News & Current Affairs

July 20, 2009

Honduran crisis talks break down

Honduran crisis talks break down

Supporters of Manuel Zelaya in Tegucigalpa, Honduras (14 July 2009)

Mr Zelaya’s supporters say he remains the rightful leader of Honduras

Honduras’s interim government has rejected a proposal to solve the country’s political crisis, in effect ending talks with the ousted president.

The delegation’s head said Costa Rica’s proposal, which would see Manuel Zelaya return as leader of a unity government, was “absolutely unacceptable”.

Mr Zelaya’s representatives said they would no longer negotiate with the interim leaders’ current delegation.

Mediators have asked both sides to resume talks in three days.

“It was not possible to reach a satisfactory agreement,” said President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, who is leading mediations and has presented both parties with a seven-point proposal.

“The Zelaya delegation fully accepted my proposal, but not that of Don Roberto Micheletti.”

Their take on power is based on terror and force instead of peace and reason
Manuel Zelaya

Mr Arias has warned of possible civil war if the talks fail and urged both sides to continue.

“My conscience tells me that I cannot give up and must continue working for at least three more days and that is what I propose to do,” he said.

Mr Zelaya, who is currently in Nicaragua, said one “must never close the door on actions of good faith” but that he doubted the mediators could achieve much.

“I do not think that efforts with coup-mongers, just as with terrorists and kidnappers, will work,” he told Reuters news agency.

“Their take on power is based on terror and force instead of peace and reason.”

He later said his supporters were “organising internal resistance” in preparation for this return to the country, which he indicated could happen at the weekend.

Mr Zelaya called on the international community to act in his support and to “back us in restoring democratic order”.

The US, which has supported Mr Zelaya, urged the political rivals to reflect on the “significant progress” made at the talks and to “commit themselves to their successful conclusion”.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the Organisation of American States (OAS) and other interested parties “underscore their commitment to the peaceful resolution of political disputes through dialogue”.

‘Dialogue over’

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and representatives of Honduras talks in San Jose (19 July 2009)

Mr Arias has warned of possible civil war if the situation is not resolved

“I’m very sorry, but the proposals that you have presented are unacceptable to the constitutional government of Honduras,” said Carlos Lopez, the head of the interim government, led by Roberto Micheletti.

He said Mr Micheletti’s side objected in particular to the first point of Mr Arias’s plan, which proposes “the legitimate restitution” of Mr Zelaya as the head of a reconciliation government until early elections are held in October.

Mr Arias also proposed an amnesty for political crimes committed before and after the 28 June coup.

Mr Zelaya’s representatives had previously said they accepted the proposal for reinstating the deposed leader and were “willing to discuss all the other points”.

But following Sunday’s statement from the interim government, the delegation said the talks were effectively over, although it had not ruled out future talks with the coup leaders.

“This dialogue with this commission of the de facto, military coup government is finished,” said Rixi Moncada, one of Mr Zelaya’s representatives.

Mr Zelaya was forced into exile on 28 June. The interim government has said he will be arrested if he comes back.

It prevented an earlier attempted homecoming on 5 July.

On Sunday, Mr Zelaya said it was his right as a Honduran to return to the country and “absolutely no-one” would stop him, Reuters reported.

He later suggested he would return at the weekend, saying by then his supporters would have “all the necessary activities” in place, “as laid out in the law and the constitution and international mandates,” the agency quoted him as saying.

It would not be hard for Mr Zelaya to cross the long and mountainous border between Nicaragua and Honduras, but there is great concern that it will lead to bloodshed if he does.

Mr Arias said he was concerned that a “good part” of the Honduran population own firearms.

“What happens if one of those arms shoots a soldier? Or if a soldier shoots an armed civilian?

“There could be a civil war and bloodshed that the Honduran people do not deserve,” he said.

‘No return’

Ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya in Managua, Nicaragua (17 July 2009)

Mr Zelaya said it was his right to return to Honduras

Speaking to the EXPRESS in Nicaragua on Saturday, Mr Zelaya said he would not agree to anything that gave concessions to the people who ousted him from office.

Arturo Corrales, representing Mr Micheletti, had accused Mr Zelaya of bad faith.

He said Mr Zelaya’s insistence on forming a unity government went against the spirit of the talks and showed “a wish in Honduras to keep violating our constitution and our laws”.

The negotiations in Costa Rica have benefitted the interim government by buying it time, and also because it has been treated with an equal status to the elected leaders, says our correspondent.

