Egypt Independent: World-Main news en Skies calm over Gaza as long-term truce takes hold <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>The skies over the Gaza Strip were calm Wednesday as a long-term ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians took hold after 50 days of the deadliest violence in a decade.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Millions in and around the war-torn enclave enjoyed a welcome night of peace during which there were no strikes on Gaza, nor Palestinian rockets fired at Israel, the Israeli army said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Since the truce came into force, there has been no IDF activity in Gaza, and no rocket fire on Israel,&quot; a military spokeswoman said 12 hours after the guns on both sides fell silent.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In Gaza, where celebrations erupted once the truce took hold at 1600 GMT on Tuesday, the festivities continued late into the night as its 1.8 million residents revelled in the end of seven weeks of bloody violence.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The conflict, which began on July 8 when Israel began Operation Protective Edge in a bid to stamp out cross-border rocket fire, has claimed the lives of 2,143 Palestinians and 70 on the Israeli side.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>UN figures show nearly 70 percent of the Palestinian victims were civilians, while 64 of the Israelis killed were soldiers.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Palestinians said it was a &quot;permanent&quot; truce, while a senior Israeli official described it as &quot;unconditional and unlimited in time&quot;.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Washington gave its full backing to the Egyptian-mediated deal, with US Secretary of State John Kerry calling on both sides &quot;to fully and completely comply with its terms.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We strongly support today&#39;s ceasefire agreement,&quot; he said early Wednesday, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced hope that the ceasefire in Gaza would set the stage for talks on a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Britain also welcomed the truce, hailing Egyptian efforts to end the violence.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The ceasefire provides a critical and welcome window of opportunity for reaching a comprehensive agreement that tackles the underlying causes of the conflict,&quot; said Tobias Ellwood, Britain&#39;s Minister for the Middle East.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>And Tony Blair, envoy for the Middle East Quartet of diplomatic peacemakers, also welcomed the end of the bloodshed.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The Quartet will now concentrate on a long-term plan for Gaza and for its reconstruction, including the effective and efficient re-opening and re-connection (of the enclave) to the outside world under the authority of the Palestinian Authority government,&quot; he said in a statement.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Such a plan will enable a proper and decent life for the people of Gaza, as well as protect the security of the people of Israel.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>&#39;Can&#39;t believe I&#39;m still alive&#39;</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In Gaza itself thousands flooded onto the streets in celebration, some firing joyfully into the air, among them gunmen from Hamas, AFP correspondents said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Chanting and clapping, they surged through the battered streets, bellowing songs of victory as a man swathed in a huge green Hamas flag threw handfuls of sweets into the air.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Thank God the war is ended. I can&#39;t believe I&#39;m still alive with my kids!&quot; 32-year-old Maha Khaled told AFP.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;It was a very harsh war. I never thought that we would see peace at the end.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Cars jammed the streets, their horns honking incessantly, as beaming women and children flashed victory signs and crowds of young men bounced up and down on rooftops, waving flags.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>As night fell, there was no letup in the celebrations as the rhythmic thud of drums beat a celebratory pulse and a performer breathed fire to entertain the ecstatic crowd.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Today Gaza showed the world that it is resisting and that it is stronger than Israel,&quot; said Tamer al-Madqa, 23.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>&#39;Ending the blockade&#39;</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>News of the agreement first emerged from the West Bank city of Ramallah where a Palestinian official told AFP that an elusive &quot;permanent ceasefire&quot; deal would involve an end to Israel&#39;s eight-year blockade of Gaza.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Ending the blockade had been a key Palestinian demand in truce talks, with Hamas hailing the agreement as a &quot;victory for the resistance&quot;.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The Egyptian initiative (includes) an opening of the crossings for goods and humanitarian and food aid to enter Gaza, as well as medical supplies and materials to repair the water, electricity and mobile phone networks,&quot; chief Palestinian truce negotiator Azzam al-Ahmed told AFP.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Restrictions on fishing would end &quot;immediately&quot; with boats allowed to fish up to six miles (10 kilometres) offshore with the limit later extended to 12 miles, he said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>There was no immediate word on when the crossings would be opened under terms outlined in the deal, or whether the fishing zone extension was in place.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>At a later, unspecified date, the two sides would return to Cairo to discuss &quot;the exchange of (Palestinian) prisoners and of the bodies of those (Israeli soldiers) killed&quot; during the conflict, Ahmed said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Egypt&#39;s foreign ministry confirmed there would be a &quot;continuation of indirect negotiations between the two sides on other matters within one month of the ceasefire taking effect.