Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kuwait to allow protest march on eve of election: PM

Authorities will allow a protest march to go ahead the day before the Dec. 1 parliamentary election in Kuwait, the Gulf Arab state’s prime minister said in a move designed to ease tensions ahead of the poll.

Thousands of people have staged regular demonstrations since late October against a decree issued by Kuwait’s ruler, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, which reduced the number of votes allowed per citizen to one from four.

The opposition movement, which includes youth groups and former members of parliament, has called for a boycott of the election in the U.S.-allied major oil producer over the changes.

They say the amendments are an attempt to skew the elections in favor of pro-government candidates. Protesters say they seek reform, not an Arab Spring-style revolution like those that have ousted several Arab rulers since early last year.

The emir says the voting system is flawed and that the changes are constitutional and needed for the sake of Kuwait’s “security and stability.”

Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah said “the organizers got a license from the concerned security services, so the government had nothing against the march,” state news agency KUNA reported late on Monday.

Kuwait allows the most dissent among the Gulf Arab states and its citizens often hold rallies in a designated area outside parliament.

But recent unlicensed protest marches in the streets beyond have been broken up by police using teargas and smoke bombs.

Authorities are keen to prevent the kind of unrest Kuwait experienced on Oct. 21, when thousands of demonstrators attempted to reach government headquarters in the largest protest march and were dispersed by police. At least 29 people were injured during that march, according to a medical source.

Corruption, stalled development

Under the new rules, each voter chooses only one candidate instead of four, a move the parliamentary opposition says will prevent its candidates winning the majority they had in the last election.

They say the four-vote system better enabled candidates to form political allegiances during the election campaign by recommending supporters cast additional ballots for their allies. Such allegiances are important because Kuwait bans political parties, opposition politicians say.

Apart from protesting against the new voting rules, activists have rallied against wider issues such as corruption, the accountability of government ministers and elected officials as well as a lack of infrastructure development.

A long-running row between the government and parliament has stalled implementation of major parts of a 30 billion dinar ($107 billion) development plan, including large infrastructure projects.

The Dec. 1 poll will be the fifth since mid-2006.

“The coming government will include decision makers and bold politicians to scale up the combat against corruption,” Sheikh Jaber said, according to KUNA.

“The coming stage will see a quantum leap in economic development and the stage set for implementing mega projects, some of which have already been approved,” he said.

The 50-member parliament has legislative powers and the right to summon ministers for questioning. But the emir has the final say in state affairs and can veto laws and dissolve the assembly.

Opposition MPs - whose demands have included an elected cabinet including the prime minister, with at least some top posts held by people other than relatives of the emir - held some 35 seats in the 50-seat parliament elected in Feb. 2012.

The opposition bloc put pressure on government ministers, leading to the resignation of two. The parliament was dissolved by a court ruling in June.

Sheikh Jaber said the last parliament “failed to encourage the government to adopt positive steps ... contrary to the spirit of the constitution which favors cooperation between the legislative and executive authorities,” KUNA reported.

Taliban claim bid to kill Pakistan TV anchorman

Pakistan’s umbrella Taliban faction claimed responsibility on Tuesday for planting a bomb under the car of a prominent journalist and TV anchorman and threatened a second assassination bid.

Hamid Mir, who hosts prime-time show Capital Talk on Geo television and writes a column for the biggest-selling newspaper Jang, was criticized by the Taliban last month in the wake of the shooting of teenage activist Malala Yousafzai.

“Life and death is in the hands of Allah. Allah saved his life but we will make a similar attempt again,” Tehreek-e-Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by telephone from an unknown location.

“Hamid Mir earlier shot into prominence for working in the interest of Islam and Muslims. We targeted him because now he is working against Islam and Muslims,” he said.
Police said the device -- half a kilogram of explosives fitted with a detonator -- was found stuck under his car in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad on Monday.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik offered cash reward of 50 million rupees ($500,000) for anyone with information about who was responsible for the powerful bomb.

Taliban hitmen shot Malala on her school bus in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley because she had campaigned for girls’ rights to education. The 15-year-old survived.

Iranian warships returning to Sudan: military

Iranian warships will return to Sudan on Friday, the armed forces said, one month after a similar port call followed Khartoum's accusation that Israel bombed a military factory.

Sudan's links to Iran have come under scrutiny after Khartoum accused Israel of the October 23 strike against the Yarmouk compound, which led to speculation that Iranian weapons were stored or manufactured at the factory in Khartoum.

"Two Iranian warships would also visit Port Sudan harbor on November 30 and would stay at the harbor for three days within the military maritime cooperation," said Sawarmi Khaled Saad, Sudan's army spokesman quoted by the official SUNA news agency.

A Pakistani naval vessel would also stop at the Red Sea port, for two days beginning on Thursday, Saad said.

During their visit the three ships would get "fuel and other logistic materials", he added.

A pair of Iranian warships spent about two days in Port Sudan late last month in a visit which Saad said supported "strong political, security and diplomatic relations between the two states".

The Saudi Arabian press criticized the port call by the supply ship Kharg and corvette Admiral Naghdi, which carried Iranian Special Forces.

Relations between Tehran and Riyadh have been tense for years over many political and security issues.

Iran's Press TV reported that the Kharg and Admiral Naghdi had been sent to the Djibouti area in September "to convey Iran's message of peace to the regional countries and maintain the security of shipping corridors against maritime terrorism."

Israel refused all comment on Sudan's allegations about the Khartoum factory blast.

But a top Israeli defense official, Amos Gilad, said Sudan "serves as a route for the transfer, via Egyptian territory, of Iranian weapons to Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists."

Eight days of fighting between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Palestinian territory, ended on November 21 with an Egyptian-mediated truce after 166 Palestinians and six Israelis died.

The Jewish state has accused Iran of supplying Hamas with its Fajr 5 missile, used to target Tel Aviv during the conflict.

Khaled Meshaal, exiled chief of the Hamas movement, is a frequent visitor to Sudan, most recently on November 15 when he spoke at a meeting of Sudanese Islamists.

Meshaal said Sudan is "on the top" among supporters for the Hamas armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

Khartoum has accused Israel of spreading "fabricated information" about links between the Yarmouk military factory, Hamas and Iran.

Sudan's foreign ministry denied Iran had any involvement in the Yarmouk factory.

UN General Assembly likely to vote on Palestinian upgrade

The Palestinian Authority has circulated a revised draft resolution to U.N. member states calling for an upgrade of its U.N. status to an "observer state" ahead of a planned vote on the issue by the 193-member world body on Thursday.

