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Daily Archives: August 27, 2008

US, Israel claim peace talks progress despite settlements

by Lachlan Carmichael*

The United States and Israel said yesterday that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were making progress despite what the Jewish state referred to as its small and limited settlement activities.
Visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni both struck upbeat notes despite the lack of tangible progress in a peace process launched last November in the United States.
"We continue to find the way to reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians," Livni, flanked by Rice, told reporters at a brief news conference. "Even in these hectic days we continue to negotiate."
Amid jockeying for power in Israel, Rice was making her first visit since Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on July 30 that he will resign to battle corruption charges after his Kadima party chooses a new leader in September.
Foreign Minister Livni, who leads Israel's negotiating team with the Palestinians, is a front-runner to replace him, as is Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, a hawkish former general.
Rice said progress was being made despite difficulties, and she was "very heartened by the fact that the negotiations are serious and they are intensive.
"In fact I believe that the parties have succeeded in moving their understandings of what needs to be achieved and indeed their positions somewhat closer together over this period of time," Rice said.
But in the latest sign of the difficulties faced by the talks the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now released a report saying that construction of settlements in the occupied territories has doubled since last year.
"Construction in the settlements has increased by a factor of 1.8 by comparison to the same period last year," the group said in a report, citing government statistics.
"The housing ministry initiated 433 new housing units during the period of January to May 2008, compared to just 240 units during the period January to May 2007," it said.
The international community considers all settlement projects in the occupied territories to be illegal and the Palestinians have repeatedly said that the expansion of settlements is the greatest obstacle to peace.
Livni played down the impact of the activity.
"I would like to suggest to my partners not to use it as an excuse and I know they are not using it as an excuse but I understand their frustration sometimes," Israel's top diplomat said.
"But at the end of the day the Israeli government's policy is not to expand settlements, not to build new settlements and not to confiscate Palestinian land," she said.
"There were some small activities but they will not influence the ability (to negotiate), nor the future of the future borders of the Palestinian state."
Rice again said the settlements were "unhelpful" to the peace process because they could prejudice the outcome of negotiations aimed at determining the borders of a future Palestinian state.
"In fact what we need now are steps that enhance confidence between the parties and that anything that undermines confidence between the parties ought to be avoided," Rice said.
"And we will continue to press ahead to get agreement so that we know what is in Israel and what is Palestinian," she said.
Rice left the news conference for talks with Livni and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qorei, who heads the Palestinian negotiating team, before meeting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank.


Sudan forces tighten grip on Darfur camp

by Jennie Matthew*

Sudan boosted forces outside a volatile camp for displaced people in Darfur yesterday as fears rose of new armed clashes and rebels said the death toll had risen to 36 from fighting a day earlier.
Police thrust inside the impoverished and volatile Kalma in South Darfur on Monday. Casualty figures from the subsequent clashes have been impossible to verify, but the lowest death toll given by residents and rebels was 30 people.
Government security officers called Kalma, which one aid worker said was the size of a small city, a den of outlaws, armed robbers and rebel movements hoarding weapons, ammunition, explosives, narcotics and stolen goods.
"It seems last night there was a build-up of security forces around the camp," one UN official said.
A Kalma community leader, Adam Mohamed, said by telephone yesterday that more security vehicles surrounded the camp, where conditions for the 80,000 residents were miserable and homes had been washed away by rain.
"The police force will remain in its place until it enters the camp to collect the stockpiled weapons and prevent the rebels from getting inside the camp," state media quoted the South Darfur security committee as saying.
Five policemen and seven Kalma residents were wounded when gunmen inside the camp opened fire "compelling" the police to respond, the comnmittee said.
But Ahmed Abdel Shafie, a commander in the nebulous Sudan Liberation Army that first rebelled against the government in 2003, said the death toll from Monday's shooting had risen from 27 to 36, with all the victims identified.
They included at least five women and two children, he said.
"The situation is very bad. The people are really suffering," he said by telephone from Darfur in west Sudan. The people, who live in mud and straw huts, lacked medication and were having to cope with heavy rain, he said.
The United States, which has strained relations with Khartoum, criticised Sudan over the incursion and called for a full investigation.
"We are concerned by indiscriminate weapons fire by Sudanese government forces on the Kalma internally displaced persons camp," Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement.
The joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur said it had evacuated 47 wounded internally displaced persons (IDPs), mostly women and children, and some men to hospital in the nearby town of Nyala overnight.
UN-led peacekeepers were locked in talks yesterday over how best to manage the crisis. UN officials said they were informed about wounded IDPs, mostly young men, who refused to be evacuated for fear of being arrested.
But rebels criticised the mission for failing to stop the raid.
"We are very much shocked and disappointed… They shouldn't allow armed forces into the camps of unarmed civilians," said Shafie.
On Monday, peacekeepers initially scrapped patrols to Kalma after government forces, armed with a search warrant, requested their help to hunt for weapons and wanted people in the camp. UNAMID said that violated their mandate.
"Imagine if UNAMID was not there? Imagine a little bit. So we are doing our best. Yesterday our people worked 24 hours to help the IDPs and evacuate the wounded," said spokesman Noureddine Mezni.
UNAMID has struggled to provide security in Darfur with just over a third of the 26,000 troops they have been promised.
The Darfur issue has caused heightened tensions in Sudan since the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court last month formally asked judges to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Beshir.
The latest violence overshadowed the arrival in Sudan of Djibril Bassole, the new international mediator trying to find a political solution to end five years of war in Darfur.
The United Nations says that up to 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million fled their homes since the conflict erupted in February 2003. Sudan says 10,000 have been killed.
The war began when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime and state-backed Arab militias, fighting for resources and power in Africa's biggest country.