters scaled the high fences protecting the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, only to be repelled by security forces.

“I cried all night. What Israel did was murder and terrorism,” said Mehmet Tas, a computer software student. “Turkey and Europe should unite and attack Israel.”

The fury on the streets was mirrored by high-level rage. Ankara recalled its ambassador from Israel. Erdogan rushed home from a trip to Latin America to deal with the fallout. Observers predicted a possible breach in diplomatic relations.

“Israel has targeted innocent civilians,” said the foreign ministry in Ankara. “It has shown yet again that it does not care about human lives or peace initiatives.”

Noting that the dawn raid occurred in international waters, Ankara hinted at demanding legal redress.

The Turks convened an emergency meeting of generals and security ministers and called off military exercises with Israel, as did Greece.

The United Nations security council was expected to meet last night in New York over the incident.

“I heard the ships were in international water. That is very bad,” said Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general.

The Obama administration, while regretting the death toll, reserved judgment on apportioning blame.

“The United States is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy,” said White House spokesman William Burton.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, cancelled plans to visit Obama at the White House today.

Amid a flurry of diplomatic activity, Israeli ambassadors were summoned in Stockholm, Madrid, and Athens, while Spain, holding the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, called a session of the EU’s political and security committee.

Foreign governments deplored the loss of life and voiced outrage at the Israeli conduct. But amid a propaganda war between the Israeli government press machine and pro-Palestinian lobbies over who started the fight and whether any of the activists on board were armed, they were also wary of going further than verbal condemnation.

The common response in Europe was to condemn what was seen as Israel’s disproportionate use of force. Even Germany, generally reluctant to criticize Israel because of the Holocaust, voiced horror at what Palestinian leaders dubbed a massacre.

“The German government is shocked by events in the international waters by Gaza,” said a German government spokesman, adding that Israeli actions should observe the fundamental principle of proportionality. “A first glance suggests this basic principle was not adhered to.”

Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign and security policy chief, said: “I have spoken to Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman to express our deepest concern about the tragedy that has happened. I said there should be an immediate inquiry by Israel into the circumstances.”

Her demand for an Israeli inquiry was echoed by European governments, but at odds with several other calls for an independent international investigation.

Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, told Liberman that any investigation should be “comprehensive, transparent, and neutral”.

While Israel generally prevents foreign politicians entering the Gaza Strip, Ashton was allowed in during her first trip to the Middle East in March. She called yesterday for a partial lifting of the blockade maintained by Israel and Egypt.

“I have also taken the opportunity to point out the importance of opening the crossings for humanitarian aid to go through, to ensure that ordinary people have a better existence than that which I saw.”

William Hague, the foreign secretary, said that the three-year Israeli siege of Gaza should be relaxed. “I call on the government of Israel to open the crossings to allow unfettered access for aid to Gaza, and address the serious concerns about the deterioration in the humanitarian and economic situation and about the effect on a generation of young Palestinians.”

The Russian government meanwhile expressed its deep anxiety over the incident. It described the assault by Israeli commandos as a gross violation of international law and called for a thorough investigation.

“Use of weapons against civilians and detaining ships in the open sea without any legal reason constitute obvious and gross violations of generally accepted legal standards,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement. It called for the “earliest possible lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza”.

Tony Blair, envoy in the Middle East for the UN, US, EU, and Russia quartet, said: “We need a different and better way of helping the people of Gaza and avoiding the hardship and tragedy that is inherent in the present situation.”

All the evidence suggests that Israel is calculating that it can brazen out the chorus of criticism and limit the substantive damage to its relations with Turkey.

Aide: Abbas says no need to quit peace talks

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AP

June 1, 2010

RAMALLAH, West Bank – An adviser to Mahmoud Abbas says the Palestinian president sees no need to quit indirect Mideast peace talks over Israel’s interception of a Gaza-bound ship.

The killing of nine pro-Palestinian activists in Monday’s Israeli raid has raised concern that U.S.-led efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal could be disrupted.

Abbas met late Monday with senior PLO officials to assess the situation. Abbas adviser Mohammed Ishtayeh says Abbas told the group there is no need to quit the negotiations since the Palestinians are talking to the U.S. and not to Israel.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli commandos rappelled down to an aid flotilla sailing to thwart a Gaza blockade on Monday, clashing with pro-Palestinian activists on the lead ship in a botched raid that left at least nine passengers dead.

Bloodied passengers sprawled on the deck and troops dived into the sea to save themselves during several hours of hand-to-hand fighting that injured dozens of activists and six soldiers. Hundreds of activists — many of whom were apparently Turkish — were towed from the international waters to Israeli detention centers and hospitals.

International condemnation was swift and harsh as Israel scrambled to explain how what was meant to be a simple takeover of a civilian vessel went so badly awry.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly canceled a planned meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington to rush home. The global reaction appeared likely to increase pressure to end the embargo that has plunged Gaza’s 1.5 million residents deeper into poverty.

Most of the information about what happened on the single ship where violence broke out came from Israel, which cut off all communication to and from the activists and provided testimony and video evidence that its soldiers came under attack by activists armed with metal rods, knives, slingshots and two pistols snatched from the troops.

Passengers reached at an Israeli hospital and journalists aboard the ship accused the soldiers of using excessive force. One passenger, who identified himself as American, spoke briefly with reporters.

