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 Israel urged to turn over Arab areas

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M..B..S
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PostSubject: Israel urged to turn over Arab areas   Fri Sep 21, 2007 4:57 pm

JERUSALEM - Israel should turn over Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem to the Palestinians as part of a peace deal with the moderate government of President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel's deputy prime minister said Friday. The comment was one of the frankest remarks to date about what Israel might be willing to relinquish in talks.



The conciliatory statement by Haim Ramon came just hours after a coalition of Israeli human rights groups condemned the government's decision this week to cut back fuel and electricity supplies to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Israel has been seeking to isolate Gaza after Hamas militants violently seized control of the coastal strip in June, while at the same time strengthening Abbas' moderate government in the West Bank.
Ramon, a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said keeping all of Jerusalem would endanger the city's future as Israel's capital and suggested that many Arab sections be turned over to Palestinian sovereignty in return for international recognition of the Jewish neighborhoods Israel has built in east Jerusalem since 1967.
Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967 and annexed it, a move the international community has never recognized.
"This annexation threatens Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people. It will bring about its transformation into a Palestinian capital with a Palestinian majority," Ramon told Israel Radio.
Ramon said Israel should move ahead in its negotiations with Abbas and his West Bank government, appointed after Hamas took over Gaza.
"There is no partner, and there will be no partner, who will be better than Abu Mazen and Prime Minister Fayyad," Ramon said, referring to Abbas and Salam Fayyad, who heads the Palestinian government.
Abbas and Olmert have been meeting regularly leading up to a U.S.-sponsored peace conference in November. But as Israel and Abbas' government draw closer, Israel has increasingly taken harsher measures against Gaza.
On Wednesday, the government decided to declare Gaza "hostile territory" and further isolate its residents, cutting back their fuel, electricity and nonessential goods. The decision is aimed at doing what Israel's military has failed to do halt rocket barrages fired nearly daily by Palestinian militants from Gaza into Israel.
In a joint announcement released Thursday, seven different Israeli rights groups said any such move would be "a grave breach of the foremost principle of international humanitarian law: the obligation to distinguish between combatants and civilians."
The statement also said the step constituted "collective punishment" and would worsen Gaza's "existing humanitarian crisis." Since the Hamas takeover, Israel has closed Gaza's border crossings to nearly everything but humanitarian aid, adding to the economic hardship in the already impoverished territory.
Israeli government spokesman David Baker would not respond to the statement, but said Friday that the government's decision on Gaza was vital to protect Israelis.
"Any situation in which Palestinian terrorists fire upon Israeli cities and towns is an untenable situation, one we won't tolerate, and we will use the means necessary in order to enable our citizens to live in peace and quiet once again," Baker said.
The announcement from the Israeli groups, including B'Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, came in wake of similar warnings from international organizations like Oxfam and condemnations from the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas.
Palestinian militants have fired thousands of rockets into Israel since 2001, killing 12 people and disrupting life in Israeli communities near Gaza. Gaza's Hamas rulers have done nothing to stop the rocket fire, and its militant wing has been firing mortars at border crossings.
There was no sign in Gaza that the new decision had been put into effect Friday. Israeli security officials said Thursday that implementation would begin over the coming days. Fuel for cars and for Gaza's power plant will be drastically reduced, but the diesel fuel that runs hospital generators will be unaffected, the officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of Israeli defense policy.
Israel clamped a closure on the West Bank on Friday, fearing attacks by militants on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown Friday. Thousands of Palestinians massed at checkpoints leading into Jerusalem, trying to get to Friday prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and were blocked by Israeli troops.
Mustafa Barghouti, formerly the Palestinian government's information minister, was briefly detained by soldiers at the A-Ram checkpoint. Speaking to AP Television News, Barghouti said that despite the talks between Israel and Abbas, Israel was moving to thwart Palestinian hopes for the future of Jerusalem.
"Now people realize that all these talks are leading to nothing. What we have here is a process of imposing facts on the ground and the first fact is the isolation of Jerusalem and the elimination of the possibility of having Jerusalem as capital of a Palestinian state," Barghouti said.

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