Mr Micheletti heads a military-backed government, which ousted Mr Zelaya amid a dispute with Congress and the courts.

Mr Zelaya had planned to hold a non-binding public consultation to ask people whether they supported moves to change the constitution.

His critics said the move was unconstitutional and aimed to remove the current one-term limit on serving as president and pave the way for his possible re-election.

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Space station toilet breaks down

Space station toilet breaks down

Toilet (Nasa)

The $100bn ISS has been blighted by toilet trouble

The main toilet has broken down on the International Space Station (ISS), currently home to a record 13 astronauts, Nasa said.

Mission Control told the crew to hang an “out of service” sign until the toilet can be fixed.

The crew of the shuttle Endeavour is confined to using the craft’s loo. ISS residents are using a back-up toilet in the Russian part of the station.

If repairs fail, Apollo-era urine collection bags are on hand, Nasa said.

“We don’t yet know the extent of the problem,” flight director Brian Smith told reporters, adding that the toilet troubles were “not going to be an issue” for now.

Bad plumbing?

The main toilet, a multi-million-dollar Russian-built unit, was flown up and installed on the US side of the space station last year.

ISS, July 17 (Nasa)

It had broken down once before, requiring a rush delivery of a replacement pump by the shuttle Discovery in 2008.

And another toilet-related row broke out earlier this year, when a Russian cosmonaut complained that he was no longer allowed to use the US toilet because of billing and cost issues.

Despite the latest housekeeping setback, astronauts managed to transfer spare parts from the shuttle Endeavour to the ISS on Sunday, the second day of a planned 11-day mission.

Nasa was also investigating why Endeavour’s tank shed an unusually large amount of insulating foam during its launch.

July 19, 2009

Afghan helicopter crash kills 16

Afghan helicopter crash kills 16

Russian-built Mi-8. File photo

Russian media say the aircraft was an Mi-8 similar to this

A civilian helicopter has crashed in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 16 civilians and injuring five, Nato officials have confirmed.

The helicopter crashed at Kandahar airfield apparently as it was trying to take off, though Nato has ruled out the involvement of insurgents.

Reports from Moscow say the helicopter was a Russian-built Mi-8.

The crash is the second in a week. Six passengers died when a helicopter came down in Helmand province on Tuesday.

‘Not shot down’

Russia’s Interfax agency quoted a spokesman for Russia’s Federal Air Transportation Agency (Fata) as saying the aircraft was a Russian-built Mi-8 transport helicopter.

Map

Fata said it was owned by the Russian air company Vertical-T.

The nationalities of the dead are not yet known.

A statement from Nato’s International Security Assistance Force said: “A civilian contracted helicopter crashed during take-off from Kandahar airfield.

“Emergency personnel are on the scene. There was no indication of the cause of the accident but insurgent action has been ruled out.”

Kandahar airfield is Nato’s largest air base in southern Afghanistan but the BBC’s Martin Patience in Kabul says a lot of civilian aircraft fly in and out so there is no surprise this was a civilian crash.

A Nato spokeswoman, Lt Cmdr Sam Truelove, told the AFP news agency it had been confirmed that all the dead were civilians and no military personnel were involved.

RECENT HELICOPTER CRASHES
14 Jul 2008: Six Ukrainian civilians and Afghan girl die in crash in Helmand. Suspected enemy fire
6 Jul 2008: One UK and two Canadian soldiers die in crash in Zabul province. Enemy fire not suspected
15 Jan 2008: Afghan general and 12 other soldiers die in crash in Herat province. Bad weather blamed
30 May 2007: Seven killed as Nato Chinook crashes in Helmand. Cause unclear

The condition of the injured was not known, she said.

Vertical-T was founded in 1992 and started to work abroad in 1998 in Italy. It has worked in countries including Germany, East Timor, Cyprus, Yemen and Greece, according to the company’s website.

The company’s helicopters are currently carrying out operations in the interests of the UN in Afghanistan and a number of other countries including Congo, Sudan and Pakistan.

The dead in Tuesday’s crash in Helmand were all civilians.

That helicopter crashed near the Sangin military base, with local people saying it had been shot down by insurgents.

Six Ukrainian crew members of the Mi-26 helicopter died, along with an Afghan girl on the ground.

July 16, 2009

New element named ‘copernicium’

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:19 pm

New element named ‘copernicium’

Periodic Table (Science Photo Library)

The Periodic Table will be one element longer

Discovered 13 years ago, and officially added to the periodic table just weeks ago, element 112 finally has a name.

