Saudi Arabia offers Palestinian Authority $100 million

Netanyahu turns down Jewish proposals on peace, Lieberman sure of failure of negotiations

Clinton: Negotiations is the only way to peacemaking

Israeli probe affirms army committed civilians killing in Gaza

Palestinians welcome statement by Catholic priests on Palestine

Israel's military police have questioned a senior army officer for approving an air raid that killed 22 members of the same family during the 2008-2009 Gaza war, press reports said.

Colonel Ilan Malka, who was head of the Givati brigade during the war, was questioned under caution for authorizing a missile strike on a building in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood, the Haaretz daily said.

The raid, which took place early on January 5, killed 22 members of the Samuni family, at least 10 of them minors, in an incident described by the UN as "one of the gravest" of the deadly operation which had begun 10 days earlier.

Security sources quoted by the newspaper said military police investigators had interviewed air force officers who said they had warned Malka there could be civilians in the area.

But Malka told them he was not aware of any warning, Haaretz said.

The Israeli military declined to confirm the report, saying only: "The case is currently under military police investigation."

Givati units had been operating in the neighborhood for several days before the air raid, and witnesses said it was clear the building was populated with civilians.

At the time, the military said it was an "operational error" and that it had intended to attack a weapons storage facility next door.

The military investigation was launched several weeks ago by the military's Judge Advocate General, Ynet news website said, in a move opposed by outgoing southern command head Yoav Galant, Israel's next chief of staff.

About 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the 22-day onslaught launched by Israel on December 27, 2008, which was aimed at halting rocket attacks from the Islamist Hamas-ruled enclave. Thirteen Israelis were also killed.

Israel's prime minister urged the Palestinians to avoid unilateral action and resume peace talks, a reflection of growing concern that the Palestinian leadership may be inching toward a "Plan B" in which they seek international recognition of an independent state without Israeli agreement.

Talks have stalled, just weeks after their launch, following Israel's decision to resume full-fledged settlement building in the West Bank after a 10-month period of restrictions. The Palestinians say they cannot negotiate with Israel unless the curbs are renewed.

As the stalemate drags on, the Palestinians have said they are considering sidestepping Israel by seeking U.N. Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — territories the Jewish state captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

At the start of the weekly meeting of his Cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the Palestinians to "honor their obligation to engage in direct negotiations."

"I think any attempt to circumvent it by going to international bodies isn't realistic and won't advance true peacemaking in any way," Netanyahu said. "Peace will be achieved only through direct talks."

Netanyahu said he was in close contact with U.S. mediators in an effort to revive the talks, which were launched with great fanfare at the White House on Sept. 2. He said he remained committed to reaching the outlines of a deal within one year, the target set by the White House.

The Palestinians say they share that objective, but that Israeli settlement construction on lands they claim for their state raises questions about Netanyahu's commitment to peacemaking.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians are "absolutely necessary" to achieve Middle East peace.

Clinton made the remarks as she addressed a pro-Palestinian group, the American Task force on Palestine, in Washington.

"Negotiations are not easy, but they are absolutely necessary. It is always easier to defer decisions than it is to make them," Clinton said.

She admitted that there is no "magic formula" to break the current impasse of the talks regarding the settlement issue.

"But we are working every day to create the conditions for negotiations to continue and succeed," she said.

The Israelis and Palestinians resumed their direct talks on Sept. 2 in Washington, with the brokering of the United States. But the talks have been stalled as Israel has failed to extend the ten-month moratorium on West Bank settlement activities which expired on Sept. 26.

On Oct. 8, the Arab League following up committee gave the United States one-month time to pressure Israel "to freeze settlement and resume the direct peace talks."

The chief Palestinian negotiator welcomed a call from Catholic bishops for the international community to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, Agence France-Presse reported from Ramallah.

Saeb Erekat said Christians were an "integral part of the Palestinian people" and blamed Israel for their emigration from the Holy Land, which he added "gravely damages... the prospects of our future state".