A senior Western diplomat said only minor changes were made to the text distributed on Monday, which seems certain to win U.N. approval as the General Assembly is mostly made up of post-colonial states historically sympathetic to the Palestinians.

In an unexpected move, the Islamist group Hamas - which governs the Gaza Strip and just fought a fierce, eight-day conflict with Israel - gave backing on Monday to President Mahmoud Abbas's attempt to win more U.N. clout. Abbas holds sway in the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinians are currently considered an observer "entity" at the United Nations. Acceptance of the Palestinians as a non-member state, similar to the Vatican's U.N. status, would implicitly recognize Palestinian statehood.

The upgrade could also grant the Palestinians access to bodies like the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where they could file complaints against Israel. Abbas is due to travel to New York for the planned vote on Thursday.

Israel and the United States oppose the move at the United Nations by the Palestinians and have called on Abbas to return to peace talks that collapsed in 2010 over Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

"We continue to try to dissuade the Palestinians from taking this action. We think it's going to be complicating and potentially a step backwards in terms of the larger goal, which is a negotiated solution," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Monday.

Funding Risk

If approved, the U.N. resolution would "accord to Palestine Non-member Observer State status in the United Nations, without prejudice to the acquired rights, privileges and role of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the United Nations as the representative of the Palestinian people."

The latest draft resolution, obtained by Reuters, also reiterated the Palestinian Authority's commitment to the "two-state solution" in which Israel and an independent Palestinian state would co-exist in peace.

An Israeli official said earlier this month that if the Palestinians pushed on with the U.N. bid, Israel may cancel the Paris Protocol, a key economic accord it maintains with the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

The United States has also suggested that funding for the Palestinians - and possibly some funding for the United Nations - could be at risk if the Palestinians seek the upgrade.

"We think the money should go forward in the interest of the Palestinian people, regardless of whether their leaders make bad decisions," Nuland said. "That said .. we have said to the Palestinians, that they should not count on a favorable response from the (U.S.) Congress, if they go forward with this."

A 1990s U.S. law prohibits American funding to U.N. organizations that grant full membership to any group that does not have "internationally recognized attributes" of statehood. The Palestinians are not seeking U.N. membership.

The Palestinians launched their watered-down bid for recognition as an "observer state" after an attempt to gain full U.N. membership last year failed amid U.S. opposition in the U.N. Security Council.

Arafat’s grave opened, experts seek evidence of poison

The body of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was exhumed on Tuesday by a team of international experts trying to discover if he was poisoned, as many Palestinians believe.

French magistrates opened a murder inquiry in August into Arafat’s death in Paris after a Swiss institute said it had discovered high levels of radioactive polonium on his clothing, which was supplied by his widow, Suha.

Arafat, who led the Palestinians’ bid for a state through years of war and peacemaking, died in Paris aged 75 in 2004 after a short, mysterious illness.

No autopsy was carried out at the time, at the request of Suha, and French doctors who treated him said they were unable to determine the cause of death.

But allegations of foul play immediately surfaced, with many locals pointing the finger at Israel, which confined Arafat to his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah for the final two and a half years of his life after a Palestinian uprising erupted.

Israel has denied any wrongdoing, inviting the Palestinian leadership to release all his medical records, which were never made public following his death.

The official radio station Voice of Palestine reported that Arafat had been disinterred on Tuesday after work began at dawn.

Experts from Switzerland, France, Russia and the Palestinian territories took part in the exhumation, which was carried out far from the public gaze, behind blue sheeting carefully erected around his limestone mausoleum in Ramallah.

Workers strung up a huge Palestinian flag to cover the top of the city centre landmark, which lies inside the presidential compound of Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas.

“Samples will be taken according to a very strict protocol and these samples will be analysed,” said Darcy Christen, spokesman for the Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland that carried out the original tests on Arafat’s clothes.

“In order to do these analyses, to check, cross check and double cross check, it will take several months and I don’t think we’ll have anything tangible available before March or April next year,” he added.

French investigators

Polonium, apparently ingested with food, was found to have caused the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. But some experts have questioned whether Arafat could have died in this way, pointing to a brief recovery during his illness that they said was not consistent with radioactive poisoning. They also noted he did not lose all his hair.

Eight years is considered the limit to detect any traces of the fast-decaying polonium and the Lausanne hospital questioned in August if it would be worth seeking any samples if access to Arafat’s body was delayed to “October or November.”

Not all of Arafat’s family has agreed to the exhumation and Suha herself has not come to Ramallah for the operation. Arafat’s remains will be reburied with full military honours later on Tuesday after the forensic work is complete.

Working in parallel with the forensic team, French magistrates are also in Ramallah this week questioning members of Arafat’s inner circle to see if they can shed light on his death.

One source told Reuters the French had a list of 60 questions, with at least one man facing five hours of grilling.

While many Palestinians believe that Israel was behind the death, they acknowledge that a Palestinian would almost certainly have had to administer the poison, wittingly or unwittingly.


BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian warplanes bombed an olive press factory in the country's north on Tuesday, killing and wounding dozens of people, including farmers who were waiting to convert their olives to oil, activists said.
Two activist groups - the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees - said the targeted factory is west of the city of Idlib. The LCC says at least 20 people were killed and many others wounded in the raid, while the Observatory said "tens were killed or wounded."
Both groups depend on a network of activists on the ground around the country.
President Bashar Assad's regime has been launching intense air raids on rebels in recent months, mostly in Idlib, the nearby province of Aleppo, Deir el-Zour to the east and suburbs of the capital Damascus.
The most recent air raids have killed hundreds of people, including eight children on Sunday in the village of Deir al-Asafir near the capital, Damascus.
"It is a sign of despair," said Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut. He added that the regime forces are overstretched, and the air force is being used in areas that the army cannot easily reach.
"This is mass punishment. The regime is striking at civilian areas to make the people pay a price for not standing against advancing opposition forces," Khashan said. "The regime is desperate and wants to make the price of its opponents' victory costly."
Olive oil is a main staple in Syria. Tens of thousands of tons are produced annually.
Fadi al-Yassin, an activist based in Idlib, told The Associated Press by telephone that dozens of people had gathered to have their olives pressed when the warplanes struck, causing a large number of casualties.
It was not immediately clear why the olive press was targeted. "It was a massacre carried out by the regime," said al-Yassin.
"Now is the season to press oil," said al-Yassin, noting that many olive press factories are not functioning in the area because of the fighting in the region. A large number of people were at the one near the city of Idlib.
"Functioning olive press factories are packed with people these days," he said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said that evidence has emerged that an airstrike using cluster bombs on the village of Deir al-Asafir near Damascus killed at least 11 children and wounded others on Sunday. Cluster bombs have been banned by most nations.
"This attack shows how cluster munitions kill without discriminating between civilians and military personnel," said Mary Wareham, arms division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "Due to the devastating harm caused to civilians, cluster bombs should not be used by anyone, anywhere, at any time."
The Observatory also reported heavy fighting on the southern edge of the strategic rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan, captured from government troops last month.
The town is on the highway that links the capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest, a commercial center that has been the scene of clashes between rebels and troops since July.
The Observatory and al-Yassin said air raids on Maaret al-Numan killed at least five rebels.
The LCC said a shelling fell on the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp Tuesday, killing a boy and wounding another.
Also, Syria's state-run TV said a car rigged with explosives went off in the Damascus suburb of Artouz, killing at least two people and wounding four.
Syria's conflict started in March 2011 as an uprising against Assad's regime, but quickly morphed into a civil war that has since killed more than 40,000 people, according to activists.
Assad's regime blames the revolt on a foreign conspiracy. It accuses Saudi Arabia and Qatar, along with the United States, other Western countries and Turkey of funding, training and arming the rebels, whom it calls terrorists.
On Tuesday, the pro-government daily Al-Watan published a list with names of 142 Arab and foreign "terrorists," whom it said were killed in Syria over the past months.
The paper said Syria submitted the list to the U.N. Security Council last month.
The list had names from 18 countries. It listed 47 from Saudi Arabia, 24 Libyans, 10 Tunisians, nine Egyptians, six Qataris and five Lebanese.
International journalists who visit rebel-held areas say foreign fighters are taking part in the battles against Assad's forces. Western officials say there is little doubt that Islamist extremists from outside Syria, some associated with the al-Qaida terror network, have made inroads in Syria as instability has spread.


RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- Yasser Arafat's political heirs on Tuesday opened his grave and foreign experts took samples of the iconic Palestinian leader's remains as part of a long-shot attempt - eight years after his mysterious death - to determine whether he was poisoned.
Arafat died in November 2004 at a French military hospital, a month after suddenly falling ill at his West Bank compound, at the time besieged by Israeli troops.
The immediate cause of death was a stroke, but the underlying reasons were unclear, leading to widespread belief in the Arab world that Israel poisoned the 75-year-old symbol of Palestinian nationalism.
Israel has denied involvement in Arafat's death.
The exhumation began before dawn Tuesday, under the cover of huge sheets of blue tarpaulin draped over Arafat's mausoleum in his former government compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah. By mid-morning, the grave was reclosed, and officials from Arafat's Fatah movement and the Palestine Liberation Organization laid wreaths at the mausoleum.
Palestinians had launched an investigation after Arafat's death, but made no progress. The probe was revived this summer when a Swiss lab detected elevated traces of a lethal radioactive substance, polonium-210, in biological stains on his clothing.
The lab said the tests were inconclusive and that it needed to examine the remains for a clearer picture.
Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, authorized the exhumation despite strong cultural and religious taboos against disturbing a gravesite, apparently to avoid any suggestion that he was standing in the way of a thorough investigation.
Abbas was absent during Tuesday's proceedings, instead heading to the United Nations to seek a General Assembly acceptance of Palestine as a non-member observer state. Abbas has said the request, strongly opposed by the U.S. and Israel, is meant to strengthen his leverage with Israel.
In Ramallah, workers have been drilling through thick layers of concrete encasing the tomb since mid- November. The grave was opened before dawn Tuesday, said Tawfik Tiraqi, head of the Palestinian team investigating Arafat's death.
A Palestinian official initially said some of the remains were moved to a nearby mosque. However, Palestinian Health Minister Hani Abdeen later said samples were taken without having to move the remains to another location.
The exhumation was attended by experts from Switzerland, France and Russia who will examine the samples in their home countries, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the exhumation. Earlier, samples were also taken from Arafat's bedroom, office and personal belongings, he said.
Dr. Abdullah Bashir, a member of the Palestinian investigative team, said it would take at least three months for results to come back.
Public reaction in the West Bank was mixed.
Nidaa Younes, a Palestinian government employee, said it was unnecessary to dig up the remains. "Our religion forbids exhuming graves. It is not nice at all to do this, even if religion permits it in some cases," she said, adding that she believes Israel was responsible for Arafat's death.
Ramallah resident Tony Abdo said he supports the exhumation, expecting it to prove that Arafat did not die a natural death.
Suspicions about Arafat's death flared again over the summer, when the Arab satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera took some of Arafat's belongings, provided by his widow Suha, to a Swiss lab for testing. The belongings included what Mrs. Arafat said were her husband's fur hat and a woolen cap with some of his hair, a toothbrush, and clothing with his urine and blood stains.
The Institute of Radiation Physics discovered elevated traces of polonium-210, the same substance that killed Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB officer turned Kremlin critic, in 2006.
Mrs. Arafat urged the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank-based self-rule government headed by Abbas, to exhume her husband's remains and also asked the French government to launch a separate investigation. Eventually, Abbas also requested that Russia join the probe.
But the exhumation and the testing of the remains might not resolve the mystery. Polonium-210 decomposes rapidly, and some experts say it is not clear whether any remaining samples will be sufficient for testing.
For decades, Arafat was the symbol of the Palestinians' struggle for an independent state. After returning from exile to the Palestinian territories in the early 1990s, as part of interim peace deals with Israel, he zigzagged between leading negotiations with Israel and condoning violence as a means of obtaining political goals.
Arafat, along with two Israeli leaders, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his commitment to work toward peace with Israel. He later presided over the Palestinians as they waged a violent uprising against Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the territories they seek for an independent state.
Israel accused him of ordering attacks against Israelis, and confined him to his Ramallah compound. He stayed there for more than two years before falling ill.
In his later years, Arafat also faced criticism at home, with some accusing his political circle of corruption and the pocketing of large amounts of aid. But he remains a widely revered figure in the Palestinian territories, and his portrait frequently appears in government offices and street posters.


