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Israel set to approve 2,500 settlement housing units

Israeli authorities will meet next week to approve new units in illegal settlements across the occupied West Bank.

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Occupied West Bank

Israel is expected to approve nearly 2,500 new settlement housing units across the occupied West Bank next week after the projects were tabled at a planning council meeting on Friday.

Israeli NGO Peace Now said on Friday that Israel’s Civil Administration – the military body governing the occupied West Bank – was scheduled to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss 27 separate plans for settlement housing units across the West Bank.

According to local media reports, about 1,500 of the housing units set to be approved are in major settlement blocs including Maaleh Adumim and Ariel, which Israel wants and expects to annex in any potential peace deal.

One of the items on the agenda will allegedly pave the way for the construction of 102 housing units in Amichai, the first new settlement to be officially created by the government in 25 years.

The rest lie outside the blocs and deep within the West Bank, including the Beit El settlement, northeast of Ramallah, and the Susiya settlement in the South Hebron hills.

The deal comes on the heals of US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Palestinians and the majority of the international community view settlements as unlawful and a major obstacle to a two-state solution, as they are built on land that the Palestinians want for a future state.

When Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, visited Trump in Washington DC in February, the US president publicly urged Netanyahu to hold back on settlement building in order to improve the prospects for the possibility of US-brokered peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The international community views Israeli settlements as illegal [File: Reuters]

June marks 50 years since Israel conquered and occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the June 1967 war. The Israeli victory was followed by the spread of Jewish settlements throughout the occupied territories.

Although Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, currently more than half a million Jewish settlers reside across the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

According to a new report published by the European Council on Foreign Relations, both the length and characteristics of Israel’s 50-year occupation of Palestinian territory show that it has no serious plans to relinquish the territory and is moving towards annexation instead.

Authored by Valentina Azarova, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Global Public Law, Koc University in Turkey’s Istanbul, the report addresses the failure of using the framework of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) to assess Israeli policies in the occupied territories.

“Attempts by third states and international actors to enforce IHL and IHRL have failed to bring about Israel’s compliance because this partial legal framework neither adequately captures the legal consequences of continued occupation with the aim of acquiring the territory, nor generates appropriate remedial action for such a situation,” the report said.

Hugh Lovatt, Israel-Palestine Project Coordinator at ECFR, told Al Jazeera that the use of IHL and IHRL does not fully take into account Israeli policy in the occupied territory, including moves to annex areas.

“In a situation in which the intent of Israel’s continued control over the OPT is one of the territorial acquisition, which is revealed through the use of an integrated legal framework, then third-party actors such as the EU and its members states are under an obligation to act collectively to bring to an end Israel’s occupation. This requires a new approach to peace making in Israel/Palestine,” he said, using OPT to refer to the occupied Palestinian territories.

“The EU should articulate a new foreign policy that more effectively harnesses the conflict resolution aspects offered by international law, namely the law on the use of force [jus ad bellum] in order to more effectively disincentivise Israel’s unlawful acquisition of Palestinian territory and institutional violation of Palestinian rights.

“This means placing greater emphasis on bringing about Israel’s withdrawal, rather than conditioning this on political compromise between the two sides.”

Policy of ‘differentiation’

The ECFR report also called on the European Union, other third party states, and international actors to recognise Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestinian territory as unlawful, and to review their dealings both with Israel and Israeli entities in accordance with their obligations under international law.

In its bilateral relations with Israel, the European Union has in recent years adopted a policy of “differentiation” in an attempt to exclude settlement-linked entities.

“At a minimum the EU must continue to advance its measures to differentiate between Israel and its settlements, in order to ensure the full and effective non-recognition of Israel’s unlawful practices in the OPT, including its settlement activity,” Lovatt told Al Jazeera.

“Of particular focus should be dealings by EU corporations in relation to settlement entities and activities.”

 

Middle East

Syria rebels in south announce return to talks with Russia

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Syrian rebels

Daraa (Syria) : – Rebels in Syria’s battered south were returning to talks with government ally Russia on Thursday after the most intensive bombing campaign yet in the regime’s two-week offensive.

Moscow has been brokering talks for the negotiated surrender of beleaguered rebels in southern Syria, a highly strategic zone bordering both Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan.

More than 30 towns have already agreed to fall back to regime control, and negotiations this week focused on remaining rebel territory in Daraa’s western countryside and the southern half of the provincial capital.

But those talks fell apart on Wednesday because of Russia’s tough demands, rebels said, ushering in a ferocious blitz of air strikes, barrel bombs, and missiles.

An AFP correspondent on the edge of the rebel-held south of the city of Daraa, the divided provincial capital, said the bombing was the heaviest since the launch of the Russian-backed offensive on June 19.

Twenty-four hours into the onslaught, rebels announced they were willing to return to negotiations.

