Gaza talks resume as 5-day cease-fire nears end

Updated 18 August 2014
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Gaza talks resume as 5-day cease-fire nears end

CAIRO: A Palestinian negotiator said Sunday his side is “less optimistic” about indirect talks with Israel over the Gaza war as a deadline on a temporary cease-fire looms.
The Palestinian team reassembled in Cairo on Sunday after members returned from consultations in Qatar, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East. The Israeli team also returned Sunday to resume the Egyptian-mediated talks. A current five-day cease-fire is due to end late Monday.
The negotiations have been going on between the sides since early last week. They are aimed at ending the latest war between Israel and Hamas-led Islamic militants in the Gaza Strip and improving conditions for the territory’s 1.8 million people. Israel wants guarantees to end rocket fire and attacks on its citizens.
Close to 2,000 Palestinians have been killed — most civilians — and more than 10,000 people have been wounded since the war began July 8, according to United Nations figures. In Israel, 67 people have been killed, all but three soldiers.
A member of the Palestinian delegation told The Associated Press on Sunday that the gaps between the sides were still significant and that it was far from certain whether a deal could be reached before the cease-fire expires.
“We are less optimistic than we were earlier,” he said.
The negotiator said that a key sticking point remains Hamas’s insistence that Israel pledge to end its Gaza blockade before the talks conclude. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the issue with journalists.
Under the terms of an Egyptian proposal, Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority would negotiate the end to the blockade at some point in the future. The blockade has restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports, as well as limited Palestinians’ movement in and out of the territory.
Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent arms smuggling, and officials are reluctant to make any concessions that would allow Hamas to declare victory.
Israel, meanwhile, is demanding that Hamas be disarmed, or at the very least, be prevented from re-arming, something the militant group has rejected.
Speaking before Israel’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Hamas had suffered a huge setback in the four-week war and that would be reflected at the Cairo talks.
“If Hamas thinks its defeat on the battlefield will be papered over by a victory at the negotiating table it is mistaken,” he said.
Hamas has recovered from previous rounds of violence with Israel, including a major three-week air and ground operation in January 2009 and another weeklong air offensive in 2012. It still has an arsenal of several thousand rockets, some with long ranges and relatively heavy payloads.
The current round of fighting began after Hamas resumed firing rockets at Israel following the arrests of suspected Hamas-affiliated militants in the West Bank. Israel said the arrests came as part of the investigation into the killing of three Israeli teens in June.


Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

Updated 20 April 2019
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Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Egyptians were voting on Saturday in a referendum that aims to cement the rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the former coup leader who presents himself as a rock of stability in a turbulent region.

Voters were being asked to back amendments to the constitution to allow El-Sisi, 64, to run for another six-year term while boosting his control over the judiciary and giving the military even greater influence in political life.

At a polling station in Manyal, a Cairo suburb overlooking the Nile, Mohamed Abdel Salam, 45, told AFP he was voting enthusiastically in support of the changes.

"I don't care about the presidential terms," he said.

"Sisi could stay forever as long as he's doing his job... and he has already done a lot"

The three-day referendum bucks the trend of North Africa's renewed uprisings, in which mass pro-democracy protests this month swept away veteran presidents in Algeria and Sudan.

Sisi himself was among the first to vote when polls opened, casting his ballot in the upmarket Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.

In Shubra, a working-class neighbourhood of the capital, dozens of voters, mostly women carrying their children, queued outside a polling station in the local high school.

In Cairo, troops and police were deployed in numbers although the interior ministry declined to give any nationwide figures.

Egypt is still battling a hardened Islamic insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula that has seen attacks in Cairo and other cities.

Sisi has argued that he needs longer to complete the job of restoring security and stability after the turmoil that followed the overthrow of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak in the Arab Spring of 2011.

Out on the streets, Sisi's supporters waved flags bearing their campaign motto: "Do the Right" thing, as they pressed passers-by to turn out and vote 'Yes'.

The Egyptian leader won his first term as president in 2014, a year after he led the army in overthrowing elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi following mass protests against his single turbulent year in power.

Standing virtually unopposed after the disqualification or withdrawal of all realistic challengers, he was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 percent.

Both elections drew heavy criticism from human rights groups as they were accompanied by swingeing crackdowns on dissent -- both Islamist and secular.

Human Rights Watch also took issue with the referendum on extending Sisi's rule, saying the "constitutional amendments" would "entrench repression".

In a statement Saturday, the New York-based watchdog criticised the "grossly unfree, rights-abusive environment" of the vote.

For the past few weeks, Egypt's streets have been awash with banners and billboards urging citizens to vote for Sisi, while popular folk singers have exhorted voters to go to the polls.

Pro-Sisi campaign volunteers handed out boxed meals at four different polling stations in Cairo to voters after they had cast their ballots, AFP reporters said.

A parliamentarian greeted voters and volunteers gave out vouchers for the meals in the Shubra district.

In Manyal, a DJ blared loud patriotic songs extolling the virtues of Egypt under Sisi's leadership, including a new song by iconic Lebanese diva Nancy Ajram dedicated to Egypt and called "Ragel ibn Ragel" (What a fine man).

But not everyone is upbeat about the changes.

Sporting casual attire, a voter in his mid-30s told AFP in Cairo: "We are all staff in the same company and we were instructed by management to go vote.

"I want to say 'No'... on extending the presidential terms and the amendments related to the judiciary," he said declining to give his name for fear of repercussions.

He pointed to his bosses nearby who were making sure employees were voting.

"Even if I say 'No', they (the authorities) are still going to do what they want in the end," he added despondently.

Earlier in the week, parliament overwhelmingly endorsed the consitutional changes, which also include the creation of a second parliamentary chamber and a quota ensuring at least 25 percent of lawmakers are women.

Think tank the Soufan Center said the main effect of the referendum would be to "solidify Sisi's grip on the Egyptian political regime" in a country that "has become even more autocratic than it was under Mubarak".