Paris Condemns Israeli Decision to Legalize Housing in West Bank

Paris, Feb 7 (Prensa Latina) French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault condemned today the adoption of a law in the Israeli Parliament aimed at endorsing thousands of houses built on Palestinian land in the West Bank.

In a statement, the minister questioned that the legislation contributes to perpetuating 'the existence of dozens of colonies and settlements by giving them a legal basis for their future development.'

That fact, he added, could aggravate tensions in the region, so 'I call on Israel to respect its international obligations and to reconsider this law.'

Ayrault recalled the resolution adopted at the United Nations on December 23, 2016 declaring colonization an illegal act under international law.

He also pointed out that the law passed by Israel undermines the two-state solution, endorsed by much of the international community as the only way to resolve the conflict peacefully.

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Iran Confirms Recent Missile Test, but Says It Was Lawful

TEHRAN — Iran confirmed on Wednesday that it recently conducted a missile test, but it rejected accusations from the United States that the launch had violated a United Nations Security Council resolution.

The confirmation by the defense minister, Hossein Dehghan, was the first by an Iranian official since the country was accused of violating the 2015 resolution because the test involved a ballistic missile that could theoretically carry a nuclear warhead.

The remarks came a day after President Hassan Rouhani disparaged President Trump for his immigration order barring refugees, as well as citizens of seven predominantly-Muslim countries including Iran.

“Banning visas for other nations is the act of newcomers to the political scene,” Mr. Rouhani said.

Mr. Dehghan emphasized that the missile test did not, in Iran’s view, violate the terms of the resolution, nor those of the 2015 nuclear agreement that preceded it.

No country will be allowed to interfere in Iranian domestic affairs, he said, adding that tests would definitely continue.

“Our nation has tested itself in this path,” Mr. Dehghan said, adding that the world had “tested us” and that “these statements and measures cannot affect the will of our nation.”

Mr. Trump has repeatedly described the 2015 nuclear agreement, reached with the United States and other countries, as “a very bad deal,” and many of his advisers have argued in speeches and books that Iran is the biggest threat to American interests.

“You’re going to see us call them out as we said we would, and you are also going to see us act accordingly,” Nikki R. Haley, the new United States ambassador to the United Nations, said on Tuesday.

The United States called an urgent meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday to discuss the matter.

Iran does not have a modern fleet of fighter jets, but it has tried to compensate in recent decades by building an extensive defense program, with missiles able to strike Israel and Southern and Eastern Europe.

It has denied that its missiles can carry nuclear warheads, a view that has been supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors parts of the execution of the nuclear agreement.

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‘Systematic unlawful killings’: European group slams Israel for Gaza deaths

Israel has come under fire for carrying out “systematic unlawful killings” of Palestinian civilians in a buffer zone near Gaza, and causing over 17,000 to flee the area due to the dire plight, in the resolution adopted by a European inter-governmental group.

The Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe (PACE) voted in favor of the proposal based on the group’s internal report providing harrowing details on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The report was initially presented to the 324 parliamentarians from 47 countries by the document’s author, Swedish politician Eva-Lena Jansson, on January 4.

The document cites the death toll since 2014, saying “Over 2,200 people have died, of whom most were civilians, including 551 children,” adding that more than 11,000 people have been injured in the conflict.

The report accuses Israel of “excessive and intentional force without justification against Palestinian civilians in the buffer zone, including against farmers, journalists, medical crews and peaceful protesters, [which] runs blatantly counter to human rights principles and the international law-enforcement standards.”

Since the summer of 2014, the document says, a “huge number of people [have been] killed”, with the destruction of civil infrastructure “enormous”, and the locals’ plight became so dire that they chose to escape from Gaza and “join the masses of refugees going to Europe.”

“It is estimated that over 12,620 houses were totally destroyed [in Gaza] and 6,455 severely damaged. 17,650 families or about 100,000 persons were displaced,” the report said.

The resolution is non-binding and non-enforceable, with 46 having voted in favor and 12 against, with two abstentions.

Israeli representatives branded the resolution a “distorted and a selective representation of reality”, and said that the document was founded “on rumors, not on facts”, as cited by the Times of Israel.

