06/16/2010

Free Gaza !


Edith Legrand via Najib Alaoui:
freedomforward.org
In the latest effort to advance Middle East peace, Jewish activists in Europe have announced that they will sail a ship to Gaza in July. The goal is to challenge the Israeli blockade of 1.4 million Gaza Palestinians. For freedom to begin, the blockade must end.


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Created on June 10, 2010 using FlipShare.





14:59 Posted by Universal in Actualité | Permalink | Comments (19) | Tags: senator feinstein, noam chomsky, free gaza |  Facebook |

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Senator Feinstein Senator Feinstein: Support the Jewish ship to Gaza!

In the latest effort to advance Middle East peace, Jewish activists in Europe have announced that they will sail a ship to Gaza in July. The goal is to challenge the Israeli blockade of 1.4 million Gaza Palestinians. For freedom to begin, the blockade must end.

Will you stand up for the Jewish boat’s safe passage to Gaza?

Click here to take action.

The Israeli government has already used force against a prior Gaza flotilla. Israeli leaders have also used “grey tactics” — sabotage — to keep such ships from setting sail.

But back in the U.S., not every elected official is supporting Israeli actions. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein has already called for an “impartial inquiry” and spoken critically of “Israel’s forced isolation of Gaza.”

Please ask Senator Feinstein to take the next step.

Urge her to call on the Israeli government to ensure the safe passage of the Jewish ship to Gaza.

True reconciliation cannot occur until both Israelis and Palestinians live in peace and prosperity. That’s why U.S. elected officials must stand up for the Jewish activists who are challenging Israel’s blockade on Palestinians in Gaza.

Please take a moment to email U.S. Senator Feinstein. Urge her to tell the Israeli government that they must guarantee the safe passage of Jewish activists bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Click here to take action.

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

Noam Chomsky
Propaganda and Control of the Public Mind

Link:

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

Tony Blair Israel expected to agree to ease Gaza blockade
Middle East envoy Tony Blair brokers deal in meetings with prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Harriet Sherwood Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk

Wednesday 16 June 2010

The Israeli cabinet is today expected to agree to a plan to ease off the blockade on Gaza in a deal brokered by Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy.

The new arrangements – decided upon in a series of meetings between Blair and the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, over the past 10 days – would cover three areas:

• a list of prohibited goods not allowed into Gaza, replacing the current system of a list of approved goods;

• agreement to allow construction materials for UN-sponsored projects;

• Israel to consider allowing EU monitors to be stationed at crossings between Israel and Gaza.

The agreement follows intense pressure on Israel to relax its siege on Gaza in the aftermath of the deadly assault on a flotilla of aid ships attempting to break the blockade. Nine activists were killed.

Blair described the move as a "very important step".

"It will allow us to keep weapons and weapon materials out of Gaza, but on the other hand to help the Palestinian population there," he told the Israeli daily Haaretz. "The policy in Gaza should be to isolate the extremists but to help the people."

The Israeli cabinet minister Isaac Herzog told Israel's Army Radio: "We must understand that the blockade implemented until this time is outdated and no longer applicable in the current international and diplomatic climate."

The plan falls short of demands by the international community on Israel to lift the blockade and allow the legitimate Gaza economy to recover.

Currently Israel operates a frequently changing list of items permitted into Gaza, with a ban on all other goods. By reversing this approach to a banned list the hope is that many more items will be permitted and there will be greater transparency and accountability.

Chris Gunness, UN spokesman, said the blockade should be lifted entirely. "We need to judge the Israeli authorities by deeds not words because there have been many words in the past," he said.

"What we've been getting into Gaza is a drop in the bucket and, given the scale of the humanitarian task, we need to see the blockade ultimately lifted not eased."

The UN has been trying to import construction materials for the past 18 months to repair schools damaged in the Gaza war of 2008-9 and to construct new buildings to accommodate Gaza's exploding population. Israel has refused on the grounds that the materials could fall into the hands of Hamas and be used to make weapons or build underground bunkers.

The UN has consistently offered to guarantee the security of such material.

The Israeli military said yesterday that it had reached an agreement with the UN on the transfer of humanitarian aid – medical supplies, food and clothing – that was on board the flotilla to Gaza. It made no mention of construction materials that formed the bulk of the flotilla's consignment.

The inquiry set up by Israel to examine the events surrounding the flotilla assault is to hold its first meeting today.

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

'Gaza talks' Israel pushes Gaza blockade talks to Thursday

(Reuters) - Israel's security cabinet met on Wednesday to consider easing a Gaza blockade following an international outcry over a deadly raid on an aid flotilla, but adjourned without taking any decisions.

The cabinet will reconvene on Thursday to continue discussions on expanding a list of about 100 goods Israel permits through overland crossings into the Gaza Strip, a senior government official said.

Israel's internal security chief, Yuval Diskin, voiced opposition in a briefing to a parliamentary committee on Tuesday to any lifting of Israel's naval blockade of the territory, home to 1.5 million Palestinians and run by Hamas Islamists.

Israel faces international calls to ease or lift its Gaza embargo following the killing by Israeli commandos of nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists during the interception at sea of an an aid convoy on May 31.

Israeli leaders said the troops acted in self-defense after being swarmed by activists who attacked them, and that the blockade is necessary to prevent arms smuggling to Hamas.

Israel imposed the blockade soon after Hamas, which has rejected Western calls to recognize its right to exist, won a Palestinian legislative election in 2006. Restrictions were tightened after Hamas seized power in Gaza the following year.