“I’m not violent. What I can tell you is that there are bruises all over my body. They won’t let me show them to you,” he said before he was pushed away by a security escort.

A soldier identified only as a sergeant told reporters at a military briefing that the activists on board “were armed with knives, scissors, pepper spray and guns.” He said he was armed only with a paintball rifle. “It was a civilian paintball gun that any 12-year-old can play with,” he said. “I saw my friends on the deck spitting blood.”

The high-seas confrontation was a nightmare scenario for Israel, which insisted its soldiers were simply unprepared for what awaited them on the Mavi Marmara, the ship carrying 600 of the 700 activists headed for Gaza. Instead of carrying their regular automatic rifles, the Israelis said they went in with non-lethal paintball guns and pistols they never expected to use.

Israel intercepted the six ships carrying some 10,000 tons of aid for the isolated seaside territory, which has been blockaded by Israel for three years, with Egypt’s cooperation. The Israeli government had urged the flotilla not to try to breach the blockade before the ships set sail from waters off Cyprus on Sunday and offered to take some aid in for them.

Israel has allowed ships through five times, but has blocked them from entering Gaza waters since a three-week military offensive against Gaza’s Hamas rulers in January 2009.

Key regional ally Turkey withdrew its ambassador on Monday, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session, the British foreign secretary demanded an end to the blockade of Gaza, and Jordan called Israel’s raid a “heinous crime.”

An al-Jazeera journalist delivering a report before Israel cut communications said Israel fired at the vessel before boarding it. In one web posting, a Turkish television reporter on the boat cried out, “These savages are killing people here, please help” — a broadcast that ended with a voice shouting in Hebrew, “Everybody shut up!”

Al-Jazeera said that eight staff members were detained while covering the story, and asked for the Israeli government to release them immediately.

The military said naval commandos descending from a helicopter onto the deck of a Turkish-flagged ship were assaulted by armed activists. Military footage showed activists swarming around the commandos as they rappelled from a helicopter one by one, hitting them with sticks until they fell to the deck, throwing one off the ship and hurling what the military said was a firebomb.

Speaking alongside the Canadian prime minister, Netanyahu expressed “regret” for the loss of life but said the soldiers “had to defend themselves, defend their lives, or they would have been killed.”

Activists said Israeli naval commandos stormed the ships after ordering them to stop in international waters, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) from Gaza’s coast.

A spokeswoman for the Free Gaza movement, which organized the flotilla, said the group’s goal — beyond just bringing supplies to the impoverished territory — was to shatter the blockade.

“What we’re trying to do is open a sea lane between Gaza and the rest of the world,” Greta Berlin said in Cyprus. “We’re not trying to be a humanitarian mission. We’re trying to say to the world, ‘You have no right to imprison a million and a half Palestinians.'”

Israel’s international image had already taken a beating from allegations that it committed war crimes during its 2008-2009 winter war in Gaza, and from widespread global opposition to the blockade. Hamas was also accused of rights violations in that conflict.

Relations with Turkey, a key supporter of the aid flotilla but also until recently Israel’s staunchest ally in the Muslim world, were badly damaged by Monday’s events, possibly irreparably. Ankara announced it would recall its ambassador and call off all military exercises with Israel. Around 10,000 Turks marched in protest.

At the U.N., Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the raid “murder conducted by a state” and demanded an immediate Israeli apology, international legal action and an end to the blockade.

The bloody showdown came at a sensitive time for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Netanyahu had hoped to receive a high-profile expression of support from Obama after months of strained relations over Israeli settlement construction.

Obama voiced “deep regret,” over the raids, and the White House said he and Netanyahu agreed by phone to reschedule White House talks. The U.S. recently began mediating indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians following a 17-month breakdown in contacts.

Israel’s immediate concern on Monday was what to do about the boats and their passengers. It ferried the wounded to hospitals by helicopter and towed the six ships to port, giving each of the activists a choice of deportation or detention.

By late Monday, about 150 of the activists — most from Turkey — had been taken off the boats, Israeli Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said, adding the process would continue into Tuesday. She said about 30 had agreed to be deported, and the rest would be detained.

A commando who spoke to reporters on a naval vessel off the coast, identified only as “A,” said he and his comrades were taken off guard by a group of Arabic-speaking men when they rappelled onto the deck. He said some of the soldiers were stripped of their helmets and their pistols and some had jumped overboard to escape the violence.

A high-ranking naval official displayed a box confiscated from the boat containing switchblades, slingshots, metal balls and metal bats.

Turkey’s NTV network showed activists beating one commando with sticks as he landed on deck. Dr. Arnon Afek, deputy director of Chaim Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv, said two commandos were brought in with gunshot wounds. Another had serious head wounds, Afek added.

At Barzilai hospital in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, a few activists trickled in under military escort, claiming they had been beaten during the assault.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli “massacre” and declared three days of mourning across the West Bank.

Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the rival Hamas government in Gaza, condemned the “brutal” Israeli attack and called on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to intervene.

Ban condemned the violence.

“I am shocked by reports of killings,” he said. “It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place.”

After nightfall, Hamas-linked militants fired a rocket that exploded in Israel, the militants and the Israeli military said. Nobody was hurt. The militants said the rocket attack was in response to Israel’s raid on the flotilla.