“We withdrew our citizens and even our dead from Gaza in 2005, in exchange we got rocket attacks,” the representative Aliza Lavie said, adding that Israel gives a third of Gaza’s power “at a cost of a billion dollars,” and claiming that more than 130,000 Palestinians got free medical care in Israel last year.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said he doesn’t rule out occupying Gaza in the next conflict.

“If a quarter of the Strip is needed, then we occupy a quarter of the Strip. If more, then more,” he said, as cited by Haaretz.

He also suggested that outside powers shouldn’t “touch the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” saying these attempts are “mostly disruptive.”

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Israel approves 2,500 new West Bank housing units

Israel will build 2,500 additional homes in the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank territories, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced. Most of them will expand the existing settlement areas.

The plans have been authorized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and are intended to allow the settlements “to maintain regular daily life,” the ministry said in a statement.

“It will be one of the largest industrial zones in the West Bank, in which we are planning to set up warehouse and fuel storage infrastructure, along with other elements,” the statement reads.

The news comes days after Israel announced a similar expansion of housing units in East Jerusalem.

READ MORE Israel approves 560 new illegal homes in E. Jerusalem as Trump takes office

The Israeli settlement policy goes against international law and has been the subject of much criticism from other nations, including the US under the Obama administration. Observers believe that the announcements, made in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration last Friday, are intended to signal Israel’s expectation of support from the new US president.

The ministry said that 100 of the homes would be built in the town of Beit El, Reuters reported. This settlement has received funding from the family of Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to Israeli media.

On Monday, Netanyahu reportedly told members of his security cabinet that he had decided to lift all restrictions on Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, which were put in place under diplomatic pressure, Haaretz newspaper wrote, citing senior officials briefed on the situation. The PM also announced his plans for moving forward with settlement expansion in the West Bank, according to the paper.

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Syria Denounces Israeli Air Raid on Damascus Military Airport

Damascus, Jan 13 (Prensa Latina) Israeli war planes reportedly attacked last night a military airport in the outskirt of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

A report by the local Sama TV channel shows an intense fire in the area following several explosions caused by rockets, while ambulances and rescue vehicles were arriving at the site.

There've been reports on human loss, and the General Command of the Syrian Forces warned the Zionist regime of likely consequences for its actions.

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Kerry’s Mid-East speech will ‘ensure chaos lasts after Obama admin’ – Israeli minister

The outgoing US secretary of state is to remark on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday. Israel’s security minister called the intention “pathetic” and accused John Kerry of “trying to make chaos” that will last past his tenure.

The US State Department announced on Tuesday night that Kerry will deliver remarks on the state of the Middle East peace process and why America abstained during a UN Security Council vote on a resolution criticizing Israel’s construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Delivered less than a month before President Barack Obama steps down, the speech is expected to be the last work from his administration on the decades-old conflict. After Kerry replaced Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in 2003, he made Israeli-Palestinian peace a priority and pushed for direct negotiations. However, they didn’t last the nine months they were expected to, collapsing in April 2014 without any tangible result. In June of that year, Israel launched a 50-day military campaign in Gaza.

Commenting on the upcoming speech, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said it was “pathetic to present a [peace] plan at the last minute when [Kerry] hasn't managed in changing anything for his entire time in office.”

“It's unfortunate that the Obama Administration, that erred for years in the Middle East, is trying to make sure that the chaos will last far past its tenure,” Erdan said late on Tuesday night, as cited by the Jerusalem Post.

“Kerry's speech on parameters right before the end of his tenure will make sure that the Palestinians won't agree to any sort of negotiations [with Israel] in the coming years and will [put] off chances of advancing peace.”

The spat comes days after the US abstained at a UN Security Council vote, allowing other members pass a resolution criticizing Israel for the continued construction of settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.

Washington’s failure to veto the draft, as it routinely did with other UNSC votes targeting Israel over the decades, angered the Israeli government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Obama administration of orchestrating the passage of the damning resolution.

The US denied the accusation, saying there was “nothing pre-cooked” about it.

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Trump calls UN club for people to 'have a good time'

President-elect Donald Trump lashed out at the United Nations on Monday days after the Security Council voted to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Taking to Twitter, he said the U.N. has “such great potential,” but has become “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”

@realDonaldTrump The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!

Trump also gave a stark warning to the U.N. after Friday’s vote, saying “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th," referring to the day he takes office.

