No talks with US until Jerusalem move reversed: Palestinian official

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat watches a speech given by US President Donald Trump at his residence in the West Bank city of Jericho, on December 6, 2017, during which Trump announced the recognition of the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his plans to relocate the US embassy there. (AFP)
Updated 30 January 2018
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No talks with US until Jerusalem move reversed: Palestinian official

RAMALLAH: The Palestinians’ top negotiator said Tuesday there could be no discussions with US President Donald Trump’s administration until his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is reversed.
Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinians’ longtime chief negotiator, told AFP in an interview the decision was “part of a new American era of moving from negotiation to dictation.”
Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital set off protests among Palestinians, who consider the city to be their capital as well.
Erekat’s comments come with rhetoric further sharpening between Trump’s White House and the Palestinians, who have said the United States can no longer mediate in the Middle East conflict and boycotted a recent visit by US Vice President Mike Pence.
Last week, Trump accused the Palestinians of disrespecting the United States and threatened to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in aid until they returned to the negotiating table.
Provoking Palestinian outrage, he reaffirmed his Jerusalem decision and said the disputed city had been taken “off the table,” despite having previously said his recognition did not preclude later negotiations on its borders.
Trump made the comments in Davos, Switzerland, while seated next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
According to Erekat, the Palestinians — faced with what they see as a blatantly biased US administration — are aiming to convene an international conference in an effort to show global support for a two-state solution to the conflict.
Asked whether there can be any contact with the Trump administration if the Jerusalem decision is not reversed, Erekat said: “How can you?“
“You heard what President Trump said in Davos. He said: ‘We took Jerusalem off the table’.”
“The minute any Palestinian goes and meets with American officials, it is an acceptance of their decision. Now they are threatening us with money, with aid,” he said.
“They promised not to impose any solution, and now they want the meeting for the sake of the meeting.”
Erekat said it was as if they were telling the Palestinians, “Come here boy, we know what’s good for you.”
Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the most sensitive issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel sees the entire city as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, a move never recognized by the international community.
Trump’s unilateral recognition broke with decades of international consensus that the city’s status must be negotiated between the two sides.
The US leader says he still intends to reach what he has called the “ultimate deal” — Israeli-Palestinian peace — but Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has called his efforts the “slap of the century.”
The Trump administration also hit out at Abbas last week, with UN ambassador Nikki Haley saying he lacked the courage needed for a peace deal.
Erekat likened her comments to a call for a “coup d’etat.”


Air raids kill 12 civilians in militant-held Syrian town: monitor

Updated 22 May 2019
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Air raids kill 12 civilians in militant-held Syrian town: monitor

  • The militant-dominated Idlib region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal
  • The Observatory said they have no proof of the chemical attacks

BEIRUT: Air strikes by Damascus or its ally Moscow killed 12 civilians in a market in Syria’s Idlib province, a monitor said Wednesday, and denied allegations that the government used chemical weapons.

Another 18 people were wounded when the warplanes hit the militant-held town of Maarat Al-Numan around midnight on Tuesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The market was crowded with people out and about after breaking the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

The Observatory said it had no evidence to suggest the Syrian army had carried out a new chemical attack despite Washington’s announcement it had suspicions.

“We have no proof at all of the attack,” Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP.

“We have not documented any chemical attack in the mountains of Latakia,” he said.
The air strikes in Idlib came as heavy clashes raged in the north of neighboring Hama province after the militants launched a counterattack on Tuesday against pro-government forces in the town of Kafr Nabuda.
Fresh fighting on Wednesday took the death toll to 52 — 29 troops and militia and 23 militants, the Observatory said.
It said that the militants had retaken most of the town from government forces who recaptured it on May 8.
The militant-dominated Idlib region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal, but the regime and its Russian ally have escalated their bombardment of it in recent weeks, seizing several towns on its southern flank.
A militant alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, controls a large part of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.

The northern mountains are the only part of Latakia province, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, that are not firmly in the hands of the government.

The Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham accused government forces on Sunday of launching a chlorine gas attack on its fighters in the north of Latakia province.

The Syrian army dismissed the reports as a fabrication, a military source told the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper.

But the US State Department said on Tuesday it was assessing indications that the government of president Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on Sunday.

“There were no civilians in the area,” Abdel Rahman said.

White Helmets rescue volunteers, who have reported past chemical attacks in rebel-held areas of Syria, told AFP Wednesday that they had no information on the purported gas attack.

International inspectors say Assad’s forces have carried out a series of chemical attacks during the Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011.
Russia and rebel ally Turkey inked the buffer zone deal in September to avert a government offensive on the region which threatened humanitarian disaster for its three million residents.
President Bashar Assad’s government has renewed its bombardment of the region since HTS took control in January.
Russia too has stepped up its air strikes in recent weeks as Turkey proved unable to secure implementation of the truce deal by the militants.
The Observatory says more than 180 civilians have been killed in the flare-up since April 30, and the United Nations has said tens of thousands have fled their homes.