Mubarak rejects Israel’s attempts to lay Gaza responsibility on Egypt

UN: Settlement in East Jerusalem running counter to international law

Fresh U.S., European sanctions against Iran

Tehran threatens to respond to sanctions, says its missiles do not pose threat to Europe

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday rejected what he said were Israeli attempts to escape responsibility towards the blockaded Gaza Strip and place it on Egypt.

"We are exerting all efforts to lift the Israeli blockade on Gaza," Mubarak told members of his ruling National Democratic Party in a speech carried by the official MENA news agency.

"We reject attempts by Israel, the occupying force, to free itself of responsibility towards the strip and place it on Egypt," he said.

Mubarak's comments come after Israel on Sunday said it would allow all strictly "civilian" goods into the Gaza Strip while preventing weapons and certain dual-use items from entering the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave.

The new policy is a response to mounting calls to ease Israel's four-year siege on the coastal enclave after Israeli forces killed nine Turkish activists during a May 31 raid on a flotilla of aid ships attempting to run the blockade.

Following the raid, Mubarak ordered that the Rafah border crossing -- the only entry to Gaza that bypasses Israel -- be opened indefinitely.

In his speech Mubarak said divisions between rival Palestinian factions gave Israel a "pretext" to delay the peace process.

"We regret the ongoing Palestinian divisions which the Palestinian people are paying the price for ... and which give Israel a pretext to delay peace negotiations," he said.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party and Hamas have remained deeply divided since the Islamists seized control of Gaza in June 2007.

Since then Egypt has made several attempts to reconcile the two main Palestinian movements, but the last round of talks ended in October 2009 when Hamas refused to sign the Egyptian document after it was inked by Fatah.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized Israeli municipal authorities on Wednesday for pressing ahead with a plan to raze Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, calling it unhelpful and illegal.

"The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the decision by the Jerusalem municipality to advance planning for house demolitions and further settlement activity in the area of Silwan," Ban's press office said in a statement.

"The planned moves are contrary to international law, and to the wishes of Palestinian residents."

Israeli municipal authorities moved ahead on Monday with plans to demolish 20 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, risking more U.S.-Israeli friction over a building project seen by Palestinians as settlement expansion.

Ban's statement appeared to confirm that the Jerusalem city planning board's decision would lead to renewed diplomatic pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu bowed to world calls to ease a Gaza blockade after Israel's deadly raid on an aid flotilla.

"The Secretary-General reminds the Israeli government of its responsibility to ensure provocative steps are not taken which would heighten tensions in the city," Ban's statement said.

"The current moves are unhelpful, coming at a time when the goal must be to build trust to support political negotiations."

Meanwhile, The U.S. Congress on Thursday passed legislation to impose tough new sanctions on Iran's banking and energy sectors, seeking to curb Tehran's nuclear work that Washington suspects is aimed at bomb-making.

The measure, which goes beyond recent U.N. Security Council and European Union sanctions, would penalize companies from other countries that do business with Iran. It now goes to President Barack Obama for signing into law.

U.S. companies are already prohibited from trading with and investing in Iran. Foreign companies that invest in Iran's energy sector can be sanctioned under existing U.S. law. But no penalties have ever been imposed under this law.

Following are some key provisions of the new legislation:

FOREIGN BANKS

The legislation attempts to make foreign banks choose between doing business with Iran or with the United States.

Under the measure, the U.S. Treasury Department would require American banks to prohibit or impose strict conditions on "correspondent" or "payable through" accounts of any foreign banks working with key Iranian entities, especially its Revolutionary Guard Corps.

This targets foreign banks that deal with Iranian companies sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council, as well as those that launder money to aid Iran's nuclear program or are already blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department. It also targets foreign banks that facilitate what the United States calls Tehran's support for terrorist activity.

U.S. BANKS

Penalties will be imposed on U.S. banks if their foreign subsidiaries are doing any business with the Revolutionary Guard or its "front companies" or affiliates.

These U.S. banks may be subjected to civil penalties of up to $250,000 or an amount twice the value of the actual transaction.

Criminal penalties may be up to $1 million per transaction and include prison sentences of up to 20 years.

GASOLINE SUPPLIERS, ENERGY SECTOR DEVELOPERS

The legislation would sanction any company worldwide that exports gasoline or other refined petroleum products to Iran, or that provides Iran with goods or services that help it expand its own production of these products.

Companies that finance, broker or underwrite the shipments or deliver the gasoline also would be subject to sanctions.

Likewise, companies that sell Iran goods, services, or know-how that assists it in developing its energy sector, would be sanctioned.

The U.S. president would choose from a menu of possible sanctions to impose against violators, including:

-- Foreign exchange: Companies could not engage in currency exchanges through U.S. banks.

-- Banking transactions: Companies could not use U.S. financial institutions for credit transactions or payments.

-- Property transactions: Companies could not engage in property transactions with U.S. citizens or companies.

PRESIDENTIAL WAIVER

The U.S. president could waive sanctions on a company for 12 months on a case-by-case basis, if the company is from a country that is cooperating with multilateral efforts to isolate Iran.

The president must certify to Congress that the waiver is necessary to U.S. national security interests.

DIVESTMENT

State and local governments and private asset fund managers could divest from firms that invested million of dollars in Iran's energy sector without being sued by fund shareholders.

HUMAN RIGHTS

The measure requires the U.S. president to compile a public list of individuals in Iran who are complicit in human rights violations. They would then be banned from getting U.S. visas and would have their financial assets frozen in U.S. banks.

COMMUNICATIONS MONITORING

Companies that supply Iran with technology used to restrict free speech, such as communications monitoring technology, could not get U.S. government contracts under the bill. The Iranian opposition movement's communications have been disrupted by the government.

CONTROLS ON SENSITIVE TECHNOLOGY

The bill would strengthen export controls to try and stop the illegal black market export of sensitive technology to Iran through other countries and allow the U.S. president to impose severe export restrictions to countries that will not cooperate.

In response to a US-sponsored sanctions resolution imposed by the UN Security Council against Iran, Tehran threatens to retaliate if its cargo ships come under inspection.

"Our naval forces will respond in the same way if our cargo ships are inspected," Head of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of Iran's Majlis Alaeddin Boroujerdi said in a meeting with Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari on Monday.

According to IRNA, the top lawmaker said that the unilateral inspection of Iranian cargo ships run counter to the country's sovereignty, criticizing the presence of arrogant powers in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.

The recent UN sanction imposed against the Islamic Republic authorizes more stop and search operations of Iranian cargo ships as part of punitive measures against the country's nuclear program.

"The presence of foreign forces in our seas is out of the question and we will not allow arrogant powers to weaken the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic," Boroujerdi continued.

He also reiterated the importance of reinforcing Iranian navy forces in the Persian Gulf.

Tehran has repeatedly rejected Western claims that it is seeking to build nuclear weapons, arguing that the International Atomic Energy Agency has in numerous reports asserted that its inspectors and surveillance equipment at Iran's nuclear facilities have found no evidence of diversion in the country's declared nuclear material.

Earlier, in similar remarks, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani had warned of taking tough actions against Western ships in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.