The Suez Canal earns Egypt about $5 billion a year in revenues, a vital source of hard currency for a country that has suffered a slump in tourism and foreign investment since its 2011 uprising.
The new channel, part of a larger project to expand Suez port and shipping facilities, aims to raise Egypt’s international profile and establish it as a major trade hub.
“This giant project will be the creation of a new Suez Canal parallel to the current channel of a total length of 72 kilometers (44.74 miles),” Mohab Mamish, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, told a conference in Ismailia, a port town on the Canal. His comments were broadcast by state television.
He said the total estimated cost of drilling the new channel would be about $4 billion and be completed in five years, though Egypt will strive to finish it within a more ambitious three-year deadline.
The original canal, which links the Mediterranean and Red Seas, took 10 years of intense and generally poorly-paid work by Egyptians, who according to the Canal Authority, were drafted at the rate of 20,000 every 10 months from “the peasantry.”
It took weeks if not months off journeys between Europe and Asia, otherwise necessitating a trip round the tip of Africa.
Egyptian President Adel Fattah al-Sisi, a former army chief, said the armed forces would be in charge of the new project for security reasons. Up to 20 Egyptian firms could be involved in the project but would work under military supervision, he said.
Last year, Sisi orchestrated the ouster of elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and oversaw a massive crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
This was followed by a rise in violence from Islamist militants based in the Sinai peninsula, which has stoked some concern about the security of the nearby Suez Canal. The government has since been fighting militants in an ongoing military campaign in which hundreds have died on both sides.
Any disruption to shipping along the canal tends to have a serious impact on trade and oil prices.
“Sinai to a large degree has a sensitive status. The army is responsible to Egypt for this,” said Sisi, who has previously said he would not hesitate to award major projects to help revive Egypt’s battered economy to the army.
Memories of Nasser
Sisi’s allies and supporters have likened him to Gamal Abdel Nasser, the charismatic colonel who led a coup against the monarchy in 1952, set up an army-led autocracy and rounded up thousands of Muslim Brothers.
In 1956, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, leading to a failed invasion by Britain, which controlled the channel, as well as France and Israel. Nasser was praised by Egyptians for pursuing several big projects during his 14 years as president.
Pro-government Egyptian media did not hesitate to compare the Suez expansion plans to Nasser’s own state-led infrastructure projects that were a source of national pride.
Egypt has planned for years to develop 76,000 square kilometers (29,000 square miles) around the canal to attract more ships and generate more income.
Sisi said the new canal was an unannounced part of that project, which Egypt invited 14 consortia to bid for in January.
Reuters reported on Sunday that Egypt had chosen a consortium including global engineering firm Dar al-Handasah, as well as the Egyptian army, to develop the area.
A promotional video played at the launch event suggested the project would cut waiting times for vessels and allow ships to pass each other on the canal.
Mamish, the chairman, said the project would involve 35 kilometers (22 miles) of “dry digging” and 37 kilometers (23 miles) would be “expansion and deepening”, indicating the current Suez Canal, which is 163 km (101 miles) long, could be widened as part of the project.
Among the bidders, according to Egypt’s Al Mal newspaper, were a group including state-run Arab Contractors and James Cubitt and Partners, an international consultancy firm. Another included the McKinsey & Co global management consulting firm.
Gulf allies Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait donated more than $12 billion in cash and petroleum products to Egypt after the army overthrew Morsi. But Egypt remains in dire need of longer-term investments.
Source: VOA News]]>
U.S. officials identified the officer as Major General Harold Greene, a 34-year Army veteran. He is the highest-ranking U.S. serviceman killed in action since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001.
Greene and the others, including a German general, were shot during a routine visit to the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Kabul - a military training center.
The Afghan Defense Ministry describes the gunman as a terrorist wearing an Afghan army uniform. He also was killed.
U.S. and Afghan officials believe the shooting was an insider attack, in which Afghan soldiers turn their guns on U.S. and allied forces.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the shooting and offered his condolences to all the victims.
The United Nations in Afghanistan described the shooting as a tragedy.
Source: VOA News]]>
The State Department says it has suspended embassy operations due to “ongoing violence between Libyan militias.”
In a Saturday statement, officials also recommended that U.S. citizens in Libya depart immediately.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said “freewheeling militia violence” is taking place in the capital. And although a lot of the violence in Tripoli is not targeting the embassy, he said, the “very real risk” to personnel prompted the decision to evacuate diplomatic staff overland to Tunisia, from where they will move on to other locations to continue efforts to ease the unrest.
