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Source: Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)
31 July 2007



Division for Palestinian Rights

Chronological Review of Events Relating to the

Question of Palestine

Monthly media monitoring review

July 2007

Monthly highlights
    · US President Bush proposes an international peace conference to restart Middle East peace talks. (16 July)

    · Quartet issues statement supporting President Bush’s call for an international meeting on the Middle East and expressing support for the new PA Government. (19 July)

    · 255 Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli prisons. (20 July)

    · Egyptian and Jordanian Foreign Ministers open first talks in Israel over the Arab land-for-peace plan. (25 July)

    · US Secretary of State Rice signs a joint statement with Egypt, Jordan and six Persian Gulf States, endorsing the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative as one of the foundations for Middle East peace. (31 July)

1

Clashes erupted in Gaza City between the Army of Islam, the powerful Dughmush clan, and Hamas. The Army of Islam said that Hamas and the Executive Force injured the group’s leader, Khattab Maqdisi, before abducting him. In retaliation, the Army of Islam kidnapped 10 Hamas members. The spokesperson of Hamas, Sami Abu Zuhri, said, “We received information that Khattab and groups affiliated to him intended to vandalize areas of Gaza City. After he opened fire at the Executive Force, Khattab was arrested. At the same time, the Dughmush family abducted 10 university students, who may be Hamas loyalists.” Mr. Maqdisi acted as a spokesman for the Army of Islam. His real name was Ahmed al-Mathloum, a source in Hamas told Reuters. The arrests were carried out after all negotiation attempts and the use of peaceful means failed to free the abducted journalist [BBC’s Alan Johnston], according to an Interior Ministry statement made in Gaza. The statement went on to say that the arrests had been targeting figures who were involved in the abduction of the journalist. (Ma’an News Agency, Reuters)

The Israeli Government said in a statement that $119 million had been transferred to the new Palestinian Government, and Palestinian officials confirmed that they received it. The Israelis said a further transfer would be made in a few days. The transfer allowed the PA Government to pay its workers in full for the first time in a year. (AP)

The Palestinian Authority (PA) Government is switching the weekend for the public sector from Thursday-Friday to Friday-Saturday, apparently to make it more compatible with the work schedules in the West. In the Gaza Strip, some Government employees were told they should stick to the old weekend and warned they would be punished if they took Saturdays off. (AP)

An Israeli military court sentenced Mohammed Amudi from the village of Birqin, in the northern West Bank, to 11 life sentences and 20 additional years in jail for his role in a suicide bombing that took place on 17 April 2006, in which 11 people were killed and dozens more wounded next to a fast food stand in Tel Aviv. The attack was claimed by Islamic Jihad. (AFP, www.idf.il)

About 200 members of the Hamas-affiliated National Security Forces were deployed alongside the border with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip to secure the area following fears of attempts by the militant groups to bomb the border and allow thousands of Palestinians who had been stuck in Egypt to go back to Gaza. Fawzi Barhoom, a spokesman for Hamas, told reporters that his movement had been making great efforts with Egypt to reopen Rafah border crossing and bring the stranded travellers to Gaza. The previous day, a senior Hamas lawmaker had denied reports which quoted him as calling on Gaza militants to secure the opening of the Rafah terminal “in their own way.” (Xinhua)

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his Cabinet that the behaviour of the new PA Government had created “paths for cooperation,” citing the weapons ban as an important step. “Some of the actions already taken by the Palestinian Government ... will help us to find, slowly and cautiously, paths of cooperation between us and them which without doubt will enable us to advance on the diplomatic track,” he said in a statement to reporters. “At the same time, the war on terror continues and will not cease,” he said. “Let nobody have any doubt, this activity will continue in a concentrated way.” (AP)

Israel’s Cabinet was to vote on the release of some 250 Palestinian prisoners. An unnamed Government official had said the day before that the vote would be delayed, but insisted that Israel still intended to go through with the release. Officials did not give a reason for the delay, but Israeli media said that security officials were still trying to approve a list of prisoners to be freed, in accordance with criteria announced by Prime Minister Olmert. The officials reportedly had difficulty finding 250 Fatah security prisoners who had been in jail for a long time but did not have “blood on their hands”. (AP, The Jerusalem Post)

Jordan’s King Abdullah II, when asked about the prospects of a confederation with the Palestinian territories, called it merely a “conspiracy” against both sides, saying, “We are fed up with the talk about this topic. Our position is clear-cut and declared. Nobody can ever change it.” “We will never accept such solutions regardless of how far pressures go,” the King further said in an interview published in the Al-Ghad independent daily. “Jordan has a political, strategic and security-related interest in the creation of a Palestinian State,” the King also said and called on Israel to “clarify its intentions through a series of steps towards the creation of a Palestinian State.” He also urged Palestinians to put an end to infighting, noting that the divide between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank could have “catastrophic repercussions.” (Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA))

As stated by Human Rights Watch in a 146-page report, Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli towns and Israeli artillery strikes near populated areas had caused hundreds of civilian casualties since September 2005 and constituted serious violations of the laws of war. The report, “Indiscriminate fire: Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel and Israeli artillery shelling in the Gaza Strip,” found that both Palestinian armed groups and the IDF had shown insufficient regard for civilian life. (AP)

2

Israeli troops raided Jenin and killed an armed Palestinian during exchanges of fire in the town’s refugee camp. “He had an M-16 [assault rifle] with a telescopic sight,” an IDF spokeswoman said. “During the incident, an explosive charge was thrown and the Israeli force came under fire.” The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade identified the dead man as Mohammed Haija, 25, one of its Jenin commanders, and said that another group member was wounded in the pre-dawn shootout. The Ma’an News Agency identified the killed Palestinian as Mahmoud Abu al Hayjah, 24, also known as “The Giant”. (AP, Reuters, Ma’an News Agency)

An IDF officer and a soldier operating in Nablus were severely injured and two more IDF soldiers and an officer were injured by mortars fired at IDF forces in two separate attacks, the IDF announced. (www.idf.il)

Israeli authorities had arrested 11 Hamas members in Jerusalem over the past several months, the Israel security agency (Shin Bet) announced in a statement, which further stated that its agents had broken up Hamas’ “secret command”, formed to expand the group’s power in the city and funded by Hamas leaders abroad through a number of fictitious charity organizations. “Their goal is to gain full control over the Temple Mount,” said a high-ranking security officer quoted by The Jerusalem Post, adding that Hamas also had tried to infiltrate members into the Temple Mount as maintenance staff, in addition to its religious leaders who preach, give tours, and teach Koran classes there. Israeli authorities also hold five senior Hamas officials from Jerusalem arrested since 2006, the Shin Bet said. Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, denied any connection between Hamas and the Jerusalem charities and said that the arrested men were “no more than religious preachers”. (AP, The Jerusalem Post)

Israeli forces arrested overnight six “wanted” Palestinians in the West Bank. (www.idf.il)

A 22-year-old Palestinian, Muhammad Zuhaire, was shot and injured in the hip in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, by Israeli forces. (Ma’an News Agency)

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for launching a home-made projectile towards the southern Israeli town of Sderot. The Al-Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for launching two home-made projectiles at Sderot. (Ma’an News Agency)

The Palestinian security services arrested three senior Hamas leaders in Nablus: Sheikh Ahmad Al Haj Ali, a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC); Ahmad Dawla, former Under-Secretary in the Interior Ministry of the outgoing Hamas-led Government; and Shaker Amrah, a Hamas leader. (Ma’an News Agency)

Officials said that the Palestinian emergency Government would pay all PA workers, excluding those reporting directly to Hamas, their first full wages in 17 months. The payments would go to nearly 140,000 workers, including tens of thousands in Gaza. (Reuters)

The Director-General of Ambulances and Emergencies of the PA Health Ministry, Dr. Muawiya Hassanein, said that 20 per cent of Palestinians stranded at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip were in need of medical treatment. An estimated 4,000 Palestinians had been trapped at the crossing. (Ma’an News Agency)

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin, would visit Israel from 3 to10 July at the invitation of the Government of Israel. Mr. Scheinin also planned to visit the Occupied Palestinian Territory during the official mission. (AFP, www.ohchr.org)

EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, said that the Quartet would probably meet with Israeli and PA leaders in Egypt in mid-July. (AFP)

3

Israeli forces arrested 13 Palestinians in several areas in the West Bank. (Ma’an News Agency)

In an effort to quash Hamas in the West Bank, Fatah security forces recently arrested dozens of Hamas members and confiscated a considerable number of weapons, a senior Palestinian official said. The Hamas detainees revealed during questioning that their organization had been establishing sleeper cells of the group’s Executive Force in the West Bank, the official said. “They had an organized chain of command, weapons; they even trained in various places. … We are currently working toward dismantling the Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank,” he said. (Ha’aretz)

Hamas gunmen took up positions around the stronghold of the group holding kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston, stepping up the pressure to secure his release. Members of Hamas’ 6,000-strong militia moved onto rooftops of high-rise buildings and deployed gunmen in streets in the Gaza City neighbourhood inhabited by the Dughmush clan. The large, heavily-armed family leads the Army of Islam, a little-known group that had been holding Mr. Johnston. (AP)

Israeli and Palestinian security officials had resumed meetings after nearly two years. Miri Eisin, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, said that the officials had met in an undisclosed location on 2 July to talk about how to move forward with security cooperation. The officials said that the talks had included discussions on the movement of Palestinian forces and guarantees of safety for security installations during Israeli military operations. Israeli and Palestinian officials held such meetings in the 1990s, but they were cut off after the eruption of the violence in 2000, and resumed only sporadically in the years that followed. (AP)

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert had completed a list of 250 Fatah prisoners to be released as part of the deal promised to PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Sharm el-Sheikh last week, Israel Radio reported. The list was to be discussed with the Justice Ministry’s Director-General on 4 July and then brought before the Cabinet for approval on 8 July. (The Jerusalem Post)

Growing security concerns of potential infiltrations of terrorists from Jordan have led the IDF to consider the deployment of navy patrol ships in the Dead Sea, The Jerusalem Post reported. According to the plan, the Navy will deploy one or two fast patrol boats in the Dead Sea to conduct patrols of the border with Jordan that runs through its centre. Currently, the IDF watches over the sea with radars and small rubber boats that can be used to quickly intercept infiltrators. (The Jerusalem Post)

The PA Ministry of Health said that 22 Palestinians had died at the Karim Abu Salim (Kerem Shalom) border crossing over the past month on their way from Egypt to the Gaza Strip. “The closure of the crossing is the cause of death for so many Palestinians, as it obstructs the passage of aid and people in need of medical treatment,” the Ministry said in a statement. (Ma’an News Agency)

Following the briefings received at the meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Bureau of the Committee adopted the subsequent statement:

(UN press release GA/PAL/1058)

4

Two Palestinian militants from Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, attempting to fire rockets towards Israel, were wounded in an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip, witnesses and medical sources said. (AFP)

BBC journalist Alan Johnston was released to Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip after 114 days in captivity by Army of Islam militants. (AFP, AP, BBC)

The following statement was issued by the Spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

(UN press release SG/SM/11077)

PA President Abbas said: “Without a shred of a doubt, we are very happy for the release of our friend, the journalist Alan Johnston. This man's detention, and the detention of any other man anywhere, pains and harms us and the entire Palestinian people." Former Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said: "This case was a first priority for the Hamas government. We made a big effort in the past months to free him." Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khaled Mashaal said: "Our message at this moment is that nobody in Palestine – especially in Gaza – is above the law.” UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "I want to thank all those who contributed to the diplomatic and other efforts to secure his freedom." David Miliband, UK Foreign Secretary, stated: "Palestinian President Abbas strongly condemned Alan's kidnapping and demanded that it be brought to an end. Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas spokesmen denounced the hostage-takers and demanded Alan's release. I fully acknowledge the crucial role they have played in securing this happy outcome.” Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev said: "Israelis hoped for his safe release, just as we hope for the safe release of our own serviceman, Gilad Shalit, who has been held now by the Hamas for more than a year, as a hostage." (BBC)