CAIRO (AP) -- Thousands flocked to Cairo's central Tahrir square on Tuesday for a protest against Egypt's president in a significant test of whether the opposition can rally the street behind it in a confrontation aimed at forcing the Islamist leader to rescind decrees that granted him near absolute powers.
Waving Egypt's red, white and black flags and chanting slogans against President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, the protesters joined several hundreds who have been camping out at the square since Friday demanding the decrees be revoked.
Even as the crowds swelled, clashes erupted nearby between several hundred young protesters throwing stones and police firing tear gas on a street off Tahrir leading to the U.S. Embassy. Clashes have been taking place at the site for several days fueled by anger over police abuses, separately from the crisis over Morsi.
The president's declaration last week of new powers for himself has energized and - to a degree unified - the mostly liberal and secular opposition after months of divisions and uncertainty while Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups rose to dominate the political landscape.
The turnout for Tuesday's protest call is key to whether the opposition can keep a movement going against Morsi. While the edicts last week sparked the protests, they have also been fueled by anger over what critics see as the Brotherhood's monopolizing of power after its election victories the past year for parliament and the presidency.
"We want to change this whole setting. The Brotherhood hijacked the revolution," said Rafat Magdi, an engineer who was among a crowd of around 2,000 marching from the Cairo district of Shubra to Tahrir to join the rally. "People woke up by his mistakes, and any new elections they will get no votes."
Morsi's decrees, issued Thursday, placed him above any kind of oversight, including that of the courts, until a new constitution is adopted and parliamentary elections are held - a timeline that stretches to mid-2013.
The opposition says the decrees give Morsi near dictatorial powers by neutralizing the judiciary at a time when he already holds executive and legislative powers. Leading judges have also denounced the measures.
Morsi says the decrees are necessary to protect the "revolution" and the nation's transition to democratic rule. His declaration made all his decisions immune to judicial review and banned the courts from dissolving the upper house of parliament and an assembly writing the new constitution, both of which are dominated by Islamists. The decree also gave Morsi sweeping authority to stop any "threats" to the revolution.
By early afternoon, nearly 20,000 people were at Tahrir, birthplace of the 18-day popular uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian regime nearly two years ago. Security was tightened across Cairo, with police checking ID papers and searching cars coming into the center, but there was no sign of protesters being stopped from reaching Tahrir.
A chaotic city of some 18 million people, Cairo's traffic was uncharacteristically light on Tuesday, with many businesses and government offices closing shop early in anticipation of possible unrest.
A new banner in the square proclaimed, "The Brotherhood stole the country" and one protester, Mahmoud Youssef, said: "We are here to bring down the constitutional declaration issued by Morsi." Many chanted the iconic slogans "the people want to bring down the regime."
Several thousand lawyers meanwhile gathered outside their union building in downtown Cairo ahead of their march to Tahrir to join protesters there. "Leave, leave," they chanted, addressing Morsi, who narrowly won elections in June to become the country's first freely elected civilian president.
In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, some 3,000 anti-Morsi protesters gathered outside the main court at the center of the ancient city.
Morsi's supporters canceled a massive rally they had planned for Tuesday, citing the need to "defuse tension" after a series of clashes between the two camps since the decrees were issued Thursday.
But a Brotherhood spokesman said demonstrations supporting the president could go ahead outside the capital and that supporters would form human chains in some provinces to protect Brotherhood offices. Morsi's supporters say more than a dozen of their offices have been ransacked or set ablaze since Friday. Some 5,000 demonstrated in the southern city of Assiut in support of Morsi's decrees, according to witnesses there.
On Monday, Morsi met with the nation's top judges and tried to win their acceptance of his decrees. But the move was dismissed by many in the opposition and the judiciary as providing no real concessions.
Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali, said Morsi told the judges that he acted within his rights as the nation's sole source of legislation, assuring them that the decrees were temporary and did not in any way infringe on the judiciary. He underlined repeatedly that the president had no plans to change or amend his decrees.
According to a presidential statement late Monday, Morsi told the judges that his decree meant that any decisions he makes on "issues of sovereignty" are immune from judicial review.
The vaguely worded statement did not define those issues, but they were widely interpreted to cover declaration of war, imposition of martial law, breaking diplomatic relations with a foreign nation or dismissing a Cabinet. Morsi's original edict, however, explicitly gives immunity to all his decisions and there was no sign it had been changed.
Monday's presidential statement Monday did not touch on the immunity that Morsi gave the constitutional assembly or the upper chamber of parliament, known as the Shura Council. It also did not affect the edict that the president can take any measures he sees as necessary to stop threats to the revolution, stability or public institutions. Many see that edict as granting Morsi unlimited emergency powers.
The Shura Council does not have lawmaking authorities but, in the absence of the more powerful lower chamber, the People's Assembly, it is the only popularly elected, national body where the Brotherhood and other Islamists have a majority. The People's Assembly was dissolved by a court ruling in June.
Rights lawyers and activists, however, dismissed Morsi's assurances as an attempt to defuse the crisis without offering concrete concessions.
One of the lawyers, Ahmed Ragheb, described the presidential statement and Ali's comments as "playing with words."
"This is not what Egyptians are objecting to and protesting about," he said. "If the president wanted to resolve the crisis, there should be an amendment to his constitutional declaration."
On Tuesday, the influential Judges' Club, a sort of union led by an outspoken Morsi critic, vowed in a statement to escalate its resistance to the decrees. The statement was carried by Egypt's official MENA news agency, which also reported that judges and prosecutors continued their strike for the third day Tuesday, leaving many courtrooms empty across the nation.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Turkey PM labels Israel ‘terrorist state’ over Gaza attacks

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the United Nations on Monday of failing to act over the deadly Israeli air bombardments of Gaza, calling Israeli a “terrorist state” that “massacres innocent children.”

He accused the U.N. Security Council of “turning a blind eye” to the suffering of Muslims across the world and called for “sincere action” to end Israel’s strikes on Gaza, where 90 Palestinians died since violence erupted on Wednesday, while three Israelis have been killed in militant rocket fire.

The international community is watching “as Israel violently massacres innocent children in Gaza,” Erdogan said in an address to religious leaders of Muslim countries gathered in Istanbul, labeling Israel “a terrorist state.”

Erdogan emerged as a staunch advocate of the Palestinian cause in January 2009, when he stormed out of a Davos panel over Israel’s blockade of the impoverished Gaza Strip.

Ties between Ankara and Tel Aviv were further strained after Israeli commandos raided a Gaza-bound Turkish aid flotilla in the Mediterranean in May 2010, killing nine Turks on board.

Erdogan also said he did not trust the United Nations. 

“The fate of seven billion people hangs the words of leaders of five countries,” he said, complaining about a lack of representation for Muslim countries on the U.N. Security Council.

“If you ask me how much I trust the U.N., well, I don’t,” Erdogan said. 

“It is a structure created under war conditions, its manifestation today is not fair, the structure is just not fair.”

Israeli army takes over broadcasts on Hamas TV

The Israeli army on Monday took over programming at a Gaza-based Hamas television station “to broadcast warnings,” as deadly violence between the sides entered its sixth day. 

Al-Aqsa television, the official station of Gaza’s Hamas rulers, said in a statement the Israeli army “is interfering with Al-Aqsa TV,” with the picture going on and off for several hours and sometimes appearing scrambled.