“We are deeply committed and remain committed to the diplomatic process in Libya,” Kerry told media in Paris on Saturday, where he is meeting with other diplomats on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Our envoy will continue to be engaged with the British envoy and other envoys. … We call on all Libyans to engage in the political process and to come together in order to avoid the violence.”
On Friday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry announced it had suspended operations at its embassy in Tripoli and moved more than 500 Turkish nationals to Tunisia.
Rival militias are battling for control in Tripoli at a time when a weak central government is riven by divisions between Islamist, tribal, and nationalist factions. Recent weeks have seen some of the country’s deadliest fighting since former leader Moammar Gadhafi was ousted in 2011.
Nearly 50 people were killed during clashes between Islamist-led fighters from Misrata and Zintan rebels earlier this month as the groups fought for control of the airport.
The Libyan government and parliament have struggled in their efforts to control the militias.
The State Department says Libya’s security situation remains “unpredictable and unstable,” and that the government has not been able to “adequately build its military and police forces” following the 2011 revolution. Many “military-grade weapons” have remained in the hands of private individuals, officials say.
The security of U.S. personnel in Libya remains a sensitive issue, after four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed in a 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
The International Criminal Court is investigating the current violence.
Source: VOA News]]>
Perry said he took the extraordinary measure of activating some of the state’s National Guard troops to help secure the border, where tens of thousands of immigrants from Central America, including some 50,000 children, have entered the United States in recent months.
“I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault and little children from Central America are detained in squalor. We are too good a country for that to occur,” he said. “That is why today I am using my authority as governor of Texas in activating the National Guard.”
Perry was referring to initial reports of Border Patrol detention facilities becoming overcrowded, as agents struggled to keep up with the surge of people coming over the border and turning themselves in, seeking asylum.
The federal government has now established a large detention center in Arizona to accommodate some of the overflow and is processing many other immigrants and sending them to stay with family members around the country while they await their court hearing.
Perry said Border Patrol agents have been diverted from protecting the border to processing the influx of Central Americans, thereby giving lawbreakers more leeway.
“Drug cartels, human traffickers, individual criminals are exploiting this tragedy for their own criminal opportunities,” Perry said.
Perry noted that only about 20 percent of the people detained after crossing the border illegally are children.
He said the Texas National Guard troops would be “force multipliers” to assist U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as U.S. Custom and Border Protection agents in catching human traffickers and drug smugglers.
But there are many people who criticize Perry’s action as unnecessary.
Cameron County, Texas Sheriff Omar Lucio (loo-SEE-oh), whose jurisdiction includes the border city of Brownsville, said Perry’s announcement was done for political reasons.
Perry is expected to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Wendy Davis, the Texas Democratic candidate for governor, called on Perry to send additional Sheriff’s deputies from various other parts of the state to help local sheriffs at the border, rather than the National Guard.
Another skeptic is longtime U.S. Immigration Special Agent Hipolito Acosta, who is now retired. In a VOA interview done before Perry’s announcement, Acosta commented on the governor’s initial suggestion that he might deploy the National Guard.
“The National Guard cannot arrest illegal aliens, the National Guard cannot process illegal aliens, the National Guard cannot actually detain people smuggling drugs inside the United States, so, again, it is a lot of grandstanding,” Acosta said.
But the deployment of the National Guard in Texas is popular among many conservatives in the state and on the national scene as well.
Some members of Congress say passage of President Barack Obama’s request for $3.7 billion in emergency funds should hinge on this issue.
The National Guard provides the U.S. Defense system with reserve troops around the country that can be called to active duty as necessary.
Guard members in each state have civilian jobs and train on weekends. They also engage in special training exercises and deployments throughout the year.
Either the president or the governor of a state can call out the National Guard in emergencies, but when the governor of a state does so, the state pays the cost.
In this case, Texas will spend $12 million a month on the border operation, a bill state officials say they hope to pass on to the federal government since it has primary responsibility for immigration and border security.
Source: VOA News]]>
US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, speaking after the UN security council vote said: “We welcome Russia’s support for the resolution – but no resolution would have been necessary if they had pressured the rebels to allow an investigation full and unfettered access to the scene”
Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop welcomed the vote result, calling it an “uanmbiguous response” to an “utterly deplorable act.”
Thirty-seven Australians died when the plane went down. Officials in Ukraine, the United States and the European Union say a surface-to-air missile slammed into the plane as it flew over eastern Ukraine on July 17.