IDF forces arrested 13 Palestinians in the West Bank: six were detained in the Hebron area, four were arrested in the Bethlehem area, and three more were detained in Jenin and Ramallah. (Ynetnews.com)

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said, after meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Paris: "We asked that certain measures be taken, such as the liberation of more prisoners and to ease the daily lives of the Palestinians by easing the military checkpoints." Ms. Livni told reporters, after a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy: "To pass a message to the Palestinians and show them there is a difference with terrorists ... we are going to free the 250 Fatah prisoners." In an interview aired on the France-24 TV station, Ms. Livni said that the release was a "question of days". (AFP, DPA)

Israeli Foreign Minister Livni and her Moroccan counterpart, Mohamed Benaissa, held talks in Paris. "The situation is very complicated when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but yet there are new opportunities. The formation of the new Palestinian Government gives us hope”, Ms. Livni told reporters after the talks. (AP)

PA civil servants began receiving their first full salaries in 17 months, three days after Israel had transferred $118 million dollars to the PA emergency Government. "Every person should receive his salary and all are our sons and we do not differentiate between them no matter whom," PA President Abbas said at a press conference in Ramallah. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told reporters that 31,000 employees were not paid as they had begun work in late 2005. He said that a further 1,000 civil servants, all of them in Gaza, were not paid because they did not pledge support to the PA. "The Fayyad Government's decision not to give thousands of employees their salaries enforces the political and geographical separation of the Palestinian people," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP. (AFP)

"What Hamas did is a crime against the nation and a military putsch and those responsible for these actions are the sacked prime minister and others in the movement," PA President Abbas said at a press conference with visiting Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller. "As soon as they admit their responsibility for this coup and change the situation on the ground, we will reconsider, but for the moment there will not be any dialogue with them." (AFP)

PA Minister of Information Riyad Maliki said that the Government had decided to form military-style courts, a decision which would be presented to President Abbas for ratification. (Ma’an News Agency)

5

In Gaza, 11 Palestinians were killed, and 25 others were wounded in clashes with Israeli forces. Israel called in aircraft, tanks and bulldozers to press its military campaign in the Gaza Strip against rocket squads, while Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants laid mines and fired mortars at soldiers at the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing, a main Gaza-Israel passage. The conflict escalated quickly after an Israeli patrol close to the Bureij refugee camp, in the central Gaza Strip, spotted armed militants approaching them and called in an air strike. Witnesses reported a heavy exchange of fire. Hospital officials said nine militants were killed, and Hamas identified six of them as its members. The other three were not immediately identified. Among the dead was Mohammed Siam, 37, the Hamas field commander in central Gaza, Hamas TV said. Hospital officials said that two other militants, who were identified by Hamas as its members, were killed when an Israeli aircraft fired missiles at targets in the area. Deposed PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Hazem Abu Shanab, a spokesman for Fatah, both condemned the Israeli operation. (AP, BBC)

PA civil servants in the Gaza Strip said that they had come under fire from the Hamas-led Executive Force as they tried to report to work on the day which Hamas had decreed as a day off. (Reuters)

Israel had been working with the PA and the UN to increase the capacity of the Karim Abu Salim (Kerem Shalom) border crossing, allowing goods from Egypt to enter the Gaza Strip, including the opening of two conveyor belts, and increasing the area for truck-transfer operations, which could increase the terminal's capacity to 150 trucks a day, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in its situation report. (www.ochaopt.org)

The built-up areas of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank occupy less than 10 per cent of their total allotted land but often spill over on to private Palestinian property, according to a Peace Now report. Construction in the settlements covered nine per cent of the municipal territory that had been placed under their jurisdiction, or 4,500 hectares (11,120 acres) out of 52,000 hectares (128,500 acres), the report said. But while 90 per cent of settlements had ample room for growth, about one-third of the territory used was outside this jurisdiction, it said. "The importance of these spillovers, 70 percent of which affect private Palestinian holdings, is to demonstrate that there is a deliberate policy of expansion, underhandedly encouraged by the authorities,” said Dror Etkes, one of the report's authors. (Ha’aretz)

Several thousand Palestinians took to the streets in Gaza City to call for dialogue between Fatah and Hamas. The demonstrators carried placards saying "yes to dialogue, no to arrests" and "Abbas and Haniyeh, we want national unity." (AFP)

Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit and his Jordanian counterpart, Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, were likely to visit Israel soon, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, in continuation of Arab efforts to promote the Arab Peace Initiative. (Xinhua)

BBC correspondent Alan Johnston travelled to the West Bank to thank PA President Abbas and the Palestinian people for their support during his captivity. (AP)

6

Thousands of Palestinians marched in the streets of the Bureij refugee camp for the funerals of 11 Palestinians killed in an Israeli raid into the central Gaza Strip a day earlier. The IDF said that it had concluded the incursion into central Gaza near the Bureij and Maghazi refugee camps and had pulled its forces out overnight. Local witnesses confirmed that the troops had left the area. (Ha’aretz, Reuters)

Around 100 Palestinians, including women and children, stuck in Egypt for nearly three weeks, had gone on hunger strike to pressure the authorities to open the Rafah frontier crossing in order for them to return to the Gaza Strip. (AFP)

The following statement was issued by the Spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

(UN press release SG/SM/11081)

7

The Izz ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said that it had fired two rockets from Gaza towards southern Israel. An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed that two rockets had been fired, adding that they had caused neither casualties nor damage. (AFP)

Fawzi Barhoom, a spokesman for Hamas, said that the movement welcomed any Palestinian or foreign efforts to narrow the gap between Hamas and Fatah to secure the resumption of talks. He made the remarks after meeting with Palestinian businessmen, who had announced an initiative to promote the resumption of the Hamas-Fatah dialogue. The initiative calls on Hamas to return the security facilities in the Gaza Strip to the PA through Egyptian mediators. In return, the security apparatus should be reshuffled to demonstrate partnership between Fatah and Hamas. (Xinhua)

The International Federation of Journalists issued a statement denouncing Israel for what it said was "a vicious and brutal example of deliberate targeting of a journalist" of Hamas’ TV during the recent IDF incursion into the Gaza Strip. (AP)

The EU was scaling back its Border Assistance Mission at the Rafah crossing at the Gaza-Egypt border, an EU spokeswoman said. (AP)

8

Islamic Jihad said that its militants had launched nine Qassam rockets into the southern Israeli towns of Sderot and Ashkelon. Israel Radio quoted security sources as saying that a rocket had hit the Sabir College in Sderot, causing major damage but no casualties. The group also claimed responsibility for firing two mortar shells at the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel. (Xinhua)

The IDF entered Ramallah and arrested an Islamic Jihad operative. (Ma’an News Agency)

IDF troops ambushed and killed a Palestinian militant in Jenin, Palestinian security and hospital officials said. An Islamic Jihad spokesperson said that the militant, Mohammed Nazal, 24, was one of its leaders. (Ma’an News Agency)

A Palestinian holding Bulgarian nationality and seized last week in the Gaza Strip by unidentified gunmen had been freed, Bulgarian National Radio announced. (AFP)

PA President Abbas concluded a two-day visit in the United Arab Emirates. During his meeting with Mr. Abbas, United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan reiterated his country's firm stance in support of the Palestinian people as well as the PA led by Mr. Abbas. The United Arab Emirates President called on the Palestinian people to unite and put their differences aside to tackle the challenges facing them. (Xinhua)

"The [Egyptian security] delegation will head back to the Gaza Strip next week, with the aim of reopening communication channels between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah leaders in the West Bank," Arab League Assistant Secretary-General Mohammed Sobeih told Egypt's Al-Gomhuria newspaper. (AFP)

The Israeli Cabinet approved the release of 250 Palestinian prisoners, officials said. However, Israel had still not finalized the list of prisoners to be freed or the timing of the release. PA officials said they were disappointed that Israel was not coordinating the release with them. (AP)

A PA ministerial delegation arrived in Egypt to inspect the conditions of the more than 6,000 Palestinians stranded at the Rafah border crossing, Egypt's MENA news agency reported. The delegation, including Information Minister Riyad Maliki, Health Minister Fathi Abu Mahdi and Social Affairs Minister Mahmoud Habash, was working with Egyptian officials to resolve the situation, said the report. (Xinhua)

Jordan's King Abdullah II conferred with the Speaker of the Arab Parliament, Mohammad Al-Saqr, who briefed the monarch on "efforts and contacts being made by an Arab parliamentary delegation with a view to bringing about reconciliation and starting a dialogue between Fatah and Hamas", a statement from the Royal Court said. "Jordan backs all moves aimed at consolidating the Palestinian unity and cohesion at this stage, which makes it imperative for Palestinians to unite in order to be able to regain their rights, including the setting up of their independent State," the statement quoted the King as saying. (DPA)

Britain's Transport and General Workers Union, which has 800,000 members, voted to boycott Israeli products in protest of Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people. (AFP, Ynetnews.com)

Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs approved a draft bill recognizing the Gaza Strip as a foreign entity. If the proposal is passed by the Knesset, Israel would not be responsible for paying compensation to Gaza residents injured in IDF activities. The bill contradicts an earlier Israeli High Court ruling in December 2006. (Ynetnews.com)

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad confirmed that he had met last week with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak. Mr. Fayyad noted that he and members of his Emergency Cabinet would continue to meet with Israeli officials, as necessary, in accordance with his mandate and in full conformity with the political platform of the PLO. Mr. Fayyad also met with Israel’s Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni. "The discussion dealt primarily with the situation in the Palestinian Authority and the ways of improving the lives of the residents in the territories while preserving Israeli security interests," according to a statement issued by Ms. Livni's office. (Ma’an News Agency)

9

Jordan's Foreign Ministry said that Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit would arrive in Israel on 12 July for talks with Prime Minister Olmert, Foreign Minister Livni and Defence Minister Barak. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the ministers would lead an Arab League mission to discuss the Arab Peace Initiative. "This is the first time the Arab League is coming to Israel," Mr. Regev said. (AP)

"I call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit without further delay," Italy’s Prime Minister Romano Prodi said during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Olmert. He also reaffirmed Italy’s support for PA President Abbas and the emergency Government. Mr. Prodi will also meet Israeli Foreign Minister Livni, Defence Minister Barak, and Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu. On 10 July he is scheduled to hold talks with PA President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. (Ha’aretz, Ma’an News Agency)

A delegation representing PA President Abbas, headed by former Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, arrived in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials about last month's takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas, PA officials said. (Ha’aretz)

"We affirm that we reject to open Karim Abu Salim (Kerem Shalom) border crossing instead of Rafah terminal [to bring in the Palestinians stranded in Egypt]", Hamas said in a statement released to the media. The Islamic Jihad also rejected the plan, adding that the PA’s acceptance of it was a "contribution to support the plans of the Israeli occupation." (Xinhua)

A special Israeli envoy presented Egyptian mediators with a list of Hamas prisoners Israel would be willing to free in return for the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported. A Palestinian official told the paper that Hamas rejected the offer over Israel's failure to include in it members of the Popular Resistance Committees, which also took part in Shalit’s capture. (Ynetnews.com)

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs special report on “The humanitarian impact of the barrier following the International Court of Justice opinion” concluded that the separation wall severely impacted the livelihoods of the Palestinians in the West Bank and would effectively sever East Jerusalem from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. (www.ochaopt.org)