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>A senior Israeli official said the talks would resume in Cairo &quot;within a month,&quot; saying its delegation would be &quot;raising our concerns about demilitarisation and preventing Hamas from rearming.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But in his first public appearance since the start of the war, senior Hamas official Mahmud al-Zahar, who like other Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders had gone to ground to avoid being assassinated by Israel, pledged its military wing would continue &quot;arming itself and developing its resistance capacity&quot;.</div> Wed, 27 Aug 2014 09:16:00 +0000 AFP 2438161 at sites/default/files/photo/2014/04/02/484151/palestinians_sign_treaty.jpg Social media: Islamic State executes soldiers, takes hostages at Syria base <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Islamic State militants have executed Syrian army soldiers and are holding a group of them hostage after capturing an air base in northeast Syria at the weekend, pictures posted on the Internet and on Twitter by supporters showed on Wednesday.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Islamic State, an offshoot of al Qaeda, stormed Tabqa air base near Raqqa city on Sunday after days of fighting with the army that cost more than 500 lives, according to monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Tabqa was the army&#39;s last foothold in an area otherwise controlled by the militants, who have seized large areas of Syria and Iraq. The United States has carried out air strikes on the group in Iraq and is studying its options in Syria.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In one picture posted online, a group of militants in balaclavas are seen gunning down at least seven kneeling men identified as army personnel. Reuters was not able to immediately confirm the authenticity of the images or when exactly they were taken.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Other photos showed groups of eight to 10 soldiers in fatigues taken hostage, some with facial wounds. Three are identified as officers. The photos appeared to show at least two dozen hostages.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>One picture reportedly shows the body of a pilot who had appeared on Syrian state television before the attack on the base explaining how the army could easily defend it. Others show militants holding up knives next to groups of captured men.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Syrian state television aired a report last week interviewing army personnel at the base and showing its defenses, just before Islamic State overran it.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>On Sunday, Syrian state television said that after fierce battles, the military was &quot;regrouping&quot; and that there was a &quot;successful evacuation of the airport&quot; as the army continued strikes on Islamic State in areas close to the base.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Raqqa is a stronghold of Islamic State, and some people celebrated in the city after the capture of the air base.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Observatory said at least 346 Islamic State fighters were killed and more than 170 members of the security forces had died in five days of fighting over the base, making it one of the deadliest clashes between the two groups since the start of Syria&#39;s war.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The photos posted online also showed the attack on the base, which used at least one tank. Later pictures showed bodies on the ground and abandoned military hardware, such as a jet, warplane munitions and missiles, although it was not clear if any were operational.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Syria said on Monday it would cooperate in any international effort to fight Islamic State militants, but a White House spokesman said on Tuesday there was no plan to coordinate with Damascus on how to counter the threat.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>President Barack Obama approved US surveillance flights to gather intelligence on the extremist group after the release of a graphic video last week showing the beheading of a US journalist by an Islamic State fighter.</div> Wed, 27 Aug 2014 08:41:00 +0000 Reuters 2438159 at sites/default/files/photo/2014/08/27/94/download.jpg Iran supplied weapons to Iraqi Kurdish forces; Baghdad bomb kills 12 <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Iran has supplied weapons and ammunition to Iraqi Kurdish forces, Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani said Tuesday at a joint press conference with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Arbil, capital of Iraq&#39;s Kurdish region.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The direct arming of Kurdish forces is a contentious issue because some Iraqi politicians have said they suspect Kurdish leaders have aspirations to break away from the central government completely. The move could also be seen by some as a prelude to Iran taking a more direct role in broader Iraqi conflict.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We asked for weapons and Iran was the first country to provide us with weapons and ammunition,&quot; Barzani said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Militants from the Islamic State have clashed with Kurdish peshmerga fighters in recent weeks and taken control of some areas on the periphery of Iraqi Kurdistan.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Earlier in the day a car bomb was detonated in a mainly Shia district of eastern Baghdad, killing 12 people and wounding 28, police and medical sources said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The bombing in the New Baghdad neighborhood followed a series of blasts in the Iraqi capital on Monday which killed more than 20 people.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Islamic State, which controls large swathes of northern and western Iraq, claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in the New Baghdad neighborhood on Monday and said in a statement that the attack was carried out as revenge for an attack against a Sunni mosque in Diyala on Friday which killed 68 and wounded dozens.