U.S. President Barack Obama earlier Monday called on Moscow to use its influence over pro-Russian separatists to allow international investigators to reach the wreckage.
In remarks at the White House Monday, Obama said “The burden now is on Russia to insist that the separatists stop tampering with the evidence, grant investigators who are already on the ground immediate, full, and unimpeded access to the crash site.”
After intense international pressure, the separatists on Monday allowed a train carrying the bodies of the victims to leave the rebel-held town of Torez for the town of Kharkiv in Ukraine. The bodies are to be handed over to the Netherlands, the country that lost the most nationals in the crash.
Rebels controlling the crash site said Monday they would give the plane’s flight recorders to Malaysian officials. The so-called black boxes contain voice and flight data recordings from the passenger plane.
Obama said the burden was on Russia and President Vladimir Putin to compel those “they encouraged, trained and armed” to halt the violence.
“Now is the time for President Putin and Russia to pivot away from the strategy they’ve been taking and get serious about trying to resolve hostilities with Ukraine in a way that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and respects the right of the Ukrainian people to make decisions about their own lives,” said Obama.
European leaders said Monday they were ready to increase sanctions on Russia to force Moscow to use its influence over the rebels to stop the conflict and allow international investogators access to the crash site.
British Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament Monday that Russia could not expect to enjoy access to European markets and money if it fueled conflict in Ukraine.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has offered to turn over the lead in the investigation into the downing of a Malaysian airliner to the Netherlands.
Moscow on Monday implied that Kyiv was behind the downing of the passenger jet, saying that an Ukranian warplane had been flying just three to five kilometers away from the Malaysian plane at the time of the shootdown.
Russian President Vladimir Putin once again on Monday said the airliner would not have gone down if Ukraine had not re-ignited fighting last month in the region with separatists.
“We can say with confidence that if fighting in eastern Ukraine had not been renewed on June 28, this tragedy would not have happened. At the same time, nobody should or does have a right to use this tragedy to achieve their own selfish political objectives. Such events should not divide, but rather unite people.”
“We need for all people who answer for the situation to uphold their responsibility both before their own people, as before the people of other nations, the representatives of which became victims of this catastrophe. It is necessary to do everything in order to secure the safe work of international experts at the site of the tragedy,” he said.
Putin said Monday that Russia was doing everything possible to allow a team of experts from the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization to investigate the scene.
Source: VOA News]]>
Obama said Monday the pro-Russian separatists who control the part of eastern Ukraine where the plane went down are preventing international investigators from gaining full access to the wreckage.
“As investigators approached, they fired their weapons into the air. The separatists are removing evidence from the crash site, all which begs the question: What exactly are they trying to hide?” the president asked.
U.S. officials say there is evidence the missile that brought the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 down was fired from territory controlled by rebels who Russia is backing and supplying with equipment that includes anti-aircraft weapons.
Obama said Moscow has urged the rebels on, trained them, and armed them. And he said Russian President Vladimir Putin now should facilitate a transparent investigation.
“Given its direct influence over the separatists, Russia, and President Putin in particular, has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation. That is the least that they can do,” Obama said.
The president said the separatists have been removing bodies from the crash site without following proper procedures, something he called an insult to the victims’ loved ones.
Obama has been speaking to leaders of nations whose citizens were lost on the flight.
The U.S. leader said Russia will only continue to isolate itself from the international community if it keeps supporting the rebels.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council on Monday unanimously passed a resolution condemning the downing of the Malaysian passenger jet and demanded that pro-Russian separatists controlling the crash site allow investigators unrestricted accesss to the area.
Dr. Anthony Cordesman, former Pentagon official and currently holder of the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies asked whether the magnitude of the downing of MH17 compels Obama to act more aggressively towards Russia, said: “I think the word compel isn’t valid. It [the downing of the jet] gives the US more leverage in mobilizing world opinion and getting support for sanctions from european allies.…but the key problem is how easily something like this can fade….the whole problem of how Russia deals with the states around it is going to go on in the future.”
Kerry condemns Russia
Secretary of State John Kerry has condemned Russia for what he called “overwhelming evidence” of complicity in Thursday’s downing of the Malaysian airliner in eastern Ukraine.
In a series of appearances on Sunday news shows, Kerry said the evidence points to Russia supplying pro-Moscow separatists with a sophisticated SA-11 anti-aircraft system and then training separatists to use it.
He said U.S. authorities have seen video, taken after the crash, of a missile launcher with at least one rocket missing. He said that battery was moved back into Russian territory from rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine after Thursday’s attack, which killed 298 people near the Russian border.
