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Is The Two-State Israeli-Palestinian Solution Slipping Away?

A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is slipping away, the U.N. special coordinator for Middle East peace warned on Sunday, after both sides shrugged off criticism by international mediators.

A report released on Friday by the so-called Quartet – United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia – called on Israel to stop its policy of building settlements on occupied land and restricting Palestinian development.

Israeli policy “is steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution,” it said. It also urged the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, take steps to end incitement to violence against Israelis, condemn “all acts of terrorism” and do more to combat them.

“The Quartet report sounds an alarm bell that we are on a dangerous slope towards a one-state reality that is incompatible with the national aspirations of both peoples,” wrote Nickolay Mladenov, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, in a commentary emailed to journalists on Sunday.

He also addressed Palestinian and Israeli criticism of the Quartet report. “Who will make the argument that more cannot be done to end incitement?” he asked. “Can anyone question that illegal settlements … are not undermining the prospect for a two-state solution?”

Israel welcomed parts of the Quartet report but signaled no change in settlement building, saying the document “perpetuates the myth that Israeli construction in the West Bank is an obstacle to peace”.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is at the heart of the impasse.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed disappointment that the Quartet did not call for full Israeli withdrawal to lines that existed before the Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.

The Palestinians want an independent state in those areas and in the Gaza Strip, a coastal enclave controlled since 2007 by the Islamist Hamas group. Peace talks collapsed in April 2014 and Israeli-Palestinian violence has surged in recent months.

Mladenov appealed to Israeli and Palestinian leaders to implement the report’s recommendations, offering the help of the international community to do so.

“I urge leaders on both sides not to miss this opportunity,” he wrote.

 

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Photo: An Israeli soldier stops a Palestinian woman and her son at the entrance of Yatta near the West Bank city of Hebron June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma

Gaza Truce Holds As The Two Sides Talk In Cairo

By Laura King, Batsheva Sobelman, Los Angeles Times

After a shaky start, a new temporary truce in the Gaza Strip appeared to be holding Thursday.

The two sides, which have been holding indirect talks in Cairo, agreed late Wednesday to a five-day cease-fire, according to Palestinian negotiators and the Egyptian government, which is mediating the talks.

If the truce holds for its full duration, until Monday night, it would be the longest cessation of hostilities since fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants erupted on July 8. Israel withdrew its ground forces from Gaza last week, and the conflict has since tapered off, with occasional flare-ups.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke Wednesday by telephone with President Obama, was convening his security Cabinet on Thursday to discuss the status of the ongoing talks. Israel wants Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, to disarm, and Hamas is demanding a lifting of the blockade of the coastal territory and a prisoner release.

As the previous cease-fire was winding down and the new truce taking hold, Israel was hit late Wednesday and early Thursday by a volley of missiles and responded with a series of retaliatory airstrikes. No new casualties were reported on either side.

In Gaza, many people were taking advantage of the relative calm to resume some semblance of normal life. Traffic was flowing and shops were open, although huge areas of devastation remain.

The conflict has killed more than 1,900 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians, according to the United Nations and human rights groups. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have died, along with three civilians on the Israeli side.

AFP Photo/Jack Guez

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India’s New Leader Accuses Pakistan Of Terrorism

By Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times

MUMBAI — India’s new leader slammed Pakistan on Tuesday, accusing it of terrorism and saying its U.S.-backed military is too weak to fight a conventional war.

The comments by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his first visit to the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir were his harshest yet against Pakistan and set back hopes that an upcoming summit could bolster peace efforts between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

“The neighboring country has lost the strength to fight a conventional war, but continues to engage in the proxy war of terrorism,” Modi told soldiers in the town of Leh, according to a statement on his official website.

Modi’s words reflect the deep-seated animosity between India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars since each gained independence from Britain in 1947.

Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party has said it would “deal with cross-border terrorism with a firm hand,” a reference to attacks by militant groups that India accuses Pakistan of supporting. The groups include Lashkar-e-Taiba, which allegedly carried out a 2008 assault in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, that left 164 dead.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi in May, briefly raising hopes of detente. Later this month, diplomats from the two countries are due to meet in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, in a bid to jump-start peace efforts.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in New Delhi did not respond to a request for comment.

