Israel freed 26 Palestinian prisoners early yesterday, but pledged to build thousands of new settler homes, just hours before a new round of peace talks that followed a three-year hiatus.
As Palestinians celebrated the release of a first batch of 104 prisoners, most of whom had been serving life for killing Israelis, Israeli Minister of Housing Uri Ariel vowed to build thousands more settler homes in the occupied West Bank.
“We will build thousands of homes in the coming year in Judaea and Samaria,” he told public radio, using the biblical term for the West Bank. “No one dictates where we can build.”
His provocative remarks were made as the negotiating teams readied for their first direct talks in the region in nearly three years, following marathon efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry who managed to draw the two sides back to the table in Washington on July 30.
However, the talks looked set to be overshadowed by a deepening rift over settlements, sparked by Israel’s announcement in the past three days that it would move ahead with 2,129 new settler homes, more than three-quarters of them in annexed east Jerusalem.
An initial announcement on Sunday of 1,187 new homes for Jewish settlers was followed a day later by the approval of another 942 settlement homes in east Jerusalem, infuriating the Palestinians, who want the land for a future state.
“This settlement expansion is unprecedented,” senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Yasser Abed Rabbo said on Tuesday, warning that it could bring about the “collapse” of the talks.
“It threatens to make talks fail even before they’ve started,” he said.
The last round of direct peace talks broke down just weeks after they were launched in September 2010 in a bitter row over settlements.
In a bid to defuse the growing crisis, Kerry phoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas late on Tuesday, a senior Palestinian source said.
“The call Abbas received tonight from Kerry is part of ongoing US efforts to defuse a crisis before the talks [begin], as a result of the new settlement tenders today and in the last few days,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We are waiting for the United States to take a clear stance on the escalating settlement building, which we consider the biggest obstacle that Israel is creating to stop serious talks from happening.”
Abbas’ office also confirmed he had received a telephone call from Kerry “to discuss developments in the peace process, on the eve of the resumption of negotiations.”
Despite the row, there were celebrations in the Palestinian territories overnight as Israel made good on a pledge to release 26 prisoners, a key component of the deal that brought the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
Eleven of them received a hero’s welcome at the Muqataa presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah where they were met by thousands of cheering, dancing supporters at a ceremony addressed by Abbas.
“This is the first group,” Abbas told the crowd at the celebration which began well after midnight.
“We shall continue until we free all the prisoners from Israeli jails,” he said.
EVOLVING SITUATION: Of the latest cases, 23 percent were found to be asymptomatic, but the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more contagious, authorities said A COVID-19 outbreak that began in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang more than a week ago has spread to at least four city factories with a combined workforce of about 3,700, state media reported yesterday. Four cases were found at the plants in different industrial parks in the central city that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said. Vietnam, praised widely for its decisive measures to combat the novel coronavirus since it first appeared in late January, is battling new clusters of infection having gone for more than three months without detecting any domestic transmissions. Authorities yesterday reported one new
‘COVIDIOTS’: Politicians condemned the protest that came amid surging infections in the country, while a marcher said government-induced fear weakened the body Loudly chanting their opposition to masks and vaccines, thousands of people on Saturday gathered in Berlin to protest against COVID-19 restrictions before being dispersed by police. Police put turnout at about 20,000 — well below the 500,000 organizers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” from months of virus curbs. Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over the past few weeks and politicians took to social media to criticize the rally as irresponsible. “We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists, as they converged
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable
SURGE CONTINUES: India recorded its steepest spike of more than 57,000 new virus cases in 24 hours, as Vietnam went from no virus deaths to reporting three South Korean prosecutors yesterday arrested the elderly leader of a secretive religious sect as part of an investigation into allegations that the church hampered the government’s COVID-19 response after thousands of worshipers were infected in February and March. Prosecutors in the central city of Suwon have been questioning 88-year-old Lee Man-hee, chairman of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, over charges that the church hid some members and underreported gatherings to avoid broader quarantines. The Suwon District Court granted prosecutors’ request to arrest Lee over concerns that he could temper with evidence. Lee and his church have steadfastly denied the accusations, saying they are