NEW PLAN

Under a plan drawn up in coordination with Middle East envoy Tony Blair, Israel could move from a policy of banning the entry of many commercial goods into Gaza, except a few designated items, to accepting all products and prohibiting only those proscribed on a list, diplomats said.

Blair represents the Quartet of international powers -- the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia -- seeking Middle East peace. He held talks last week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The former British leader said on Monday Israel had agreed in principle to easing the blockade "in days."

Israeli cabinet minister Isaac Herzog, who has called for the lifting of the blockade, said on Army Radio on Wednesday the measure was "outdated and no longer applicable in the current international and diplomatic climate."

A network of smuggling tunnels under the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt keeps the enclave supplied with a variety of commercial goods. Hamas maintains its own tunnels, which Israel says are also used for weapons smuggling.

Humanitarian aid shipments are transferred regularly via border crossings with Israel, but international aid groups say more supplies are needed.

(Editing by Robert Woodward)
Wed Jun 16, 2010 9:12am

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

'Gaza talks' Israel reviewing Gaza blockade format: minister

(Reuters) - Israel is examining ways to ease its Gaza blockade, a cabinet minister said on Tuesday, calling the current policy counterproductive and confirming remarks by Middle East envoy Tony Blair that change is likely.

"It is time to end the closure in its current form. It does not provide any value to Israel. From a diplomatic standpoint it causes great image problems," Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog told Israel Radio.

International pressure has mounted to lift or ease what Israel calls its "closure" of the enclave, run by Hamas Islamists, since naval commandos stormed a Gaza-bound aid flotilla on May 31, killing nine pro-Palestinian activists.

An Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would convene his cabinet on Wednesday to discuss a plan to widen the range of goods allowed into Gaza through army-controlled border crossings.

Herzog said Israel had informed Blair, who briefed EU foreign ministers on Monday, that it intends to "permit an easier passage of goods" to the Gaza Strip.

"At the moment, they are working on the technical details ... of an updated formula that would also prevent smuggling of munitions to the Gaza Strip," Herzog said.

Blair said on Monday that Israel had agreed in principle to begin easing the Gaza blockade "in days." In his remarks, Herzog gave no timeframe for revising the policy.

Israel imposed the blockade soon after Hamas, which has spurned Western calls to recognize the Jewish state's right to exist, won legislative elections in 2006. Restrictions were tightened after Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip in 2007.

The EU wants Israel to move from a policy of banning the entry of many commercial goods into Gaza, except a few designated items, to accepting all products and prohibiting only those proscribed on a list.

Blair and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Israel was moving toward accepting a changed position on what is banned and said the list of proscribed items -- which includes weapons and "dual-use" items -- would be updated soon.

(Additional reporting by Luke Baker in Luxembourg, Editing by Paul Taylor)

JERUSALEM
Tue Jun 15, 2010 2:00pm

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

'Gaza talks' U.N. to deliver Gaza cargo on ships seized by Israel

(Reuters) - The United Nations has agreed to deliver to Gaza cargo aboard three aid ships seized by Israel on May 31 and has won the consent of Israel and the cargo's Turkish owners to do so, a U.N. envoy said on Tuesday.

Israel's navy took control of a six-ship convoy trying to run the Jewish state's blockade of Gaza and forced it to dock in Israeli ports. Nine people were killed aboard one vessel, the Turkish-registered Mavi Mara, provoking an international outcry. Israel said its commandos acted in self-defense.

U.N. Middle East envoy Robert Serry told the Security Council the United Nations was ready to take responsibility for delivery of the aid cargo "on an exceptional basis."

The world body "has obtained the consent of the cargo owners of the three Turkish-registered vessels to take possession of and responsibility for the entire cargo and ensure its timely distribution in Gaza for humanitarian purposes as determined by the United Nations," Serry said.

"The government of Israel has agreed to release the entire cargo to the United Nations in Gaza, again on the understanding that it is for the United Nations to determine its appropriate humanitarian use in Gaza," he added.

Serry said he had reason to believe that the "de facto authorities" in Gaza -- a reference to the Hamas militant group that controls the Palestinian territory -- would allow the United Nations to determine where the aid went.

Israel has blockaded the territory since Hamas took it over three years ago, allowing in only what it considers essential goods. An Israeli cabinet minister said on Tuesday that the Jewish state is examining ways to ease the blockade.

SOON AS POSSIBLE

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees runs an extensive aid and education operation in Gaza.

Serry, who was making a regular monthly report to the Security Council on the Middle East, said the United Nations would begin the distribution effort as soon as possible.

He said the United Nations had not so far been approached about the cargo aboard other diverted aid ships, including the Rachel Corrie, boarded by the Israeli navy on June 5 and sailed to the port of Ashdod, but would try to help if it was.

Serry also made clear that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's proposal for a full international inquiry into the May 31 storming of the aid flotilla was in addition to the investigation Israel itself plans to carry out.

Israel's cabinet on Monday approved the Israeli inquiry, whose panel will include two foreign observers.

The United Nations said on Monday the Israeli probe "could fit with" Ban's proposal, which it said remained on the table.

"The two (inquiries) combined would fully meet the international community's expectation for a credible and impartial investigation," Serry said. "The two approaches are complementary."

Diplomats say Ban wants a neutral inquiry panel led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and including Israeli and Turkish representatives.