Modi’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir, a rugged Himalayan border region, was the first by an Indian leader in 15 years and was seen as highly symbolic, coming three days before the country commemorates its independence.

The territory is divided between India and Pakistan, although both claim it in full. Each has positioned several thousand troops along a 450-mile de facto border in often deadly alpine conditions.

Pakistan, which has received $28 billion in U.S. military and economic aid since 2002 due to its support for U.S. counterterrorism efforts, denies supporting militant groups.

Both India and Pakistan regularly accuse the other of violating a cease-fire along the border, known as the Line of Control. On Monday, Pakistan summoned a senior Indian diplomat to lodge a protest against what it claimed was a cross-border firing incident by Indian soldiers that left a Pakistani civilian dead.

AFP Photo/Rouf Bhat

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Gaza Fighting Erupts Again As Cease-Fire Expires

By Laura King and Batsheva Sobelman, Los Angeles Times

Fighting broke out in the Gaza Strip again Friday morning after a three-day truce expired, with Palestinian militants lobbing dozens of rockets into Israel and the Israeli military firing back with fresh airstrikes.

Egypt, which has been hosting indirect talks between the two sides, was struggling to get the truce back on track.

The Israeli army spokesman’s office said in a statement that “terror sites” across Gaza had been targeted following the resumption of Palestinian rocket fire. Hamas disavowed responsibility for the initial volleys of rockets after the cease-fire’s end, with smaller Palestinian factions claiming to have carried out the attacks.

At least two projectiles were intercepted by Israel’s antimissile system, with others falling in open areas in southern Israel.

In Gaza City, Israeli drones circled overhead, and the streets were empty by midmorning as most people stayed indoors, having hurried away from areas that were previously targeted. In southern Israel, authorities reimposed restrictions on large public gatherings in communities close to Gaza.

Casualties were reported on both sides, with four people reported injured in Israel and several deaths on the Palestinian side, including that of a 10-year-old boy in Gaza City. But the outbreak of fighting was not as fierce as it had been in days prior to the three-day cease-fire.

The renewed violence left the future of the Cairo talks in doubt. Israel’s delegation left the Egyptian capital following a contentious all-night session, according to Israeli and Egyptian media reports, and it was not clear when or whether it would return. The indirect talks have centered on extending the cease-fire but also on laying the groundwork for a longer-term accord.

The lull, the longest since the start of the conflict on July 8, had been punctuated by bellicose rhetoric from Hamas, and by warnings from Israel that it would hit back hard if attacked.

“The renewed rocket attacks by terrorists at Israel are unacceptable, intolerable, and shortsighted,” said army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner after Israel resumed its strikes. He blamed “Hamas’ bad decision to breach the cease-fire.”

Hamas and its allies have fired more than 3,300 rockets and missiles into Israel during the past month, and Israel has raked the seaside strip with airstrikes and artillery fire aimed at destroying rocket launchers and infiltration tunnels.

Israel had said previously it would have no objection to continuing an unconditional cease-fire while indirect talks in the Egyptian capital continued. But Hamas refused to extend the truce until it first achieved political concessions from Israel.

Among other demands, Hamas has called for the lifting of a blockade on the territory by Israel and Egypt. Palestinians say the tight restrictions on movement of goods and people are strangling Gaza economically; Israel says Hamas’ construction of an elaborate network of infiltration tunnels — and the buildup of a huge Hamas arsenal — show that freeer movement of goods in and out of Gaza would be impractical.

However, some parties have called for international monitoring of entry and exit points into the coastal enclave, including European proposals for a maritime passageway that would be monitored at both ends.

Israel launched its aerial campaign against militants in Gaza after weeks of rocket fire and launched a ground incursion into the narrow coastal strip on July 17. During four weeks of fighting, some 1,900 Palestinians have died — the majority of them civilians, according to the U.N. — and 64 Israeli troops were killed. Israel unilaterally withdrew its ground forces just before the three-day truce took effect on Tuesday morning, but its troops remained deployed outside the border fence.

Special correspondent Sobelman reported from Jerusalem, and special correspondent Maher Abukhater contributed reporting from Ramallah, West Bank.

AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed

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