“We took over the Hamas television to broadcast warnings,” a military spokeswoman said, indicating the takeover would probably last for a number of hours.

But AFP correspondents in Gaza said they could see no warning being sent out by the army.

Since violence erupted on Wednesday, 90 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza. Over 500 rockets hit Israel, resulting in three deaths.

On Sunday, the army took over Hamas radio broadcasts in Gaza for several hours.

Also on Sunday, at least eight journalists were injured when Israeli jets bombarded two media buildings in Gaza City, with the military saying it had hit Hamas communications sites.

A statement from the Israeli army after the attack called on “international journalists... to stay clear of Hamas’s bases and facilities, which serve them in their activity against the citizens of Israel.”

NATO to consider Turkey missile request on Syria border as ‘urgent’

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Monday said the alliance would consider a request from Turkey to deploy Patriot anti-missile batteries along its border border with Syria “as a matter of urgency.”

Rasmussen, arriving for a meeting of European Union defense ministers, said NATO had received no formal request from NATO-member Turkey to date but added that if one was made, “we will consider that as a matter of urgency.”

German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere said earlier that he expected a request on Monday from Turkey, whose border villages have been hit by artillery fire as forces loyal to Damascus battle rebels seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

“The situation on the Syria-Turkey border is of great concern,” said Rasmussen.

“We have all the plans ready to defend and protect Turkey if needed. The plans will be adjusted if necessary to ensure effective protection of Turkey.”

Rasmussen said there was no question currently of imposing a no-fly zone with the back-up of the Patriot missiles.

“The Patriot missiles would be a purely defensive measure to defend Turkey.”

He also said it was “premature” to comment on German reports that Berlin planned to send 170 soldiers to Turkey to man the missiles.

But he added: “Turkey can count on allied solidarity”.

Earlier it was reported that the Netherlands and Germany may send Patriot missiles to NATO ally Turkey to help defend the country’s border with Syria, Dutch news agency ANP reported on Sunday, citing the Dutch defense minister.

Turkey said earlier this week it had intensified talks with NATO allies on how to shore up security on its 900-km (560-mile) frontier with Syria after mortar rounds fired from Syria landed inside its territory.

“NATO does not exist for nothing,” ANP quoted Dutch Defence Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert as saying.

A Dutch Defense Ministry spokesman said: “There is no request but the Netherlands and Germany are the only countries in Europe with Patriots.”

The Dutch minister spoke to her German counterpart last week about a possible deployment, ANP said.

Fatah, Hamas agree to unite over Gaza crisis as death toll soars

Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas said on Monday they have decided to end years of infighting in a show of solidarity over the Gaza crisis, AFP news agency reported.

“From here, we announce with other (factional) leaders, that we are ending the division,” senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub told a crowd of about 1,000 who gathered for a demonstration in Ramallah, the West Bank’s political capital.

Among those present at the rally were top members of Hamas’s leadership in the West Bank as well as senior officials from its smaller rival Islamic Jihad, the AFP correspondent said.

Ramallah’s Manara Square was a sea of Palestinian flags as the crowd chanted “Unity!” and “Hit, hit Tel Aviv” in an appeal to Hamas militants who have fired at least five rockets at the coastal city since Thursday.

“Whoever speaks about the division after today is a criminal,” top Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Ramahi told the crowd.

Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian national factions, have been locked in a bitter dispute for years.

But the ongoing bloodshed in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, where Israel was on Monday pressing a sixth day of a major aerial campaign which has so far killed 91 Palestinians, appears to have prompted a rethink of traditional rivalries.

Gaza’s Hamas-run government has long been at loggerheads with the rival Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and a unity deal struck between the two in April 2011, fell apart as the two bickered over the formation of a caretaker cabinet.

Deaths mount

Israeli air strikes across the Gaza Strip killed 13 people early on Monday, raising the Palestinian death toll to 90 as Israel’s relentless air campaign entered its sixth day.

In the latest incident, a missile hit a motorcycle east of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, killing two men and critically wounding a child who was with them, a statement by Gaza’s ambulance service said.

The two were named as Abdullah Abu Khater, 30, and Mahmud Abu Khater, 32, but the relationship between them was not immediately clear.

An earlier strike on Qarara in the same area killed two farmers -- Ibrahim al-Astal and Obama al-Astal, medics said.

In a strike on southern Gaza City, a car was hit, killing one man and injuring another three, officials said, naming him as 23-year-old Mohammed Shamalah.

Shortly before that, three people were killed in a strike on a car in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, all of them from the same family: Amir Bashir, Tamal Bashir and Salah Bashir.

Very early in the day, two women and a child were among four killed in a strike on Gaza City’s eastern Zeitun neighborhood -- Nisma Abu Zorr, 23, Mohammed Abu Zorr, 5, Saha Abu Zorr, 20 and Ahid al-Qatati 35,

And medics said another man had been found dead in the northern town of Beit Lahiya, naming him as Abdel Rahman al-Atar, a 50-year-old farmer.

The strike in Zeitun came after a night that saw Israeli war planes level a Gaza City police station as navy ships kept up sustained fire at the Gaza shore, AFP news agency correspondents said.

The deaths came after multiple raids on Sunday that killed 31, in the bloodiest day of Israel’s bombing campaign, medics said.

The number of injuries rose over 700, officials said.

At least 10 children, five of them babies and toddlers, and six women were among those killed on Sunday, in attacks that came even as diplomatic efforts intensified to broker an end to the bloodshed which began on Wednesday.

The violence has also cost the lives of three Israelis and injured more than 50, according to medical sources.

By far the deadliest strike was in northern Gaza City where a missile levelled a three-storey building, killing nine members of the Al-Dallu family -- five of them children -- and two other people, medics said.

Qudra named the dead as policeman Mohammed al-Dallu, 35, Suheila al-Dallu, 50, Samah al-Dallu, 22, and five children: Jamal and Sara, whose ages were not immediately available, five-year-old Yussef, two-year-old Ranin, and 11-month-old Ibrahim.

The body of another woman from the same family was also pulled from the rubble but her identity was not immediately clear.

The other two victims, who lived next door, were named as Amina Mattar al-Muzzana, 83, and Abdullah Mohammed al-Muzzana, 22, Qudra said.

The Israeli army had no immediate comment on the strike, only saying the air force had hit “a few targets in northern Gaza City.”

Palestinians seek urgent Arab League summit

Info-graphic: Cities of the Strip - Mapping Gaza's cities and Israeli attacks. (Design by Farwa Rizwan/ Al Arabiya English)
The Palestinian Authority has asked for an urgent Arab League summit to discuss Israeli attacks on Gaza, the League said on Sunday.