Serry said that during a closed-door discussion in the Security Council on Tuesday, "I think there was support expressed for what the secretary-general tries to do."

Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS
Tue Jun 15, 2010 5:23pm

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

The 'Gaza talks' Israel eases Gaza embargo to allow snack food in

(Reuters) - Israel is easing its Gaza embargo to allow snack food and drinks into the Palestinian enclave, Palestinian officials said Wednesday, following an international outcry over Israel's raid on an aid flotilla.

Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip, said the territory needs cement, banned by Israel and essential for reconstruction after a December 2008-January 2009 war, not soft drinks.

An Israeli official said the new product list, announced hours before U.S. President Barack Obama hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington, was unrelated to Israel's May 31 takeover of the convoy that challenged its Gaza blockade.

The talks between Obama and Abbas were expected to focus on ways to ease the embargo, which has drawn mounting international criticism since Israeli commandos, who met violent resistance on a Turkish-flagged ship, killed nine pro-Palestinian activists.

In joint remarks, Obama said the situation in Gaza was unsustainable and Abbas repeated his call to end the blockade.

Obama said the United States was providing $400 million in new aid for the Palestinians.

The Palestinian officials, based in the West Bank, said that as of next week, Israel will allow a wider variety of food, such as potato crisps, biscuits, canned fruit and packaged humous, as well as soft drinks and juice, into the Gaza Strip.

"They will send the first course. We are waiting for the main course," Palestinian Economy Minister Hassan Abu Libdeh said in Ramallah. "We are waiting for this unjust siege to end."

Israel says its blockade of Gaza is necessary to choke off weapons supplies to Hamas, which is opposed to Abbas's peace efforts with the Jewish state.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, asked Wednesday about Israel's policy, said Hamas has used humanitarian donations to strengthen its military capabilities in Gaza.

"Construction materials haven't gone for housing, they've gone for bunkers," Gates said on the program Frost Over the World to be broadcast on Al Jazeera's English-language channel.

Hamas played down the impact of the new Israeli product list.

"We have three factories that make carbonated drinks. They say they want to allow in potato chips, but we have factories that produce more than enough to meet Gaza's needs," said Ziyad al-Zaza, economic and trade minister in Hamas's Gaza-based government.

"We are looking for a true, real lifting of the blockade ... the import of raw materials for industry and construction materials for the reconstruction of Gaza," he said.

The United Nations says the Israeli blockade has caused a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, an allegation Israel denies.

CEMENT BAN

Israel's ban on cement imports into the territory has limited efforts to rebuild homes and infrastructure destroyed or damaged in a three-week war it launched in December 2008 with the stated aim of curbing cross-border rocket fire.

Israeli officials have said Hamas could use cement to build bunkers and other military installations.

Asked about the new list of Israeli-approved products, the Israeli government official said: "Over the last six months, Israel has increased the volume of goods going into Gaza and their variety. That policy is continuing."

A variety of goods comes into the Gaza Strip from neighboring Egypt via smuggling tunnels. Egypt, which largely closed its Gaza border after the Hamas takeover, reopened the frontier indefinitely following the Israeli naval raid.

Commenting on the blockade, an Israeli security source said Israel aimed to remove all restrictions on imported food items for Gaza within a few weeks and noted that jam and several other products were approved recently.

"This has nothing to do with the flotilla," the source said, making no mention of whether Israel might expand the list to include reconstruction materials.

Israeli authorities said that last week, Israel transferred 12,413 tons of humanitarian aid through Gaza border crossings.

The shipments included 994,000 liters of fuel for Gaza's power station, 748 tons of cooking gas and eight truckloads of medicine and medical equipment, according to an Israeli list.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Additional reporting Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem)

Thu Jun 10, 2010 5:41am

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

The 'Gaza talks' Factbox: U.S. assistance to the West Bank, Gaza

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Wednesday the United States would provide almost $400 million in new aid to the Palestinians.

Following are some details of the assistance for the West Bank and Gaza.

* A $240 million investment by the Overseas Private Investment Corp in the AMAL mortgage finance program in the West Bank, which offers long-term mortgages at fixed and variable rates.

* Funding of $75 million through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to support the Palestinian Authority's work to improve infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza.

* Aid worth $40 million to support the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The aid will go to the UNRWA's Emergency Appeal for Gaza and the West Bank, which will help improve educational and health services, increase job creation and repair shelters in Gaza.

* $14.5 million in USAID projects for school rehabilitation, small-scale agriculture, the repair of a hospital facility and other community infrastructure in Gaza.

* $10 million for the construction of five new UNRWA schools in Gaza.

* $10 million in USAID-funded activities aimed at enhancing the Palestinian private sector's competitiveness

* $5 million to start nine USAID-funded projects to repair water distribution and waste water collection systems in Gaza.

(Writing by Deborah Charles)
WASHINGTON
Wed Jun 9, 2010 1:21pm EDT

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

The 'Gaza talks' Obama calls situation in Gaza "unsustainable"

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama urged Israel on Wednesday to help ease restrictions on humanitarian aid and civilian goods for Gaza after a deadly flotilla raid, saying the situation in the blockaded coastal strip was unsustainable.

Hosting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, Obama also pledged $400 million in U.S. assistance for the West Bank and Gaza, and sought to prevent heightened Middle East tensions from derailing U.S.-brokered peace efforts.

Obama called for a "new conceptual framework" to the Israeli embargo on Gaza and said his administration was pressing the Jewish state to work with all parties to find a solution.