"We join the synod in their call to the international community to uphold the universal values of freedom, dignity and justice," he said in a statement.

“The international community must uphold its moral and legal responsibility to put a speedy end to the illegal Israeli occupation.”

His remarks came after the bishops and patriarchs of the region’s Catholic churches called on the international community to take “the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arab territories”.

“The Palestinian people will thus have an independent and sovereign homeland where they can live with dignity and security” alongside a secure Israel, said a final statement issued after a two-week synod chaired by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Palestinians welcomed the synod’s reference to UN resolutions calling for Israel to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967.

“This is a clear message to the government of Israel that it may not claim that Jerusalem is an exclusively Israeli city,” Erekat said, referring to Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 and annexed in a move not recognized by the international community.

Israel views all of Jerusalem as its “eternal, undivided” capital, and the city’s fate has been one of the most intractable disputes in the peace process.

The United States convinced the two sides to renew peace negotiations in early September but the talks ground to a halt later that month when a 10-month partial Israeli moratorium on settlements expired.

Netanyahu urged the Palestinians not to take unilateral steps towards statehood, saying Israel was working closely with Washington on ways to restart peace talks, Reuters reported from Jerusalem.

“We expect the Palestinians to fulfill their commitment to hold the direct talks. I think that any attempt to circumvent them by going to international bodies is not realistic and it will not advance the real diplomatic process,” he said.

Peace talks that began in Washington on September 2 are in limbo over Palestinian demands for a freeze of Israeli construction on land they want for a state and Netanyahu’s refusal to re-impose limits on building in settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The impasse has raised speculation the Palestinians might abandon negotiations with Israel and launch a diplomatic campaign to seek recognition of a Palestinian state by the United Nations or other international organizations.

Last week, Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib said that if peace efforts with Israel failed, Palestinian aspirations for statehood should not be “held hostage” to Israeli consent.

“Peace will be achieved only through direct negotiations and I hope that we will return to this path with full force in the very near future,” Netanyahu said, addressing his Cabinet in public remarks.

He said Israel was “engaged in close contacts with the United States” aimed at restarting peace talks which the Palestinians suspended when a 10-month moratorium on housing starts in settlements ended on September 26.

Diplomats have said Washington has offered Israel a package of incentives, including ideas on security, to persuade Netanyahu to resume the partial freeze for two months.

“Our aim is not just to restart [talks] but to restart them in a way so that we do not stop in a few weeks or two months,” Netanyahu said, calling for a year of “serious negotiations about fundamental issues” leading to a framework peace deal.

Palestinians say they fear settlements that Israel has built on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war will deny them a viable state. Netanyahu says the settlement issue should be discussed in negotiations and not serve as a condition for talks.

A pledge of $100 million from Saudi Arabia and other international aid is easing the Palestinian Authority's (PA) financial crisis, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said.

The PA is relying on help from foreign backers to plug a budget deficit projected at $1.2 billion for 2010. The slow arrival of funds, especially from Arab states, has forced Fayyad to take austerity measures.

At a September 20 donors' meeting in New York, Fayyad said the PA needed $500 million to meet its funding shortfall for the year. Speaking to Reuters, he said there had recently been progress, including a $40 million World Bank grant.

Saudi Arabia told the PA that it was about to transfer $100 million "in addition to other commitments it had made to the PA treasury," Fayyad added.

Slow disbursal of funds pledged by Arab states has been the main cause of the financial squeeze. No explanation has been given for the payment delays.

Gulf oil exporters Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been the PA's main Arab backers in recent years, according to official figures seen by Reuters in August. The figures showed that, as of August, payments from those states in 2010 had been well below previous years.

Donor support has been one of the main drivers of economic growth in the Israel-occupied Palestinian territories. Real economic growth in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is forecast at 8 percent in 2010, compared with 6.8 percent in 2009, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Salaries paid to around 150,000 PA employees are a major support for the economy. They include some 67,000 people in the Gaza Strip, where the Western-backed administration has continued to pay wages to people it employed when the Hamas group seized control in 2007.