It will be called “copernicium”, with the symbol Cp, in honour of the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.

Copernicus deduced that the planets revolved around the Sun, and finally refuted the belief that the Earth was the centre of the Universe.

The team of scientists who discovered the element chose the name to honour the man who “changed our world view”.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) will officially endorse the new element’s name in six month’s time in order to give the scientific community “time to discuss the suggestion”.

Scientists from the Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Germany, led by Professor Sigurd Hofmann, discovered copernicium in fusion experiments in 1996.

“After IUPAC officially recognised our discovery, we agreed on proposing the name (because) we would like to honour an outstanding scientist,” said Professor Hofmann.

Copernicus was born 1473 in Torun, Poland. His finding that the planets circle the sun underpins much of modern science. It was pivotal for the discovery of gravity, and led to the conclusion that the stars are incredibly far away and that the Universe is inconceivably large.

Under IUPAC rules, the team were not allowed to name the element after a living person. But when asked if, rules aside, he would have liked to have “hofmanium” added to the periodic table, Professor Hofmann told News: “No, I think copernicium sounds much better.”

July 15, 2009

Israel soldiers speak out on Gaza

Israel soldiers speak out on Gaza

Israeli soldiers deployed on the Israel-Gaza border 28 Decmeber 2008

Soldier testimonies appear to contradict official Israeli statements

A group of soldiers who took part in Israel’s assault in Gaza say widespread abuses were committed against civilians under “permissive” rules of engagement.

The troops said they had been urged to fire on any building or person that seemed suspicious and said Palestinians were sometimes used as human shields.

Breaking the Silence, a campaign group made up of Israeli soldiers, gathered anonymous accounts from 26 soldiers.

Israel denies breaking the laws of war and dismissed the report as hearsay.

The report says testimonies show “the massive and unprecedented blow to the infrastructure and civilians” was a result of Israeli military policy, articulated by the rules of engagement, and encouraged by a belief “the reality of war requires them to shoot and not to ask questions”.

One soldier is quoted saying: “The soldiers were made to understand that their lives were the most important, and that there was no way our soldiers would get killed for the sake of leaving civilians the benefit of the doubt.”

Paul Wood
From Paul Wood,Courtesy
BBC Middle East correspondent:

Until now, Israel always had a ready answer to allegations of war crimes in Gaza. Claims were, they said, Palestinian propaganda. Now the accusations of abuse are being made by Israeli soldiers.

The common thread in the testimonies is that orders were given to prevent Israeli casualties whatever the cost in Palestinian lives.

The Israeli military says past allegations of wrong-doing in Gaza were the result of soldiers recycling rumours.

But Breaking the Silence has a long – and to many, credible – record in getting soldiers to talk about experiences which might not reflect well on the army.

Another says: “People were not instructed to shoot at everyone they see, but they were told that from a certain distance when they approach a house, no matter who it is – even an old woman – take them down.”

Many of the testimonies are in line with claims made by human rights organisations that Israeli military action in Gaza was indiscriminate and disproportionate.

Amnesty International has accused both Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group in charge in Gaza, of committing war crimes during the 22-day conflict which ended on 18 January.

Israeli officials insist troops went to great lengths to protect civilians, that Hamas endangered non-combatants by firing from civilian areas and that homes and buildings were destroyed only when there was a specific military need to do so.

‘Ill discipline’

Other allegations in the testimonies of the 14 conscripts and 12 reserve soldiers include:

• Civilians were used as human shields, entering buildings ahead of soldiers

You can’t identify too much at night and anything that moves you engage in order not to take risks. It was not defined this way officially, but it was obvious
Anonymous Israeli soldier

• Large swathes of homes and buildings were demolished as a precaution or to secure clear lines of fire for the future.

• Some of the troops had a generally aggressive, ill-disciplined attitude

• There was incidents of vandalism of property of Palestinians

• Soldiers fired at water tanks because they were bored, at a time of severe water shortages for Gazans

• White phosphorus was used in civilian areas in a way some soldiers saw as gratuitous and reckless

• Many of the soldiers said there had been very little direct engagement with Palestinian militants.

The report says Israeli troops and the people who justify their actions are “slid[ing] together down the moral slippery slope”.

“This is an urgent call to Israeli society and its leaders to sober up and investigate anew the results of our actions,” Breaking the Silence says.

Israel said the purpose of Operation Cast Lead had been to end rocket fire from Gaza aimed at its southern towns.