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) suspended all of its construction projects, worth some $93 million, in the Gaza Strip, citing a concrete shortage caused by Israeli closures. (Reuters)

The Foreign Ministers of 10 Mediterranean States of the EU, in an open letter published in Le Monde and addressed to special Middle East envoy Tony Blair, called for an international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said that Israel should make more concessions for peace. The foreign ministers of Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain also welcomed Arab States’ efforts for peace following the road map. (Reuters)

10

A member of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Nidal al-Faqeeh, and other two Palestinians were arrested in Nablus by the IDF. (Xinhua)

At least 11 mortar shells were fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip. No one was injured, but two structures near the Karim Abu Salim (Kerem Shalom) border crossing sustained damage. Several of the shells were aimed at the border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, reportedly due to Hamas’ objection to Israel’s intention to make it the main border crossing into Gaza, which Hamas believed would give Israel full control over entry and exit from the Gaza Strip. An anti-tank missile was also fired at IDF troops on the Gaza border. No one was injured. (Ha’aretz)

The Secretary-General of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, Shaher Sa’ad, was abducted by gunmen in Nablus. (Ma’an News Agency)

Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlav, Israeli coordinator of Government activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that Hamas was deliberately trying to thwart humanitarian relief efforts for Gaza. He added that since Hamas’ takeover of Gaza, Israel had let 1,500 trucks through Kerem Shalom border crossing, carrying some 40,000 tons of goods. Knesset member Ran Cohen (Meretz), who is a member of the Committee, called for allowing Palestinian workers from the West Bank to enter Israel. Gen. Mishlav supported the proposal, saying that since 1967, security forces had encountered only two cases of Palestinian workers who were involved in terrorist attacks inside Israel. (Ha’aretz)

PA President Abbas met Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi in Ramallah. In a joint press conference, Mr. Abbas renewed his request for an international force in the Gaza Strip, but Mr. Prodi suggested that the time was not ripe for such a deployment. Mr. Abbas said that he would not talk with Hamas unless it returned the situation in Gaza to the way it was before. The head of the Hamas PLC bloc, Salah al-Bardawi, said in a press conference: “We will not accept the presence of an international force … The arrival of such force would be a flagrant intervention in Palestinian affairs and a new occupation that we totally reject”. Mr. Prodi offered the PA $25 million in aid. (AFP, DPA, The Jerusalem Post)

Egypt opposed the idea of deploying an international peacekeeping force in the Gaza Strip, Egypt’s Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman told a delegation of members of the Knesset from Meretz. He said that “this is neither technically nor politically easy, and it is impractical”. (Ha’aretz)

PA President Abbas, in an interview with Italy’s RAI TV, said that “thanks to the support of Hamas, Al-Qaida is entering Gaza”. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that Mr. Abbas “is trying to mislead international opinion to win support for his demand to deploy international forces in Gaza … Hamas has no link with Al-Qaida”. (AP, DPA, Ha’aretz, Ma’an News Agency)

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert said in an interview to El Pais in Madrid: “I personally do not believe in a reconciliation between Hamas and Abu Mazen … Abu Mazen himself has been a witness of how they were preparing to kill Palestinians with such brutality that I have never seen in my life”. He also said, “The truth is that in this ocean of Islamic nations, the only one that is not Islamic is Israel. That is why it is the natural target of this violent movement. Israel is not the police, it is the victim”. (AP)

The Foreign Ministers of Egypt and Jordan will hold talks in Israel on behalf of the Arab League after a visit initially planned for this week was postponed. Israeli spokeswoman Miri Eisin said, “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other officials will meet the Egyptian and Jordanian Foreign Ministers on 25 July”. (AFP, Reuters)

Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat said that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was expected to visit the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel during the last week of July. He said that the Palestinian leadership would ask Ms. Rice to make Israel commit to what had been agreed during the four-way summit held in Sharm el-Sheikh late June. (Xinhua)

Egypt had begun deploying hundreds more police to reinforce the existing 750 border police at its border with the Gaza Strip, Israeli security sources said, adding that additional Egyptian security forces had already taken up positions along the border north of the Rafah crossing. A security source said that a demonstration by dozens of Palestinians demanding that the crossing be opened had increased Egyptian Government fears it could be stormed or parts of the cement wall torn down. (Ha’aretz)

In the latest report on its field activities in Gaza and West Bank, the International Committee of the Red Cross said, “One of the biggest concerns currently is the severe restriction on movement for the general public, blocking Palestinians wishing to return to Gaza on the Egyptian side of the Rafah area and preventing people from Gaza leaving the Strip”. Despite these restrictions, the Committee continued “to facilitate medical transfers through the Erez crossing … for people in need of medical treatment in Israel. Between 19 June and 8 July, it arranged for the transfer of more than 250 patients and 60 ambulances.” The report also said: “The Israeli authorities suspended the ICRC family visit programme (which enables Palestinian families to visit their vrelatives detained in Israel) on 6 June and currently the programme remains suspended, affecting some 900 detainees from Gaza held in Israeli prisons.” (ICRC Bulletin No.25/2007, Ma’an News Agency)

According to aid officials and human rights advocates, Gaza’s economy was facing collapse after border crossings to the area had been shut by Israel. Aside from humanitarian aid, there were neither imports nor exports of goods, forcing 75 per cent of factories to shut down. Tens of thousands of workers faced layoffs. The report, issued by Gisha, the Center for Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement, said that 85 per cent of Gaza residents were now dependent on humanitarian aid while production inside the Gaza Strip ran down. Gisha’s Director, Sari Bashi, said: “Israel is attempting to achieve political objectives by exerting pressure on 1.4 million women, men and children, whose suffering is to bring the desired change – the overthrow of Hamas”. The report cited as evidence a decision by the Israel Customs Authority to delete from its computers the codes required to allow imports into Gaza. The collapse of the Gaza economy would also hit Israel businesses. The chairman of Israel’s Association of Industrialists, Shraga Brosh, said, “The economic boycott of the Gaza Strip will result in a humanitarian disaster, fueling flames and leading to the deterioration of the security situation – a situation that will be destructive to the Israeli economy. The spokesman for the Israeli Defence Ministry, Shlomo Dror, said: “We are seeing to it that there will be no hunger or disease … Anything beyond that would strengthen Hamas … We want to weaken it as much as possible”. The Director of UNRWA in Gaza, John Ging, said: “The measures of the past couple of weeks are as great as they go, but they are not keeping pace with the demand … You will see a continuous decline in the humanitarian situation until the borders are reopened”. (Belfast Telegraph, Chicago Tribune)

Two Palestinian human rights groups, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and Al-Haq, have criticized PA President Abbas’ most recent decree regarding the jurisdiction of the military judiciary during the state of emergency. The Centre considers this new decree “the most dangerous of a series of decrees … The decree prepares for the destruction of the judicial authority and civilian life for the sake of militarizing Palestinian society.” It also warned that the PA was heading towards becoming “a military dictatorship”. Al-Haq stated that it viewed this decree with great concern as it infringes on the exercise of fundamental human rights and is in violation of provisions of the Palestinian Basic Law. (Ma’an News Agency)

Despite Hamas’ promise of an amnesty for its Fatah rivals in the Gaza Strip, at least nine Fatah members had been killed and 20 others arrested since Hamas took over Gaza, according to local human rights workers. “Either there’s law, or there’s no law,” said Issam Yunis, the head of the independent Gaza-based human rights group Al Mezan, which posted the names of the dead on its website. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said: “The decision of a general amnesty needed several days to be implemented, and now it’s very clear that there is complete quiet and commitment of Hamas members to this decision,” he said. (AP)

The families of Palestinian families detained in Israeli jails have expressed their reservations about Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s initiative to release 250 Fatah prisoners. They said that accepting such offer would only fracture Palestinian national unity. They also said that the 250 included only prisoners who were scheduled for release shortly in any case. Such conduct would improve the Israeli image internationally, while failing almost 12,000 who were detained in Israeli jails, most of whom were denied visits by their families. (Ma’an News Agency)

Former Palestinian Information Minister and Head of the Palestinian National Initiative, Mustafa al-Barghouti, launched with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine a new initiative to resolve the ongoing Hamas-Fatah dispute. In a press conference in Ramallah, Dr. Barghouti and Khalida Jarrar from the Popular Front stressed that in spite of the conflict between Fatah and Hamas, the main conflict remained between “us and the occupation”. (Ma’an News Agency)

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the first time since becoming a Quartet envoy. A spokesman for Mr. Blair said that the private meeting, held in a London hotel, was very successful, and that Mr. Blair also met with the Quartet envoys after their talks in London for a “positive, practical discussion.” The spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with the rules of his job, declined to provide further details about either of the meetings. (AFP, AP)

11

Israeli forces arrested seven Palestinians in various areas of the West Bank, Israeli sources reported. (Ma’an News Agency)

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia would support the EU suggestion of a peacekeeping operation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory on condition of regional stabilization. He added that the suggestion was hypothetical. (Itar-Tass)

The administration of Birzeit University, located north of Ramallah, ordered a suspension of all classes and closed the campus until further notice following clashes earlier in the day between students from different political factions. (Ma’an News Agency)

The PLC failed to obtain a quorum for a session called by PA President Abbas to discuss the state of emergency, the emergency Government and the latest developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. “The session will not convene,” Deputy Speaker Hassan Khreisheh announced, after only 44 (41, according to DPA) deputies showed up at the session in Ramallah instead of 67 that must be present for the parliament to meet. Hamas MPs boycotted the session, with Salah al-Bardawil, a spokesman for Hamas MPs, saying that the call by the PLC to convene “without arrangements with the biggest bloc (Hamas), and with the Israeli arrest of 41 Hamas legislators, was an attack on the Palestinian legitimacy.” Non-Hamas deputies in the Gaza Strip were due to participate in the session by video-conference, but Hamas prevented the opening of the specially-outfitted room in Gaza City, officials said. Hamas has 74 seats in the 132-member chamber, compared to Fatah’s 45. Mr. Khreisheh said that he hoped the PLC could convene within a week. “The session will be suspended for one week, in accordance with the law. If it will not be convened within one week, the PLC will become ineffective, and in that case, it is the right of the President to issue the laws by decree,” Mr. Khreisheh further said, adding that Mr. Abbas would become “authorized to take on some of the authorities which are not found in the Basic Law.” A senior Fatah MP, Azzam al-Ahmed, said a week earlier that if the PLC did not meet, Mr. Abbas would invoke “Article 43 of the Basic Law”, which gives the President “the right in exceptional cases and while the Legislative Council is not in session, to issue decisions and decrees that have the power of law.” One such decree could be to prolong the mandate of the emergency cabinet sworn in for one month on 17 June. Khaleda Jarrar, a PLC member from PFLP, told reporters that the parliament “must remain away from political rivalries to carry out its role of surveillance.” (AFP, DPA, Ma’an News Agency, Xinhua)

“We have authorized the delivery of fruits and vegetables as part of humanitarian aid, for the first times since Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip in mid-June,” said Shady Yassin, a spokesman for the IDF coordination office for the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Trucks carrying 300 tons of fruit and vegetables would enter Gaza through the Sufa border crossing during the day, he said. (AFP)

The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine presented a new initiative calling for national unity and new elections, following a period of governance by a transitional, non-factional government. This initiative followed a similar one launched jointly by the Palestinian National Initiative and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine the previous day. (Ma’an News Agency)

