Celebrations in Gaza after truce

Updated 26 August 2014
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Celebrations in Gaza after truce

GAZA CITY: Celebratory gunfire erupted in Gaza Tuesday after a long-term truce agreed between Israel and the Palestinians went into effect, aimed at ending 50 days of bloodshed.
Thousands of Palestinians flooded on to the streets of Gaza City, including gunmen — some from Hamas — who fired in the air in celebration just moments after the truce began, AFP correspondents said.
Mosques used their loudspeakers to broadcast celebratory chants as the wartorn enclave hailed the apparent end to some of the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence in a decade.
Officials from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main groups fighting in Gaza, said the deal will help end a seven-week war that has killed more than 2,000 Palestinians. There was no immediate Israeli comment.
Ziad Nakhala, a senior official in Islamic Jihad, said the deal calls for an "open-ended" cease-fire, and an Israeli agreement to ease its blockade of Gaza to allow relief supplies and construction materials into the war-battered territory.
Talks on more complex issues, such as Hamas' demand to build an airport and a seaport for Gaza, would begin in a month, he said.
If the details of the cease-fire are confirmed, it would effectively mean Hamas and Islamic Jihad settled for terms that are similar to those that ended more than a week of fighting with Israel in 2012.
Under those terms, Israel promised to ease restrictions gradually, while Hamas pledged to halt rocket fire from Gaza at Israel. The truce held for long stretches, but Gaza's border blockade also remained largely intact.
Earlier on Tuesday, Israel bombed two Gaza City high-rises with dozens of homes and shops Tuesday, collapsing one building and severely damaging the other in a further escalation of seven weeks of cross-border fighting with Hamas.
In the past, the military has hit targets in high-rises in pinpoint strikes, but left the buildings standing. Since Saturday, it has toppled or destroyed five towers and shopping complexes in an apparent new tactic aimed at increasing pressure on Hamas. The objects of the latest strikes contain apartments inhabited almost exclusively by middle-class Gazans.
Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade in 2007. Under the restrictions, virtually all of Gaza's 1.8 million people cannot trade or travel.


Italy’s Libya talks lay bare deep divisions

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte welcomes Libya's Prime Minister Al-Sarraj. (Reuters)
Updated 28 min 44 sec ago
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Italy’s Libya talks lay bare deep divisions

  • Two days of meetings in the Sicilian capital Palermo saw some delegates refuse to sit side by side
  • The 2019 talks are intended to give Libyans a chance to spell out their vision for the future, with elections slated for a few months later

TRIPOLI: Italy’s Libya talks this week laid bare deep divisions between the key power brokers, threatening attempts to resolve the country’s ongoing crisis, analysts say.

Two days of meetings in the Sicilian capital Palermo saw some delegates refuse to sit side by side, while a meeting held on the sidelines sparked a diplomatic spat.

“The dynamics between the four Libyan delegations attending the Palermo conference regrettably show that the rifts are still very deep,” said Claudia Gazzini, a Libya analyst at International Crisis Group.

Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar showed up, only to snub the main conference and organize separate talks with international leaders.

Such a move was “a slap in the face to the Libyan politicians at the conference,” said Gazzini.

Haftar, whose self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) holds much of eastern Libya, held a meeting with representatives of Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, France and Russia.

One of his main rivals, UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, also attended the “informal talks,” but Qatar and Turkey were not invited.

Their exclusion prompted Ankara to pull out of the main conference in protest.

LNA spokesman Ahmed Al-Mesmari later accused Turkey and Qatar of traveling to Palermo “to protect the interests of the terrorist groups which they are supporting in Libya.”

Fragility

Khaled Saleh El-Kuafi, a professor at the University of Benghazi, said the outcome “illustrated the extent of the crisis, the divisions in Libya and the fragility of the situation.”

Haftar “succeeded in being the star of the conference” by refusing to meet some of his rivals and sidelining Turkey and Qatar,” he added.

The Palermo talks followed a Paris meeting at which Libyan leaders agreed to prepare for elections this December. Such a timeline was widely viewed as unrealistic, however, and preparations for polls have now been pushed back to 2019.

For Khaled Al-Montasser, a professor at the University of Tripoli, international meetings cannot succeed “while the international parties are putting the Libyans under pressure and while they put forward solutions to the crisis which suit themselves and them alone.”

It should be up to the Libyans, he said, to “agree on the subjects that they must discuss.”

But, as Montasser noted, the Libyan leaders themselves are “not ready to accept each other and to tolerate differences of opinion.”

Just as in May, the top Libyan invitees to Palermo were Haftar, Al-Sarraj, who heads the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, the eastern parliament’s speaker Aguila Salah and Khaled Al-Mechri, speaker of a Tripoli-based upper chamber.

But the Italy talks were not really focused on improving relations between the rivals, according to Libyan analyst Emad Badi.

It was instead “an attempt by Italy to both react to the French initiative and to reposition itself as a power broker,” he said.

Despite the conference being viewed as a failure by numerous analysts, some have underlined the importance of meetings organized by the UN a few hours before the formal talks opened.

Those discussions focused on economic and security issues in Libya, where residents have seen their currency’s value plummet and endured years of violence.

Weeks of clashes in September between rival militias in the capital Tripoli killed at least 117 people and wounded more than 400, prompting Al-Sarraj’s government to introduce reforms.

The UN’s Libya envoy, Ghassan Salame, this week welcomed the participants’ backing for the new measures and their “unanimous support” for a national conference early next year.

The 2019 talks are intended to give Libyans a chance to spell out their vision for the future, with elections slated for a few months later.

However, “numerous Libyans are still not certain of the format and aims of that conference,” said Crisis Group’s Gazzini.