But he stopped short of joining a broader international outcry against U.S. ally Israel over last week's raid on a Gaza-bound aid convoy and did not back Abbas's demand for a lifting of the Gaza blockade.

Obama reiterated that the flotilla incident was a tragedy and that it would be important to "get all the facts."

"What we also know is that the situation in Gaza is unsustainable," he told reporters with Abbas at his side.

Abbas's visit came amid an international backlash against Israel after its forces boarded a Turkish aid ship headed for the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on May 31. Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed.

Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas Islamists seized control of Gaza from Abbas's Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in 2007. Abbas now governs only in the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was due to see Obama on June 1 but scrapped his trip because of the flotilla crisis, is working to reschedule a White House meeting by the end of the month, U.S. and Israeli officials said. The two leaders will seek to mend fences after recent strains.

NO TOUGHER LINE

The Palestinian leader urged Obama to take a tougher line with Israel. "We see the need to lift the Israeli siege of the Palestinian people," Abbas said.

Obama voiced sympathy for the plight of the 1.5 million mostly poor Palestinians packed into the coastal strip but insisted any solution must meet Israel's security needs. Israel says its 4-year-old Gaza blockade is intended to stop weapons smuggling to Hamas. Palestinians call it collective punishment.

"There should be ways of focusing narrowly on arms shipments, rather than focusing in a blanket way on stopping everything and then, in a piecemeal way, allowing things into Gaza," Obama insisted, saying his administration had begun some "hard-headed" discussions with Israel on the issue.

Seeking to boost Abbas's standing with his people, Obama announced a $400 million aid package to the Palestinians.

Any fresh U.S. funds to Gaza would come with strings attached to keep it out of the hands of Hamas, which is on the U.S. list of terrorist groups.

The White House also staged Abbas's visit so that reporters could see the two leaders together in the Oval Office. By contrast, press coverage was barred during Netanyahu's tense visit in November, which Israeli media interpreted as a snub.

Obama reiterated his support for a "credible" investigation of the flotilla incident. But he steered clear of international calls for an independent probe. Israel insists on conducting its own inquiry, with a role for foreign experts or observers.

The Obama administration still hopes to push Israel and the Palestinians to direct negotiations. But Obama's Middle East diplomacy, central to his outreach to the Muslim world, has been complicated by the flotilla incident.

Obama said in order to create a climate for a breakthrough toward a two-state solution, Israel must "curb settlement activity" -- a source of recent discord with Washington -- and the Palestinians must prevent anti-Israel "incitement."

Obama has little room to maneuver. With U.S. congressional elections looming in November, he must be mindful that support for Israel is strong among U.S. lawmakers and voters.

Abbas arrived from Turkey, a U.S. ally that has condemned Israel's action and curtailed ties with it. Abbas has called the raid a "massacre." Israel said its commandos defended themselves when attacked during the boarding.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Jerusalem, Editing by Doina Chiacu)
Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON
Wed Jun 9, 2010 4:54pm EDT

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

Obama Obama urges Israel work with all parties on Gaza

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama called on Israel on Wednesday to work with all parties to find a solution for Gaza and said the United States is providing $400 million in new aid for the Palestinians.

In remarks made as he met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Obama called on Israel to curb settlement activity and on the Palestinians to prevent any actions that could incite confrontation.

Abbas visited the White House amid an international backlash against Israel after its forces boarded a Turkish aid ship bound for the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on May 31. Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed.

Abbas, speaking after Obama, called on Israel to lift its "siege" on the Palestinian people.

Obama called the situation in Gaza unsustainable and said it was important to get all the facts out about the flotilla incident.

Obama said he would make a statement later in the day about the U.N. Security Council's vote to approve new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Bill Trott)
WASHINGTON
Wed Jun 9, 2010 4:25pm EDT

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

Turkey - Israel (Reuters) - The United States is concerned at a breakdown in Turkey's relations with Israel and fears Europe's rebuff of Ankara's EU aspirations is pushing the pivotal country "eastward," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.

As NATO's only Muslim member, Turkey has been a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, but its deteriorating ties with Israel and recent overtures to Iran have stoked worries in Washington.

"I personally think that if there is anything to the notion that Turkey is, if you will, moving eastward, it is, in my view, in no small part because it was pushed, and pushed by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the kind of organic link to the West that Turkey sought," Gates told reporters in London.

Turkey's long-running negotiations to join the European Union have slowed to a snail's pace, partly because of disputes over Cyprus but also because the leaders of France and Germany have made clear they do not want the Turks to join.

Relations between Ankara and Israel plunged to their lowest level in decades last week after nine Turks were killed when Israeli commandos stormed a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, sparking an international outcry.

At the same time, Turkey has pursued a rapprochement with Iran, promoting a compromise on Tehran's nuclear program that it believes should avert further international sanctions, which Turkish leaders have publicly opposed.

Turkey voted Wednesday against a U.N. Security Council resolution, backed by the United States, imposing a fourth round of sanctions against Iran.

The Islamist-leaning Turkish government backed the attempt by pro-Palestinian activists to use the convoy of aid ships to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, controlled by the Islamist Hamas movement.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan responded by recalling Turkey's ambassador from Israel and canceling joint military exercises with the Jewish state.

EU SETTING BAR HIGHER

"The deterioration in the relationship between Turkey and Israel over the past year or so is a matter of concern," Gates said. "The two had a pretty constructive relationship and one that contributed to stability in the region, and I hope that, over time, that kind of constructive relationship can be re-established."

