Israel PM heads to Berlin as settlement row grows

Updated 05 December 2012
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Israel PM heads to Berlin as settlement row grows

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due in Berlin on Wednesday for talks likely to focus on the growing crisis over settlement plans that could torpedo the viability of a Palestinian state.
Ahead of his departure on a trip that will take him briefly to Prague and then on to Berlin, Netanyahu brushed off the diplomatic pressure.
He insisted that Israel’s settlement building was not the central issue in the decades-long conflict between the Jewish state and the Palestinians.
“The root of the conflict is not the settlements; it is the very existence of the state of Israel and the desire to wipe it off the face of the earth,” he said late on Tuesday.
“Our top public diplomacy mission is to explain that the root of this conflict is not territorial. It is over our very existence in any borders whatsoever.”
Israel is facing mounting international pressure over its announcement that it will build 3,000 new settlement homes, including in an area east of Jerusalem, where observers say construction could crush hopes of a viable Palestinian state.
It announced the plans in response to the General Assembly’s decision last week to upgrade Palestinian UN status.
On Tuesday night, the Palestinian leadership said it would ask the UN Security Council to condemn the Israeli settlement programme.
The leadership decided “as a first measure to turn to the UN Security Council... to request a constraining resolution for Israel to stop its decisions of destructive expansion and all forms of settlement.”
The decision came after a chorus of disapproval from the international community, including the European Union, although Britain said on Tuesday that the grouping was unlikely to punish Israel by imposing trade sanctions.
Germany said it was “deeply concerned” about the Israeli plans and urged the Jewish state to reverse its decision.
“Both sides should act constructively and avoid obstructing what is urgently needed, namely the resumption of substantial direct peace talks,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday.
France, Britain, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Australia and Egypt have all summoned the Israeli ambassadors to protest the plans, which also drew criticism from Russia and Japan.
The site of the controversial new construction, known as E1, lies between the easternmost edge of annexed east Jerusalem and the nearby Maaleh Adumim settlement.
Observers say Israeli settlement there would effectively prevent the future establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state, dooming the two-state solution.
Washington has also warned construction in E1 “would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution” and President Barack Obama’s spokesman urged Israel “to reconsider.”
EU’s ambassador to Israel, Andrew Standley, said on Tuesday that despite growing international calls, Israel had shown no sign it was planning to call off its construction plans.
“We’ve not had any signal or message back, for the time being, to indicate that this message has been heard and has been acted upon,” he said.
“There have been in fact, to the contrary, further messages or announcements saying Israel will act upon what it considers to be its strategic interests, which may suggest that if it sees more measures as necessary it will take more measures,” he said.
“This is not what we are asking for.”
A source in Netanyahu’s office stressed on Monday there would be “no change” to the decision.
Since then the Israeli government, which is in election mode, has announced it will revive plans for another 1,600 settlement homes in annexed east Jerusalem.


Iran accuses rights lawyer of state security offenses: husband

Updated 12 min 50 sec ago
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Iran accuses rights lawyer of state security offenses: husband

  • Award-winning Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh faces prosecution on state security charges following her arrest in the capital last week, her husband said
  • Sotoudeh, who is one of the few outspoken advocates for human rights in Iran, was detained in her Tehran home on June 13

TEHRAN: Award-winning Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh faces prosecution on state security charges following her arrest in the capital last week, her husband said on Saturday.
Sotoudeh, 55, denies the charges but remains in the women’s wing of Tehran’s notorious Evin prison after refusing to post bail of $95,000 (more than 80,000 euros), Reza Khandan told the ISNA news agency.
“My wife is accused of conspiracy, assembly and propaganda against the system” of rule of the Islamic republic, Khandan said.
“My wife considers the accusations against her to be baseless and made up, and the bail demand to be disproportionate,” he added.
Sotoudeh, who is one of the few outspoken advocates for human rights in Iran, was detained in her Tehran home on June 13.
Her arrest has been condemned by the US State Department and human rights group Amnesty International, which both called for her immediate release.
Earlier this year, Sotoudeh represented several women arrested for protesting against the mandatory wearing of headscarves in Iran.
Tehran police said in February that 29 women had been detained for posing in public without their headscarves.
Sotoudeh won the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov rights award in 2012 for her work on high-profile human rights and political cases, including those on death row for offenses committed as minors.
She spent three years in prison between 2010 and 2013 for “actions against national security” and spreading “propaganda against the system” and remains banned from representing political cases or leaving Iran until 2022.
Sotoudeh has defended journalists and activists including Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi and several dissidents arrested during mass protests in 2009 against the disputed re-election of hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
She had recently spoken out against a new criminal code that allowed only a small number of lawyers — just 20 in Tehran — to represent individuals charged with state security offenses.
During her previous spell in Evin, Sotoudeh staged two hunger strikes in protest at the conditions and over a ban on seeing her son and daughter.
She was released in September 2013 shortly before Iran’s then newly elected President Hassan Rouhani, who had campaigned on a pledge to improve civil rights, attended the UN General Assembly.