Germany criticized the call by 10 EU Foreign Ministers, contained in an open letter to the new Quartet envoy, Tony Blair, for the creation of an international troop force armed with a “robust mandate” to be dispatched to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The German Foreign Office described as strange both the content of the letter and procedure behind the call as well who the letter had been addressed to. The letter went “very clearly” beyond the “very specific and very purpose” of Mr. Blair’s mandate, German Foreign Office spokesman Jens Ploetner said, adding that Berlin believed strongly that European Middle East policy should be overseen by the EU council responsible for foreign affairs. (DPA)

12

An IDF soldier was killed and two were lightly wounded when a bomb exploded near them in the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. The soldier was identified as Arbel Reich, 21. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert vowed Israel would continue to fight the militants in Gaza. Palestinian witnesses said that approximately 10 tanks and 2 bulldozers, backed by helicopters, had moved before dawn about 500 meters into farming fields near the Palestinian camp. Hamas' armed wing, the Izz ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, said that its militants ambushed the IDF troops as they entered the camp. When the militants approached the troops, an Israeli aircraft fired on them, IDF sources said. Hamas sources said that two Palestinians were wounded, both members of the Islamic Jihad militant group. Israel Radio reported that the IDF arrested dozens of Palestinians and brought them into Israel for questioning. Hamas said its militants fired two rocket-propelled grenade launchers at an IDF bulldozer, setting it on fire, while Israeli military sources said no damage was caused. Islamic Jihad said it fired a Qassam rocket during the operation toward the southern town of Sderot, but no injuries were immediately reported. (AP, Ha’aretz)

IDF troops killed an armed Palestinian who had opened fire at troops manning a West Bank checkpoint. Military sources reported that the armed Palestinian had been firing through the window of a car moving toward the checkpoint, east of Tulkarm. The soldiers manning the checkpoint returned fire, killing him. The driver of the car that transported the attacker fled the scene. (AFP, Ha’aretz)

Some 3,000 PLO members were demonstrating in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, when the Executive Force opened fire with automatic weapons, but no one was hurt. The demonstrators had been protesting against the forceful takeover on 15 June of the entire Gaza Strip by Hamas. They invited Hamas to engage in reconciliation talks with Fatah and all other Palestinian movements.

“We condemn these shootings by the Executive Force against demonstrators who sought dialogue between the representatives of all the Palestinian movements in the supreme interest of the Palestinian people,” said Talal Abu Zarifa, a leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Spokesman for the Executive Force, Islam Chawal, told reporters that members of the Force had fired warning shots into the air after demonstrators threw stones at them. (AFP)

British MP Richard Burden (Lab, Northfield) told the House of Commons that Britain must talk to Hamas. He said Britain must drop its demand that Hamas abandon the use of violence and recognize Israel's existence before discussions took place. (The Financial Times)

A European Parliament resolution, adopted by a large majority, pressed its condemnation for the Hamas take-over of Gaza, while emphasizing that the current crisis should not be used as an excuse to halt efforts to reach a lasting peace. The resolution expressed its "understanding and support for President Abbas' extraordinary decisions given the serious circumstances." It welcomed the European Council's decision to resume normal relations with the PA, including direct financial support to the Government. It also called for the "release of all the imprisoned Palestinian former ministers, legislators and mayors, and Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit," while welcoming the release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston as "a positive step forward." (The European Parliament)

“The pillars of Gaza’s economy have weakened over the years. Now, with a sustained closure on this current scale, they would be at risk of virtually irreversible collapse,” Faris Hadad-Zervos, the World Bank’s acting country director for the West Bank and Gaza, told a closed-door meeting of aid groups and private sector organizations. “A solution must be reached very soon, if not immediately... Otherwise, Gaza’s dependence on humanitarian assistance could become a long-term and comprehensive situation. These impacts will be difficult to reverse.” A copy of the Bank’s presentation was obtained by Reuters from a participant in the meeting. (Reuters)

13

IDF troops operating in the southern Gaza Strip opened fire on two armed Palestinians, reportedly hitting them, but Israel Army Radio quoted Palestinian sources as reporting that the gunmen escaped unharmed. (The Jerusalem Post)

Israeli military forces took over the defunct Gaza airport located south east of Rafah, occupying it as a military base. (Ma'an News Agency)

The Salah ad-Din Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees, claimed responsibility for launching four projectiles at the Karim Abu Salim (Kerem Shalom) border crossing. The Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility for launching one projectile at a building inside Gaza Airport, where Israeli soldiers were said to be “hiding.” (Ma’an News Agency)

The Executive Force arrested more than 20 Fatah members in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip. (Ma’an News Agency)

An IDF spokesman announced the arrest during an Israeli military operation on 9 June of Mohammed Salameh Abeb Zufi, 30, a Hamas and Popular Resistance Committees member from the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. According to the spokesman, Mr. Zufi admitted his involvement in “several anti-Israeli attacks,” including the operation that captured Cpl. Gilad Shalit on 25 June 2006. The Israel security agency (Shin Bet) said that Mr. Zufi, who admitted during his interrogation that he had photographed the Kerem Shalom raid, also said that he had been involved in a 2002 raid on another IDF post in the same area, when an IDF officer and three Bedouin trackers were killed. (AFP, The Jerusalem Post)

Presidential aides said that PA President Abbas swore in three new ministers and Salam Fayyad was preparing to resign and be reappointed as Prime Minister. Mr. Abbas was responding to a constitutional limit on any state of emergency of 30 days that ends at midnight (2100 GMT), and which could be extended only by a PLC decision. Presidential aides said that the emergency Cabinet would thereby be replaced by a caretaker government that would rule indefinitely. That would put the Government on a new legal footing, the aides emphasized, although it may not address all criticisms by some lawyers who had argued that Mr. Abbas’ actions needed approval by the legislature, which had been paralysed by the crisis. “It was agreed to distribute the heavy workload by adding ... ministers to the Government. Then it can go to parliament for a vote of confidence – if there is a quorum,” Agriculture and Social Affairs Minister Mahmoud al-Habbash told Reuters. “The President is very keen that all his steps should be legal. He and the Prime Minister want to expand the current government,” an Abbas aide said in Ramallah. Azzam al-Ahmed, a PLC member from Fatah, said that because neither side could muster a majority in parliament, “This Government will continue running the country until the crisis ... is solved.” The three additions to the Cabinet were Ali Khashshan (Minister of Justice), Tahani Abu Daqqa (Minister of Youth and Sports) and Ibrahim Abrash (Minister of Culture). The fourth reported addition, Hani Najim, had not taken the oath yet. PA officials denied earlier reports that the former Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr was also going to join the Government. (AP, DPA, Ma’an News Service, Reuters)

The PA asked Israel to grant permission to Nayef Hawatmeh, the Damascus-based founder and leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, to enter Ramallah. According to Israel Radio, Mr. Hawatmeh was planning to participate in the PLO Central Assembly meeting on 18 July. A Lebanese newspaper reported that Israel had already given permission for Mr. Hawatmeh’s entry but Prime Minister’s Office officials said that the request was still being considered. (The Jerusalem Post)

The Kuwaiti Qabas newspaper reported that Fatah and the PA were preparing to forcefully regain control of the Gaza Strip. Qabas claimed that Hamas would be given an ultimatum to surrender or join the PA security forces and, if it did not comply, Fatah threatened to put an end to the current illegal situation in the Gaza Strip. Egypt reportedly warned Fatah against the move, saying it would cause an unprecedented escalation in the region. (The Jerusalem Post)

14

A joint statement by the National Resistance Brigades, the military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of the Fatah, said that they shot two homemade projectiles at the Israeli town of Kisufim, adjacent to the Gaza Strip. The Al-Nasser Salah ad-Din Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees, claimed responsibility for launching a homemade projectile at the Israeli military position in Nahal Oz, adjacent to the northern Gaza Strip. In a separate incident, the Saraya Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, said they launched four mortars and a rocket-propelled grenade towards Israeli vehicles occupying Gaza International Airport. Their members also clashed with Israeli forces near the Kerem Shalom crossing, at the Gazan border with Israel and Egypt. (Ma'an News Agency)

Palestinian security sources confirmed that the Hamas-affiliated Executive Force had arrested Lt.-Col. Izzat Kamal Baghdadi of the Palestinian National Security Service in Gaza City. (Ma'an News Agency)

In a telephone call to Ma'an News Agency, the Jenin-based leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Zakaria Zubeidi, said that the Brigades had signed a pledge to cease attacks against Israel, adding that the "Al-Aqsa Brigades won't be an obstacle to any political project aimed at solving the Palestinian question". The move came amidst news of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s amnesty offer for wanted Fatah members. (Ma'an News Agency)

Israeli security sources said that they were inclined to allow the head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Nayef Hawatmeh, to enter the West Bank on 18 July. (Ha’aretz)

The Israeli military court at the Muscobiyeh Interrogation Center in Jerusalem extended the arrest period of a Palestinian woman, Nada Al Jaiousi, for a further 11 days, to allow for more investigations against her. The Nafha Prisoner's Society said, "Al Jaiousi, who is the head of Al Huda women's charitable society, is a mother of nine children, and was abducted four days ago from her home in Ramallah.” The Society called on PA President Abbas and all human rights organizations to intervene for the release of Mrs. Al Jaiousi. (Ma'an News Agency)

15

The Izz ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades claimed responsibility for launching 8 mortar shells at the Israeli military position at Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing in the northern Gaza Strip. (Ma'an News Agency)

UNRWA released a statement making an urgent appeal for humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd said that nearly $30 million would be needed for emergency projects. (un.org/unrwa)

The IDF had significantly cut down on operations involving arrests of wanted Palestinian militants in the West Bank as a result of agreements reached between Israel and the PA. Since 12 July, no such operations had been carried out in the West Bank. This new development was linked not only to the meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and PA President Abbas, but also to the security programme of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayad and to Israel's decision to offer amnesty to 178 Fatah militants sought by the Shin Bet security service. So far, the new regulations had not been conveyed to the IDF in writing, and the Central Command had so far been given only oral instructions, military sources said. (Ha’aretz)

In Gaza, acting PLC speaker Ahmad Bahar suspended the emergency session of the PLC because a quorum could not be assembled. The session was attended by 26 members in Gaza City and 5 in the West Bank through a video-conference link. Five Gaza-based PLC members apologized for their absence, yet another 56 members did not attend. A further 45 PLC members, mostly from Hamas, were currently detained in Israeli jails. Fatah boycotted the session, calling it illegal. The session was postponed to the following week. (Ha’aretz, Ma'an News Agency)

Around 80 per cent of Gaza's factories had temporarily shut down in the past month, after Israel closed border crossings in response to the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, human rights groups and Palestinian industrialists said. The factory closures made Gaza's 1.5 million residents increasingly dependent on humanitarian aid, said Michael Bailey of Oxfam International, an aid and human rights group. Before the latest closures, some 85 per cent of Gazans received some form of aid, he said. If the crossings between Gaza and Israel are not opened soon, "the slide into all-out dependency will be swift and inevitable," he said. (AP)

A poll conducted by Near East Consulting found that the takeover of the Gaza Strip had cost Hamas some support there and bolstered Fatah. The poll showed a backlash to Hamas’ action. Hamas got only 23 per cent support, down from 29 per cent in the previous month’s survey, while Fatah rose from 31 to 43 per cent. The poll, the first major survey since the Hamas takeover, also showed that 66 per cent of Hamas supporters said that they would vote Fatah if it undertook reforms. The poll interviewed 450 residents of the Gaza Strip. It quoted a margin of error of 3.05 per cent. (AP)

In an interview, PA Prime Minister and Finance Minister Salam Fayad said that the removal of checkpoints and the release of funds would not achieve its goal if negotiations over a permanent solution to bring an end to the occupation were not held simultaneously. (Ha’aretz)