He appeared to blame the estrangement more on European obduracy than on Israeli behavior.

"We have to think long and hard about why these developments in Turkey (are occurring) and what we might be able to do to counter them and make the stronger linkages with the West more apparently of interest and value to Turkey's leaders," he said.

An aide to Gates said Washington's concerns included a perception that EU countries were setting the bar higher for Turkey than for past candidates for membership in a deliberate effort to make accession more difficult.

The 27-nation bloc has frozen negotiations on 13 of the 35 policy areas into which the EU talks are divided -- eight due to Turkey's refusal to open its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus, and five due to French objections to discussing any item that implies eventual Turkish membership.

The EU defended the process. "Progress in accession negotiations depends on the progress in reforms taking place in Turkey," said Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

France and Germany favor "privileged partnership" for Turkey rather than full membership.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Brussels; Editing by Diana Abdallah)
Adam Entous
LONDON
Wed Jun 9, 2010 2:01pm EDT

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

Turkey - Iran sanctions Turkey says Iran sanctions "mistake"

(Reuters) - Turkey called the imposition of U.N. sanctions on Iran a "mistake" Thursday and said that it and Brazil would continue to seek a diplomatic solution to remove concerns over Iran's nuclear program.

In a speech to an Arab and Turkish ministerial forum, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan also announced plans to form a regional free trade zone with three Arab states -- Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The moves will add to concerns, voiced Wednesday by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, that the pivotal Western ally is in danger of swinging eastward because of resistance in Europe to its bid for membership of the European Union.

Turkey and Brazil, both non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, were the only members of the 15-strong council to vote Wednesday against the imposition of new sanctions against Iran. Lebanon abstained.

"We would not want to participate in such a mistake because history will not forgive us," Erdogan told a meeting attended by ministers from 22 members of the Arab League.

He said Turkey intended, with Brazil, to continue engaging Tehran, having secured a nuclear fuel swap deal last month that they had hoped would head off sanctions.

Western countries along with Russia and China viewed that deal as too little too late and pressed on with a fourth round of sanctions, as Iran continued uranium enrichment that world powers fear could be used for nuclear weapons.

Turkey believes that sanctions are ineffective and that there are dangers in pushing the Islamic republic into a corner.

"Isolation is not the solution to Iran's problems," Erdogan said.

EAST OR WEST

Though not an Arab, Erdogan has become a hero to many in the Arab world for championing the cause of Gaza's Palestinians and putting their plight near the top of the world agenda after an Israeli commando raid on a Turkish aid ship.

A Cold War ally of the West and once a close ally of Israel, Turkey had been largely Western facing, but Erdogan has deepened ties with the former Soviet bloc and the Middle East.

Some commentators say Turkey is trying to revive historic ties with the dominions of the former Ottoman Empire, and Erdogan spoke warmly of Turkey's bonds with the Arab world.

"A Turk cannot live without an Arab. An Arab is the Turk's left eye, his right eye," Erdogan said.

Erdogan spoke of "secret efforts" by some European countries to slow down Turkey's bid for membership of the European Union. He said Turkey was continuing with reforms to meet EU requirements regardless of the hindrances.

He then said Turkey would form a free trade and visa-free travel zone with Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Erdogan was fulsome regarding ties with neighboring Syria, against which Turkey almost went to war 10 years ago.

"Now these two countries are like brothers of the same family, they come and go and visit each other, Erdogan said. "There is no difference between Turkey and Syria, Turkey is Syria and Syria is Turkey.

There has been media speculation in recent months that a conflict is brewing between Syria and Israel, and Damascus has been one of Turkey's strongest supporters in the latest confrontation with the Jewish state.

"I hope it doesn't lead to a war but if it is adventurous, Israel will receive the appropriate response," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told reporters at the Istanbul forum.

Some analysts see Erdogan's AK party as a Muslim version of Europe's Christian Democrat parties, while critics say it is Islamist leaning.

Speaking earlier, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey was determined to boost economic cooperation with the Arab world to the highest level possible.

"We want a vehicle to leave from Turkey and reach Morocco without stopping at any border gates," he said.

The free trade zone "is not an alternative to the EU. Turkey is determined to achieve full membership of the EU, but this does not limit our relations with other regions. Above all when we achieve full membership of the EU, this will also benefit the EU," Davutoglu added.

Since Erdogan's AK Party came to power in 2002, Turkish exports to its Muslim neighbors have increased sharply, though non-fuel imports from them are small.

Turkey exported $1.4 billion worth of goods to Syria and $690 million to Lebanon in 2009. Exports to non-Arab Iran have grown 500 percent since 2002.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Grove and Yara Bayoumy; writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; editing by Tim Pearce)
Tulay Karadeniz and Jon Hemming
ISTANBUL
Thu Jun 10, 2010 10:40am EDT

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

NATO NATO fleet could end Gaza blockade: Turk minister

(Reuters) - A Turkish minister proposed on Wednesday sending a NATO fleet to end an Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip following the deaths of nine Turks in a raid by Israeli commandos on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Egemen Bagis, Turkey's chief negotiator with the European Union, said he did not favor an attack on Israeli vessels enforcing the blockade but that Israel should not be allowed to continue to keep aid out.

Relations between Turkey and Israel have sunk to their lowest level in decades since the Israeli commandos boarded the ships carrying pro-Palestinian activists and aid on May 31.