The authority is headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose secular Fatah movement was driven out of Gaza five years ago by Islamist movement Hamas which now controls the Gaza Strip.

Abbas, who is based in the West Bank, has been accused by some Palestinians of not reacting energetically enough to the Israeli air strikes against Gaza.

On Saturday, Arab foreign ministers condemned the Israeli offensive on Gaza and expressed “complete discontent” at the U.N. Security Council’s failure to bring about a ceasefire.

The Arab League was discussing with its members the Palestinian request, Egyptian state news agency MENA reported.

The head of the Arab League and a group of Arab foreign ministers will visit Gaza on Tuesday to show solidarity with Palestinians

During an emergency meeting on Saturday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki asked the Arab League for an urgent summit and for “indefinite financial support” from Arab states.

Arab ministers backed Egyptian-led efforts to mediate a truce between Palestinians and Israelis which are yet to show results.

Israel’s declared goal is to deplete Gaza arsenals and force Hamas to stop rocket fire that has bedeviled Israeli border towns for years and is now displaying greater range, putting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the crosshairs.

The Israeli military said 544 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel since Wednesday, killing three civilians and wounding dozens. Some 302 were intercepted and 99 failed to reach Israel and landed inside the Gaza Strip.


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Sleep away from windows, stock up on food, get the family car off the street - these are the lessons Gazans have learned in previous rounds of fighting between Israel and the territory's Hamas rulers.
This time, some are adding "change houses" to the list as Israel increasingly targets homes of Hamas activists, making it difficult to guess where missiles might hit. Over the weekend, Israeli airstrikes struck the homes of some two dozen Hamas activists, killing 24 civilians.
For ordinary Gazans, moving sometimes doesn't help.
Pediatrician Sami Dawood moved twice. On Sunday, he evacuated his wife and three children from their high-rise apartment in Gaza City's Tel al-Hawa neighborhood after a missile hit the roof. Fearing Israel would strike the building again, the family moved to the home of his father-in-law near the Palestine Stadium in the center of the city. Early Monday, while the family was asleep, missiles hit the stadium as a suspected rocket-launching site.
"Now we are back home again," said the 40-year-old doctor.
Gaza City housewife Amal Lubbad lives across the street from a house flattened in an airstrike Sunday. The blast, which killed 11 members of the Daloo family, including a Gaza policeman, also blew out the windows of her home.
The 39-year-old Lubbad, her husband and eight children spent a restless night, sleeping on the floor in the room farthest away from the Daloo house, but there was no airstrike.
"We were afraid," she said, adding that the family has nowhere else to go. On Monday, she and her daughters swept up the glass shards as bulldozers in the alley below cleared away the ruins of the Daloo home.
Ola Hani, a 31-year-old mother of four, said that since the last Gaza war four years ago, she's kept a week's worth of food and other supplies in her house. "Even in normal days, I don't touch any of it, only when I have a chance to replace it," she said.
Her stash includes canned food, lentils, rice, milk powder, two small radios and candles. Her husband, a banker, is away in Jordan for a training course, and she asked a friend to drive the family car to another friend's yard, to keep it out of harm's way. The Hani family lives in a high-rise and does not have a parking garage.
At a bakery, bank teller Jibril Alawi bought 250 pieces of pita bread for his clan of 35 - his immediate family and the wives and children of his four brothers who all live in the same building. He said they take turns going on vital errands to minimize exposure to risk.
Like others in Gaza, the Alawis have moved mattresses into inner hallways and rooms away from windows.
Still, sound sleep is impossible in Gaza these days. The massive booms from the airstrikes, often just minutes apart, rattle windows. The wailing of ambulances and the buzz of unmanned spy planes, or drones, make up the background noise.
Hani said she and her children feel scared when they hear the bombardment.
"But a few minutes after that, we start to cheer and laugh when we see another rocket landing in Tel Aviv," she said of attempts by Hamas to strike Israel's main metropolis.
Photographers in white lab coats hanging around the emergency room of Gaza's largest hospital, Shifa, are part of a different type of Hamas battle: They are members of a Health Ministry team documenting deaths and injuries in the fighting.
The head of the group, Ashraf al-Kidra, keeps journalists updated with casualty figures - 106 dead as of Monday evening. In the long term, he hopes the information will serve as the basis for possible international legal action against Israel.
"We learned a lesson from the last war," said al-Kidra, referring to Israel's previous major offensive against Hamas targets in Gaza four years ago. Casualty figures at the time were hotly disputed, with Palestinians saying most of some 1,400 people killed were civilians, while Israel gave a lower figure and said most were militants.
In the chaos at the time, many Israeli attacks were not properly documented, al-Kidra said.
Now, he has two-member teams deployed at each of Gaza's 13 hospitals. They work in 12-hour shifts and update him with each new casualty. Equipped with two mobile phones and a walkie-talkie, the former physiotherapist and acupuncturist says he has barely slept since the offensive began Nov. 14.
One of his team members, Alaa Saraj, made the rounds in Shifa's emergency room Sunday. Amal Mattar, 38, was lying on a gurney, her face cut by shrapnel from an airstrike near her home in Tel al-Hawa, the Gaza City neighborhood. Saraj snapped her picture, and a doctor said she would need six stitches.
After more than a decade of on-and-off fighting with Israel, Gazans are not easily shaken.
A warning in Arabic by Israel's military that "Hamas is gambling with your fate and playing with fire," delivered Sunday by briefly taking over the frequencies of local radio stations, elicited mostly amusement.
A group of men hanging around a Gaza City taxi office tried to outdo each other in making fun of the warning. "Let's get some warmth from the fire that Hamas is using to burn us," one of them joked.
Hamas appears to have solid popular support for continued rocket attacks on Israel, despite the new hardships it has brought. Many here expressed satisfaction that Israelis should get a taste of the fear Gazans know so well.
Scenes showing Israelis ducking for cover from rocket fire were discussed with relish, and jokes have popped up on social media, including Facebook. In one, an Egyptian broadcaster with a popular music program asks a listener what he would like to hear. Answer: "The sound of the air raid siren in Tel Aviv."