EU to increase sanctions
European leaders said Monday they were ready to slap increasing sanctions on Russia to force Moscow to use its influence over the rebels to stop the conflict and allow international investogators free access to the crash site.
British Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament Monday that Russia cannot expect to enjoy access to European markets and money if it fuels conflict in Ukraine.
He also echoed comments by Obama that the separatists must ensure the bodies of the victims of the crash are repatriated and that international investigators must be given access to the crash site.
Source: VOA News]]>
Malaysia Airlines reported on Twitter that it lost contact of a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur over Ukrainian airspace Thursday. The plane was carrying 280 passengers and 15 crew members.
A Ukrainian interior ministry official, Anton Gerashchenko, said the airliner was hit by a ground-to-air missile.
In a posting on his Facebook page, Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said the plane was flying at 33,000 feet when it was hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher.
The Buk is a sophisticated, medium-range, Russian-designed surface-to-air missile systems that can fire missiles up to 72,000 feet.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statment on the presidential website that he does not rule out that the airliner was shot down but stressed that the Ukrainian military was not involved.
“We do not rule out that this plane has been shot down but emphasize that the Armed Forces of Ukraine were not engaged in any activity involving hitting targets in the air,” the statement said.
Poroshenko also expressed his condolences to the families and loved ones of those affected by what he described as “this terrible tragedy”.
Washington in touch with Ukraine
In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that U.S. officials have been in touch with Ukrainian officials about the reports, but declined to elaborate.
A Pentagon spokesman told reporters that U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been briefed about the Malaysian Airlines crash but ‘cannot confirm details’.
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted “a source in aviation circles” as saying the plane crashed near the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne, which is located near the border with Russia and has seen heavy fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists. An airstrike there earlier this week killed 11 people. It is unclear who carried out that attack; the rebels blamed Ukraine’s air force.
Around the time the first reports of the airliner crash came in Thursday, the separatists claimed they had downed a Ukrainian An-26 miltary transport plane near the town of Torez, which is less then 10 kilomters from Snizhne.
Social media postings on Twitter and the Russian site VKontakte that were attributed to a top leader of the pro-Russian insurgency, Igor Strelkov, claimed that insurgents had shot down an Antonov An-26 heavy engine prop plane at around the same time Thursday that the Malaysian airliner went down. The posting, which also included video showing smoke rising purportedly from the fields outside the village of Torez, was posted at 5:50 p.m. Moscow time, and read:
“In the vicinity of Torez, an An-26 was just shot down, falling somewhere in the vicinity of the Progress coal mine. We warned them about this: Don’t fly over ‘our skies.’ And here is video confirmation of the latest ‘bird strike.’ The bird fell near the slagheap, the residential district was struck. No civilians suffered. There’s also information about a second downed plane, apparently an Su (Sukhoi).”
There was no immediate way to authenticate the video or the postings, although the claims appeared to match up with initial reports about when and where the Malaysian airliner went down.
The posting was later removed from the VKontakte page.
A later posting on both the same VKontatke page and the Twitter feed linked to Strelkov quoted a top official with the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Borodai, as confirming that a passenger jet had crashed neared Torez, but denied involvement. The post instead instead suggested Ukrainian forces were responsible.
Borodai said via Twitter that the rebels do not have weapons capable of hitting an airliner flying 10,000 meters up. Ukraine’s government denied its armed forces were involved.
Dozens of bodies were scattered around the smouldering wreckage of the passenger jet that crashed, a Reuters reporter said.
An emergency services rescue worker said at least 100 bodies had so far been found at the scene, near the village of Grabovo, and that debris from the wreckage was spread across an area up to about 15 km (nine miles) in diameter.
Broken pieces of the wings were marked with blue and red paint - the same colours as the emblem of the Malaysian airline which lost track of a Boeing 777 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was carrying almost 300 people.
“I was working in the field on my tractor when I heard the sound of a plane and then a bang and shots. Then I saw the plane hit the ground and break in two. There was thick black smoke,” said a witness, who gave his name only as Vladimir.
A separatist rebel from nearby Krasnyi Luch who gave his name only as Sergei said: “From my balcony I saw a plane begin to descend from a great height and then heard two explosions.
He denied the rebels had shot the plane down. “This could happen only if it was a fighter jet or a surface-to-air missile (that shot it down),” he told Reuters, saying the rebels did not have weapons capable of shooting shoot down a plane at such a height.