"I think NATO should send a fleet to put an end to the embargo," Bagis, whose country is a member of NATO but not the EU, told reporters during a visit to Brussels.

Asked if this might involve a NATO attack on Israeli vessels enforcing the blockade, he said: "There needs to be no attack."

He said one option would be for the NATO fleet to take humanitarian aid, adding that this was his personal idea and he had not discussed it with the rest of the Turkish government.

"The fleet is just one option. Maybe (we could end the blockade) through dialogue, diplomacy," he said.

Israel says its Gaza blockade is necessary to limit weapons smuggling to Hamas Islamists, who run the enclave.

DEMANDS FOR END TO ISRAELI BLOCKADE

Bagis, visiting Brussels for talks with members of the European Parliament and the executive European Commission, made clear Turkey would welcome more international support for ensuring Israel lifts the blockade on Gaza.

He regretted an initial EU statement on the Israeli raid made by foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

"The first statement by Mrs Ashton when she said Israel should start an inquiry was a joke. But later on in the day when she issued a written statement, calling for an impartial, objective inquiry and criticizing Israel in very strong terms, it was appreciated," he said.

He made clear Turkey would also have welcomed stronger criticism by Washington of its Israeli alies at the United Nations Security Council.

"Although we might not see eye to eye on some issues with the Americans, their attitude at the Security Council toward condemning Israel was not what we would expect or hope for," Bagis said.

Turkey's negotiations on joining the 27-country EU are making slow progress, partly because of opposition from the governments in France and Germany.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in London he feared Europe's rebuff of Turkey's EU aspirations was pushing it "eastward." But Bagis said no connection should be made between Turkey's relations with Israel and with the EU.

"Last time I checked, there was no pre-requisite for negotiating countries to become members (of the EU) based on their relations with Israel. I think that's mixing apples and oranges," he said.

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)
Timothy Heritage
BRUSSELS
Wed Jun 9, 2010 12:47pm EDT

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

Turkey - Israel Turkish-Israeli rift a concern for U.S. - Gates

June 9 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Wednesday he was concerned about the deterioration in relations between Turkey and Israel and the implications for regional stability, and expressed hope ties would be re-established over time.

European reluctance to boost links with Turkey played a role in pushing Ankara eastward, Gates told reporters in London. (Reporting by Adam Entous; Editing by Jon Boyle)
LONDON
Wed Jun 9, 2010 6:07am EDT

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

Turkey - Israel UPDATE 1-U.S. concerned at Turkey-Israel rift - Gates

* Defense Secretary concerned at breakdown in ties

* Says Europe a factor in Turkey's shift 'eastward'

(Adds quotes)

LONDON, June 9 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates voiced concern on Wednesday about Turkey's breakdown in relations with Israel and signs that Ankara -- pushed, he said, by some in Europe -- may be drifting "eastward".

"The deterioration in the relationship between Turkey and Israel over the past year or so is a matter of concern," Gates told reporters in London.

"I think the two had a pretty constructive relationship and one that contributed to stability in the region, and I hope that, over time, that kind of constructive relationship can be reestablished," he added.

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down after a deadly Israeli raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, but Gates attributed the broader shift by Turkey to European reluctance to accept the country.

"I personally think that if there is anything to the notion that Turkey is, if you will, moving eastward, it is, in my view, in no small part because it was pushed, and pushed by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the kind of organic link to the West that Turkey sought."

Turkey has been seeking for decades to join the European Union.

Gates said the United States and its European allies need to "think long and hard about why these developments in Turkey (occurred) and what we might be able to do to counter them and make the stronger linkages with the West more apparently of interest and value to Turkey's leaders." (Reporting by Adam Entous; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)
Wed Jun 9, 2010 7:07am EDT

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

U.N., U.S., Israel Analysis: U.N. rebukes of Israel permitted in U.S. policy shift

(Reuters) - Under President Barack Obama, the United States no longer provides Israel with automatic support at the United Nations where the Jewish state faces a constant barrage of criticism and condemnation.

The subtle but noticeable shift in the U.S. approach to its Middle East ally comes amid what some analysts describe as one of the most serious crises in U.S.-Israeli relations in years.

Under Obama, the United States seeks to reclaim its role as an impartial Middle East peace broker which critics say it lost during the previous administration of George W. Bush.

"Israel became used to unconditional support of the United States during eight years of the Bush administration," said Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

She said Bush's "extreme position" makes even mild criticism appear dramatic to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet.

However, Washington continues to block what it sees as efforts to use the United Nations as a forum for bashing Israel -- which one U.S. official told Reuters was "nine out of 10 initiatives regarding Israel in New York."

Obama has also pushed hard to get a fourth round of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program, which Israel sees as its top security threats. A vote on new Iran sanctions is expected this week.

"There have been slight changes (in U.S.-Israeli ties), but they've caused a disproportionate reaction on the part of Israel," said Ottaway. "We haven't seen any drastic changes."

Last week the United States backed a Security Council statement on Israel's commando raid on an aid flotilla that tried to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. Nine people on one of the ships were killed in the action.

The statement regretted the loss of life and demanded a "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.

Washington, U.N. diplomats and U.S. officials said, worked hard to dilute the text so the 15-nation council did not call for an independent investigation and to ensure it did not explicitly criticize Israel.

UNITED NATIONS "LYNCH MOB"?

