Sun, Mar 21, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Israeli strike hits disused Gaza airport, injuring 11

QUARTET The group made up of the US, the UN, the EU and Russia called on Israel to stop settlements and to set a target of 2012 to begin peace talks with Palestinians

AFP , JERUSALEM, MOSCOW

Israeli aircraft hit a disused airport in southern Gaza on Friday night, injuring 11 people, two of them seriously, Palestinian medical officials and witnesses said.

Four missiles hit the site, the witnesses said. The injured were all in the vicinity of the airport, near the town of Rafah. The facility itself has long been closed.

An Israeli military statement described the target as “a terror site” and said pilots confirmed that it was hit.

It was the second night of Israeli raids since a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip killed a worker on an Israeli farm on Thursday.

Another rocket was fired into Israel earlier on Friday.

The cross-border exchanges came as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was headed for a weekend visit to Gaza, the West Bank and Israel and as the US sought to get Palestinians and Israelis talking peace.

Despite these tensions, the Middle East Quartet has called on Israel to stop building settlements, setting a bold target for a final deal with the Palestinians by 2012 in a bid to begin the stalled peace process.

However, Israel’s foreign minister — whose country angered the international community by announcing plans last week to build 1,600 new settler homes — swiftly condemned Friday’s statement as harming the chances for a peace accord.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon read out the joint statement agreed by the so-called Quartet comprising the US, the UN, the EU and Russia.

“The Quartet urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity ... to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001 and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem,” he said.

Israel’s plan to build more homes in annexed east Jerusalem led the Palestinians to call for a halt to peace talks and precipitated the worst crisis in US-Israeli relations in years.

Palestinians want to make East Jerusalem, the mainly Arab half of the Holy City, the capital of their future state.

The Quartet noted that Israel captured and annexed east Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War in a move not recognized by the international community, and that the city’s status had to be resolved through negotiations.

It also urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks on final status issues — security, borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of Palestinian refugees, and the status of Jerusalem — to find a settlement within 24 months.

Such a settlement would end “the occupation, which began in 1967, and result in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel,” Ban said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was particularly irked by the two-year deadline.

“Peace cannot be imposed artificially and with an unrealistic calendar,” he was quoted as saying in an address to the Jewish community in Brussels. “This type of statement only harms the possibilities of reaching an accord.”

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat welcomed the Quartet’s call, but asked for a mechanism to “make sure that Israel does effectively halt completely all settlement activity in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.”

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