Malaysia launches investigation
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said he was shocked by the reports and that he was launching an immediate investigation into the crash.
But the country’s Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said there is “no confirmation” the flight was shot down.
The incident comes after a Malaysia Airlines plane went mising on March 8 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with
239 passengers and crew on board. It has not been found.
Plane downed Monday
On Monday, a Ukrainian military An-26 was downed in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region.
Pro-Russian separatists claimed responsibility for hitting a Ukrainian Su-25 flying over eastern Ukraine with a missile earlier Wednesday. The pilot of that plane managed to bring it down safely. Also Wednesday, the Ukrainian military said a missile fired by a Russian warplane hit and brought down a Ukrainian Su-25 flying over eastern Ukraine, but that the pilot safely ejected.
Source: VOA News]]>
Obama says he and European leaders have repeatedly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop the flow of fighters and weapons across the border into Ukraine, to urge pro-Russian separatists to release hostages, agree to a cease-fire and enter mediated talks.
Instead, Obama says, President Putin has increased support for separatists, a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Given its continued provocations in Ukraine, today I have approved a new set of sanctions on some of Russia’s largest companies and financial institutions,” says Obama.
The new sanctions target parts of Russia’s financial, energy and defense sectors. They include freezing the assets of several Russian defense companies and blocking new financing to major energy companies, like Novatek and Rosneft. They also hit eight Russian firms that produce weaponry, including small arms, mortar shells and tanks.
“These sanctions are significant, but they are also targeted, designed to have the maximum impact on Russia while also limiting the effects on American companies or those of our allies,” says Obama.
The White House says it approved the sanctions after consulting closely with its European partners, who also are considering tougher measures against Russia.
The U.S. announcement comes amid Pentagon reports that Russia has increased its troop presence along the Ukraine border to at least 10,000, up from about 1,000 troops last month.
“What we are expecting is that the Russian leadership will see once again that its actions in Ukraine have consequences, including a weakening Russian economy and increasing diplomatic isolation,” says Obama.
One senior administration official describes the sanctions package as a “broad, flexible and potent” tool. And the official warned it could be used to add more pressure on Russia, if it fails to take concrete steps to end the crisis.
Source: VOA News]]>
Obama’s public approval rating is stuck at around 40 percent, and many Democrats worry that could undermine their hopes to hold their majority in the Senate this year and prevent losses in the House of Representatives.
The president’s challenges abroad have grown in recent days, including violence in the Mideast and Iraq and an immigration crisis along the southern U.S. border.
But even as the immigration crisis dominates domestic headlines, the president has been squarely focused on the economy and trying to circumvent Republican attempts to block his agenda in Congress.
During a recent visit to Texas, Obama repeated his vow that he will take action where he can to break Washington’s political gridlock.
“Whenever and wherever I have the power, the legal authority to help families like yours, even if Congress is not doing anything, I will take that opportunity. I will try to make something happen,” he said.
The president has also been dismissive of House Republican plans to sue him in federal court over his use of executive authority on a range of issues.
“You hear some of them: ‘Sue him! Impeach him,’ he said. “Really? Really? For what? You are going to sue me for doing my job?”
On the immigration issue, Republicans blame the president for not doing more to secure the southern U.S. border, including House Speaker John Boehner.
“This is a problem of the president’s own making! He’s been president for five-and-one-half years,” he said. “When is he going to take responsibility for something?”
The president is also getting pressure from his political left and liberal Democrats like Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois who want to ensure that young migrants from Central America are protected.
“I plan to support the president’s budget request, but we must make sure we do not short-circuit justice for the children,” he said.
But the overarching problem for Democrats at the moment is the president’s poor poll ratings. Historically, weak poll numbers for the president in a congressional election year spell trouble for the president’s party, says political analyst Charlie Cook.
“Whenever you have a president and a midterm election where the president’s approval rating is well below 50 percent and whose disapproval ratings are above 50 percent, at or above 50 percent, it is a problem,” he said.
Republicans currently hold a majority in the House and need a gain of six seats to seize a majority in the Senate. Republican control of both chambers in the president’s final two years in office would be a huge political obstacle for Obama.
Political analyst John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington says Republicans appear to be well on their way to making that happen.
“They need six seats to take to make the majority, but they’ve got a good shot, at least a 50-50 shot, of taking the Senate and probably even gaining a few seats in the House,” he said.
Obama’s second term blues are in keeping with recent history, says Charlie Cook, noting recent setbacks for two-term presidents like George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.