Palestinian rights groups say about 1,400 Palestinians died during the operation. Thirteen Israelis died in the conflict, including 10 soldiers serving in Gaza.

According to the UN, the campaign damaged or destroyed more than 50,000 homes, 800 industrial properties, 200 schools, 39 mosques and two churches.

Investigations

Reacting to the report, Israeli military spokeswoman Lt Col Avital Leibovich said:

“The IDF [Israel Defence Forces] regrets the fact that another human rights organisation has come out with a report based on anonymous and general testimony – without investigating their credibility.”

She dismissed the document as “hearsay and word of mouth”.

“The IDF expects every soldier to turn to the appropriate authorities with any allegation,” Lt Col Leibovich added. “This is even more important where the harm is to non-combatants. The IDF has uncompromising ethical values which continue to guide us in every mission.”

There have been several investigations into the conduct of Israel’s operation in Gaza, and both Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that runs the territory, have faced accusations of war crimes.

An internal investigations by the Israeli military said troops fought lawfully, although errors did take place, such as the deaths of 21 people in a house that had been wrongly targeted.

A fact-finding team commissioned by the Arab League concluded there was enough evidence to prosecute the Israeli military for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that “the Israeli political leadership was also responsible for such crimes”.

It also said Palestinian militants were guilty of war crimes in their use of indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilians.

China tries to block Uighur film

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:52 pm

China tries to block Uighur film

Rebiya Kadeer 10.7.09

Rebiya Kadeer has campaigned for the rights of China’s Uighur community

Organisers of Melbourne’s International Film Festival have defied calls from China not to show a documentary about an exiled Uighur leader.

Festival director Richard Moore said a Chinese consular official had insisted that the film be withdrawn, but he had refused to do so.

The film, Ten Conditions of Love, centres on Rebiya Kadeer, the US-based head of the World Uighur Congress.

China accuses the group of inciting recent ethnic unrest in Xinjiang.

Beijing and Canberra are already locked in a row over an Australian mining executive who has been arrested for spying in China.

‘Strident’

Mr Moore said that after the event’s programme was published, he was contacted by Melbourne-based Chinese cultural attache Chunmei Chen who urged him to withdraw the film.

“I said I had no reason to withdraw the film from the festival and she then proceeded to tell me that I had to justify my decision to include the film in the festival.

“No-one reacts well to strident approaches, or to the appearance of being bullied. I don’t think it’s a positive way of behaving,” he added.

He said he told Ms Chen he did not have to justify the film’s inclusion, “then politely hung up”.

Ethnic Uighur women and Chinese troops in Urumqi (14.7.09)

Chinese troops have restored order in Xinjiang after bloody riots

The Chinese consulate in Melbourne has not commented on the incident.

China has accused Ms Kadeer of orchestrating recent bloodshed in Xinjiang, home to the ethnic Muslim Uighurs and a growing number of China’s Han majority.

Violence between the two groups this month has left more than 180 people dead and more than 1,600 injured, Chinese authorities say.

Ms Kadeer, one of China’s richest women, was jailed in China for endangering national security but released in 2005 on medical grounds. She now lives in the US.

Ten Conditions of Love, by Melbourne film-maker Jeff Daniels, tells of Ms Kadeer’s relationship with her activist husband Sidik Rouzi and the impact her campaigning had on her 11 children.

Three of her children have been jailed.

‘Spying’ arrest

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd warned China on Wednesday that governments and corporations around the world were watching how it handled the case of an Australian mining executive.

Stern Hu, the Australian head of Rio Tinto’s iron ore business in China, was detained on suspicion of industrial espionage relating to negotiations with Chinese steel mills over iron ore prices.

July 2, 2009

UN blames Israel for Gaza attacks

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:42 am
UN blames Israel for Gaza attacks

More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in
Israel’s month-long assault on Gaza [EPA]

A United Nations inquiry into the war in Gaza has found that Israel was to blame for at least seven direct attacks on UN operations – including schools and medical centres.

The UN report, commissioned by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said the Israeli military intentionally fired at UN facilities and civilians hiding in them during the war and used disproportionate force.

Missiles, bombs and small arms were all used by Israel against the UN – leading to dozens of deaths.

The UN’s own fuel and aid depot in Gaza was hit with Israeli artillery shells causing widespread damage.

The attack continued for two hours after the UN asked the Israeli military for it to stop.

‘Negligence and recklessness’

The report’s summary accused the Israeli army of “varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and to the safety of UN staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries and extensive physical damage and loss of property.” Ban said at a news conference on Tuesday that the aim of the report, which is not legally binding, was to establish “a clear record of the facts” surrounding incidents involving UN premises and personnel.

