PLO outraged over 85% increase in Israeli settlement activity

An Israeli soldier fires a weapon during clashes with Palestinians following a protest against the nearby Jewish settlement of Qadomem, in the West Bank village of Kofr Qadom near Nablus. (Reuters)
Updated 08 September 2017

PLO outraged over 85% increase in Israeli settlement activity

PHILADELPHIA: Arab News has obtained a four-page letter sent on Sept. 5 by Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General Saeb Erekat to Palestinian diplomatic missions expressing anger over increased Israeli settlement activity.
Erekat, who is also chief Palestinian negotiator, said in the letter that Israel has increased settlement activity by 85 percent so far this year compared to 2016.
“Israeli unlawful practices have included at least 56 plans for 4,909 colonial settlement units between January-August 2017,” he wrote.
The biggest settlement hot spots are Jerusalem and Hebron. In Hebron, Israel has granted the 800 Jewish settlers living illegally in the heart of the 200,000-strong Palestinian city separate legal status.
While the city is divided into two separate areas, H1 under Palestinian control and H2 under Israeli control, both parts fall under the administrative control of the Palestinian municipality.
The separate legal status for settlers has created an apartheid-like situation in Hebron, where a tiny minority has preferential treatment over the majority.
The Associated Press (AP) reported that the military order, signed on Aug. 31, alters a 20-year-old agreement and “establishes a new municipal services administration for the Jewish neighborhood.”
AP quoted the order as saying: “An administration will be established to represent the residents of the Jewish neighborhood in Hebron and to provide them with municipal services in a variety of fields.”
In his letter, Erekat called Israel’s decision a clear violation of the Hebron protocol signed in 1997 by then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hebron Gov. Kamel Hmeid said Israel’s decision is the “most dangerous one since 1967, which prepares to apply total Israeli sovereignty and will create further chaos and instability throughout Palestinian governorates.”
At the time the order was signed, Israeli NGO Peace Now said: “By granting an official status to the Hebron settlers, the Israeli government is formalizing the apartheid system in the city. This step, which happened immediately following the announcement on the evacuation of the settlers who took over a house in Hebron, is another illustration of the policy of compensating the most extreme settlers for their illegal actions.”
Peace Now said the Israeli order “does not create a new local authority or a new community within a regional authority, but rather a settler body with a certain degree of administrative power,” which would not include any Palestinian representation.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said the order is a “violation of international humanitarian law and international conventions.”
Hamdallah, who met Wednesday with the newly elected mayor and members of the Hebron city council, promised to provide “whatever is necessary to support the steadfastness of our people in the face of constant violations from the occupiers and settlers.”
Osama Qawasmeh, a spokesman for Fatah in Hebron and a member of the Palestinian faction’s revolutionary council, warned of a “grave disaster” for Hebron’s people, history and heritage if the Israeli order is not stopped.
Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif Qanouh said the order “contradicts international conventions and reflects the extremism of the occupation government, and further escalates apartheid policies.”


US considering troop boost to counter Iran

Updated 27 min 35 sec ago

US considering troop boost to counter Iran

  • A source has said Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East
  • Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions

WASHINGTON: The United States said Thursday it was considering deploying fresh forces to counter Iran, with an official saying some 5,000 to 7,000 troops could head to the region.
Testifying before Congress, John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, said the United States was “observing Iran’s behavior with concern.”
“We’re continuing to look at that threat picture and have the ability to dynamically adjust our force posture,” Rood told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
A US official told AFP on condition of anonymity that Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East.
The official did not confirm where the troops would be sent, or in what timeframe, but said that the deployment would be due to frustrations with Iranian-linked groups’ attacks on US assets.
Rood, under questioning, denied a report by The Wall Street Journal the United States was considering sending 14,000 more troops — equivalent to the number sent over the past six months.
Esper also denied the 14,000 figure in a phone call with Senator Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the committee, Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said.
US President Donald Trump later tweeted that: “The story today that we are sending 12,000 troops to Saudi Arabia is false or, to put it more accurately, Fake News!“
It was not immediately clear which report the president was referring to.
Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions, including trying to block all its oil exports.
In September, the United States said Iran was responsible for attacks on the major Abqaiq oil processing center in Saudi Arabia, a close US ally and Iran’s regional rival.
Riyadh then asked Washington for reinforcements, receiving two fighter squadrons, additional missile defense batteries, and bringing the number of US troops stationed in the Kingdom to about 3,000.
The United States has also been alarmed by an uptick in attacks on bases in Iraq, where major demonstrations triggered by economic discontent have also targeted Iran’s clerical regime and its overwhelming influence in its Shiite-majority neighbor.
“We’re lucky no one has been killed. There is a spike in rocket attacks,” another US official said.
“It’s clearly not Daesh. Everything is going in the right direction and it’s the right range,” the official said, contrasting Iranian capabilities with those of the extremist Daesh group.
Among the incidents, five rockets hit the Al-Asad Air Base on Tuesday, just four days after US Vice President Mike Pence visited US troops there.
Iran denied involvement in the September attack in Saudi Arabia, which was claimed by Tehran-backed Houthi militia.
The tensions come as Iran itself has faced major protests set off by a sharp hike in gas prices.