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Iranian foreign minister held talks with Barzani on Tuesday, one day after visiting senior Shia clerics in southern Iraq. Zarif acknowledged giving military assistance to Iraqi security forces but said the cooperation did not include deploying ground troops in the country.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We have no military presence in Iraq,&quot; Zarif said. &quot;We do have military cooperation with both the central government and the Kurds in different arenas.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Neither Zarif nor Barzani gave any details whether weapons supplied to Kurdish peshmerga forces had been routed through the central government or given directly to Kurdish forces. Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi said Monday that arms given to the peshmerga had been routed through the central government.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Britain, France, Germany and Italy have also promised to send military assistance to Kurdish security forces to fight the Islamic State.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The United States has carried out a series of airstrikes against the Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq in the past two weeks, partly to protect the Kurdish region from being overrun.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Zarif denied that Iran and the United States were discussing Iraq as part of talks between Iran and Western powers about Iran&rsquo;s nuclear program.</div> Tue, 26 Aug 2014 21:32:00 +0000 Reuters 2438147 at sites/default/files/photo/2013/09/06/228/alalam_635132857721487393_25f_4x3.jpg Israeli air strikes target more Gaza high-rises <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Israel bombed more of Gaza&#39;s tallest structures on Tuesday, bringing down a 13-storey apartment and office tower and destroying most of a 16-floor residential building after warning occupants to get out.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Israeli military, declining to comment specifically on the attacks that flattened the Basha Tower and wrecked the Italian Complex, said it attacked 15 &quot;terror sites&quot;, including some in buildings that housed Hamas command and control centers.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Hamas, the dominant militant group in the Gaza Strip, accused Israel of an &quot;unprecedented act of revenge against civilians&quot; aimed at deterring Palestinians from supporting the Islamist movement.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>A Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, said Egypt had proposed a new ceasefire and was waiting for Israel to respond, after a five-day truce and indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks in Cairo on a durable Gaza agreement collapsed a week ago.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Locked in a seven-week-old war and vowing to end rocket fire from the enclave, Israel has now attacked three of Gaza&#39;s most prominent high-rise buildings since Saturday, when it destroyed the 13-storey Al Zafer Tower.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>No fatalities were reported in those bombings, which were preceded by non-explosive warning missiles that sent residents fleeing. Twenty people were wounded in the attack on the Italian Complex building, and two others were killed in Israeli strikes elsewhere in the Gaza Strip, medical officials said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Palestinian rocket fire damaged a house in the southern Israeli coastal town of Ashkelon, lightly wounding 10 people police said. Another rocket was intercepted over the Tel Aviv area, an army spokeswoman said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Cairo&#39;s latest initiative, Palestinians officials said, called for an indefinite halt to hostilities, the immediate opening of Gaza&#39;s blockaded crossings with Israel and Egypt and a widening of the enclave&#39;s fishing zone in the Mediterranean.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Under a second stage that would begin a month later, Israel and the Palestinians would discuss the construction of a Gaza sea port and an Israeli release of Hamas prisoners in the occupied West Bank, the officials said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Both Israel and Egypt view Hamas as a security threat and are demanding guarantees that weapons will not enter the economically crippled territory.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>An Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity said Israel would consider an Egyptian proposal once assured that Hamas was ready to accept it.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Speaking on Al-Arabiya television, Hamdan said: &quot;Returning to negotiations must be linked to a position that includes guarantees and clear Israeli concessions.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>UN Resolution</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Separately, the United States has begun preparing its own draft outline for a proposed United Nations resolution to demand a ceasefire, working alongside European powers and Jordan on a final draft, diplomats said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Palestinian health officials say 2,125 people, most of them civilians, including more than 490 children, have been killed in Gaza since July 8, when Israel launched an offensive with the declared aim of ending the rocket salvoes.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and four civilians in Israel have been killed.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Thousands of homes in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or damaged in the conflict. Nearly 500,000 people have been displaced in the territory where Palestinians, citing Israeli attacks that have hit schools and mosques, say no place is safe.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Israel has said Hamas bears responsibility for civilian casualties, because it operates among non-combatants. The group, it said, uses schools and mosques to store weapons and as launch sites for cross-border rocket attacks.</div> Tue, 26 Aug 2014 10:58:00 +0000 Reuters 2438140 at sites/default/files/photo/2014/08/01/484151/palestinian_girl.jpg