16

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired three rockets at the southern town of Sderot, one of which hit a house, causing no casualties, medical sources said. Earlier, an Israeli aircraft targeted two rocket launchers in northern Gaza. (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and PA President Abbas met in Jerusalem. Mr. Olmert said that Israel planned to release 250 Palestinian prisoners by the end of the week. The list of prisoners included mostly members of Fatah, with the rest coming from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The adult prisoners scheduled for release had at least one year of their sentence left, while the minors had at least six months. Elderly and sick prisoners were also expected to be included. Mr. Olmert would have liked to have gained approval for the release of some of the veteran prisoners jailed before the Oslo Accords in 1993, as long as they had not been involved in attacks that killed Israelis. "The President demanded that political leaders be included among them," Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat told reporters in Ramallah after the meeting. Mr. Olmert insisted that Mr. Abbas, who had ruled out dialogue with Hamas in the wake of the Gaza Strip takeover, not re-engage with the group because that would mean blowing up the current peace efforts. Other recent Israeli steps had also included a conditional amnesty for 180 wanted Fatah members who had promised not to wage anti-Israel attacks, and allowing veteran Palestinian nationalist leader Nayef Hawatmeh to enter the West Bank for the first time in 40 years. Israel had also released some Palestinian customs duties that it had withheld for more than a year. The Palestinians, however, had insisted that talks between the two sides should focus on final status issues, such as borders, instead of gestures. "There are certain disagreements. The President wants his meetings with the Israeli Prime Minister to focus on political negotiations, the Arab Initiative and steps toward establishing the Palestinian State,” Mr. Erakat said. (AFP)

The White House praised Israel's plans to free 250 Palestinians by the end of the week as part of "the important business" of working with beleaguered PA President Abbas. "We fully support [such] efforts," White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters hours before US President Bush was to unveil economic and diplomatic aid to the embattled Abbas Government. (AFP)

In Doha, Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khaled Mashaal apologized for mistakes made during last month's takeover of the Gaza Strip, saying that they were individual acts that did not represent Hamas policies. "They are marginal mistakes made by individuals that do not represent our policies. We apologize to God before apologizing to the people for them," he said in a speech at an Islamic conference held in Qatar. Parts of his speech were broadcast on Al-Jazeerasatellite TV station. Mr. Mashaal said that dialogue was the only way out of the current crisis. "The problem is the other side rejects dialogue," he said. (AP)

Nayef Hawatmeh, head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, decided not to attend the PLO Central Assembly meeting scheduled in Ramallah this week, the group said in a statement. The statement said that Mr. Hawatmeh "rejects any Israeli conditions" to the visit. (AP)

In Washington, D.C., US President Bush proposed an international conference this fall, to include Israel, the PA and some Arab neighbours, to help restart the Middle East peace talks and review progress in building democratic institutions. Mr. Bush also pledged increased US aid to the Palestinian Government of President Abbas and called for the convening of a meeting of donor nations to consider more international aid, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. He said that President Abbas and his new Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, were striving to build the institutions of a modern democracy, contrasting the situation with that of the Hamas Government, which, he said, had demonstrated “beyond all doubt that it is devoted to extremism and murder." Only the Palestinians can decide which of these two paths to follow, Mr. Bush said. He noted that the United States had pledged more than $190 million in direct assistance to the Palestinians, most of it already approved, and that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a quasi-governmental unit, was making another $228 million available in loan guarantees. (AP, The White House)

Palestinian officials said that President Bush had spoken to President Abbas by telephone for 40 minutes the day before to discuss his proposal for a regional peace conference. “We welcome this call, particularly in light of the re-emphasized US commitment toward a meaningful peace process that leads to an end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian State,” PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said in an interview, expecting “the call for an international conference to help in pushing this process forward.” (AP)

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, during a meeting with visiting UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd, said that the living conditions of Palestinians, especially those in the Gaza Strip, were a priority for the Egyptian Government. Following the meeting, according to local media reports, Ms. AbuZayd said that the only way out of the current crisis in Gaza was to help Palestinians market their products abroad. About a million items of clothing in Gaza were awaiting export to Israel, she said, adding that a large amount of fresh fruits and vegetables could be exported to other countries. (Xinhua)

17

A mortar shell fired from the northern Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli town of Sderot, lightly wounding one Israeli, an IDF spokeswoman said. According to the IDF, two other mortars and a Qassam rocket, also fired from northern Gaza, had landed in Israel earlier during the day, causing no casualty or damage. (Xinhua)

Three people were injured in clashes between Egyptian police and dozens of Palestinians trapped in a north Sinai airport, a Palestinian inside the terminal at Al-Arish said. Around 100 Palestinians, stuck in the airport because they did not have visas to enter Egypt, tried to force their way out but were swiftly blocked by police. (AFP)

Sanaa Ahmad Shannan, 27, who suffered from cancer, died while stranded at the Rafah crossing. The death toll of Palestinians stranded at Rafah stood at 29. The PA Ministry of Health stated that the Israeli authorities were only allowing 20 per cent of the Palestinians in need of medical treatment in the Gaza Strip to be admitted into Israeli hospitals and hospitals in the West Bank. (Ma’an News Agency)

An Israeli ministerial committee approved plans for the release of 256 Palestinian prisoners. The release was expected to take place on 20 July. Two ministers in the nine-member committee voted against the release, with one, Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, complaining that freeing the prisoners would raise the price Hamas was demanding for releasing Cpl. Gilad Shalit. About 80 per cent of the prisoners were members of Fatah. Others were unaffiliated, or from several smaller factions such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine or the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and none belonged to Hamas. The detainees would be asked to sign a pledge not to return to militant activity or else face rearrest and a harsher sentence. By mid-afternoon, the Israel Prison Service had published the list of prisoners to be freed on its website, to allow Israelis opposed to the release of any one individual to mount a court challenge. Israel also agreed to pardon 178 Palestinians on its wanted list, on the condition that they sign a commitment not to participate in attacks against Israeli targets. The pardoned Palestinians would lay down their arms and become absorbed into PA security organizations. PA Minister for Prisoner Affairs Ashraf al-Ajrami said that the release was not enough: “Israel insists on releasing those who have limited sentences. We want a release of prisoners who received long sentences.” (AP, DPA, The Jerusalem Post)

Al-Hayat quoted PA Chief Negotiator Saeb Erakat as saying that a joint Israeli-Palestinian committee was looking “into restoring the situation to the form that was common before the eruption of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000.” According to Mr. Erakat, the Israeli pardon of some 180 militants in West Bank, and the possible amnesty for more intifada activists, were part of the committee’s achievements. The two sides were now in talks over the issue of gunmen expelled to the Gaza Strip in 2002 following the standoff at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. The coordination would continue to specify the legal condition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory under the Oslo peace accords, Mr. Erakat also said. (Xinhua)

The caretaker PA Government led by Prime Minister Fayyad said in a statement, “The Government has received the US President’s speech with watchful optimism though it was a repetition of his vision that has not been met since it was declared five years ago.” PA Chief Negotiator Erakat said that it was important for the conference to move beyond recent confidence-building steps and start carrying out Mr. Bush’s vision of creating a Palestinian State alongside Israel. “The best thing to do is focus on substance at this meeting,” he said. “We need this conference to focus on implementation, the transformation of words to deeds. That is what will restore credibility to the peace process.” (AP, Xinhua)

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas rejected President Bush’s proposal for a regional peace conference, calling it a “crusade” against the Palestinian people. Yahiya Moussa, a Hamas PLC member, said that he did not trust the Americans to be fair brokers in the region and that the Americans treated the Arab world “as if they were private kingdoms for their puppet dictators”. “We do not accept Bush’s flagrant interference in Palestinian internal affairs with the aim to drive a wedge among the Palestinian people,” he said. (AP)

Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, welcomed President Bush’s call for a regional peace conference, saying that it provided an opportunity to bring together all those who are truly interested in peace in the Middle East. But she said that it was too early to talk about full-fledged peace talks as long as Palestinian violence against Israel continued. “Israel has been very clear. We do not think at this stage that you can talk about final status issues, but such a meeting would certainly add to the capability of arriving at the core issues,” she said, adding, however, that Israel thought “the best solution for Israel is Palestine. We need to have a two-state solution, not one state, or Israel ruling over them.” (AP)

US Consul General in Jerusalem Jacob Wallace met PA President Abbas in Ramallah. “We talked about the economic situation, and I provided some additional details to the President about our plans to resume the economic assistance again,” Mr. Wallace told reporters after the meeting, adding that the US would deliver aid to the major infrastructure projects, including roads, sewage and water projects. “This would be a priority for us,” he said. (Xinhua)

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema warned against isolating Hamas, saying that there was a risk of pushing the movement into the arms of Al-Qaida. “Hamas has committed terrorist acts but it is also a movement of the people. For the West not to recognize a Government that was democratically elected ... it is not a very good lesson in democracy,” he said. (AP)

UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd said in an interview that the plight of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip was dire but not tantamount to a humanitarian catastrophe. Its 1.5 million people had been receiving supplies of food, but they still sorely lacked materials for daily living and raw materials for building, Ms. AbuZayd said. Asked how far the situation in Gaza was from a humanitarian catastrophe, she said, “We never say that in Gaza because we always know that the donors will not let this happen, the Israelis will not allow it to happen, and the Palestinians will not allow this to happen. … We might get close but will never go over the edge,” she added. (Kyodo)

18

The Al-Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for opening fire at an Israeli civilian car near an Israeli military post at Kisufim, east of Khan Yunis. No injuries were reported. (Ma’an News Agency)

Israeli troops arrested 19 suspected Palestinians in the West Bank. The operation came days after military officials said that they were scaling back such raids in another gesture of support to PA President Abbas. (PA)

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Al-Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for launching two home-made projectiles at the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. (Ma’an News Agency)

Gaza’s economy could collapse within weeks unless Israel reopened crucial commercial trade crossings, UN officials and businessmen from Gaza warned. More than 68,000 workers had lost their jobs since mid-June. The closings added to the already high unemployment rate, bringing it up to about 75 per cent, according to the MAS Institute for Economic Studies. “We are asking them (the Quartet) to take consideration of what is happening here. They must take political decisions to open all the crossings, and then the operational solutions will be found”, said John Ging, Director of UNRWA operations in Gaza. Israeli business partners had begun cancelling contracts because Palestinian factories were unable to meet deadlines. (AP)

PA President Abbas told the PLO Central Council that he wanted it to issue a declaration of early elections at an unspecified date. He said that he would call for the elimination of regional balloting. In the new election, Palestinians would vote for parties that would divide parliament in proportion to the votes received, Mr. Abbas said. His aides said that they expected the election by the end of the year or early 2008. Mr. Abbas also said that the PLO would take over from the paralyzed Palestinian legislature. Israel is holding dozens of Hamas lawmakers in prison, and Hamas has boycotted parliament sessions to endorse the new Cabinet, assembled after Hamas took over Gaza and the Hamas-Fatah coalition Government came apart. (AP, Ma’an News Agency)

At a joint press conference with EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana in Ramallah, PA President Abbas told reporters that the following day, the Quartet “would tackle the Israeli-Palestinian peace talk’s track, in addition to the positive call by President Bush for an international peace conference in the coming fall”. Regarding the deployment of an international force in the Gaza Strip, Mr. Solana said, “There is a positive European attitude towards the notion, but we should discuss this attitude with other parties, mainly the UN”. (AFP, AP, DPA, Ma’an News Agency, Reuters, Xinhua)

Former PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said claims that Al-Qaida had infiltrated the Gaza Strip were merely a political manoeuvre by Fatah and suggested that the isolation of the territory might push toward extremism. “The danger of Al-Qaida infiltration is a move coming from Ramallah to turn the international community against part of the Palestinian people”, Mr. Haniyeh told La Republicana. (AP)

Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa urged launching peace talks between the Arabs and Israel within a time frame, Egypt’s official news agency MENA reported. Mr. Moussa made an appeal during a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, discussing points included in the speech of US President Bush of 16 July. (Xinhua)

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad called on the EU to renew aid to the Palestinian Authority and spoke of the need to launch a “real” peace process which would lead to a result “we all expect”. (DPA, Ha’aretz)

The Department for International Development of the UK Government announced a contribution of £3 million to the PA to allow it to begin paying off its private sector debts. The money would be funnelled through the PA Ministry of Finance and monitored by an international accounting firm. (www.dfid.gov.uk)

“The recent conflict in Gaza has compounded the hardships faced by the millions of ordinary Palestinians in trying to live normal lives,” International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said. (www.dfid.gov.uk, AFP, Ma’an News Agency)

PA Prime Minister Fayyad signed an agreement with the French Government whereby it would provide the Palestinian Authority with €15 million in direct aid. The agreement was signed in Ramallah with the attendance of the French Consul-General in Jerusalem, Alain Rémy. (Ma’an News Agency)

Ahmed Yousef, an aide to former PA Prime Minister Haniyeh, welcomed the initiative proposed by four European countries to watch over Gaza Strip crossing points. Mr. Yousef disclosed that Turkey and Norway were among the four nations that were willing to oversee the Rafah crossing at the Palestinian-Egyptian border and the Al-Muntar (Karni) commercial crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. (Xinhua)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for Arab initiatives to be included in the Middle East peace process. “It won’t work without the involvement of regional players”, she said in a press conference. (Ha’aretz)

The former Minister of Education of the National Unity Government, Nasser Addin Ash Shaer, said that Palestinian prisoners had composed a document that should resolve the current crisis between Hamas and Fatah. The document would be published in a few days. Mr. Ash Shaer said that he had signed a pledge saying that he would no longer represent Hamas at the local, regional and international levels. The pledge was a pre-condition for his release from prison. (Ma’an News Agency)

The Governor of Hebron, Arif al Ja’bari, received in his office the incoming Head of the International Committee for the Red Cross, as part of a new partnership between the regional government and the Committee. (Ma’an News Agency)

A senior Norwegian Foreign Ministry official said Norway planned to call two meetings this year of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee for Assistance to the Palestinian People, a group of donors to Palestinians, to raise funds for the new Palestinian Government. The Committee, which had not met since 2005, is co-sponsored by the United States and the European Union, and includes Japan, Canada, Russia and several Arab States, as well as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Joern Gjelstad, deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry, said that an informal meeting at a ministerial level would likely be held in New York in September in connection with the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. That meeting would be followed by a formal session of the committee, probably in December, at which members would make “long-term donor commitments for building Palestinian state institutions,” Mr. Gjelstad said. He said that Norway was considering inviting other major donors to join the group but did not identify which ones. (AP)

The UN Human Settlements Programme and the Arab Authority for Agricultural Investment and Development signed an agreement to establish a medical and rehabilitation centre in the town of Taqua in Bethlehem. (UN News Centre, www.unhabitat.org)

19

Ali Zohdi Hallas, a 23-year-old Palestinian who was injured in an Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip last month, succumbed to his wounds at an Israeli hospital. (Ma’an News Agency)

Israeli troops arrested 16 “wanted” Palestinians throughout the West Bank overnight: seven near Tulkarm, eight near Hebron and one near Ramallah. (The Jerusalem Post)

A Qassam rocket fired from the northern Gaza Strip hit a home in the southern Israeli city of Sderot. Seven people suffered from shock, and a number of buildings were damaged in the strike. (Ynetnews)

The Al-Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for launching a home-made projectile at the southern Israeli town of Sderot. The group also claimed responsibility for launching two mortar shells at the Erez crossing between the northern Gaza Strip and Israel. A cell from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for launching two mortar shells at Israeli intelligence offices at the Erez crossing. (Ma’an News Agency)

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that a Middle East peace conference, called by US President Bush, would be held in September on the sidelines of the General Assembly in New York. Ahead of the conference, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would discuss its agenda with Arab foreign ministers on 31 July in Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt, Mr. Aboul Gheit said. (AP)

The Quartet principals – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, and European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner – met in Lisbon joined by Quartet Representative Tony Blair. The following are excerpts from the Quartet statement issued after the meeting:

(UN press release SG/2130)

The Palestinian Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper reported that Israel and the Palestinians were drafting a three-step plan to transfer security responsibility in the West Bank to the PA. The first phase of the plan, which is not expected to be implemented in the coming days, calls for the transfer of security in Jericho and Qalqilya to the PA, according to the newspaper. Ramallah, Bethlehem and Tulkarm would be transferred to the Palestinians in the plan’s second and third stages. Jenin and Nablus would not be included in the agreement. The plan would be implemented only after comprehensive reorganization of the Palestinian security services, including the disarmament of gunmen belonging to various groups in the West Bank. (Ynetnews)

20

PA President Abbas said that the 255 Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli prisons today were only the first group of prisoners to be released and more would be freed shortly. Israel had been scheduled to release 256 prisoners but the release of one had been delayed at the request of security officials. Israeli Prison Service buses brought the freed prisoners to Beitunia checkpoint near Ramallah, where they were loaded onto Palestinian buses and brought to the West Bank city. The prisoners were released at 8.00 a.m., mostly from Ketziot prison in the Negev. Among those freed was 61-year-old Abdel Rahim Malouh, second in command in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He was the first to sign a form saying that he would refrain from any terror activities in the future. All the prisoners had signed the forms, had been examined by a doctor, and had met with ICRC representatives. Some 9,200 Palestinians (11,000 according to AFP) remained in jail. (AFP, Ha’aretz)

PA Director of Prisoners Affairs Ziad Abu Ayn said that among the 255 prisoners released were 30 Hamas members and two from the Islamic Jihad. He said that the PA did not distinguish between prisoners: “… they are all our prisoners, all our sons.” He added that the PA was proud that prisoners affiliated with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad had been among those released. (Ynetnews)

Israeli forces entered Nablus in the West Bank, injuring three Palestinians and arresting three others. Dozens of Israeli military vehicles raided the ‘Ein Beit Al Ma’ refugee camp, in northern Nablus. Soon after midnight, troops entered more than 10 houses, blowing up walls. The troops withdrew from the area at 8.30 a.m. but returned two hours later, soon after the first group of Palestinian prisoners were released. (Ma’an News Agency)

An Israeli man was treated for shock when Palestinians fired a Qassam rocket near the Negev town of Sderot, Israel Radio reported. Palestinians also fired mortar shells from the Gaza Strip, causing no injuries. (Ha’aretz)

One Israeli and two Palestinians were wounded in a clash with security forces near Bil’in in the West Bank. (Ha’aretz)

Quartet envoy Tony Blair said that he was optimistic that momentum could be regained in the stalled peace process. He brushed aside suggestions that his limited mandate and the Quartet’s refusal to deal with Hamas would lessen the impact of his mission. “I am nothing if not an optimist. I will probably have need for all that quality of optimism in this task ahead, but I am determined to try,” he said. He planned to brief the Quartet for the first time in September. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Israelis and the Palestinians and other regional players to work closely with Mr. Blair, adding that the Quartet “encouraged robust international support for his efforts.” Mr. Blair was scheduled to travel to Israel and the Middle East next week. (BBC, Ha’aretz, Ynetnews)

German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, who was on a visit to Beirut, said: “We hope to be able to provide better living conditions for the people of the (refugee camp of) Shatila, and to assist the current people displaced from Nahr al-Bared back to the camp once the conflict is over and the camp is rebuilt.” She was on an extensive tour of the Shatila Palestine refugee camp and inspected an UNRWA school currently housing Palestine refugees displaced from the Nahr al-Bared camp. (Xinhua)

Farouq Al-Kaddoumi, PLO Political Bureau Head and Secretary-General of Fatah’s central committee, said that he opposed the disarming of the Palestinian armed resistance. A Hamas representative said that they received the statement with satisfaction, despite political differences with Mr. Kaddoumi. The Hamas representative also said that his organization was ready to “prove its good intentions” and accept the call for intra-Palestinian dialogue to end the current crisis. (Ma’an News Agency)

21

Hamas announced the formation of a judicial committee whose work would be to administer justice in the Gaza Strip. “We have formed a judicial committee” to overcome the paralysis of the judicial system since the 15 June 15, according to Islam Shahwan, spokesperson for Hamas’ Executive Force militia, which polices the Gaza Strip. “Each day, we received between 50 and 60 complaints that were not being dealt with because the courts have shut down,” according to Mr. Shahwan. The committee would be headed by former military justice official, Maj. Amin Nofal. The move was denounced by PA Justice Minister Ali Khashan, who said, “This action is illegal and that the legal system had “to remain independent.” The Director of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Dhamir said, “It is against what we warned: the creation by Hamas of an alternative legal structure based on sharia, the Islamic law.” (AFP)

22

Four Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops: two Hamas members, who were killed in a ground assault when they tried to ambush Israeli soldiers, and two others who were killed when an Israeli attack helicopter opened fire in the northern Gaza. The Islamic Jihad said that both were members of their group and had been firing at Israel. (AP, Reuters)

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad had to abandon his attempt to present his Government for a confidence vote when his own supporters boycotted the session over a dispute with Hamas. “I wanted to present my Government to the Legislative Council in line with the law, but apparently it has failed to implement its constitutional duty,” said Mr. Fayyad. President Abbas’ aides said that the President had the power to issue decrees with the force of law while the Palestinian legislature was not in session. (Reuters)

Former PA Prime Minister Haniyeh stated his approval of the intervention of former US President Jimmy Carter in the Palestinian domestic crisis. His comments were made during a meeting with Carter Center Director Scott Caster, who was visiting Gaza City. Mr. Caster conveyed Mr. Carter’s willingness to mediate in the domestic Palestinian dispute. (Ma’an News Agency)

PA President Abbas held separate meetings to discuss the peace process with Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit and Israeli Knesset member Dalia Itzik. Mr. Abbas said that he attached “special importance to coordination with Jordan,” particularly after the proposals made earlier by President Bush on an international conference this fall. His talk with Ms. Itzik focused on the need for finding “a political horizon,” Mr. Abbas said. (DPA)

Over 700 Egyptians protested its Government’s plan to evict them from their homes to improve security on the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Egyptian authorities had previously evicted residents living within 50 metres of the border to prevent traffickers and militants from digging tunnels to enter Gaza. Protestors demonstrated against the new plan that would evict people from homes within an extra 100 metres. An Egyptian official said that if the eviction plan was approved and carried out, evicted families would get “fair” compensation for their lost homes and land. (AP)

The Israeli Government shifted control of some funds used for West Bank settlement from the office of Prime Minister Olmert to the Agriculture Ministry for projects to help the underdeveloped Galilee and Negev regions of Israel. Israeli human rights organization Peace Now official said, “Basically it is good news, but it is a drop in the sea.” The funding of outposts and settlements was channelled through many government and quasi-autonomous bodies but this was but a fraction of the hundreds of millions of shekels used for settlement funding, according to Peace Now. (AP)

23

Israeli forces arrested seven Palestinians at dawn at several locations in the West Bank. It was reported that Israeli soldiers had been fired upon during the raid in Ramallah. Near Nablus, Palestinians threw stones at the soldier but no one was injured. (Ma’an News Agency)

Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit a house in a western Negev kibbutz. Three people were treated for shock. (Ha’aretz)

