Israeli-Palestinian tensions escalate ahead of settlement expansion

Palestinian supporters of the Islamic Jihad group burn pictures of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's flag during a rally in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 6, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 10 October 2020

Israeli-Palestinian tensions escalate ahead of settlement expansion

  • Peace Now, an Israeli campaigning group, announced that 4,430 settlement units are set to be approved on Oct. 14

AMMAN: Tensions are rising in the occupied territories as the date for the approval of thousands of new Jewish settlement units nears.

Peace Now, an Israeli campaigning group, announced that 4,430 settlement units are set to be approved on Oct. 14 by the Israeli Army’s Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Council.

Peace Now said in a statement: “Instead of taking advantage of the agreements with the Gulf states and promoting peace with the Palestinians, he (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) is distorting Israel’s priorities and catering to a fringe minority for these settlement units approvals that will continue to harm future prospects for peace.”

It called on top Israeli ministers to veto the plans.

“By doing so, Israel will be signaling to the world its bi-partisan support for the end to the concept of a two-state solution and a Palestinian state — the paradigm that until now has largely shielded Israel from formal pressure over its 53-year occupation. The settlement enterprise is not in Israel’s national or security interest and is a strategic mistake at the international level,” Peace Now concluded.

Khalil Toufakji, director of the Jerusalem-based Arab Studies Society, told Arab News that the new Israeli move sends troubling messages to all sides.

“By looking at the location of the new units, it is a clear message to Palestinians that the Israeli occupiers have no plans towards the two-state solution,” Toufakji said, adding that Israel continues to unilaterally draw borders deep into Palestinian occupied territories.

“The planned new units in Bitar Elite and the Gush Etzion block are within the greater Jerusalem area. Also, new units are targeting the Jordan valley and the south Hebron areas, all areas that Israel is targeting for annexation,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Prisoners Club has announced that Israeli troops arrested 21 Palestinians from different West Bank locations.

Tensions are also on the rise in Israeli prisons as Maher Al-Akhras, who has been detained under administrative orders without charge or trial, has entered his 77th day of a hunger strike. Protesters in Gaza called for his release. Khaled Batash, a member of the politburo of Islamic Jihad, warned Israel against harming Al-Akhras or any other prisoner.

Prisoners belonging to the Popular Front have threatened to start an open-ended hunger strike on Sunday if Israeli prison authorities fail to address their grievances about conditions.

In Jerusalem, Israeli police prevented thousands of worshipers from accessing Al-Aqsa Mosque. Vigilante settlers were filmed attacking homes and torching Palestinian farms and groves as the olive-picking season begins.

The Israeli Army commander of the West Bank issued 63 separate military orders barring Palestinians from reaching some 3,000 dunums of olives because they are “close” to Jewish settlements. Only a handful of farmers with rare permits were allowed to participate.

Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

Turkish Cypriot politician Ersin Tatar celebrates his election victory in Turkish-controlled northern Nicosia, Cyprus October 18, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 October 2020

Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

  • The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations,” while multiple countries have staged military drills in the region in recent months

NICOSIA: Turkish Cypriots in breakaway northern Cyprus on Sunday narrowly elected right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar, backed by Ankara, in a run-off poll, at a time of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tatar, 60, clinched his surprise victory in a second round of presidential elections, winning 51.7 percent of the vote, official results showed.
He edged out incumbent Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, 72, a supporter of reunification with the Greek Cypriot south of the divided island, leaving attempts to relaunch long-stalled UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.
Tatar is an advocate of a two-state solution and held the post of premier in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
He controversially received the open backing of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the election campaign.
In a victory speech to hundreds of cheering and Turkish flag-waving supporters, Tatar thanked Turkey’s head of state and said: “We deserve our sovereignty — we are the voice of Turkish Cypriots.
“We are fighting to exist within the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, therefore our neighbors in the south and the world community should respect our fight for freedom.”
There was no immediate official reaction from the Greek Cypriot government or ruling party in the south of the island, which is a European Union member state, although opposition parties were quick to lament the outcome.
Erdogan was swift to celebrate the victory, which followed a high 67-percent turnout at the polls.
“I congratulate Ersin Tatar who has been elected president ... Turkey will continue to provide all types of efforts to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people,” he wrote on Twitter.


Ersin Tatar edged out incumbent Mustafa Akinc, leaving attempts to relaunch UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.

In a telephone call the same night, Erdogan said he was confident the two leaders would maintain close cooperation in all areas, “starting with the hydrocarbon linked activities in the eastern Mediterranean,” his office said.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has become an increasingly assertive regional power that is now engaged in a bitter dispute with Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters.
The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations,” while multiple countries have staged military drills in the region in recent months.
The second-round ballot was triggered after Tatar won 32 percent of the vote on Oct. 11 ahead of Akinci, who garnered just under 30 percent.
Akinci was tipped to secure a second term, having won the backing of Tufan Erhurman, a fellow social democrat who came third last time around.
After his defeat, Akinci, who had accused Ankara of meddling in the polls, thanked his supporters and said: “You know what happened ... I am not going to do politics on this.”
The TRNC, with a population of about 300,000, was established after the north was occupied by Turkey in 1974 in reaction to a coup that aimed to annex Cyprus to Greece.
Earlier in October, Turkish troops angered the Republic of Cyprus by reopening public access to the fenced-off seaside ghost town of Varosha for the first time since Turkish forces invaded the north.
The reopening was announced jointly by Erdogan and Tatar at a meeting in Ankara just days before the first round of polling.
It drew EU and UN criticism and sparked demonstrations in the Republic of Cyprus, which exercises its authority over the island’s south, separated from the TRNC by a UN-patrolled buffer zone.
On the eve of Sunday’s vote, Greek Cypriot demonstrators massed at a checkpoint along the so-called “Green Line,” holding signs that read “Cyprus is Greek,” in protest at the reopening of nearby Varosha to the Turkish Cypriots.
Turkey has repeatedly said it seeks to defend Turkish and Turkish Cypriots’ rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Akinci’s relationship with Ankara had come under strain, especially after he described the prospect of the north’s annexation by Turkey as “horrible” in February.
When Akinci took office in 2015, he was hailed as the leader best placed to revive peace talks.
But hopes were dashed in July 2017 after UN-mediated negotiations collapsed in Switzerland, notably over Greek Cypriot demands for the withdrawal of the tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers still stationed in the TRNC.