“You get into years six, seven and eight and they kind of run out of gas and bad things typically happen,” he said.
Obama seems determined to turn that around as he keeps up an energetic schedule of speeches around the country aimed at energizing Democrats for the midterm election. But even as the president slips into early campaign mode, it remains to be seen how many Democrats will welcome his help between now and November.
Source: VOA News]]>
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday warned Hamas that Israel will intensify its weeklong campaign against Gaza if Hamas rejects an Egyptian-proposed cease-fire.
“If Hamas rejects the Egyptian proposal and the rocket fire from Gaza does not cease, and that appears to be the case, we are prepared to continue and intensify our operation,” Netanyahu told a news conference in Tel Aviv.
Some Hamas officials signaled the group had not made a decision Tuesday, but its armed wing rejected the Egyptian plan saying it would amount to “surrender.”
The confusion threw into disarray international efforts to end a week of fighting that has killed 192 Palestinians and exposed millions of Israelis to Hamas rocket fire.
Under the terms of the blueprint announced late Monday by Egypt - whose military-backed government has been at odds with Hamas - a mutual “de-escalation” of fighting was to begin at 9 a.m. (0600 GMT), with hostilities ceasing within 12 hours.
However, rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel after 9 a.m. and live television showed the Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepting several projectiles over the port city of Ashdod, where a factory was hit.
Emergency services said no one was hurt.
After a halt in hostilities, the cease-fire plan called for negotiations on easing the closure of Gaza’s borders - a closure that has been enforced by both Israel and Egypt to varying degrees since Hamas seized the territory in 2007.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Hamas to accept Egypt’s cease-fire proposal.
In a brief statement released by the State Department on Tuesday, Kerry welcomed Israel’s decision to accept the proposal.
“The Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire and negotiations provides an opportunity to end the violence and restore calm,” Kerry said. “We welcome the Israeli cabinet’s decision to accept it. We urge all other parties to accept the proposal.”
While Israel said it had halted its attacks in the Gaza Strip, it said it would respond “with force” if Palestinian strikes persisted.
Speaking at a joint news conference in Tel Aviv with visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Netanyahu said Israel wanted to see “the demilitarisation” of Gaza.
“We responded positively to the Egyptian proposal to give a chance to deal with the demilitarisation of Gaza from missiles, rockets and tunnels,” he said.
Hamas’ armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, rejected the reported text of the deal announced by Egypt, Gaza’s neighbor, saying: “Our battle with the enemy continues and will increase in ferocity and intensity.”
But Moussa Abu Marzouk, a top Hamas official who was in Cairo, said the movement had made no final decision in a Facebook posting on Tuesday.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said earlier on Tuesday that the Islamist group had not received an official cease-fire proposal, and he repeated its position that demands it has made must be met before it lays down its weapons.
Hamas leaders have said a cease-fire must include an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and a recommitment to a truce reached in an eight-day war there in 2012.
Hamas also wants Egypt to ease restrictions at its Rafah crossing with Gaza, imposed after the military toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last July.
Hamas has also said it wants the release of hundreds of its activists arrested in the West Bank while Israel searched for the three missing teens. The detainees include more than 50 Hamas men freed from Israeli jails in a 2011 prisoner exchange.
The Egyptian proposal made no mention of Rafah or when restrictions might be eased. The proposed truce also made no mention of the detainees in stipulating that “other issues, including security issues, shall be discussed with the sides.”
The Arab League said in a statement it welcomed the Egyptian initiative “to protect the lives of the innocent.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who reached an agreement with Hamas in April that led to the formation of a unity government last month, urged acceptance of the proposal, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said.
Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defense official and envoy to Cairo, said Hamas had been weakened by the air and sea bombardment of Gaza that medical officials in the densely populated enclave said has killed at least 190 people, many of them civilians.
“Look at the balance, and you see that Hamas tried every possible means of striking at Israel,” Gilad told Israel’s Army Radio.
Hundreds of rocket attacks on Israel have caused no fatalities, largely due to Iron Dome. But the strikes have disrupted life across the country and sent people rushing into shelters.
Israel had mobilized tens of thousands of troops for a threatened Gaza invasion if the rocket salvoes persisted in the worst flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities in two years.
“We still have the possibility of going in, under cabinet authority, and putting an end to them (the rockets),” Gilad said.
In overnight attacks, Israel said it had bombed 25 sites in Gaza. Palestinian medical officials said a 63-year-old man and a 52-year-old woman were killed.
Source: VOA News]]>