A Fatah member of the PLC, Ashraf Jum’ah, was injured after being attacked by members of Hamas’ Executive Force in Rafah. (Ma’an News Agency)

Officials said that Israel was prepared to discuss “in general terms” core issues, including borders, in meetings with PA President Abbas, but Israeli Prime Minister Olmert still believed that talk of relaunching final status negotiations remained premature for now, despite mounting US pressure. Short of agreeing to restart those negotiations, a senior Israeli official involved in the discussions said that Israel was preparing steps in the near-term to try to improve “movement and access” in the West Bank. This was expected to include the removal of some of the hundreds of Israeli roadblocks. The official said that Israel would then look at transferring responsibility for some West Bank areas to Mr. Abbas and his security forces. “As soon as you start to transfer responsibilities, you get into borders,” the official said. Another senior Israeli official said that Israel was willing to discuss with Mr. Abbas coordinated withdrawals from parts of the West Bank that could serve his interests. (Reuters)

Quartet envoy Tony Blair arrived in Israel after a stopover in Jordan. He was scheduled to meet with PA President Abbas as well as PA Prime Minister Fayyad in Ramallah the following day. He was also slated to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. He was not scheduled to travel to the Gaza Strip. Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said that his organization would be willing to talk to Mr. Blair, but not with Israel. Hamas had earlier warned Mr. Blair not to ignore the group as this would erode his credibility in his new position. Mr. Blair, whose general mandate involved trying to build foundations for a Palestinian State, said that he planned to “listen, to absorb and to reflect” during his visit to the Middle East before putting forward any proposals. In their meeting with Mr. Blair, Israeli officials planned to send two messages: Israel welcomed Mr. Blair’s new role and would work to ensure that Mr. Blair did not stray from his mandate. As far as final status issues were concerned, this would be carried out in direct negotiations with the Palestinians, according to an Israeli source. (BBC, DPA, Ha’aretz, Ma’an News Agency, Xinhua)

Israeli border police evacuated hundreds of Israeli activists who had infiltrated the former West Bank settlement of “Homesh” overnight. Police arrested some 10 activists during the evacuation, while several fled. The activists covertly entered the site and began building a synagogue. They also erected a wooden tower on a hill north of the settlement site. Earlier, activists had entered the nearby Palestinian village of Burkah and hurled rocks at houses. Residents responded by hurling rocks back at them. Police and army forces arrived to calm the situation. (Ha’aretz, Ma’an News Agency)

The Palestinian caretaker Government had resumed payment of members of the PLC, including Hamas members such as deposed Prime Minister Haniyeh and former Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahhar. Information Minister Riyad Najib Al-Maliki said, “No one can seize the salary of any PLC member because of his political views. The salary payment is part of the job of the Palestinian Authority.” (Ma’an News Agency)

Arab Foreign Ministers would meet in Cairo on 30 July to discuss the domestic crises in Lebanon and the Palestinian territory, according to Muhammad Sobeih, Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League for Palestinian Affairs and occupied Arab territories. (Ma’an News Agency)

The following are excerpts from the conclusions on the Middle East peace process adopted by the Council of the European Union:

(www.consilium.europa.eu)

Canada expressed support to the new Palestinian Government in a press release issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Canada would give an immediate infusion of $8 million ($7.6 million, €5.5 million), and another $1 million ($955,000, €690,977) would be given to the ICRC to aid in its work protecting civilians in the region. (AP, www.international.gc.ca)

24

An Israeli air strike wounded at least five Palestinians in Gaza City. A rocket slammed into a house in the Al-Nasr district after missing its target of a car, damaging a balcony on an apartment building, breaking window panes and wounding five passers-by, witnesses said. The Israeli military confirmed the strike but provided no further details. Islamic Jihad claimed that the rocket had been earmarked for one of its leaders, who was in the car at the time. (AFP)

The Al-Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for launching three home-made projectiles at the Kerem Shalom border crossing and four at an Israeli military installation near the crossing. (Ma’an News Agency)

Quartet representative Tony Blair met with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, following his meetings with PA President Abbas and acting Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah. (DPA)

25

Israeli tanks entered the village of Juhor ad Deek, in the Gaza Strip, at dawn, bulldozing olive farms and raiding houses. A number of Palestinian men were arrested. (Ma’an News Agency)

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdulelah Al-Khatib opened the first talks in Israel over the Arab land-for-peace plan. The Ministers met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem. “We heard a lot of positive commentary, from which we discern an intention on behalf of Israel to work seriously on giving the Palestinians an opportunity to get their State …We hope that upon our return, we would also convey to the Arab League the responses of Israel and I hope that the responses will be positive”, Mr. Aboul Gheit said. “We are extending a hand of peace on behalf of the whole region to you, and we hope that we will be able to create the momentum needed to resume fruitful and productive negotiations”, said Mr. Al-Khatib. (AFP, AP, Ma’an News Agency, Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert would be ready to negotiate with PA President Abbas toward an agreement of principles as long as the talks would be limited to relatively uncontroversial issues. The PA said that they have yet to receive the proposal. If the Prime Minister’s proposal were accepted by the Palestinians, the two sides would begin negotiations on the characteristics of the Palestinian State, its official institutions, its economy, and the customs arrangements it would have with Israel. After the agreement of principles, the two sides would tackle the more diplomatically sensitive issues, such as final borders and transit arrangements. According to Ha’aretz, the principles that the Prime Minister would offer as part of the agreement were as follows: the establishment of a Palestinian State comprising 90 per cent of the territory of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; exchange of territory to compensate for the large settlement blocks that would remain under Israeli control in the West Bank; the linkage of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by means of a tunnel in order to offer the Palestinians territorial continuity, with Israel requesting territorial compensation for the digging of the tunnel in its sovereign territory; the Palestinians would be able to declare Jerusalem their capital, including the Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem “on the edge”, with the Old City, its environs and the Mount of Olives remaining under Israel’s control. (Ha’aretz, Ma’an News Agency)

With the Al-Muntar (Karni) and Rafah crossings closed since Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defence Ministry will expand the Karim Abu Salim (Kerem Shalom) border crossing, which it plans to turn into the primary pedestrian and cargo entry point into Gaza, a high-ranking Ministry official said. He said that Israel did not plan to allow Rafah to reopen under Hamas control. The Defence Ministry's decision to upgrade Kerem Shalom followed an IDF recommendation to turn the once barely-used crossing into the main supply and pedestrian conduit into Gaza. "We have no intention of allowing Rafah to reopen," the official said, adding that “since the crossing was opened in November 2005, hundreds of Palestinian had travelled to Iran and Lebanon for terrorist training”. (The Jerusalem Post)

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Special Representative of the Secretary-General Michael C. Williams briefed the Security Council on recent political developments in the Middle East. (www.un.org)

“The time has come for us to issue the required decrees for early elections”, PA President Abbas said in a speech to a visiting US delegation. The President’s aides said that they expected elections to be held by early 2008. (AP)

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an interview with the US sponsored Al Hurra television broadcasting in the Middle East, that Israel should focus its energies away from settling the West Bank and begin investing its future elsewhere. "I believe that Israel understands ... that it has obligations that need to be met and need to be met now, because the future of Israel is not in the continued occupation of the West Bank," Ms. Rice said. "The future of Israel is in building a strong Israeli State in places like the Negev and Galilee." The Secretary of State said that during her next trip to the region, she would help promote both the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians and the broader Arab-Israel track. (Ha’aretz)

The Al-Qassam Brigades warned Israel against targeting any leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The threat came after reports that Israel was about to launch a large-scale offensive in Gaza and kill senior members of the movement. (Xinhua)

Israeli settlers were planning to establish a new outpost near Bethlehem, supported by nine right-wing Israeli action groups. (Ha’aretz)

26

Three Islamic Jihad senior commanders, including Omar al-Khatib, the local head of the group's military wing, were killed in an Israel Air Force strike that targeted a car south of Gaza City, the group said. The IDF confirmed the air strike. Witnesses said that the men were travelling in a jeep when it was hit by a missile. (Ha’aretz)

Jihad Sha'ar, a 21-year-old Palestinian, was killed after he tried to stab a soldier near the Tekoa checkpoint, east of Bethlehem. The soldier fired in the air after he was pushed to the ground by the Palestinian and then another soldier beat the assailant, reportedly with a stick. Despite attempts to resuscitate Mr. Sha’ar, he died of his wounds. In a separate incident, a Palestinian was wounded when he was shot by IDF troops in the Dehaniyeh refugee camp near Hebron. At the same time, an undercover border policeman arrested an Islamic Jihad member near Jenin refugee camp and IDF troops arrested a senior Hamas operative near Ramallah. (The Jerusalem Post)

Israeli forces began withdrawing from Al Fukhkhari, in the southern Gaza Strip. Their full exit was to be completed the following day. The incursion into Al Fukhkhari was launched in the morning resulting in destruction of Palestinian land and property. Witnesses reported that Israeli troops conducted house-to-house searches and detained more than 50 Palestinians. (Ma’an News Agency)

Israeli security sources said that the PA security organizations had transferred information on terrorist plots in the West Bank to Israel, helping Israeli security services thwart terrorist attacks. (Ha’aretz, Ma’an News Agency)

IDF GOC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni ordered a military police investigation against a platoon commander and his soldiers who earlier in the day had shot and wounded an unarmed Palestinian civilian without any apparent justification in the village of Dahariya, near Hebron. (BBC, Ha’aretz)

PA President Abbas said that he hoped to reach a final peace agreement with Israel in a year or less, and that he was encouraged by Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's plan to put together a joint declaration on the terms of Palestinian statehood. Mr. Abbas had made the remarks after being quoted by the Israeli daily Maariv as saying that US President Bush had told him that he was determined to reach a peace deal within a year. When asked about this comment, Mr. Abbas told reporters at his headquarters: "We hope to have a comprehensive peace with the Israelis within a year or even less than that." He did not refer to any assurances by the United States. Mr. Abbas also welcomed reports that Mr. Olmert wanted to formulate a joint statement on the contours of a Palestinian State in Gaza and most of the West Bank. Prime Minister Olmert's aides had confirmed the reports, but also hinted that such a "declaration of principles" would sidestep the most problematic issues, such as final borders and the fate of Palestinian refugees. (AP)

PLC member Mohammed Dahlan resigned from his post as security adviser to PA President Abbas. Mr. Abbas’ office confirmed that the President had accepted the resignation. Mr. Dahlan's office said that he had resigned for "health reasons" and was currently receiving treatment in the former Yugoslavia following knee surgery last month. (DPA)

In a meeting with Meretz Chairman Knesset member Yossi Beilin, PA President Abbas asked Israel to release 100 Fatah prisoners serving their terms in Israeli penitentiaries, Israel’s Army Radio reported. Last week, Israel released 255 prisoners after they had signed a form promising not to engage in terrorist activities following their release. The additional prisoners, all former residents of the Gaza Strip, would theoretically bolster Fatah's presence in the Strip, and would also cause Hamas to tone down its demands in negotiations for the release of captured IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit. (The Jerusalem Post)

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had had a telephone conversation with Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khaled Mashaal, at the latter’s initiative. “During the conversation, Mashaal stressed that there were no obstacles for cooperation between Fatah and Hamas in creating a Palestinian State, adding that Hamas stands firmly for the unity of the Palestinian people under the leadership of Palestinian National Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. Lavrov, for his part, reaffirmed the necessity of restoring Palestinian unity under the leadership of the PNA Head and called for buttressing the readiness expressed by Mr. Mashaal to work in this direction with practical actions,” the Ministry said. (www.mid.ru)

PA President Abbas was set to arrive in Moscow on 29 July on a three-day visit. (DPA)