Israel was still unhappy with the statement and its supporters accused Obama of abandoning the Jewish state.

In an article called "Joining the jackals," Elliott Abrams, who advised two Republican administrations and is now at the Council on Foreign Relations, accused Obama of exposing Israel to a virtual U.N. "lynch mob."

"The White House did not wish to stand with Israel against this mob because it does not have a policy of solidarity with Israel," Abrams said. "Rather, its policy is one of distancing and pressure."

Abrams also criticized the White House over the recent five-year review conference of signatories to the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that Israel, like nuclear-armed Pakistan and India, has never signed.

Washington backed a call for a 2012 meeting of all countries in the Middle East to discuss making the region a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction -- a plan originally proposed by Egypt with Arab backing to add pressure on Israel to give up its nuclear weapons.

After allowing it to pass, the U.S. delegation criticized the NPT final declaration for "singling out" Israel, which neither confirms nor denies having atomic weapons.

This statement did not satisfy commentators like Abrams, who said Obama had "abandoned Israel in the U.N. and in the NPT conference in the course of one week."

Some analysts say Washington wants to improve ties with Arab nations and regain lost status as a neutral peace arbiter while being careful not to alienate pro-Israel voters.

"During the George W. Bush years, Washington's automatic siding with Israel on any issue seriously eroded what had been America's long-standing posture as an honest broker in the Middle East," said Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

"Obama has been trying to reclaim that status, while keeping in mind the domestic political need of not being seen as anti-Israel," he said.

Outside the United Nations, analysts say Obama tried to ease strains with Netanyahu after tensions spiked earlier this year over Jewish settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land.

He coaxed Israel into indirect talks with the Palestinians, his biggest tangible achievement in Middle East diplomacy.

But an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the jury is still out on the Obama administration's approach to the Jewish state.

"It's still difficult to decipher the intentions behind the changing U.S. policy at the United Nations, and not just in regard to the Middle East," the official said.

"If the Americans are convinced that, through adopting a softer approach ... they will achieve support from countries that heretofore opposed their policy -- they will discover that they are wrong," the official added.

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; editing by Alan Elsner)
Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS
Tue Jun 8, 2010 1:01am EDT

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

E.U., Blair, Israel - Gaza EU and Blair expect Israel to soften Gaza blockade soon

(Reuters) - Israel has agreed in principle to begin easing its three-year-old blockade on Gaza "in days," Middle East envoy Tony Blair said on Monday.

Blair said that after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent days he believed there was now a willingness to allow the entry of more goods into the territory.

"In respect of the closure policy, I hope very much in the next days we will get the in-principle commitment that we require, but then also steps beginning to be taken," he told reporters, referring to Israeli commitments.

"I believe and hope that over the next period of days we can reach a situation where we get a policy in respect of Gaza that is right for Israel's security and is humane toward people in Gaza," he said.

Blair spoke after talks in Luxembourg with European Union foreign ministers, who issued a statement calling for the Gaza blockade to be lifted and a "credible, independent" inquiry into the May 31 assault on aid ships headed to Gaza.

Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza, a coastal territory of 1.5 million Palestinians, soon after militant group Hamas won legislative elections in 2006, and tightened the restrictive measures after Hamas seized power in the strip in June 2007.

But since the raid on the flotilla last month, when Israeli forces killed nine Turkish men after clashes erupted on board one of the vessels headed to Gaza, it has come under international pressure to soften the measures.

BANNED LIST

The EU wants Israel to move from a policy of banning the entry of almost all goods into Gaza, except a few designated items, and instead adopt a policy of accepting almost all goods and banning only those that are proscribed on a list.

Israel says it maintains the blockade to prevent arms and items that could be used for militant purposes reaching Hamas and other militant groups in the territory.

Blair and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Israel was moving toward accepting a changed position on what is banned, and said the list of proscribed items -- which includes weapons and "dual-use" items" -- would be updated soon.

"I hope we are now in a position to move forward on this," Blair said, referring to altering the list of items, which would maintain a ban on arms, armaments and explosives.

"In other words we change from the so-called permitted list of items where things only come in if they are on that list to the prohibited list where things come in unless they are on that list."

Blair also said he welcomed an announcement by Israel on Monday that it would conduct its own investigation into the flotilla raid, an inquiry that will include two independent, international experts. The United Nations wanted a completely independent inquiry but Israel resisted that.

"The issue of the inquiry will obviously continue to be an issue of strong policy debate," Blair said. "There are many different views on this but the Israeli inquiry is obviously a significant step forward."

(Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Charles Dick and Mark Heinrich)
Luke Baker and David Brunnstrom
LUXEMBOURG
Mon Jun 14, 2010 8:39am EDT

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

Gaza blockade: Blair Blair: hope Israel will move on Gaza blockade "in days"

(Reuters) - Middle East envoy Tony Blair said on Monday he hoped Israel would begin to soften its blockade of Gaza within days, with more goods being allowed to enter the coastal Palestinian territory.

Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza for the past three years. It has come under pressure to lift it following the fallout from its assault on a flotilla of aid ships on May 31 in which Israeli forces killed 9 people.

"In respect of the closure policy, I hope very much in the next days we will get the in-principle commitment that we require, but then also steps beginning to be taken," he said, referring to Israeli moves to loosen the blockade.