“The talks will resume,” Hussein Abazeed, spokesman for joint rebel command in the south, told AFP.

He had earlier accused Russia of pursuing a “scorched earth policy” to force rebels to return to the negotiating table.

The joint command also issued a statement saying it would be willing to hold “a new round of negotiations” if a halt to hostilities was immediately put into place.

As rebels made their announcement, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor reported a halt to both Russian and Syrian government air strikes over the south.

Read : Syria rebels say talks with Russia over south ‘fail’

The day-long volley began on Wednesday evening, after rebels announced the failure of talks with Russian negotiators over the south’s fate.

They said Russia had insisted opposition factions hand over their heavy weapons in one go, while rebels wanted to do so in several phases.

Moscow also reportedly refused requests from some rebels for safe passage to opposition-held territory in other parts of Syria, as was done in Eastern Ghouta and Aleppo.

The resumption of strikes hit areas near the border with Jordan and further west, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

Six civilians, including a woman and four children, were killed in strikes on the town of Saida.

Hours later, regime forces fully retook the town and also seized control of a security checkpoint on the Jordanian border for the first time in more than three years, the monitoring group said.

Rebels subsequently handed over a large swathe of the border area, amounting to 275 square kilometres, to regime forces without a fight, said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

But the main prize, the Nasib border crossing, remains in opposition hands.

Syrian state media said government forces were targeting rebel positions in the southernmost parts of the province, and reported one person killed in opposition fire on government-held districts of Daraa city.

The bombing on rebel areas throughout the day Thursday sparked a new wave of displacement, with people streaming into olive groves and arid fields in search of safety.

Bahaa Mahameed, a doctor working in Daraa’s western countryside, said wounded civilians were streaming into his clinic after several days of calm.

“The warplanes are bombing like crazy. We can’t even find a safe place to put the wounded,” Mahameed told AFP.

– UN to meet –

Rebel territory in southern Syria was already included in a ceasefire agreed last year between Washington, Amman, and Moscow, but that did little to halt the regime’s attack.

The onslaught has sparked calls for restraint, and the United Nations Security Council is set to hold a closed-door emergency meeting on the offensive later Thursday.

Daraa is considered the cradle of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that triggered Syria’s devastating civil war.

Nearly 150 civilians have died since the assault in the south began, according to the Observatory.

The offensive has also displaced 320,000 people, according to the United Nations, many south to the border with Jordan or west to near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Both countries have kept their borders closed, despite mounting calls to let Syrians escape to safety.

The International Rescue Committee said displaced families were struggling to cope with 45-degree heat, dry desert winds and scorpions and snakes.

Children were reported to be hit with cases of diarrhoea and lice after spending more than a week on the border.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the hostilities were hindering UN efforts to provide cross-border aid from Jordan.

“Thousands of innocent lives are going to be lost, once again, if urgent action is not taken,” he warned.

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Middle East

US withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal benefits no one: Rouhani

As the United States is reinstating sanctions on Iran, Rouhani is trying to seek supports from EU countries to secure Tehran’s interests under the nuclear deal.

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Vienna, July 5 (IANS) Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who’s on a visit here on Wednesday, said that no one will get benefits from US withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

“Not the US, not any other country would benefit from this decision to withdraw from the accord,” he said.
He told a press conference that Tehran would prefer to stay in the deal and continue to cooperate and meet its obligations, if the remaining signatories respect its interests, Xinhua reported.

Rouhani was in Vienna on Wednesday on his second leg of his European tour, which also brought him to Switzerland.

As the United States is reinstating sanctions on Iran, Rouhani is trying to seek supports from EU countries to secure Tehran’s interests under the nuclear deal.

Iran signed the landmark nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) with the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China plus Germany in 2015 to halt its nuclear weapons program in exchange for sanctions relief.

However, US President Donald Trump decided on May 8 to quit the deal and vowed to re-impose sanctions, including oil embargo, on Tehran, on grounds that the deal had failed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons or supporting terrorism in the region.

The US withdrawal from the landmark nuclear deal has been widely criticized, as some of its major European allies have been working to prevent the 2015 deal from falling apart.

Rouhani also discussed other issues in the Middle East region with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

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Middle East

Syria rebels say talks with Russia over south ‘fail’

The talks with the Russian enemy in Bosra al-Sham have failed because of their insistence on handing over heavy weapons.

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Asad Putin

AMMAN, July 4 – Syrian rebel negotiators and Russian officers failed on Wednesday to reach an agreement that would end fighting in southern Syrian, a rebel spokesman said.

“The talks with the Russian enemy in Bosra al-Sham have failed because of their insistence on handing over heavy weapons,” Abu Shaima, a spokesman of the central operations room representing main FSA factions negotiating with the Russians told Reuters.

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