MENAFN - Arab News
Arab League calls for review of peace proposals to Israel
(MENAFN - Arab News) Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby on Saturday said that the bloc should review its peace proposals to Israel and its entire stance on the peace process in response to the conflict in Gaza.
Member states should "reconsider all past Arab initiatives on the peace process and review their stance on the process as a whole," he told an Arab foreign ministers' meeting.
Qatar's prime minister earlier delivered a biting criticism of Arab League meetings, and called for a review of the pan-Arab body's dealing with the Palestinian issue.
"Our meetings have become a waste of money and a waste of time," Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani told Arab foreign ministers gathered to draw up a response to Israel's attack on Gaza.
"We are meeting today and we will issue a statement. The statement will mean nothing," he said.
"The whole situation needs a clear and honest review... We can't keep giving hope without delivering," Sheikh Hamad said.
Israeli strikes on Gaza killed 10 Palestinians, destroyed the headquarters of Hamas' prime minister and blasted a sprawling network of smuggling tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday, broadening a blistering four-day-old offensive against the Islamic militant group even as diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire appeared to be gaining steam.
Hamas officials said a building used by Hamas for broadcasts was bombed and three people were injured. The injured were from Al Quds TV, a Lebanon-based television channel. The building is also used by foreign news outlets including Germany's ARD, Kuwait TV and the Italian RAI and others.
The Israeli military spokesman was not immediately aware of the strikes but said they were investigating.
In Egypt, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Israel would be held to account for the children killed. "Everyone must know that sooner or later there will be a holding to account for the massacre of these innocent children killed inhumanely in Gaza," he said.
Erdogan, who had earlier met President Muhammad Mursi, has blamed Israel for the latest round of fighting around the Gaza Strip.
So far, six children have died in the violence, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said.
A major South American trading bloc condemned the "disproportionate use of force" in Gaza, calling on Israel and the Palestinians to immediately halt the violence
MERCOSUR leaders expressed "their strongest condemnation of the violence taking place in Israel and Palestine," said a statement released by Brazil.
Qatar is to give Egypt 10 million (7.8 million euros) to help treat Palestinians wounded in Israeli air strikes on the neighboring Gaza Strip, state news agency QNA reported on Saturday.
The oil-rich Gulf nation will also send emergency aid including medical equipment and medicines to Hamas-controlled Gaza, it said.
Sheikh Hamad complained that money pledged to the Palestinians after previous Israeli attacks had failed to reach the Palestinians.
"They received nothing... Gaza needs to receive the money we have already pledged."
"They need housing, schools, hospitals. This is what we should be offering them. We have been used to pledging things and not carrying them through," Sheikh Hamad said.
"There must be a clear policy to deal with the situation. It's not the first time Gaza has been attacked... We need a clear plan. This situation has divided the Arab world," he said.
"The peace process is not working, the Quartet (the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia) is not working... We are not declaring war, we want a peaceful process... I'm not talking about war, I know our capabilities... I'm talking about standing by our Palestinian brothers," he said.
As Israeli military officials expressed satisfaction with their progress in having inflicted heavy damage to Hamas, US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said that the White House believes Israel "has the right to defend itself" against attack and that the Israelis will make their own decisions about their "military tactics and operations."
The White House said President Barack Obama was also in touch with the Egyptian and Turkish leaders.
Civilians suffer in tit-for-tat strikes
Despite the bruising offensive, Israel has failed to slow the barrages of rockets from Gaza.
The Israeli military said 160 rockets were launched into Israel on Saturday, raising the total number to roughly 500 since this week's fighting began. Eight Israelis, including five civilians, were lightly wounded Saturday, the army said.
As usual, the most heavily affected by the strikes were civilians.
Air attacks knocked out five electricity transformers, cutting off power to more than 400,000 people in southern Gaza, according to the Gaza electricity distribution company. People switched on backup generators for limited electrical supplies.
Hamas has unveiled an arsenal of more powerful, longer-range rockets this week, and for the first time has struck at Israel's two largest cities, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Both cities, more than 70 kilometers (45 miles) from Gaza, had previously been beyond rocket range.
In a psychological boost for Israel, a new rocket-defense system known as "Iron Dome" knocked down a rocket headed toward Tel Aviv, eliciting cheers from relieved residents huddled in fear after air raid sirens sounded in the city.
Associated Press video showed a plume of smoke following an intercepting missile out of a rocket-defense battery deployed near the city, followed by a burst of light overhead as it struck its target.
Police said a second rocket also targeted Tel Aviv. It was not clear where it landed or whether it was shot down. No injuries were reported. It was the third straight day the city was targeted.
Israel says the Iron Dome system has shot down some 250 of 500 rockets fired toward the country this week, most in southern Israel near Gaza.
Saturday's interception was the first time Iron Dome has been deployed in Tel Aviv. The battery was a new upgraded version that was only activated on Saturday, two months ahead of schedule, the Defense Ministry said.
Israel has vowed to stage a ground invasion, a scenario that would bring the scale of fighting closer to that of a war four years ago. Hamas was badly bruised during that conflict but has since restocked its arsenal with more and better weapons. Five years after seizing control of Gaza, it has also come under pressure from smaller, more militant groups to prove its commitment to fighting Israel as it turns its focus to governing the seaside strip.
Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak has authorized the emergency call-up of up to 75,000 reserve troops ahead of a possible ground offensive. Israel has massed thousands of troops and dozens of tanks and armored vehicles along the border in recent days.
Egypt, which is led by Hamas' parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been spearheading efforts to forge a cease-fire. Mursi has vowed to stand strong with the people of Gaza and this week recalled Cairo's ambassador from Israel to protest the offensive.
Quietly, though, non-Muslim Brotherhood members in Mursi's government are said to be pushing Hamas to end its rocket fire on Israel. Mursi is under pressure not to go too far and risk straining ties with Israel's ally, the United States.
The Hamas website said Saturday that its leader, Khaled Meshaal, met with the head of Egyptian intelligence for two hours Saturday in Cairo, a day after the Egyptian official was in the Gaza Strip trying to work out an end to the escalation in violence.
Hamas has not immediately accepted Egypt's proposal for a cease-fire, but the group's website said it could end its rocket fire if Israel agrees to end "all acts of aggression and assassination" and lift its five-year blockade on Gaza. Egypt will present the Hamas position to Israeli officials.
Israeli officials say they are not interested in a "timeout," and want firm guarantees that the rocket fire, which has paralyzed life in an area home to 1 million Israelis, finally ends. Past cease-fires have been short lived.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he spoke with the leaders of Britain, Poland, Portugal, Bulgaria to press his case. "No government in the world would allow a situation where its population lives under the constant threat of rockets," Netanyahu told them, according to a statement from his office.
The diplomatic activity in Cairo illustrated Hamas' rising influence in a changing Middle East. The Arab Spring has brought Islamists to power and influence across the region, helping Hamas emerge from years of isolation.
Mursi warned that a ground operation by Israel will have "repercussions" across the region. "All must realize the situation is different than before, and the people of the region now are different than before and the leaders are different than before," he said at a joint press conference with Turkey's Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan, like Mursi, leads an Islamist government that has chilly diplomatic ties with Israel.
On Friday, Mursi sent his prime minister to Gaza on a solidarity mission with Hamas. And on Saturday, Tunisia's Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem visited Gaza as well.
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