CAIRO (AP) -- Clashes between protesters and Egyptian security forces intensified after nightfall Monday at the site of a bloody confrontation a year ago in Cairo, when 42 people were killed in a street battle months after the uprising that ousted the country's longtime president.
Hundreds of demonstrators threw rocks at police, who fired tear gas and fired birdshot in response. A medical official said 60 protesters and 10 policemen were injured. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
The clash was a small scale reprise of one of the fiercest confrontations after last year's popular revolution, when the protesters who brought about the overthrow of longtime President Hosni Mubarak returned to the streets to demonstrate against the harsh measures imposed by the military, which took over from the ousted leader.
The persistent unrest reflects divisions plaguing Egypt 21 months after Mubarak's downfall in February 2011. While young, mostly secular activists spearheaded the uprising, the main winners in the aftermath have been fundamentalist Islamic movements - the Muslim Brotherhood, which won elections for parliament and president, and the more extreme Salafis, who have also shown considerable electoral strength.
That has left the frustrated liberal activists on the outside, demonstrating against both the military and the Brotherhood.
On Monday, protesters tore down a cement block wall between Cairo's downtown Tahrir Square, the focus of huge demonstrations last year, and the headquarters of the security forces.
While the casualties were lower, many of the scenes were almost eerily the same as a year ago.
Protesters riding motorbikes rushed the injured to a field hospital. Others carried pictures of demonstrators killed in last year's crackdowns by the military.
Demonstrators hung a banner read, "Muslim Brotherhood not allowed," while others chanted, "the people want to topple the regime," referring to Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood avoided street confrontations with the military rulers last year to focus instead on campaigning and elections.
Protester Abdullah Waleed said the protest was aimed at opening main roads that have been blocked for a year.
"While we were tearing down the cement blocks, security forces fired at us," he said. "I was wounded by (shotgun) pellets."
Last year's street battle, known as "Mohammed Mahmoud" after the name of the street where it unfolded, was triggered by a security crackdown on a sit-in by injured protesters. It set off days of sustained violence, with security forces firing tear gas, shotgun rounds and rubber bullets, wounding hundreds.
The street became a symbol of the uprising and an open-air museum. Walls were filled with graffiti, slogans and images of the revolution.
For 17 months after Mubarak's ouster, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) ruled Egypt in a turbulent transition period that saw a surge in crime, deterioration of economy and frequent deadly street clashes. The council, led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, was eased out of power after the election of Morsi in the country's first free elections in decades. Morsi took office at the end of June.
The tensions have not disappeared, as evidenced by Monday's bitter confrontations.
Even members in different security forces battled each other.
An Egyptian security official said clashes erupted between civilian police and military forces in northern Cairo after police arrested a military officer over a traffic violation. Hundreds of soldiers encircled the police station where the officer was being held, trying to storm the station, while the police fired tear gas to disperse them, the official said.
The incident reflected a feeling among many that the military is acting as a state within a state. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
The violence comes during tensions over the writing of Egypt's new constitution. Members of several liberal parties and representatives of Egypt's churches have announced their withdrawal from the 100-member constituent assembly tasked with writing the document, protesting what they perceive as attempt to impose ultraconservative Islamist content.
Liberals fear that would be the first step toward strict implementation of Islamic Shariah laws, endangering civil liberties, as well as the rights of minorities and women.


KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan's president accused U.S. forces of capturing and holding Afghans in violation of an agreement to turn over that responsibility to his forces, complicating a new round of security talks between the two countries.
Hamid Karzai's statement late Sunday came just days after the beginning of negotiations on a bilateral security agreement that will govern the U.S. military presence in the country after the majority of troops draw down in 2014.
Karzai's critics say he frequently strikes populist, nationalist poses that give him leverage in talks with the Americans. Karzai, in turn, has said that he needs to protect Afghanistan's national interest in the face of a much stronger partner.
The two countries signed the detainee transfer pact in March, but the accord was vaguely worded and the U.S. has slowed the handover of detention facilities. Washington believes that the Afghans are not ready to take over their management, while insisting that the Afghan government agree to hold without trial some detainees that the U.S. deems too dangerous to release.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said the American government is committed to both the accord and to resolving disagreements over how it should be implemented.
In his statement, Karzai criticized the continued arrest of Afghans by U.S. forces. His spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told reporters Monday that more than 70 detainees are still being held by the Americans despite being ordered released by Afghan courts.
"These acts are completely against the agreement that has been signed between Afghanistan and the U.S. president," said Karzai's statement, urging Afghan officials to push for taking over all responsibility at the Parwan detention center at the Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan. It is the only facility where Americans confirm holding Afghan prisoners.
The disagreement over detention without trial, often called administrative detention, had put the entire transfer schedule on hold.
Faizi, the Afghan president's spokesman, said administrative detention is against Afghan law.
"There is nothing by the name of `administration detention' in our laws, yet the U.S. is insisting that there are a number of people who, while there is not enough evidence against them, are a threat to U.S. national security," he said.
Faizi also said that Karzai had agreed in a video conference call with President Barack Obama earlier this fall to give the Americans two months to figure out an alternative to detention without trial, until after the U.S. presidential election. This grace period has now expired, said the spokesman.
U.S. Embassy spokesman John Rhatigan said the United States expects to carry out its pledges.
"The United States fully respects the sovereignty of Afghanistan, and we are committed to fulfilling the mutual commitments incurred under the memorandum of understanding on detentions," Rhatigan said in an email.
"The United States is working with Afghanistan to discuss the way ahead and we are confident we will succeed," he wrote.
The detainee transfer deal was one of two pacts that paved the way for a broad but vague strategic partnership agreement signed by Kabul and Washington in May that set forth an American commitment to Afghanistan for years to come. The second pact covers "special operations" such as certain American raids.
A third detailed pact, the bilateral security agreement, is now under negotiation. It covers logistical and legal questions such as the size and number of bases and the immunity of U.S. forces from prosecution.
The two countries officially opened negotiations on the bilateral security agreement last week and have given themselves a year to sign the pact.
Karzai is under pressure to give an appearance of upholding Afghan sovereignty - which he has repeatedly claimed to champion - without putting so many restrictions on U.S. forces that an agreement becomes impossible.
It is believed that the United States wants to retain up to 20,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to train and support Afghan forces and go after extremist groups, including al-Qaida. Roughly 66,000 U.S. troops are currently in Afghanistan; it's unclear how many will be withdrawn next year as they continue to hand over security to Afghan forces. The foreign military mission is evolving from combat to advising, assisting and training Afghan forces.
The bilateral security agreement will set up a legal framework needed to operate military forces in Afghanistan, including taxation, visas and other technical issues. It does not need to be ratified by Congress. The U.S. has similar agreements with dozens of countries. In Iraq, a similar deal fell apart after U.S. officials were unable to reach an agreement with the Iraqis on legal issues and troop immunity that would have allowed a small training and counterterrorism force to remain there.
Karzai said last month that the issue of soldiers being protected from prosecution in Afghanistan could be a problem in the talks. He has said Afghanistan might demand prosecutions in some cases.
The issue took on new meaning following the case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, charged in the attacks on Afghan civilians in two villages in southern Afghanistan. The American soldier faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder in the March 11 attacks against civilians. A preliminary hearing was held this week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israeli aircraft struck crowded areas in the Gaza Strip and killed a senior militant with a missile strike on a media center Monday, driving up the Palestinian death toll to 100, as Israel broadened its targets in the 6-day-old offensive meant to quell Hamas rocket fire on Israel.
Escalating its bombing campaign over the weekend, Israel began attacking homes of activists in Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza. These attacks have led to a sharp spike in civilian casualties, killing 24 civilians in just under two days and doubling the number of civilians killed in the conflict, a Gaza health official said.
The rising toll came as Egyptian-led efforts to mediate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas got into gear.
While Israel and Hamas were far apart in their demands, both sides said they were open to a diplomatic solution - and prepared for further escalation if that failed.
The leader of Hamas took a tough stance, rejecting Israel's demands that the militant group stop its rocket fire. Instead, Khaled Mashaal said, Israel must meet Hamas' demands for a lifting of the blockade of Gaza.
"We don't accept Israeli conditions because it is the aggressor," he told reporters in Egypt. "We want a cease-fire along with meeting our demands."
An Israeli official said Israel hoped to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis as well and signaled Egypt was likely to play a key role in enforcing any truce.
`'We prefer the diplomatic solution if it's possible. If we see it's not going to bear fruit, we can escalate," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive diplomatic efforts under way.
The official said Israel doesn't want a "quick fix" that will result in renewed fighting months down the road. Instead, Israel wants "international guarantees" that Hamas will not rearm or use Egypt's neighboring Sinai peninsula for militant activity.
Overall, the offensive that began Wednesday killed 100 Palestinians, including 53 civilians, and wounded some 840 people, including 225 children, Gaza heath official Ashraf al-Kidra said.
On the Israeli side, three civilians have died from Palestinian rocket fire and dozens have been wounded. A rocket-defense system has intercepted hundreds of rockets bound for populated areas.
Hamas fighters have fired more than 1,000 rockets into Israel in the current round of fighting, including 95 on Monday, among them one that hit an empty school in the coastal city of Ashkelon. Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said 29 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile battery. Rockets landed in open areas of Beersheva, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and caused damage in a number of areas.
Schools in southern Israel have been closed since the start of the offensive on Wednesday, and large police units deployed in the area to respond to any potential damage and injuries from rockets.
A poll published in the Haaretz daily on Monday showed widespread support in Israel for the offensive. It said that 84 percent of the public supports the operation, with 12 percent opposed. At the same time, it said just 30 percent of the public supports a ground invasion of Gaza. The poll, conducted by the Dialog agency, surveyed 520 people and had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
In Monday's violence, an Israeli airstrike on a high-rise building in Gaza City killed Ramez Harb, a senior figure in Islamic Jihad's military wing, the Al Quds Brigades, the group said in a text message to reporters. A number of foreign and local news organizations have offices in the building, which was also struck on Sunday. A passer-by was also killed, medics said.
Thick black smoke rose from the building. Paramedics said several people were wounded.
Islamic Jihad, a smaller sister group to Hamas, said it believed Harb was the target of the strike.
Israel has killed dozens of wanted militants in surgical strikes throughout the operation, the result, officials say, of intelligence gathered from its collection of high-flying drones overhead and a network of informants.
Before dawn Monday, a missile struck a three-story home in the Gaza City's Zeitoun area, flattening the building and badly damaging several nearby homes. Shell-shocked residents searching for belongings climbed over debris of twisted metal and cement blocks in the street.
The strike killed three adults and a 2-year-old boy, and wounded 42 people, al-Kidra said.
Residents said Israel first sent a warning strike around 2 a.m., prompting many to flee their homes. A few minutes later, heavy bombardment followed.
Ahed Kitati, 38, had rushed out after the warning missile to try to hustle people to safety. But he was fatally struck by a falling cinderblock, leaving behind a pregnant wife, five young daughters and a son, the residents said.
Sitting in mourning with her mother and siblings hours after her father's death, 11-year-old Aya Kitati clutched a black jacket, saying she was freezing, though the weather was mild. "We were sleeping, and then we heard the sound of the bombs," she said, then broke down sobbing.
Ahed's brother, Jawad Kitati, said he plucked the lifeless body of a 2-year-old relative from the street and carried him to an ambulance. Blood stains smeared his jacket sleeve.
Another clan member, Haitham Abu Zour, 24, woke up to the sound of the warning strike and hid in a stairwell. He emerged to find his wife dead and his two infant children buried under the debris, but safe.
In another area of Gaza City, the patriarch of the Daloo family, Jamal, sat in mourning for 11 members of his family killed in a missile strike on his home Sunday. Among the dead were his wife, his son, daughter-in-law, his sister and four grandchildren. He embraced relatives and neighbors paying their condolences, his face swollen from crying. He disputed Israel's initial claim that a senior Islamic Jihad operative was hiding in his house.
The mourners sat in plastic chairs just meters away from bulldozers clearing the ruins of Daloo's home. His 16-year-old daughter Yara was still missing and believed under the rubble, family members said.
Egypt is trying to broker a cease-fire with the help of Turkey and Qatar. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and a delegation of Arab foreign ministers were expected in Gaza on Tuesday.
A senior Egyptian official told The Associated Press that Hamas and Israel were each presenting Egypt with their conditions for a cease-fire.
"I hope that by the end of the day we will receive a final signal of what can be achieved," said the official, who is familiar with the indirect negotiations. He said Israel and Hamas are both looking for guarantees to ensure a long-term stop to hostilities. The official says Egypt's aim is to stop the fighting and "find a direct way to lift the siege of Gaza."
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the indirect negotiations.
U.N. Security General Ban Ki-moon also arrived in Cairo to appeal for an end to violence.
The rising toll was likely to intensify pressure on Israel to end the fighting. Hundreds of civilian casualties in an Israeli offensive in Gaza four years ago led to fierce international condemnation of Israel.
But Mashaal said Gazans were prepared to keep fighting.
`'Gaza's demand is not a halt to war. Its demand is for its legitimate rights," including a stop to Israeli attacks, assassinations and a lifting of the blockade, Mashaal said.
Israel has been jittery that a second front along its northern border could be opened, either by militants in Lebanon or from spillover from the Syrian civil war.
Lebanese military experts dismantled two Katyusha rockets Monday that were equipped with timers and ready to fire at Israel, a senior Lebanese security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.