A total of 53 installations used by the United Nations Relief and Works agency (UNRWA) were damaged or destroyed during Israel’s Gaza campaign, including 37 schools – six of which were being used as emergency shelters – six health centres, and two warehouses, the UN agency said.

Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey in New York said the UN secretary-general was still determining the UN’s course of action over the report’s 11 recommendations.The report said the UN would seek reparations for damages from Israel and meet the Israeli government.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, told Al Jazeera that the report was “one-sided” and that he hoped Ban would take into account Israel’s response to it.

Israel’s army concluded its own report into the three-week war on Gaza in late April, finding that Israel followed international law and that while errors occurred they were “unavoidable”.

Notorious incident

The report found that in seven out of the nine incidents involving UN premises or operations that it investigated, “the death, injuries and damage involved were caused by military actions … by the IDF [Israeli army]”.

The UN has called for an impartial inquiry into alleged crimes during the war [AFP]

It also said one of the incidents, when a World Food Programme warehouse in the Karni industrial zone in Gaza was damaged, was largely caused by a rocket “most likely” fired by Hamas or another Palestinian faction and condemned those responsible for using such “indiscriminate weapons” to cause deaths and injuries.The investigation included one of the most notorious incidents in the war, when up to 40 people are believed to have died at a UN school in Jabaliya after Israeli mortar shells struck the area.

The UN initially said the shells had hit the school but later retracted the claim, while Israel initially said its forces were responding to firing from within the school, but also later reportedly withdrew the statement, although the UN report noted the claim still appeared on the Israeli foreign ministry’s website as of Tuesday.

The report also recommended that because there had been “many incidents” during the war involving civilian victims, an impartial inquiry should be mandated “to investigate allegations of violations of international law in Gaza and southern Israel by the IDF [Israeli army] and by Hamas and other Palestinian militants”.

Israel’s 22-day war on Gaza left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead, including around 400 children, Gaza health officials said, along with 13 Israelis.

Much of the coastal territory was also left in ruins.

Report ‘flawed’

Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, told Al Jazeera that the report was “fundamentally flawed” and contained “methodological problems are so deep that everyone has to ask on what basis they make these criticisms”.”Evidence shows one thing and the UN report clearly shows that they are not looking at reality.”

Israel has said the aim of its operations in Gaza was to cripple the Palestinian group Hamas’s ability to launch rockets into the south of Israel.

Earlier this month an Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed to Al Jazeera that it would not co-operate with a separate UN Human Rights Council investigation into alleged war crimes during the assault on the Gaza Strip.

International rights groups have accused both the Israeli military and Palestinian groups such as Hamas of violations throughout the conflict.

The UN secretary-general commissioned the report, written by a special committee led by Ian Martin, former head of Amnesty International, in January, shortly after fighting ended.

June 21, 2009

Greece urges return of sculptures

Greece urges return of sculptures

Greek President Karolos Papoulias has renewed his country’s call for Britain to return sculptures removed from the Parthenon in Athens 200 years ago.

At the opening of the Acropolis Museum, Mr Papoulias said it was “time to heal the wounds” of the ancient temple.

The new museum, opened five years behind schedule, houses sculptures from the golden age of Athens.

Britain has repeatedly refused to return dozens of 2,500-year-old marble friezes housed in the British Museum.

“Today the whole world can see the most important sculptures of the Parthenon assembled, but some are missing,” said Mr Papoulias.

“It’s time to heal the wounds of the monument with the return of the marbles which belong to it.”

‘International context’

The sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, originally decorated the Parthenon temple and have been in London since they were sold to the museum in 1817 by Lord Elgin.

He had them removed from the temple when he was visiting Greece, then under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

After several adventures, obstructions and criticism, the new Acropolis Museum is ready
Antonis Samaras

The British Museum long argued that Greece had no proper place to put them – an argument the Greek government hopes the Acropolis Museum addresses.

The opening ceremony was attended by heads of state and government and cultural envoys from about 30 countries, the UN and the EU.

There were no government officials from Britain, but the most senior British guest, Bonnie Greer, the deputy head of the board of trustees of the British Museum, said she believed more strongly than ever that the marbles should remain in London.

She argued that in London they are displayed in an international cultural context.

She said a loan was possible, but that would require Greece to acknowledge British ownership, something Greece refuses.

The British Museum holds 75m of the original 160m of the frieze that ran round the inner core of the building.