The president-elect has taken a more pro-Israel stance since telling the Associated Press in an interview last December that he wanted to be “very neutral” on Israel-Palestinian issues. However, since getting into the thick of his presidential campaign, he has moved toward favoring Israel. He has said the Palestinians have been "taken over" by or are condoning militant groups.

The Obama administration abstained from Friday’s vote, brushing aside Trump’s demands that the U.S. exercise its veto power and providing a climax to years of icy relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. slammed the resolution on Monday, suggesting the incoming Trump administration and Congress should take a close look at how much money the U.S. hands over to the U.N.

Ambassador Ron Dermer doubled down on Israel's claim the U.S. orchestrated the resolution vote before abstaining last week in an interview with Fox News' “Special Report.” Still, he gave few specifics. "We have that evidence... we're going to present it to the new administration, and if they choose to share it with the American people, that'll be their choice."

The ambassador responded to calls from some prominent Republicans to stop all U.S. funds bound for the U.N. "I think a new president and Congress that wants to make sure that every penny of your money is going to something that protects and defends and advances U.S. interests -- I think there's a lot of changes that could happen at the United Nations," Dermer said.

This year the U.N. Security Council has approved over 70 legally binding resolutions, including new sanctions on North Korea and measures tackling conflicts and authorizing the U.N.'s far-flung peacekeeping operations around the world. The General Assembly has also approved dozens of resolutions on issues, like the role of diamonds in fueling conflicts; condemned human rights abuses in Iran and North Korea; and authorized an investigation of alleged war crimes in Syria.

Trump's criticism of the U.N. is by no means unique. While the organization does engage in large-scale humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts, its massive bureaucracy has long been a source of controversy. The organization has been accused by some Western governments of being inefficient and frivolous, while developing nations have said it is overly influenced by wealthier nations.

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Trump once donated $10,000 to a West Bank Israeli settlement

In 2003, President-elect Donald Trump donated $10,000 to institutions in one of Israel’s oldest and most steadfast West Bank settlements, one of the community’s founders told an Israeli radio station on Sunday.

Yaakov “Katzele” Katz, one of the original settlers of Beit El, said on the radio that Trump had made the donation in honor of his good friend and Jewish adviser David Friedman, now Trump’s pick to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. Friedman, a New York lawyer, serves as president of the American Friends of Bet El Institutions.

Katz told the radio station that more than a decade ago, the settlement honored Friedman at a gala dinner in New York. It was then that Trump made his donation.

“If I would have known he would be elected president, I would have saved the check,” Katz said. He said that Friedman was like a brother to him. The two have been friends for 40 years.

[Israel says no U.S. ambassador has been as right-wing as Trump’s pick]

Trump's pick for ambassador to Israel signals shift in foreign policy

President-elect Donald Trump has tapped David Friedman to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. The bankruptcy attorney welcomed the announcement, saying he's looking forward to taking up his post in Jerusalem, a nod to Trump's pledge to move the U.S. embassy out of Tel Aviv. (Reuters)

Friedman’s nomination as ambassador was warmly welcomed by many Israelis, especially those living in some 300 Jewish communities in the West Bank. But it also drew sharp criticism because Friedman is an outspoken supporter of the settlements, which the Obama administration has often said are the main impediment to achieving a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

[Israel rejects latest U.S. criticism of settlement policy]

Katz, a former member of the Israeli parliament, did not comment further on Trump’s donation but said the money was used for the settlement’s yeshivas, or Jewish learning institutions. Trump has donated money to many yeshivas in Israel and the United States.

The Jerusalem Post published an article Sunday showing a 2003 U.S. tax form from the Trump Foundation, which listed a $10,000 donation to American Friends of Bet El.

The group’s website also shows that financial support for the settlement came from the family of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. The website shows that his parents, Charles and Seryl Kushner, are on the fundraising organization’s founding board of trustees. The group recently held its gala fundraising event in New York.

Beit El was established in 1977 on a hill on the outskirts of the de facto Palestinian capital of Ramallah. Today, about 1,300 families live in the settlement. As well as the yeshiva, the settlers there also run a pre-military academy and house one of Israel’s most right-wing media outlets, Arutz Sheva.

Read more  Trump continues his post-election ‘thank you’ tour

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