27

Qassam rockets hit the Ashkelon industrial zone and a residential building. Some people were treated for shock. Four rockets landed in the west Negev, where an abandoned building was damaged. The Abu Ar Rish Brigades, a military group affiliated with Fatah, claimed responsibility for launching a projectile at Sderot in retaliation for “barbaric Israeli actions.” (Ha’aretz, Ma’an News Agency)

Israeli forces overnight arrested ten “wanted” Palestinians in the West Bank: six near Ramallah, three near Bethlehem and one near Nablus. (Ynetnews)

PA caretaker Prime Minister Salam Fayyad issued a statement setting out points for the PA Government. The document will be read to the PLC at its next session in order for a vote of confidence to be held. The points included acting in accordance with PLO agreements, including those with Israel; protecting the unity of the Palestinian people; and commitment to the foundation of a Palestinian State through its institutions. Goals included ending the Israeli occupation; a just solution to the refugee and borders issues; and eradication of the separation wall. Israeli Radio pointed out that for the first time the PA platform did not include a reference to armed struggle against Israel. (Ha’aretz, Ma’an News Agency)

PA President Abbas vowed to fully implement the recommendations of a committee that investigated the conduct of those Fatah leaders who lost the Gaza Strip to Hamas militants in June. Receiving a 200-page report, he said, “Rest assured that we will take this report as it is … and implement it in its entirety.” Senior Presidential aide Nabil Amr said that the report found Fatah security forces in Gaza had been hobbled by nepotism, infiltrated by hostile elements and weakened by taking recruits motivated simply by making a living rather than deep conviction. (Ha’aretz, Ma’an News Agency)

President Abbas met with a delegation from the Central Elections Committee in Ramallah. General Secretary of the Committee Rami Amin said that the Committee was ready for early elections, following 100 days from a presidential decision to call them. “The President was clear during the meeting that this matter is still under consideration, although we are technically ready for elections,” Mr. Amin added. Mr. Abbas had said that he would not talk to Hamas until they gave up control of Gaza and he planned to decree a change in electoral rules that, in the future ballot, might hamper Hamas’ chances of repeating their parliamentary election victory in 2006. (Ha’aretz, Ma’an News Agency)

Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon said that Israel should move to secure an accord on the principles of the final status agreement with the Palestinians.I believe that right now we have a partner. I do not know for how long, so we must move quickly,” he said. Mr. Ramon said he supported a withdrawal from most of the West Bank, except for large settlement blocks. He suggested that NATO forces could replace Israeli troops in the areas evacuated. In an earlier meeting with Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin, President Abbas said that an agreement of principles would not be satisfactory. He was prepared to achieve a final status settlement with Israel by the fall when an international Middle East peace conference was scheduled to take place. (BBC, Ha’aretz)

A group of Palestinian politicians, business people and other key political players have been working in recent weeks on an initiative to form a new political movement that would not be affiliated with either Fatah or Hamas. Several prominent supporters of the idea were considered to be close to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and PLO Executive Committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo. Jamal Zakut, a confidant of Mr. Fayyad, said that many members of the major political organizations and independents were distressed by the political breakdown between Hamas and Fatah, and saw a real need for a new political-social movement that would succeed in reaching the people. (Ha’aretz)

28

Israeli soldiers killed two members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades as they tried to launch an attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip. The Israeli army said that its soldiers had opened fire on the two militants who had been planting an explosive device near the northern town of Beit Lahiya and admitted hitting them. (Reuters)

The Guardian reported that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was to appoint his own Middle East envoy. Michael Williams, currently the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, was expected to be confirmed in the job next week, the newspaper said. (The Guardian)

29

Israeli forces arrested four “wanted” Palestinians from Ramallah and Bethlehem. Also, a 17-year-old Palestinian was detained at a checkpoint near Ramallah. (Ma’an News Agency)

Palestinians fired a barrage of rockets at Israeli communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip. In a statement faxed to the media, Islamic Jihad said that it had launched four makeshift missiles at the Israeli city of Ashkelon and at the town of Sderot. The group also claimed responsibility for shelling the Kerem Shalom crossing point in the south-east of the Gaza Strip. The Abu al-Riesh brigades, an offshoot of Fatah, said it had also participated in the shelling. No Israeli casualties were reported. (DPA)

A senior Fatah official, Ibrahim Abu An-Naja, accused Hamas of a sweeping campaign to detain Fatah members in the Gaza Strip. He said that Hamas had been searching for Fatah men and alleged that Hamas had been carrying out nightly raids on homes since defeating Fatah forces in the territory. Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said Mr. Abu An-Naja’s comments were “full of false accusations and lies.” (Reuters)

More than 100 Palestinians, stranded for weeks at the Egyptian border after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, made the circuitous route northward to the Nitzana crossing between Egypt and Israel, boarding Israeli buses and making their way back south to Gaza. Another 500 were expected to follow the same route the next day, but the other 5,000 waiting to cross were told to head the other direction to Cairo and apply for permission to return home. (AP)

Hamas and Islamic Jihad announced that they rejected the Palestinian Government’s new official platform, which for the first time did not include a reference to “armed struggle” against the Israeli occupation. In a joint statement, the two groups said, “Resistance has its legitimacy through the blood of the martyrs and the injured Palestinians and the suffering of the prisoners. No one can delete resistance from the Palestinian agenda.” (Ma’an News Agency)

Hamas said that it had begun paying Palestinian civil servants hired after the group formed its first cabinet in March 2006. “Yesterday and today, we began paying the salaries of civil servants with private contracts. They number around 2,000”, said Mohammed al-Madhun, the director of the dismissed cabinet of Ismail Haniyeh, adding that some 7,000 members of Hamas’ Executive Force had been paid in the previous week. He did not say where the money for the salaries had come from. (AFP)

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An Israeli aircraft attacked a car in the Gaza Strip, wounding two members of Islamic Jihad and the Gaza commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Islamic Jihad said. The group said that another two in the vehicle had escaped unscathed, one from Islamic Jihad and the other from Al-Aqsa. Medics said that two civilian passers-by had been injured in the raid, about six miles south of Gaza City. (AP)

Israeli forces detained four “wanted” Palestinians in the West Bank: three from villages around Bethlehem and another from the Al-Ram district, north of Jerusalem. (Ma’an News Agency)

The Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli Prime Minister Olmert was exploring the idea of allowing Jordanian forces, and not NATO troops, into the West Bank to help the PA fight terrorism. What Mr. Olmert had in mind, and what had been raised in recent meetings with King Abdullah II of Jordan, was not the Badr Brigade, a group of Palestinian soldiers inside the Jordanian Army, but rather “regular” Jordanian army troops, Bedouins who had experience fighting terrorism, the newspaper said. (The Jerusalem Post)

At the start of talks with PA President Abbas in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “We strongly support you as the legitimate leader of all Palestinians. We support all your efforts to restore the unity of the Palestinian people and to resume the peace process in the Middle East. … We are convinced that your meeting tomorrow with President Putin will allow us to mark out a future road map for our cooperation … and for the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.” (Reuters)

The Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported that Quartet representative Tony Blair had begun work on a new “economic peace plan” for Israelis and Palestinians. The Quartet would call for a meeting of 50 Israeli businessmen and their 50 Palestinian counterparts, the newspaper said. The plan was aimed at uniting Israeli and Palestinian workers and establishing joint enterprises. Both Israeli and Palestinian Governments would strive to encourage foreign investment by reducing taxes. (Ma’an News Agency)

After more than eight hours of talks at the League of Arab States headquarters in Cairo, Arab Foreign Ministers said that they welcomed “the positive elements" in the 16 July speech of President George W. Bush, in which he proposed a peace conference later this year. But they said that the conference must include all the parties concerned, must aim to revive negotiations between Israel and all its neighbours and must build on previous peace talks. (Reuters)

According to a new report by the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank had reached 475,760 in 2006. They lived in 144 individual settlements, with the majority, 259,712, living in the Jerusalem Governorate. (Ma’an News Agency)

31

A member of Saraya Al-Quds, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, was injured in the village of Kafr Dan, west of Jenin, during an armed clash with undercover Israeli forces which had entered the village and occupied several houses. The soldiers detained three Palestinians, one of whom was injured by shrapnel, eyewitnesses said, adding that Israeli soldiers denied Palestinian ambulances access to the scene. A wounded man was left bleeding in the street for more than two hours before he was driven away in an Israeli military jeep. In another incident, the IDF issued a statement saying that 12 Palestinians were arrested in the West Bank and that a weapons cache was found in a village near Ramallah. (Ma’an News Agency)

In a statement, the Izz ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, claimed that they had fired a rocket-propelled grenade at an Israeli patrol east of Al-Bureij refugee camp, in the central Gaza Strip. (Ma’an News Agency)

During talks at the Kremlin, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin told PA President Abbas: "I want to assure you that we will support you as legitimate leader of the Palestinian people. I am sure you will do everything to restore unity". The Russian Federation said that it had downgraded its ties with Hamas in a show of support for the visiting PA President. "Recently, we have somewhat downgraded the level of contacts with Hamas. Now we are pursuing a pragmatic goal of trying to influence them directly and indirectly to resume national unity," First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov told reporters after Messrs. Putin and Abbas’ meeting. (Reuters)

In Moscow, PA President Abbas said that dialogue with Hamas would not be possible until the group gave up control of the Gaza Strip. "The situation must return to what it was before the coup before there can be a normalization" of contacts, Mr. Abbas said after talks with President Putin. Hamas "should recognize its guilt and apologize for its crimes," he said. (AFP)

On the first day of her Middle East tour, US Secretary of State Rice signed a joint statement with Egypt, Jordan and six Persian Gulf States endorsing the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative as one of the foundations for Middle East peace. Visiting with her was Defence Secretary Robert Gates. Speaking at a joint press conference at Sharm al-Sheikh, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit addressed US President Bush’s proposal for an international peace conference later this year. He indicated that he would like to see an elaborate agenda, giving high priority to the establishment of a Palestinian State in the near future. (Ha’aretz)

Hamas said that the current visit of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region was a “waste of time”. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar told reporters in Gaza: "We don't believe that these meetings are serving the Palestinian interests, according to previous experience," adding, "America is interested with these visits to give the impression that something can be given to the Palestinians". He said that Palestinians were the only side losing in this “waste of time”. (AFP)

Jordan had ruled out dispatching troops to the West Bank to help the PA fight Hamas militants. Chief Government Spokesman Nasser Judeh said that Jordan "categorically rejected the principle of sending the Jordanian military to the Palestinian territories." Mr. Judeh was responding to an article in The Jerusalem Post the previous day that reported Israeli Prime Minister Olmert as "exploring the idea of allowing Jordanian forces, and not NATO troops, into the West Bank to help the Palestinian Authority fight terrorism." (AP)

Israel has renewed contacts with official PA representatives abroad in the wake of the formation of the Palestinian Government headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Last week, the Foreign Ministry issued instructions to all its ambassadors and consuls, saying that "In light of the new situation that has emerged in the Palestinian Authority and the formation of the new Government headed by Salam Fayyad, the instructions that banned all contacts with official Palestinian diplomatic representatives have been altered. It is allowable to resume contacts with Palestinian representatives, as in the past." (Ha’aretz)

The head of the Department of Nephrology in the Palestinian Health Ministry, Ayman Al-Shifa, said that the closure of the Gaza crossings created a major humanitarian disaster due to the lack of medical care, especially for those who suffer from nephritis, an inflammation of the kidneys. Patients had been suffering due to the lack of equipment for their treatment and the closure of the crossing had prevented import of such equipment into Gaza. Dr. Al-Shifa said that there were severe shortages of medical instruments in Gaza. (Ma’an News Agency)


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