Pence visits Western Wall after pro-Israel speech

US Vice President Mike Pence visits Jerusalem's Western Wall on January 23, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 23 January 2018
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Pence visits Western Wall after pro-Israel speech

JERUSALEM: US Vice President Mike Pence visited Jerusalem's Western Wall on Tuesday while Palestinians held a general strike after denouncing his fervently pro-Israel speech the previous day as "messianic".
The devout Christian's speech to the Israeli parliament on Monday laden with biblical references was praised by Israelis as perhaps the best they could ever hope for from a US administration, but Palestinians saw it as confirming some of their worst fears.
Pence proudly reaffirmed US President Donald Trump's December 6 declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and pledged to move the embassy to the disputed city by the end of 2019.
"The friendship between our peoples has never been deeper," he said.
On Tuesday, as he wrapped up his trip, Pence, who was boycotted by the Palestinians, visited one of the holiest sites in Judaism, the Western Wall.
The site lies in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, the sector the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state, and many Israelis were likely to interpret it as Pence further backing their claim over the entire city.
"Very inspiring," Pence said after the visit during which he was not accompanied by Israeli government officials.
Pence followed in the footsteps of Trump, who in May became the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall.
In December, a US senior administration official said: "We cannot envision any situation under which the Western Wall would not part of Israel."
Pence also toured Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday and met President Reuven Rivlin.
He said the White House believes the Jerusalem declaration "will set the table for the opportunity to move forward in meaningful negotiations to achieve a lasting peace and end the decades-long conflict".
He departed in the late afternoon to return to the United States.


UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians, Israel says ‘no’

Updated 18 August 2018
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UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians, Israel says ‘no’

  • Israel rejects report saying the protection should be against Palestinian leaders
  • The UN chief stressed that for each of the options, cooperation by Israel and the Palestinians would be necessary

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday presented four options aimed at boosting the protection of Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territories, from sending UN rights monitors and unarmed observers to deploying a military or police force under UN mandate.

But the report has been rejected by the Israelis.

Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon said in a statement late Friday that “the only protection the Palestinian people need is from their own leadership.”
“Instead of suggesting ways to protect the Palestinian people from Israel, the UN should instead hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for continually endangering its own people,” Danon said.
“The report’s suggestions will only enable the Palestinians’ continued rejectionism.”
The proposals were contained in a report requested by the General Assembly in response to a surge of violence in Gaza, where 171 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since late March.
The UN chief stressed that for each of the options, cooperation by Israel and the Palestinians would be necessary. It remained unlikely however that Israel would agree to the proposals.
In the 14-page report, Guterres proposed:
• Providing a “more robust UN presence on the ground” with rights monitors and political officers to report on the situation.
• Pouring in more UN humanitarian and development aid to “ensure the well-being of the population.”
• Creating a civilian observer mission that would be present in sensitive areas such as checkpoints and near Israeli settlements, with a mandate to report on protection issues.
• Deploying an armed military or police force, under a UN mandate, to provide physical protection to Palestinian civilians.
A UN mandate for a protection force would require a decision from the Security Council, where the United States could use its veto power to block a measure opposed by Israel.
A small European-staffed observer mission was deployed in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994, but Israel has since rejected calls for an international presence in flashpoint areas.
In the report, Guterres said the United Nations was already undertaking many protection initiatives but that “these measures fall short” of the concerns raised in a General Assembly resolution adopted in June.
In that measure, the 193-nation assembly condemned Israel for Palestinian deaths in Gaza and tasked Guterres with the drafting of proposals for “an international protection mechanism” for the Palestinians.
Guterres argued that a political solution to the conflict was needed to address the safety of Palestinians but that “until such a solution is achieved, member-states may further explore all practical and feasible measures that will significantly improve the protection of the Palestinian civilian population.”
“Such measures would also improve the security of Israeli civilians.”
On Friday, Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians taking part in protests along the Gaza border and 270 other Palestinians were wounded.
Israel has defended its use of live ammunition in Gaza by invoking its right to self-defense. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July.
“The targeting of civilians, particularly children, is unacceptable,” Guterres said in the report, adding that “those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable.”
UN efforts to ensure the well-being of Palestinians must strengthened, he added, singling out the funding crisis at the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA as being “of particular concern.”
UNRWA is facing a major budget shortfall after President Donald Trump’s administration decided to withhold its contribution to the agency.
The report released to all UN member-states comes amid a vacuum in Middle East peace efforts as European and other big powers await a peace plan from the Trump administration that has been under discussion for months.
UN diplomats have recently begun questioning whether the US peace plan will ever materialize.
The United Nations has warned that a new war could explode in Gaza.
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including its Hamas rulers, have fought three wars since 2008.