‘Act of barbarism’

Their reconstruction in the Acropolis Museum is based on several elements that remain in Athens, as well as copies of the marbles in London.

The modern glass and concrete building, at the foot of the Acropolis, holds about 350 artefacts and sculptures from the golden age of Athens that were previously held in a small museum on top of the Acropolis.

The structure is Greece’s answer to the British argument that there is nowhere in their country to house the Elgin marbles
Razia Iqbal, BBC arts correspondent

The £110m ($182m; 130m euros) structure, set out over three levels, also offers panoramic views of the stone citadel where they came from.

The third floor features the reconstruction of the Parthenon Marbles.

The copies are differentiated by their white colour – because they are plaster casts, contrasting with the weathered marble of the originals.

Museum director Prof Dimitris Pandermalis said the opening of the museum provides an opportunity to correct “an act of barbarism” in the sculptures’ removal.

“Tragic fate has forced them apart but their creators meant them to be together,” he said.

Bernard Tschumi, the building’s US-based architect, said: “It is a beautiful space that shows the frieze itself as a narrative – even with the plaster copies of what is in the British Museum – in the context of the Parthenon itself.”

January 7, 2009

UN chief demands Gaza ceasefire

UN chief demands Gaza ceasefire

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an immediate end to fighting in the Gaza Strip during a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York.

The US and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have backed a French-Egyptian ceasefire proposal.

Israel says it has agreed to set up a humanitarian corridor to allow aid into the Gaza Strip.

On the ground in Gaza, explosions were heard through the night. Israel says it carried out more than 30 air strikes.

Mr Ban criticised both Israel for its bombardment of Gaza and Hamas for firing rockets into Israel and urged Security Council members in New York to act “swiftly and decisively to put this crisis to an end”.

Map

“We need urgently to achieve Palestinian unity and the reunification of Gaza with the West Bank within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority,” he added.

More than 600 Palestinians are now believed to have been killed since Israel began its offensive 11 days ago. Palestinian health ministry officials say at least 195 children are among those killed.

An Israeli attack on Tuesday on a school building, which Israel says was sheltering militants, left at least 30 people dead and 55 injured, UN officials say.

Israel, which has vowed to reduce rocket attacks from Gaza on its territory, has lost seven soldiers on the ground. Four people within Israel have been killed by rockets.

In another development, Venezuela ordered the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador in protest at the Gaza offensive and its “flagrant violations of international law”.

Support for truce

The ceasefire plan proposed jointly by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and French President Nicolas Sarkozy would bring together all the main parties and take all measures to end the conflict in Gaza.

The plan envisages the resumption of the delivery of aid to Gaza and talks with Israel on border security, a key issue for Israel as it says Hamas smuggles its rockets into Gaza via the Egyptian border.

Welcoming the proposal, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for a “ceasefire that can endure and that can bring real security”.

The contours of a possible diplomatic agreement are in place, the BBC’s Laura Trevelyan reports from the UN.

GAZA CRISIS BACKGROUND
Smoke rises over Gaza (06/01/2009)

However, if Israel continues to control the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza and can choose to stop it at any time this seems unlikely to command the support of Hamas, she notes.

Thus frenetic diplomacy in New York and in the Middle East is likely to continue.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, did not say whether Israel would accept the proposal but said it would take it “very, very seriously”.

Israel has proposed suspending attacks in specified parts of Gaza to allow people to stock up on essential goods.

The military will open up “areas for limited periods of time, during which the population will be able to receive the aid”, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said.

Andrew Whitley of the UN relief agency told the BBC that any relief in the conditions of the people of Gaza could only be a good thing:

“People have been weakened by 18 months of blockade and siege. They’ve been getting very little food, electricity or heat for a long time, and so they are in a very weakened condition.”

School carnage

UN officials have said that the al-Fakhura school in the Jabaliya refugee camp was being used as a refuge for hundreds of people when it was hit by Israeli shell-fire.

The Israeli military said its soldiers had come under mortar fire from Hamas militants inside the school. A spokesman for Hamas denied there had been any hostile fire coming from the school.

In all, at least 70 Palestinians and five Israeli soldiers were killed on Tuesday.

Israel says its offensive is stopping militants firing rockets but at least five hit southern Israel on Tuesday, injuring a baby.

Casualty claims in Gaza cannot be independently verified. Israel is refusing to let international journalists into Gaza, despite a supreme court ruling to allow a limited number of reporters to enter the territory.


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