Saturday, 20 March 2010

Middle East Quartet call on Israel to freeze settlements on second day of rocket attacks from Gaza

By MATTHEW KALMAN in Jerusalem
DAILY MAIL 19th March 2010

Two Palestinians have been wounded as rockets continue to slam into southern Israel, the day after a farm worker was hit and killed by a strike from Gaza.

Overnight, Israeli jets hit six targets inside Gaza used for the smuggling and production of weapons.

As violence escalated on the ground, in Moscow, the Middle East Quartet of nations condemned the Palestinian rocket attacks and called on Israel to freeze all construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to help re-start stalled peace talks.

A rocket fired across the border from Gaza landed in open fields around 12pm on Friday, the fifth rocket fired in a 48-hour period.

A sixth rocket apparently exploded inside the Hamas-controlled area as it was being launched.

In the early hours of Friday morning, Israeli jets struck at six sites in the Gaza Strip that the Israeli army said were used by Palestinians to smuggle, manufacture and deploy weapons against Israel.

Two Palestinians were slightly injured.

The targets included three smuggling tunnels underneath the Gaza-Egypt border, a weapons manufacturing workshop near Gaza City and two ‘terror tunnels’ underneath the northern Gaza border leading into Israel.

‘The two terror tunnels were dug one kilometer from the security fence, for the purpose of infiltrating Israel and executing terror attacks against Israeli civilians or IDF soldiers,’ an Israeli army spokesman said.

More than 330 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza in the past year, including the one on Thursday that hit and killed a farm labourer from Thailand working in greenhouses in northern Netiv Ha’asara.

Matan Vilnai, Israel’s deputy defence minister, said: ‘Israel is not interested in a military confrontation, but will not allow attacks on its citizens.

‘Hamas must prevent any and all attacks on Israel to avoid a deterioration of the situation.’

In Moscow, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon led a meeting of the Middle East Quartet – the UN, EU, U.S. and Russia – ahead of his first visit to the region on Saturday.

The Quartet denounced both Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli settlement expansion, including plans for new Israeli homes in East Jerusalem that prompted Palestinians to withdraw from indirect peace talks scheduled to begin this week.

‘The proximity talks are an important step toward the resumption, without pre-conditions, of direct, bilateral negotiations,’ the Quartet said in a statement, saying it expected a peace deal within 24 months.

As violence once again took hold around Gaza, that seemed an optimistic forecast.

The group also declared its strong support for its representative in Jerusalem, former Tony Blair, who is trying to gather international support for a two-year state-building blueprint drafted by the moderate Palestinian Authority government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat urged the Quartet to monitor Israeli settlement activity.

‘The Israelis have the choice now, either to continue with settlement activities or to engage with the peace process,’ Erekat said.

‘I don't think we can have a meaningful peace process without Israel stopping all settlement activities.’

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