LUXEMBOURG
Mon Jun 14, 2010 7:52am EDT

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Blair hopes Gaza blockade could be eased within days

(Reuters) - Middle East envoy Tony Blair said on Sunday he hoped to see movement in the next few days on easing the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

WORLD

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under rising pressure to ease the embargo since a deadly raid on a Turkish-backed aid ship heading to Gaza last month, held talks on the issue with Blair on Friday.

Asked when supplies could begin getting through to Gaza, Blair told the BBC: "I think it's got to be pretty soon."

"As fast as the next few days I hope we can get significant movement on this because otherwise I think the pressure will build up," he said.

"As Benjamin Netanyahu has quite rightly said today, there is a way to distinguish between the security aspect and the daily life aspect. And if we keep that distinction in our mind then I think we will get the right answer and we can start that quickly," he said.

The former British prime minister said the Palestinian authorities and the European Union, as well as Israel, could play a role in policing the flow of goods into Gaza.

"There are all sorts of different ways that you can help police this material, the main thing is to make whatever policing system you have effective," said Blair, the envoy for the Quartet of international powers -- the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia -- seeking peace in the region.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa visited the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the highest Arab official to do so since its seizure by Hamas Islamists in 2007, and called for an end to Israel's blockade of the Palestinian territory.

Israel said on Friday it wanted to enlist global support to improve the flow of civilian goods to the Gaza Strip, while ensuring weapons did not reach the territory.

Israeli soldiers shot dead nine Turkish protesters last month after being assaulted with knives and clubs when they boarded the humanitarian aid vessel to prevent it from breaching the blockade.

A variety of goods enter Gaza from neighboring Egypt as well as from Israel, but aid groups have warned of a looming humanitarian disaster in the area home to 1.5 million Palestinians, due to Israel's restrictions on goods transiting its crossings.

Israel says the embargo it imposed when Hamas rose to power in 2006 is aimed at preventing weapons from reaching the Iranian-backed Islamists who have refused peace initiatives with Israel because they reject its right to exist.

Blair said he believed reconciliation between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction was possible.

"For people like myself it would be far better if we were engaging with Hamas constructively. The difficulty is when Hamas are still prepared to say 'we don't give up the use of violence ...'," he said.

"I hope they decide they do want to be part of it (the peace process) because the door is open if they want to go through it," Blair added.

(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Matthew Jones)

LONDON
Sun Jun 13, 2010 2:47pm EDT
http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE65C2HL20100613

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

Gaza blockade: ICRC Israel's Gaza blockade breaks law, says ICRC

(Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip violates the Geneva Conventions and called for its lifting.

The neutral humanitarian agency also urged Hamas Islamist militants holding Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured nearly four years ago in a cross-border raid, to allow his family to have regular contact with him, in line with international law.

Israel's raid on a Gaza aid flotilla two weeks ago, in which nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists were killed, highlighted acute hardships faced by 1.5 million Gazans due to the closure since 2007, it said. They endure unemployment, poverty and warfare, and health care whose quality is at an "all time low."

"The whole of Gaza's civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law," the ICRC said in a five-page statement. It was the first time the ICRC has said explicitly that Israel's blockade constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law embodied in the Geneva Conventions, an ICRC spokeswoman said. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, ratified by Israel, bans collective punishment of a civilian population.

Israel is entitled to impose restrictions on military material for legitimate security reasons, but the scope of the closure is disproportionate, covering items of basic necessity, according to the ICRC.

"We are urging Israel to put an end to this closure and call upon all those who have an influence on the situation, including Hamas, to do their utmost to help Gaza's civilian population," said Beatrice Megevand-Roggo, head of ICRC operations for the Middle East.

The ICRC said Hamas had continually rebuffed its requests to allow its officials to visit Shalit in detention.

"In violation of international humanitarian law, it has also refused to allow him to get in touch with his family," it said.

Under customary international humanitarian law, captors holding detainees must allow them family contacts, while the Geneva Conventions require that they be treated humanely.

BASIC NEEDS

Arab League chief Amr Moussa visited the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the highest Arab official to do so since its seizure by Hamas Islamists in 2007, and called for an end to Israel's blockade of the Palestinian territory.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks on Friday with Middle East envoy Tony Blair on the blockade.

Netanyahu said on Sunday Israel would continue discussions with the international community to prevent weapons and military equipment from reaching Gaza and to allow in humanitarian aid, an apparent signal it was open to revising blockade procedures.

"Under international humanitarian law, Israel must ensure that the basic needs of Gazans, including adequate health care, are met," the ICRC said.

The blockade, about to enter its fourth year, was "choking off any real possibility of economic development," it said.

States are obliged to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of all relief supplies, equipment and personnel, according to ICRC which deploys 100 staff in Gaza.

"The Palestinian authorities ... must do everything within their power to provide proper health care, supply electricity and maintain infrastructure for Gaza's people," it added.

Fuel reserves in Gaza, vital for keeping hospital generators running during daily power cuts, keep drying up, it said.

Stocks of essential medical supplies were at an all-time low because of a halt in cooperation between authorities in Ramallah, the Fatah-ruled West Bank, and Gaza, the agency said.

"The state of the health care system in Gaza has never been worse," said ICRC health coordinator Eileen Daly. "Health is being politicized: that is the main reason the system is failing."

Only 60 percent of Gazan residents are connected to a sewage collection system, according to the ICRC which voiced concern that drinking water in most of Gaza is unfit for consumption.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)
Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA
Sun Jun 13, 2010 8:06pm EDT

Posted by: Yves | 06/16/2010

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